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January 16, 2017

BRAND NEW: Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America by Michael Wear -- ON SALE NOW

reclaiming hope.jpgI absolutely loved Michael Wear's brand new book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of America (Nelson Books; $25.99; see our 20% off sale price at the order link below.)  I think many readers will enjoy it, will learn much, and that regardless of one's affiliation (or non-affiliation) with a political party, it will be a valuable, even important read.  The book is graced with bunches of rave reviews from significant political leaders from across the political spectrum (from several countries, no less) and many respected Christian leaders - from Tim Keller to Russell Moore, pundits, (from Kirsten Powers to E. J. Dionne) and writers as different as J.D. Vance and Ann Voskamp, all insisting this is an important, graceful book.  You see, I'm not alone in highly recommending it although it really is a "Hearts & Minds" kind of book. We think our customers and friends will really appreciate it.

Let's get this said right away: Yes, Michael is a life-long Democrat and, yes, he worked for the Obama campaign and landed a job as one of the youngest White House staffers ever.  And, yes, he finished his job well but didn't seek another season of service - not exactly in protest, but certainly with great sadness and inner conflict - before the 44th President finished his final term.   Which is to say that if you loved, sort of liked, or significantly disliked President Obama, you will find something interesting and helpful in these reflections from this insider.

Books by Washington insiders are nothing new - many well-known officials from previous administrations have certainly told their side of their story and interested citizens gobble them up.  I think this is a mostly a good thing; of course some of us just want gossip but many want to understand, from the primary actors, what really went on in this historic episode or that significant policy debate or this or that shift in emphasis or dip in the polls.  If you've watched The West Wing or Madame Secretary (and I hope you have) then you can realize how informative and entertaining reading a book like Mr. Wear's memoir can be.  Agree or disagree with former President Obama, and agree or disagree with Michael's own efforts within that Administration, Reclaiming Hope: What I Learned in the Obama White House... is a great book.

michael wear.jpgYoung Mr. Wear first met Barack Obama quite by accident (or was it providential?) when he went to a meeting to volunteer at the wrong time and almost literally bumped into the then-Senator who just happened to be in the lobby for another meeting.  Wear dropped out of college to work on the first Obama Presidential campaign and eventually earned a job in the White House under President Obama as the assistant to the Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  (Even the name and focus of that office - which began during the Clinton Administration and became more publicly known during the Bush years - was a political decision President Obama had to make and Michael tells us some of that back-story; those of us who have followed that creatively-designed office, or, who have known and admired some who held that position, will find this really interesting.)

In the introduction to the book, Wear explains what became his job:

I led outreach to moderate and conservative religious believers, including evangelicals, and helped manage the president's engagement of religious leaders and issues. I also coordinated our office's work in certain policy areas, most significantly the child welfare system and efforts to combat human trafficking. After working in the White House for three and a half years, I was asked to lead religious outreach on the president's reelection campaign, where I was chiefly responsible for outreach to religious Americans and the campaign's engagement of religious issues. Following the campaign, I directed religious affairs for the president's second inaugural.

The book starts with some really interesting background telling Michael's own story, his blue collar roots, how his sister came to faith in Christ during their high school years and how she and her youth group friends tried to evangelize him. He was an agnostic at the time, and people gave him books like The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and other thoughtful resources that could undo his skepticism. He debated with on-line bloggers and some thoughtful Christians slowly made a difference in his thinking.

In that chapter called "Family Values" he says he is from a working class Italian family in the suburbs of Buffalo, which he describes as:

a town and family emblematic of what writer George Packer has so strikingly referred to as 'the unwinding': the massive social and economic transformation of the last forty years that has led to a hollowing-out of America's middle class. My parents divorced when I was seven under the pressure of economic strain, and so my older sister, Dana, and I were primarily raised by my mother, Genevieve. We did not have a lot of money - my mother worked two and sometimes three jobs for most of my childhood so that we could get by - but I was surrounded by a large, loving, Italian family.

I loved hearing him talk about his grandfather who was an army artilleryman in World War II and his memories of the rituals and rhythms of his inherited ethnic Catholicism.  That early chapter drew me into Wear's story and sets the stage very nicely. 

Interestingly, he learned to love rhythm and blues and soul music, which, as he recalls:

constantly brought me into contact with the gospel. Whether it was a gospel tract on an otherwise secular album or the unencumbered praising of God on award shows by my favorite black artists, it was through black music and culture that I felt a sort of tension, a constant knocking that indicated a question that had yet to be confronted stood right outside the doors of my mind and heart.

Also, very interestingly, the 2002 acoustic album of Grammy Award-winning star Lauryn Hill with a "theologically rooted political awareness" really captured his attention. Michael tells us that "the intellectual heft of the effort, combined with Hill's emotional sincerity, moved me. In one song, "I Gotta Find Peace of Mind" Hill sings about how she tried to find contentment in other relationships, but they fell short."  You may know the song and how she ends with what seems like weeping, praising God, "riffing through tears about a God who is merciful and wonderful."  

 At his sister's church, once, somebody gave him a little booklet which was simply the book of Romans. You will appreciate his reflections on how that seminal New Testament epistle rocked his world, but there it is.  A smart, young, politically aware convert, eager to think more about the interface of faith and life, the Bible and politics, justice and grace, Christianity and his Democratic party.  Not your average teenager, I suppose, but it's genuine and a good bit of background to know. 

Happily, in those years before he headed off to college to George Washington University, Michael met a sharp, thoughtful, bold young Christian gal who would become his first love and eventually his wife. You have to love a book where the first chapter says "Melissa has been my reminder that I am not my politics. She knew me and loved me before the campaigns, before the White House, before the fundraisers and fancy receptions. I would need that reminder in the days ahead." Yes, he sure would!

And then, we are off to the races.  I knew from that first storytelling chapter that I was going to love this book.

Michael Ware + Obama sign.jpgIn chapter two, Michael meets the Senator who has so captured his attention. Michael - a white guy, remember, who loves R&B - was involved with the black student organization at his college and got involved as a freshman with the leadership of the College Democrats. He was supposed to lead students to a DNC convention, an important event with primary candidates, nominees, even super-delegates.  Michael went the wrong day, oddly bumped into the Senator who was rising in fame in part due to his now-classic 2004 Convention speech, and blurted out, "Senator, I'm a Christian who has followed your career for years, and I believe in your vision. I think you should run for President and I would love to work for you when you do." Michael was persistent, almost annoyingly so, apparently, being in touch with Obama aids Reggie Love and Joshua DuBois (who then covered faith issues for Obama's Senate office.)  He even offered the (unannounced) Senator free campaign advice.  Ha.

Why did he dive so passionately into this opaque job possibility?  He, himself wondered that:

Barack Obama's singularity as a politician was definitely a large part of it. It is undeniable that for me and others of my generation, working to elect Obama became a way to place ourselves in the historic civil rights movement. My first explicitly political convictions were related to civil rights, and as a student at George Washington University I protested the police shooting of Sean Bell... it was beyond compelling to support Obama's campaign. 

Michael continues with a very important declaration:

My identification as a Democrat did not mean that I was completely at ease in the party. When I became a Christian, I soon understood that throwing myself without reservation behind any party platform was impossible. My allegiances were elsewhere. Politics provided a choice between imperfect options. I remained a Democrat because of the party's historic commitment to the working class, to combating poverty directly, and the Democrats' leadership in the modern civil rights movement. I was deeply troubled by abortion (discussed later in this book), and that issue made navigating Democratic politics difficult at times. I also disagreed with Democrats' general approach to matters of sex and sexuality, along with other issues. Still, I had profound disagreements with the Republican party, too.

That sort of keen and Biblically-faithful insight - being involved in a real party, but holding ultimate allegiance to Christ alone, aware of one's party's tendencies, both good and bad, and willing to be honest and humble about that - is a basic, fundamental assumption about our civic life that is all too rare. Young Michael displays in these simple sentences remarkable spiritual maturity and it is for this reason many, many people on both sides of the political isle should read this book. 

That Wear's years of service in the White House itself (having the ear of the top aides of the President of the United States and sometimes the President himself) was framed by this moderate, thoughtful, non-ideological vision, makes this a valuable case study in contemporary Christian political service.  That this made life harder for him - not always lining up with his own party, being misunderstood among secularist colleagues, being "in but not of" the party - is an illustration of what most of us face, I think, in our own careers and callings, professional spheres, and within the cultural institutions and organizations and even families we find ourselves. 

playing god.jpgI don't know if Michael has read Andy Crouch's exceptional book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, on wisely stewarding the gifts of power and working for reform within good but fallen institutions, but his on-the-ground day by day work in politics as told in his own fascinating book is a great testimony to this sort of understanding and that kind of perspective and posture. Without saying it overtly too often, Wear is working out a particularly Christian perspective within his own career - at high levels of influence, no less - without being a rowdy revolutionary or an entrenched traditionalist (that is, if I may be blunt, he was not akin to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.) I suspect he has drawn on insights from our friends over at the Center for Public Justice, too - just as one example of an organization that is neither left nor right, really, but seeking a higher conversation and deeper, lasting, reforming impact.  Mr. Wear's Reclaiming Hope book is not exactly a treatise on Christian political theory or a study of Biblically-informed scholarship about the task of the state - see my several BookNotes book lists of important resources for direct teaching about third way Christian thinking and the wonderfully rich books that offer conversations between Christians who are struggling to find consensus on what that might really look like in our time.  Those are important, but this book is, well, a lot more fun. And interesting.

good of p .jpgLeft Right and Christ revised.jpgMichael is fluent in this broader conversation - he has spoken at places like the CCOs Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh and Q Ideas conferences, the big Catalyst events -- but his calling was not to be a scholar or pundit but to actually live it out within a particular party and particular administration, in the give and take of real world political work.

Reclaiming Hope is not like Jim Skillen's must-read The Good of the Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Baker Academic; $24.00) or the wonderful, thoughtful, point-counterpoint books like Five Views on The Church and State: church state and public justice.jpgFive Views on The Church - Politics.jpgedited by Amy Black (Zondervan; $19.99) or Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny (IVP Academic; $22.00) or the feisty back and forth debate like Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics between Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes (Elevate Faith; $19.99.)

Michael Wear's new book is more autobiographical and lived out, telling the story of what that vision of thoughtful Christian public service actually looks like in real time, set in the last 8 years or so. Fortunately, I'd say, Wear is informed by these healthy, faithful, mature works that have shaped his own assumptions and attitudes, which is exactly why I hope people of varying political convictions or opinions about the Obama years will read this book.  It is certainly illuminating about the Obama White House and current events of the last decade, but, also, between the lines there is this mostly tacit dimension pointing us towards how to be involved in the real world of actual citizenship and politics in a principled, reasonable way.  And, it hints at the cost of discipleship in public life when one comes to disagree with an employer and the organizational culture of one's workplace or, in this case, with the political proposals and tone of his party.  It isn't the heart of the book, but it is part of it.

Have you been there in your own context, your own work-world or school or church, in your own small place?  I bet you have, and I bet you will take some inspiration from how Michael himself handled his own growing disillusionment and frustrations on the job and in his own circle of best friends and beloved colleagues.

I've been there, myself, in my own small way, and seeing Wear's courage and conviction and decision to walk away rather than compromise literally brought tears to my eyes as I read some portions of his story.  Do you know what I'm talking about? Have you ever struggled to live out your convictions in a space that is less than congenial to your ideas and hopes and dreams? It isn't the only story of Reclaiming Hope: What I Learned... and it certainly isn't the only take-away, but the conflicts Michael faces nearer the end of the book become an important and, at least for this reader, very, very moving.

Please  -- not that there are many cynics or ideologues reading BookNotes -- don't turn up your nose and say, therefore, I told you so; he never should have worked for Obama in the first place. Get over that and learn from the book and maybe applaud his principles and good faith efforts.  Or, conversely, please, don't turn up your nose saying he should have been more loyal to his boss (leader of the free world that he was) and party consistently no matter what.  Again, these are the reflections hard earned from the story of a young politico navigating his way "as the sausage is made" and working for what Steve Garber in that great chapter in Visions of Vocation calls "proximate justice"  -- discerning how to compromise and be faithfully living with hope, even as the sausage is made. This in itself, no matter where you stand on which side of the isle, is admirable and good and beautiful.

Faith-Based Logo.pngAs I say with so many books I review and recommend, agree or not with every detail of the author and his views, you can enjoy the book and learn much from it, and I think this is especially the case with this one. You can learn about the White House and how it works, you can learn about the Obama campaigns and administration and how they worked, and you can learn about how, especially, his office helped work with varying religious communities in our pluralistic society.  Again, I hope this book is read by Democrats and Republicans and Green Party activists and Tea Partiers and libertarians and independents alike. I hope it is read by those who are apathetic about politics as such, the jaded and cynical, too. It shows at least how this one guy did his thing. It's a story worth reading. For people of Christian faith perplexed by politics, it is really worth reading.

I am not alone in commending this so vigorously.  Listen to these endorsements:

Tim Keller says that Reclaiming Hope is: "an important and extremely timely book...Get it, read it, and talk to others about it."  Wow, how 'bout that?

 E. J. Dionne says it is "a fascinating insider's look in the Obama administration's faith-based initiatives and a stirring call for Christians - indeed for Americans of all faiths - to rediscover a sense of hopefulness."  Yes!

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution says it is "Unusually important and moving... a fascinating portrait of a critical moment in American public life. Will appeal to anyone interested in the complex intersection of faith and politics."  You see, this isn't even a book only for Christians.

Do you remember Mike McCurry, the White House Press Secretary (1995-98)? He now teaches public theology at Wesley Theological Seminary and McCurry calls Reclaiming Faith "a road map for how we can pick up the broken pieces of our political life and reassemble a national commitment to a common good." 

reclaiming hope.jpgI realize I've hardly touched on the major chapters of this book.  There are ten chapters telling the tale - from the first campaign to President Obama's faith as expressed in the White House in the 2009 - 2010 era, and how Obama's faith was expressed in 2011 - 2012.  These are exciting years and there was lot of controversy  (remember Jeremiah Wright?) and Michael was involved in managing the fall-out of episodes you most likely heard about in the news.

Equally interesting, he was involved in a whole lot of stuff you haven't heard about - so much was going on as government agencies and leaders partnered with local folks, faith-based organizations, drawing together faith leaders to either serve as sounding boards and consultants on various sorts of public concerns and to unite different religious organizations, nonprofits, and ministries, around common goals for the common good. They worked on adoption issues, inner city social architecture, school funding, fatherhood initiatives, rural health care, organizing around the fight against sexual trafficking, and continued the good work of the Bush administration fighting AIDS in Africa.  Behind all of this is this larger conversation about shaping the public imagination regarding how religion fuels social change and how in our democratic society faith and government should and/or shouldn't properly cooperate.

There are two serious chapters, then, that are very important for anyone interested in public justice and how the Obama administration, did or didn't move in helpful directions on matters of public controversy.  One is called "Searching for Common Ground on Abortion" and it is a wise and important study. More should be said about this - one brave and important proposal is in the under-appreciated Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation by Charles Camosy (Eerdmans; $22.00.)  Wear's chapter on this in Reclaiming Hope tells a hard part of this story and I respect him for his thoughtfulness here.

Things began to unravel for the Administration, and for Michael's own work, as they moved towards what became known as the contraception mandate, which insisted that organizations that had reasons of conscience to oppose abortion-causing kinds of contraception still were required to pay for their supreme-court.jpgemployees to use these kinds of abortifacients. (Think of the Hobby Lobby lawsuits and others, such as the Obama Administration's legal battle against the Little Sisters of Jesus, a group of elderly nuns who serve the poorest of the poor but couldn't agree to pay for contraception for their support staff's insurance if it included what they believed to be something sinful.)  All of this led to much-publicized Supreme Court rulings and Mr. Wear, despite misgivings, was working hard to build relationships of trust within various religious quarters, helping explain what increasingly became hard to explain.  No matter where you stand on these issues, this chapter will keep you turning the pages, hearing from the inside how things went down.

Wear's day-by-day narrative unfolds much that went on around these admittedly complex matters. There were meetings with groups like the Association of Jesuit Colleges and the Sisters of Mercy and the Planned Parenthood political action committee (which launched an unprecedented $1.4 million ad campaign that argued Mitt Romney wanted to deny women cancer screenings.) There were months of negotiations on the specifics of the plan - there were leaks and hearings and meetings and reports, legal responses to an "Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking."  It is all very interesting and well told - not as tedious or detailed as some political memoirs are, but not shallow or too brief, either. 

Think what you will about which higher principle of law or common good or justice trumped which other principles in this complicated legal debate, Michael is surely correct when he observes:

The mandate brought the administration into direct, unnecessary conflict with organizations that serve the most vulnerable people, and provides invaluable service to this nation, and therefore misdirected attention and resources from servicing people to legal fees and public relations battles. Despite the numerous adjustments, many religious organizations, including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, still oppose the mandate. In July 2013, CHA announced its concerns were adequately addressed after another round of adjustments.

Besides the facts of the abortion-related aspects of what became known as Obamacare there was the huge question - and I agree it is huge! - of religious conscientious objection and religious freedom. Again, Wear is certainly correct to say, "The controversy was bad for America, and it was bad for religious freedom.... it made religious freedom a partisan idea."

He says, importantly,

I do not believe that anyone I worked with in the Obama administration, certainly not the president, deliberately sought to undermine religious freedom. That was not their aim. Religious freedom is not under attack.

"Religious freedom is not under attack," he says.  But listen to this:

But it is under pressure. Religious freedom is increasingly butting up against other values in stark, personal ways, and religious freedom is often the loser in those collisions. We have a problem of pluralism, of different views and perspectives. What must be declared out of bounds is not our diverse perspectives, but the kind of zero-sum politics that disregards collateral damage in pursuit of a win. And the administration failed in this respect. 

Wear does not think that the Obama administration's record on domestic religious freedom is all negative. He reminds us that "the president has rejected calls to refuse government grants to organizations that organize and hire around religion. The administration defended the National Day of Prayer in federal court and won. The EEOC fought workplace discrimination based on religion."

Yet, "there is a culture of fear and anxiety around the future of religion that the president has mostly chosen to ignore." Michael's thoughtful, balanced, and well-informed chapter on this often-misunderstood topic will help us immensely, I think.  I will be interested in hearing what those who opposed the administration on this issue who are specialists in religious freedom litigation will think of his telling of this tale.

michael wear with flag.jpgThis part of the book - and the following chapter on the president's "evolution" on marriage equality and LGBTQ rights - is informative, balanced, and, again, deeply moving. I feel for Wear's desire to be faithful to his own conservative evangelical principles and his equally spiritually-motivated desire for common ground, public justice, and a effort to celebrate the good instincts of social justice embodied in his party's pronouncements.  He wanted to continue his work, enduring in an embattled office, but grows in his dissatisfaction, seeming to be approaching burn out.

The appreciation he shows for President Obama and his associates in the working groups in the White House doesn't come from a starry-eyed, partisan liberal, it is thoughtful, considered, fair-minded, hard-earned.  Nor do his criticisms come as cheap shots or with the nasty tones one might hear from the far right; again, his critique sounds fair and hard-won. Wear is not snarky or ideological or rude at all, although there are moments in the book where he seems heartbroken and conflicted, a loyal dissenter to the man he admired and to his party of choice. (Michael, I happen to know, shed some bittersweet tears at the recent final speech of President Obama in Chicago last week. Even though by the book's close he has left the White House, he was in Chicago for the big ending.)

Reclaiming Hope has a very good chapter comparing and contrasting the way religion was or wasn't treated in both the first Obama campaign and in the second re-election bid.  This gives an unvarnished account of some of the tensions that rose to the fore in those middle years.  One of the fascinating case studies was how Mr. Obama handled the criticisms from the secular left when they forcefully opposed Rick Warren's role in the first inaugural service (Obama stood by this friend, insisting on a big tent of varied religious voices, including conventional conservative evangelicals) and how the president handled similar criticisms four years later about his friend Louie Giglio, who had been asked to pray at the second inaugural. (Obama threw Giglio under the bus, capitulating to pressures to exclude respected evangelical leaders.) 

There are some poignant, tender, even outrageous scenes in Reclaiming Hope and some of the most dramatic ones are in this section as Michael works around the clock trying to hold coalitions together, writing briefs and letters and speeches, doing the hard work of behind the scenes political service.  If you've seen Madame Secretary lately, you know exactly these kinds of behind the scenes worker wonks, and the long hours they keep and the hard work they do, trying to rise to difficult occasions that keep coming, day by day, hour by hour, sometimes. 

Some of this reporting is inspiring, some of it aggravating, much of it mesmerizing.  One story strikes me as an example of some of the interesting stuff we find in this memoir:  Michael has worked hard drafting a speech or paper about a particularly good Obama policy related to poverty; it was some white paper or draft of a brief; I forget, precisely. Wear cited the famous Matthew 25 passage where Jesus calls us to serve "the least of these."  Repeatedly the paper came back from some of his associates in other departments of the White House, insisting that it was a misprint, telling him to fix it. Finally, Michael realized they simply had never heard the Biblical phrase and had no idea of its Biblical origin or what it meant. 

One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

I do not think Michael tells this story as a dig against his Democratic colleagues - the new Republican President of the United States is himself Biblically illiterate and could have said such a dumb thing, or worse.  I bet some of your own colleagues and associates might be equally Biblically illiterate. But it is revealing, isn't it? 

Reclaiming-Hope-Michael-Wear banner.png

How do we allow faith to shine in an essentially post-Christian culture and among religiously unaware fellow citizens and often-secularized thought leaders?  Can there even be any hope for such a society?  If an adult convert to Christ like Barack Obama who was regular in church attendance and had no awful skeletons in his closet and was in conversation with evangelical Christians could end up tone-deaf to many core Christian convictions and perspectives, contributing to the terribly toxic cultural divisions we now face, is there hope for a balanced and sustainable future? And if a loyal party operative like Michael Wear gets disillusioned and doesn't renew his position, is there hope for any Christians in political service? Is the vision for a moderate, reasonable, wise, nuanced, inter-face of Christian faith and politics an unrealistic hope?

And this, then, becomes the weight of the wonderful ending of this very good book - Michael has us on the edge of our seats as he sits in the Washington Cathedral the day of his final service to the Obama administration for whom he worked for years. He thinks about what these last years of his life have meant, what they have cost, what he might do next. He seeks God and ponders the meaning of hope. He draws inspiration from Dr. Raphael Warnock, who preaches from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King was pastor -- who says, "It takes a tough mind and a tender heart to hold on to hope."  

"But hold on we must," Michael writes. "Hope is our tether to reality, and our bulwark against despair." 

Faith-Hope-Love.jpgWear's next lines on Christian hope - both within and beyond history - are truly moving and I hope you find your way to those pages. They are not ponderous or deep, but they are lovely and good and wise. He reflects on the meaning of Biblical hope, explores what he calls "real hope" and ruminates just a bit on the nature of our secular age and the puzzle of what he calls "hope and possibility."

The final chapter is called "Reclaiming Hope" and Wear is solid and helpful here, too. (Ann Voskamp says it is "a lifeline for these times." Jonathan Merritt says "it arrives not a moment too soon." Richard Mouw says Michael Wear's work and witness "keeps me hopeful.")

reclaiming hope.jpgMany of us need this good word of hope this year, and although it is brief, it is helpful.  He reminds us to be good citizens, to stay engaged, to be involved in both local stuff and the bigger causes that transcend party politics. He gives a few examples of how individual action can make a difference and he encourages us to be involved in citizens groups and networks working for political change. He honors the fact that there can be disagreements about how to best proceed and he never implies it will be easy or simple.  It is a very encouraging way to end this fascinating book.

In this last chapter Wear hints that there are many big issues before us, naturally, but he names race and religious liberty as two examples which will demand our serious attention in upcoming months. Like most issues, these have both cultural and policy aspects - there is change that must happen in our hearts and minds, in our families and in our neighborhoods and churches and schools and civic culture, but there are ways that government policy can contribute, too. 

Michael, wisely, does not suggest that social improvement is only up to the state - government can only do so much and lasting social change is often up to individuals and organizations working in civil society.  But social change is not only up to individuals or churches; government has a role to play and besides being members of churches, schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, we are citizens.  We need to imagine what faithful public life looks like and we need to think about what Christian political life might be.  Few books have done this from this vantage point of insider experience, by a true party activist who isn't an elected official, but an unsung public servant.  Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America is not the last book on Christian political thinking we need, but it is an essential one. There may not be one like it in a very long time. 

We will tell you more about this later, but please know that Michael Wear will be discussing his book at our Dallastown bookstore on March 10, 2017. Buy it now on sale and join us for the good conversation with him that evening. He will sign books, of course, that night, and answer questions about his time in the Obama White House. If you are in the area put it on your calendar and help us spread the word.

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January 10, 2017

Hearts & Minds Bookstore -- BEST BOOKS OF 2016 AWARDS (on sale)

the-best-2016.pngEvery year in December we're busy making lists for Christmas giving and reviewing the many new books that release during the holiday season.  With an annual off site event in early December, a store to run, and BookNotes to keep going, the annual Hearts & Minds "Best Books of the Year" lists gets pushed back until after the holidays.  This year we've had a particularly early off site early January event, so I'm running behind even more.  I've only been thinking about this for the last 12 months or so... 

Thanks to those who have inquired, those who have said they anticipate ordering a couple from our year's end compendium.  We are grateful for your support.

I like to give this big disclaimer, too.  It's hard for me to go public with this list  -- we are not presuming to be able to say with certainty which are the most significant books of the year (although we have some favorites that we sure hope have lasting significance.) 

Best is a big word, maybe a bit too official; favorites may be a bit too fuzzy.  Somewhere in that nether land between formal proclamation and mere happy suggestion lies our little list.  These are important, I'm sure of it, and, usually, true delights for anyone who loves the printed page, offering pleasure and provocation, thoughtfulness and stimulation as a good book should.  I throw in a couple of curve balls, too,  just because I can.

And so, here's our offering of a list of great books released in 2016 that caught our fancy and that we want to award. These are all non-fiction books for adults and all are worthy of honor.  Perhaps we'll name some our our favorite novels and kids books eventually.

First, our top ten awards. And then a whole bunch of very worthy very honorable mentions.



You Are What You Love clearer.jpgYou Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press) $19.99  I've been saying this is the most important and truly best book of 2016 since I read an early version in February or March. It is informed by important stuff of the sort we've been talking about for years; it really is a Hearts & Minds-ish kind of read.  It has been widely acclaimed and although I value the "cultural liturgies trilogy" from which it is drawn and popularized (Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom are the first two published with the third to come out next year) this one volume summary is substantive enough to be a serious read, but accessible enough for nearly anyone to work through. The ideas in You Are What You Love are fresh, the writing vivid and urgent, the vision broad and culturally significant. It is, without a doubt, my pick for Best Book of 2016. It covers topics such as worldview and cultural engagement, worship and liturgy, habits and how personal change happens, and what it means to live out a new set of Kingdom desires and God-shaped practices in daily life, in home, work, and society. Buy a few of this winner, please, knowing that you are helping create a different sort of conversation in the Christian community, knowing that many from all over are reading, discussing, plotting about, and drawing upon this bold, good work.  Allow me to be clear" of the thousands of books I've reviewed and the many, many more I've read in my life, this, I think, is in the top handful of most important books I've ever read. 

Strong and Weak- Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing.jpgStrong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing  Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00  Again, you can see my long review of this at the Hearts & Minds BookNotes newsletter and I do hope you go back and find it -- I explained this book in great detail as it is such a very fascinating idea.  It is not about "balancing" strength and weakness but it is about fully embracing both, living a life of exercising cultural power and trusting the process of risk-taking; that is, being both strong and vulnerable, using power but being willing to suffer the price. It is about Christ-like postures of cultural engagement, giving a very unique description and stamp upon our daily Christian habits and lifestyles and tendencies. Beth and I both have been taken by Andy's good work and this stimulating book has charmed and challenged us, as it will you, I'm sure, for years to come.  I do hope you have read his Culture Making and Playing God which, in a way, is somehow connected to this one, or so it seems to me. Strong and Weak: Embracing a life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing is without a doubt one of the very best books of this year. Very, very highly recommended.  By the way, look for a new Andy Crouch book coming this April, a short and very accessible intro to family conversations about digital technology The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Baker; $13.99.)

liturgy of the ordinary bigger.jpgLiturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $16.00 I think this may be the non-fiction book I enjoyed the very most this year and from what I hear it is the favorite of many, even though it only came out in late November. As I explained in our long BookNotes review it is about the spirituality of the daily, walking through a day in the author's rather normal life, informed by spiritual attitudes learned through Christian worship.  She is drawing on Jamie Smith (yes!) and the wonderful forward is by Andy Crouch (yes, again!) No wonder I love this woman and her new book -- what a helpful approach, wise and thoughtful, artful and solid. It allows us to see God's hand in everything, to make beautiful the ordinary stuff of daily life, and it shows how worship, while firstly about God, is also about God's reign being incarnated in our own feeble lives as we connect the liturgies of Sunday with the rituals of our day to day lives.

This wonderfully conceived -- again, it's a day in her life! -- and beautifully written book is eloquent, sassy, fun, intelligent, and at times poignant. One of the very best of the year, without a doubt! It is very, very highly recommended, deserving to be on the short list of the top few books I've read all year.

Reading for the Common Good.jpgReading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00 Well.  Do I hear an "A-men?" Or as Springsteen put it, "Is anybody alive out there?"  This is a book that is so naturally important to the Hearts & Minds community that it deserves perhaps some special award of merit, some blue ribbon, some commemorative plaque.  I am surprised that every Christian bookstore in America isn't touting this; if I had the money I'd be giving it away by the box-load. Truly, the vision of reading well, reading widely, missionally, using our minds, the gifts of writers, poets, scholars who create books, is so clearly stated that Chris Smith has become nearly the patron saint for booksellers and book lovers everywhere.  And yet, oddly, I don't think the book is zooming up the best-seller charts. Why is that?

I'll tell you why; well, at least partially why. You see, we are in a bit of a crisis. The printed page isn't valued among us. The use of books has often been seen as trivial -- an escape for those that like silly stories, or as academic -- for those who are brainy and into that sort of stuff.  But to see that books can be spiritual tools for our deep edification and agents of Kingdom outreach and social transformation, well, it's the stuff of the best of our history -- think of the savvy use of the printing press in the Lutheran reformation or the emphasis on schooling in Calvin's Geneva or the life-changing spiritual reading method of the Methodists or the community William Wilberforce and others built around reading known as the Clapham sect who stopped slavery in England, or the Inklings, even --  but isn't embraced as much today as it might be.  Hence, this book is more urgent then many realize. More healing and life giving than our sick churches know.  Oh how I wish this book would be embraced widely. 

I know you know all this, friends. You are those who read our arcane lists, buy our books, support our bookish ministry in the world.  I am sorry to preach to the choir. Still, I want to honor Chris and his good book, celebrating his vision and his publishers eagerness to keep reading alive, keep book conversations alive, continuing to promote books as tools of the Kingdom. You simply have to read Reading for the Common Good to be reminded. Maybe you, too, will be so inspired as to say it was one of the best books of the year.

The Very Good Gospel.jpgThe Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook Press) $19.99  For the last five years Beth and I have hosted a major lecture in Pittsburgh which we've underwritten in order to give back to our many friends and customers in Pittsburgh a bit of excitement that comes with meeting an author with a big new book. Lisa Sharon Harper is a woman we've know a bit over the years and is a person we admire a lot. Her work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and her leadership in New York Justice and eventually her finding a home working with our old acquaintance Jim Wallis at Sojourners just has left us glad and inspired. Agree or not with all of her activism, she is a Godly woman with a love for Christ and His ways that is palpable.  Her balance of prayerfulness and evangelism, social action and prophetic political witness is a sight to behold. Her work deserves to be known, her witness is commendable and this book is fabulous.

Lisa's new book, then, is a window into her life, a bit of poignant memoir, vivid storytelling, testimony.  Mostly, though, it walks us through the Biblical narrative -- the goodness of shalom in the original creation narrative, the disruption and vandalization of that shalom in the story of "the fall"  which we now sometime call alienation, and the promise and fulfillment of the healing of that -- the gospel word is reconciliation! -- that defines the very good news that is the gospel.  That story -- how Lisa came to this broader understanding of the full scope of the gospel and how to tell it as liberation, peace, health, wholeness, shalom in a way that is Christ-centered and Bible-based is the tale of this book. It is her story, but, in a way, it is a retelling of the story. 

But it doesn't end there -- it isn't just a narrative of an evangelical gal learning a bit more broad and culturally aware view of the Biblical teaching of the Kingdom, Christ restoring shalom. It is the project of the second half of the book to flesh out what reconciling shalom might look like in various spheres where we find great alienation. How to push back the brokenness, heal the hurts, be agents of transformation?  From distortions and alienation between genders, between races, between nations, from our need to be reconciled to God to our need to be reconciled to our very selves, Lisa tells powerful stories and offers great guidance on how to live as a people committed to this ministry of reconciliation.

I love the evangelical strength of this Godly woman and her vibrant faith comes shining through The Very Good Gospel; it is obvious to us that it is one of the best books of his year and deserves the attention it has been getting. I also value how Harper is able to point us towards the social implications and out-workings of this very good gospel, not as add-ons or mere secondary stuff we might get to later, but as core, key, central , integral -- here is the vision of a wholistic faith (personal but not private as her boss Jim Wallis puts it) that we've been working for for forty years. Thank, you Lisa, thank you Multnomah Press, thank you readers for buying this book and making it well known. Very good indeed.

Adventures in Evangelical Civility - Mouw.jpgAdventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground Richard Mouw (Brazos Press) $24.99 I hope my previous BookNotes newsletter review of this was interesting to you -- the book might sound a bit arcane if you don't know and esteem Mouw as we do. I mentioned that I selected him to be in my little book that I edited (Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life ) not to brag (well, okay, I'm bragging a little) but to let you know that Mouw is an author that we truly esteem, who is in our circle of favorites, that represents much that we value. And he is such a thoughtful and clear writer.  If you like Hearts & Minds or find us interesting at all, you should know that we get some of it from Mouw. If you like us, you should read him.  And this is one of his to read, for sure!

