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May 26, 2016

"Superheroes Are for Real", "Make a Stand: When Life Gives You Lemons - Change the World" and other children's books about making a difference ON SALE

Two of the themes that have been important to us here at the store (since we opened the brick and mortar location in 1982 and our website nearly 20 years ago) have been the obvious one that people of faith should use their spiritual resources not just for personal happiness or church activities but to make a difference in the world, loving our neighbors and making the world a better place and the related doctrines of vocation and calling, the notions that help us discern our own roles and places to serve, what we are given to take up and work on.

From older classics such as Os Guinness' erudite The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life to the popular story of coffee entrepreneur Jonathan David Golden, Be You. Do Good: Having the Guts to Pursue What Makes You Come Alive so full of passion and inspiration, from essential reads like Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, books that are found in this basic constellation are game-changers for some, clarifying and transforming and, we think, joyfully important.  Over and over we've heard how grateful people are to have this fresh language and theological perspective to help them understand their faith and their place in the world.

Occasionally we are asked how to help children develop a transforming vision or learn the useful language of vocation.  How do we not only help kids learn to serve and care about the world but think about their own sense of giftedness and interests and vocations?

Sadly, books like this aren't used by parents or Christian educators much, I gather, since they tend to go out of print. For instance, we used to love a book about various occupations called The Kings Workers by Mary Hollingsworth or Dandi Daley Mackall's great Made for a Purpose but they are no longer available.  Try your library!

We delight in even little beginnings.  Do you know the Berenstain Bears books?  They have one called The Berenstain Bears Jobs Around Town by Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain (Zonderkidz; $3.99.)  Here's how they describe it:

Searching for the perfect job, Brother and Sister Bear learn to celebrate the many talents of others. In The Berenstain Bears: Jobs Around Town, they begin to imagine where their own God-given gifts might take them as they grow.
That's it, isn't it? At least part of it.  Why don't we hear more of these kinds of conversations in our talk about parenting and in our books about children's ministry?

It is a bigger question then we can answer here but here are books for parents and some for children that I wanted to highlight. One is a brand new children's book by a friend and H&M loyalist whose books we've promoted before, Ethan Bryan (among others, two baseball books, the great Run Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals and the exciting story of raising money to fight trafficking by playing catch, Catch and Release: Faith, Freedom, and Knuckleball and, more recently, The Cowboy Year: A Story of Dads and Guns.) Ethan's new one, his first kids book, is short and sweet and called Superheroes Are for Real. But first...

raising kids for true greatness.jpgRaising Kids for True Greatness: Redefining Success for You and Your Child Tim Kimmel (Nelson) $15.99  There are not too many books that explore how to parent with a view to nurturing a sense of agency and passion and world-changing vocations in kids, but, for now, this is certainly a useful read.  It doesn't cite Guinness or Garber, but it is moving in that direction, helping parents give their kids a vision of their own lives that can be (in Christian terms) truly great.  We liked Kimmel's Grace Based Parenting, too, by the way. Very nice.

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  Admittedly, this isn't for parents of little kids, but, you know, it wouldn't hurt for any parent to read it. Dan Dupee's INTL is the best book that I know of for parents of teens (and, especially young adults) that not only affirms the parent's necessary role, but links the skill sets needed to be good at parenting to these very themes of being transformed by the gospel in ways that propel us to ask the questions of vocation and calling.  As you most likely read in my several BookNotes reviews of it, it cites most of our favorite books, and mentions Hearts & Minds as a resource for parents who want to help college student think about their callings in the world, even picking a major and a career.  It's not too late to read this book, and, I'd say, it is hardly too early, either.  Highly recommended.

growing compassionate kids.jpgGrowing Compassionate Kids: Helping Kids See Beyond Their Backyard Jan Johnson (Upper Room) $14.99  This great title is sadly out of print, but we have some left - a marvelous resource, a lovely book, by a writer who is profound and skilled in writing about both spiritual formation stuff (she has worked with the late Dallas Willard and published many books on the inner life) and social justice concerns she has been involved in Evangelicals for Social Action, for instance.) There are few really insightful, reliably faithful books about helping us do this kind of parenting work, and we commend Jan's book to you.  Get it while you can.

kingdom family.jpgKingdom Family: Re-envisioning God's Plan for Marriage and Family Trevecca Okholm (Cascade) $22.00  Okholm has been a professional Christian educator for more than 25 years and is currently serving as Minister to Children and Families at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. (Yay for certified Christian educators and members of APCE!) She received her master's in educational ministries from Wheaton Graduate School.  Fabulous blurbs from folks across the wider church have affirmed this. As S. Steve Kang (of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and co-author of Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful) writes, she has "cultivated the practice of practical theology leading to a genuine transformation of the family and the church." Ms Okholm reminds us that the local church helps form families for life in the world, and that our spiritual formation must have as it's frame a missional vision of the Kingdom of God. This recalls us to this broader, bigger picture of our lives together and yet offers practical, good, Kingdom practices for real life. 

Missional-Mom-cover-final_small2-198x300.jpgThe Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World  Helen Lee (Moody Press) $13.99  I love Helen Lee and this book is brimming with her grace and vision and energy, inviting moms to see their parenting work as a vocation in Kingdom terms, seizing on opportunities to connect the dots with and for their little ones between personal faith development in the home and God's service in the world. It isn't every book in this genre that carries rave endorsements from the likes of cross-cultural  leader Dave Gibbon or missional writers like Alan and Debra Hirsch, urban minister directors such Arloa Sutter, and great, great women writers like Caryn Rivadeneira.  Missional Mom is a very nice little book, carrying a grand and good vision for us all.

Superheroes Are for Real Ethan Bryan.jpgSuperheroes Are for Real Ethan Bryan, illustrated by Travis Hanson (Goldminds Publishing) $12.99 "Her dad says superheroes are for real. She isn't sure.  Game on."  That's the tease on the back cover.  This book is for young ones and is based rather simple - but ingenious - idea, told through a simply plot.  Ethan and his daughter - uh, scratch that, a fictional dad and his fictional daughter, are discussing whether superheroes are for real.  What parent hasn't had that kind of conversation? And what parent doesn't sometimes joke around with kids, playfully making stuff up, exaggerating the truth of things, daring the child to figure out the real truth of the matter.  Well, this starts with that kind of giddy exchange. 

super hero and child.pngThe father and daughter, we learn, dress up like different superheroes each Halloween, and love wondering which person in his or her street clothes are really superheroes in ordinary disguise.  Real superheroes, we all know, come in to help those who are in trouble, lending an extraordinary hand at just the right time.  (Even though, we see in one funny spread, "even superheroes have bad days.")

Well.  "Maybe tomorrow will be the day we finally see superheroes in action."  That's what the little girl, narrating the books tells us her dad says each day. 

Not only do superheroes help the vulnerable and serve those in need, they "inspire others to do their best."  Okay, so it gets a little didactic, but it is for young children. But maybe you are going to see where this is going.

Each day the little girl determines to look for evidence of real superheroes, whether they have their capes on or not.  And, wow, she finds some great stuff.

A gruff looking blue collar working man swoops in at a grocery store to rescue a little child about to be hurt by an avalanche of cans of peas.  At a park she notices some emergency workers aiding someone after an accident.  "At school," she notices, "my teacher always seems to be helping others."    And after each, the refrain: "Maybe she might be a superhero."   What a delight to see the various people within various occupations that are shown to be superheroes.  A scientist at the planetarium. A doctor and nurse who help when the little girl breaks her arm and she is scared.  Maybe even her dad, with whom she likes to hang out. 

She puts her findings in a little book that she shares with her dad.  He affirms her, noting that she helps with household chores and is clever to notice all these good people helping others in day-to-day ways. Who know, the reader is left to wonder: maybe even the little girl is a superhero, after all.  Surely the dad is, after all.

Maybe superheroes are for real.  This book - which models wonderful father daughter conversation, which shows the dad affirming his daughter at every point, so is worthwhile just for that - gets at a wonderful large truth in very simple prose.  Everybody can help others and maybe every job has within it the opportunity for it to be a holy calling, a way for it to be an avenue of helping, of serving, of doing, well, heroic stuff.  Ahhh, through the eyes of a child.

ethan bryan.jpgI encourage you to read a short piece author Ethan Bryan wrote for The Good Men Project, here.  As a stay at home dad, he describes his work as father and writer, the genesis of the idea for the Superheroes Are for Real book, and closes in a way that reminds us of the end of the book.  Ethan writes, "This is the story I want to tell, I want to live. This is what I want to do as a father: to let my daughters know that I am proud of them, amazed by their creativity and compassion, and encourage them as they go and do super things in this world."

Make a Stand.jpgMake a Stand: When Life Gives You Lemons, Change the World! Vivienne Harr (Chocolate Sauce Books) $18.99  This is a very colorful, very well made book we discovered not long ago, based on a true story.  It is, again, a rather simple story, but there's a bit more going on and the book unfolds with lots of content, interesting side-stories, and a big, big ending.  The short version is simply that the Vivienne Harr, age 9, learned something about modern day child slavery and determines to try to stop this awful plight.  With the faith and optimism (okay, call it naiveté if you must) of a child, she wonders with her sibling and parents what she can do.

"My parents couldn't believe that such a big idea could come from such a little person," she tells us.  There is some serious consideration - little thought bubbles appear naming some of the reasons not to act, but she says, "I didn't think of all the reasons why I couldn't. I thought of all the reasons why I must."   And, so, onward she goes.

"Lemonade was the only business experience I had. So I set up my lemonade stand (only not your ordinary lemonade stand."  We see a cool drawing of it, with her sign "kids should be free" and it is called Lemon-Aid.   

(I love that she reports so matter-of-factly about the matter of her previous "business experience."  Ha.)

Make a Stand Day 32 pic.jpgShe paints it with care, realizing it was going to be hard to achieve her goal of raising $100,00.00.  Talk about a superhero!   And then the story gets interesting.  On about day 20 after a lot of disappointment and frustration she decides to follow her heart (her parents suggestion) and starts giving away the lemonade to children.  A local news reporter ("a nice man" she says) does a story on her little project about freedom.  And, wow, does it ever take off. 

"Make a stand" becomes her watchword, and with some help from others, she has started a franchise deal.  Kids all over started to take a stand by making a stand -- a lemonade stand like hers.  

A page in the back reminds us that "Make A Stand didn't start as a product. It started as a promise - deep in the heart of a little girl who wanted to make the world a better place."

I don't think that most readers of this fantastic book are going to want to join this social purpose business enterprise, so please don't not get it because you don't want your kid insisting on this big project.  Maybe somebody you know will (who knows?) but that isn't the point, really.  More, it is a story of what one person can do, what some of us can do if we work together, of how every person matters (no matter how small) and how we can all experiment with ideas and see what develops as we try to do something helpful and good. Kids don't usually think of reasons they can't do things, and maybe we adults can even learn from that.  

I loved this colorful little book.  I really hope you consider ordering one from us, and sharing it with the kids you know, maybe donating it to the local library or church library.

Vivienne Harr and her Make a Stand book.pngTwo quick things: the art in this book is really, really interesting and the design is fabulous.  I don't always love the illustrations, but they work as they are designed on the page so creatively, with multiple things going on nicely, this drawing, that sidebar, another on the horizon. It's fun to look at.

And what is really great is how they have the illustrations of Vivienne and her Lemon Aid team sometimes superimposed on real photographs.  You see some real pictures of children carrying huge rocks, you see real pictures of Vivienne's first stand, and you see photographs of the New York City taxicabs from when Vivienne and her fam go to the big city to get a bottling deal.  Oh yes, you can see real pictures of the bottles with the labels of her Make-a-Stand-bottles.pngdistributed (organic) Make A Stand Lemon Aid lemonade. Whimsical and nearly implausible as this upbeat (true) book is, I was oddly moved by this success in her family's efforts. (And I smile when they called her The Little Lemonpreneur.)

In a dedication note at the end, Vivienne's dad writes, to child slaves "Don't ever give up hope. We're coming for you." Let us pray it is so, and let us hope that books like this inspire us all to think big about the biggest issues of the day, and what we can do, one way or another.  At least, it might inspire you to order some Make A Stand Lemon Aid drinks or tee shirts.  And a book or two.  We are proud to sell it here, and hope you help us spread the word.

Here, you can watch her doing what is basically a kids TED talk, five minutes of this charming little girl -- chief inspirational officer for Make a Stand. You have got to see it! Go Vivvy.

what do you do with an idea.jpgWhat Do You Do with an Idea? Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom (Compendium Inc) $16.95 I read parts of this out loud to a group of church educators and you could feel it in the room and then we could hear the almost communal gasp, as we got to the end, the invitation to "change the world" with an idea that follows you around.  Their own ideas were spinning as they wondered how they could use this in a Christian ed setting, what kind of conversations it might start, what Bible texts it might be used with. This is playful, nearly minimalist, as we see the "idea" thing grow as the child grows in confidence. And then, as they say, something amazing happens. 

I like the way the publisher put it:

What Do You Do With an Idea is for anyone who's ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It's a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn't going anywhere. In fact, it's just getting started.

Harold Finds a Voice Courtney Dicmas.jpgHarold Finds a Voice Courtney Dicmas (Child's Play Inc) $7.99  This is a very colorful, just slightly oversized children's picture book about a bird that could mimic any sound. You can imagine the fun children will have following the antics of Harold as he makes so many funny sounds, just like a car horn or a ships blast or a dog barking, loud ones, quiet ones, funny ones, scary ones. Everybody and everything seems to have a voice, and then, finally, Harold lets at a squawk that goes one for two big pages - what fun, as he finds his own voice.  You get the point, I'm sure, and so will your little ones: we can come to realize if we don't have our own authentic voice and we may have to work to find and give voice to our own unique sound. Harold the bird grew tired of repeating other sounds, and wanted to make some of his own.  Called "vibrant and inventive", this hilarious tale might lead to some noise in your home.  And a lesson learned better sooner than later. 