Why this one when he has written so many wonderful things?  Simple -- this is his intellectual memoir, a biography of the books and ideas and issues he's struggled with over his storied life and how he came to the attitudes, theological views and conclusions he has. As a Reformed Christian with evangelical piety he has spent much time in dialogue with Anabaptists and Mennonites around issues of peacemaking, say; he curiously has been in deep theological discourse with Mormons. His interest in Protestant/Roman Catholic dialogue goes way back. He is a political theorist and philosopher so he has had to grapple with important work of intellectual depth and he has had to figure out how to make his way as a Christian scholar in the mainstream academy.  All of this stuff is important and his testimony of how he has done that is commendable and, frankly, I found it riveting. Anyone who is concerned about reading widely or who is engaged in scholarship within the world of higher education will be thrilled to see how brother Mouw worked out his own calling as a scholar.

One of the big themes of Adventures in Evangelical Civility is evident in the title and subtitle. Mouw is known for civility and for a quest for common ground. Drawing on the theological notion of "common grace" as taught by Dutch Reformed leader Abraham Kuyper, Mouw essentially searches for what is normative, helpful, beautiful, good in any theory, movement, trend of person. It is easy (and often vital) to be critical; Mouw's first instinct, though, is to affirm the good, to build bridges, to seek commonality and to be gracious and civil.

I think this great book, therefore, is a vital resource for anyone wanting to work out their own vocations "in the world but not of it." Butcher, baker, candlestick-maker,  we all have associations and spheres of influences -- churches, schools, networks, and neighborhoods and we have to make our way in them. Learning to relate well to the cultures around us and the institutions in which we find ourselves is important, and Professor Mouw gives us much guidance. 

Further, who these days doesn't need some good examples of building consensus, of finding common ground, of being civil, of learning from others even if we are fundamentally different than them?  In this new post-Trump era, we all need help at this. Mouw has lived through much, has kept good records of his thoughts and fears, his insights and mistakes, and this memoir is a wonderful guidebook to learning to take similar adventures as he has. 

The Day the Revolution Began.pngThe Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $28.99  This is a must-read for anyone interested in Biblical studies or contemporary theology. It is a key book in the Wright opus, a long-awaited follow up to his seminal Surprised by Hope. As I explained in my positive review when it released, it essentially is a study of the cross of Christ in the New Testament, explored in light of the "end of the story" -- the restoration of creation. If that renewal of creation is the "end game" of the Biblical story, then we should understand Paul and the other New Testament writers teaching about the cross in light of that truth.  This wonderful book uses new creation "realized eschatology" as a lens to study the cross of Christ.  In this reading, Good Friday becomes "the day the revolution begins" and helps us live into Easter hope here and now. This is just fantastic -- Biblical study with a big picture and inviting us to ponder the vision of how we embody and live out this "revolution" of new creation. One of the best Tom Wright books yet, and surely one of the best books of 2016. Order it today!

silence and beauty.jpgSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00 Oh my, I do hope you know this. It is, as I explained in our March BookNotes, a companion to the famous Japanese novel Silence by Shusaku Endo; we were delighted that many mail order customers and a few local friends here in the shop bought both the Fujimura book and Endo's Silence (in its handsome new movie tie-in edition.) This is very relevant now as the long-awaited film version of the novel, directed and produced by Martin Scorsese, just released to much acclaim.

Makoto Fujimura is an esteemed and increasingly well-known Japanese-American abstract artist whose several books we stock and regularly promote. His own conversion to Christian faith happened while he was studying an ancient Japanese style of art (of which he is now a modern master) in Nagasaki, Japan, where he discovered Endo's powerful novel about the silence of God during the brutal persecution of Japanese Christians in the 1600s. Fujimura's new book tells of how Endo's novel was important to him and uses his own experience as an artist of Christian faith to explore this same question -- where is God in adversity, what do we do about suffering, why, why, why? In the face of evil and gross hardship, can we know a God who offers meaning and hope?  Can the arts bring some semblance of truth to this question; that is, can beauty help us understand suffering?

Mr. Fujimura's book title is not trite and his book is not simple. It is a serious and at times luminous reflection -- refraction would be a good word, one that Mako likes --  about beauty, about the arts, about the calling of artists and writers and sets that in conversation with the horror of the persecution Mr. Endo's novel explores. What is the relationship, then, between silence and beauty?  As I said in that initial review, there is a splendid overview of Endo and of Mako's work in the great introduction by Philip Yancey. It, too, should be honored. The dust jacket of this marvelous book, made with a thin, translucent paper that conjures Asian rice paper is elegant and artful; the designer has won awards for best book cover design as well.  What a great package, what a great set of ideas, what a great bit of writing, what a great, great book.  I cannot overstate how good it is, how wise and helpful. Congratulations to all involved.

Do check out this absolutely wonderful website produced by Makoto and his team that includes videos and a study guide for the book Silence and Beauty. This is an exceptionally rich resource, offered as a gift.  Enjoy. 

woman's place - maybe clearer.jpgA Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books) $22.99  Of course our very favorite books of the year have already been reviewed at greater length at BookNotes and A Woman's Place is no exception.  You can visit our BookNotes review by searching our archives at the website.  I was initially worried that although we have many, many books on the relationship between faith and work and the notions of vocation and calling as we live out faith in our job sites and workplaces that not too much more could or needed to be said. Many of the very good books we've seen in recent years are fine, but do not present much new.

Katelyn Beaty proved me very wrong as she brings to this conversation a young woman's voice, a journalists style and a whole lot of Kingdom vision. The broad and cosmic scope of Christ's redemptive power and the subsequent high view of culture and work -- all of life is being redeemed, after all -- seems to be in her very bones. She seems nearly a daughter of Kuyper in this regard ("every square inch" is claimed by Christ, you know.)  Of course, having a robust and relevant Christian worldview is not enough. What more can she say about faith and work, calling and career that hasn't been said?

The key is obvious from the title: Ms Beaty is offering a woman's voice in this conversation. Interestingly, most of the best books about faith and work are written by men; sadly most seem to be written for men. (Beaty mentions that in some large churches that are wise enough to have a "faith and work" ministry or a "marketplace mission" department, it is located within the "men's ministry" of the church. What?

Beaty's book is not just for women, although surely any woman in the workplace will want to have their own copy. Women, I suppose, are the primary audience for this important contribution. However, I am not the only one who has said that men should read this, too -- it offers good insight about gender and work, gender and home, work and family, and more. Men need to be a part of this conversation and men need to hear the unique challenges faced by Christian women as they try to bring their own gifts and insights to the workplace, the culture, the home.  I hope this book gets a wide readership. It is one of the best of the year, one of the rare books that we can say there is simply nothing like it in print. Hooray.

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious  .jpgLife's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious David Dark (IVP) $20.00  This almost didn't made it into our Hearts & Minds top ten of Best Books of 2016 even though I personally would say that it was one of my very favorite books of the year; heck I got a certain pleasure from reading it that I can hardly name -- it's one of the most curiously interesting books I've read in years!  I don't always recommend it with such abandon to everyone, though, because, well, it is quirky, perhaps not for everyone; an acquired taste.  Still I have to honor it -- David is a robust writer and Life's Too Short to Pretend... is truly a great book, colorfully written, eccentric at times, curious, interesting, deep, honest, prophetic. It challenges both the glibly "spiritual but not religious" crowd insisting that everyone is fundamentally religious -- driven by some stories or images that become narratives of ultimate concern -- as well as those who want to reduce religion to a formula or dogma or creed as if intellectual assent to some set of truth claims is all there is to the mystery of faith, religion, life.  He'll have none of it  --  but yet, Dark doesn't spend much time denouncing inadequate social imaginaries or bad, dualistic stories or shallow, selfish visions. He just offers a better vision, tells a deeper story, invites us into his own ruminations as he shares, wearing his heart on his sleeve, bearing witness that deep stuff happens when one is attentive.

My, my, this is an interesting book, full of wit and passion and a few stories you will never forget. It is most obviously for the artsy and bohemian -- he loves old poetry and hip, pop culture, postmodern literature and radical history, sincere love songs and funny comics, citing rock singers and movie makers, philosophers and peace activists -- but it is also for anyone who likes to think about the truest truths, the way the world really works, by way of hearing how one guy sorts it all out. It is, as the Robbie Robertson rock and roll book (see below) is entitled, "testimony."  And it is testimony about life, stories, art, and faith -- and how that can bring us together, uniting us as human beings in search of meaning and justice and joy.

My friend C. Christopher Smith (of Reading for the Common Good and Slow Church) has a blurb on the book which is pretty perfect:

 David Dark is one of the most important prophetic voices of our day. Life's Too Short To Pretend You're Not Religious is another beautiful demonstration of the winsome way in which he unsettles our language and our imagination. Not content to unravel the basic fabric of our existence, Dark re-weaves the fibers into a rich and vibrant vision of the flourishing religious life for which we were created.

Or listen to the social historian and lived theology prof, Charles Marsh, reflecting on Dark's "luminous reckonings":  

... the result is a shock of recognition: life more abundant awaits us only in the deep immersions of togetherness with others. Here alone are the comedy and chaos that define the human condition and lead us gently or not into the strange new world of grace. Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious is an irresistible triumph.


The Boys in the Bunkhouse- Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland .jpgBoys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland Dan Barry (Harper) $26.99 This thick book is an epic bit of investigative reporting and was, of all the books I read this year, the most haunting, and the one that I find the most heart-rending of all.  I will never forget it. It is a long story, beautifully told by an excellent, insightful writer. If you don't believe me about Dan Barry's exquisite style, see his stunningly well-written memoir, which I also enjoyed this year, Pull Me Up: A Memoir or his well received and often-honored book about the longest baseball game Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game.

There is a reason Boys in the Bunkhouse has gotten such luminous reviews and has been called a "landmark achievement." 

Besides his good storytelling ability and his expert dogged research which combines to earn him the reputation as one of our best literary nonfiction writers, I think this quote from National Book Award winner Colum McCann captures why many are so struck by his work.  "Dan Barry gives dignity even to the darkest corners of the American experience. He is the closest thing we have to a contemporary Steinbeck."

Boys in the Bunkhouse tells the story of a group of intellectually handicapped men -- boys when the story starts in 1960s Texas -- who were essentially held captive and used as cheap  hard labor in a poultry processing plant in Atalissa, Iowa for much of their lives.  How could this be overlooked, the welfare of these workers forgotten for three decades, under the gaze of churches, neighbors, social workers, labor safety inspectors, politicians, and others? How did the well-intended effort of an apparently good man devolve into something so distorted and abusive, ending up so badly? How could such a thing happen in Red-state, decently religious, middle America?  This is, as the dust jacket jarringly says, "A Dickensian tale from the heartland."

It is also a "luminous work of social justice." 

Berry delves deep into their lives, summoning their memories and suffering, their tender moments of joy and persistent hopefulness -- and, most of all, their endurance. He explores why this small town missed the tell tale signs of exploitations, details how those responsible for such profound indifference justified their actions, and chronicles the lasting impact of a dramatic court case that has spurred advocates to push for just pay and improved working conditions for people with disabilities. 

Word By Word- A Daily Spiritual Practice .jpgWord by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $17.99 Oh my, yes: this is a great, great book, a treasure for those who value good writing, who care about words, who want to ponder reflectively and would enjoy thinking about the meaning and implications of common words rather than a Bible devotional.   One reviewer said it blends "exegesis, philology, lectio divina, and prayer." In a way, it is similar in tone to her wonderful little 2014 volume that is Bible-based called What's in a Phrase?: Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause. McEntyre is a poet and writer who teaches literature in a med school. (She has two excellent, small books emerging from her work in hospice care, A Faithful Farewell: Living Your Last Chapter with Love and A Long Letting Go: Meditations on Losing Someone You Love.)

Marilyn has written one of my all time favorite books, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, which imagines words as God-given natural resources and asks what we might do to learn to steward them well.  In a way, this recent one is a meditative companion to that visionary book about the ethics of speech, with a word or phrase to ponder each day, for a week, with prompts to consider various uses and ways to appreciate the word or phrase, such as  She offers profound insights about words that she gives us to consider and it really works! What an engaging, moving, transformative book, written in a quiet, gentle manner. 

 When a writer and reader and preacher as good as Cornelius Plantinga recommends a book, it is worth noting. Of Word by Word he says:

McEntyre has again written with conspicuous grace and truth. She sees deeply into the Christian life. She writes simply and nobly, but with an enormous weight of discernment and suggestion. Some passages here are as powerful and lovely as any I've encountered in years.

celtic daily prayer.jpgCeltic Daily Prayer: Book Two: Farther Up and Farther In Northumbria Community (William Collins) $34.99  We stock a good number of prayer books of various kinds and the first volume of this -- Celtic Daily Prayer -- has been one of our most popular for years, now.  This sequel, with a beautiful cover and a few small format changes, is even better.  This is a brand new two-year collection of daily readings and prayers, with Celtic themes and inspiration and we're thrilled to name it as one of the best resources of the year. A  solid, hand sized hardback with ribbon marker. Very nicely done.

Love, Henri- Letters the Spiritual Life.jpgLove, Henri: Letters the Spiritual Life Henri J. M. Nouwen (Convergent) $24.00  I will admit to not having dipped into this much, yet. But I know enough to know that this is a major literary event, a significant contribution by one of the great spiritual writers of the last century and an immensely important figure who helped Protestants, especially, learn to appreciate Catholic and contemplative expressions of faith. Fr. Nouwen was known for writing letters  -- he kept nearly all of the 16,000 letters he received and he responded to them all.  Some of his replies, spanning two decades, are very revealing, some quite tender, some summarizing things he wrote in his many books. This very handsome hardback offers over 200 of his letters offering wit, condolence, insight, spiritual guidance. As Sue Mosteller writes in her epilogue, "I love this collection. It is for me, a spiritual autobiography. Henri's letters reveal the ever-evolving, ever-deepening, ever-struggling heart of my strong yet vulnerable friend."  

strangers-in-their-own-land.jpgStrangers in Their Own Land : Anger and Mourning on the American Right -- A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide Arlie Russell Hochschild (The New Press) $27.95  This has appeared on many lists and the reasons are at least two fold: it is a serious, remarkable study about folks in Louisiana that support conservative politicians who want to gut EPA restrictions even as they lament the way pollution has ruined their livelihoods as shore-men and shrimpers and even as they are aware that the toxic pollution has given them exceedingly higher rates of cancer (in "Cancer Alley") than nearly anywhere in the country. What a top notch bit of investigative reporting this is as the author embeds herself in this hurting community, so abused by chemical and oil companies, hearing them deeply about their own political convictions. So that's one reason the book is achieving such renown -- it's a helluva story, vividly told, a story of great pathos about fellow citizens that needs to be told. 

Secondly, though, it is a meditation on why such blue-collar folk distrust elites and Washington and big government and media (etcetera etcetera.) This is the book to read for those who want to understand the Trump victory, it is the book to read if one wants to truly listen to those who are most likely pretty different than yourself. 

The highly regarded author is unabashedly liberal in her own bias (as is the radical publisher) and the blurbs on the back illustrate that -- Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Reich and others. (Her other earlier award winning books include The Second Shift.)  Here she is, trying to practice empathy and solidarity and to take seriously how others experience life and feel about it all.  Mark Danner of Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War says "A powerful, imaginative, necessary book, arriving not a moment too soon." 


Hillbilly Elegy- A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis .jpgHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis J.D. Vance (Harper) $27.99  I have not yet published by long review of this and perhaps will soon but I must say this is without a doubt one of the most discussed, most appreciated, and biggest selling books of 2016. Although Vance writes for the conservative National Review and his story of the dysfunctions of poorer white folks in Appalachia and Rust Belt America has been used to explain the popularity of Mr. Trump, the book is not a political story but a human-scale memoir about a crazy family, broken social systems, and a guy who ends up in Yale Law School having made something of himself with help from loyal relatives, a reliable faith, and a stint in the US Marines.  Some are saying this is their favorite memoir ever and while I wouldn't say that, it was truly difficult to put down and I wouldn't stop talking about it for months. If you haven't read it yet, you really should.  Hold on to your hat, it's quite a story. One of the Best Books of 2016 without a doubt.

Callings- The Purpose and Passion of Work - A StoryCorps Book.jpgCallings: The Purpose and Passion of Work ( Storycorps Book )  Dave Isay (Penguin Press) $26.00  There have been many books over the years on the relationship of faith and work, informed by a Biblical vision of calling and the theology of vocation. This book came out of the beautiful, inspiring Storycorps radio program so is not overtly religious but it is, without a doubt, an enjoyable and inspiring read for people of faith and offers much to us to realize how so many different kind of people, in so many different kinds of job, talk about their work.  In a way, this secular complication is one of the most beautiful examples of people's search for meaning and the hope for purpose, articulated in various ways and tones and accents. No matter what your job is, reading these folks describe their own sense of passion about their work will inspire you. I was glad to introduce this at BookNotes when it first came out and think it is one of the best books of many a year.

impossible people.jpgImpossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00  I did a long BookNotes review of this when it first came out and it is one of my favorite books of the year, even if it made me both uncomfortable in a good way and a bit irritated. I appreciate authors who are uncompromising in their conviction and Os is one of those leaders I count on for unsullied truth telling, courage and compunction. He is prophetic and yet caring, culturally savvy and yet helpful.  This is Guinness at his feisty best.

As you can see from my previous BookNotes reflection this book does at least two things really well -- it is an overview of the forces and pressures of modernity, documenting and warning us about the seductive influences upon our worldviews and habits of things like choice and change and mobility (all made exceptionally practical and daily in things as simple as using the internet.)  The secularizing forces of the vast cultural habitat we call modernity (and the perhaps overstated shift towards post modernity) are described in Impossible People almost as well as anywhere, and it is well worth having for that reason alone.

The heart of Dr. Guinness, though, does not beat primarily as an intellectual -- he despises the phrase, actually -- or as a cultural critic.  Although he spends much of his time in global think tanks and confabs and such, Os is a brother in Christ speaking to his fellow Christians, sisters and brothers about whom he worries. Are our leaders -- certainly in the old mainline churches and increasingly in the hip evangelical ones -- selling out to the ideas and lifestyles, the values and attitudes, of secularized modernity? Are we becoming accommodated to our culture?  Are we too concerned about worldly success and failing to hold our ground on fundamental matters of holiness and principle? Are we even unaware about how the first things of the gospel can be eroded by the ways of the world?

I think Os sometimes is a bit too strident although I know that he himself prayerfully struggles to write in a manner that is blunt about his concern about shallow theology and accommodated ways, without appearing judgmental or harsh. God bless him for such integrity -- some writers blast away with little regard for the nuances and complexities of the targets of their barbs and others (perhaps the theme of this book) are too easily compromised.  It is a hard and glorious balance to speak the truth in love, to be "impossible" as Os puts it.  Impossible People, by the way, is pitched as a sequel to his lovely and important Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. You don't have to read that first, but you should pick it u; it was a Hearts & Minds Best Book award winner in 2014.

The Fractured Republic- Renewing America's Social Contract.jpgThe Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism Yuval Levin (Basic Books) $27.50  Many social critics and political theorists have raved about this. It comes out of his work as a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank and is one of the most discussed books about public life that has come out this year.  I've written about it a few places and highlighted it more than once in interviews and book talks.  Here's some of what I said in one BookNotes post:  I hope that you have seen this reviewed and cited on the internet or in significant journals -- I cannot wait to read this yet this summer as it has been promoted across the political spectrum as substantive and thoughtful. Left-leaning Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) says "this is the book American most needs in 2016" and Paul Ryan says "Yuval Levin is one of the most insightful and original thinkers of our time."  We are dangerously fragmented in this "age of individualism" and we must radically rethink our embeddedness in the ways of modernity which are played out here; Levin can help us develop a critique that is beyond the conventional far left and far right, showing how mediating structures and non-government institutions and neighborhoods can help rebuilding our republic. George Packer says of his humane and good writing that "His work gives the sense that our future needn't be as grimly divided and dysfunctional as the present seems." Let us know. This surely deserves to be considered one of the most significant books of 2016.

habakkuk before.jpgHabakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament and Hope Brian J. Walsh (Books Before Breakfast) $14.00 Done with the Wine Before Breakfast community at the University of Toronto, a group of students and others who gather for an early morning Eucharist service, this book offers the sermons and messages, the liturgies and litanies, the questions about music and the descriptions of songs played at their creative alt-services. Although the book is anchored by the study of this Old Testament prophet, there is tender stuff here (about a homeless guy who became an beloved member of their gang) and great reflection about the struggle to find mostly contemporary rock music that captured the themes of the service. The prayers and liturgical pieces are inspiring and useful, the Bible study stunning, the prophetic application uncompromising.  I wrote a longer review back at BookNotes if you want to hear more but this truly is an extraordinary work.  I assume you know Walsh from books like Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, Colossians Remixed, or Beyond Homelessness. (Not to mention his wonderful survey of the lyrics of rock great Bruce Cockburn called Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.) He's long-time pals with NT Wright who noted how this fierce book "shakes us up and makes us realize that God's loving justice is the only firm ground on which anyone -- or any society -- can ever stand.

Full disclosure: I've got a blurb on the back, too -- what a blast and what an honor:

Under the leadership of Christian Reformed Church campus pastor Brian Walsh, Wine Before Breakfast is a ragtag group of folks who gather weekly for worship, song, biblical reflection, and Eucharist at 7:22 am., even in the cold and bleak days of winter. Join them as they talk with the seemingly cold and bleak Habakkuk, listening in on the raw reflections and earnest prayers, songs and sermons, connecting ancient Word and (post) modern world. Want to learn to recognize Biblical prophets? What to find hope amidst these hard days? This amazing book will help Habakkuk Before Breakfast is simply remarkable --  a wonderful follow-up to their Saint John Before Breakfast. Hold on!

Of course I'm going to name this one of the best books of 2016. Skim back over my longer review at BookNotes of it if you aren't yet convinced -- this is a worthy investment in your library and would be a fascinating book to prayerful work through with others.

 The Justice Calling- Where Passion Meets Perseverance.jpgThe Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance Bethany Hanke Hoang &  Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) $19.99 We helped launch this extraordinary book at Jubilee 2016 last year in Pittsburgh and here is some of what I wrote in one of my discussions of it: "...both women are exceptionally well-schooled and committed to educating for lasting, formational transformation in readers so that we might be the kind of people who are empowered to be healthy activists in church and world.  They understand the big flow of the Scriptures, the story, as we say, and place God's relentless call to do justice in that context."  Andy Crouch has called it "a deep, wide, wise contribution to a truly comprehensive Christian understanding of Justice"  and says, "I can't imagine a better biblical and theological introduction to the topic of justice." In a year with a handful of very good social justice resources that stand out, this is rises above them all, a must read, beautiful, very insightful and important book of truly lasting significance.

How to Survive The Apocalypse- Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World .jpgHow to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith and Politics at the End of the World Robert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson (Eerdmans) $16.00  Of the many, many intriguing books that offer uniquely Christian cultural criticism this year, this is the most audacious, the most fascinating and -- for those who like to read seriously thoughtful stuff written about fun stuff -- best book of its kind in years. I've recommended it almost everywhere I've gone this year and wrote about it more than once. I recommended it in a book list I wrote for a column for the Center for Public Justice this summer, and wrote this:  This new book by Wilkinson, a respected film critic for Christianity Today and Joustra, a professor of international studies at Redeemer University in Ontario, is a blast. It offers a great overview of recent themes in popular culture, from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones to House of Cards, and yet it is serious-minded, drawing significantly on Charles Taylor and his analysis of the malaise of secular modernity. Its basic premise is this: in a culture where our best storytellers and artists are telling us that things are falling apart and that there is no hope, how do we act in the public square for the common good as people of hope? What do dystopian narratives tell us about our culture's worldview and how do we live well in such anxiety-laden political terrain? Indeed, this is serious business, and yet, as Michael Wear says on the back, "Who said the apocalypse couldn't be fun?"  Zombie plots, Battlestar Galactica, Scandal and the work of being Christian citizens?  Yes, yes indeed.

Rescuing Jesus- How People of Color, Women, & Queer Christians.jpgRescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism Deborah Jian Lee (Beacon Press) $26.95  I suspect that naming this one of the best books of the year will annoy many and I understand that it moves in a direction that will be offensive, even, to some. It could be argued that it ought to be read by those who have a visceral reaction to a call to be more attentive to the changes happening within evangelicalism, and perhaps to be more inclusive to those who have been marginalized and hurt.  Whether you are drawn to this topic or not, this is a book that is informative and will offer a behind the scenes look at how these hot topic issues (and, more, the people involved) are changing para-church groups, evangelical college campuses, mega-churches and their leaders, the publishing world and more.  The book is exceptionally well researched and very well told as it follows a select handful of persons through their time within the evangelical movement; some remain intense followers of Christ within a broad evangelical tradition while others no longer find themselves affiliated with evangelical faith; a few no longer see themselves as Christians.

The author herself, Deborah Jian Lee, is not a neutral observer but a former evangelical who moved somewhat into the progressive faith camp and ended up (or so I gather) no longer a Christian at all.  Yet, she wants the stories of these folks told and wants to use their experiences -- for better or worse -- as not only case studies but as bell weather pointers to things that have changed and are changing within the broad religious landscape of our culture.

A quick admission: I was one of the people who the author interviewed in her writing of this big book and I spent an hour with her one afternoon three years ago.  She attended the CCO's Jubilee conference once, too, and talks about it candidly.  Our good friend Lisa Sharon Harper -- whose own The Very Good Gospel also is on our list of Best Books of 2016 -- is one of the persons whose story is told by Ms Lee and it is remarkable to hear some of the backstory of Lisa's life during her college years. (Lisa is both African American and obviously a woman and her being kicked off the leadership team of a college fellowship group and even out of a prayer meeting she herself started because she was a woman is told painfully.)  She is not the only friend of ours interviewed or mentioned in Rescuing Jesus so I care about this book a lot. I cried through some of it and found it hard to put down.

There are amazing stories in Rescuing Jesus, good journalistic reporting, helpful framing of contemporary concerns by explaining past controversies; within the evangelical feminist movement, for instance ( see explains the group Daughter of Sarah's struggles about gay rights and abortion which led to a painful splintering and eventual formation of a more conventionally evangelical feminist organization.) She explores how many social justice causes did or didn't get discussed within the national leadership of well known evangelical groups and ministries. I found the long section on the Queer Underground (as they called themselves) within the strictly conservative Biola University to be particularly riveting; no book I know has told this kind of story in this way before and it deserves credit for bringing these individuals and their stories to us.

Many thoughtful and caring Christian leaders do not think all these changes in attitude and practice are for the better; some are, for instance, glad about increased emphasis on racial and multi-ethnic diversity but disapprove of full equality for GLTBQ Christians.  Regardless of one's views, and whether one has a stake in evangelicalism, as such, or not, this is an important book about people's lives, about religion in our time, about institutional change, and we are glad to honor it as one of the important books of 2016.

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 do not think I have read a Robert Benson book that I was not sad to see end -- surely the mark of a good book is when you want more words, more pages, more chapters. And, oh how I felt this way with Benson's Punching Holes in the Dark... I said out loud to nearly anyone around me when I was reading this last summer that I didn't want this book to end.  Benson is a charming, enchanted writer with a style I cannot describe. He has an economy of words and is clear as a bell, even though his content is mature and thoughtful and deeply wise. He has funny stories -- a few I've read out loud at workshops -- and he has tender tales and you will simply have to take this up yourself to see if he resonates with you has he does with so many of his appreciative fans.  One of whom happens to be Frederick Buechner, by the way, who has a rare blurb on the front of the book, noting its "candor and hope."

I suppose this is a book about spiritual formation -- Benson is, after all, a contemplative and retreat leader and is an adjunct faculty member for the Academy of Spiritual Formation and has several classic books on prayer. But like his book on baseball or the one on writing or the one about gardening on the one on Benedictine views of neighborliness or classic about hope (Between the Dreaming and the Coming True) his gentle spiritual tone spills out into quite ordinary life. He writes about growing up in a colorfully evangelical home, he writes about his involvement in an odd guys film club, he writes about food and faith and work and being an introvert. He writes about various kinds of worshipping communities, comparing them graciously to his own preferred Episcopalian style.  He isn't overstated and never violent but he does get around to talking about what it means to punch holes in the darkness, letting a little light, and a little of The Light, shine through.

As Eugene Peterson puts it "Robert Benson doesn't exactly tell us how to do it but he does tell an honest story about the ways that Jesus' prayer is getting worked out in his own life."  Without a doubt one of the books I most enjoyed this year. 

Light When It Comes- Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything.jpgLight When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything Chris Anderson (Eerdmans) $16.99 It is hard to explain the charm and value of this wonderful collection of short essays. It is pitched as a book that helps us "see God in everything" and you may recall a list I wrote not long ago at our BookNotes newsletter that listed 15 such books, all older. This new one could easily have been added to such a list but it isn't exactly what I'd call "spirituality." It is less about the God encounter in the quotidian, but about the goodness of the experiences of life itself.  Yes, yes, God is there; revelation happens as we come to see the Light. But, again, these are stories and ruminations on life, episodes and glorious snatches of God-light in the realness of daily living.  This guy is a great writer and a good observer. I love these kinds of collections of essays and want to honor it as the best of its class.

One of the great spiritual writers of this sort, himself a poet, is Brian Doyle, who has a rave comment on the back.  So does the spiritual writer Paula Huston who calls is "a literary gem and a cup of blessing."

But what most attracted me to this small paperback is the rare endorsement from one of my all-time favorite writers, the undertaker Thomas Lynch, who says of it:

An age that has fashioned faith into bludgeon and cudgel, and traded community for self-righteous indignation, might better be illumined by Light When It Comes and by the grace of Anderson's vital, studious witness. The ties of belief that bind us, each to the other, needn't be rope enough to hang, cruel lash or rein or tether. Rather, lifeline, safe mooring, the holy, miraculous lowering of our hobbled, heart-wrecked selves to the place of our redeeming.

If I were giving an award for the best back cover blurb, I'd nominate those three poetic sentences right there. Wow.  If Lynch recommends it, you should read it.

Two Views on Homosexuality, The Bible, and the Church.jpgTwo Views on Homosexuality, The Bible, and the Church General Editor, Preston Sprinkle (Zondervan) $16.99  We often recommend the many, many books in the Zondervan Counterpoint series and for obvious reasons we have needed a book like this for decades. I have read for decades almost everything I can get my hands on studying this topic and there are oodles of books that bring all sorts of perspectives and orientations.  No book heretofore has attempted what this brave paperback does: it offers two evangelical scholars who hold to the conventional, orthodox view that same sex erotic relationships are forbidden by Scripture and two that suggest otherwise.  I know of only one good book that shows "both sides" pro and con around the exegesis of the Bible and, to be honest, for a variety of reasons, it hasn't been that helpful.  Here we have four scholars who all agree with the most fundamental assumption that the Bible is God's inspired and authoritative word and that our practices must be informed by careful study of the truest meaning of the Bible itself.  The two that oppose same sex relationships are gracious and candid and bring two slightly different views to the conversation; the two that are supportive of inclusion and marriage equality do so for slightly different theological reasons.  As with others in this large series of books, after each chapter the other three participants offer critique.  So by the end of the book readers have engaged not only four distinctive positions but have seen the rebuttals and responses from the others.

The editor of the project, Preston Sprinkle (who himself has a book offering a conventional view called People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue), weighs in with some summarizing and evaluation.

The four esteemed scholars who are contributors to this important volume, by the way, are William Loader, Megan K. Defranza, Wesley Hill and Stephen R. Holmes.  I'm grateful for their own courage and candor in entering this debate with grace and openness, knowing that all of us are leaning in over their shoulders.

By the way, I am pretty sure that Zondervan -- a premier conservative evangelical publishing house --  will take some heat for daring to even host this conversation.  Interestingly, I suspect that few object to their doing books like this on other controversial topics from the excellent one on church/state relations to differing views of hell or the end times to questions about how to understand the doctrine of inerrency to the question of woman's ordination to a fascinatingly feisty one on how evangelicals and the Orthodox should relate, and so many more. But this one on homosexuality -- look out; some don't even want to talk about this, let alone admit that the translation, meaning and interpretation of the most obvious relevant Biblical texts are themselves contested.  We here at Hearts & Minds applaud Zondervan's efforts at helping us think things through with reputable Biblical thinkers in serious discussion, on this topic and the others. Kudos to the senior editor of this large Counterpoint series, the respected Stanley Gundry.

the mind of the spirit keener.jpgThe Mind of the Spirit: Paul's Approach to Transformed Thinking Craig Keener (Baker Academic) $32.99  There are many, many academic books that deserve honorable mention and so many that, although I haven't read them, they seem just spectacular. As you know, I'm a sucker for good blurbs and I take seriously the recommendations of scholars I respect. Although he have a lot of Biblical studies that are scholarly in nature, and many have gotten great reviews this year, I want to hold up this one at least. It is a rare combination of scholarly rigor and yet aimed at a subject that should affect us all -- nurturing the "mind of Christ."  If you are among the many who regularly reflect on the implications of Romans 12: 1-2 -- and most book lovers, do, realizing as we do that books are tools for life long learning -- then this book on how Paul envisions the transformed mind will certainly attract your interest.

Maybe you recall that a few weeks ago I gave a bit of a promotion to the autobiography that Keener wrote with his wife, who is African. It is a very moving story and is both tender and courageous. This is the other side of Keener, who is an exceptionally rigorous scholar -- there are more foonotes in here than you can imagine!  He is fluent in ancient languages, Greco-Roman culture, and the cultural background of epistle writing in the age of the early church and is known for his dictionaries of cultural background information.  If anybody can help us figure out the cultural issues around Paul's thinking, Keener can.  And if anybody has the learned zeal to help us embrace such a project -- a transformed mind so we think as God wants, even about the issues of the day -- again, Professor Keener can.   Before the end material this heady book is about 350 pages, so it isn't as mammoth as it might have been.

Blurbs on the back are from a scholar from Yale Divinity School, from James Dunn of Durham, from Michael Bird the esteemed Biblical scholar from Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia.  I like the lines from  the very widely read Paul scholar Michael Gorman of the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, who notes that "Keener has filled a significant gap in Pauline studies as only he could do..."

Saving the Bible From Ourselves Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well.jpgSaving The Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well Glenn R. Paauw (IVP) $18.00 I so appreciated this book and it serves in many was as a quintessential Hearts & Minds sort of book -- thoughtful but not arcane, open-minded but well grounded in orthodoxy, eager to help us live faith in our twenty-first century context. It provocatively (or playfully) asks "Does the Bible Need To Be Saved?" Well, maybe it does -- from us!  That is, over the course of the centuries, Bible scholars and publishers have increasingly added helps -- all kinds of stuff to help us make the Bible easier to understand. But maybe we really don't read the Bible much anymore; that is, we study and tear apart the text, forcing verses into our per-conceived categories or domesticating them into our churchy sensibilities. Paauw wisely opts to reject "narrow, individualistic and escapist views of salvation" based on unhelpful assumptions about the Bible and how we read it. He offers, instead, what he calls "big readings."

And then it really gets good -- he offers seven understandings (that may feel "new" to some, but are in fact fairly ancient) of the Bible as "steps on the path to recovering one deeply engaged Bible. His new-sounding understandings are, in fact alternatives to deficiencies.  And in naming these oddball ways we (mis) understand and misread the Bible he is brilliant.

Paauw offers here 7 "kinds" or sorts of ways we think of the Bible, and counters each with a more faithful sort. (For instance, in contrast to our presumption that the Bible is essentially "complicated" he unveils the "elegant Bible." Instead of a "snacking" Bible he invites us to "savor the feasting Bible." He says we need saved from "my private Bible" and speaks of "sharing our synagogue Bible."  Of course, instead of "our otherworldly Bible" he says we are to be "grounded in the Earthly Bible."  On great problem, "our de-dramatized Bible" takes two sections to refute. He shows how we can "rediscover the stroiented Bible" and then shows how we must "preform the stroiented Bible."  There's more and it is rich, solid, creative, helpful stuff. Blurbs on the back are long and rich themselves, by Walter Brueggemann and Mark Noll, who both commend it earnestly.  This is deserving of being on any good list of the best books of the year.

confident pluralism.jpgConfident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference John D. Inazu (University of Chicago Press) $29.99 We usually name a few books that are scholarly in nature and this, obviously, is published by one of the most esteemed academic presses in the world.  Yet, it isn't dry or dusty nor it it primarily written for the scholarly guild. This is a book for nearly all citizens who want to get beyond the simple call to civility and to probe more deeply about how the structures of our society could enhance greater diversity, making room for faith-based differences even in how the government funds programming and more.  I've read a lot in these related fields -- personal civility, conflict resolution, and questions of religious liberty and such.  Insights from those who study civil society, the role of mediating structures and such will be glad for his appreciation of a multi-dimensional view of society.  (That is, society is more than just government and individuals and the questions for public philosophy need to be more than whether we want big government or small government.) Yet, how do we get along when our fundamental vision of the meaning of government and the direction of social institutions are so very contested?

This is a book celebrating this bold, American project -- e pluribus unum. Yes, it has some political philosophy and some semi-scholarly studies of social structures and how to shore up faltering institutions. But it also has lovely guidance about conflict, diversity, getting along with others -- thriving, as he says, through deep differences. This is a great, thoughtful book published by an esteemed legal scholar and old acquaintance of Hearts & Minds.  We are honored to name this as one of the most important books of 2016.

All Things New- Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel.pngAll Things New: Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel Hugh Whelchel (Institute for Faith, Work & Economics) $8.00  I don't need to say much about this except this over the top exclamation (that I have been made repeatedly since I saw this remarkable Bible study resource) -- this is the best small group Bible study I've seen on this kind of topic and one that many of us have longed for, literally, for decades! (As a matter of fact, I had considered trying my hand at doing this kind of a small group study, realizing the big hole in the market for Bible study on this topic.) All Things New is an absolutely must-use, big-picture small group discussion guide that I believe will be transformative for many who use it.  We have a lot of great small group Bible study books and discussion resources but there is simply nothing like this in print!

You may know that many authors (and we here) have talked about a "four chapter" understanding of the gospel -- creation, fall, redemption, restoration -- in contrast to the more conventional "two chapter" story that says only that we are sinners who are saved, drawing on the two center chapters of the unfolding Bible drama, fall and redemption.  But where and in what place are we saved, and to what ends? If we don't know the goodness of creation (and all that implies about work and culture) and the hope of a future restoration of all things, then the gospel is truncated, cut down, reduced.  The gospel is more than "I need God and God loves me" or "Jesus died for your sins" or "I'm in deep need and God and the church can provide true meaning" even though those truths are true enough. This small group Bible study walks us quickly through this endlessly fascinating fuller, truer telling of the Bible story -- from good creation through the disastrous distortions in every square inch of life caused by sin and idolatry to the blood bought salvation experienced by the death and resurrection of Jesus to how to live out the hope of the Kingdom coming, now and not yet. There are two final sessions, why the "two chapter" telling of the gospel story is inadequate and how the full vision of all of life being redeemed matters for our lives, including our public lives and our sense of work and calling.

Many, many kudos to Hugh Whelchel for writing and publishing this study that is going to be a life-line to many, a clear and basic Bible basis for a fuller understanding of God's purposes in our lives and in our times.  

Ministry Mantras- Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture .jpgMinistry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture J.R. Briggs & Bob Hyatt (IVP) $17.00 This was a hard call to make as we have so many great, useful, inspiring, helpful books about congregational life and church renewal that it is hard to pick just one to highlight.  There are many books about parish life and several that we sold well at church events written for leaders and pastors. This one, though, is by an author I really, really like, a man I esteem greatly, and has a rather unique formate which sets it apart as interesting and easy to read . And -- believe me -- readers get a lot for their investment here as there is tons of information, insight, inspiration in Ministry Mantras. It deserves to be touted as one of the very best books of the year and my pick for my favorite book in the area of congregational life and church leadership.  It's a great, fun read!

Here's the gist: Ministry Mantas is just that, a collection of "mantras" or slogans to say and lives. I think this is nearly brilliant and am surprised it hasn't been done before. In a way it gets us to best practices, good stuff that makes a difference, but it gets there by way of these battle cries, heart sayings, ministry mantras.  These are not cliches but truly insightful sayings that will stick with you and your team, you and your church. 

Essential Worship- A Handbook for Leaders.jpgEssential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders Greg Scheer (Baker Books) $19.99 There are bunches of books about worship and, I am convinced, many are very important.  We've seen some excellent ones this year but if I were to choose just one to commend, this would be it. We just cannot stop learning about how to worship well, what that means and could mean, and how to improve our liturgical practices. I hope this gets a wide readership.  Greg Scheer is involved a bit in the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship which itself is legendary and greatly appreciated by folks across the theological and liturgical spectrum; he himself serves a liturgically, aesthetically and missionally aware CRC church in Grand Rapids and this book emerges from his decades of serving the gathered people of God. (He has worked in a Southern evangelical church, a mainline Presbyterian congregation, and this large, lively CRC parish.)

I hope you recall our previous review of Essential Worship: A Handbook explaining it's wide vision, making it helpful for those just starting to think about worship leading or those who have been pastors or church organists for decades. Highly recommended. 

Eucharistic Prayers Samuel Wells.jpgEucharistic Prayers Samuel Wells & Abigail Kocher (Eerdmans) $40.00 We have many books of prayers. Some are designed for personal use -- think Valley of Vision, for instance or the two evocative ones by Walter Brueggemann (Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth and Prayers for a Privileged People) or the wonderful classic A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. We remain fond of the big one put together by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and  Enuma Okoro called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals that can also be used communally for worship.

And then there are books of prayers that are specifically designed to be used in public worship. Some are geared to the lectionary, others not. For mainline churches that follow the lectionary we're fond of the two volumes (for each of three years) of Feasting on the Word Worship Companion. There are many such worship planning resources. Some, frankly, can be a bit stuffy while many these days are nearly flakey. To find eloquent and charm, clarity and theological substance in real prayers to be used in real services is quite an art and when we find one of this sort of substance and beauty we want to celebrate it loudly. To get theologians and church leaders like Wells and Kocher working on this project and then to present their good, spirited words in such a handsome, slightly larger hardback, is a true gift.  If you want more than their prayers for the Great Thanksgiving, you can see their thinking about prayer during worship called Shaping the Prayers of the People: The Art of Intercession which is very thoughtful. Thanks to Eerdmans for offering Eucharistic Prayers, a truly great liturgical resource volume, one of the best of its kind this year.

More-With-Less.jpgMore with Less Cookbook 40th Anniversary Edition Doris Longacre (Herald Press) $22.00  "A World Community Cookbook" with Rachel Stone  We recommended this last month in a BookNotes post about various sorts of books that make great gifts. We noted that "we have stocked this marvelous Mennonite cookbook since the day we opened and Beth and I have given quite a few away over the years -- it remains a wonderful, wonderful gift, a great cookbook to use (even for those who aren't advanced or skilled) made all the better in this very handsome, very new, 40th anniversary edition.  Earlier editions have sold over 1 million copies! We enjoy all three in the "World Community Cookbook" series -- More-With-Less, Simply in Season, and Extending the Table, but More-with-Less remains the classic."  It uses simple, natural ingredients, offers a gentle sense that we can be better stewards of the gifts of creation (and our family budgets) by spending less and being joyful extravagant in ways that are simple and cheaper.  In this new edition there's some updated recipes, some great new essays, wonderful full color design and pictures. Some may still want the older spiral bound edition but this new one has a "lay flat" binding that promises to be useful in the kitchen.

The art and design of beautiful looking cookbooks these days is a joy to behold and when you combine this healthy, justice-oriented, simple-living vision with such a vivid, pleasing, design, and -- most importantly -- delicious recipes. you know you've got a winner.  This new version of a Hearts & Minds classic deserves a very honorable mention.

Art of Memoir.jpgArt of Memoir Mary Karr (Harper) $24.99  I hope you recall our announcing this -- both a  good guide to being a writer, the art of doing memoir, and a bit of a continuation of her story, told so well in Liar's Club, Cherry, and Lit -- some of the most memorable memoirs of our generation.  If anyone can tell us how it's done, Karr is it.  Technically, this came out in '15 but I wanted to list it as a new paperback -- and one I didn't read until 2016.  If you've been undecided, maybe this will help:

Mary Karr has written another astonishingly perceptive, wildly entertaining, and profoundly honest book-funny, fascinating, necessary. The Art of Memoir will be the definitive book on reading and writing memoir for years to come. -- Cheryl Strayed

Karr is a national treasure that rare genius who s also a brilliant teacher. This joyful celebration of memoir packs transcendent insights with trademark hilarity. Anyone yearning to write will be inspired, and anyone passionate to live an examined life will fall in love with language and literature all over again. -- George Saunders

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends- From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times .jpgA Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times David Gushee (Westminster/John Knox Press) $15.00   This book deserves to be noted and I think it has much usefulness, even now. It came out long before the election, but captured something brewing for years, now, coming to a head in this season -- namely, that many good Christian folks are fearful that things are coming undone. Many of us are anxious, not just about Trump (that's another story) but about the larger trends in our culture, the shifts in church life, the changes in thinking about sexuality and the changes in the conversations about that; we are concerned about pop culture, about guns and immigration and poverty; we are nervous about foreign affairs, about ISIS and more. We are wondering about doctrine and the Bible and God and the future of our churches. Much of our anxiety revolves around the lack of civility in our civic discourse and the polarization that seems as bad as ever.  What even is America (a Christian country, or no?) Who are we, what should we make of the political parties and our apparently deepening fractures? What is a reasonable, Christian view about these concerns, these "unsettled times" and about our fears?

Well, it would be silly to say that this book can put us at ease as it is obvious that we are in troubled times. But Gushee tries to explain things in a way that might help us "keep it in perspective." There are short chapters offering a fairly reasonable overview of the particular topic at hand, highlighting how we can see things in less alarmist ways.  It is, essentially, a caring pastoral letter offering guides to deeper faith even in our fearful times.  He is, for what it is worth, an ecumenically minded rather centrist evangelical Baptist ethics prof who tilts to the progressive on most (but not all) social issues. It's a nice book.

Listen to the wise Krista Tippett, not only of the radio show "On Being" but of the Civil Conversations Project --  I think I included this quote when I announced this book before:

David Gushee is one of our most searching and important voices for public theology. He defies Christian stereotypes and divisions that have played a part in dividing America in so many other ways. And this book is a road map for discerningly, faithfully claiming the promise and redemption that are possible in this tumultuous national moment.

This would make a great primer for an adult ed class on book discussion group.  Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for THeology and PUblic Life at Mercer University.  Just a few months ago, Eerdmans re-issued an expanded and revised second edition of his magisterial, co-authored (with the late Glen Stassen) volume on Christian ethics called Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in a Contemporary Context. That book could show up on some "Best of" lists this year, I'd think, although I haven't spent time with it yet...

The Spirituality of Wine  - amazon.jpgThe Spirituality of Wine Gisela H. Kreglinger (Eerdmans) $24.00 I'm not a fan of the medieval tapestry cover art but this beautiful book nonetheless is a personal favorite and should be on the shelf of anyone who is interested in wine, or anyone interested in a theology of the goodness of creation, anyone interested in Christian views of farming and land use, or anyone interested in the Bible at all, actually.  The author grew up working in her family's European vineyard and is now (besides being a trained theologian) a world-renowned vintner. This great book looks at wine in the Bible, wine in religious customs, the abuse of alcohol, and, yes, offers lovely details of the growing of grapes, the making of wine, the world of wine tasting, marketing, selling, enjoying. If you are a casual enjoyer or a serious connoisseur, you will love this thorough, serious work. There is a  foreword by Eugene Peterson -- makes sense. But what other theological book has a  blurb on the back by Alice Waters (one of the iconic food writers of our time), Carolo Petrini (of the Slow Food Movement) and heavy-weight German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann?  Salute!

Becoming Wise- An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living .jpgBecoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living Krista Tippett (Penguin Press) $28.00  I suppose it is no surprise that we list this -- we love memoir and storytelling and appreciate those who are perhaps not Christian who are still eloquent about their own quest for wisdom and meaning and purpose. Tippett is, of course, the host of the wonderful, wonderful "On Being" radio show and has interviewed some of the most interesting people on the planet.

This is a book years in the making offering insights that she learned from the many remarkable people she has had the privilege of interviewing over the years, weaving together a narrative of her own, and telling the stories of insights she's gleaned along the way. It's a mystery and an art, eh?   This is a beautiful, wonderful book.

When the Roll is Called- Trauma and the Soul of American Evangelicalism .jpgWhen the Roll is Called: Trauma and the Soul of American Evangelicalism Marie T. Hoffmann (Cascade) $20.00  Now is not the place to describe this book in great detail but it is a short work, developed nicely from a set of lectures, a part of the new "Fuller School of Psychology Integration Series."  (The first in this new series, by the way, was by Messiah College anthropology professor Jenell Paris called The Good News About Conflict: Transforming Religious Struggle over Sexuality) which itself is remarkably insightful and obviously important.

This new one deserves an award if only for having such an audacious goal -- to use the lens of trauma studies to get at the psychological hurt within the personalities of those who cooked up the dispensationalist theology (that is, the uniquely US theology of reading the Bible in an odd and unique schema about being raptured away to heaven prior to an unleashing of an Armageddon with the anti-Christ.)  Yep, this uses neuro-science and trauma study to look at the lives of a few key characters in American church history (some you've most likely heard of, some perhaps not) and comparing them with the "creation-fall-redemption" Biblical summary as seen in Calvin, all so that we might see why American evangelicalism developed as it did.  Why did this narrative  develop of a "heavenly" gospel versus a "social gospel" and why did the conflict take on the tone that it did?  "Prior to the Civil War," Marie Hoffman says, "these two stories -- of salvation in this life and salvation in the life to come -- were one, never to be separated, together comprising the good news of Jesus Christ." When the Roll is Called recounts the traumatic tearing asunder of this beautiful good news and offers hope for the restoration of the whole gospel. 

I have never read a book like this although almost all of it was stuff I have heard, here and there, or in some cases have written myself. But the twist she gives, the pastoral insight coupled with clinical vignettes and psycho-spiritual biography around the topics of trauma, was fascinating to say the least.

Notice what practicing Christian psychotherapist James Olthius, Emeritus Professor of Philosophical Theology of the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto (and author of the amazingly rich The Beautiful Risk) says of it and how his remarks point us to what it captures -- it is both a historical study and a guide to deconstruct the dualism of modern evangelicalism that fails to be honest about hurt and pain and lament. 

 A much-needed investigation of the relationship between Dispensational theology and the lives and times of its founding fathers. . . . Their emphasis on the next life in heaven with a de-emphasis on present life in this world was a defensive strategy constructed to justify and excuse their diminishment of feelings and inattention to experienced trauma. The real shame: the untold number of evangelicals who still fail to experience the joy and healing of their life in Christ because of continued inattention to suffered and unworked-through trauma.

The Bride(zilla) of Christ Ted Luck.jpgThe Bride(zilla) of Christ Ted Luck & Ronnie Martin (Multnomah) $15.99  There are dozens of helpful little books that come out each year on congregational life, on church stuff, on community and Christian views of conflict and such.  There is nearly a cottage industry these days writing books about those who are irritated at the church, those who no longer want to attend, or about those who have been hurt by religious shenanigans (real and imagined.) What do we do when local church folks have hurt us -- mildly so, or seriously so? What do we do when the Bride of Christ ends up like a manic bridezilla?

I loved this book because it was both honest and yet a bit playful (the authors are pretty cool young dudes and the cheeky title offers a hint at their style.) They take the pain of those who have been hurt by toxic faith or abusive churches seriously but they also take the Biblical call to be in Christian fellowship seriously as well.  They are not emergent or progressive or whatever the latest term is for those who are re-imagining the church; that is, they are pretty traditional, pretty much loyal to the idea of the local church being an expression of the holy Bride of Christ and they invite us all to be committed to being a part of the local Body of Christ. 

Interestingly, both of these guys tell stories of being both wounded by the church and having wounded others in their own ministries. It important stuff.  Ted Kluck has written a number of books (include a great one on sports) and teaches at Union University, a Southern Baptist institution, and Ronnie Martin was known for a while as a star within the subculture of Christian pop music, doing innovative electronica  and house music under the name of Joy Electric. (Yeah, that's what I said -- that guy? Wow.)

By the way, this is a substantive, gospel-centered book with solid theology about God's grace, good quotes from Bonhoeffer's Life Together and their man Tim Keller and a bit from Lewis's brilliant The Weight of Glory.  Although there is also lots of wit on display and a bit of hip sarcasm. You've got to love a book that has a chapter title such as "Jesus Loves You But I Think You're A Jerk" and, in one on authenticity and what they call institutionalized hurt, "I Think Not Having a Gimmick Is Your Gimmick." Yes! There are bunches of pop culture allusions, from a Rolling Stones joke in the epigram to a National Lampoon movie reference to what may be the only Iggie Pop quote in a Christian book, ever.  You see, I just had to award this one.  

Almighty- Courage, Resistance and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age .jpgAlmighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age Dan Zak (Blue Rider Press) $27.00  I have told you about this before and it is without a doubt one of the best books I have read all year. It is thick, wide-ranging, and remarkably well research and well-written. There is history here, science, politics, all good background for the basic story this feisty reporter tells -- the story of three Christian radicals who feel called to protest the making of nuclear bomb components throughout the country, but mostly at Oak Ridge Tennessee.   If you have any interest in why people of faith do courageous and seemingly foolish things like getting arrested to make statements about faith and justice, this book will be illuminating. If you wonder how people come to the place where the dangers of nuclear holocaust consume them, and how they live with themselves facing decades of jail time, this study is brilliantly illuminating. If you need to be reminded of the grave moral threat that our weapons policies and budgets present to our culture and our souls, this book might be transformative for you. Agree or not with Zak's mostly favorably telling of the lives of Michael Welli, Sister Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed, this is a vast and mighty book, insightful and stimulating. It isn't many books that near 400 pages that I didn't want to end, but this is the case with Almighty. I wanted even more, eager to be engaged with this Quixotic movement of "beating swords into plowshares" carried on by hundreds of underground religious people inspired, originally, by the dramatic actions of civil disobedience of the Berrigan brothers, Philip and Daniel. In this year that Daniel died I read a remarkable collection of the prison letters written back and forth for half a lifetime by Dan and Phil.  This book, though, is the best way to understand their legacy. Read it.

caring for creation.jpgCaring for Creation: The Evangelical's Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment Mitch Hescox & Paul Douglas (Bethany House) $14.99 I've wanted to name this as one of the best books of the year from the moment I read it; that we hosted both authors in the store here the week before the book came out makes it truly one of the most important books of our year.  Mitch (the former engineer in the coal industry turned pastor turned creation-care activist) is an old friend and Paul (the weatherman and digital weather-tracking entrepreneur) a new one, and together they hit a big home run, offering Biblical insight, good science, moderate political solutions and good ideas for individuals or churches to pursue in being the caretakers of creation we are called to be.  I love these guys and love this book!

If you are concerned about climate change and don't quite know what to do, this is a great starter book.  If you have heard that some people don't even think that humans are causing climate change and fear that some of this has been overly politicized, please read this -- both authors are dear Christian leaders, both happen to be Republican and pro-life; that is, this isn't your typical screed from the far left as some assume all climate change books are. This book deserves to be better known, widely read, and seriously considered. Of the bunches of books on creation care that we shelved this year, this is the one we most want to honor as one of the most important books of 2016.

ruined.jpgRuined: A Memoir Ruth Everhart (Tyndale) $14.99 This has been one of those books that has stayed with me for months after having read it and we still get orders based on the review I wrote when it came out last August. You may recall that this book tells the story of Ruth Everhart being a student in the late 1960s at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan where she and her housemates were raped. The story is told well, with enough pathos and tragedy to make it hard, at times (how could it not) but the criminal tragedy itself is not the only story being told. She struggles with the hard questions of God's sovereignty and why bad things happen --what scholars call theodicy -- and rejects some of her conservative Reformed community's beloved doctrines. Everhart's faith journey continues as she experiences some healing and hope (but how can one ever fully get over such a devastating assault?) and ends up happily married and a pastor in the PC(USA.)  Ruined is "told with candor and unflinching honest" the publisher says, it is "an extraordinary emotional and spiritual journey." It has won a number of other book awards this season and has been on other "best of the year" lists.  Highly recommended.

Go- Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith.jpgGo: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith Preston Sprinkle (NavPress) $14.99  There have been lots of books out these days about whole-life discipleship, about moving beyond nominal faith or internal spirituality, and about actually living out faith as followers of Jesus.  A few of these use the insights of the "missional church" movement and invite us to a sort of faithful discipleship that is missional.  This one is one of the very best I've seen in this simple genre -- exciting, visionary, practical, though, and incorporating various insights from the missional movement. There are more academic ones, and we have them. This one, though, is practical and energetic. It's got some info graphics and data (discovered by research commissioned by the Navigators and the Barna Group, newly presented here) that is usefully shown in order to help us appreciate the urgency of the priorities we will have to attend to if we're going to return discipleship to the front lines of our faith communities. 

I like that Sprinkle teaches us to be disciples of Jesus together and that that demands community, spiritual formation,  developing the Christian mind, thinking about notions of vocation and calling, and more.  Happily, he is not unaware of the Biblical mandate to be agents of social transformation, seeking justice, being peacemakers, and working for racial reconciliation and the like. Go isn't primarily a book about social action but he isn't tone deaf to the needs of the aching world.  Sprinkle brings an energy and encouragement to his call to be more vibrant in faith and he offers something for the young Christian who is new to Biblically-informed living as well as something for those of us who need an upbeat reminder to get busy seeking God's Kingdom in all we do.  Anyway, it's one of many but for a variety of reasons I think it is one of the best I've seen.  Read it and get going!

Money-and-Possessions.jpgMoney and Possessions Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $40.00 Do you know the popular "Interpretation" Bible commentary series? Somewhat in the spirit of these mainline denominational semi-scholarly commentaries this publisher inaugurated a few years ago a series called  Interpretation Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church.  That is, they've brought similar sorts of good scholars who are willing to summarize complex theological and Biblical themes in one handsome hardback book on a topic, not a certain book of the Bible.  There have been several volumes in this series: one on the sacraments, one important one called Canon and Creed; the one on violence in the Scriptures by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Jerome F.D. Creech is very good.  Ellen Davis did one on Biblical prophecy with the subtitle "Perspectives for Christian Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry" and Richard Lischer did the one on reading the parables. There is a big one on the Ten Commandments offering ways to preach and teach and live by these texts within our contemporary setting. You get the picture, eh?

And so it seemed a stroke of genius to recruit Walter Brueggemann to do this massive study of nearly every significant text in the whole Bible that deals with money and economics.  Although Walt is by training an Old Testament scholar and is passionate about the whole Bible, he has studied economics and social theory more than just about anybody I know (including some who work in business and economics!) He offers exegetical comment informed by the broad and wide church, naming what Church Fathers or people like Calvin or Luther (or modern liberation theologians for that matter) have said. He opens the hefty Money and Possessions with an epigram ("The Three Cries of History") from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath which sets us up powerfully for a study that is not only rigorous but urgent and well written.  The foreword by Richard Horsley is important and this resource is one we should celebrate, study, and learn somehow, by God's great grace, to apply. It may not be the final word and I suspect there are some other authors he should have cited and perspectives he should have more overtly grappled with, but this is, doubtlessly, one of the major contributions of the year in Biblical studies for God's people. 

God, Neighbor, Empire- The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good.jpg

For what it is worth it is hard not to honorably mention the other new, significant work released this year by Bruggemann, God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good published in hardback by Baylor University Press. ($24.95.)  As I said in our newsletter when I announced it earlier this fall, these were lectures given at Fuller Theological Seminary. Very, very impressive and certainly one of the great books of the year.


Hamilton- The Revolution .jpgHamilton: The Revolution Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (Hachette/Grand Central Publishing) $45.00 Well, yeah. Of course. The ground-breaking musical won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and this book gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions -- the US one in which that the poor kid of the Caribbean fought against the British and this hip-hop once-in-a-generation theatrical piece that broadened the sound of Broadway.  This over-sized book tells the history of the show, features photos and excerpts of notebooks and emails, interviews with Questlove and Stephen Sonheim and over 40 other people involved in the production which has become a national phenomenon. We have only sold a few of these but what a blast showing it off and seeing the joy when customers realize we carry it.   This is a very important and truly handsome, fantastic volume that you will want to keep.


making sense of god.jpg.jpgThe Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs Peter Enns (HarperOne) $25.99  I reviewed this cautiously, not wanting to give the impression that the book throws out notions of truth or doctrine or that I fully agreed with Pete's provocative prose. But many others I respect have grappled with this and I think the consensus is that even if he overstates this just a bit -- and he is adamant that reading the Bible honestly can be damaging to one's faith, given the sordid stuff found in the Word of God and is adamant that trusting God is something other than agreeing to certain theological dogmas -- this is a thoughtful, winsome, inviting story of one man's journey, offering permission for others to doubt, to struggle, to reject parts of the dogma passed down (especially from evangelicalism) and to forge a living relationship with the God who is there and who loves us so.  I think it is a great gift for those skeptical of faith because they know a bit and have catapulted overboard, angry about easy answers they've been given, frustrated that the Bible seems to be racist and sexist and full of wrath and genocide. This book not only invites folks to honor their own questions and doubts but, in fact, says it is an idol to pretend to have ultimate certitude. Good stuff, but perhaps supplement it with the more classic view of knowledge implicit in the Keller book below.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00  Keller is a bit different than Pete Enns although they both have old connections with Westminster Theological Seminary.  (Keller is probably their most esteemed alum and Pete is, well, their most notorious, having been fired there a few years back.)  This book is thoughtful, literate, serious, philosophically informed by winsome in its own way, inviting those who have an allergy to thinking about the plausibility of God to consider their skepticism and consider whether it is even sensible to think about God and religion as plausible.  In this sense, it is a prequel to Keller's useful Reason for God.  Keller is always worth reading but maybe his firm apologetic could be soften by the more accommodating tone of Enns, above. 


present over perfect.jpgbroken way.jpgThe Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $22.99  I am a fan of Ann Voskamp and loved her famous One Thousand Gifts that invited us to embrace and be grateful for the goodness of God's world, finding grace in the ordinary and beauty in the here and now. It became a best seller for good reason -- it is nicely written, creatively considered, lovely, a tiny bit edgy but utterly orthodox, despite what a few cranks said. Her two on Advent were devotional and handsome, too. This one, though, moves her prose to a deeper level as she offers a profound (but not too heavy) study of the brokenness we encounter, embracing our pain, moving into the realities of who we are as hurting people. In an earlier BookNotes review I noted that there were very good blurbs on the back from Philip Yancey (who called it "rich" and "gritty") and from Eugene Peterson. Christine Caine, naturally, raved.  It's really good.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $22.99  Many readers, especially younger adult women, adore this writer who has told her stories in memoirs such as Orange Tangerine and Bittersweet. Her book about food -- Bread and Wine -- is a hugely popular book, one I adored.  Niequist is a beautiful, contemporary writer, again, with a certain very honest, contemporary style, and she uses it to full effect here as she admits to being burned out, stressed, attempting to do too much, perhaps driven by an unhealthy perfectionism. Brene Brown wrote the forward, which fits. It's pretty inspiring, if a bit overblown -- sure she's exhausted, but she's got a cool lake house and, well, is friends with Brene Brown. Jennifer Hatmaker says "I will go to the grave thankful for this message. It has changed my life." If you want deep connection rather than just frantic, this story can help.


Hammer is the Prayer- Selected Poems .jpgHammer is the Prayer: Selected Poems Christian Wiman (Farrar Straus Giroux) $26.00  I'll be the first to admit I am not a connoisseur of fine poetry and although we enjoy having a rather eccentric poetry selection, none of us here are qualified to say what is "the best." But I know enough to know that there are a handful of poets whose work is highly regarded and whose own faith journey we know has informed their serious work.  Wendell Berry comes to mind, of course, and we value the wonderful work of Mary Oliver (whose collection of essays this year, Upstream, is a volume we've so enjoyed promoting.) His memoir of Christian faith, My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer is extraordinary.  Christian Wiman, you should know, edited for decades the important Poetry  Journal. He now teaches religion and literature at Yale Divinity School.  This is the first major compilation of selected poems and it seemed an obvious choice to honor this year.


 Christian Practical Wisdom- What It Is, Why It Matters .jpgChristian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, What It Matters Dorothy Bass and others (Eerdmans) $30.00  We easily like to suggest that someone is wise and I often use the word to describe certain books. But what do we mean by that? Are we maybe too glib about that?  What practices are rooted in creational wisdom, hearing the voice of God's truth embedded in the realities of God's creation? How good are we at intuiting the ways of the Lord -- even if we know our Bibles well? Does faithful insight about daily living really matter and if so, how so? What does it look like and how can we deeper our formation in daily wisdom? These collected essays are fairly academic but there is no volume quite like this in print and some approach sheer brilliance. It's maybe a bit too much for ordinary book clubs or Adult Ed classes at church and perhaps it isn't useful as a theology textbook as such -- although I'd say without irony that it would be a wise move to use this book in educational settings. Books like this are worth their weight in gold but sadly are often not given their due. Kudos!

The Way of Love- Recovering the Heart of Christianity .gifThe Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity Norman Wirzba (HarperOne) $25.99  I'm not sure why this book didn't take off -- the publisher didn't seem to do much with it, it seems., but what a book it is!  Wirzba is a thoughtful and important scholar (his speciality area is environmental theology and he has books about Wendell Berry and a very sophisticated study of the theology of food, so he's kind of a cool writer these days.) Even with a lovely foreword by Diana Butler Bass, drawing on her beautiful study called Grounded and blurbs by the likes of Eugene Peterson (who says "Connecting love and the hope of heaven, Wirzba provides a most satisfying and convincing conclusion") it just hasn't been widely acclaimed.  There frankly aren't that many profound books on this focal point of Christian faith; I wonder why that is? Are we afraid to buckle down and study love? Do we not think that love is a way of life?  This book should be better known among us.

 Executing Grace- How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us .jpgExecuting Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) $17.99  I can't tell you how much I admire Shane and how much I agree with him in this book; one of the first campaigns of political activism I joined in college was an effort to stop executions in our state.  Yet, despite my passion and my affection for Shane, I'll admit this book has some weaknesses not the least of which is that the subtitle is off putting for some, suggesting that the death of Christ on the cross and the atonement are somehow problematic, which is not the topic of this book. That Shane doesn't do a systematic Bible study hurts the book's cause, too (mostly that would be in his avoiding Genesis 9.)  Nonetheless, the passion for justice and the human kindness that is on display here, coupled with tons of fresh research, storytelling, political analysis and spiritual reflections makes this a must-read. You should know that even some who think that capitol punishment is in principle allowed by Scripture still think, given the racism and injustices so deeply enmeshed in our current criminal justice system, that it cannot be applied justly and they therefore oppose it. (That was the position, by the way, of one of the most rigorous theological voices in the field of criminal justice, Charles Colson, which surprisingly got him on the cover of Sojourners magazine. I myself talked to Chuck about that briefly before he died...) Anyway, I wish more folks had open minds about learning about this topic and were willing to give this very informative, very moving book a try.  Kudos to those who did. You know who you are.

Union with C.jpgUnion with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $19.99 Although its a bit lengthy, I think I will honor this book by repeating what I wrote about it when I featured it in September in our BookNotes:  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.  Union with Christ 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, 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. Wilbourne's, though, is very, very special.  He studied at Princeton Theological 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?

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.