The Plans I Have For You - Z Squad.jpgThe Plans I Have for You Amy Parker, illustrated by Vanessa Brantly-Newton (Zonderkidz) $16.99  This is not out yet, but we hope to get it in by late June... you can pre-order it now, If you'd like.  We will send it as soon as it arrives.

Here is what the publisher says: 

The Plans I Have for You combines playful rhyming text written by bestselling children's book author Amy Parker with whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Vanessa Brantley-Newton to create a book that inspires readers of all ages to dream about their future. God has great plans for each and every one of us, and this book encourages children to think about the talents that make them special and will help them imagine how God may use our unique traits to make the world a better place.

You can see why I wanted to list this one here.  Kudos to the publisher for releasing a sweet and inspiring book like this. Pre-order it today!

me and momma and big john.jpgMe and Momma and Big John Mara Rockliff, William Low (Candlewick Press) $16.99  Candlewick is known for beautiful, beautiful children's picture books and this is one we've promoted before. It works on a number of levels, is artfully done, and tells the story of a mom who is a stonecutter at the cathedral the workers call Big John - the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City that was begun in 1892 and is still under construction. Momma's son John and his sisters can't wait to see her special stone in this luminous true-life story. 

Read this description from the School Library Journal, that recommends it for K-Grade 2, at least:

When Momma comes home from working as a stonecutter for New York City's St. John the Divine, affectionately known as "Big John," she is tired and covered with dust. It is hard work, and no one knows how many decades it will take to finish the cathedral. Her middle son, the narrator, is amazed when he finds out that all this time she has only worked on one stone. His mother explains that what she does is an art, and the boy proudly imagines Momma's name on display in a museum. When they visit Big John, the boy is disappointed to find that his mother's stone looks identical to all the others, and that no one will ever know which is hers. But as they experience the majesty of the cathedral and lift their voices in song, he realizes that there is an art to being part of something bigger than yourself. 

Patrons and Protectors- MORE Occupations .jpgPatrons and Protectors- Occupations .jpgPatrons and Protectors: Occupations and Patrons and Saints: More Occupations Michael O'Neill McGrath  (Liturgical Training Publications) $18.95  We only have a few of these left, but I just have to list them.  These are explicitly Roman Catholic and talk about patron saints for various occupations.  There is a drawing of the patron saint doing his or her work in her ancient setting paired with a man or woman doing that very work in today's setting.  (And, oh, look for the dove tucked in on every page, showing God's very presence in each job site!)  Also, there is a short essay from a contemporary person describing how they serve God and the public in their work - most you haven't heard of but a few (like broadcaster and TV show producer Fred Rogers) are heroes to us all.

From the books publicity, you see why we love it so:

From the first-century Martha, who served meals to Jesus in her home, to the recently canonized Katharine Drexel, who built schools and colleges to improve the lives of Native Americans and African Americans, work and labor have been essential to Christian life. Alongside McGrath's commentary about why a saint is associated with a particular occupation are essays by men and women engaged in that work. As we see the variety of ways human beings contribute their talents and skills to building God's reign, we may be inspired to view our jobs--and our faith--with fresh eyes.

Most Protestants (in fact, even most Catholics) don't know that there are so many patron saints for so many specific careers and occupations, and it is fun to see the way they link up saints and service in the work world, from (just in the second one, More Occupations, pharmacists, librarians, beekeepers, photographers, scientists, firefighters, midwives, dentists, builders, actors, photographers, environmentalists, poets, and more.

Brother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove .jpgBrother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove Jan Cheripko, illustrated by Kestutis Kasparavicius (Boyds Mills Press) $15.95  We so like this legendary children's publisher and so love this wonderful book. I'm sure I've recommended it before.  The art is beautiful, soft, realistic watercolors, and the text is longer and more complex than some picture books.  (I think it is good for middle elementary grads.) The story centers on an old monk whose job it was to care for an apple grove (the monastery made apple sauce to help make ends meet.) A newer, younger monk had his eye on taking over for the older one, and, well, there's a lesson learned about ambition and greed and impatience.

Brother Bartholomew page spread.jpgOne theme of the story, I'd say, is about patience and sustainability, even caring for animals - and then, this big point: "God will provide." It is said, often, and it is what the older Brother Bartholomew says to Brother Stephen at the end, when Stephen realizes his barbed wire "improvements" to keep the deer away was not so good.  Called "haunting" and "moving" this warm tale of land and work and doing the right thing in God's own way, nearly could have been written by Wendell Berry.  A lovely, wise book -- we only have a few left.

Americans Who Tell the Truth.jpgAmericans Who Tell the Truth Robert Shetterly (Puffin) $7.99 This is a stunning picture book, with remarkable pen and ink and watercolor paintings of 50 great Americans with a quote from each on the facing page.  This is for older kids or politically interested teends and definitely for those whose values tilt toward the lefty and progressive; the activist background about the person is briefly told, so you'll learn about folks from Wendell Berry to Harriet Tubman, from Rachel Carson to Howard Zinn, from Sojourner Truth to Dorothea Lange, on through folks as varied as John Muir, Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Day, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Nader, and Rosa Parks.

Harriet Tubman.jpg abraham lincoln.jpgrachel_carson.jpgMostly these are portraits of noble rabble-rousers and social activists, although there are Presidents and authors and poets, civic leaders and courageous citizens. This book of 50 pictures could generate all kinds of interesting conversation and further study about standing up for one's convictions, organizing for social change, and using one's talents to probe against injustice.  Okay, it has a bias and it leaves out all kinds of good people, but it still deserves your attention.

cesar chavez.jpg




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May 19, 2016

A DOZEN GREAT NEW BOOKS -- some will take your breath away. ON SALE

Okay, friends, here's a great list of new books we've got on our shelves here in Dallastown. I could say more about each, and maybe will about some of them, later, but for now, we thought you'd love to know about them. We've got them marked down a bit so would appreciate it if you sent us an order (or told others about how they can get such good and interesting stuff from our little indie family biz here in this corner of the internet.) 

So, hey, why not turn off the tube or stop binge watching old TV shows a bit and give yourself some extra reading time this month? Buy a couple of books -- it's truly a good investment and time very well spent.  But you know that. So let's go.

The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs- Respecting and Caring for all God's Creation.jpgThe Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for all God's Creation Joel Salatin (FaithWords) $25.00  Salatin runs his all natural family farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and is an outspoken Christian who became known in Michael Pollen's book and documentary The Omnivore's Dilemma. His family has been at this a long time (his grandfather was a charter subscriber to Rodale magazine, and his parents were talking about the dangers of chemicals at the time Rachel Carson's Silent Spring took off.)  We loved Salatin's last book exposing the weird wrongness of our corporate food system and agribusiness practices -- Folks, This Ain't Normal (and we stock his others, such as Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.) Here, he expressing a compelling Christian case for holy stewardship and how that effects the ways in which we think about (and participate in systems of) agriculture, food production, and eating. He is known for warmth and humor, and although he offers serious critique of the way we grow, market, and consume food in our land, this book is a great read.  I love the title -- it sounds like a line I once heard from Richard Mouw -- which gets at the way God made stuff, and how to honor and be in sync with creational intentions and beauty. Yes, in Salatin's eyes, pigness is marvelous. So is healthy eating. This looks like a great new book, and we can't wait to talk more about it.

Martin Luther and the Called Life.jpgMartin Luther and the Called Life Mark D. Tranvik (Fortress Press) $24.00 I hope you know that one of the great dynamics of the Protestant reformation that was unleashed by Martin Luther's remarkable role in those remarkably generative decades of the 1500 was a discovering of the Biblical teaching about vocation, calling and work as it applied not just to religious orders, monks, nuns, and parish priests, but to "butcher, bakers, and candlestick makers." Yes, all people were called by God to offices, to positions of service for the common good. As more and more (especially younger Calvinists folks, it seems) are using this language and working on projects about work, many of us have been wishing for a better historical study of Luther's own teaching on this that so revolutionized Protestant (and eventually, Roman Catholic) thought. Not everyone knows how extraordinary this teaching of the role of the so-called laity to work as unto God was and how it unleashed what was later called "the Protestant work ethic" and, perhaps, early modern versions of capitalism. At the very least, it started the conversation about how to serve God in our work-lives and what it means to see ourselves as called to vocations.  This "rediscovering of Luther's thought on vocation for life today" is going to be very useful for leaders and others who teach on this topic. 

Listen to Mark Schwehn of Valparaiso University, who himself has thought and written about this for many years:

This book is a catechism on Christian vocation, using Luther's life as an example, and Luther's theology as a foundation. All Christian who want to live faithfully and gracefully, wherever they find themselves placed in the world, should read Martin Luther and the Called Life for both guidance and inspiration.

Tranvik is a professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where he has directed the college's Lily Endowment grant on vocation, so he has helped many -- including many young adults -- in the process of discerning their gifts and discovering their careers within the context of this robust thinking about vocation.

Live Like You Give a Damn! Join the Changemaking Celebration.jpgLive Like You Give a Damn! Join the Changemaking Celebration Tom Sine (Cascade Books) $24.00 Older readers will remember Tom Sine and his huge best-selling book of the 1970s, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy. It was forward looking for its day, delightfully documenting stories of those committed to peace and justice and living with purpose, even in careers and callings. It taught us how even little acts can sow seeds of wild hope, and how many churches and mission groups and campus ministry organizations were doing good, good work. Tom has spent the rest of his adult live documenting these projects, cheer-leading for responsible Christian innovation, for discerning trends, moving out in faith in good work, and wholistic mission. He was missional before the term was coined and he and his wife and mentored and encouraged hundreds if not thousands of emerging Christian leaders. (I loved his book, years after Mustard Seed that showed the new century version of that conspiracy, entitled The New Conspirators.)  

Alas, Tom is still at it -- perhaps more urgent then ever -- inviting others and envisioning for us what it might look like for people of faith to become social entrepreneurs, bold agents of new hope, making a difference where we can with lives lived with passion and purpose for the common good. He has noticed many young and energetic groups doing this, often outside of the church, using their brains and talents and connections to start good stuff to solve major problems (locally and globally.) Why aren't those who follow Christ in the leadership of this new generation of changemakers?  How can we mobilize and equip church folks (young and old) to use their gifts and interests in ways that align with God's purposes in the world?

I've had opportunity to talk with Tom first hand about these things and chatting with him almost wears me out --he is a bundle of energy, a vision-caster, hope-maker, relational network and, if I might say so, proof that the Pentecostal promise of Joel is true: old men, at least that old man, is still dreaming dreams, and inspiring the young ones among us.  Tom and his wife have a wonderful ministry of hospitality -- they are foodies, actually -- and it is no accident that this provocative book title ends with a call to celebration. Yes, yes, yes. You should buy this book.  In a very moving forward, even Walt Brueggemann notes that the book is "quite remarkable" and that Tom's energy will be transmitted to readers. He says, "I am glad to commend this exposition that exhibits quite concretely ways to revision, reimagine, and reperform the gospel..."

Oh yes, and there's this: Tom is serious about all this (playful and energetic as he is) so he has included exercises and experiences and questions and activities to use with each chapter so that you (and your group) can process this stuff. Live Like You Give a Damn will inspire you to do so, but to take real action steps and find options for involvement and ways to discover your own possibilities are all part of the fun. This isn't dry stuff about assets mapping or strategic planning, but more a holy and feisty practice of engaging in conversations around discerning calling and how to sow 21st century mustard seeds of wild, redemptive hope. This is a book, loaded with stories to combat cynicism or despair, and it is more. It is a guide to help you figure out how to join the celebration.

Heal Us, Emmanuel- A Call for Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church.jpgHeal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church Doug Serven, editor (White Blackbird Books) $16.99  I will have to write about this in greater detail after spending more time with it, but this new resource is -- if I may be so bold -- one of the more significant books to be published within the conservative, Reformed faith community. Most of these authors are pastors, elders, or professors among the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and represent the good, good work being done within that denomination that has a bit of a racially storied legacy, stuff that has been talked about more and more of late. (One PCA church in Mississippi just recently issued a public proclamation of repentance and apology for a pro-segregation motion they passed in the 60s.)  This book offers what PCA folk are known for -- serious theology, good scholarship (the contributors have read widely and the footnotes are diverse and fascinating) and yet gospel centered with warmth and passion. (The irony that a book of multi-ethnic authors on being more inclusive and diverse includes no women is a matter of some weirdness, it seems to me.)

The authors are mostly working pastors or church leaders, and it shows. Although it is seriously done and mature, this isn't a thought-piece for the academy or showy "prophetic" stuff to make a statement. This is sincere, pastoral theology, grappling with racism and white privilege in their own denomination, and in the wider evangelical communions.  Most of the authors are not nationally known (although you may have heard of Kevin Twit, founder of Indelible Grace music, who has a great piece. I suspect it was from Kevin that the book title came about: it is taken from the title of an old William Cowper hymn.)  

Rev. Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. is a seminary professor and associate pastor of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN.  He has been a leader to many on this topic (he wrote a fabulous book which we still stock called Free at Last: The Gospel in the African American Experience) and he has a splendid, earnest foreword in which he says, "Heal Us, Emmanuel is a must-read and a must-have in the library of anyone who is serious about honoring God in this age of polarization."