Divine Dance.jpgDivine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell (Whitaker House) $23.99  Well, I am not one to say that theology doesn't matter or that ideas about God are somehow beyond thinking well about and while I don't want to overstate the role of theology -- an old mentor of mine used to rail about turning theology into an idol which he called theolog-ism -- I do think that theology matters. A lot.  I agree with Tozer when he said that the most important part of anyone's worldview is their view of God.  So this is vital, important stuff. I applaud Father Rohr for inviting us into relationship with God and for allowing us to reflect on the meaning of God's nature.

 As you may know from my lengthy BookNotes review of this when it first came out I both admire Fr. Richard Rohr immensely and yet am troubled by any number of oddball moves made in this quirky book.  There's more that can and should be said and I advise reading this with discernment and in conversation with other more standard books on the topic . (Rohr and Morrell rather stupidly suggest that their aren't many such books and that the church has been somehow silent about the Trinity in the last centuries. Huh?)  Still, I list it here because I devoured it, re-read parts, was nicely moved by some of it, disagreed with much, and realize it is a major work of our time and deserves to be named in any list of the most important books this year. The Divine Dance deserves mention, even if in my playfully backhanded way.

One scholarly reviewer was so alarmed by its deviousness that he said that if anyone recommends it you should never listen to anything that person says again.  All-rightee-then; I hope you don't unsubscribe from our BookNotes because I rather ironically honor this book. (And, conversely, I hope you don't hate me because I disapprove of some of it.) But there you have it: I think it's a pretty bad book, nicely made with some tender portions, and yet deserves noting as it has been widely discussed and is a bit of a publishing phenomenon. For better or worse, or both, it's a notable book of 2016.  If your interested, read it for yourself, maybe with others, maybe in conversation with other more conventional books on the nature of the Triune God, and make up your own mind.


Besides the ones in my top ten, of course each of which I enjoyed immensely...

...some that brought me great, particular reading pleasure.

Dimestore- A Writer's Life.jpgDimestore: A Writer's Life Lee Smith (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) $24.95 Beth and I would both say this is one of the most delightful, enjoyable books we've read all year and I literally had to stop reading sometime to catch my breath, stunned by her turns of phrases and lovely, lovely prose. I'm sure it would be a tremendous blessing to those, at least, who like Lee Smith's popular Southern novel.  This includes some great stuff about the writing life and about Southern literature but it is somewhat of a memoir including much about her girlhood and the small town in which she grew up and her father's beloved five and dime store.  In fact, I caught just a little of her Fresh Air interview about the closing of the family retail small-town business and that is what first caught my attention. One reviewer said it is "a pitch-perfect mining of the memories, desires, and imaginations fueling one of the South's -- no, one of America's -- master storytellers."  Perhaps akin to Euodora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, it is fun, fresh, upbeat, sentimental, wise, and so very enjoyable to read. Annie Dillard says "her brilliance shines. Her wide warmth blesses everything funny about life and -- here especially -- everything moving and deep."

Testimony Robbie Robertson .jpgTestimony Robbie Robertson (Crown Archetype) $30.00  Oh man, this had my name all over it -- the story of the early days of the guys who became Dylan's backup band when he notoriously went electric, The Band, and their whirl-wind careers writing in New York city, later at Big Pink, playing Woodstock, doing early Americana music -- who doesn't love them singing in rough Appalachian harmonies "take a load off Fanny" from "The Weight" or "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" or the Canadian-Cajun story of "Acadian Driftwood"? It tells of their friendships with old bluesmen, soul singers, Van Morrison, Joni MItchell and everybody from Eric Clapton to the Beatles to Dylan, of course, all play major roles. All manner of folks show up, from Salvador Dali to Japanese filmmakers to drug dealers of every imaginable sort. It tells of their fraught lives up until their big ending with the extraordinary show that became the Scorsese rock documentary The Last Waltz.  With big fat bios from heros of mine like Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon last month, this is the one I curled up with first.

We Were Feminists Once- From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl.jpgWe Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement Andi Zeisler (Public Affairs) $26.99  I am not kidding, this is maybe my favorite book of the year. Beth and I have long identified as feminists and this feisty young woman -- she founded Bitch magazine -- is wonderfully written, incredibly energetic, a storyteller and cultural critic who is a force to be reckoned with.  Of course as an evangelical Christian I disagree with basic stuff in her worldview and despise some of her views (and on occasion found her vulgarity gratuitous.)  Still, her critical engagement with how pop culture co-opts big ideas and how even revolutionary ideology can be tamed and sold is so interesting and so valuable.  She looks at TV, at books, at movies, and rock and pop music (up to and including a splendid analysis of Beyonce.) Her chapter on feminist advertising and the reforming influence feminism had (and is having) on corporate culture is brilliant, entertaining and insightful.  More broadly, I'm interested in anyone who can show how radical ideas can or cannot be applied to culture and what true, lasting reform looks like. As a case study in cultural influence and as a morality tale about the dangers of being co-opted, We Were Feminists Once is very important. For anyone who likes to read about pop culture, it's a blast. 

Big Magic.jpgBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead Books) $16.00  I didn't read this when it came out late in 2015 (even though I absolutely adored her epic novel The Signature of All Things that year) but took up Big Magic at the end of 2016 when it came out in paperback so feel like I can name it now.  I firmly disagree with her basic thesis that the muse has personality -- creativity for her, as with many ancient pagans, can literally visit you (or depart if you are not cooperative)  sort of like spirits or angels. I disagree with this view of how creativity works and think a Christian aesthetic theory that is consistent with a Biblical worldview (as explored, say, by Calvin Seerveld or Nicholas Wolterstorff or Jeremy Begbie) presents a very different view and thereby leads to different attitudes and maybe different practices. Yet, she tells some unforgettable stories that are nearly incredible about her view, including one encounter involving her friend and fellow writer Ann Patchett (perhaps you saw her stunning TED talk on this. Wow.) I chose not to take her idea literally, and that freed me up to so enjoy this sweet and I think very wise book.

Anyway, Big Magic, despite this almost goofy view of creative ideas looking for participants to embody them, has some of the sanest, most delightful, inspiring, helpful, guidance for writers and artists and creative folks that I've read anywhere. I love how she devastates the romantic idea that suffering is good for art or that writers and musicians and artists should get a pass when it comes to addictive and unhealthy behaviors; no!  She is so good on this, warning us all about the dangers of romantic views and guiding us towards healthy, life-giving, positive views of being properly open to creative lives.  I also like how she invites ordinary folks to exercise their creative gifts as avocations, so to speak.  She is big on making things -- do it! do it! she insists over and over.  Ms Gilbert is clear about the costs and exuberant about the joys. I am not sure why I was so very taken with this but after finishing it, I started it all over again, something I rarely do.  It offers stories and writing that is really fun and specific guidance that made me ponder and reflect on my attitudes.  Thanks you, EG.

almighty - zak.jpgAlmighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age Dan Zak (Blue Rider Press) $27.00 I wrote a bit about this above and in a big December post naming books that might make good gifts, suggesting this for anyone involved in peacemaking, protest, or who wants to see how America's nuclear weapon's program developed and has been resisted by an underground movement of faith-based folks inspired by the likes of Dan and Phil Berrigan.  I've admitted before that I have been found with some of these folks and have participated in some of these kinds of dramatic actions of civil disobedience before, so in a way this was reading about folks I know, including at least one event about which I had some very inside knowledge. So this was a very important book for me this year and I kept wondering how readers would feel about this big book if they where not already convinced that making nuclear weapons is (as the Roman Catholic church has said) is a sin (since to use them would be a sin.)  It is my hunch that this is so well written and so dramatic and such a sprawling story that agree or not, many would find it hard to put down. It is a learned, important bit of social history, scientific expose, religious testimony and the chronicling of a movement of bravery and faith. It was one of my favorite books of the year.

The Boys in the Bunkhouse- Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland .jpgBoys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland Dan Barry (Harper) $26.99 I reviewed this above so won't repeat myself here, but it truly was one of the big books that I couldn't -- and still can't -- stop thinking about, a reading experience that I simply couldn't escape.  I hope you didn't skip over my description above as it is epic, and, I think, important for us to consider.  How did this happen? How do we miss the mistreatment of those with special needs, the vulnerable, those doing hard manual labor in our local factories and plants? What a piece of work this is, what a good writer the author is thoughtful and caring; after reading this I immediately ordered his own memoir so I could learn what led him to be the kind of man he is and the kind of journalist he has become. Wow.  This is a great read.

after college - erica young reitz.jpgAfter College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00 I have reviewed this great book elsewhere at BookNotes and hope you recall it.  It is a book, obviously, designed for college seniors or those right out of college and we can't say how much it means to us to see it in print. Erica is a long-time supporter of our store, a very, very fine campus minister with the CCO, and she has specialized in this work of preparing collegiates to transition well into young adulthood after college. I know she is thoughtful and caring and a good writer -- she did the afterward to my own book for young adults, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, after all. But when I got my hands on this when it released, and Beth and I started to read it, I was more than pleasantly surprised, I was deeply delighted at just how very good After College was. There are hundreds of very useful and inspiring books of basic Christian growth and books about maturing in faith and I get to skim a lot of them. Some are really good, and this is one of those -- wonderfully written, drawing on great stories and the occasional well placed literary quote, written with charm and grace.  I'll admit I read it through the lens of my own friendship with the author who I so admire and also my own interest in my own young adult kids, not to mention many other young friends who I thought would enjoy it. But the fact of the matter is I was elated to read this, enjoyed it a lot, and think it is one of the great releases this year. Kudos to IVP for taking a chance on this first time author and doing right by her with this great release. Cheers!

Great Tide Rising- Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change .jpgGreat Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change Kathleen Dean Moore (Counterpoint) $26.00 I have said often that I will read any new book by Kathleen Moore, such a fine and moving writer she is. I suppose I'd say this was one of the most moving books I experienced this year, with its remarkable prose, its coherent vision, its passion for justice and goodness and living a life of meaning in the face of the harms perpetrated upon the Earth.  Some may find it a bit overwrought and others might want a Biblical or theological perspective and this does not offer that. But it is a sturdy, morally serious and, most often, beautiful book of nature writing, solace, family, and the search for meaningful action in a time of climate change.  I enjoy her prose, an I'm pressed with her comfort in the rough outdoors and her enjoyment of the beauty of land and sea, creatures great and small. And I am challenged by her passion to know what to do, knowing what we do know. This is an important book, beautiful, sophisticated and demanding and a personal favorite, even though it is about some scary stuff.


The Bookstore That Matters David Almack.jpgThe Bookstore That Matters David Almack (FaithLit Publications) $14.99  I do hope a few of our favorite customers order this but I'll admit it is mostly an in-house guide to running a Christian bookstore and therefore of most interest to fellow retailers or those in the religious publishing industry. David is a respected acquaintance and his telling of his work in Philadelphia as a book lover and book seller as one who sees the possibility of Christian bookstores as a key to ministry makes for a fine read for anybody who loves Christian literature. His legendary work in urban Philly is cool, too -- he's brought in Christian hip hop artists and done all kinds of literacy work and outreach through the CLC shops.  That he very kindly mentions Hearts & Minds and commends our BookNotes reviews is a very serious compliment and I am deeply gratified to have found our work mentioned in this book. Thanks, Dave.


reclaiming hope.jpgReclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America Michael Wear (Nelson Books) $25.99  Within the week I will post a review of this major release -- PRE-ORDER IT NOW if you'd like and we will send it to you the day it releases Januray 17th; it will surely be on my list next year this time as one of the great books of 2017.  Nearly a decade ago, Michael dropped out of college to work in the inspiring first campaign of Senator Obama and watched as he appealed widely to the broad faith community in the US -- evangelical Rick Warren prayed at his first inaugural, you might recall. Michael is a theologically traditional evangelical and an idealistic Democrat which makes him not rare, but not commonplace, either.  I admire him greatly for his conscientious, Biblically-informed balance and thoughtfulness about politics, public service, and the common good. He ended up working alongside the President in the White House in a position at the intersection of faith, politics and public life.

Wear was one of Obama's "ambassadors to America's believers" (as Buzzfeed called him) and one of the youngest White House staffers in modern American history; he wasn't yet 21 when he took up his job with the Obama Administration.  This book is Michael's own recollections and analysis on everything from the earliest days of his own faith journey and how and why he got involved in politics, and, eventually, the controversies around Jeremiah Wright, for instance, and the dis-inviting of Louis Giglio from the second Inaugural (quite a contrast to the previous "big tent" approach four years earlier.) From the religious implications of health care reform and the complicated matters of the President's later advocacy for same sex marriage, an issue which he perhaps disingenuously said he "evolved" on, Michael brings insider insight, honed by his own faithful, Christian, evaluations. It has been an extraordinary and historic decade, of course, and Wear brings insight beyond his years. Reclaiming Hope is a very lively book, and I couldn't put it down.  Mr. Wear, in fact, will be appearing at our bookstore in March to tell us more about his years in the White House and the "lessons learned" that he shares so well in Reclaiming Hope.  I read an advanced copy of the manuscript and although it is officially a 2017 release, it was one of my own personal favorite reads late this fall.  I can't wait to tell you more about it, soon.  Congratulations, Michael. And thank you for your service to our country in what were complex and painful times. I'm grateful you tell your story, both the good and the bad, the sweet and bittersweet, and hope many order the book.   


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December 26, 2016


books for living.jpgBooks for Living Will Schwalbe (Knopf) $25.95  Oh my, I'm so excited about this. It releases today!  I hope you know the name of this author as he wrote the wonderful memoir The End of Your Life Book Club which was about books he read together with his mother as she was dying. What a mother he had, and what a book he wrote, a combo of a story of dying well, of grief and loss, and the life-giving power of reading together. It would simply not do it justice to say it was a bunch of book reviews although perhaps that was the narrative structure.  I loved that book and recommend it.

This brand new one, it seems, is in a similar vein, reviews of about 25 books -- from Stuart Little to The Girl on a Train, from Bird by Bird to Death Be Not Proud. There are a few old classics (The Odyssey, David Copperfield) and some fairly modern ones (the must-read Reading Lolita in Tehran.)  He has a certain lesson gleaned from each and I am eager to see how he shows us how reading brings life, is for life, how books are our companions as we travel through life, such as it is.


There are some great and classy endorsements on the back of this handsome hardback, blurbs from the likes of Nikki Giovanni, Elizabeth Alexander, Thomas Foster, whose book How to Read Literature Like a Professor I enjoyed a lot.

Here is wonderful Mary Oliver:

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe lives wonderfully up to its title. He offers an easy tone, sections chapter by chapter of his chosen stories and their affiliations to our own lives. He reminds me of a diviner who walks the open fields, taps, and reveals something rarely talked about, or perhaps never noticed, in one story or another, but is important. That's a thrill! I can't imagine a person who loves books not being grateful. Any season of the year, this book is a gift. 

And the always fun A.J. Jacobs says, seriously,

I very much enjoyed it . . . inspiring and charming . . . Books, to Schwalbe, are our last great hope to keep us from spiraling into the abyss. It's an old-fashioned thesis that this ancient medium can save civilization but I happen to agree. Books build compassion, they inspire reform. They remain, Schwalbe writes, one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny. And man, do we need bulwarks right now. Lots of bulwarks . . . Read Schwalbe's book.

Roots To The Earth.pngRoots to the Earth Wendell Berry, wood engravings by Wesley Bates (Counterpoint) $26.00  How did we not know this was released just a bit ago? How glad we were to display it last week!  It is a handsome oversized art book illustrating a few of Wendell Berry's poems that are most obviously about farming. (Ahh, yes, reading about farming is good but Eugene Peterson has said that perhaps Berry's books about farming could also be read to be about church life. I like that line that notes how off it is to suggest that Moby Dick is "about whaling.")  But, yes, these poems and engravings are, at least, about farming.

The publisher tells us the backstory:

In 1995, Wendell Berry's Roots to the Earth was published in portfolio form by West Meadow Press. The wood etchings of celebrated artist and wood engraver, Wesley Bates, were printed from the original wood blocks on handmade Japanese paper. 

In 2014, this work was reprinted along with additional poems. Together with Bates original wood engravings, and designed by Gray Zeitz, Larkspur Press printed just one hundred copies of this book in a stunning limited edition. 

Now it is with great pleasure that Counterpoint is reproducing this collaborative work for trade publication, as well as expanding it with the inclusion of a short story, The Branch Way of Doing, with additional engravings by Bates. 

In his introduction to the 2014 collection, Bates wrote: 

As our society moves toward urbanization, the majority of the population views agriculture from an increasingly detached position In his poetry [Berry] reveals tenderness and love as well as anger and uncertainty The wood engravings in this collection are intended to be companion pieces to the way he expresses what it is to be a farmer.

A-Well-of-Wonder.jpgA Well of Wonder: Essays on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings Clyde S. Kilby edited by Loren Wilkinson & Keith Call (Paraclete Press/Mount Tabor Books) $28.99  I suspect that anyone who cares much about the Inklings will know well the important role Wheaton English professor Clyde Kilby played in promoting their work in the mid-to late 20th century. Would we know or care as much about Lewis and Barfield and Williams and Sayers and the others if it weren't for the beloved Kilby (1902 - 1986) and his editing, compiling, teaching, and, finally, founding the premier Lewis collection at the Marion E. Wade Center? I had reason to hear about this marvelous anthology of Kilby's essays more than a year ago and I'm delighted -- thrilled, even -- to get to announce it to you here.

Happy Christmas!

Arts-and-the-Christian-Imagination.jpgThe Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics Clyde S. Kilby edited by William Dyrness & Keith Call (Paraclete Press/Mount Tabor Books) $28.99  This book is not even here yet although we expect it later this week. What a beautiful companion to A Well of Wonder. Here is what the publisher says about it:

Dr. Clyde Kilby was known to many as an early, long and effective champion of C. S. Lewis, and the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL, for the study of the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings. Less known is that Dr. Kilby was also an apologist in his time for arts, aesthetics and beauty, particularly among Evangelicals. 

This collection offers a sampler of the work of Dr. Clyde Kilby on these themes. He writes reflections under four headings: Christianity, Art, and Aesthetics; The Vocation of the Artist; Faith and the Role of the Imagination; and Poetry, Literature and the Imagination. 

With a unique voice, Kilby writes from a specific literary and philosophical context that relates art and aesthetics with beauty, and all that is embodied in the classics. His work is particularly relevant today as these topics are being embraced by Protestants, Evangelicals, and indeed people of faith from many different traditions. A deeply engaging book for readers who want to look more closely at themes of art, aesthetics, beauty and literature in the context of faith.



Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church.jpgVisual Arts in the Worshiping Church Lisa J. DeBoer (Eerdmans) $24.00  We stock anything we can from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and this is another in their serious-minded Liturgical Studies series, edited by the brilliant and significant John D. Witvliet.  This new one has already been called "wise and wonderful" and "indispensable" (by Robin Jensen) and, in the words of W. David O. Taylor (editor of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, a collection which I happen to love) "her study of the visual arts in worship is both concrete and illuminating, and points to a fruitful way forward."  DeBoer is an art history prof at Westmont College but has spent time in congregations all over, and has been in dialogue with some of the finest practitioners around. It includes a very impressive foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff who has, I trust you know, written deeply about worship, liturgy, and also about justice and aesthetics.  

Wolterstorff says of DeBoer's book, that she uncovers, actual congregations in different traditions do in fact engage the arts and why they engage them as they do. It's a groundbreaking approach, full of fascinating details and perceptive analyses.

God, Neighbor, Empire- The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good.jpgGod Neighbor Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good Walter Brueggemann (Baylor University Press) $24.95  I announced this last week but also said we didn't have any in stock. The academic press who published it must have run out right away -- before they even hit all the stores.  (There was that huge Society of Biblical Literature Conference, after all.) So, for us, this is brand new -- wow!

This one is truly new and substantial, not like the other two releases by Dr. B this year -- one a collection of previously published scholarly pieces, the other a very short set of meditations both which are themselves pretty great. But a brand new work like this by Brueggy just makes my year, and here we go. What an amazing, serious, evocative book. Not utterly new ideas, of course, but new texts, new messages, new connections, new challenges to embody the prophetic imagination in our times.

These lectures were first delivered at Fuller Theological Seminary and Brueggemann's fluency in the Biblical text and evangelical faith commitments are on wondrous display. The forward is by Tim A. Dearborn -- when I first met him I think he worked for World Vision, so knows a thing or two about passion for the oppressed and the hard work on the ground inspiring church folks to care about global justice. Now Dr. Dearborn is the Director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching there at Fuller. It is a wonderful piece setting the stage.

Walt's chapters are rich and dense, as you would expect.  His assigned topic was to relate Justice, Grace, Law, and the Mission of God.  Yeah, just that.  And yet through it all, there shines a beauty. Tremper Longman notes "his deep love of God, Scripture and humanity reverberates throughout this incisive exploration of God's excessive faithfulness."

After a very lengthy and learned introduction, Brueggemann sets out these four presentations, each which are substantial.  

The Nature and Mission of God

Irredacibly, Inscrutably Relational


From Zion Back to Sinai


The Inexplicable Reach Beyond


The Summons to Keep Listening


Created & Creating.jpgCreated & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture William Edgar (IVP Academic) $24.00  I gave a quick shout out about this last week when I was doing those epic "something for everyone" book lists. I still haven't had time to look through it much -- it's been on the shelf about a week and I look at it longingly as I zip by a twenty times a day. It really is brand new and very, very significant. And, I think, will be a popular resource for Hearts & Minds loyalists.

You may recall that Beth and I hosted Bill and his wife at an annual lecture we sponsored out in Pittsburgh a few summers ago. Bill had just released a very interesting book about Francis Schaeffer's True Spirituality and how Schaeffer's cultural engagement, relevant, thoughtful theology, and moment-by-moment trust in Christ inspired him in his own work as jazz musician, justice seeking urban dweller, and professor of apologetics.  Back then Bill told us he was working on a major work on our own cultural engagement -- in but not of the world -- and our very essence as humans made in God's image, culture formers that we are?    Just the title alone says so much and hints that it is going to be a very wise and insightful book.

His colleague K. Scott Oliphint, professor of apologetics and systematic theology, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia says what many of us who know Bill surely think: "I have been waiting for this book since I first met Dr. Edgar."  

Oliphint continues:

I can count on one hand the people who are qualified to write such a work, and Bill Edgar is at the top of the list. He is a Christian theologian who is also an expert in cultural studies. This should be the first volume one reads when questions of Christianity and culture are broached.

Or, as Tim Keller put it,

Anything from the pen of Bill Edgar is profitable to read, but this subject is in Bill's wheelhouse. An important book on a topic that, for Western Christians, has never been so crucial.

Right on!

The publisher explains more, even as they promise some forthcoming resources for teaching Created and Creating:

By exploring what Scripture has to say about the role of culture and by gleaning insights from a variety of theologians of culture -- including Abraham Kuyper, T. S. Eliot, H. Richard Niebuhr, and C. S. Lewis -- Edgar contends that cultural engagement is a fundamental aspect of human existence. He does not shy away from those passages that emphasize the distinction between Christians and the world. Yet he finds, shining through the biblical witness, evidence that supports a robust defense of the cultural mandate to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). With clarity and wisdom, Edgar argues that we are most faithful to our calling as God's creatures when we participate in creating culture.

restored berlin - better.jpgRestored: Finding Redemption in Our Mess Tom Berlin (Abingdon) $15.99  Perhaps you

need a book to just help you get back on track in this new year. Perhaps you need basic, clear, convicting good news.  Tom Berlin is an upbeat, good writer, not much fooling around but some great examples, good stories, inspiring stuff. Although simple and clear he is not simplistic -- he draws on everybody from St. John of the Cross to Evelyn Underhill, Augustine to Dallas Willard (via Bill Murray, but that's another story.) He's a United Methodist pastor who has written some very popular books about congregational health and finding big faith.  (One book studies various ways people encounter God -- fascinating.)  I love the idea of this book; God redeems the mess of our lives, that salvation is goodness restored, health, healing, hope, meaning even amidst the junk. Far as the curse is found, you know. Transformation. Restoration. Berlin is an obviously good pastor, a sensitive shepherd and knows well the messes we make.  And he cares enough to show us a way out, based on the work of God the restorer.

As Brenda Birton-Mitchell (an inductee into the Martin Luther King College of Preachers at Morehouse College) puts it, 

Pastor Tom Berlin has written this book through the eyes of the his heart. I could see the handiwork of God in every chapter.

Or listen to Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, Senior Pastor of the famous Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC:

In Berlin's capable hands, a dog with a mouth full of couch cushion, a poll on stink bugs, and an intrusive vine in a neighbors yard all become occasions for exploring the gap we create between ourselves and a God who is always reaching out to love us.


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December 23, 2016

We Can Send a Hearts & Minds Gift Card via E-mail OR: Make Your Own DIY Gift Card

We've sent this out other years for those that need a quick last minute gift. If you don't want to make your own gift card we can digitally send one of our own to you via email.  That's very quick and very easy. Any amount.

Last, last minute, lots of fun, DIY Gift Card. You make it, you give it. Simple.

Abook wrapped in brown.jpgs do most stores, we enjoy selling and sending out gift certificates.  You may call them "gift cards" but ours aren't plastic,  but nicely printed certificates; old school.  Some customers really enjoy giving them and they are the perfect solution for gifts large or small.  We make them for any amount you'd like, and can send them out anywhere.

But here is what is fun -- this time of year we invite a little homemade DIY action.  Why not get crafty, use your imagination, open up that aesthetic dimension of life, and prettify something as a way to share some H&M joy?  You can make your own gift certificate and we will honor it.

Yep, you can make your own gift card, for any amount, drawing it up in any way you'd like.  Give them to your loved ones, and voila, they can be ordering whatever they like, whenever they like.

Here is how it works.  On the secure order form page at our website, just type in that you arpaper trail.jpge making your own gift card and tell us the dollar amount you want it to be for.  We will send to you the cc receipt (or a bill, if you'd rather) to your address for your records.  We will also reply promptly via email (as we always do) and give you a little gift certificate number that you can write on the card somewhere, just for everybody's records.  (Be sure to give us YOUR email address, not the recipients, as we want to confirm with you.) 

If you tell us to whom you are giving it, that would be helpful for our files, too.  We won't correspond with them, but having a name would be good.  That way, if they lose it -- heaven forbid, since it will be a work of art -- we can still honor it. 

This is so easy, and if you'd rather do it over the phone, that is simple, too.  Just call the shop at 717.246.3333.

Mhandmade christmas.jpgaking and giving your own gift certificate is one last way for you to say Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, or to commemorate any of the Twelve Days of Christmas, including (our family favorite) Epiphany.  The Persian astrologers brought gifts to Jesus on that day, so you could put Epiphany art on it.  Smart thinking, eh?  Or use it for a Christmas eve stocking stuffer or along with a thank you to someone who has blessed you this year.

Speaking of gift-giving, you all are a great gift to us.  Beth and I and our staff thank you for caring about books, for supporting a real store, and for allowing us to inform you about books we think you'll like, all through the year.  We enjoy our on-line friends and appreciate those who follow along, sharing in our efforts.  You are part of this story and we are grateful, daily.  At this glorious holiday time, though, we are especially aware of how we wouldn't be here if it were not for you, our friends and customers.  Merry, merry Christmas.


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December 18, 2016


With no extra cost we can get books to nearly anywhere in the US in a few days,  by Christmas if you order now.

These are all at a great discount. 25% off  THIS WEEK ONLY.

Sale expires December 24, 2016.

While supplies last.  The family prayer book Teach Us to Pray is excluded from this offer.  Sorry, no discount on that one.

After December 24, 2016 all items mentioned are 10% off. 

Keep in mind that we've got the 12 days of Christmas coming up, and some folks give gifts then, especially on Epiphany. If the Wise men gave gifts that day, well it makes sense, eh?

Some nice picture books that would make sweet presents to little ones you love.

Why Am I Here.jpgWhy Am I Here? Constance Orbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin (Eerdmans) $16.00 Eerdmans is one of the world's premier theological publishers and a personal favorite. There children's publishing plan is interesting: they acquire the rights to particularly provocative, always artsy, sometimes award-winning books from Europe (and other places overseas) and re-do them into English. Why Am I Here?, for instance, was an important WHY AM I HERE page spread.jpgchildren's book in Scandinavia and although it doesn't seem particularly religious -- and the artwork is edgy and modern -- it is asking a huge question: why me, why here? Even young children can imagine that they might have been born elsewhere and this playfully gets at this profound curiosity. "What if I lived somewhere completely different -- in a city with millions of people, perhaps, or a country where the fighting never ended?"  There are some unpleasant questions but the child's wonderings end nicely, that he is loved wherever he is, and, for now, he is at home.  Very thoughtful.  One reviewer explained how the book can teach empathy.

You Belong Here M.H. jpgYou Belong Here M.H. Clark, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Compendium) $18.95  I like this for a number of reasons. The handwritten text and the very lovely, if slightly modern, drawings work together to create a poetic and serene story about various creatures and where they belong -- whales in the ocean, bears in their caves. And the theme is that "you" -- the child to whom it is being read -- "belong here." It is about acceptance and love and being in the place one belongs.

Oh my, you could give this to your grown kids, too, for that matter...Sweet.you_belong_here page spread.jpg

Refuge- The Timeless Story of Christmas Anne Booth .jpgRefuge: The Timeless Story of Christmas Anne Booth & Sam Usher (Little Brown) $15.99  I am so glad we found this simple, small book as in its nearly understated telling of the nativity it highlights the part about Mary and Joseph needing to run for their lives as they became refugees in Egypt. It isn't too intensely told but it is a key part of the Biblical story.

The pen and ink washes include a little pastel giving this a quietly moving look. Refuge supports refugees with the publisher donating money from each copy to UNCHR: The UN Refugee Agency.  Very nicely done.

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Christmas Love Letters from God - Bible Stories Glenys Nellist.jpg

Christmas Love Letters from God - Bible Stories Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Rachel Clowes (ZonderKidz) $16.99  Perhaps you will recall our celebrating the fantastic big book Love Letters from God which not only has whimsical and expert drawings and great art, but a little tipped in envelope that can be opened, with a little letter, from God, to the child.  What a great idea this was, a great children's picture Bible, made personal with this feature, something even better than the popular lift-the-flap trick.

christmas love letters page.jpgThis one is a holiday version of the earlier one. Children can open and read their own personal Christmas letters from God as they experience seven stories surrounding the birth of Christ. At the end of each engaging story, children will find their own letter from God written especially for them, in the same nifty little envelope that opens up. Brightly done, great Bible teaching, heartwarming. I love this, and your kids will do.

The Plan- How God got the World Ready for Jesus.jpgThe Plan: How God got the World Ready for Jesus Sinclair Ferguson illustrated by Angelo Ruta (Christian Focus) $9.99 I loved how this started, saying that to be ready for something, one has to have a plan. True. And that for this great plan of God to redeem the world, God had to get several people in the right place at the right time. This text heavy story shows that Caesar had that census, the shepherds guarded their flocks, the wise men rode camels through the desert as they followed the star. Those who trust the Reformed accents of this good Scottish Presbyterian preacher will be glad for this book. The pictures are colorful if not spectacular.  The story ends with modern day people -- some oddly at the beach, some at a picnic in the woods -- hearing this Christmas story with an invitation for children to receive Christ as savior and be assured of His love and their part in his plan. 

The Lord's Prayer- Words of Hope and Happiness Rick Warren.pngThe Lord's Prayer: Words of Hope and Happiness Rick Warren, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson (ZonderKidz) $16.99 This is a beautiful, beautiful book with fairly traditional, lush children's illustrations by a renowned artist. It goes through the lines of the Lord's Prayer with each phrase nicely printed over a picture and then a simple explanation along the side in a handsome graphic. This is really nice.  Here's one heads-up: the book was released previously, went out of print, and has been re-issued with a brand new cover. The artwork on the cover is fabulous, I think, just great, although the art on the inside is more vivid than the classy cover indicates.


This is a great book -- highly recommended.

The Priest with Dirty Clothes R.C. jpg

The Priest with Dirty Clothes R.C. Sproul, illustrated by Justin Gerard (Reformation Trust) $18.00  This, too, is a wonderful reissue of an older book, now made expertly with sturdy end papers and wonderful artwork.  The style seems a bit like contemporary children's movies, which I mean as a compliment -- very well done. The story is fascinating, a rather obscure Biblical episode about Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3:1-5. What does it mean that our Great Prince can offer "new clothes for the heart" if we trust Him? Believe it or not, this is a kids book about the theological doctrine of imputation (that some say is at the heart of the biblical doctrine of justification.) What an imaginative way to get at this inner transformation -- "the great exchange" -- where we are given newness as a gift. 

Books Do Not Have Wings Brynne Barnes.jpgBooks Do Not Have Wings Brynne Barnes illustrated by Rogerio Coelho (Sleeping Bear Press) $16.99  Those who know quality and often playful children's picture books esteem Sleeping Bear and this book will certain underscore their reputation -- it is so imaginative and playful and fascinating. It includes intricate watercolor illustrations of wild boats and machines and phenomenal stuff -- saying that a book (only if it is read) can be nearly anything, taking you (as the old Reading Rainbow song put it) "anywhere." What an outrageous way to remind young readers of the power of the imaginations, guided by the printed page.

Kwame Alexander, 2015 Newbery Medal Award Winner says of it, "This is not just a book. It's a loony look. A clever, rhythmic, rhyming, rollicking, magical celebration of whimsy and words that soar off the page. But, if this were a book -- with incredibly inspiring illustrations -- it would surely hook young readers."  

Radical Book for Kids- Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith Champ Thornton.jpgThe Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith Champ Thornton (New Growth Press) $24.99  This is a truly extraordinary book, unlike anything we've seen come out this year.  The hardback cloth cover has ink over it in a texture like an old school silk screen, giving it a very retro/hipster feel. Edgy cool parents will dig the graphic appeal of the cover, even the inside cover pages has artful lines giving it a very hip design feel.

The inside itself is less edgy, but it is utterly colorful, lots of graphics and full color pictures and drawings and random fonts. It's a visual spectacle but not so much that it becomes a distraction.

radical book for kids page spread.jpg

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

Here's what it says on the back:

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

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

Their Great Gift- Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land John Coy,.jpgTheir Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie (CarolRhoda Books) $19.99  CarolRhoda is known for respected nonfiction books for young readers and this is a stunning collection of photographs and stories -- arrival stories, at first. With nearly lyrical text and the thought-provoking photos, this is a book about the experiences of immigrants in the twenty-first century. It focuses on the lives of children, children who have come to America from many different parts of the world and from very different circumstances. This is a beautiful reminder of the goodness of our land of freedom and diversity.  The photojournalism is superb and valuable for anyone although the text is sparse, for younger children, I suppose. There is a great piece in the back about how the two men became friends (twenty-five years ago!) when they met on the basketball court. Nicely done.

Parachute Danny Parker.jpgParachute Danny Parker, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Eerdmans) $16.00  Originally published in Australia, kudos to Eerdmans for picking up this quirky, clever book.  It is going to be beloved for some kids who just might relate.  In this simple story, the boy has a parachute which he carries as what we sometimes call a "security blanket" (although it is not named as such.) The scene of him needing it when he crawls out of his bunk bed each morning is wild -- you'd think his bed was a tower twenty stories high. And so on. Place by place he needs this parachute to keep him safe. (You never know when your going to need one, after all.) The pictures -- it took me a minute to figure this out -- are from his point of view, with "Jack and the Beanstalk" sort of heights, swinging bridges and parachute page spread.jpgladders and ropes. Eventually (I won't spoil it too much for you) he uses the thing and it works. Slowly he realizes that maybe he doesn't need it all the time.  Know any kid with a banky that they just won't give up? Kids with excessive fears? Who knows, maybe this wild and fun tale that takes that seriously just might help.

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Teach Us To Pray- Scripture-Centered Family Worship .pngTeach Us To Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship Through the Year Lora Copley & Elizabeth Vander Haagen (Calvin Institute on Christian Worship/Calvin College Press) $29.99 This new book is a very handsome but very big paperback -- it's 9 x 8 inches and almost 2 inches thick!  It hefty because it is arranged with a two page facing spread for each day of the year. It guides families through family devotions in a richly liturgical and ecumenical way that I don't think I've ever seen done so well. It is geared to the church year, starting, of course, in Advent. There are some hymns and songs in the back.

Each day starts with "Preparing" -- there is something to do or say, and for a few of these you may need to lose some inhibitions.  Then there other one-word "headlines" with a sentence or two describing what to do. The headlined portions of each day's devotion follows the same daily pattern; after preparing there is inviting, stilling, singing, Bible reading, dwelling, praying, and blessing.  There is a nifty icon/logo symbol for each one along the margin.  There are good ideas but it isn't too extravagant. It is child-friendly but not silly. The authors are both ordained CRC pastors and active mothers. (Lora Copley works on the Navajo Nation in NM and Elizabeth Vander Haagen is in Grand Rapid, MI.)

Listen to what Peter Choi of City Church in San Francisco, says:

Teach Us to Pray reminds us that prayer involves both discipline and delight. Copley and Vander Haagen have poured their hard-earned wisdom as pastors and parents into these pages, inviting us to pray as a way of re-narrating our lives into the story of Scripture, as modeled in the Christian calendar. They have found a way to do so with grace, simplicity, attention to a wide range of human emotions, and passages from every book of the Bible. To use this resource is to be led by wise pastoral guides into daily, active devotion as well as unexpected moments of sweetness in friendship with God. My family and I will be reaching for this cherished book every day for many years to come. 



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                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333

December 13, 2016


As promised, here's some more Christmas pa rumpa pum pum, ideas for holiday gift giving, books for various readers. I won't repeat how I am always struck by what a great opportunity this Christmas season is to give gifts to folks, books that can be transforming and helpful and fun and good.  Skip the fruitcake (unless your special person really loves fruitcake.) Books are, as we say, great gifts.

See my FIRST BIG LIST of various titles for various sorts of folks HERE.  PART TWO of our 2016 gift giving guide is HERE.

And here we go, PART THREE of our fairly random list of fairly interesting ideas for all kinds of readers.

All of these are 10% off and we can ship promptly.  We appreciate your support; use the order form below and well get back to you confirming everything.


silence endo new cover.jpgsilence and beauty.jpgSilence  Shusaku Endo (Picado) $16.00  This is the most important novel in contemporary Japan and may be one of the most important films in the storied career of filmmaker Martin Scorsese.  As we described earlier at BookNotes, Scorsese bought the rights to this decades ago and has been waiting most of his professional career to do the film adaptation, which releases in the next few weeks. The story is intense, about the persecution of Christian priests and missionaries in 14th century Japan. Is God silent? This handsome new edition of the novel has a discussion guide and a new foreword by Scorsese.

SIlence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00 This stunning book (with a beautiful, award winning cover) is Mako's own story as a modern artist who discovered the novel SIlence during a trip to Nagasaki, where the horrid tale is set. It figured into his conversation and, as he developed his worldview and aesthetic imagination and art work, he continued to ponder how art can be transformational, healing, profound in the face of suffering. This is in many ways Mako's own rumination on the same themes explored by Endo and, also, a telling of his own experience with the novel, and his relationship with Mr. Scorsese as he served as a conversation partner with him as he was making the film. One of the best books of the year, coupled with the novel it would make a very poignant, relevant, artsy gift. 


Being Disciples- Essentials of the Christian Life.jpgBeing Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $10.00 The current Archbishop of Canterbury says "Here is quite the most beautiful writing on discipleship I know." On faith, holiness, living in society, life in the spirit. Like so many before him, he starts with an essay on "faith, hope, and love." Only 90 pages.  Pair it with the equally succinct and equally eloquent Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans; $10.00) about which England's Church Times writes, "A book of enormous substance... it is impossible to do it justice, so you must buy it and read it. And then read it again and again."  


gratitude oliver sacks.jpgGratitude Oliver Sacks (Knopf) $17.00 When the world famous and wildly innovative psychologist was dying he wrote this pleasing little essay, published in a small-sized hardback, classy and blessed. 

"My predominant feeling is one of gratitude," he writes. "I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."

The last chapter tells of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing -- his mother had seventeen brothers and sisters and her father even wore his yarmelke to bed. What a nice book this is.


vital little plans.jpgVital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs edited by Samuel Zipp & Nathan Storring (Random House) $28.00  For anyone wanting a gift about the wise and humane arrangements of our social lives in places, Jane Jacobs -- author of the seminal Life and Death of Great American Cities  -- is essential.  This brand new book is a  gathering of career-spanning, previously uncollected writings and talks by the legendary author and activist. As the feisty James Howard Kunstler (Geography of Nowhere, Home from Nowhere and more) says, "It is one thing to bring important ideas to the world, quite another to do it with such wit and subtlety. This volume reminds us what a sheer, crackling great writer Jane Jacobs was." Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, advises, "Don't cheat yourself of the pleasure that lies between these covers."

For what it is worth, we stock a number of books in this field, from the wonderful The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness, to the heady, important The Theology of the Built Environment (by T.I. Gorringe). We recommend as the best Christian reflection written for nonspecialists and highly recommended to everyone, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Build Environment (Baker Academic; $26.00) by Presbyterian pastor and new urbanist Eric O. Jacobsen, author also of Sidewalks of the Kingdom. I bet if you know somebody interested in this kind of stuff, they'd be tickled to get any of these good books.


Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church.jpgVisual Arts in the Worshiping Church Lisa J. DeBoer (Eerdmans) $24.00 Published in cooperation with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the newest in their Liturgical Studies series, this brand new book -- it released this week! -- looks to be the best serious thing I've ever seen on this topic. Robin Jensen calls it "wise and insightful" and "an indispensable resource."  W. David Taylor, who edited the wonderful For the Beauty of the Church, says that too many books on this topic are muddled, but, "Thankfully, DeBoer is a careful scholar; her study of the visual arts in worship is both concrete and illuminating, and its points to a fruitful way forward."  I have read Nicholas Wolterstorff's foreword and it suggests it is "groundbreaking" and "full of fascinating details and perceptive analyses.  I am so glad Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church arrived in time to tell you about it. You are going to surprise someone and bless them significantly -- if they are serious enough to read such a weighty, mature volume. Wow. 


Embrace- God's Radical Shalom for a Divided World.jpgEmbrace: God's Radical Shalom for a Divided World Leroy Barber (IVP) $16.00  The walls between us may seem impenetrable, but Leroy is wise and faithful and experienced and gracious enough to push through, to guide us towards embracing others, even those with whom we may have great differences. We have been told that Hearts & Minds has one of the best selections of books about civil rights, racial justice, cross cultural relationships and multi ethnic ministry in any Christian bookstore. I don't know about that but I do know that Leroy's new book is one I will recommend time and again -- it is delightful, basic, yet challenging. He is now the chaplain of Kilns College and director of the Voices Project.  This is good for anyone, brief and so very interesting. Highly recommended.

Strength to Love .jpgStrength to Love Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fortress Press) $24.00  I'm told that Coretta Scott King used to say that this book was the one that Martin heard positive replies back about more than any -- it consistently changes lives. She writes, "this book best explains the central element in Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy of nonviolence: his believe in a divine, loving presence that binds all life."  I love his Stride Toward Freedom and think Why We Can't Wait is especially timely. Folks should have some good collection of his speeches and sermons.  Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a great gift. But this has been released in a very handsome paperback with french folded covers and is a great gift for anyone.

just mercy.jpgJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $16.00 I said several years ago that this was one of the most moving books I have ever read in my entire life. I am glad it is out in paperback and eager to remind folks about this story of a great Christian man doing hard legal aid and life-saving law work for poor folks imprisoned unfairly.  The most discussed, nearly definitive book on racist mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) is essential reading but a bit tedious; Just Mercy just sings, painfully but beautifully. It is a must read (endorsed by Ms Alexander!) by a elegant, brave leader that I predict will someday get the Nobel Peace Prize.  Give this book now, and people will thank you for opening their eyes.


radical pursuit of rest.jpgThe Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap John Koessler (IVP) $16.00  Who wouldn't like a book with a pillow on the cover, eh? (Hey, you could give them this and a pillow.) But don't be deceived, this is a serious, mature, thoughtful work, a good book that explores the idols of our soul and the pressures of our culture. This book is, as Alan Fadling (who wrote the exquisite and highly acclaimed book The Unhurried Life) "biblically rich, theologically well-rooted and thoughtful throughout... a good guide into God's gracious and multifaceted gift of rest."  This is compelling and radical stuff, learning to resist "productivity" and trust God. It will help.

Wholeheartedness- Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self .jpgWholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self Chuck DeGroat (Eerdmans) $15.00  I have written about this before and exclaimed often how I appreciate this very good writer and this very interesting thinker.  Again, this isn't simple or cheap, but it is really good to read -- a fine writer can even bring us hard truths and explore tender stuff and it can be a delight. I admire DeGroat's vision and appreciate his style. The cover's nice, too, eh? A good gift for somebody who may need it badly.

Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit .jpgHoly Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit Whitney R. Simpson (Upper Room Books) $12.99  Okay, I know nothing about yoga, even though one of my favorite people in the world is a yoga instructor and she thinks the practice nearly saved her life. And I don't even know if this is actually about yoga, as such. But it is about listening carefully to your body, your breath, and how the Spirit can help you listen to God.  Several serious spiritual directors and Christian yoga instructors have been glad for this mature, nuanced book, full of exercises and 40 meditations.  This is a cool combo of lectio divina, yoga, breath prayer, aromatherapy and imaginative reflection. Somebody you know is going to love this brand new book!


And the Word Became Color- Exploring the Bible with Paper, Pen, and Paint.jpgAnd the Word Became Color: Exploring the Bible with Paper, Pen, and Paint Debby Topliff (firefly life) $24.00  Debby Topliff is an art teacher who also received a MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a solid and thoughtful guide to Biblical study but here she invites us to not only study or learn about the Bible but to engage it with our senses. She shows how her own engagement with the Bible was transformed as she brought her art to it. Granted, some of us are better at painting and drawing than others but this book can help anyone. And if you know somebody that is artsy, it could be a lifeline, getting them into GOd's World in powerful, potent ways. Here in this study guide she offers her own paintings as examples of how to see the texts anew -- several from the gospels and others from other passages in the New Testament.  

Writing in the Margins- Connecting with God .jpgWriting in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon Press) $16.99  I didn't realize that earlier this year the publishers gave this a slightly new cover as the book has been somewhat revised and expanded. My long introduction still serves to set it up, and I am so honored -- really! -- to have my name on the cover. That's not exactly why I mention it, though: Writing in the Margins really is a marvelously interesting book offering stories of those who interacted with God through underlining, writing symbols, question marks, and journal entries write in the holy pages.  I love this book and you, too, can be led to renewed interactive spiritual expression as you pick up the pen and write as you read.  A neat gift for those willing to respond in this way. Make sure they read the foreword -- ha!

Frameworks- How To Navigate the New Testament- An extraordinary Guide for Ordinary People.jpgFrameworks: How To Navigate the New Testament: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary People Eric Larson (Frameworks) $27.00  This book has been picked up by a major Christian publisher but we have it in its first edition, ones we purchased from the author himself when it was first produced. This illustrates, I think, that we truly believed in this oversized book that makes the chronological and theological framework of the New Testament so much more approachable.  Although this is a big book, handsomely produced, it has a "less is more" layout and helps us answer ten questions for each of the 27 books (answers about the book's theme, purpose, outline, how it is organized, how it reads, what makes it unique and what is key to remember and more.) It has some helpful photographs and offers a teacherly assistance to anyone wanting to get more out of their Bible reading.

habakkuk before.jpgHabakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, and Hope Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast community (Books Before Breakfast) $14.00 Published in Toronto by this rag tag group of university students and others who gather early on Tuesday mornings for a creative liturgy, Bible study and weekly Eucharist, HBB explores the prophetic, earth-shattering, perplexing laments of the book of Habakkuk.  As I explained in my hefty review when it came out this fall, this book is rare and, I think, very, very important. It shows how a living group, a fellowship, a  communion, can engage the Bible honestly, with contemporary application, in the context of music, prayer, litany and worship. There is really very little like it.

They did release a year ago a similar, thicker book sharing their time spent in the gospel of John called Saint John Before Breakfast. We have a few of those, too; it's pretty radical!

Each chapter has a pastoral letter written by the CRC chaplain, Brian Walsh, to the community prior to the service, setting the stage, so to speak, for the reading of the Word. That is followed by a section which shares a conversation about choosing relevant music (from Dylan to Springsteen to Taize to Celtic hymns) and then offers both the sermon of the week and the liturgical prayers and litanies. One can learn a lot about the Bible when listening in to a real group who struggled to break it open honestly, and one can learn a lot about small groups and innovative and relevant worship practices when joining in with a group like this. This is highly recommended, but -- as Brian's friend N.T. Wright says in his endorsement, Habakkuk Before Breakfast is "a book to shake us up and make us realize that God's loving justice is the only firm ground on which anyone - or any society -- can ever stand."   Don't give this to anybody that wants simple answers, religious platitudes, or cheap readings of these powerful texts.


Reading the Bible Missionally.jpgReading the Bible Missionally edited by Michael Goheen (Eerdmans) $35.00  Okay, Brian Walsh and his Wine Before Breakfast group aren't in here, but they could be, as living examples of some of what this provocative and important volume proposes. Some of the very best Biblical thinkers of our time weigh in on how to read the Bible in such a way as to be captured by its wholistic, life-changing and world-redeeming message.  Authors of this heavy, yet vital, volume include Craig Bartholomew, Richard Bauckham, Christopher Wright, Carol Mosma, Joel Green, George Hunsberger and more. "This book significantly widens and deepens the emerging conversation on missional hermeneutics..." Can mission and God's cosmic redemption plan unleashed in the world in Christ be a helpful lens to help us understand the Bible properly and fruitfully.  This book is amazing, smart, convicting.... somebody you know might need it!

The Day the Revolution Began.pngThe Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $28.99  I was a little reluctant to list this under the heading "for a serious Bible scholar" as this isn't Tom's deepest most scholarly work.  The fourth volume of his magisterial "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series, Paul and the Faithfulness of God was a two-volume set (weighing in at 1700 pages) and was supplemented by two other hefty collections of essays about Paul.  The Day the Revolution Began is not that dense and is not that hard.

Yet, it is more challenging than, say, Following Jesus, How God Became King, The Case for Psalms, or Simply Christian. It is mid-level and, actually is considered a sequel to one of his most popular and influential volumes, Surprised by Hope.  As I said in my long overview published at BookNotes when it first released in October, it explores nearly every New Testament text about the cross of Christ and interprets them in light of "the end of the story" -- that is, new creation, the Kingdom coming, restoring all things.  This, my friends, is very good scholarship but not needlessly arcane or aimed primarily for the academy.  If you know anyone who loves and studies the Bible -- certainly and priest, pastor, or preacher -- this would be a very, very valuable gift to them.  Highly recommended.

Apostle of the Crucified Lord- A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters Second Edition .jpgApostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters Second Edition Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $48.00  This is a brand new second, expanded edition of a great, great (if serious) introduction to the Paul and his work. It is not a simple Sunday school guide but it is -- despite its erudite style, offered in almost 700 pages! -- a introduction to Paul. Mike, a friendly supporter of our work here in Dallastown, teaches at St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute and is considered by many to be one of the top few NT scholars writing today.  He knows about everybody in the field and brings together various theories and various Biblical truths. Doug Campbell of Duke Divinity School says that Mikes insights about being in Christ, suffering with Him, being agents of His redemption -- called "participation" by some -- "is one of the key features of the modern scholarly landscape. This new second edition of his balanced yet probing introduction to Paul's thought is therefore profoundly welcome."  Wow. 

N.T. Wright says of it, 

Michael Gorman enviably combines simplicity of presentation with profound originality. The present work, enhanced in this new edition, is simultaneously an accessible textbook and an exposition of challenging new ideas which all Pauline scholars must take seriously. A book to draw in the beginner and to compel the expert into fresh reflection. 


Compassion in Practice- The Way of Jesus .jpgCompassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus Frank Rogers (Upper Room) $9.99  Dr. Rogers is a professor of spiritual formation and codirector of the Center for Engaged Compassion at Clarmont School of Theology. I trust this gives you a clue -- it is deeply ecumenical, somewhat interfaith, theologically progressive, and a bit deep. Brian McLaren says it has "a perfect mix of stories, exercises, insights and reflections on the life and teachings of Jesus... Rogers will help you become a genuine practitioner of compassion."  Recommended as a workbook by The Academy for Spiritual Formation of The Upper Room.

The Way of Love- Recovering the Heart of Christianity .gifWay of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity Norman Wirzba (HarperOne) $25.99 Oh how I have recommended this brilliant book -- do you recall my announcement of it at BookNotes earlier this year? Wirzba is a very highly respected scholar, mostly an environmentalist, a farmer, a friend and early collaborator with Wendell Berry, and author of books such as the heavy Theology of Food and the wonderfully written Living the Sabbath. Here he has given us an outstanding, rich, thoughtful study of the topic of love. Eugene Peterson raves, as he rarely does, insisting this is one of the best books he has seen on the subject. There is more going on here then merely talking about the role of love (as if that weren't enough) but Wirzba is making an argument about theology and the core of faith, that is it, of course, not about intellectual assent or proper belief, but about living the way of Jesus, which is love. It is mature, thoughtful, careful and powerful. 

love does.jpgLove Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $16.99  I like to remind people of this from time to time and now is perfect time to suggest it. You may recall that Goff is one of the funniest people I know and this book is one of the most enjoyable, entertaining, and compelling books you will ever read -- his capers and joyful stories, his adventures to make a difference (whether in the life of a local shut in or in some of the most dangerous and exotic place on the planet) will stick with  you for a long, long, time. Trust me, you can give this book to a teen, to a disgruntled middle ager, to an older person (as long as they don't mind the crazy antics and fun storytelling.) Goff is a good, good man, a crazy soul and a fabulous lover of Jesus. Buy a few of these to have on hand to give away to, well, whoever... love does, after all.  Do it!


Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade- The 5 Love Languages.jpgKeeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and The Alzheimer's Journey Deborah Barr, Edward Shaw, and Gary Chapman (Northfield) $15.99  We have a number of very good books on Alzheimer's and dementia, some that are more clinical and explanatory, others that are gospel-centered, offering a spirituality of the condition. This is a new one and it seems brilliant -- easy to follow, co-written with the famous Gary Chapman, PhD,  by practitioners (one with an MA in health education and the other an MD) who in this field. I would suppose you know the basic gist of Chapman's "5 Love Languages" approach which offers five different ways people receive love; that is, we are wired differently and have different styles of "hearing" how those around us care for us. We have to learn how to "show" or "speak" or "act" love to those around us in ways that work for them. Well, how interesting is it that Chapman and his colleagues apply these five options to ways to relate to those with memory loss and dementia.

There is a good endorsement on the back of this brand new book by the one who wrote the "bible" for Alzheimer's caregivers (Peter Rabins of The 36-Hour Day) who says of it,

Through stories that are moving and unflinching, Keeping Love Alive As Memories Fade shows how love can persist even as dementia gradually erodes memory and physical abilities. It offers powerful testimony to the lasting nature and immense power of human relationships. 

We think this looks nearly brilliant and intend to read it as we walk down this road with my own mom; email us, though, if you want other suggestions and other titles for yourself.


Aging Matters- Finding Your Calling For the Rest of Your Life .jpgAging Matters: Finding Your Calling For the Rest of Your Life R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $16.00  If anyone can write a good book on vocation and calling it is Paul Stevens; that he applies it so well to the older population, seeking vocational discernment in a new season of life, is an immense gift. That he calls aging itself a calling is brilliant and generative; game-changing, as they say.  Lovely endorsements on the back are from Marilyn McEntyre and Eugene Peterson, who says this may be Steven's "most important work...  a brilliantly crafted, prayerfully shaped witness for living for the glory of God."

Rich in Years- Finding peace and Purpose in A Long Life.jpgRich in Years: Finding peace and Purpose in A Long Life Johann Christoph Arnold (Plough Publishing) $12.00  This is a great little book, a glorious collection of chapters which invite older folks to examine their days and search for experiences of meaning and joy. This is simple yet profound, Christianly conceived but would be of interest to almost anyone. There's an endorsement even from Pete Seeger on the back, Eugene Peterson, Alive von Hildebrand. There's some great storytelling here, and the author brings other voices int the conversation -- living well in light of eternity.


The Boys in the Bunkhouse- Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland .jpgThe Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland Dan Barry (Harper) $26.99  I will tell you up front: this will be on our end of the year "Best Books of 2016" short list, one of the most moving and truly unforgettable books I've read in years. It is hard to capture the beauty, the pathos, the outrage, and the humanity of this very well reported story in a few sentences, but it is an exceptional book by an exceptional writer. (So taken was I by this author's vision and craft as a writer that I found a previously published memoir, Pull Me Up, and devoured it for its sheer beauty. I hope to read his award winning book about the longest game of baseball every played called Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game.

This book is at times painful as it is about the indentured servitude of a group of mentally challenged young men who, kept in a bunkhouse in Iowa as they worked at a dangerous poultry processing plant, grew old together for over 30 years, somehow without anyone doing anything about their captivity. As Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin writes of it, "Dan Barry gives dignity even to the darkest corners of the American experience. He is the closest thing we have to a contemporary Steinbeck." Or maybe the closest to an Upton Sinclair. 

I was a special ed major, and Beth and I met at a camp working with the severely disabled, so I have a special interest in the treatment of adults with intellectual disabilities and I realize that this story is not a simple one of abuse and horror. At the beginning, the one who found these jobs for these "boys in the bunkhouse" was awarded and acclaimed for his willingness to employ the "mentally retarded" as they were called in the days this story begins; it is a complex story and Barry treats the whole story with the awe and mystery (and sometimes outrage) it deserves. This is an outstanding example of investigative reporting turned into an epic tale, perhaps a morality tale, but a great read and a great and finally hopeful book. 

Apostle- Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve.jpgApostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve Tom Bissell (Pantheon) $28.95  This hefty, handsome hardback with deckled pages just feels like a great book. Glancing at the back you see rave, rave reviews of this authors other work, honoring his craft, saying what a fine writer he is, calling him "wildly talented" and "one of our most interesting and ambitious writers."

I wasn't sure if this should be listed under memoir (as he is telling his own tale of searching out the tombs of the Apostles of Jesus) or if it should be suggested to those who like travel literature; you can imagine the breadth and geography of these particular travels. This is entertaining and funny and learned and there is some drama -- he heads to Spain, India, Kyrgyzstan, Greece, Rome, and is in the contested Middle East,  Jerusalem, Turkey, and, well... 

Mostly, though, this is what he learns as he walks around talking to folks, learning the legends, visiting the sepulchers, interviewing the old priests, figuring out the "mysterious and paradoxical lives" of those at the heart of the Christian story. "A book both for those of the faith and for others who seek to understand Christianity from the outside in.

Bissell comes to realize that the story of men like Peter, Matthew, Thomas, John, is the story of early Christianity (including, he concludes, rather competing versions of the meaning of Jesus.) Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs... includes fascinating scholarship, fabulous travel writing, new insights about Biblical history, and a rich story of one man's own search for truth and more.


Art of Memoir.jpgThe Art of Memoir Mary Karr (Harper) $24.99  Renowned as the writer of the stunning The Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit, here Karr offers a bit of insight into the art of writing memoir, by way of telling more of her own story as a writer. You may know she is a recovering alcoholic, a person of deep faith, a poet and professor.  If anyone you know is a serious writer, this book should impressive them. If they love memoir writing, they'll surely enjoy this one by a master of the genre.

midnight jesus.jpgMidnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide Jamie Blaine (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 This book really captured me because it is so raw and real, funny and fun, heavy (as it is about those with psychiatric problems, drug and alcohol issues, folks who are often poor and troubled in a small, Southern town) without drifting into bathos or sentiment. The author is known in town as "the late-night psychiatric crisis guy" and, besides being a counselor/social worker is a heavy-metal loving, pin-ball playing,  treatment center admissions counselor who is active in his Pentecostal church and, by the way, DJs at a local roller skating rink, about which he writes with great, touching beauty. This book is entertaining as Blaine ruminates on his life and work and edges towards some remarkably profound stuff about God and grace, without being the least bit preachy.  Rock on late night dude. And thanks for telling your tale.  I hope your writing another.

Hillbilly Elegy- A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis .jpgHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis J.D. Vance (Harper) $27.99  I can hardly recall the last time there has been so much discussion about a memoir -- for a while, Vance's story was used to explain "poor rural white" folk who intended to vote for Trump. Conservatives liked that this growing up poor in a dysfunctional family in rust-belt America town seemed to show that government welfare wasn't decisive for him; he got out of his family mess through hard work, dedication, a realization about the importance of virtue and values, religion and such.  Hillbilly Elegy does seem to have some sociological value -- as most memoirs do -- to illuminate stuff going on within these rural communities.  Rod Dreher -- no mean memoirist himself! -- says it is "An American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class but also its strengths. It is one of the best books I've ever read...the most important book of 20156."

I will comment more on Rod's evaluation when I get around to publishing my own review that I wrote several months back. For now, just know this is a great read, fun, interesting, revealing, and a good window into the lives of many of our fellow citizens. If you haven't heard, Vance's people are from Kentucky, moved to Southern Ohio, his mom had a bunch of husbands, his colorful and often violent grandparents stood up for his honor, and he ended up, after a stint in the Marines, at Yale Law School.  What a story.

Impossible Love- The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope Against All Odds .jpgImpossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope Against All Odds Craig Keener & Medine Moussounga Keener (Chosen) $15.9  The voice of this story is less like a memoir and more like a testimonial, or a faith-filled autobiography.  That is, it is less literary and more a telling.  But, wow, what a telling it is; the story is itself nearly epic. Allow me to explain -- I know you could give this to some people as a gift and their lives will be enriched and they will be glad. It's one of those books that is passed around, I think...

Craig Keener, you may know, is a preeminent New Testament scholar and author of several commentaries and Bible resources -- I've met him a time or two and he is a good scholar, a good teacher, a bit shy, or at least that is how he is presented in the start of this book. The short version is that he met Medine, who would become his wife, while she was an African PhD student who was studying at Duke when they first met -- and then eded up in the middle of the civil war in the Congo. When she first went back to Africa she faced terror, disease, and devastating hardship and Craig didn't know if she was even alive.

Here is what it says on the back:  "Separated by continents, cultures, and the ravages of war, Craig and Medine never stopped believing that faith, hope, and love can surmount even the most overwhelming obstacles. Part romance, part thrilling adventure, their story is an unforgettable, miracle-filled journey of impossible love. You will be amazed by the God whose own great love for each of us will always overcome."

Rolland and Heidi Baker are authors themselves who have heard, read, and written countless missionary stories. Some really are moving, stimulating, informative, inspiring. They say of Impossible Love "This story gripped our hearts as few books have and lifted us higher in Jesus than ever. Read it!"  R.T. Kendall, the famous preacher from London says, " was not prepared for how compelling this book is. It has all the ingredients of a thriller that will keep you turning the pages."  Another reviewers says it is "A real=-life story more incredible than any work of fiction." Nabeel Qureshi says "reading it kindled a flame in my heart to be a greater part of God's story." 

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  This has been on my own short list of books to read, soon, especially since I am drawn to books that share the interior lives of writers, their faith journeys, their ups and downs, struggles, fears and doubts. That this author is a science guy -- literally, he has a very popular podcast under the moniker of "Science Mike" which has attracted church folks, former evangelicals, atheists, the spiritual but not religious, seekers of alls sorts. He writes for the Storyline blog of Donald Miller and has appeared in Relevant and Sojourners and The Liturgists Podcast. He is a Christian turned atheist turned follower of Jesus who uses his own story to help people come to believe in and know God in an age of science. This is his story and yes, there's some science. But it is mostly a memoir,  quite entertaining, interesting, well told.

Here is what Matthew Vines says of it:

Mike McHargue s life has straddled two diametrically opposed worldviews: conservative Christianity and secular humanism. His fearless search for the truth led him out of the strict confines of his Southern Baptist upbringing, but his persistent experience of God wouldn't let him remain an atheist. In Finding God in the Waves, McHargue offers a vulnerable, relentlessly logical account of the deconstruction and reconstruction of his faith that's sure to challenge skeptics and believers alike. His story will resonate with anyone who's ever doubted, been the odd one out, or struggled to make sense of their faith. And by giving readers this intimate window into his own journey, he will both help doubters grow in their respect for faith and help believers grow in their respect for science.

Or, listen to this from Peter Enns, whose own somewhat similar book The Sin of Certainty is very, very good:

This is the most honest, challenging, and insightful book on reclaiming a lost faith that I've ever read -- utterly unique and unexpected. I had one ah ha moment after another as Science Mike cast my faith and my doubts in a more hopeful and encouraging light. I couldn't put it down. 

Or importantly, hear Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday, a memoir that I found deeply moving:

Extraordinary. It s so rare to find a book that is both this important and this much fun to read. Funny, intelligent, and disarmingly honest, Finding God in the Waves gives voice to a generation of faithful skeptics and masterfully navigates the tricky terrain of faith, science, belief, and experience in a way that honors the humanity of atheist and believer alike. It s the kind of book that forever changes how you see the world and yet reads like a comfortable conversation with an old friend. With this work, Mike McHargue has established himself as one of the most thoughtful and necessary Christian voices of our time.


Word By Word- A Daily Spiritual Practice .jpgWord by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $17.99 I so appreciate this poet, writer, and professor of literature (Ms McEntyre teaches "medical humanities" at UC Berkeley, helping docs and medical caregivers learn to be better by reading literature.) Here she offers a devotional book around words, not so much Bible verses, but phrases from the English language. She invites us to "dwell with and savor" fifteen specific words -- listen, receive, enjoy and a dozen more. Each word can be pondered for a week, with seven daily exercises to help meditate on the meanings and implications of the week's marvelous word.  I hope you know her Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, which is a very, very important set of guides to steward well the resource of language. Word by Word will be greatly loved and passed around among word lovers, I am sure.

Marilyn writes 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.


revealed.jpgRevealed: A Bible Story Book for Grown Ups edited, curated, compiled by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $36.99  I almost called this category "For Those Who Wanted To Give This as a Gift Last Year But Were Afraid To." Or, maybe, for those who just haven't heard of this but will jump at the chance once they do.

This is a handsome, nicely created,  oversized (almost 10 x 9) paperback full of black and white reproductions of mostly classic linographs and woodcuts which illustrate Bible stories, from Genesis to Revelation.  With each facing page the Bible text the artwork illustrates or evokes is printed out, and there is an annotation, explaining either the art or the text or both. This is, truly, like a child's picture storybook Bible -- for adults. Which is to say there is a particular emphasis (although not an obsession) with the gory, the troubling, the sexual, or what maybe W.C. Field's called "the good, the bad, and the ugly." The artwork is a blend of classic and contemporary, much commissioned for this project. It isn't for everyone but many have found it to be nearly genius. Whether you "like" all the artwork or not, the idea of this - the book itself as a finished product -- is extraordinary. Nothing like it. Somebody you know (with the necessary trigger warnings and reminder that this, like the Bible itself, sometimes R-rated) will find this to be a provocative, and greatly appreciated, perhaps even wondrous gift. We are glad to promote it, happy to be one of the few places that has reviewed it.  Who might you gift it to?


More-With-Less.jpgMore-With-Less: A World Community Cookbook  Doris Longacre, with a new foreword by Rachel Stone (Herald Press) $22.95   We have stocked this marvelous Mennonite cookbook since the day we opened and Beth and I have given quite a few away over the years -- it remains a wonderful, wonderful gift, a great cookbook to use (even for those who aren't advanced or skilled) made all the better in this very handsome, very new, 40th anniversary edition.  Earlier editions have sold over 1 million copies! We enjoy all three in the "World Community Cookbook" series -- More-With-Less, Simply in Season, and Extending the Table, but More-with-Less remains the classic.