All Things New- Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel.pngAll Things New: Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel Hugh Whelchel (Institute for Faith, Work & Economics) $6.99  Hold on to your hats, folks -- this is quite an announcement.  Here is a little book many of us have been looking for. It is a book that explores the creation-fall-redemption-restoration story.  (Did you see how I used that phrase as I lead into the description of Lisa Sharon Harper's forthcoming book The Very Good Gospel by noting how she offers a similar overview of the big Bible story as one of shalom/shalom wrecked/shalom restored?)  This move to see the unfolding drama of Scripture by way of four acts in a play, or four chapters in a story -- God's intentions, sin's wreckage, Christ's redemption and the scope of hope as creation is regained -- (again, that's creation/fall/redemption/restoration) is generative and useful, and many folks have asked us for a small group resource to do this in home Bible studies or Sunday school classes or discussion groups. 

This small book has short chapters -- one on creation and all that that implies, one on sin and the implications of living in a fallen world, a third on Christ-bought redemption, and a fourth on the big hope of God's promised restoration of all things. A fifth session contrasts this wholistic "four chapter" story with a more common-place "two chapter" version (we're sinners and God forgives us.)  The last chapter invites participants to discuss why this all matters. 

So All Things New is itself a six week study, designed with very short chapters and inductive questions from Bible verses, and would be ideal for any home Bible study, small group, or class that doesn't want to wade through bigger books. 

Hugh Whelchel is a good, good, guy, a business person who wrote the fantastic paperback How Then Should We Work? He formerly served as the President of the Washington DC campus of RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary.) 

Hurray, somebody said the other day. Now you don't have to write this, as I often said that if nobody did such a Bible study guide soon, I would.  Hooray, indeed.

On this title, since it is designed for a small group, order 5 or more and get a 20% discount.  We'll gladly offer that extra savings for larger orders.

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution.jpgHow I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science edited by Kathryn Applegate & J.B Stump (IVP Academic) $16.00  This project was part of the work of BioLogos, a faith/science think tank and advocacy group headed up by our esteemed friend, Harvard trained, evangelical and Christian Reformed scientist Deborah Haarsma.  It is a great example of what a small book can do; it is a fine, fine, paperback --  an extraordinary volume collecting first hand testimonials by a real variety of scholars.  As is obvious from the title, these stories tell of the ways in which these thinkers changed their minds.  That in itself is helpful --  thank goodness for those willing to admit they've switched positions and grown and  (dare I say it, with a smile) evolved. This topic -- what one thinks of science, generally, and evolution, particularly -- is laden with theological concerns (some quite legitimate, some mere baggage) and it is notable to have serious thinkers admit they've grown in nuance and insight as they've navigated to their own position in this field.

Here you will find pieces by scientists such as Jennifer Wiseman, one of our leading astronomers, NIH scientist Francis Collins, Deborah Haarsma, and Denis Lamoureux as well as Biblical scholars (Tremper Longman, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright) and theologians and philosophers such as Oliver Crisp, James K.A. Smith, Richard Mouw, and Amos Young.  Even working pastors weigh in, telling their stories -- you'll be touched by the candor of Ken Fong, John Ortberg, and Laura Truax and other good preachers.  Rave reviews  for How I Changed My Mind... come from a variety of places -- Andrew Root, Mark Labberton, Mark Noll and Denis Alexander (the emeritus director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion) all rave.  This is a very, very nicely done book.

Kudos to Dr. Applegate, who is program director at BioLogos and she is skilled at designing programs aimed at translating scholarship on origins for the evangelical church, and Dr. Stump, a senior editor at BioLogos and author of Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues. Agree or not with their insights, I hope you will be touched and gladdened by  the honest telling of their tales.  I'd even bet you could think of persons to whom this book would be a life-line, a great and grace-filled gift. Get one today! 

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  Okay, I'm going to admit it. I haven't read this yet, although I've been anticipating this for a year before it came out. The authors are my acquitances, and among the smartest, most astute young scholars I know.  Both write professionally -- you surely know Alissa from her well-respected work as film critic at Christianity Today and may know Joustra for his astute political-slash-philosophical commentary at Comment, the "public theology for the common good" journal  edited by James K.A. Smith.  So these are good thinkers and great writers, doing this very clever project: how in the world do we do hopeful, faithful politics in an age when everything is going to hell in  a hand-basket. From Walking Dead to the zombie apocalypse, from the dystopian Hunger Games and Game of Thrones to the jaded House of Cards, this pop-culture savvy study is, in fact, an exploration of Charles Taylor and more.  

Check out these great blurbs:

Makoto Fujimura

-- artist, speaker, writer, cultural shaper

 "In our culture dominated by fear and anxiety, I am grateful for the wisdom of teachers like Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson in How to Survive the Apocalypse. From Mel Brooks to Game of Thrones, from the movie Her to the board game Settlers of Catan, this book is full of deft and engaged analysis, helping all of us to move deeper into our 'secular age' with conviction and faith."


Michael Wear

-- founder of Public Square Strategies LLC

 "Who said the apocalypse couldn't be fun? I binge-read this book. Wilkinson and Joustra take up some of the most important questions of our day in a fresh way. They give us a guide to the cultural and political terrain we must navigate together, providing encouragement to faithful Christians to enter the public square with confidence and purpose."


 Brett McCracken

-- film critic, author of Gray Matters and Hipster Christianity

 "An exceptional piece of theologically rigorous, culturally perceptive criticism. With Charles Taylor's monumental book A Secular Age as a guide, Joustra and Wilkinson show how narratives of dystopian apocalypse in contemporary films and television reveal deep philosophical, theological, and existential truths about today's world. . . . Whether dissecting Mad Men or The Hunger Games, Scandal or Game of Thrones, this book's analysis is timely, wide-ranging, and coherent, shedding light on power, politics, identity, and more in the twenty-first century."


Richard Mouw

-- president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary

 "Dear Netflix: Hold off on sending Parks and Recreation and start me on the second season of The Walking Dead. After reading this terrific book by Alissa Wilkinson and Robert Joustra, I have decided I am ready for more apocalypse. I had been immersed in the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, but this book helped me connect their philosophical explorations to dystopian narratives. So I am now going to work at coming up with my own informed understandings of zombie plots."


Kevin R. den Dulk

-- director of the Henry Institute, Calvin College

 "Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson insist the end is not near; it's already here, in the zeitgeist, even if the zombies and robot overlords are still at bay. With philosopher Charles Taylor as their guide, they cast a keen eye on how apocalyptic visions in recent popular culture reflect our rootless search for 'authentic' selves in a secular age. But they also leave us with a compelling alternative to defeatism in the face of the end times -- a clear-eyed pluralism rooted in the building of faithful institutions."


Stephanie Summers

-- CEO of the Center for Public Justice

 "With style and skill, Wilkinson and Joustra demonstrate that popular entertainment tells us something deeply important about ourselves. As our guides on a wide-ranging tour with an itinerary that includes Charles Taylor, Parks and Recreation, and modern political philosophy among many other stops, they lead us to a place where our participation as citizens is wholeheartedly encouraged and affirmed."


Gregory Alan Thornbury

-- president of The King's College

 "All too often, books on pop culture by Christian scholars, pastors, and theologians lapse into the 'what to think' category. What's different about reading How to Survive the Apocalypse is that we understand better why we're seeing what we're seeing. That's because a political philosopher (Joustra) and a cultural critic (Wilkinson) are probably in better position to guide us as to how our secular age has become perennially obsessed with the fantasy of 'the end of the world.' "

Publishers Weekly

" 'Just turn on the television. . . . Today, apocalypse sells like mad,' write Joustra and Wilkinson. Instead of lamenting secularized versions of the end times, however, the authors engage with them through an in-depth theological critique of popular culture. They note that the idea of future chaos followed by restoration has been a religious theme for millennia, starting with the first apocalyptic text from ancient Egypt. After a fascinating, breakneck rundown of utopian versus dystopian notions from biblical times onward, Joustra and Wilkinson zero in on recent movies and -- especially -- TV shows. . . . It is refreshing to see a willingness to find the best in secular art, rather than a blanket dismissal of it."


Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians- Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age .jpg Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C.S. Lewis Chris R. Armstrong (Brazos Press) $19.99 Another book that should have you clicking send asap -- this is a "must read" book that will be loved by anyone who savors great learning, good insights about our past, or C.S. Lewis, for that matter. Armstrong is a wiz of a guy and a good friend; he is the director of Opus: The Art of Work, an institute on faith and vocation and Wheaton College. Previously, he has been a writer at Christian History magazine -- and, oh, how I loved his previous Patron Saints for Postmoderns, an only mildly edgy guide to why we, today, need to know something about those Christian leaders who have gone before us.  This new one is just what it promises: a wonderful introduction to a neglected era of our Christian tradition.

Look: Armstrong has taught church history, yes. But, as we noted, he directs a center designed to help young adults integrate faith and learning so they might be nurtured in a broad vision of vocation, serving God in their future careers and callings.  He is eager to help people live out daily discipleship very much in the modern world, the world you and I live in, for real.  (Heck, he is an editor at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel -- a quintessentially contemporary enterprise.)  So don't think this is for stodgy old medievalists or those who have time to be quaint.

Although, when you finish this lovely, fascinating, well-written book, you might be glad to think of yourself as somewhat of a medievalist. This is sturdy, relevant, amazing stuff.  As Dennis Okholm (himself author of Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks) says,

Armstong's approach to introducing twenty-first century Christians to the rich resources of medieval and monastic wisdom is ingenious. He uses C.S. Lewis to invite us into a conversation with other contemporaries who have found that this oft-neglected period of Christian history provides the kind of embodied and holistic spiritual life that is needed as a remedy for today's gnostic, individualistic, and shallow spirituality.

I like that the famous historian from Duke Divinity School, Grant Wacker, says this is written "with lilting prose and sparkling insight."  Just what we want in a book that uses Lewis to get to a "long-past but still remarkably relevant era."  

Divine Merger.jpgDivine Merger: What Happens When Jesus Collides with Your Community Mark E. Strong (IVP) $16.00  Again, this is a book I'm eager to tell you about, a great little sleeper of a book that you may have missed. The author is senior pastor of LifeChange Christian Church, a diverse congregation located in inner city Portland. Okay, get that: Portland is known as a pretty hip but secularized city, and the inner city -- well, any church that is thriving and doing good community development stuff could be a model and inspiration for us all.  I took notice of this church leader years ago, and am glad to see he has this new book.   It is a bit about urban ministry (think of John Perkins and the CCDA) and mostly about how to think well about missional congregational life -- wherever you find yourself.  Strong has pioneered innovative and energetic community ministry and has truly earned the right to tell his story (and inspire us all.)  I am not alone as he is esteemed in his community and among evangelical leaders throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Listen to this, by leaders we respect and writers we like:

"Mark Strong is a legend in our city. The archetype of a wise, humble, faithful urban pastor. Many younger planters look to him for more than mentorship, but for a template to pour our own lives into. When a guy like Mark talks about the collision of Jesus and community, I listen."

--John Mark Comer, Bridgetown: A Jesus Church, Portland, OR

"Mark Strong is a pastor's pastor, and a deeply committed leader and preacher. In Divine Merger he challenges us to do the spiritual work of bringing our communities and our churches together. He does this with wisdom and grace, inviting us to intentionally seek God's leading for change for both sides. The book is inspiring, biblical and practical. If you want to catalyze change in your church and community, this book, filled with stories of Mark's own experiences and insights learned on the battlefront, can be a trusted guide."

--MaryKate Morse, George Fox Seminary, author of A Guidebook to Prayer

"Gentrification, spiritual lethargy and the clash between new realities and old dreams are part of Mark's journey as a leader in his church and community. As one who strives to live his life fully invested in both spheres, Mark provides in this book a mixture of practical implementation, pastoral encouragement and theological grounding for embracing our call to partner with Jesus in the transformative collisions between our church and our community."

--Rick McKinley, lead pastor, Imago Dei Community, Portland, OR, author of Jesus in the Margins

The Bible Cause- A History of the American Bible Society .jpgThe Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society John Fea (Oxford University Press) $29.95  I don't know how many working historians you know, or even how many serious history professors, but Fea is a gem, a local treasure, a fun and whimsical guy who does remarkably serious scholarship.  Amidst his other award winning writing, teaching, and philosophizing -- not to mention being a cool  local fellow and husband and dad -- John was recruited by the American Bible Society to document their 200 anniversary. The Bible Society, it is interesting to note, is the nation's oldest philanthropy, and it is, to put it politely, storied.

Fea was given complete and open access to the legendary ABS records -- imagine the joy of finding documents of support from the likes of Francis Scott Key or Theodore Roosevelt -- and refused any sense that he was to write a puff piece or in-house congratulatory document for their own bi-centennial celebration.  No, this is the real, deal, worthy of such an important, historic organization and worthy of such a prestigious, scholarly publishing house.  Dr. Fea turned his skills towards telling this story well, with accuracy and insight, with charming anecdote and revealing stories.   

The ABS has aligned itself, often, with gatekeepers of American culture, and their single-minded passion to promote Bible distribution has been inspiring, and, admittedly, a bit perplexing, if not troubling.  With endorsements from major historians such as Mark Noll or Margaret Bendroth (the Executive Director of the Congregational Library and Archives) The Bible Cause is going to be an enduring and important bit of American history research.

In the words of Laurie Haffly-Kipp (who wrote Setting Down the Sacred Past: African American Race Histories) "Fea leas us through Bible distribution in ever-widening circles. His expansive sweep highlights dissemination on the US frontier, within war-ravaged communities of the postbellum American South, and around the globe. He shows how the Good Book both followed and accompanied US imperial aspirations, and also how its influence motivated believers to see American as a Christian nation united by reverence for the Word."

Well, so there's that.  And John Fea brings it all, in fascinating detail.  As Mark Noll says, The Bible Cause  "is full of unusually perceptive insights... it is a splendid book to mark a noteworthy anniversary."

Slow Kingdom Coming- Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly.jpgSlow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World Kent Annan (IVP) $16.00  Emblazoned  in bold, blunt print on the back of this remarkable book is this obvious quote: "No one said pursuing justice would be easy."  And yet, we all get distracted, or, if active, burned out. Who doesn't struggle with cynicism and even despair, being jaded or just weary?  Big hope or not, to be active in taking on the cares of the needy or the desire for a better world (whatever your cause or passion) is tiring.  We get self-righteous, we get testy, we get anxious.  Do you know what I'm talking about?

There have been a number of books by respected, seasoned, righteous activists that I've suggested as must reads for anyone in serious, culturally-engaged discipleship who want to keep at it, fresh and refreshed, for the long haul, trying hard to make a difference. I've often commended The World Is Not Ours To Save by peace activist Tyler Wigg-Stevenson and Doing Good Without Giving Up by environmental activist Ben Lowe. I enjoyed and learned much from Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action by Mae Elise Cannon -- a gem of a resource, with each chapter highlighting a faith practice as lived out by a certain hero of Christian peace and justice work.  That these are all published by InterVarsity Press is telling: they get something very, very important about "a long obedience in the same direction" as one of their bestsellers by Eugene Peterson puts it.  Anyway, add, now, my friend Kent Annan's new book to this good handful of books in this marvelous genre. Kent, as much as anybody, knows well this hardship, this struggle, this need to be spiritually alive in order to keep at it our work.

Kent has written two other remarkably moving books, must-reads for anyone interested in global development. (He has worked and lived in Haiti, before and after the awful earthquake there, documented passionately in the exquisite, painful, After Shock.)  Here, in this brand new one, he walks us through sustainable practices fore those who want to live out faith in caring ways.  He explores ways to hep us "participate in the coming Kingdom" 

Here are the chapter titles -- you must believe me when I say he opens up in-depth and thoughtful considerations about our spirituality in these areas.

Attention: Awakening to Justice

Confession: The Posture for Engaging

Respect: The Golden Rule for Helping

Partnering: With Not For

Truthing: Hard Thinking and Feet on the Ground

And, then, this last piece, before a handful of appendices, study guides and the like: Practicing Faithfully Even When We Are Overwhelmed.

Did you get that? Practicing Faithfully Even When We Are Overwhelmed.

I think Jena Lee Nardella of Blood: Water Mission (and author of one of last year's best stories, One Thousand Wells) is exactly right when she says: Slow Kingdom Coming is one of the most honest yet hopeful reads for those who seek to do the work of justice today."

The work of doing justice and loving mercy is dependent upon our walking humbly with God, and this isn't quick or easy stuff. As Eugene Cho says, "it is long, laborious, and often messy..." This is a great, great book to guide you into and maybe a bit through the mess.  Order it today!

The Spiritual Life- Eight Essential Titles .jpgThe Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles Henri Nouwen (HarperOne) $27.99  Wow. I don't know exactly what an omnibus is, but I bet it is something like this.  Man, what a great, great volume.

In one big, fat, paperback  (of 665 pages) the publisher Harper has combined all of the books of Father Nouwen that they publisher -  eight of them, in full . A few of these have only been available in hardcover, and it is a great, great bargain to have them all in one convenient big paperback, a great savings.

In full paperback with french folded covers -- not unlike the way they did The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics or  A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr --  this big book includes a lot. I assume you know how lovely and wise Nouwen was, and, yet, I bet that some of these books are not in your personal collection.

Here are the complete books by Nouwen that in in this one volume:


A Letter of Consolation

Letters to Marc About Jesus

The LIving Reminder

Making All Things New

Our Greatest Gift

The Way of the Heart


My, oh my. If you have most of these, you know how rich and beautiful and helpful they are. If you don't have most, then you may want to pick this up and get 'em all in one good volume.  This is good stuff, friends. Kudos to HarperOne for  this good, good release.   "The Kingdom is a place where God's Spirit guides us, heal us, challenges us, and renews us continuously" Nouwen has written. "When we set our hearts on the life in the Spirit of Christ, we will come to experience intimate connections between our spiritual life and our temporal needs. When we remain attentive to this divine presence, we will be led always deeper into the kingdom."  May it be so.

We've shown the regular retail price on these, but will deduct the discount when you click below.  Those links take you to our secure order form page.... easy; just tell us what you want, old-school, person to person. We'll follow up with a prompt confirmation, assuring you that we've got your order and that we're taking care your selections, wrapping them with a smile and a prayer. Thanks for caring about good books, and for being faithful to our bookish mission here at Hearts & Minds.  Let us know if you have any questions, want to ask about any of these selections, or if we can serve you in any further way. Happy reading.



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May 16, 2016

PRE-ORDER "The Very Good Gospel" (Lisa Sharon Harper) and "Executing Grace" (Shane Claiborne) 25% OFF for limited time

I have read both of these forthcoming books in advanced review copies, and am grateful to the publishers for allowing us this privilege.  More, I am grateful to authors like my friends Lisa Sharon Harper and Shane Claiborne who are writing about heavy, complicated issues with great grace, utilizing the Biblically mandated method of speaking  truth in love; indeed, hard truth with much love. Both of these soon to be released books are hard-hitting and informative even as they are captivating and deeply moving. Most of all, we here at the bookstore are grateful to God that there are such good titles coming out these days, and that there seems to be a renewed interest in reading important books, talking about big ideas, learning and growing in ways that enable us to more faithfully embody the ways of Christ's Kingdom.

And so, we are particularly eager to promote these now, to give you a chance to PRE-ORDER them at an EXTRA DISCOUNT - early birds get the extra deal which won't last long - and to think now about the possibility of using them in classes or book clubs or study groups this summer or fall.  Both authors will be out and about in big ways speaking about their new releases so you may hear more about them.  (Lisa is one of the keynote speakers at the famous national gathering called The Justice Conference. Wow!)

We are proud to announce that Lisa Sharon Harper, in fact, will be the speaker for the Fifth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture on Tuesday, July 26th (at Robert Morris University) so you should know we are excited to get her work more widely known.  More on that, later.

Beth and I feel  warmly connected to both of these authors and both of these books, and hope many Hearts & Minds fans will give them a try.  I will write more about both later -- they are both so full of righteous zeal and jaw-dropping stories and good Scripture and provocative cultural analysis that they deserve longer reviews to facilitate your careful attention and discerning conversations.  But, really, you should pre-order them now and we will get 'em out to you at the extra sale prices before their release day of June 7th.  You can pre-pay using our secure order form page (see the link below) or we can just send along an invoice so you can pay later, as we say at the order form page.  Just click below and tell us how you want us to serve you.

The Very Good Gospel.jpgThe Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook) $19.99  PRE-ORDER PRICE = $14.99

We were thrilled to invite Lisa to be our lecturer for our annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture even before I read her book; we respect and trust her as an evangelical Christian leader, as a spokesperson for faith-based social justice activism, and as a writer and student of the Bible. We've worked with Sharon before (most notably, she did one of the powerful main stage presentations at the CCO's Jubilee conference a few years ago, where students  loved her!)  We've reviewed at BookNotes each of the books she has co-authored in the past, and we are now delighted that Lisa has her own solo release coming soon.  And what a book it is!

Those of us who are increasingly using the language of the Biblical story -- with chapters or "acts" of the unfolding drama described as creation-fall-redemption-restoration -- find that subsequent use of phrases like God's reign or gospel or grace or hope are given texture and shape and content by placing them within this historical-redemptive Biblical context.  That is, the realities and implications of salvation and the scope and nature of the impact of the Kingdom of God is seen not merely as personal forgiveness assuring us of eternal life but down-to-earth redemption that concretely touches every area of life, starting now.  Christ as resurrected and ascended Lord claims "every square inch" of the good but now distorted creation the old Dutch Statesman Abraham Kuyper once preached, and this wholistic vision of the good but fallen creation being restored to (new) creation reality is generating tons of fresh expression of faith these days, lots of missional energy for relevant outreach, and churches that are teaching this sort of Biblical theology are discovering new ways to connect Sunday and Monday, worship and work, piety and politics.  This worldview-ish vision has long been on our lips here and has been the story that has animated our own work here at the bookstore. If God is restoring all of life, bringing true hope to a broken world, then everything matters.  We stock books on art and work and science and business and education and film and farming and sex and politics and engineering and history all because it all matters to God as God is redeeming all of life.  That is the flow of the Biblical story from a garden to a city, and churches of all sorts or increasingly framing their theological vision and mission in light of these categories.

lisa sharon harper speaking smiling.jpgWell, Lisa Sharon Harper has drunk deeply from this big picture of the Bible, what Newbigin called "the true story of the whole world."

She is convinced that the key  - or at least one key, one good way to tell this story - is how God's good shalom was seen in the beginning, in the creation pronounced very good.  Ms Harper is fabulous doing good Bible study on the notion of shalom and how it is a blessed way into understanding God's gifts and intents in the beginning.  She is informed by the best recent scholarship, but is lively and inspiring in her Bible teaching.  She is very helpful in explaining the Genesis 3 story and how many sorts of alienation set in as God's shalom was broken ("vandalized" is how Cornelius Plantinga put it in his splendid Not the Way It's Supposed to Be.) But her major point is that the story does not stop there, nor is it redirected to a heavenly realm. In Christ's Kingdom, the gift of shalom is restored.  This is very, very good news, the curse reversed and shalom restored. 

Of course, part of the shalom and blessedness of the good creation in the Genesis narratives include the essential stuff about humans (men and women together) being created in the very image of God.  As dignified image bearers of the Creator, humans are given the earthy tasks of what some call the cultural mandate, the high calling to work, under the rubric of developing the creation. Thank goodness for Harper's good description of Hebrew words reminding us of the positive implications of the mandate to "take dominion" over creation as stewards, words that have been woefully misunderstood.  Her Biblical study has catapulted her into deep interest in ecology and this part of the book alone is worth knowing well, offering Scriptural foundation for creation care and wise stewardship.

Well, you can see where this is going, I hope. If multi-faceted, blessed shalom was God's plan for women and men working in God's unfolding creation, then the answer to sin's consequences, the wreckage (as Harper powerfully calls it) of broken shalom is - get this - reconciliation. In Christ, the planet is being healed and reconciled, and those who are touched by God's mercy and made new in Christ are now ambassadors of this creation-wide reconciliation project.  Lisa's Bible study and teaching on these themes throughout Scripture is solid and helpful. Walter Brueggemann, who wrote a fabulous foreword honoring her work, calls The Very Good Gospel "a bracing, generative exposition of the elemental narrative of gospel faith..."    Who doesn't need a little bracing exposition of gospel faith these days, eh?

I will describe this in greater detail later, but allow me a quick summary and an important observation.

The summary is this: this book explores not only the big picture of a very good gospel - very good because it is God's gracious good news that is better than many might imagine that includes all of creation and all of life  - but moves towards a pretty radical application of reconciliation theology to various areas of society.  How do we live out a vision of creation regained, shalom restored, reconciling that which is alienated or broken or painfully distorted?  Lisa Sharon Harper has good chapters in The Very Good Gospel that we so need, allowing the Biblical trajectory of Christ-centered reconciliation to guide us to peacemaking and justice-doing in several spheres of life.  Specifically, she explores what reconciliation looks like as we are restored in proper relationship to God, to self, between genders, with creation, within broken families, among races, and even between nations.  What does it mean to bear witness to God's own peace in each side of life? How do we begin to repair what is torn?  She is really good in these chapters, offering both robust and theologically informed proposals but always with a tone of evangelical hope and practical application.  This is not an arcane or complicated tome, it is an accessible handbook for living as new creations in almost every side of life. I suppose you can see why we are so enthused and commend it so confidently.

An observation?  The book - as you can see from the last paragraph - does not fall into a tendency of overstating the public and political at the expense of exploring more personal matters. Sharon tells some very, very tender stories about her own hurt and shame, how guilt and grace show up in one's own heart, in wounded emotions, hurt families, broken friendships. Tears may flow as you grapple with how God's Spirit can bring healing to some painful places in your own soul.  Her vision of shalom with God is earnest and evangelical, even as she knows that if we are going to be peacemakers and activists in the world, we have to first know God deeply and be healed by a personal encounter with Jesus. Such an encounter may be for you as it was for her, not only offering forgiveness, but eventually a transforming realization of how you are wanted and beloved.

How beautiful to have an author rebuke the evangelical church for stupid sexism and hurtful complicity in racial injustice and apathy about climate change and other such issues- even as she writes about healing prayer, offering wise spiritual insights applied to personal conversion and sanctification and telling intimate stories of her own journey of faith and trust in God.  She is a black woman with a strong evangelical background so this should not come as a surprise. I trust it will convince many to know she is a trusted voice, an ally to those of us who long for a Biblically-based, radical witness for the things of Christ.  

On the back cover The Very Good Gospel is described as offering "wholeness for a fragmented world and peace for a hurting soul."   This is very good news, indeed, and we hope you order the book from us and spread the word.

Executing Grace.jpgExecuting Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) $17.99 PRE-ORDER PRICE = $13.50

I suppose I don't have to tell you much about this, and I can offer more details later.  A few things that might invite you to realize now how important this is, though, might be useful.  We really, really, hope this book is noticed by our friends and customers and that you send us orders for it soon.