Just read some of these review quotes:

It's easy to assume eating ethically, with a clean conscience, means spending more than we can afford on the dinner table. This cookbook gratefully and cheerfully proves that assumption wrong, with its simple, hearty, and conscious-driven recipes. I'm grateful for this tool as our family pursues eating well--both in our bellies and in our compassion for others."--Tsh Oxenreider, author of At Home in the World and Notes from a Blue Bike

More-with-Less has possibly educated more people around the world about Mennonite values and beliefs than any book of history or theology. Longacre's culinary politics were at the forefront of a food sustainability revolution that is even more relevant today."--Marlene Epp, professor of history and peace and conflict studies, Conrad Grebel University

Besides being a book to cook with, More-with-Less is a book to live with. Not only will you find recipes to savor food, but you will discover new ways to savor community and celebrate the world's diversity of peoples and places. This book is an invitation to receive and share God's gift of life. --Norman Wirzba, author of Food and Faith

My well-worn copy of "More-with-Less" has not only been my go-to cookbook, but also a call to care for the earth and seek fair food for all. This beautiful edition continues to inspire and invite us all to take action, in our kitchens and around the world.  --Stefan Epp-Koop, acting executive director, Food Matters Manitoba

More-With-Less has been a go-to resource for forty years because it's classic -- reliable ingredients, timeless recipes, and practical advice for practical cooks. Like a favorite pair of jeans, you'll find yourself returning to this cookbook over and over again. The best text for being a good steward of God's creation while making memories around the table! --Nancy Sleeth, author of Almost Amish and director of Blessed Earth

We are connected to our food--cultivating it, preserving it, and preparing it. We are nurturers instead of consumers. This shift affects our relationship to the Giver of our daily bread. We become co-creators with God and stewards of God's garden. More-with-Less Cookbook invites us to recognize and remember this connection. --Mary Beth Lind, coauthor of Simply in Season

More-with-Less Cookbook is more than a collection of recipes. When I was a young adult, it helped shape my worldview. The tips and suggestions taught me how to buy food and cook responsibly. It helped me realize that for Christians even the simple act of cooking a meal can be a testimony of faithfulness. --Marlene Harder Bogard, executive director, Mennonite Women USA 

More-with-Less still speaks the truth today. It's comforting to know that the same simple advice can hold true in an ever more complex food environment. Food tastes best when shared with others and better still when you know you aren't taking it away from someone who needs it more.  --Leanne Brown, author of Good and Cheap

More-with-Less reminds us that what we eat and how we eat impacts those for whom food may not be readily available. These delicious, healthy recipes are designed to simplify what can be a stressful and often wasteful process. This book recaptures our imagination and empowers us to enjoy the fullness of God's wonderful creation through food and community. --Jenny Yang, Vice President of advocacy and policy, World Relief

This beautiful anniversary edition of More-with-Less honors Doris Longacre's vision to help people eat more compassionately, more mindfully, and better. Conscientious eaters will appreciate the wise resourcefulness found within. --Lisa Graham McMinn, author of To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community


Ridiculous Faith- Experience the Power of an .jpgRidiculous Faith: Experience the Power of an Absurdly, Unbelievably Good God Shelene Bryan (Nelson Books) $16.99  This author is vibrant, maybe absurdly and unbelievably, ridiculously so, because she is caught up in the passion of God's great goodness.  And, man, the energy she draws from that. You may know her book Love, Skip, Jump or her ministry providing clean water to children around the world. Endorsements on the back range from Lisa Chan to Karen Kingsbury toe the former President of Catalyst, Brad Lomenick (and when he says somebody is "one of my favorite people on the planet" you should take notice.) This is asking why we have profound moments of faith but they often vanish quickly. This is about abundance -- not in a crass materialistic sense, but in a way that resonates with the promises of God and the invitation to a creative, life-changing trust in God.

Deeply Rooted- Knowing Self, Growing in God.jpgDeeply Rooted: Knowing Self, Growing in God Christopher Maricle (Upper Room) $14.99  Less excitable than Shelen Bryan and her "ridiculous" book, above, Maricle's quiet guidance will be appreciated by those who want to ponder a bit, slow down, ponder a bit, and realize that spiritual growth is much like a tree -- roots and branches, as we say. Dirt, seeds, water, support the roots and this book is a gentle exploration of the life cycle of a tree-like faith. This book shows the stages many souls follow as they develop -- starting with self knowledge and knowledge of God, grounded in the "soil of humility, growing strong roots of love and compassion" and expanding and deepening into virtue. Finally, "we discern what actions our soul should take and we bear fruit."

This is a nice study of the lifetime work of practice, understanding how to prune and care for the tree which is our interior life.  Nice.

Waiting for Wonder- Learning to Live on God's TImeline .jpgWaiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God's TImeline Marlo Schalesky (Abingdon) $16.99  This would make a wonderful gift to anyone -- I suppose mostly a woman --  who is in a season of waiting, wondering, perhaps why it seems that God is waiting. This lovely book offers a unique, contemplative journey to reveal the wonder that is often missed in life by walking through the life of the biblical character Sarah, one who knows what it means to wait.

As it says on the back cover: "Embark on a journey through disappointment, doubt, and detours to discover God in the 'not yet' places of life." Schalesky is an award-winning author of many other books, including Wrestling with Wonder: A Transformational Journey Through the Life of Mary.


after college - erica young reitz.jpgAfter College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith  Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00  One of the highlights of our book-selling year was to host a little "book launch" party, celebrating Erica's brand new book, releasing it into the world with a prayer and some autographs. Erica is a dear friend, a very sharp campus minister (working for the CCO out of Calvary Church in State College PA) and now, increasingly, a nationally known speaker and author. She gets almost everything just right, pitch perfect, with a beautiful prose style that guides college seniors into prepping for that big transition out of college and into their young adult years.

I hope you saw my longer review of this at BookNotes last July or perhaps some of the other good reviews that have been publishers. Maybe you've hear from others just how pleasant and wise and useful this good book is. There is very little on the market like this, and the advise and counsel she shares comes from years of working with students transitioning out of school and into the rest of their lives.  Erica cares and it is palpable; she wants young friends to flourish, she wants them to take God seriously, she wants them to work well with a sense of calling and visions of vocation. This would make a great gift certainly for any Christian student who is a college senior and for anyone who has graduated in the last year or so, wanting to navigate successfully through the unique obstacles during this time, attending to their faith, their job search, their living, their lives. Highly recommended.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99  I hope you don't mind me reminding you of my own little book. We've got great responses from it -- the author's who allowed me to edit their graduation speeches and collect them here with reflection questions and some cute graphics are to be commended. The book is great because, well, who wouldn't want to hear a great message and eloquent inspiration from Richard Mouw, John Perkins, Amy Sherman, Steve Garber, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Claudia Beversluis? My own talk which makes up one of the chapters has been complimented and I'm glad;  I'm proud of the introductory chapter too. And -- get this! -- Erica Young Reitz had her publishing debut in the great little epilogue she wrote, offering some good stories and some sage advice that ends this nifty little book.

after college - erica young reitz.jpgSerious Dreams cover.jpgIf you know anyone who wants some of the most astute, culturally engaged Christian thinkers today offering motivation for a life well lived, living out faith in the marketplace and work-world, Serious Dreams makes a great little gift.


If you know college seniors or recent grads, why not give them both -- After College and Serious Dreams. One is more extensive and practical and detailed, one is motivational and inspiring (as graduation speeches at their best can be.) It would be great pairing.


Kierkegaard- A Single Life.jpgKierkegaard: A Single Life Stephan Backhouse (Zondervan) $24.99 I mentioned something you could give to a philosophy-type in my last list but forgot to name this; and how could I? This is perhaps the most significant recent biography of the great Dane and one which examines not only his life and his faith, but the influence he has had on our greatest cultural icons, from Kafka to Orwell, Barth to Bonhoeffer, from Camus to Martin Luther King, Jr. (who studied him carefully.)  If you don't believe me that this would make a great gift (for a student, a scholar, or an one interested in intellectual leaders) just know that many great writers have given enthusiastic endorsement for this fine book.

When somebody like Richard Beck says "I've waited by whole life for this book" you must pay attention. 

Stephen Backhouse's Kierkegaard: A Single Life is an extremely useful book that makes Kierkegaard accessible to those just beginning to know him. Backhouse's account of Kierkegaard's life is exemplary but particularly useful is his summary of Kierkegaard's works. -- Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Emeritus Professor of Divinity and Law, Duke University

Stephen Backhouse has given us a wonderfully lively and sympathetic portrait of one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century, sparing us nothing of Kierkegaard's abrasive, contrarian personality, but also illuminating the extraordinary courage and spiritual depth of the man. We have waited a long time for such an accessible introduction, growing out of deep study of the abundant original sources and bringing them alive with a light and sure touch. -- Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury

Drawing on the wealth of new biographical material that has become available in the last twenty years, Backhouse's life of Kierkegaard sets the Danish thinker in his time and place and does so with confidence and verve. Few books about this most subtle and elusive of figures could be described as page-turners, but Backhouse combines a fast-moving style with a strong grasp of the big issues that makes this a compelling read. For those who have not yet read Kierkegaard himself, this will leave them wanting to do so - which must be the best outcome for any work of this kind. -- George Pattison, Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow

This is an extraordinarily likable book about a not-very-likable, though fascinating, figure. This is not hagiography; Backhouse gives the full measure of Kierkegaard, and loves him in all his weirdness. Backhouse is a great storyteller---witty, imaginative, and with an eye for irony and humor. This book fills a need for an introduction for the educated nonspecialist to Kierkegaard's life and thought, which are inseparable. How lucky we are that this need has been filled with such flair. -- Dr. William T. Cavanaugh, Director, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University

Almost every road in modern Christianity leads back, at some point, to Kierkegaard. Yet few appreciate this fact because we've lacked a knowledgeable and accessible guide. Finally, we have one in Stephen Backhouse. I've waited my whole life for this book. And so has the church. -- Dr. Richard Beck, Associate Professor of Psychology, Abilene Christian University

Starting with the astonishing scenes at Kierkegaard's funeral, Stephen Backhouse traces the life and impact of this extraordinary, elusive, passionate critic of passionless Christianity. Backhouse's book is both learned and accessible, so that the issues that Kierkegaard wrestled with walk off the page to challenge us again today, while the man himself haunts us, calling us and hiding from us, as he did his contemporaries. -- Dr. Jane Williams, Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology, St Mellitus College


Creed- What Christians Believe and Why.jpgCreed: What Christians Believe and Why: Exploring the Apostles Creed Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $19.99  Brand new, we have all the ancillary product, too, for those that want to use it in church this Lent; there's a DVD, leaders guide, youth edition, and more. For now, the book would make a great gift.  

I haven't looked at this yet (it is brand new!) but I'm sure it is lively, interesting, moderate and friendly in tone, and reliable in perspective. He's a moderate United Methodist, popular, engaging and, I think, pretty balanced.  Should generate good and helpful conversations.


impossible people.jpgImpossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00 I hope you read my long review in BookNotes last summer of this important hardback book. Os Guinness is a wonderful writer, a renowned leader in the evangelical world, a sociologist and apologist and cultural critic (and I count him as a friend and somewhat of a mentor, through his books and words of encouragement.) Some of us will read anything he writes, and know how rewarding his good books are.

Here, as in some of his other hard-hitting works, he brings critique to those who accommodate  themselves to the pressures and attitudes and values and practices of late modernity, essentially allowing the world (as warned against in Romans 12) to "squeeze us into its mold." What does it mean to have renewed minds, to counter that pressure, as Romans says? What does it look like to be a peculiar people, to stand firm against the drift in culture (and, too often, in the church) away from first things, truth and goodness, virtue and gospel-centered clarity and conviction? How can we resist the principalities and powers? We need robust, orthodox theology and a sure sense that there is a battle to be fought -- we can't just hope for better days.  Yes, we must serve God's work in God's ways, relying on God Himself -- the was the theme of  trusting God and being positive about which he wrote so nicely in 2014s Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times which was the precursor to this recent one. Impossible People  sounds the alarm, reminding us of the cost of discipleship, the response to the good news proclaimed in Renaissance.

Here is how the publisher explains the message of this thrilling, sobering, astute, and finally inspiring book; whether you agree with every idea and appreciate every paragraph (who does with any serious book?) Impossible People demands to be read and considered. I hope many give it away and many read it.

The church in the West is at a critical moment. While the gospel is exploding throughout the global south, Western civilization faces militant assaults from aggressive secularism and radical Islam. Will the church resist the seductive shaping power of advanced modernity? More than ever, Christians must resist the negative cultural forces of our day with fortitude and winsomeness. What is needed is followers of Christ who are willing to face reality without flinching and respond with a faithfulness that is unwavering. Os Guinness describes these Christians as "impossible people," those who have "hearts that can melt with compassion, but with faces like flint and backbones of steel who are unmanipulable, unbribable, undeterrable and unclubbable, without ever losing the gentleness, the mercy, the grace and the compassion of our Lord." Few accounts of the challenge of today are more realistic, and few calls to Christian courage are more timely, resolute and hopeful. Guinness argues that we must engage secularism and atheism in new ways, confronting competing ideas with discernment and fresh articulation of the faith. Christians are called to be impossible people, full of courage and mercy in challenging times.


Names for the Messiah- An Advent Study Walter Brueggemann.jpgSocial Criticism and Social Vision in Ancient Israel Walter Brueggemann.jpgNames for the Messiah Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $13.00  I reviewed this previously as an Advent study and know it might be a little late for some, now, but you could tuck this into someone's Christmas stocking and they could read it on Christmas Sunday. Four talks or lessons, one the four names for God in Isaiah 9:6.  Just came out this fall. Very nicely done.

Social Criticism and Social Vision in Ancient Israel Walter Brueggemann (Cascade) $20.00 This is the newest collection of fairly scholarly essays by the unstoppable Brueggemann. Edited and compiled by K.C. Hanson, these pieces look at social critique in Deuteronomy, in a chapter comparing "a poem of summons" in Isaiah 55 with a "narrative of resistance" in Daniel 1, a "counter to conventional social reality" as seen in Psalms 9 and 10, and more. He picks up themes from his classic Prophetic Imagination (linking it to "social flourishing") and does lots of exegetical teaching, offered with great interpretive gusto. There's one chapter on the tearing of the curtain in Matthew 27 and a update of the literature on Isaiah ("Five strong readings.")  These pieces mostly were done earlier in his career and yet seem mostly as relevant today as ever. 

God, Neighbor, Empire- The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good.jpg

For what it is worth, Walt has a major new scholarly book published by Baylor University Press called God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fragility and the Command for Common Good ($24.95.) It has been out of stock at the publisher, and they hope to have more to us soon.

One writer says:

Brueggemann God, Neighbor, Empire is a stirring account of the various ways in which the Old Testament is offered as an alternative to the imperial narrative that dominates ordinary imagination both in ancient times and in the present.As always, one does not need to agree with every Brueggemann reading of the biblical text in order to find him a stimulating and helpful contributor to our understanding of some important themes of biblical theology overall, and of the ways that this theology should shape our imagination, our desire, and our practice, rather than merely reflect them.

Walter himself says, evocatively,:

Justice, mercy, and the public good all find meaning in relationship a relationship dependent upon fidelity, but endlessly open to the betrayals of infidelity. This paradox defines the story of God and Israel in the Old Testament. Yet the arc of this story reaches ever forward, and its trajectory confers meaning upon human relationships and communities in the present. The Old Testament still speaks.

If you want it before Christmas, let's talk -- I can keep you posted. We can hope.


The Undoing of Saint Silvanus Beth Moore.jpgThe Undoing of Saint Silvanus Beth Moore (Tyndale) $24.99  Beth Moore is very popular as a women's Bible teacher, with videos and conferences books and curriculum -- and we can be glad that someone so popular is neither heretical, narrowly fundamentalist, or too simplistic. She's a fine Bible teacher, solid, compelling, charming. I am not sure she is cut out to be a novelist but there are those who adore her insights, follow her ministry, and would love to know that she has tried her hand at fiction.  This book is set mostly in post-Katrina New Orleans (the titular Saint Silvanus is a old church that is now an apartment complex, a setting for some of the mystery and drama) and it seems pretty cool. I think some would love it -- Christian fiction well told with a strong message of goodness and grace and redemption.

Here is what the important LIbrary Journal gave as their verdict:

Making her fiction debut, best-selling inspirational author Moore ( Audacious; Breaking Free) delivers an absorbing, suspenseful read. Readers who prefer a story focused on finding faith through adversity will savor this beautifully written novel.


Traces of the Trinity- Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience.jpgTraces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience Peter Leithart (Brazos Press) $20.00

There are more than a dozen books about the Trinity that we have here in the shop, from the most heavy and historical to the experiential and pleasant. Most are sturdy, reliable, useful. For the former, see, for instance, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity by Stephen Holmes (IVP Academic), The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders (Crossway) or the recent heady collection of essays One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinctions of Persons, Implications for Life edited by Bruce Ware & John Stark (Crossway.) On the less scholarly side, we like Trinity: The God We Don't Know by Jason Byassee (Abingdon) and Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson (Regent College Press) or the short devotional Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God (Crossway.)  A thoughtful middle ground level -- serious but not too hard -- may be Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (IVP Academic.)

But this recent Peter Leithart one is unlike any of the above and, although utterly, carefully Biblical and orthodox, is a bit 'outside the box' and truly fascinating. It will delight and surprise and stimulate anyone who wants to stretch a bit. Jack Levison of Southern Methodist has endorsed it and listen to this from RTS scholar John Frame:

This is the most delightful book I have read in a long time. One of its delights is its clear, gracefully written prose, which easily engages the reader. The book presents a cogent case for a highly significant point: the whole created world images the divine Trinity. Leithart argues this thesis comprehensively, demonstrating that the divine perichoresis -- the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Trinity--is reflected in every area of human life, including perception, thought, language, sex, time, space, music, and imagination. Leithart's argument has the potential, therefore, to bring major change to our study of all these areas of reality, and thus to all the ways we live in the world. 

Divine Dance.jpgDivine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell (Whitaker House) $23.99  One of the most discussed books of the year, it has been celebrated and denounced.  Rohr is one of the most popular religious writers in recent years, a liberal Franciscan who beautifully brings together contemplative spirituality and radical social action in the world. I wrote a pretty major review at BookNotes, affirming much of what this good Brother does and yet suggesting that I thought the dancing bit was just a bit obtuse at times. I thing he gets some things wrong -- like the difference between the creation and the Creator, which is no small thing.

Yet his is an interesting book and while he's wrong that nobody has talked about the Trinity much throughout church history, it is such an endlessly mysterious topic, it is useful to read varying perspectives.  I read a review lately that was very critical, and I thought the critic was almost fully right until he said that recommending this book disqualifies one from giving advice. That's just silly, and implies that if one doesn't agree with an author one dare not read him. Or that if you disagree with his evaluations you ought not be listened to about anything.  I say to be discerning, but read widely, and be generous in conversation with others.

Not that the art in this redeems it fully, but the inside cover shows a close up of the famous Rublev icon, making this an especially nice volume to hold; opening that first page and seeing that is itself pretty nice.  Consider this a justice-seeking, quite lively, somewhat process-oriented, postmodern version of what the Desert Fathers and Mothers termed perichoresis. 

Read some of the reviews from responsible critics for evaluations -- that's always a good practice. But many thoughtful folks, especially in the mainline denominational world and among progressive thinkers, love this. It's worth sharing, and then talking about.


Preemptive Love- Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time.jpgPreemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time Jeremy Courtney (Howard) $15.0  I know that this story can impact lives, and that it would really be appreciated by anyone burdened by the horror in Aleppo, Syria, or anyone wondering about a Christ-like response to ISIS.  This book was written before the current crisis, but Jeremy here tells of his networking efforts to save the lives of Iraqi kids. He interacts with Muslim clerics, Arab folk leaders, Al Qaeda operatives,  working to save the lives of children suffering heart disease -- a crisis there --  by uniting Kurds and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians, Muslims and Christians around this ministry of health and healing pediatric heart surgery.  Part medical missionary, part Christian peacemaker, this adventurous character from Texas tells an unforgettable story that is sure to bring some hope and clarity. Highly recommended.


The Betrayed  The Daegmon War- Book 2.jpgthe gifted dickerson.jpgThe Gifted: The Daegmon War: Book 1 Matthew Dickerson (Living Ink Books)$14.99

The Betrayed: The Daegmon War Book 2 Matthew Dickerson (Archway Publishing) $21.99

Here is what you need to know about these very nicely done, very impressive fantasy stories for kids or adults: Matthew Dickerson is certainly one of our leading scholars of J.R.R. Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) and has immersed himself in the grandest and best fantasy literature since he was a lad (working in his Dad's Logos Bookstore.) Dickerson teaches at Middlebury College and has had the opportunity to be friends with some of the best American writers (the day I met him, recently, he had hosted the poet Billy Collins the day before.) His splendid book Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy (Brazos Press; $24.00) is a must-read for anyone who enjoys fantasy or thinking about epic stories through the lens of thoughtful Christina faith.

Narnia and the Fields of Arbol .jpg(To remind you of how smart this guy is, he has two academic press books looking at environmental concerns in Lewis's Narnia and in Middle Earth, Narnia and the Fields of Arbol ($35.00) and Ents, Elves and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien ($25.00.) Both are great!)  So, these fantasy novels are classic, full of adventure and virtue and drama and faith (which is to say they are modeled after a writing style more inspired by Tolkien than, say, Game of Thrones or some of the other overly violent and nearly occult fantasy these days.) These are fine, fine stories, not well known, and it would be a great blessing to support this guy, buy these books, and help promote novels done with great care and joy.


Slow Pilgrim- The Collected Poems.jpgSlow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $39.00  This is a very attractively made paperback with a fabulous foreword by Gregory Wolfe. If anyone is interested in contemporary poets who are also very spiritual -- Cairns is an Orthodox Christian, and has written several books about monastic and mystical faith -- this is a poet that they simply must know. This spans three decades of work and is a wonderful, thick volume.

small porch poems.jpgA Small Porch: Sabbath Poems Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $25.00 We don't sell much poetry, truth be told, but among our biggest sellers is, naturally, the famous essayist, farmer, novelists and poet, Kentuckian Wendell Berry. You may know that he writes what he calls "Sabbath Poems" as he walked and wandered (and wondered?) around his familiar territory, seeking intimacy with land and self and God. Some of these have been published over the years and this is his newest volume, released just this summer in a colorful, striking, slim hardback. Very nicely done and wonderfully accessible poems by one of our most popular authors.

he Ordering of Love- The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L'Engle .jpgThe Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L'Engle Madeleine L'Engle (Shaw Books) $20.99 This is not new -- dear Madeleine has been in heaven for several years, now -- but I haven't mentioned it in a while. The cover is so striking, the poems so good, even the foreword by Lutheran pastor and writer Walter Wangerin is very, very nice.  I hope you know her children's fantasy, her Bible reflections, her must-read book on the arts (Walking on Water) and her quartet of memoirs. But surely you ought not skip her poetry. A few of Beth's all time favorite lines come from this woman's pen and her writing is to be cherished. Give this to anyone that is a true lover of poetry or to one that maybe has her of L'Engle, likes literature, and may be willing to try a book like this. It's very, very nice.


What Matters- The Search for Meaning with Os Guinness.jpgDVD  What Matters: The Search for Meaning with Os Guinness Os Guinness (Discovery House) $13.99  This is a beautifully filmed documentary in which the eloquent thinker takes a step-by-step approach in search of answers to questions like "Who Am I?" and "Why Am I Here?"

Set in the beautiful, lush setting of Oxford University, he starts off reminding us that we all need "meaning" and "belonging." He explains how the modern world influences us in our we think and why people make the choices that they do.

"It's only if you really understand the meaning of life that other things, like success, careers, and so on, really make any sense," says Guinness.  And this DVD, with intellectual rigor but much heart and passion, too, offers a helping hand, honestly walking with individuals as they consider life's deepest questions.

He offers four stages to consider, inviting viewers to a journey which includes "a time for questions, a time for answers, a time for evidences, and a time for commitments." He compares how various belief systems -- including atheism, Eastern worldviews, and theism -- answers the question about ultimate purpose.

You may know that one of my all time favorite books is Guinness's The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (W Publishing Group; $17.99) which is about calling and vocation and deeper discipleship in all of life. This DVD presentation touches on some of that and if you appreciated that, you will love this.

However, I think it tends to draw even more on Guinness's wonderful The Long Journey Home: A Guide To Your Search for the Meaning in Life (Waterbrook; $18.99.) That was a brilliant guide to helping people discern if various worldviews held up to the deepest questions of life (such as the question of suffering.) Ideas have consequences and differences in view make a difference.  These resources are for those who are willing to ponder.  The DVD is a treat, listening to Os candidly and sincerely invite people to think things through for themselves is a great grace and a beautiful model of honest exploration.

Reason for God DVD.jpgDVD The Reason for God: Conversations on Faith and Life Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $36.99  (price includes a DVD and participant's workbook.) This is a six session curriculum but many folks have watched it on their own or just with a friend or two. Keller is a thoughtful, good thinker and fine communicator who invites viewers to "doubt their doubts" and be honest about their presuppositions. In these well-produced sessions Keller gathers together thoughtful participants (mostly young adults) who do not share his faith or his evangelical convictions. These skeptics and seekers entertain his good comments and he fields their good questions. It ends up being quite a fascinating conversation, live and honest, showing how to explore Christian faith in such a open setting.

Here are the six session titles in the Reason for God DVD:

1. Isn't the Bible a Myth? 

2. How Can You Say There Is Only One Way to God? 

3. What Gives You the Right to Tell Me How to Live My Life? 

4. Why Does God Allow Suffering? 

5. Why Is the Church Responsible for So Much Injustice

  1.       6. How Can God Be Full of Love and Wrath at the Same Time?



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December 11, 2016


We hope you enjoyed our last epic list of some random suggestions that might speak to a person for whom you want to give a little gift. Books are such fine presents (and they wrap very nicely.) What a curious thing in our post-Christian culture: a season where we can give gifts to almost anybody without any awkwardness.  Book sales spike during this time of year for a reason; Christian folks certainly be a part of this trend and we should be eager to pass out interesting titles, sharing something of comfort and joy this time of year. 

Who might you give a book to?

Here are some more suggestions, good ideas for your holly jolly generosity.  And, hey, nobody said you can't get these for yourself. Or read it first before you put it under a tree.

So, part two.  Recommendations and descriptions for free -- but ya gotta order through us, right? It's only fair. 


Love, Henri- Letters the Spiritual Life.jpgLove, Henri: Letters the Spiritual Life Henri J. M. Nouwen (Convergent) $24.00  Fr. Nouwen was known for writing letters  --  he kept nearly all of the 16,000 letters he received and he responded to them all.  Some of his replies, spanning two decades, are very revealing, some quite tender, some summarizing things he wrote in his many books. This very handsome hardback offers over 200 of his letters offering wit, condolence, insight, spiritual guidance. As Sue Mosteller writes in her epilogue, "I love this collection. It is for me, a spiritual autobiography. Henri's letters reveal the ever-evolving, ever-deepening, ever-struggling heart of my strong yet vulnerable friend."  


Deeper Magic 2.jpgDeeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis Donald T. Williams (Square Halo Books) $16.99  I can nearly guarantee you that no one you know has this book yet -- I picked them up from the publisher a day ago, and we are most likely the only bookstore that has them now. There are so many good books about Lewis, of course, that one could be forgiven for thinking we simply don't need any more.  And then you would see this one and realize it fills a significant hole in the large Lewis literature; Deeper Magic literally offers a systematic theology informed by Lewis, compiling and collating and drawing up his prose, fiction, letters, prayers, poems, and essays to create the sort of theology Lewis would have written had he been a theologian.  Such a comprehensive overview of even a professional theologians life-long body of work can be daunting (even the most precise theological professional changes her or his mind over time and may have contradictions within their own system of thought.)  It is more daunting when the writing is so vast and allusive -- children's stories, epic poems, letters, sermons and more make up Lewis's oeuvre. 

Still, this is much more than a shoehorning of Lewis proof-texts into theological categories (the nature of truth, the character of God, the meaning of salvation, the person and work of Christ, the end times and more.) It is a fabulously rich, very studious, systematic study -- with a degree of admitted speculation -- of what Lewis really meant by "mere Christianity."  Agree or not, this is unlike any book about Lewis you've read and it is a must-own volume for anyone who is even somewhat serious about the great Oxford don.

Listen to Diana Pavlack Glyer, author of Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings

Williams has done the impossible: he has written a highly readable overview of C. S. Lewis's theology. He draws from the deep well of a lifetime spent studying literature and theology and Lewis. My understanding has been greatly enriched; yours will be, too. This book is a marvel. I am happy to recommend it.

CS Lewis and the Arts.jpgBy the way, big kudos to Square Halo Books in Lancaster, PA, for releasing this. They did this something like this a couple of years ago, publishing a book which filled a real gap in Lewisania. Their splendid C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands ($18.95) offered a dozen great essays by a variety of Lewis scholars, some who are themselves artists or cultural creatives. Why not wrap 'em both up together -- a perfect gift to appeal to what Lewis called "reason and imagination."  



how's your soul +.jpgHow's Your Soul?: Why Everything That Matters Starts with the Inside You  Judah Smith (Thomas Nelson) $22.99  This is a sweet and upbeat book, funny, honest, written as a guide to soul-care, attending to our inner lives, in a way that is inviting for those who are not mature in Christian faith (but it does come at things directly from a Biblical/evangelical perspective.) I like that this author speaks to his readers as if they are interested in hearing him out as a young pastor, but is aware that they may not have full buy-in to his assumptions about the Bible or church life. Judah is very popular among young adults for his previous best selling books Jesus Is ____ and Life Is____. This isn't for serious skeptics, philosophy majors or cultural critics, but for pretty ordinary young adults who don't know much about faith but are willing to consider it, this is a way into the conversation. 

It's Not What You Think- Why Christianity Is About So Much More .jpgIt's Not What  You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson) $16.99  I love this young dude and his fast-talking, super honest, evangelical YouTube talks. (He went viral with his rant "Jesus > Religion" which became a good book and is, happily, an indication that he is a serious and thoughtful pastor, not a fad star.) In this fun and readable guide to Christian living he suggests we've gotten the story wrong.  He invites folks to reconsider some standard Christian slogans and/or teachings which he tweaks, noting the what people often think about these things isn't quite right; Christian discipleship isn't even what you thought.  This "not that, but this" approach is an ancient method of doing theology, and while it sounds sort of edgy, it's just good solid explication. Blurbs on the back are from the popular Lysa TerKeurst and the always interesting Bob Goff, noting that Jefferson has "rattled by assumptions about Jesus."  Some of the chapter titles are "Your Story's Not What You Think", "People Are Not Who You Think" "You Aren't Who You Think", "Worship's Not What You Think",  "The Kingdom's Not What You Think" -- there is even a nice chapter called "The Table's Not What  You Think" which has the subtitle, "It's not just a meal, it's a sacred space."


Today's Moment of Truth- Devotions to Deepen.jpgToday's Moment of Truth: Devotions to Deepen Your Faith in Christ Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $19.99  This is a devotional made with heavy glossy paper and a colorful padded cover and ribbon marker making it a very nice gift.  It offers 180 insightful devotions "that will give you daily infusions of spiritual truth while deepening your knowledge of the evidence for Christianity."   I hope you know Strobel and Mittelberg who are fun guys who are great communicators, known for compelling workshops and books about apologetics (the defense of traditional Christian truth claims) and evangelism (inviting non-churched folks to consider the free gift of salvation offered in Christ.) They know their stuff and here offer nice, solid, inspiring short pieces about various truths. I think this book is ideal for those that may not want to read a heady theology book or even a sustained argument about Christian evidences but who wants something a bit more intellectually stimulating than a simple inspirational devotional. In Today's Moment of Truth the authors offer a reflection upon either a scientific, historical or biblical fact, equipping readers to stand confident in those reasonable truths. Nicely done.


making sense of god.jpgMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00 This recent book, published in hardback by a prominent New York publishing house, is one of the very best books to give to somebody who has an allergy to religion, who isn't sure they want to even consider the plausibility of Christian truth claims, and want a literate, intelligent, astute argument. Keller's early book of this kind -- emerging from his innovative church-planting among smart, cosmopolitan New Yorkers -- was called Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Penguin Books; $17.00.)  Making Sense of God is in many ways a prequel to that, for those perhaps not even ready to read the case for Christianity's truth and reasonableness but who are willing to explore if the notion of God is sensible. This book is very, very good and I highly recommend it. 


Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious  .jpgLife's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious David Dark (IVP) $20.00 David Dark is one of our most energetic and curious writers -- part Bob Dylan, part Dylan Thomas (okay, I just said that because it sounded cool, which is all I was going for. Maybe I should have said for those who like Sufjan Stevens and Michael Chabon; Daniel Berrigan and Beck, U2 and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.) David is a pop culture savant, a Southern literature buff, a righteous social activist an interesting teacher, and  a heckuva storyteller.  He wrote this fascinating book -- part memoir, part literary rumination, part reflection on the nature of our worldviews -- to friends who may call themselves "spiritual but not religious." 

I did a much longer review when it first came out, and think it could be a great gift for somebody you may know so wanted to mention it again. David invites us to admit we all live by story, that there are social imaginations and some profound stuff behind and underneath and in the things we care most about, the stories and values and episodes that have shaped us.  Call this stuff religion or call it something else, it is evident that we all are in this together, guided by ultimate concerns and deep commitments that come from somewhere. David interestingly calls these "attention collections" and invites readers to be self-aware of what has shaped our deepest attentions, our loves. Maybe all of this very entertaining, smart writing can help us see what we're most about, and how this might be some signal of transcendence, pointing us to the good, the beautiful, maybe even the true.  As it says in big block letters on the back "Religious is a complicated word."  If you know some literary, thoughtful person who mistrusts the word, give them this. 

Sara Zarr, a contemporary award winning novelist says:  "Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious is a bracing manifesto for modern people and an optimism-infused love song to humanity."  