Shane is a feisty, funny, kind, and hopeful speaker -- I love listening to his stories and watching him in action -- and his upbeat writing captures much of this humble tone.  I say humble as he is self-deprecating and honest about how he has come to his own positions of Biblical nonviolence and solidarity with the poor after years as a pretty right-wing, "my country right or wrong" cheerleader for God and guts and guns. Who knew that some time with Tony Campolo and Mother Teresa would lead a self-described red-neck Tennessee fundamentalist to a lifestyle akin to Saint Francis or the late Daniel Berrigan? How he and his conservative evangelical pals discovered A.J. Muste and Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero is a story told elsewhere, and I'm glad his first book, Irresistible Revolution, is out in a new edition, expanded and updated.  Most of us are not called to this downwardly mobile journey to live with the outcasts and the urban poor, but his faith journey is instructive and inspiring for even the most middle class among us.

And so it isn't surprising to know that in this age of mass incarceration and gun violence - and Shane knows a lot about this, living as he does in one of the most violent parts of a very violent and racially charged city - that his systemic work for social change would lead him to care about shane  5-16.jpgprisoners, about restorative justice, and, eventually, to confront the inequalities and injustices of what is called capitol punishment.  I have chatted recently with Shane about his learning curve as he researched this book, and how painful it has been in recent years as he has gotten to know crime victims, prisoners, people on death row, prison workers, lawyers, police, and political activists on both sides of the issue. He has talked to lots and lots of people, read extensively, listened to a variety of viewpoints. It has been an intense season of study and learning and we should respect the work he's put into this.

Not a few well informed reviewers have even suggested this could be the best book yet done by a person of faith on this topic. 

After meeting even a few prisoners on death row and reading even a few sermons from the early church about this, it isn't hard to come to a position of great concern about state executions. (Even some stalwart conservatives like Chuck Colson came to oppose the death penalty, in practice, at least, if not in principle, as they realized the incongruities and errors in the criminal justice system.) 

Add to this theological research and his first hand encounters with extreme injustice - re-read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson if you need reminded - some honest conversations with the families of those victimized by violent crime and their own ambivalence about the vengeance of the criminal justice system, and it becomes clear - really, really clear - that Shane's position in this book is persuasive and sensible and just.  

Do you know the statistics on how many people on death row are being exonerated as innocent? How many have been killed by judicial error?  Do you know how many of those who have maintained their innocence seem to have had racially charged trials, found guilty under suspect circumstances rife with racism?  My, my, if Job or other just judges of the Hebrew Scriptures were around today they would rent their garments in loud protest.  One can quibble about interpretations of the data in Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow, say, but the overall indictment of the brokenness of this racially-unjust system is hardly beyond doubt. To insist that the government take a life in this setting is palpably askew.

Do you know the statistics of how many loved ones of the victims of violent crime find the death penalty unhelpful, perhaps even repulsive?  The way crime victims and the families of the murdered are treated by the state's prosecution is one of the new revelations I learned in Executing Grace and is yet another outrageous aspect of this whole sordid business of governmental executions.  Shane tells the stories here of victims who were pressured by the state (sometimes violently so) to cooperate with death sentences; these sad stories offer little hope and no final closure to the tragedies and injustices that befell them. It most likely isn't the story you've heard, and it may be counterintuitive, but Executing Grace documents it well: many, if not most, of the victims of violent crime oppose the death penalty.  Although it is longer story then I can tell quickly here, it becomes clear that only forgiveness and mercy can bring any real measure of healing, for victims and offenders alike.  That Shane is at heart an evangelical and an evangelist is clear in this - although the book is essentially a call to work to abolish the death penalty, his heart is about restoration and healing and hope and reconciliation and grace, indeed, the truth of the very good gospel itself.  No one is beyond redemption and no situation is so ruined as to be immune to the graces of gospel-based reconciliation. In this sense, this book about a complex issues is inspiring and wonderful, offering light in the darkest of places.

And so, this moving, moving book is a handbook for activists (yes) but it is also an invitation to look at situations and people from which most of us turn away, in the light of Scripture and Christian tradition.  As Shane "weaves together a tapestry of reflections from scripture and church history as well as testimonies from victims, prisoners, and modern day executioners" he reminds us of God's grace and our call to be citizens who care about the common good, about justice in the courts and mercy in the streets.  His stories make this lively and urgent and his tone, while passionate, is never strident. As always, Claiborne is inviting us to care, to understand, to pray and perhaps to re-consider.  And, yes, to broaden our agenda of causes and concerns to include this project to abolish the death penalty, to get involved, to act.

Shane says, interestingly, "this book chose me."

I suspect you, too, might feel that way; you may not want to chose this book.  Many of us are mildly aware but not particularly vocal about justice for the accused and mercy for the criminal. We have not been beacons of true hope for the victims or advocates of lasting transformation not only of the prisons and the courts but of the streets.  Yet, those who have gone before us have been abolitionists and reformers and caregivers.  People today are involved in remarkably inspiring ways.  Beth and I have met some of these folks, and we are so very grateful that Shane and his Simple Way community are taking up the cause.  And we are glad for this book, Executing Grace that might inform and inspire many to join the conversation.  

There's a train a-comin, the old gospel song goes.  This book might help us get on board, sooner rather than later.   Order it today.


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May 12, 2016




grad images.jpgWe are sometimes a little perplexed about what to suggest when folks in the shop ask us for graduation gifts for high school kids, especially if they are buying on behalf of their church.  I have to admit that sometimes, over the years, we've seen some desperate folks needing to get a certain number of items, all the same, at a cheapo price.  They really didn't care what it was, they just needed to get the darn thing taken care of. I could have sold left-handed, bright red Saint Patrick's Day beer steins if they had the word "graduate" on 'em and were under $1.99.

Picture of Wauconda High School grads from The Daily Herald.                  

graduation 2016.jpgOf course, most shoppers looking for gifts are a bit more intentional, seeking a good, if not wonderful, gift to honor and commemorate this huge time of transition.  But it's still weird - why do knick-knack companies promote tie tacks, knowing high school kids rarely wear ties?  Car keys are a great gift for a 16-year old (speaking of life transitions the church should bless) but what does it say to a college student heading off to campus, usually without a car? And I don't know about little inspirational plaques.  We have our share of cute gift books with collections of happy thoughts that have 2016 in bold fonts on the front, but: really? 

I know it isn't easy to find the right thing. Believe me, I get it.

We think this is a time to double down, as they say, and make clear not only that the church cares, but that there is life-changing content to be shared. That the church stands for something and expects something, also from its young members.

It may be the last clear occasion to give everybody a book.  Why not make it a good one?

laughing_woman_book.jpgYou follow BookNotes, maybe subscribing so you get it in your inbox. We assume you are a reader, and know how a well-placed book in the right hands at the right time can change a life. Why not enter this conversation in your own church, or just think of a young adult you care about and order a book or two.  We can even gift wrap and send it on your behalf.  Just tell us if you want us to write a little note to include.

The picture of the young woman reading is from ParentMap.

(And, of course, he says parenthetically, if you need a book for college graduates, we have just the one-of-a-kind fabulous gift book about transitioning out of higher education and taking up vocations int he world. See my Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your LifeOn sale, here.)

I know this can get pricey, but good books for a bunch of people but since many churches only have a handful of high school grads, why not hand select one for each honoree? We're here to help you; as the home improvement store ads say: "You've got this!"  Maybe they won't read it (I know, I know) but maybe they will. And if you tell us what they are like, maybe we can help find something chosen just for them.  Let's not sell our youth short, and let's use the occasion to invite them to a serious, thoughtful, lasting faith.  

There are cool books and nice devotionals for high school youth, but this is in some ways a transition to adult faith. They aren't going to be in the high school youth group, now, so a good gift for grads doesn't have to be from the "youth" section.  Any number of inspiring adult books will do (especially since so many are written these days with clever wit and a chatty tone, offering youthful passion and presented with slight graphic design touches that are appealing to younger readers. Many 18 - 20 year olds, we find, love books like Not a Fan by Kyle Idelman or Crazy Love by Francis Chan or It's Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke or Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper or books by Lauren Winner or Donald Miller. Some college kids are eager to read Mere Christianity for the first time, since they undoubtedly have heard how important it is.)

Well, here are some quick ideas for high school graduation gift giving. Don't worry if it doesn't have "Happy Graduation" emblazoned on a garish faux leather cover. They don't' care.

 All of these are being offered at a 20% discount. Happy (wonderful) gift giving.

Make-College-Count-Hardcover-218x300.jpgMake College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning Derek Melleby (Baker Books) $12.99  I have raved about this before, written long reviews, and have said that there is - I am sure of it - nothing in print that is like it.  It is short, handsome, interesting, clever.  It mentions Hearts & Minds (come on, that's a selling point among friends, no?) It is a great choice for students heading off to college. Youth ministry guru Chap Clark writes,

For years I have been looking for the right book to give to Christian high school grads: readable, honest, grade-focused, Christ-centered, and practical. Finally, I've found just the ticket - Make College Count is that book.

Or, listen to Steve Garber:

Make College Count is just right! What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most.

I realize that this isn't appropriate to give to youth that are not on their way to college or some trade school.  But if you know that a young person is heading towards further education this book will wisely set them up to ask basic questions about who they will be, what they will be about, with whom they will form community, how they will discern what God is doing in their life and what God is calling them to vocationally.   This isn't a dour warning or a bunch of sappy inspiration bromides.  This is wise and profound and interesting and important.

learning for the love of god.jpgLearning for the Love of God: A Student Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $14.99 If you are confident your young person knows God well and is mature enough to have thought through the foundational questions Melleby invites them to think about, this one would be the next best book.  In Make College Count, Melleby  offers guidance on questions such as why am I going to college? What do I want my life to be an influence? What do I really believe?  Learning for the Love of God, though, fun as it is, goes deeper. It is, without a doubt, the most important book a young college student will read in the next few years.  I have written at great length about why a winsome call to "academic faithfulness" and connecting faith and scholarship - that is, serving God in the classroom by how one studies and the perspectives one adopts in one's course work . This lovely version of what some consider an "outrageous" idea - namely, God cares about our studies and future careers - will make the difference between a student that invites God into all areas of his or her life and one that does not.  I can't tell you how important I think this is, and it would make a great gift to a college student who likes to think and be challenged and hear stories of other students who started learning for the love of God.  Optiz, by the way, is ordained in the PCUSA and is the Director of the chapel at Messiah College, so knows student life well.  Melleby directs OneLife, an intensive one year "gap year" program for those transitioning out of high school.

All the Places To Go .jpgAll the Places To Go How Will You Know? John Ortberg (Tyndale) $15.99  I recommend unreservedly all of Ortberg's many books.  He is a lively communicator, a good thinker, and a funny guy. He preaches at a large church and is a great storyteller.  Maybe you know his powerful book about Jesus called Who Is This Man? or his two wonderful paperback books on spirituality The Life You Always Wanted and God Is Closer Than You Think and the more recent handsome hardback called Soul Keeping. We recommend each of them, truly we do.  He has one called Know Doubt and another called Love Beyond Reason. There is a great one on self-reflection and personal assessment called The Me I Want to Be that would make an apropos gift.  A lot of people like his If You Want To Walk On Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat.  The one about community is called Everybody's Normal and there is one about things that really count (not materialism and worldly success) called When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box.

Anyway, as you might guess,  All the Places to Go How Will You Know? is about figuring out one's life goals, how to pursue the adventure of following God, and how to discern God's will  "God has placed before you an open door" it says on the front. "What will you do?" Great for anyone in transition, and it is adequately whimsical and full of enough gripping stories to appeal to younger adults who aren't keen readers.  

Every Little Thing- Making a World of DIfference Right Where You Are.jpgEvery Little Things: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are Deidra Riggs (Baker) $13.99  I so enjoyed this lovely and well written book by a thoughtful writer; Jennie Allen is right when she says "Deidra tenderly but swiftly leads people to Jesus and to a better understanding of themselves." Does God use ordinary people like us -- like the youth leaving your church, like the soon-to-be young adults you love -- to make a difference? Does "everything thing" really matter?  I suppose this is written more for women...  Nicely done.

what is vocation good one.jpgWhat Is Vocation? Stephen J. Nichols (P&R) $4.99  I suspect you might need something inexpensive, short and sweet, but solid and truly helpful.  This handsome booklet is worth much more than this low price and it is our conviction that this too often neglected Christian doctrine is a foundational truth for anyone entering the work-world, a season of discernment about one's future, and certainly for anyone heading on to college and future professions.  I love this short book (it is only about 30 pages) about the goodness of work and how to nurture a sense of calling into one's vocation.   How many little books quote Martin Luther, Os Guinness, the movie Mr. Mom,  Wendell Berry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin and, yes, that famous line of Michael Douglas from Wall Street? A gem.

Every Waking Hour- An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians .jpgEvery Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians Benjamin Quinn & Walter Strickland (Lexham Press) $12.95  We have dozens of books on a Christian view of work, and there are any number of favorites that we commend. But for a high school student heading out into the work-world, I would guess a major treatise isn't the kind of gift that feels right.  This one is just about perfect: it is thoughtful and sober, but brief. It is a compact sized, hardback without a dust jacket, making it feel rather youthful and cool.  This offers solid Christian cultural analysis, Biblical insight about our calling to work, and ideas about what it looks like to be faithful in the ways we work. Nicely done.  By the way, maybe you recall us promoting Lexham's  matching Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians Look soon for Every Good Thing: An Introduction to the Material World and the Common Good for Christians by David W. Jones. And handsome little trilogy.

Garden City- Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.jpgGarden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99 I think this has been our biggest selling book within what might be considered the young adult market.  We sold a bunch at Jubilee last February and para-church campus ministry groups like CCO and IVCF love it. Comer is witty and fun, upbeat and energetic, and without sounding heady or arcane, invites us into a Christian worldview that is based on the dignity of being human, the call to work, the goodness of cultural engagement, and the reminder to rest. Work, sabbath, meaning, life as we enter God's story. What a book, good for anyone, but cool looking and quite attractive to young adults.

be you. do good..jpgBe You Do Good: Having the Guts to Pursue What Makes You Come Alive Jonathan David Golden  (Baker Books) $14.99  This book is great for young adults that are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be about. It offers a great story - the idealistic, up-hill, deeply moving tale of the guys who founded Land of A Thousand Hills ethical coffee company.  What a read!  What is so good about this inspiring narrative is not only how they succeeded against great odds, and models how to move forward doing good stuff, but it is rooted in a healthy Christian view of determining the will of God, listening to one's passions and seeking out the ways of God's Kingdom.  This is energetic and exciting but in the telling one comes away with much wisdom and vision. For one's own life. Cool.

Callings- The Purpose and Passion of Work - A StoryCorps Book.jpgCallings: The Purpose and Passion of Work - A StoryCorps Book  Dave Isay (Penguin Books) $26.00 I'll admit, I'm not sure this is ideal for most young people, but it is a remarkable collection of testimonials, stories of those who have thought about and are able to articulate something about the purpose and passion of work. You may know some of the other great StoryCorp projects, oral history collections that are sweet and sad and thoughtful and amazing. Oh, how ordinary folks are not so ordinary after all when they are invited to reflect on the deeper meaning of their daily lives. In this new one, Callings, the stories are arranged by theme.  The chapter headings are "Dreamers"  "Generations" "Healers" "Philosophers" and "Groundbreakers."  The jobs described include everything from astronomers to chefs, building contractors to preachers, farmers to actors.  There is a first responder and a nurse, a dentist and am ink removal specialist.  How the people came to these callings is half the fun (especially, I thought, the ones who are doing what they were mentored into by their parents in the unit called "Generations.")

room to grow.jpgRoom to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian Martin Copenhaver (Eerdmans) $15.00  We have many customers who (perhaps because they serve more mainline denominational churches) are wary of any sort of evangelical lingo and don't want to promote books on publishing houses that seem to aligned with conservative and non-denominational movements.  Perhaps such readers will know Martin Copenhaver, president of Andover Newton Theological School and a United Church of Christ minister.  I like Copenhaver for his being such a down-to-Earth thinker with a pastoral heart. (In fact, Walt Brueggemann, in a glowing foreword, notes that Martin "has put his bucket down in the local congregation."  This handsome paperback offers about 25 short reflections, not quite sermons, not quite essays, about what it means to grow into our Christian faith. Endorsements on the back come from Thomas Long (as respected and eloquent preacher and writer and scholar from Candler School of Theology) and the somewhat edgy, colorful Debbie Blue.  There is much wisdom in the lovely little collection and it would make a fine gift.

love does.jpgLove Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson ) $16.99  If you have been paying attention for even a little bit, you will know that many of us view Bob as a hero of sorts - fun, funny (or, better-- crazy, hilarious) and a real "doer" of the faith. His story is one of whimsy and adventure as he invites readers to follow him, literally, all over the world. The section where he takes Donald Miller to Africa to help plant trees at the orphanage he started is worth the price of the book.  Although, one could say that about any number of chapters - his stunt taking over the room of a young couple on their honeymoon, his days and days and days of pestering a dean of a law school to let him enroll, his taking his kids on a world tour to eat ice cream with heads of state - all are truly memorable.  My, my, what a wild ride, what a fun set of adventures, what a way to get readers on board daring to share the love of God with everyone, any way they can.  Love does Goff reminds us. And what a blast it is reading about the way he does it. This book has sold millions and it is perfect to get kids hooked on this idea of enjoying Christian books.  And may just inspire them to be secretly incredible, too. A winner!

Surprise the World- The Five Habits of Highly Missional People.jpgSurprise the World! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People Michael Frost (NavPress) $4.99 What a great price for this pocket-sized paperback that will help young followers of Christ live out the Kingdom in all they do, becoming more intentional about sharing faith and grace in surprisingly simple ways. Frost is a high-powered and very thoughtful Aussie cultural genius, a maverick who wrote seminal books on the missional church, Kingdom discipleship, and the intersection of faith and ordinary life.  Here, young readers will learn to bless others, see God in shared meals, listen well for guidance, stay close to Christ as we learn from Him as our leader and live into the great truth that we are sent by God -- wherever life takes us.  What a great little gift this would be. At our 20% off it's just $3.99.

following jesus n.jpgFollowing Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $14.00 This is a wonderful little book! What a blessing to listen in to Tom Wright talk about the Kingdom of God and the nature of Jesus -- fully God, fully human, the one who died and rose -- as he is described or understood in several key passages in the New Testament.  We who follow Jesus can deepen our discipleship by dipping in to these messages from Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, Revelation (and that is just part one.) Part two invites us to ponder six key New Testament themes that help us in our living faith. One reviewer called it "a beautiful meditative work."

unashamed lecrae.jpgUnashamed Lecrae (B+H Books) $24.99  If you are involved with youth in your church then you probably don't have to be told who Lecrae is; the Atlanta-based Grammy award winning hip-hop artist is hugely popular, exceptionally thoughtful, and this book has been greatly anticipated with notable excitement.  It's neat to see a book with endorsements from such diverse observers -- from Nancy Pearcey and Metaxas to Josh DuBois of the Obama White House, from Andy Crouch and Gabe Lyons to urban Philly pastor Eric Mason. This is pretty cool, offering (among other things) a reminder that "if you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection." There has to be a better way.

Good Faith- Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme.jpgGood Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme Gabe Lyons & David Kinnaman (Baker Books) $19.99 I have promoted this recent book before, but want to quickly suggest it as a special leave-taking gift for serious young followers of Christ who are heading out to new vistas and new places. As presented here in very readable ways, research and social scientific data suggests that many, many people in American culture believes that religious faith is, essential, extreme, and, perhaps dangerous.  It isn't Lyons or Kinnaman's goal to closely evaluate the research, but suffice it to know that they make a case that to be a person of even moderate religious convictions these days will take some extra effort and intentionality to navigate the misunderstandings and sometimes even hostility they will surely face.  I doubt I have to convince you that students going off to college will meet more people then ever that do not share their values, let alone their faith, and that there will be some hostility and condescension, even from trusted professors, if it is known that they are devout.  Good Faith does not overstate this, it isn't alarmist; it not a "downer" sort of book. It is honest and even optimistic about how to live out real faith - by doing good deeds for the common good, for instance and forming honest, caring relationships with a diverse community. It shows how we can bear witness to God's grace by living a healthy, attractive, good faith in the face of the negative assumptions our 21st century fellow citizens may hold.  Sadly, some Christians are extremists and some hold to a head-in-the-sand faith that is irrelevant.  But for most, our faith is neither extremist nor irrelevant. This book can help, with its wise principles and its tons of charming and inspiring stories.  

quiet moments (Tom Wright).jpgQuiet Moments  N.T. Wright (Kregel) $9.99  We get this from an outfit who imports it from the UK  - a very handsome gift book, a smallish hardback with full color photographs and Wright's moody, reflective prayer/poems.  These eloquent words were previously published decades ago in four very small paperbacks, and are here combined in one lovely gift edition.  I am not sure if young men who don't know the significant of this world-renowned Bible scholar will love this - it has a certain "Hallmark" look, and will appeal to those who are attracted to this kind of sentimental style.  It is good stuff, though: Tom Wright the praying poet. Yep.

It's not too late.jpgIt's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teens Faith Dan Dupee (Baker Books) $15.99  Okay, this isn't a joke, and it may be one of the most important books on the list.  This obviously isn't for the departing young adult, the guy or girl who is transitioning out of high school and moving on to new things.  Nope, this is for mom and dad, for the parents of the young adult.  I raved about this in an earlier BookNotes review, noting that there is no other book so good for parents of older teens, especially those going away to work or college. Dan Dupee is a friend, former director of the CCO, so he knows this season of life well -- he loves college students and is attentive to the ways families pass on faith to the next generation. Your older children still need you, parents, and you can still play an formative role in their lives. It's not too late, friends. Get a bunch of this, form a group, get reading and take courage.


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May 7, 2016


Every now and then we do a string of back to back off-site events,  book selling events that make our proverbial heads spin, as we serve very different sorts of folks within the wider church. Before I list the books at our Spring Cleaning 30% off sale, allow me to tell you about some books we sold the last week or so, hither and yon... thanks to those who hosted and helped us.

sticky learning Inglis.jpgTwo weeks ago we were with pastor and educator Holly Inglis who lectured delightfully about brain science and developing thoughtful strategies for more effective education and nurture and worship to professional church educators in the PCUSA; we have her book on sale, below.

And then we hosted three events here at the shop on the spirituality of reading for college students, offering ideas about why books matter for Christian discipleship, especially as they think about their own majors, callings, vocations and future jobs.

We then zoomed to Northern Virginia to a wonderfully vibrant, evangelical mega-church whose large, classy conference called Blue which this year focused on interfaith dialogue, racial justice, the global refugee crisis, civility in public life, all framed by a big vision of missional ministry that equips the congregants to serve God in all areas of life, work, and culture.

And the last few days we've been at one of our favorite annual events, a low-key, small gathering of UCC clergy who serve mostly smaller, old and quintessentially mainline denominational congregations.  Some of these are a bit formal -- old German Reformed folks in the Mercersburg tradition, say, using hymnals from the mid-20th century, or parishes partnered with Lutherans - and some are wildly progressive, at least in the manner that aging liberal 64272370005069745375Pic.jpgconfessing jesus christ.jpgProtestant denominations are, sans tattoos and emergent vibes. Their main speaker was the articulate and pleasant President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, David Lose, whose  little book Preaching at the Crossroads: How the World--And Our Preaching--Is Changing (Fortress; $19.00) sold okay.  His Eerdmans release, Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World ($29.00) is a bit daunting but is important; I wish it would have sold better. Order it on sale now, if you want.

I joked in one of the workshops I did that, mentioning the back-achingly hard work of loading and lugging heavy book boxes here and there to these different groups that  we'd never be allowed to bring the books we take to that event to this one, but that isn't really true.  The evangelicals were buying The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michele Alexander (New Press; $19.95) and Jim Wallis's America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Brazos; $21.99) (although not a one  of The Vulnerable Pastor- How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Many Smith.jpgWallis sold to the Presbyterians or the UCC) while the UCC leaders picked up The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry by my friend Mandy Smith (IVP; $16.00.) Her writing is tender and honest and brilliant and, for these folks working in a culturally conservative region of the country, a bit of a stretch) and, say, resources such as the wonderfully orthodox Worship Sourcebook (with CDRom) created with nuance and care by the good people at the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship, edited by Emily Brink (Baker Books; $44.99.) 

when god was a little girl.jpgPerhaps I will tell you more about other children's books we offered in other BookNotes review, but two that people liked were fun to sell;  we sold well a lovely, creative and colorful children's book telling of a conversation between a father and daughter called When God Was a Little Girl by David Weiss, illustrated by Joan Hernandez Lindeman (ACTA; $19.95) and the must-have, wonderful resource called The Day God Made the Make a Stand- When Life Gives You Lemons, Change the World! .jpgChurch by Rebekah McLeod with wonderful illustrations by Stephanie Haig the-day-when-god-made-church-a-child-s-book-about-pentecost-3.jpg(Paraclete Press; $15.99.) It is one of the only books for children on Pentecost.

We even sold some of the great picture book about a little girl that started a nonprofit (Make a Stand) to fight slavery called Make a Stand: When Life Gives You Lemons, Change the World! by Vivienne Harr (Chocolate Sauce Press; $18.99) which is a personal fav.

Many took my recommendations of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by Jamie Smith (Brazos; $19.99) and Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing by Andy Crouch (IVP; $20.00) - my two favorite books of the year, by far - although I wanted to sell more than we did. Seriously. 

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious  .jpgAnd I pushed David Dark's Life's Too Short To Pretend You're Not Religious (IVP; $20.00) to anyone who seemed up for it, poetic and allusive as it is in its own charmingly literate and bohemian way. I mentioned that David has a section on the late Daniel Berrigan and was met by blank stares by too many who should know the famous priest, poet, peacemaker.  So it goes.

Whenever I could I told folks about Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (IVP; $17.00) and the new Slow Church Study Guide that was just released to make it even more usable in small groups or classes or book clubs.  (Just $8.00 -- on sale, too; see below.) I am convinced this is a must-read, and I'm glad to once again promote it as I can.

becoming wise krista tippett.jpgAnd, naturally, we promoted spiritual formation stuff, prayer books, devotionals, and books about daily discipleship. Many places where we go we sell memoirs, and in one book announcement I took some sly pleasure in describing the exquisite, gentle, articulate collection of stories of intellectually sophisticated spiritual seekers collected by Krista Tippett  who weaves wondrous interviews with her own story in her new hardback Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living (Penguin Press; $28.00) which truly is a must for those who follow listen to her on her NPR show "On Meaning" right next to the hilarious, plain-spoken memoir of Southern Pentecostal-ish seeker, Jamie Blaine, a blue-collar pin-ball playing, roller-rink DJ and crisis Midnight Jesus- The Late Night Psychiatric Crisis Guy Jamie Blaine .jpgintervention counselor, called Midnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide (Thomas Nelson; $15.99.) I doubt that any of Blaine's mostly rural, poor, troubled folks listen to NPR, so it has a very different, shall we say, tone, and his search and story of social service among the crazed and addicted is a lot more edgy and fun that most.  Both books, different as they are, are great reads and both sold well.