Becoming Wise- An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living .jpgBecoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living Krista Tippett (Penguin Press) $28.00  This is wonderfully written, a spectacular book by the well known and deeply appreciated NPR interviewer who, on her show "On Being" interviews all sorts of interesting folks, spiritual leaders, scientists, political activists, church folk and others who can tell their story of living a good and creative life. For those who don't necessarily need an overtly Christian book but would warm up to something eloquent and mysterious and healthy and good, this book would be wonderful. Tippett has interviewed some of the most interesting, courageous, and insightful people on the planet and here she tells of things she learned from these many years of talking to these wise and thoughtful humans.  Endorsements on the back are rave, of course, from Elizabeth Gilbert, Parker Palmer, Karen Armstrong, Brene Brown and others. Andrew Solomon says she has "ecumenical generosity" with a "lovely wisdom" and secularist Adam Gopnik opines that "Krista Tippett is one of America's ablest listeners..."  President Obama gave Tippett the coveted National Humanities Medal not long ago and praised her for "thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence."  Nice stuff and a good conversation starter for those who want to invite deeper conversations, perhaps, finally, about Jesus and His Kingdom.  Highly recommended.


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  This is a very handsome, sturdy hardback designed nicely to help people -- get this -- use design principles to, well, design their life.  These are remarkably thoughtful teachers and a course they teach at Stanford is among the most popular courses at that prestigious school.  Burnett is the executive director of the Stanford Design PRogram and, with Evans, is cofounder of the Life Design Lab.  

There is a lot of emotive talk these days about finding one's passion, and following some vague call to do great things, dare greatly, make a difference, to be and do and go.  These authors ratchet things down a bit and invite readers to design a life you can love. They are all about "prototyping some potential lives" and guide readers how to get away from dysfunctional believes and find a better framework and process for moving forward. It shows how to get advisers, mentors, and a supportive community to help with life design, which (like a design, they teach us) is a "team sport."   Here's the skinny: designers don't think their way forward, they build stuff.  Burnett & Evans help us figure out life options in the real world.  It's a great tool, a fine, helpful book.


Gospel According to Star_Trek.jpgThe Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew Kevin C. Neece (Cascade Books) $24.00  I enjoyed writing about this before and wanted to give it another shout out here, now. It's really, really good, for anyone who loves Star Trek and for anyone who wants a fairly serious, deeply Christian analysis. As Christian philosopher (and pop culture enthusiast) David Naugle says about it "You hold in your hands a treasure!" Yes.

Watching TV Religiously- Television and Theology in Dialogue.jpgWatching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue Kutter Callaway with Dean Batali (Baker Academic) $27.99  In the few weeks this book has been out it has generated a number of fascinating reviews and even debates on the internet, wondering about their perspective, framework, analysis. (The authors take some exception to some of the important work of James K.A. Smith, and, so, there's that.)  I mentioned that to persuade you that this is serious stuff, a tremendous read, and what one has called "a crucial conversation...that is essential" and what another says is "a brilliant and timely analysis."  Callaway is a professional theologian, by the way, and Batali is a TV writer with over twenty years of experience, even as head writer for several popular shows.   The first portion of the book offers a high quality discussion of TV scholarship, how shows are made, how it all works, and then moves towards more intentionally theological concerns -- can we discern God's common grace in all things? Do late modern consumerist ideologies deform even how we consume the popular arts? 

David O. Taylor of Fuller Theological Seminary offers a keen endorsement and reminds us:

While it may be called the small screen, television has an influence that is oversized. Every five years, it seems, a new collection of TV shows frame "the new normal" in a way that enables an entire society to re imagine itself. For that reason, we need judicious, charitable guides to help us navigate what is arguably the dominant storytelling medium of early twenty-first century culture. 

Day Alt Music Died.jpgThe Day Alternative Music Died Adam Caress (New Troy Books) $16.99   I did a very big review of this when it first came out, raving about Adam's extraordinary knowledge of the history of rock music and how he tells the great story of the rise of rock, fold rock, alt rock, indie rock, and more, as the story of the struggle between commerce and art.  That is, he sees grunge and alternative rock (not to mention, punk, obviously) as a large reaction to vapid hair bands and glam rock.  Alas, once the Seattle sound became popular, the record labels put out dozens of wannabe grunge bands and the co-option of an artful sound happened once again. The pendulum swings between art and innovation and record deals and profiteering business, and the next chapter of the music of our lives evolves.  I can't tell you how much I loved this book and how I recommend it for anyone half-way interested in pop culture, rock and roll, popular music, entertainment, or the music industry.  Adam is a really good guy -- he teaches in the Music Business Program at Montreat College in North Carolina -- and for those that know this book, he is considered a genius. 

As the wonderful writer and cultural critic Sven Birkerts (yes, Sven Birkerts of The Gutenberg Elegies) writes about it, 

A patient (and fascinating) itemization of the stages whereby corporate logistics sought to monetize a hip-shake and a sneer and everything that followed from it. The history is fascinating -- much fresh lore here -- and the cultural and economic analysis is chillingly persuasive. 


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 This is without a doubt the most fun book you will ever read on the Enneagram and, with wit and jokes and stories and advice, The Road Back becomes a pleasant guide to understanding oneself and others.  Cron and Stabile do some mild spiritual direction stuff but this isn't a heavy theological study nor primarily about one's spirituality, it is more general and foundational, just providing a tool to understand your deepest wounds, your particular sins and the certain graces to claim if you've got typical foibles matched with the Enneagram "types." This is much more fun than the Meyers-Briggs, say, and the stories and honesty in this book make it truly captivating. The numbers (and wings and other pieces of the system) can be a bit mystifying but these authors make it clear and useful.  There is a wook-book, too, that is good for processing the material, even good for small groups. That sells for $8.00.


October 31, 1517- Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World.jpgOctober 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World Marty Marty (Paraclete) $19.99  This is a compact sized hardback, small, thin, and very handsome, an exquisite little book by one of our great Lutheran thinkers, writers, leaders. He explains what led up to that big day almost 500 years ago, and how Luther's protest movement shapes us yet today. The forward, by the way, is by a Catholic writer James Martin, which is pretty nifty. I love this little book and think it would make a great gift.

Here I Walk- A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther.jpgHere I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther Andrew Wilson (Brazos Press) $17.99 I've highlighted this well-written book a couple of times before groups, just reading a couple of sentences... I was hooked by reading the first paragraph of the introduction, and then, again, by the first page. What a fun and interesting book; the author and his wife, working on PhDs on church history at Princeton, decide they will reenact Luther's famous journey across Europe to Rome. So this is part hiking memoir, travelogue, church history pilgrimage, and, finally, a biography of this epic season of Martin's life. The title -- of course! -- is a hilarious play on words of Luther's most famous words, "Here I Stand."    This new boo by Andrew Wilson is a great, great read!

By the way, send me a note if you want other biographies of Luther or studies of the Reformation. We have a little list compiled we'd love to share...


God & Churchill- How the Great Leader's Sense of Divine Destiny.jpgGod & Churchill: How the Great Leader's Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours Jonathan Sandy's & Wallace Henley (Tyndale) $15.99  This fall I talked to who has hundreds of books about Churchill in his own library; he said that this book is a good corrective to those that miss Churchill's faith and that it includes some material that is simply not found in any other place. Which is to say it would be a great gift to a Churchill fan.  Publishers Weekly says it is "an excellent read" and Os Guinness calls is "fascinating and well-argued book." 

Lincoln's Last Speech- Wartime Reconstruction.jpgLincoln's Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion Louis P. Masur (Oxford University Press) $24.95  Do you know the distinguished history professor from Rutgers, Dr. Louis Masur, author of several respected books about the civil war and about Lincoln?  This one came out just a year ago and it explores the last speech President Lincoln gave -- on the evening of April 11th, 1865. One can only weep thinking of what had happened and what was to come, not only regarding Lincoln's death but in the way in which subsequent administrations shaped the tumultuous decade that followed. What was the great President's frame of mind at the end of the civil war? What was his best vision for reunion and reconstruction? How were the rights of blacks beginning to be discussed?   Eminent Gettysburg professor Dr. Allen Guelzo says: "Louis Masur presents us with the clearest view by far of the torturous beginnings of the Reconstruction era...  Lincoln's Last Speech is, in fact, the best introduction to the opening phases of Reconstruction we have, and one that moves to first place in any Reconstruction reading list."

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment- The 1950s.jpgThe Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of LIberal Belief George M. Marsden (Basic Books) $26.99  I am not sure why I think this, but it seems like this book is needed now even more than when it was published a couple of years ago. Marsden is one of the true deans of contemporary Christian scholarship and as a historian he is highly, highly regarded. Here is is examining, in a way that seems utterly germane this season, how religious faith did or didn't play in the mid-20th century and, more, how faith in the liberal values of American democracy came undone.  What he means by "liberal" is technically precise and his thesis is rather specific, but, nonetheless, this is a rip-roaring ride through an era that some of us need to know more about. 

Mark Noll says Marsden in Twilight... offers penetrating insights "on civic authority, modern anxiety, and failed liberal expectations"  and makes a "persuasive appeal for a culture of genuinely inconclusive pluralism that the leading thinkers of that era sought but could not deliver."  Duke's Grant Wacker calls it "another masterpiece" and Robert Wuthnow of Princeton says it helps us understand contemporary gridlock. Barry Hankins of Baylor says "Anyone seeking to understand American culture and weigh in on the conversation should read this book."

If You Can Keep It.jpgIf You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty Eric Metaxas (Viking) $26.00  I gave this a qualified thumbs up when I did a long review this summer, telling about how surprised I was at how deeply moved I was by this telling of the genius of the American revolution and the founding of the republic. Few countries are, it should be said, are founded by such interesting scholars and philosophers with such innovative ideas. We ought not tire of learning about our earliest days and Mr. Metaxas -- colorful writer that he is -- tells it really well, and gets the grand themes and most of the small details right. Some professional historians have quibbled about a few small errors and many (myself included) disapprove of much of Metaxas's political persona. Still, as he did with his riveting books about WIlberforce and Bonhoeffer and his two collections of short biographies (Seven Men and Seven Women) he makes complex history accessible and inspiring.  If You Can Keep It isn't the only book one should read about the Founding Fathers, but it is ideal for some. We're happy to suggest it.

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers .jpgReading the Bible with the Founding Fathers Daniel L. Dreisbach (Oxford University Press) $34.95 I recommended this in a list I did recently for the Center for Public Justice, a Christian citizen's organization and I insisted it was nothing short of brilliant and highly regarded. Blurbs on the back are by Mark Noll and John Witte, Jr. and Thomas Kidd, some of the most esteemed Christians writing in the field of history. They say things about it that are truly inspiring (Witte says "it can be read in an evening but mined for a lifetime.") For anyone interested in how the Bible was read, understood and used in the colonial era, this is the most significant book yet. 


broken way.jpgThe Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $22.99  Oh my, this would make just a perfect gift for so many sorts of people -- it has a beautiful cover, it is written with passion and a stylized sort of prose that is artful and touching. I suppose it may be most appreciated by women, but men read her too -- One Thousand Gifts has been a perennial best seller and has inspired other resources, studies, devotionals and more.  I hope you know her splendid Advent resource, also working on that Thousand Gifts theme about gratitude called The Greatest Gift and the beautiful coffee table family gift book called Unwrapping the Great Gift.

And yet, in God's upside down Kingdom and in Ann Voskamp's hard-won experience, things are not as they seem and those that are too happy are, well, you know what Jesus said about them. The last will be first and blessed are they, He weirdly said, who mourn. It is this theme that Voskamp develops in this gorgeously written, wise work about the "daring" path.  That would be the path of suffering.  Philip Yancey -- who has thought about these things perhaps more than any evangelical author in our lifetime -- says the book is "Rich. Gritty. Intimately vulnerable."  Eugene Peterson, an author and pastor and friend we trust, says it is "Convincing.... Stunningly fresh."

"What do you do with your unspoken broken?" she asks. Voskamp may romanticize is just a bit at times but she invites us to be honest and to be open to the transformative power of this way that beckons us. "Dare to take up the broken way -- to abundance."  

soul bare smaller .jpgSoul Bare: Stories of Redemption... edited by Cara Sexton (IVP) $16.00 We've been telling people about this since it first came out and think it is brave, interesting, raw, even. It is a great collection of short pieces, testimonials of how God was present in the lives of those going through various sorts of hard times. From some very talented young women writers (and a few men, too) who have struggled with pain, loneliness, depression, addiction, abuse.  There are real wounds in our lives and nearly anyone can relate to honest stories of vulnerability.  These young writers -- most with a pretty cool style -- are authentic and artful, realizing God offers grace and community not to cover our our hurts but to embrace God's goodness and be given hope. This is poignant and painful, even, but a great book of good news. A portion of the sales of this book goes to HELPONENOW.  It makes a great gift of encouragement and solidarity. 


After the Cheering Stops- An NFL Wife's Story of Concussions.jpgAfter the Cheering Stops: An NFL Wife's Story of Concussions, Loss, and the Faith That Saw Her Through Cyndy Feasel (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  This brand new book is both an inspiring sports biography but also a disturbing story of injury, concussion, cover-up and anguish. Feasel offers her story as the wife of Seattle Seahawks center Grant Feasel who died in 2012 at age 52. Blurbs on the back are from Jeff Kemp (Facing the Blitz) and Dave Krieg, both former Seahawks quarterbacks that new Grant well. All-Pro NFL Safety Vann McElroy calls Cyndy Feasel's husband "a gentle giant" and says her brave story "needs to be part of the discussion." This is heart-wrenching, but vital, even urgent; Julie Carobini says "Cyndy Feasel is destined to become the Erin Brockovich of CTE for sounding the alarm about what concussions can do to a family."  


Under the Stars.jpgUnder the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping Dan White (Henry Holt) $28.00 This is a major study, a wonderfully written, big social history, a book that fabulously explores how we search for ourselves in the wild.  There's a lot here -- one reviewer mentions the "oddball characters, scenic vistas, leaky pup tents, and scofflaw marmots..." (And who wouldn't want a book about scofflaw marmots?)

Elizabeth McKenzie says

I have never before had so interesting, hearty, and manly a companion. I fairly feel in love with him."  Yes, this is what John Muir said about Theodore Roosevelt, but I'm saying it now about Dan White after reading Under the Stars  -- an informative and lyrically written travel memoir about the American wilderness experience that's also very funny and full of surprises.

The Hour of Land- A Personal Topography of America's National Parks.jpgThe Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks Terry Tempest Williams (FSG) $27.00 What a sturdy, thoughtful, serious, luminous writer Ms Williams is, a national treasure, a nature writer and environmental activist respected for her craft as writer and for her clear-eyed vision for ecological sanity within a endearing and enduring sense of place. ("Language and landscape are my inspiration" she says in the first line.)  Here she writes about the great National Parks she as us to consider how we are "slowly learning what it means to offer our reverence and respect to the closet things we have to sacred lands."

Williams writes in The Hour of Land of Grant Teton National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), Acadia, Gettysburg, Effigy Mounds National Monument (in Iowa), Big Bend (Texas), and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. 

earth psalms.jpgEarth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature Francine Rivers with Karin Stock Buursma (Tyndale) $16.99  This is a lush and beautiful gift book full of vivid nature photography and lovely calligraphy and nicely type set quotes from popular Christian novelist Francine Rivers. Rivers is known for very moving writing that sometimes set Bible stories in more contemporary times and although not high-brow, she is considered a master of the genre. Who knew she so loved the outdoors, appreciated the beauty of creation, reveled in the delightful joy of nature? This really is a devotional with solid BIble teaching and stories from around the world (and her own backyard.) The quotes are from a variety of sources, mostly older Christian classics -- Brother Lawrence, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon,  Dorothy Sayers, and a few modern writers, Joni Eareckson Tada, Charles Stanley. She draws on everyday stuff -- turtles, trees, birds, and of course uses the praise songs of the Psalms. Very, very nice. 

Crossing the Waters- Following Jesus.jpgCrossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas Leslie Leyland Fields (NavPrss) $15.99 What a grand and surprising book this is -- one you could happily give to any number of folks. Fields is a remarkable writer, very talented and very wise. (I adored the collected she edited The Spirit of Food and really appreciate her excellent book on the myths of parents and many have been helped by her Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers.) She is, by vocation, not only a writer, but a fisher-person doing her work with her family on a remote island off the coast of the mainland in Alaska.  This book includes some vivid telling of her wild experiences -- dramatically wet and wild, scary, even -- fishing in the dangerously cold seas of the Pacific Northwest. But here's the thing: besides being a woman's wilderness memoir and story of life in Alaska, it is also a study of faith. And, quite literally, a study of fishing in the Bible.

Early in the unfolding of this great book, Leyland Fields makes a trek, nearly a pilgrimage, to the Middle East, to fish in the sea of Galilee.  And there it gets really interesting, offering what the publisher says  is "the wettest, stormiest, wildest trip through the gospels you've ever taken."

Do you recall the classic little book, so loved by so many decades ago, called A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm (by Philip Keller, which is still in print, by the way>) In a way, this is a look at the disciples -- fisherman that they were -- by a woman well aquatinted with nets and salt water and storms and fish on the beach.  I think Crossing the Waters is a tremendous book, what reviewer Mark Galli calls "a rare gift."  

He continues, "It pulses with story and theology, with lived suffering and quiet joy, with vast mysteries and a strong Savior."


Essential Worship- A Handbook for Leaders.jpgEssential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders Greg Scheer (Baker) $19.99  One of the finest congregations that have been nurtured in thoughtful, somewhat liturgical, yet somewhat contemporary worship styles is Church of the Servant, a CRC congregation in Grand Rapids MI.  Greg Scheer is their legendary worship director, a writer of liturgy, a song-writer, one who guides adults and children into lovely and moving rituals of strong worship.  This, his second book, explains a theology of worship and worship leading.  Rave reviews come from Sandra McCracken, Glenn Packiam ("This is the book we've been waiting for.")

John Witvliet of the respected Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, says,

Greg Scheer is a theologically and pastorally sensitive reflective practitioner -- and ideal teacher for a new generation of worship leaders. 

I hope all kinds of folks read this. I agree with Sandra McCracken who say it is "a good springboard for conversation and growth for both worship leaders and congregations."  One of the best books of this sort in years.

The Worship Pastor.jpgThe Worship Pastor Zac Hicks (Zondervan) $17.99 Hicks is Canon for Worship and Liturgy at Cathedral Church of the Advent (in Birmingham AL.) It is a truly interesting book with each chapter unpacking a different metaphor for worship, exploring how this particular image relates to Biblical teaching and liturgical practice. Hicks is concerned that many contemporary worship leaders have inherited a model of leadership that equates leading worship with being a rock star. Of course, worship isn't about performance; it's firstly about God and it is about shaping souls and making disciples; every worship leader is, in that sense, a pastor.  This is a clear guide to leading worship, what Glenn Packiam says is "a masterpiece that is equal parts manuel and manifesto."  Can we re-envision what worship leading is all about? Can we inspire worship leaders with solid and helpful guidance about their role in congregational worship?  Even if your church doesn't have "worship pastors" I think this book should be widely read. A great gift. 

worship-in-the-joy-of-the-lord-selections-from-chip-stam-worship-quote-of-the-week-by-calvin-institute-of-christian-worship-1937555186.jpgWorship in the Joy of the Lord: Selections from Chip Stam's Worship Quote of the Week Calvin INstitute of Christian Worship (Calvin College Press) $23.99 This is a very handsome paperback, a slightly oversized gift type book loaded with great quotes about worship.  Don't let the "Chip Stam" thing throw you -- Stam was apparently a gifted leader who sent out these quotes (from famous authors, church leaders, books, poems) to folks; this book collects over 300 quotations of them from him about public worship. They are arranged in 12 categories, from times and seasons to using the Psalms to singing and hymns to stuff about suffering and death.  One chapter is called "Life is Worship" and another reflects on "The God We Worship." These quotes are from across time and church history and include some very contemporary writers, too.  Almost like a devotional, with endorsements from Constance Cheery, Bob Kauflin, Marva Dawn, RIchard Mouw and others, this is a rare and wonderful treat. A great gift idea. 


The Faithful Artist -  Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts .jpgThe Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts Cameron J. Anderson (IVP Academic) $26.00  Don't let the word "evangelicalism" throw you - this will be inspiring and exceptionally informative for anyone of any faith tradition wanting to explore how religion informs the arts. Cam is one of our most thoughtful and articulate interpreters of this body of work and I am not only glad he added his voice to the big body of literature about faith and the arts but I am astonished how very much good stuff there is here. What a great, significant, important volume this is. 

Cam has worked in ministry with artists and art professors and is now the director of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) and is respected widely.  Vibrant blurbs on the back of this recent book are from Makoto Fujimura, Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Luci Shaw, and others. 

Imagine- A Vision for Christians in the Arts- Revised and Expanded.jpgImagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts: Revised and Expanded Steve Turner (IVP) $16.00  Turner is himself a poet but is mostly known as a writer and rock critic. (His brand new book called Beatles '66: The Revolutionary Year is a must-read for any fans and his 2013 book Popcultured is an excellent Christian entry into the worlds of rock music, digital media, advertising, film, fashion, video games, and such.)  Imagine has often been one of our go-to introductory books about faith and the arts, especially for those who are young and somewhat confused by the shunning of modern art forms among conservative Christians. It makes a beautiful, captivating Biblical argument for being culturally engaged, "in but not of" the world, and aware of the good gift art plays within an all-of-life-being-redeemed worldview.  This brand new edition is updated and expanded and includes study questions for individual reflection or small group discussion. 

By the way, although the new one looks tremendous, we have some of the very fine first version still in stock, which we could sell at 40% off, while supplies last. If you want to grace some young art students with this at the sale price, let us know.

Thumbprint in the Clay- Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace Luci Shaw.jpgThumbprints in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace Luci Shaw (IVP) $17.00 Do you recall our rave announcement about this when it came out. In so many ways, for so many reasons, this is a wonderful example of the generative and beautiful sort of religious literature that is available these days. Dear Luci Shaw is an experienced poet, a widely published author, and so respected for her many travels, lectures, workshops, and presentations and the book will be appreciated by anyone who is a writer, a visual artist, or anyone wanting to be reminded that God's very creation shouts about God's beauty and creative goodness.

Bret Lott, himself a respected novelist, says "This book is wise beyond measure, the writing beautiful beyond compare, and its's heart a reflect of the one true God... A Beautiful, ruminative, and necessary book."  Other lovely endorsements on the back of this lovely little book are from Leslie Leyland Fields and Richard Rohr. 



Roots of Violence- Creating Peace Through Spiritual Reconciliation.jpgRoots of Violence: Creating Peace Through Spiritual Reconciliation Krister Stendahl (Paraclete) $16.99  This slim book is nearly historic, years in the making, and an important contribution to mainline denominational folks wanting to think about the radical implications of gospel-based reconciliation. Stendahl was the dean of Harvard and the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and was respected globally as a person involved in interfaith conversations, eager for profound dialogue with others, and of his desire for global peacemaking.  This book emerged after his death from notes he used in talks given all over the world -- always adjusting them, adding on, editing; it is said he worked on this in the hospital room the day he died. What is so fascinating about this is the contributions of Imam Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Brandeis Professor Marc Brettle who add modern perspectives on concepts of salvation within Islam and Judaism.

James Carroll (who wrote one of my all time favorite memoirs, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us) wrote the very informative introduction. He apparently knew Stendahl well and is pleased to bring this potent little book to a wider audience.

Revelation- A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World .jpgRevelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World Dennis Covington (Little Brown) $26.00  Just the other day I got another email note from a friend who recalls that I sold him Covington's high octane memoir of hanging out with snake handling Pentecostals called Salvation on Sand Mountain perhaps the most unforgettable book I've ever written. This is Covington's most recent and if you are interested you can find my longer review at BookNotes this past summer. I couldn't put this well written book down as Covington travels throughout the Middle East (and a few other places) in search of how religion fuels violence and terrorism and genocide and -- ironically, perhaps, foolishness to some -- how religion is the answer to war and violence. Can faith fuel healing and hope? (He "goes to unimaginable lengths" one review raved, "to answer a defining question of our time.")  Can he find healing and hope? This is tender and explosive, quiet and dramatic, adventurous and reflective.  Kim Barnes, herself a brilliant writer and memoirist, says "From the first sentence on, you understand that Dennis Covington brings to the page is something raw, terrifying, brilliant, and necessary." What a story, by one of our most insightful storytellers. 

Almighty- Courage, Resistance and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age .jpgAlmighty: Courage, Resistance and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age Dan Zak (Blue Rider Press) $27.00  I will just tell you now: this will be on my short list of the best books I've read this year, certainly one that I simply couldn't put down. The author is a gifted storyteller, a very fine reporter, and one who brings both big historic trends and local, specific detail, all in colorful prose.  I suppose the bigger project of this gut-wrenching and yet fascinating book is the dangers of the nuclear arms race and a government run amok with Pentagon projects making more and more bombs that can destroy the world. Most of us know the dramatic story of the Manhattan Project and the dangerous tests of atomic bombs in the deserts near Los Alamos New Mexico.  But few know the back story of the Atomic Energy Commissions created-out-of-nothing town of Oak Ridge Tennessee and the unique feel of that secretive city made to help America build radioactive bombs. Zak tells of this mid-twentieth century history in really interesting ways, but he keeps jump ahead to the main device he uses to help us appreciate this complex history: three Christian protestors who did non-violent civil disobedience to protest the immorality of making these kinds of massive weapons (that simply cannot be used justly as they necessarily kill so many civilians) and to bear public witness that Christ, the Prince of Peace, disapproved of these plants making these devices that, if used, could incinerate hundreds of thousands of people.

I believe they are right that these weapons are categorically evil and that it is a sin to make them, and I believe they are righteous to be willing to spend the rest of their lives in jail to take actions to expose the manufactured apocalypse these secretive nuclear weapons plants represent.  However, agree or not with their theology or their tactics, in Dan Zak's reportage, the story becomes hard to put down; you will want to know what happens next, how these folks are led, how the trials ended up, and what difference the military and the civilian folks at the plant and in the town reacted. 

Activists Michael Walli, Sister Megan Rice (upon who a character in the early seasons of Orange is the New Black is loosely based), and Greg Boertje-Obed were charged with intending to endanger the national defense after breaking into this nuclear weapons site in 2012. Almighty gets it's name, I presume, because so often these Christian protestors insist that nuclear weapons are not only bad devices, but enslave us because they are idols.  This book is about them, about why the did it, and what is at stake. At over 350 pages, I didn't want it to end. I hope somebody out there is as inspired as I was and as grateful for the witness of these unusual people and of this talented investigative writer.

By the way, as you look at that cover, you'll notice some small dark spots at the foot of the bomb cloud.  Just to get a sense of the size and gravity of this radiation cloud, realize that hhose are huge battleships. 


Divine Merger.jpgDivine Merger: What Happens When Jesus Collides with Your Community Mark Strong (IVP) $16.00  I love this book -- it isn't too lengthy or technical but is really good, about how this church learned to bring God's Kingdom message into the community. Strong is the pastor of a multi-ethnic inner city church in Portland. Solid stuff, upbeat and visionary, this guys been through a lot and the book is honest about the pains of this kind of work.

God is in the City.jpgGod Is In the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation Shawn Casselberry (Mission Year) $17.00 We've been thrilled to stock this rare book, published by the urban activists and young adult missionaries at Mission Year. Shawn Casselberry is a good advocate for God's justice and encourages folks to love the poor, to offer solidarity with those who are broken, and to celebrate redemptive moments in even hard situations. This is a rare book and ought to be better known. John Perkins rights in the foreword "I urge you to read this book. You will be inspired and transformed by what you encounter."  The storyteller of good stuff happening will bring inspiration and encouragement to anyone involved in the center city life and will surely bring insight to anyone who is even vaguely interested in what God might be doing on hard city streets which are, believe it or not, becoming streets of joy and havens of hope. This is a great book.

Write to us if you want more about the missional church (we've got dozens of titles here) or urban ministry or community development.  We've got a lot.


Just Courage- God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian .jpgJust Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian Gary A. Haugen (IVP) $16.00 I am so glad that this book is finally out in a good looking paperback -- it has been out in hardback for years but a little expensive but remains one of the best books on Christian living I've ever read. This is a great collection of talks and sermons and chapters by one of the most important leaders on the planet, the founder and CEO of the anti-trafficking organization the International Justice Mission (IJM.) This is stimulating, dramatic, Biblical, balanced, thoughtful, invigorating, not too dense, good for anyone who wants motivated to care more and live more robustly in responsible ways. If you want to care more about those who suffer of if you want to understand a Biblically-informed vision of working for structural change, this book is a wonderful gift; Haugen is a blessed guide, a clear teacher and fantastic ally on the journey towards justice and courage. Highly recommended for anyone, a must for those who want to be more involved in the world.

Justice Calling Where Passion Meets P.jpgThe Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance Bethany Hanke Joang and Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) $19.99  Again, this is a book I reviewed at greater length at BookNotes and it is one we celebrated and will continue to promote; it is, I am convinced, one of the best books of the year. To put it simply it is about how passion and perseverance meet, and it offers a compelling Biblical overview about the theme of justice and God's faithfulness to help us gather passion and perseverance. Which is to say, I suppose, it is not just a book about global concerns or activism or transformation but it is a book about hope. Dan Allender calls it "glorious." Gary Haugen says about it that it is a boo we should all "dig into and carry close at hand."   

return to justice.jpgReturn to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience Soong-Chan Rah & Gary Vanderpol (Brazos Press) $19.99  I hope you recall my rave review of this earlier in the year -- I mention it again because it might be just the ticket to give as a gift to someone who cares about the world and wants a big picture of how social concern for public justice has increasingly been talked about as central to faith in the last decade or so. In a way this is a contemporary church history, exploring how these issues pressed upon many younger evangelicals and how organizations and movements were developed in recent years.  For that alone it is wonderful, interesting, helpful, good for anybody to read. 

Further, though, it is about those issues, six key concerns that have increasingly become urgent to address and how evangelicals, especially have stepped up.  Truly one of the most important books of the year, I hope you know somebody who is growing into a concern for Biblically-based social justice ministry for whom this book would be a fabulous gift.

Or, perhaps you know somebody who is skeptical of this and wonders where all this recent talk and passion has come from. This might be a great gift to help open the hearts to some who are less convinced that all this is important for distinctive Christian witness.   It is both carefully researched and it is inspiring. As Scot McKnight says, this resurgence of concern for justice "emerges from deep wells in the evangelical tradition and the story needs to be told."  Highly recommended. 


Created & Creating.jpgCreated & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture William Edgar (IVP Academic) $24.00 Bill has been a friend of our store and his care for others, for the arts, for Biblical fidelity even as we move into complicated areas, has been an encouragement and model for many.  I agree so much with Tim Keller who says:

Anything from the pen of Bill Edgar is profitable to read, but this subject is Bill's wheelhouse. An important book on a topic that, for Western Christians, has never been so crucial.

And so, this brand new book -- it arrived yesterday! -- will be incredibly appreciated by many people who read BookNotes, and I'm hoping a bunch get ordered this week. What joy to be able to offer such substantial resources for key leaders who are, as Keller says, involved in this critical conversation.

I'm sure he will reflect on the views of Abraham Kuyper, T.S. Eliot, Richard Niebuhr, Francis Schaeffer, maybe C.S. Lewis, maybe Jacques Ellul, even, and will engage the work of contemporaries such as Tom Wright, Rod Dreher, Os Guinness, and other important voices.

I have only glanced at it, but am struck by the back blurb by K. Scott Oliphint who says "I can count on one hand the people who are qualified to write such a  work and Bill Edgar is on the top of the list. This should be the first volume one reads when questions of Christianity and culture are broached." 

Except that culture isn't something that is "broached" as a "topic." It is our life. As Calvin Seerveld once quipped, "culture is not optional." Which is to say, the topic of this book is -- as Steve Garber says of vocation --  integral not incidental to the missio dei.

Okay friends, my fingers are sore from typing and your eyes are red from reading.  maybe your budget it almost shot as you want to buy a number of these for someone you know.  I hope you find it helpful.

There's more, coming very soon.

I can't promise more mistletoe and chestnuts roasting, but if you've got gift-giving concerns, we're hear to help.  Stay tuned -- I'll finish this gift giving guide in a day or so.   As always, you can use our link (shown below) to our order form page which is secure so you can leave credit card digits safely. Or just give us a call.  We don't have elves, but we are eager to help get some gifts in the mail to you soon.  Thanks.

Next, maybe I'll mention books for these kinds of folks:























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December 8, 2016


In a perplexing gift-giving jam?  We can help.

You're going to love giving gifts like these.

A fun part of our job is when folks ask us to find a book for them to give as a gift for an eccentric aunt, their young adult kid who has very certain hip tastes, a sciency scholar, a lonely grandma with limited mental capacities, or their co-worker who is frustrated with church but curious about Christian truth claims.  If you want to give a gift to a friend - and who doesn't this time of year when it is natural to do so - we can help. 

Send us an email and describe the person a bit (especially whether they read a lot, or not, are pretty sharp, or maybe not super sophisticated, if they would want something from a certain theological orientation or not.) We can make some suggestions for you, described each, and explain why it might be a nice selection to bless your friend.  I'm sure I don't have to tell you that books make better gifts than the proverbial ugly sweater. 

Here are some suggestions, just some random topics and some good ideas. We love getting to show off the breadth of our inventory.  We can send these out promptly, to you or to your recipient. We gift-wrap for free, too.  


Reading for the Common Good.jpgReading for the Common Good: How Books Can Help Transform Your Church and Neighborhood C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00 One of my very favorite books of the year, if you want to inspire anyone who loves books (or maybe those that don't) to realize the joy and significance of reading widely, this book is a sure-fire win. They will love it.

Word By Word- A Daily Spiritual Practice .jpgWord by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $17.99 This is something like a devotional - a set of reflections to be read and pondered - about the meaning of phrases in our English language. You may know our fondness of Marilyn's must-read Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies or her lovely little set of Bible ruminations What's in a Phrase that showcase her poetic sensibilities and fine writing and profound insights. This new book is a true gem.