We never can really predict what people are going to buy at these pop up bookstores of ours. We take days to curate them, pulling and boxing and then often 10 hours setting 'em up, and, hopeful as we may be about this or that title that we think will be well received , there are those titles that are ignored. We are sometimes not rewarded with brisk sales and we get stuck with too many of some great, great books.

Here are some of them. These are all worthy titles, but we are overstocked.

And so, our three day Spring Cleaning Sale.

30% off red_blue.jpgAll of these are on sale until the end of Tuesday, May  10th for 30% off (or sometimes better) while supplies last.

This is as good as it gets, folks, and we would be pleased to send some of these out at unusually deep discounts to you, rather than pay shipping to return them to the publishers. Help us make some space in our dining room that is already cluttered with boxes and paperwork. Check these out and send us an order right away.

I trust you now that you can easily use the order tab below which will take you to our certified secure order form page.  Or, give us a call if you'd rather.  We're at your service.

Sticky Learning- How Neuroscience Supports .jpgSticky Learning: How Neuroscience Supports Teaching That's Remembered Holly Inglis, with contributions by Rodger Nishioka and Kathy Dawson (Fortress) $24.00  A fairly scholarly, truly fascinating, very helpful study of neuroscience as it can inform our work in congregational life. We had a blast being with her at Eastern APCE but attendance was low and we have a handful of extras. SALE PRICE $16.80

failure of nerve.jpgA Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix Edwin H. Friedman  (Seabury)  $28.00  Ed Friedman was a famous Jewish pastoral counselor, a grand thinker about family systems as it relates to congregational life.  (The excellent books by Peter Stienke that so many use are informed a bit by Friedman. Do let us know if you don't know those.) This a classic work released after Friedman's death on being a non-anxious presence, a leader of care and insight. SALE PRICE $19.60

Slow Church Study Guide.jpgSlow Church Study Guide  Chris Smith (IVP) $8.00  We have sold a good number of this book that I mentioned above and that I really, really like. I'd love to get this study guide out there to encourage people to read or re-read it, enjoying and pondering it anew, thinking about how to process its lovely , if counter-cultural practices, adapting and adopting it in your own setting. SALE PRICE $5.50

imagining the kingdom cover.jpgImagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Cultural Liturgies Volume 2)  James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99  I've made a big deal about You Are What You Love which is a lighter-weight introduction to and working out the implications of the two previous scholarly books by Smith, Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom.  If you liked the middle portion of YAWYL about worship, you should drill down a bit deeper and work with this remarkable study of the phenomenology of worship.  Pastors, preachers, worship leaders need this book. Get it at this great price, while you can. SALE PRICE $16.00

Envy- Exposing a Secret Sin.jpgEnvy: Exposing a Secret Sin Mary Louise Bringle (Westminster/John Knox Press) $17.00  Wow, this is an amazing little book, very thoughtful, witty, well written, provocative, important, even. Any PCUSA Presbyterians out there may know that Mel, as she's called, helped with the great new Glory to God hymnal. She is a lively professor of religion, philosophy and the humanities at Brevard College in Brevard NC.  I like what John Buchanan (former editor of The Christian Century) says of this: "It is not easy to produce a work of scholarly social commentary that is also a page-turner..." Don't miss this one. SALE PRICE $11.90

A Little Handbook for Preachers- Ten Practical Ways.jpgA Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon By Sunday Mary Hulst (IVP) $16.00  Pastor Mary as she is called at Calvin College where she is the campus chaplain, is a great preacher and pastor and leader. We have admired and enjoyed her good sermons and many that we respect - students, alumni, faculty and staff there in Grand Rapids - esteem her immensely and appreciate her powerful sermons.  I know I'm a little odd, but enjoy reading books about homiletics, and as a non-clergy person who happens to do some public speaking, an occasional sermon, and a regular adult class on Sunday morning, I think, I've benefited from diving into this genre of books. This one is introductory, yes, but fascinating and a great read. I commend it to anyone learning to preach, anyone who needs a refresher course, and, frankly, for anyone who listens to sermons with any regularity. It's a fine book.  We will, of course, keep it on hand, but would love to promote it here as it is new and needs to be known. SALE PRICE $11.20

revealed.jpgRevealed: A Storybook Bible for Grownups Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $36.99  Check out my previous BookNotes review of this "picture Bible storybook for adults" created with provocative black and white art and thoughtful artistic ruminations on the unfolding drama of the Bible. Yes, it focuses on some violent texts, and a few of a sexual nature, but mostly it is just a great way into pondering  anew some key stories of the Bible, maybe even doing Visio Divina.  SALE PRICE $25.00

Mercy & Melons- Praying the Alphabet.jpgMercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $15.99  I love this very handsome book of 26 meditations, literally from A to Z.  What is cool and enlightening about this is the way the author reflects on two seemingly contrasting things with each entry - something supposedly secular and something seemingly sacred, so to speak - and  26 Ways to Pray the Alphabet- Daily Spiritual Practices to Help you Ask, Begin, Center, and Do.jpginvites us into seeing the presence of God interwoven in each of these (contrasting?) words.  You may want to also pick up the small workbooky resource to use with Mercy & Melons called 26 Ways to Pray the Alphabet: Daily Spiritual Practices to Help you Ask, Begin, Center, and Do (Abingdon $9.99.)  This little guide can be used by individuals or groups.  Nice.

SALE PRICES  BOOK, $11.00; GUIDE, $6.99

Jesus_for_President.jpgJesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw (Zondervan) $16.99  This is a passionately written book, with full-color, crazy-wild artwork and graphics on every page, inviting us to think Biblically about the revolutionary nature of Christ's community, what Phil Berrigan called the "kin-dom" of God.  Black evangelical Tony Evans reminded us once that when Jesus returns he won't be riding an elephant or a donkey.  I have written about how important it is to develop a Biblical framework for thinking about politics (here) and about why we need to consider the breadth of various theological positions and postures on questions of church and state (here.)  I think James Skillen's serious book The Good of Politics is a must-read about a positive Biblical view of the state (see my review, here.) Having said all that good, balanced, reforming stuff, I also think that Shane's and Chris's feisty lament about politics as usual and their call to take Jesus seriously is a very, very valuable voice and this book is well worth reading. It is a captivating book and a great bargain. I recommend it and at this price, it's great.  SALE PRICE  $11.50

The Irresistible Revolution- Living as an Ordinary Radical .jpgThe Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (updated & revised) Shane Claiborne (Zondervan) $16.99  I loved this book when it came out and promoted it, despite a few small misgivings -- surely we aren't all called to this spartan and prophetic life, are we? But I loved it, and many younger folks resonated as it introduced new generations to a sort of faith lived out by Mother Theresa and Phil Berrigan and Saint Francis and Martin Luther King, Jr and John Perkins and others. This new edition is considerably updated and unlike many books that are only mildly "revised" this really does offer a lot of new content. And what is cool -- leave it to Shane and his peeps to think of this -- the new stuff is printed in a slightly darker brown ink, so you can see his additions and new portions. This is well worth reading, even if it isn't fully your cup of herb tea.  We're tickled to have a bunch and are willing to sell 'em cheap. SALE PRICE $11.50

 Executing Grace- How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us .jpgBy the way, we are taking PRE-ORDERS for his forthcoming book Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us (HarperOne; $17.99) Due in early June 2016. Pre-order now and get better than 30% off.  SALE PRICE $12.50

America's Original Sin.jpgAmerica's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America Jim Wallis (Baker) $21.99  Do I really have to remind you that this is a very, very important book?  Agree or not with all Jim has said and done over the last 40 some years of working with Sojourners, there is no doubt that he has earned the right to speak into this complicated matter of race, white privilege, civil rights, justice and reconciliation. I am sad we haven't sold more of this, so we want to offer you this great discount. It would make a good book club book. SALE PRICE $15.00

Reconciling All Things- A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing.gifReconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice (IVP) $16.00  I tell people about this often, the first in the series on various aspects of reconciliation put out by the Duke Center on Reconciliation.  I love this book, about how we should understand and join God's redemptive work in the world, though Christ, the great reconciler. What does it mean that Ephesians 1:10 says God is "summing up" all things in Christ?  What does it mean that Colossians 1 insists that Christ is "reconciling all things" to Himself? What does it look like to take up the mandate given in 2 Corinthians of "the ministry of reconciliation"?  This book is an important, lively little volume that will expand your vision, inflame your heart, and lead you to better ways to live out your faith. Highly recommended. SALE PRICE $11.20

Delivered from the Elements of the World.jpgDelivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission Peter Leithart (IVP Academic) $30.00  This is a major new work by a very significant  and hard-to-peg theological voice. (Jamie Smith called it "a monumental achievement.")  We will be with Leithart at the Mercersburg Society conference in Lancaster this summer (June 6-8, 2016) and if you going you may want to read this first. It will be a tad daunting for some -- uh, make that most  -- of us, but at this discounted price, it's a good one to pick up.  Listen to these endorsements, that I shared before when we announced this previously at BookNotes:  

"Peter Leithart is one of our best and most creative theologians. In this wide-ranging book Leithart shows that doctrine is not some abstract entity disconnected from contemporary life but is in fact deeply relevant and pregnant with social and political insights. Leithart is biblically, theologically and culturally literate a rare combination and thus able to produce the sort of work we so badly need today. Attending to the doctrines of the atonement and justification, he writes in the best tradition of apologetics, namely that of creative, orthodox, contextual theology." Craig Bartholomew, professor of philosophy and religion and theology, Redeemer University College

"Among contemporary theologians, only Leithart has the biblical erudition, theological breadth and rhetorical power necessary for writing a book like this one. His Christian creativity and love for Jesus Christ jump off the page. As an account of atonement, this book is also an account of the entirety of Christian reality, and indeed of the reality of Israel as well, in light of pagan and secular cultures and in light of the church's own failures to live what Christ has given. At its heart is an urgent call for all Christians, living in the Spirit, to share the Eucharist together against every fleshly barrier and Spirit-less form of exclusion. Leithart's dazzling biblical and ecumenical manifesto merits the closest attention and engagement." Matthew Levering, Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"When you read Peter Leithart, you suddenly realize how timid most Christian theologians are, tepidly offering us a few 'insights' to edify our comfort with the status quo. Leithart is like a lightning strike from a more ancient, more courageous Christian past, his flaming pen fueled by biblical acuity and scholarly rigor. In this book, he does it again here is the City of God written afresh for our age, asking a question you didn't know to ask but now can't avoid: Why is the cross the center of human history? Couldn't God have found another way? Leithart's answer this book is a monumental achievement." James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College, editor, Comment magazine

SALE PRICE $21.00 

How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth.jpgHow to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth Christopher J.H. Wright (Zondervan) $18.99  The "for all its worth" series has been a standard seller for us in evangelical circles and we still think How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stewart, is one of the very best introductions to how to read the Bible well that we know.  Chris Wright is a brilliant and clear and progressive evangelical who gets how the Older Testament is part of a broader big story of God's covenant with the creation and has done both scholarly and thoughtful, popular-level stuff on reading the Old Testament well, especially learning to wisely apply its principles of social ethics and public justice and its communal, missional vision.  This one is brand new, looks great, and I wanted to move a few of these out right away.  SALE PRICE $13.30

Night Driving- A Story of Faith in the Dark .jpgNight Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark Addie Zierman (Convergent Books) $14.99 I wrote a little about this the week it released in a BookNotes column not long ago naming a handful of books that capture the searching, seeking, passionate desire for authentic faith among younger post-fundamentalist young adults. Addie is a heck of a great writer, and her road trip memoir telling about her own journey to recover faith in the midst of doubt -- the title is so good, isn't it? -- is provocative and thoughtful and fun.  What a read!  You should get this now and savor it this summer. SALE PRICE $10.49

soul of shame.jpgSoul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves Curt Thompson, MD (IVP) $22.00  We named this as one of the Best Books of 2015 and it has been one of our best sellers this year; we take it almost every where we go and have wonderful conversations about it. We're sitting on a big box, though - I double ordered them inadvertently, I think - so wanna blow some out at this cheap price.  Remarkable Biblical insight by a working psychiatrist who is particularly knowledgeably about neuroscience and a good friend of Hearts & Minds --- you should know this book!  I hope you read my long review last year, which is still archived at the H&M website.  SALE PRICE $15.40

overplayed.jpgOverplayed: A Parents Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports David King & Margot Starbuck (Herald Press) $15.99  At almost any church gathering we attend, there is this subtext, this elephant in the room, of how busy everyone is and how commitments to the local congregation are less then they might be, and certainly less then they used to be. There are many reasons for this, of course, but parents involvement in youth activities -- and supremely, youth sports -- is a major factor in dis-ease and frustration among church leaders.  How has this happened? Why is is seemingly so out of control?  And is it healthy, not only for the broader social fabric and the work of the church, but for kids themselves? Is sports even fun any more? Can parents possibly enhance the life of play and joy of their athletic kids without overdoing it?  The very title of this book, Overplayed, like the writing itself, is spot on.  David King is Director of Athletics of Eastern Mennonite University and has thought and taught about this for years; he had coached at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, too, so this isn't an anti-sports screed.  Ms. Margot Starbuck, I hope you know, is a great, energetic, and witty writer and a theologian and author herself (even as she is a mom of three kids.) Together, they have gifted us with a book unmatched and exceptionally important. My fear is that some church leaders, and many parents, are simply afraid to tackle this huge issue. Can you help us spread the word about it? This great book invites us to make youth sports about the kids; as one reviewer put it, "Every page of this book screams common sense." On this topic, in these days, though, that's challenging and almost prophetic. I do hope Overplayed: A Parents Guide... gets picked up and read, discussed and applied. It will be good for our kids,  good for our families, and good for our culture. Yeah!  SALE PRICE $11.20

Sabbath As Resistance- Saying No to the Culture of Now.jpgSabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now  Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox Press) $14.00 You know that we love Walt's profound, eloquent, sometimes dense and sometimes provocative Bible preaching based on his literary and political readings of mostly Hebrew texts. He's at his best in deconstructing the idols of the age and showing how a Bible-based prophetic imagination is created among those gathered around these ancient texts, giving them fresh energy for counter-cultural witness. Sabbath practices seen as a witness against and alternative to the (Pharaoh-like) consumerist ideology has been a stock theme for Brueggemann for decades and this brilliant little book is his clearest, most helpful explication of this stuff.  Read it at your own risk.  SALE PRICE $9.80

How-Jesus-Saves-the-World-from-Us.jpgHow Jesus Saves the World From Us Morgan Guyton (Westminster/John Knox Press) $16.00  I thought this edgy call to reject toxic faith and narrow dogma and to embrace a grace-filled, Christ-centered freedom from stupid forms of religion would really resonate with many; did you see my announcement of it, here?  Maybe it is for those once wounded by hard-edged, fundamentalist faiths, or those who want to be challenged to think differently about how faith can be embodied in our postmodern age, or especially for those who want to reach out to the "nones" and the de-churched,  but at any rate, we've got a bunch, and think is could be a lot of fun to read together. Guyton makes the case (drawing particularly from Jesus's own conflicts with the religious authorities of his own day) that what many Christians need saved from is the toxic understanding of salvation we've received through bad theology. Whew! A good one to generate healthy discussion in your next small group or adult forum.