Dimestore- A Writer's Life.jpgDimestore: A Writer's Life Lee Smith (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) $24.95 Beth and I would both say this is one of the most delightful, enjoyable books we've read all year. I'm sure it would make a tremendous gift to those, at least, who like Lee Smith's popular Southern novel.  This is somewhat of a memoir (including much about her girlhood and the small town in which she grew up and her father's beloved dime store.)   One reviewer said it is "a pitch-perfect mining of the memories, desires, and imaginations fueling one of the South's -- no, one of America's -- master storytellers."  Perhaps akin to Euodoras Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, it is fun, fresh, upbeat, sentimental, wise, and so very enjoyable to read. Annie Dillars says "her brilliance shines. Her wide warmth blesses everything funny about life and -- here especially -- everything moving and deep."


The Finest Traditions of My Calling -- One Physician's Search.jpgThe Finest Traditions of My Calling: One Physician's Search for the Renewal of Medicine Abraham M. Nussbaum, M.D. (Yale University Press) $28.50 This is a truly beautiful book, a wonderfully written memoir about a doc in Denver and his own struggle to see his work as a vocation. The reviews have been extraordinary, noting both how nicely it is written and how thoughtful his insights are about the work of the doctor in these days. One surprising blurb on the back comes from edgy Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who writes, " Reading The Finest Traditions of My Calling, I couldn't help but see Nassbaum as a Martin Luther of healthcare and this book as his 95 theses. May true reform ensue." A substantial, good gift.

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 This is one of the most beautifully books we've encountered all year, one I wish I had the space to write about more. Dr. Volck is a pediatrician and a poet, and his book shows how he learned to be a better doctor by paying attention - attending, as they say - to his patients (mostly women and children) and to the printed page (yes, reading poetry and fiction.)  Volck is the co-author of Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine and has practiced medicine among the poor in Central America and has travelled throughout the world; some of his insights gleaned from these unique settings are described wonderfully in this book. Attending Others would make a perfect gift for nearly anyone who is thoughtfully working in health care but also for anyone who has had experiences with medical providers and who long for better encounters. Endorsing blurbs come from Wendell Berry, Marilyn McEntyre, Paul Farmer, Leslie Leyland Fields and other H&M favorites. He has published in The Christian Century, Image, Health Affairs, America, and more.

Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age.jpgPursuing Health in an Anxious Age Bob Cutillo, MD (Crossway) $17.99  I wish I could press this book into the hands of so many folks as I am sure it would be a fascinating and helpful reading experience for them. This is for doctors or health-care workers of any sort, but, also, for any of us who seek better health, who wonder about medicine and nutrition and exercise and healing and wholeness and what it all means and looks like. This is not a "self improvement" type book, but a mature pondering of life and health in our secular age.  Yes, it draws on the magisterial work of philosopher Charles Taylor (The Secular Age) and does some provocative cultural analysis as we attempt to situate our longings for wellness within a life well lived. One person who cares a lot about faith-based views of integrating faith and work said this might be the sort of book Tim Keller would write if he were in the field of medicine. The always-astute Andy Crouch wrote the foreword in which he situates the book well, and explains why he is so impressed with its wisdom.  Don't worry about the bland cover this is a very, very thoughtful book.

Listen to the always thoughtful Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio Journal:

Reflection on the moral meaning of medicine sometimes results in the contriving of collections of guidelines or flowcharts to guide the making of difficult medical decisions. In a refreshing alternative, Dr. Cutillo has woven a wise and engaging meditation with the power to transform how we imagine the meaning of health and of community. By situating the practice of medicine in the context of modernity's preoccupations, obsessions, and blind spots, he reminds us that health is neither an entitlement nor a reductionist solution to an engineering problem. It is, rather, a gift--given by one who took on human form himself--to be received and cherished with wonder and love.


Shaping a Digital World- Faith, .jpgShaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology Derek Schuurman (IVP) $18.00 I think this remains the best book yet about computer science, about thinking in a deeply Christian way about the world of digital culture, programming, technology and more. It is vital for nearly all of us, I'd say, but certainly for anyone working in the field. Derek is a very thoughtful guy and cites many of our favorite books and authors. If you like our general perspective here at Hearts & Minds you will surely appreciate this thoughtful, readable book.

Networked Theology- Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture .jpgNetworked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture Heidi Campbell, Stephen Garner (Baker Academic) $22.99 Baker Academic has, as a publisher, been remarkably committed for over a decade of doing books about "cultural exegesis" showing us how to engage culture seriously, faithfully, thoughtfully, intentionally "in but not of." The books they've released in this series are not simplistic (and are, in fact, sometimes a bit demanding, seemingly arcane to non-specialists in cultural apologetics.) This is a brand new one in this "Engaging Culture" series and it is simply a must for anyone who reads about communications and media or how our social and religious lives are shaped by digital culture. Very impressive.

iGods.jpgiGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives Craig Detweiler (Brazos Press) $17.99  Detweiler is a smart and productive author, working  well in this whole arena of entertainment and pop culture (having previously done books on film and video gaming.)  This is a fairly serious and deeply Christian assessment of digital culture and the forces and venues that shape us, not merely about how church folks can simply use new technology for church growth (we have those kind, too.) With chapters on Amazon, Google, Facebook, and YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, iGods explores aesthetics and technology and audience participation and more. What in informed, interesting study of the impact of all of this on us, our worldviews, our practices, our habits, and how we can live redemptively within this hot-wired, entertaining, ever-connected world.


to the table mcminn.jpgTo the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming and Community Lisa Graham McMinn (Brazos Press) $19.99 What a lovely book, by a fine, fine writer, doing good work relating these topics.  There is good theology, here, reflecting, out of a Christian worldview, upon how to consider land and farming and food.  The author has told some of this story in a previous memoir nicely entitled Dirt and the Good Life (Barclay Press; $17.99) so she has been at this a while. There is fabulous stuff here about food - about food production, cooking and blessing and serving, about meals, about feasting, about hospitality, and all the goodness that comes with the table.  And, yes, there is some fine writing about localism, agrarianism, farming, community gardening, sustainability, animal welfare, and the like. This book is itself a feast, the author a delight, the stories told are inspiring and a joy.  There are wonderfully compelling blurbs on the back from Joel Salatin (The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs), Norman Wirzba (Food and Faith: A Theology of Food), Rachel Marie Stone (Eat with Joy), and Jenell Paris who says "If this book were a table, it would bow under the weight of its abundance."  

The Spirituality of Wine  - amazon.jpgThe Spirituality of Wine Gisela Kreglinger (Eerdmans) $24.00 We have promoted this previously but want to suggest it again. For anyone interested in a theology of food and farming, or certainly for anyone interested in wine this is doubtlessly the best book yet done on the topic. The author was raised in an old family vineyard and still works in this tremendously interesting world of farming, wine, delight and danger. (Yes, she has a chapter about the abuse of alcohol.) Gisela Kreglinger is not only an esteemed vintner but has a degree in theology; she nicely covers Bible teaching about wine, about celebration, and tells of her own professional work in the fields and winery, explaining the whole winemaking process. A really great book. Maybe give it with a good vintage?


Small Talk- Learning From My Children About What Matters Most.jpgSmall Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most Amy Julia Becker (Zondervan) $15.99  I hope you know this very fine writer (whose earlier book was called A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and A Little Girl Named Penny which was very highly acclaimed, published by WJK.) Here, Ms Becker offers stories and testimony of how God uses the smallest voices to teach us the greatest truths. That is, this book is about the very big questions little kids ask, and how that "small talk" might shape us. It is profound, beautiful, written somewhat as a memoir. It's sweet and very smart.

For instance, read this from Jen Pollock Michel, author of Teach Us To Want,who reviewed it in the Englewood Review of Books:

Becker's Small Talk offers spiritual lessons without being simplistic. In fact, what I might like best about the book is the insistent need to defend the holy beauty of materiality and the idea that we can find God in the kitchen as well as the cloister. Becker does this, not by waxing eloquent for pages about ethereal ideas, but by embedding theological truth in the sights and sounds of the everyday.

I like the blurb by Gabe & Rebekah Lyons, who write:

Amy Julia Becker gets to the heart of our most valuable moments with our children -- the ones in which we laugh, cry, and marvel at the unexpected revelation of truth and joy in our every day lives. Small Talk reveals how talking without children about the most important things in life actually ends up growing us up...

Parenting- Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.jpgParenting: Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family  Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $22.99 This is a handsome hardback, clear, solid, Reformed, offering gospel-centered freedom to raise kids in the way of Jesus. It may seem a bit overly theolgoical or even heavy-handed to some, but for those that follow Tripp (he has written widely, although it was his brother, Ted, who wrote Shepherding a Child's Heart.)  Rave, rave endorsements on the back are from Francis Chan, Tobymac, Gloria Furman. Ann Voskamp says "Simply put, I read everything that Paul Tripp writes. I can't afford to miss one word."  If yo know parents wondering about their calling as parents, this could offer solid, Biblical confidence.

Give Your Child the World- Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time .jpgGive Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at at Time Jamie C. Martin (Zondervan) $16.99 I hope you recall our rave review of this earlier -- come on, even LeVar Burten (of "Reading Rainbow" fame) says this is "an invaluable resource." And that it is -- it is something like a globally-aware Honey for a Child's Heart or a mission-minded, Christ supplement to The Read Aloud Handbook. I thikn Jamie Martin is my new patron saint, hero, and book-lover pal, even though I've not met her. I hope you know a parent you can give this to. We'll wrap it for you if you want. This guide to reading well, helping kids learn about the world "one book at a time" is just fabulous. Who will you give it to?


It's not too late.jpgIt's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith Dan Dupee (Baker) $15.99 There is, as I said in my own review of this (and my blurb on the inside) nothing like this in print. Dupee is a very good friend, parent of two sets of twins who are now thriving young adults, and the CEO of a Pittsburgh-based, interdenominational campus ministry organization. I say this to remind you that Dupee knows young adults well, and wrote this book in part inspired by conversations he had with college age students, older teens, and focus groups with parents of teens. He is convinced -and explains wonderfully in this book -that it "is not too late" to be influential in the life of your child who is emerging into young adulthood.  This book is funny, interesting, and very, very helpful. Highly recommended.


The Grand Canyon- Monument to an Ancient Earth edited.jpgThe Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth edited by Carol Hill (Kregel) $26.99 This book has a bit of a back-story and it is certainly one-of-a-kind (and certainly a beauty to behold, laden as it is with gorgeous shots of the Grand Canyon and other wonders of nature.)  The back-story is this: well-intentioned Christian scholars who believe in a "young Earth" and dismiss evolution have created many books about how things like the Grand Canyon "prove" the Bible, particularly the accounts of the flood in early Genesis. They have published handsome volumes with this odd, minority viewpoint, and have gotten them, surprisingly, into many of the gift shops of the National Parks.

We should be glad that inspirational books aren't blacklisted by the Park gift shops but it is, shall we say, unfortunate, that this less than mainstream Christian viewpoint seems to have a monopoly in this niche market of gift books about nature.  And so, a group of evangelical scholars who reject "young Earth creationism" and favor a more balanced sort of scholarship vis a vie the age of the Earth, the role of fossils, the way to do Bible-shaped science, and such, have released this extraordinary book with hopes that it might be a more responsible public face of faith and science; it debunks some of the creationist Christian views and affirms the beauty, oldness, and, yes, creation, of the Earth.  This well-designed book is presented in a grand coffee table style and it seems a great example of classy, thoughtful, artful, book-making. Kudos to all involved - including the professors of geology, biology, paleontology, hydrology, who labored together, and the photographers (there are more than 250 photos and 17 reproductions of artwork) and designers - there are over 100 diagrams and sketches) who put it all together.  It would be a great gift just for the pictures and the glory of such a handsome volume. It is the only book of its kind, bringing together these thoughtful Christians who work in these related fields and who wanted to give testimony to God's faithfulness, the goodness of the creation, and a valid exploration of the age and formation of Arizona's grand Grand Canyon. 


The Church as Movement- Starting and Sustaining .jpgThe Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities J.R. Woodward & Dan White (IVP) $20.00 Okay, I'll admit, most readers don't have church planters on their list but if you do, this is the one to get. It combines mature and thoughtful theology, a deep vibrant missional vision, and tons of stories from years of experience of training, supervising, and assisting those who are starting new churches.  Many books call themselves "field manuals" but this really is; it is interactive, explains eight key competencies, and guides users towards starting up flourishing and impactful faith communities. 

You know what? I think this guidebook could help any sort of team doing ministry, seeking church revitalization, or starting a new mission or project. There is an exciting foreword by Alan Hirsch, a rave blurb by Fuller President Mark Labberton, a nice recommendation from Linda Bergquist, and an lively endorsement on the back by Efram Smith, we should all listen to. Wow. 

Loving the CIty- Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centerd Ministry in Your City .jpgLoving the CIty: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centerd Ministry in Your City Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $16.99  Several years ago, Keller released a big hardback (Center Church) which his "Redeemer City to City" ministry recently re-issued in three separate (expanded) paperbacks. The first portion of Center Church is now called  Shaped by the Gospel and the third portion is now called Serving a Movement.  They each have some updated content, and input by new authors, with Keller responding to them.  In this pivotal, central section of Center Church the issue is largely about contextualization, embodying the gospel into the local setting. There's good stuff about that principle and some specific teaching about loving the place where God sends you.  Daniel Strange, Gabriel Salguero and Andy Crouch each contribute to Loving the City and Keller's response is helpful. This is a fine book for any church leader, certainly a must for anyone doing ministry afresh in a new city. But we are pleased to suggest it to any pastor who wants to think about Kingdom outreach and church ministry in a given place and want to engage the culture around us, even with nonbelievers and unchurched folk. Which is to say,  nearly anyone, eh? It would make a good gift.


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've written about this before, and there has been a nice response from folks who have appreciated it. I like what the publisher explains:

The losses in our lives are both big and small. We leave home. We experience physical illness. We struggle with vocation. We may long for a spouse or child. We lose people we love to addiction or death. Spiritual director Beth Slevcove offers stories of loss from her own life along with distinctive spiritual practices that can guide us back to God.

gift of hard things.jpgThe Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places Mark Yaconelli (IVP) $16.00 Surely one of the most moving books of the season, this is written by a master storyteller, a respected youth minister, retreat leader, and Director of a nonprofit helping explore community activism and compassion.  This powerful endorsement by Kenda Creasy Dean (author of Almost Christian) captures much:

I am undone. Maybe it's because Mark Yaconelli is the best storyteller of his generation, or because these pages are so achingly honest, or because somehow this guy just has my number -- but whatever the reason, this book made me 'softer, more open, more human.' The Gift of Hard Things is a book of dazzling grace, a slice of holy ground, as life-giving as water in the desert. Take your shoes off and drink up.

When Breath Becomes Air.jpgWhen Breath Becomes Air Paul Kalanithi (Random House) $25.00  I suppose you've heard of this -- it is one of the most acclaimed books of the year! It has garnered the most exquisite positive reviews in places such as The New York Times  and from fellow authors such as Ann Patchett who says "This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor -- I would recommend to anyone, everyone." As Atul Gawande says, it is "rattling, heartbreaking, and ultimately beautiful, the too-young Dr. Kalanithi's memoir is proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life." 


Into the Silent Land.jpgInto the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation Marin Laird (Oxford University Press) $18.95 We have so many books on this topic and in their field that it is difficult to suggest just one. I like a compact hardback as a gift, though -- something handy and yet classy, nice. This feels right. It has become better known in some circles (I know folks reading it together) and we are glad;  yet, my sense is it isn't widely known. Laird has written some very good books, including a companion to this one curiously called A Sunlit Absence. Into the Silent Land was called "beautiful and deeply consoling" by one reviewer; others endorsements are from Rowan Williams, Desmond Tutu, Stephanie Paulsell and Merton scholar Lawrence Cunningham. Mature, clear, solid.


As For Me and My House- Crafting Your Marriage to Last.jpgAs For Me and My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last Walter Wangerin (Nelson) $15.99 This is a bit older, but still works really well for those that enjoy good reading. It has great writing, great stories, and is a candid look at communication and forgiveness, especially. He's a highly respected novelist and poet (and used to be an urban Lutheran pastor) so is rather artful and not culturally "conservative" or sexist in his approach.  Beth and I both have said it is among our top few choices...

TThe Mystery of Marriage- Meditations on the Miracle .jpghe Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle Mike Mason (Multnomah) $15.99 Contemplative, rich, thoughtful, deeply spiritual, quite lovely.  Eloquent and elegant, a bit literary, and at times almost mystical -- so probably not for everyone.  A favorite of many, though; we have a few customers who buy it repeatedly to give away. I often think that this sort of "spirituality of..." is the way to go rather than the popular books that offer more practical skills of communication and such. Interestingly, Mason was a bit reluctant to get married, in part because he's sort of an introvert who had spent time developing his own interior life; he had been single for quite a while and didn't feel terribly emotional about the whole thing. This is a very Christ centered approach, but gentle and reflective.  Later, by the way, he wrote the lovely The Mystery of Children.


Sacred Marriage- What If God Designed Marriage.jpgSacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $15.99 Another of our all-time favs!  Highly recommended. This, too, attempts to offer more the "reason for" and "meaning of" but not as deep or contemplative as Mason's. Still, this is a wonderful look at the deeper theological and spiritual nature of marriage.  His tag line is "what if marriage wasn't to make us happy, but make us holy" -- which maybe reminds us a bit of Dallas Willard (but a more breezy writing style) with that message of inner transformation, being shaped into Christ-likeness. Gary Thomas is not a heavy writer, tells nice stories, writes with a light touch and even with humor at times. There is a companion called Devotions for the Sacred Marriage ($14.99) too, which is a nice companion volume if you like those short daily readings. 


The Meaning of Marriage- Facing .jpgThe Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Tim & Kathy Keller (Dutton) $16.00 I guess I don't have to explain the features of a Tim Keller book -- smart, nicely written, intellectual without being too abstract, honest, Biblical, Reformed. He's a highly regarded PCA pastor and public intellectual in New York City and even the New York Times suggested he was the closest thing to a CS Lewis we have these days. His wife Kathy co-wrote some of this. They share a bit more intimately in this then perhaps in some of his other books, and it is nice to see them working together to bring such a thoughtful and engaging theological foundation for the meaning of a good marriage. Beth and I don't agree with their "complimentarian" (the phrase in contrast with egalitarian) view, but, to be honest, even though they say they believe the Bible teaches male "headship" they work it out in egalitarian ways and admit so in the book, telling stories of who does what based on gifts and abilities and seasons of life. It is a very impressive book and we recommend it.


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 I have explained this before and wanted to suggest it here, now, as a fine gift for your pastor, for nearly any church leader who appreciates being taken seriously as an intellectual leader. (Not every church honors their pastor as such so it is no wonder some recoil for that part of their calling.) Last year we named two books on this theme as key new books and this collection of papers is a perfect follow up. Chapters are by James K.A. Smith, Peter Leithart, Kevin Vanhoozer, Lauri Norris, and others.

Douglas Sweeney writes

This passionate set of essays comes at a crucial time for the church. Wilson and Hiestand call pastors to lead their people once again, not so much as CEOs, therapists or entertainers, but as those who want to help them know the Lord.

Preaching the Luminous Word- Biblical Sermons and Homiletical Essays.jpgPreaching the Luminous Word: Biblical Sermons and Homiletical Essays Ellen F. Davis (Eerdmans) $30.00 We have dozens and dozens of books on preaching and any number would be great gifts to those who preach regularly; this new one is outstanding, a fine example of both good thinking about homiletics and rigorous Biblical reflection. Davis is the Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.  Austin McIver Dennis helped with this, a senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Asheville NC. Stanley Hauerwas wrote the foreword.

As Krista Tippett (host of the radio show "On Being") says:

Ellen Davis is the rare academic - a brilliant academic - who takes seriously the art, craft, and calling of preaching. I am grateful that this book is in the world, in a moment in which the world so urgently needs the discerning, luminous word.


Ministry Mantras- Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture.jpgMinistry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture J.R. Briggs & Bob Hyatt (IVP) $17.00 JR is an energetic young pastor and consultant and author and yet he is sobered by real world failure (see his outstanding, much-acclaimed book Fail.) Here, he reminds us that "we become what we say" and that to create a fresh culture in our congregations, leaders must cast vision, help folks rethink how we think and talk and do our life together. These numerous chapters on "mantras" are arranged in two sections, mantras for leaders and mantras for the community. This may be one of the most interesting books on church life this year.  A.J. Swaboda notes that "Jesus did pithy - so well that people remembered so much of what he said."  Skye Jethanie says that Briggs and Hyatt "satisfy our cultural desire for the simple without succumbing to the simplistic."

Mandy Smith (whose marvelous The Vulnerable Pastor was one of picks of best books last year) says: 


Ministry rarely allows the space needed to shape words that describe reality well - which is why we need a resource like Ministry Mantras, whose simple yet deeply scriptural and practical probers help us describe - and shape - reality for our communities. These are not random, pithy sayings, but a holistic health vision of ministry expressed in succinct, everyday language, ready to be shared and repeated. And lived.

Faithful Presence- Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission.jpgFaithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission David Fitch (IVP) $17.00 It may not mean much to everyone but this is co-published by Missio Alliance, a fine church revitalization movement and stands firmly in the Praxis line of IVP, offering books that equip leaders for better ministry.  This is a powerful, wonderfully realized invitation to see the church anew, in light of these seven transformative practices that help us all embody the Kingdom of God, even now. This is somewhat of a response - Anthony Bradley calls it a "corrective" - to the much-discussed views of James Davison Hunter and his best-selling Oxford University Press book, To Change the World. Fitch has been interested in and has written widely in the shape of the church, responding to God's own faithful presence, while propels us into the world.  This is an extraordinary, important book. 


At This Time and In This Place- Vocation and Higher Education .jpgAt This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education Edited by David S. Cunningham (Oxford University Press) $35.00 This is a scholarly collection of essays compiled by Hope College Professor of Religion and the Director of the CrossRoads Project there. It is almost axiomatic these days that we need visions of vocation, that talk about careers needs to be related to callings. This one-of-kind professional text explores why this is and how to do it well.  Blurbs on the back are from important voices in the philosophy of higher education, Christian Smith, Tim Clydesdale and Jennifer Lindholm, who calls it "essential reading."  


The Lost Carving- A Journey to the Heart of Making.jpgThe Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making David Easterly (Penguin) $16.00 I have told folks about this before and it is one of those very special books - the author tells of falling in love with wood carving while visiting as a youngster a famous Cathedral with famous wood carvings. As he grows into his vocation, he is given the chance of a life-time - to repair the very wood carvings, damaged in a fire, that inspired him decades before. So begins a "journey into the heart of making." Beautifully rendered, this is a vital book for anyone who enjoys memoir, stories of creativity, or who is interested in woodworking.


a-womans-place-.jpgA Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books) $22.99 I know I told you about this often, having done a major review of it when it first released late last summer.  It is one of the best books of 2016 but yet, I'm afraid, isn't terribly well known. Beaty is sharp, thoughtful, offers a fine overview of the conversations about work and calling, vocation and career, and applies these insights to the lives and stories of women. This isn't Lean In for Christian women, really, but it is a fine, thoughtful, and engaging book that is simply a must for any Christian serious about the work-world ministry of God's scattered people, male or female. Highly recommended.



caring for creation 2.jpgCaring for Creation: The Evangelical's Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas (Bethany House) $14.99 Perhaps you will recall the big review I did of this winsome, marvelous book.  Perhaps you could give it to someone you know - it is inviting, pleasant, important, inspiring. It is a fair-minded approach, I'd say, and good for "climate change skeptics" or especially for those who lean to the right politically. (Both authors are free-market guys, Republicans, pro-life, well churched.) I love this surprisingly passionate, moving call to care for the beauty of God's good world and wake up to what is surely one of the great moral crises of our time. Highly recommended.

Great Tide Rising- Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change .jpgGreat Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change Kathleen Dean Moore (Counterpoint) $26.00 I have said often that I will read any new book by Kathleen Moore, such a fine and moving writer she is. I suppose I'd say this was one of the most moving books I experienced this year, with it's remarkable prose, its coherent vision, its passion for justice and goodness and living a life of meaning in the face of the harms perpetrated upon the Earth.  Some may find it a bit overwrought and others might want a Biblical or theological perspective and this does not offer that. But it is a sturdy, morally serious and, most often, beautiful book of nature writing, solace, family, and the search for meaningful action in a time of climate change. 


vegangelical.jpgVegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith Sarah Withrow King (Zondervan) $16.99 Sarah is a feisty friend, a wonderful writer, a fun person who is "all in" in her discipleship, following Jesus, hopefully bringing others into His Kingdom of peace and justice. and restoration of a groaning creation. Years ago she came to believe that it is Biblically and theologically responsible to consider animal welfare as part of her faith; she tells that story with some degree of academic depth and radicalism in the important Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They're Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology (Cascade; $25.00.) Here, in the clever, recently written Vegangelical, she offers a somewhat less heady, more inviting, overtly evangelical call to animal care and vegetarianism. Agree or not, this is a very interesting book, a very good effort at grounding animal concern within Biblically-based, gospel-centered discipleship.  There are plenty of practical tips, too, although it isn't a book of recipes or primarily about diet. 


The Lawyer's Calling- Christian Faith and Legal Practice.jpgThe Lawyer's Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice Joseph Allegretti (Paulist Press) $12.95 This slim book is the finest introduction to being a Christian in the field of law of which we know. He uses thoughtful categories and invites attorneys to consider how their vocation can assist others and how they can serve the cause of justice.  Nicely done.

redeeming law.jpgRedeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession Michael Schutt (IVP) $27.00 This big paperback is ambitious but surely the very best book in this field. We have a few others that are "must reads" - some which are more philosophical about jurisprudence or the history of legal thought. This has some of that but also invites deep consideration about the role of "thinking Christianly" about the vocation of lawyering and what it means to serve God within the legal profession. Highly recommended.


The great Dutch scholar, pastor, journalist, and eventually Prime Minister of Holland is renowned for so much - including the famous line about Christ claiming "every square inch" of creation. We are glad for this recent translation project offering very handsome, oversized editions of important Kuyper books that haven't been translated into English before. (They have some very helpful introductory essays and annotations, making them that much more helpful.)  Here are the four that have been released in the last year or so, published by Lexham Press. $49.99 each.

Kuyper_Header.pngCommon Grace: God's Gifts for a Fallen World (volume 1) Abraham Kuyper

Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King (volume 1) Abraham Kuyper

Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto Abraham Kuyper

On the Church Abraham Kuyper


Courage to Soar- A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance .jpgCourage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance Simone Biles (Zondervan) $24.99 This is surely one of the most eagerly anticipated books this season, the lovely story about this lovely young woman.  She says, "My journey to the 2016 Olympics started on a daycare field trip." And so she tells us her story, sometimes what seems nearly miraculous. Her faith is clear, her family helped her wildest dreams come true, and, well, you know the rest... The blurbs on the back make one smile - Nastia Liukin, Dominique Moceanu, Martha Karolhyi.  There is even a fabulous foreword by Mary Lou Retton. 


Upstream- Selected Essays.jpgUpstream: Selected Essays Mary Oliver (Penguin Press) $26.00 We have touted this happily, a grand collection of various essays by this, one of the era's most beloved and respected poets.  Some of these finely crafted pieces are about nature, as the cover suggests, but, of course, many are about what is too coldly called literary criticism. That she writes with warmth and color and passion about writing and books and words, well, that's it.  If you know anybody who likes her poems, this will be a great, luminous gift.  


The Magnolia Story.jpgThe Magnolia Story Chip and Joanna Gaines (Thomas Nelson) $26.99 I don't watch that much TV, let alone those fix up your home shows. But this is nice, mostly because this couple work well together. They are, well, cute together, and, I think, offer a good witness to the world. They are graduates of Baylor University and it shows; they are thoughtful, kind, fun.  We appreciate their renovation projects (and think it is cool that Joanna buys her custom wall coverings from the respected York Wall Paper Company.  Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Gaines, next time you're in York, look us up!!!)  We have a nifty little gift card package that we'll send along with any order.  Cool stuff.


The Wired Soul- Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconencted Age.jpgThe Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age Tricia McCary Rhodes (NavPress)$14.99   We don't know whether to shelve this book in our "digital/media" section or in our spirituality section. It really is about our interior lives, about spiritual formation, but sets it in the context of our involvement in digital practices, high-tech stuff. A decade ago I swore by the brilliant, prescient Habits of the High-Tech Heart by Q Schultze. This is an ultra-up-to-date version of that, asking out we can find deeper spirituality in our net-surfing, hot-wired, always connected world. Rhodes has written other books about spirituality amidst the chaos of our busy days, and in this one she hones in on teaching spiritual disciplines for digital natives. Can we "be still" and know? Wonderfully-done.


Prophetic Lament- Call for Justice in Troubled Times.jpgProphetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $17.00 I know, I know, I've mentioned this often. There is simply nothing like it, a study of the sad Biblical book of Lamentations, applied to issues of racial injustice, urban violence, "Black Lives Matters" and more. If you need to share a book with someone in lament these days, this is a Biblical study by a passionate professor, evangelical and justice-minded. Very useful, sure to be appreciated.

forgive us.jpgForgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Soong-Chan Rah, Troy Jackson (Zondervan) $22.99 I suppose you know people who are upset about the recent election, about the violence of the police exhibited at Standing Rock, about the frustrating verdicts (over and over) at seemingly race-related and violent police incidents. This book reminds us as the church of our complicity in past injustices and invites us to confess, lament, ask forgiveness, and move on towards greater reconciliation.  You know and I do, too, that there are those who are nearly exiled from conventional Christian faith because they don't hear this kind of admission. There are those who really need to hear that these kinds of books (published by conservative evangelical publishers, no less) are being published.  Please consider giving this as a gift.

Here is what I wrote in an endorsing blurb that found it's way into the book itself. I'm committed to it and we would be honored if you ordered some from us:

First Chronicles 12:32 mentions the sons of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what God s people should do. Of course, one cannot understand our times without going into the past and realizing the roots of our current historical situation. Our brave authors here do this for us, helping us learn things we did not know, underscoring certain features of our past social failings and bad theologies, and then offer insightful theological reflections to help us name sin, seek forgiveness and move forward in newness of life. Anyone wanting to be Christ s ambassadors of reconciliation and agents of God s transforming kingdom simply must grapple with the social sins named in this book, nurturing hearts that can become broken and healed by these stories of pain and compromise. We must learn the rhythms and goodness of grace that comes through lament and admitting guilt. This book will indeed help us be sons and daughters of Issachar --- aware, repentant, wise, and relevant. I pray it gets a wide, wide readership. 


The Life We Never Expected- Hopeful Reflections.jpgThe Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs Andrew & Rachel Wilson (Crossway) $12.99 I cannot say how good this book is - it isn't complicated to read, but it surely isn't simplistic. It is about (as Karen Swallow Prior says) "loss, lament, hope, humility, contentment, joy." My kids are grown and I'd be incredibly blessed if somebody gave this to me as a gift -- I can't imagine how it would help somebody in the thick of the hard stuff. Why not wrap one up and send it along?

As Russell Moore writes:

This isn't a book that's going to tell you to pull yourself up by our bootstraps and try harder. This is a book for those who are on the floor, weeping, because they need to know that Jesus is with them.

Refresh- Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children With Special Needs.jpgRefresh: Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children With Special Needs Kimberly Drew & Jocelyn Green (Kregel) $15.99 I have to admit, I nearly cried when I saw this, and was deeply moved as I dipped in and read random selections. It is arranged as a devotional, a reader to encourage parents who are taking care of kids with special disabilities. It is "more than a devotional" one reviewer said, "it is a lifeline of hope." Raising children can be tiring for anyone. But if you know someone who has a child with handicaps or special needs, it is surely draining for them, and you could bless them with a gift like this. These authors know the struggles of this situation, they understand; both are raising children with significant disabilities. A reassuring, useful, resource. 


Tweetable Nietzsche.jpgTweetable Nietzsche: His Essential Ideas Revealed and Explained C. Ivan Spencer (Zondervan) $16.99 Sometimes the changing face of religious publishing just baffles me. Why the conservative evangelical publisher released this odd little book is a mystery, but I couldn't be happier. What a crazy-good, interesting, useful book. Can you figure out the sweeping worldview of the world's most famous nihilist in 140 characters?  Does what is billed as the "liveliest and fastest-paced introduction" to Fred N even make sense? Yes, and again I say, yes! Give this fascinating book to any kid who is studying philosophy, anybody curious about this architect of postmodernism and atheism.  David Dockery (President of conservative Trinity International University) assures us this is "brilliant and creative."  I hope you know somebody to give this to.


what's best next.jpgWhat's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Expanded Edition) Matt Perman (Zondervan) $19.99 I had the great joy of speaking at conference about faith, work, life, vocation, and cultural engagement recently and Matt was the other keynote speaker. And he bought a lot of books from us - he is a former bookseller, himself. He's a solid guy who used to work with John Piper and now directs "Made to Flourish" which is a fabulous movement helping churches equip folks to think about faith and the marketplace, Christian service in the work-world, and helping all of us who love Jesus live out our faith for the sake of the common good. This book is a fairly sophisticated Christ-centered view of productivity, organizational skills, habits of being disciplines and achieving goals in the work-world or home.  From time-management to the popular "getting things done" regime, Matt will guide you to see how God can help you be all He wants you to be, for Christ's own glory and our neighbor's good. Nice, practical, helpful as we do well work that matters

Okay, friends: stay tuned. This is just part one. As soon as I can, I'll offer some more good suggestions for gift giving.

Here are some of what we'll cover next, in the next day or so.  So many good ideas...



































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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. 


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.


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- 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.


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!  


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


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.


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.


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.


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."  


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


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 .jpgWhich brings me to one of the great values of Adventures in Evangelical Civility, this vital new book by Richard Mouw, one of the unsung ecumenical leaders of our age.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And tell he does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Grant Wacker, Duke Divinity School

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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