Listen to this nice endorsement from Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell to Mars:

Morgan Guyton is helping heal a Christianity that has become infected with the pathogens of American culture. As Morgan prescribes antidotes for a toxic Christianity, he does so with keen insight and crisp writing. More importantly, Morgan does all of this with the grace and humility of one who genuinely loves the church and longs for her well-being. I am grateful for Morgan Guyton's important and timely voice.  

SALE PRICE $ 11.20

how not to be secular.jpgHow (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor James K.A. Smith (Eerdmans) $16.00  I sure hope you recall my major review of this when it first came out two years ago (still archived at our website, here.) We even hosted Jamie lecturing about this, in fact, at our annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture a few years back.  Tim Keller has a great chapter on this in his useful little book Preaching and I agree with him that anyone who wants to deeply understand the culture in which we live here in late modernity and communicate well within it should grapple with what Smith teaches us about the insights of Charles Taylor. Taylor is way to hard for most of us, and Smith's book is still demanding, but well worth the work. Glad we can offer a few at this deep discount.  SALE PRICE $11.20

new heavens and new earth.jpgNew Heavens and New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99  Again, this is a book I lug everywhere we go, and we are happy see a few stalwart souls who care about the Bible's teaching about God's restoration of all things, and how being "surprised by hope" really matters that they are willing to tackle this tome.  I was proud of the long review I did back at BookNotes in late 2014, and am glad to tell you about it again. This is the most important Biblical study on this topic I have ever read and commend it to you.  It's a big book so this is a great bargain.               SALE PRICE $18.89

Consider Your Calling- Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation.jpgConsider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $16.00 Gordon Smith is a remarkable person, a gentle soul, a serious scholar, and a writer who has written exceptional books on spiritual formation.  Maybe a bit deeper then Gary Thomas and maybe a bit more lively than Dallas Willard, he is a CM&A pastor with great fluency in the Catholic mystics and ancient contemplatives. He's a bit like Foster, although maybe a tad more overtly Protestant.  Anyway, he wrote a serious, good book called Courage and Calling which helped readers think about vocation and discernment, inviting us to contemplative practices in order to think about what our true callings are.  This is more of that kind of thing, short, sweet, practical, wise. I say it is "no-nonsense" in that he doesn't strive to be chatty or witty and doesn't win us over with passionate stories of world-changing. Reading Consider Your Calling is like having a good conversation with a prayerful, wise and calm elder.  SALE PRICE $11.20

Your Vocational Credo- Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose.jpgYour Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose Deborah Koehn Loyd  (IVP) $16.00 So: this is so interesting to me, that IVP - still the publisher I respect as much as any - has given us two books in the same season about the same thing, discerning vocation. This lively one is different than the Consider Your Calling by Gordon Smith (see above) because (a) it is longer, (b) it is more fun to read as it is clever and witty and full of stories, and (c) it offers a bit more detailed suggestions for self-reflection and assessments of one's own credo and one's own dreams.  If Smith is calm and clear with six contemplative practices to guide one's discernment, this is an energetic ride with tons of cool and inspiring ideas. SALE PRICE $11.20

Justice Calling Where Passion Meets P.jpgThe Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance Bethany Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson (Baker) $19.99  I have said that this may be the best book I've read in a long time on the topic of justice in the Bible and what it means to develop the habits of heart to be patient and persistent and spiritually mature enough to stand up and be involved in working for the repair of the world in God's own way.   Very, very highly recommended.  If you think you've read enough on this, I implore you - read just one more, this one!  If you haven't tackled this topic yet by doing a good study, there are easier and simpler ones, but The Justice Calling is surely one of the few that will be enduring, and a must for your library. SALE PRICE $13.99

The Dusty Ones- Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith.jpgThe Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith A.J. Swoboda (Baker) $15.99  I have pushed this everywhere I go and have noticed that many are deeply touched by considering it - standing around a book table at a conference is the perfect venue to hear people's reactions to titles and subtitles, as I quip about this and listen to that or maybe read a short excerpt of on or another. Despite the fascinating, nonetheless, this hasn't sold as well for us as I had expected. (Is the the cover, maybe?) It is one of those books that, oddly, people are may be afraid of.  I trust BookNotes readers are not afraid of asking questions, of honoring our fears and doubts and anxieties, and wouldn't mind exploring these themes.  Maybe you say my rave review of The Dusty Ones back in the early days of Lent. You know how that famous line from the poem goes: there is an end to our exploring. So we embrace wandering.  Or is it wondering?  Do you wonder as you wander? I love this book, I love this author, and we are pleased to offer it here at a great, extra discount.  Check it out! SALE PRICE $11.00

Renaissance -  Os Guinness.jpgRenaissance: The Power of the Gospel Not Matter How Dark the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  I wish my friends in mainline denominational churches knew Guinness's impressive body of work, and I wish all sorts of congregational leaders and Christian folk took up this very impressive book. Agree or not, it is simply a must-read!  There has been much made in recent years -- thanks be to God! -- of the church's renewed commitment to society, both to fight for social justice and human rights and to more generally be a formative influence in the social ethos of the culture. From edgy evangelicals to thoughtful liberals, from First Things to Sojourners to The Behemoth, everybody wants to think about faith and society, and many disagree about methods and postures for living for the life of the world. The 2010 Oxford University Press book by James Davison Hunter, To Change the World, caused much conversation and in some ways, this is Guinness' contribution to this conversation, as urgent now as ever. He is sober at times, eager to see Christ honored as Lord by God's people, and knows well that we must work this out within our secularizing, pluralistic society.  Complex and hard as things are, Os is upbeat because he believes that God is God and impossible people.jpgthat renewal is always a possibility. Do you need to think a bit more carefully about cultural engagement, and what hope looks like? Do you want a very thoughtful, learned, but heartfelt call to refuse the easier way of cynicism or culture war anger? Do you want a spiritually warm and intellectually solid basis for trusting God even as we work?  Very, very highly recommended.  SALE PRICE $11.20

By the way, Dr. Guinness has a new one coming this summer called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Soul of Civilization (IVP; $20.00) which you could pre-order now and get the 30% off if you do so before the end of the day May 10th. I will be making much of it, I'm sure, once it comes out.  

Gracism- The Art of Inclusion.jpgGracism: The Art of Inclusion David A. Anderson (IVP) $16.00 We have more books on racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry probably than we will ever sell but someday in the distant future when somebody looks over our huge inventory of these books, they'll know this was a principle passion of ours. I think this is a wonderful book, clever, honest, balanced, fair-minded, and a useful guide to these heavy conversations, conversations that are needed, and the need for which is not going to go away. The author is a black pastor of a racially diverse church, Biblical, refreshing in candor and hope. Replace racism with gracism - get it?  Very nicely done. On extra sale now, for this limited time offer. Please? SALE PRICE $11.00

Sacred Sense- Discovering the Wonder of God's Word and World.jpgSacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God's Word and World William P. Brown (Eerdmans) $22.00 Brown is arguably one of the wider churches best Bible guys, and his speciality is wisdom literature. In this, he is offering a rambling handful of various sorts of essays, wonderful stuff to dip into and to savor. It is, as Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School says, "eye-opening and occasionally jaw-dropping." Steven Bouma-Prediger of Hope College says it is "serious and funny, full of deep insights written in sparkling prose... a timely exploration of wonder in the Bible and in the world."  Even the nature writer and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams chimes in, saying "Bill Brown is my kind of theologian -- smart, provocative, surprising; a visionary with both soul and wit. He reminds me of the power of story as he translate sacred texts into a collective prayer for our future."  SALE PRICE $15.40

The Big Story- How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life Justin Buzzard.jpgThe Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life Justin Buzzard (Moody Collective) $13.99 Buzzard is a young pastor in a new church in the Silicon Valley, and has written before. (He helped with the excellent Why Cities Matter, published by Crossway.) I have highlighted this great book from time to time -- I even recommended it from the main stage at Jubilee last year in front of 3000 college students, which might show how seriously I believe in this book.  Could you explain the story of your life to a stranger? Do you have a sense of what story shapes you and your unfolding life? What about the Bible -- might it provide the contours of a storyline, a plot that gives meaning to daily living? Biblical Christianity, Buzzard says, offers "a story that's big enough to make sense of both the beauty and the brokenness in our lives and in our world." This is at once a lively, relevant overview of the Bible, and, in a way, an invitation to the forward movement that comes when one embraces Christian faith. A great gift for a young adult, especially, I think.  There's a nice blurb on the back by Sally Lloyd-Jones. On sale now, while supplies last. SALE PRICE $9.79




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April 21, 2016

Give my book as a gift to college graduates or other young adults - "Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life" ON SALE NOW

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.95 


1 - 4 = 10% off

5 or more = 20% off

If you are a new reader of BookNotes, you may not know this: I released a book a year ago, which I edited, called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your LifeSome people had been encouraging me to write and publish, although creating these on-line BookNotes reviews and regularly dispatching them into the world is more than enough for me to do each week. But when I got inspired to put this book together - Beth and I cooked up the project ourselves, with encouragement from the team at Square Halo Books - I pulled it together between our conference book displays, road trips and speaking engagements, and the day to day work in the shop. Our good staff here kept 234 East Main Street humming along and I put myself to pulling together a book of short essays, discussion questions, and a big 'ol introduction by yours truly.

You can read all about Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life in a typically energetic BookNotes review here where we first announced and celebrated it last Spring.

Byron at podium at Geneva.jpgHere's the gist: two years ago I was asked to deliver a commencement speech to the graduate schools of a Christian college in Western Pennsylvania. They awarded me an honorary doctorate which embarrassed me and gave me a shot at pouring my heart out about the impact of higher education on a young Christian life, and how to move out into the world, integrating what was learned and how one will live in the world.  The talk went well and a number of people wanted the transcript of my speech inviting students into a life based on 1 Chronicles 12:32 -- becoming sons and daughters of Issachar who "understood the times and knew what God's people should do." My passionate call to the gathered young adults to be prepared to suffer for the sake of God's reign, to understand our cultural moment and context in order to their use careers and callings (and the legacy of their particular college education in that storied place) for the sake of the common good, to use the tools of having been taught to think deeply and love well seemed to resonate and I was happy that a few people wanted copies. 

One person said it sounded like a keynote speech from the collegiate-oriented Jubilee conference, which, of course, I took as a great compliment.

A few weeks later Beth and I were very deeply moved watching the commencement speech given by Claudia Beversluis, then the Provost at Calvin College - which drew on a poem by Wendell Berry and beautifully described her hopes that students will draw deeply on their four years at college to serve the world well. I realized that that beautiful, generative speech should be printed and widely read. (You can watch it here, starting at 1 hour in.) That very moment, with tears welling up in my eyes, I sensed God's prompting to find and edit and publish a handful of similarly inspiring speeches that we could make into a handsome little gift book for college graduates. 

As a bookseller and book lover and one who promotes the writings of others, I must say it was a very strange and glorious day when we unpacked the box, here at the shop as we usually do, but realized it was a case of my own little volume. Our staff treated it like the special moment it was, and we even got a cake to celebrate.  That was exactly one year ago.

My Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life is that book, firstly designed for college graduates, but also good for any twenty-something. This past year people have given it to any number of people in all walks of life. But it really was created for graduates entering the workforce or wondering what comes next as they move into the world as young adults.

And how nice it has been to autograph them, inviting readers to dream God's dreams as I get to personalize each one.

serious dreams copies fanned.jpgWe wanted the book to be short but nicely designed (and oh what fun it was working with Ned Bustard, a graphic designer who manages Square Halo Books, known for beautiful design touches in all their artful books) but with a touch of whimsy, inviting for younger readers.

Ideally, it would be given as a little gift by churches, mentors, parents, friends or campus ministry organizations that have cared about the student over the years. 

(If your church doesn't honor its college grads, you might take this up as an urgent project in the next week or so!)

 Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life is compact, nice to hold with a bit of a matte feel and paper with a slight creamy look. The occasional illustrations of leaves and acorns throughout allude to the cover art of mighty oak trees.  Okay, maybe that's hoping a bit much, but we do think that reading serious Christian reflections about the transition out of higher education and into the world of work and public service will help young adults find their way, see their life (their whole life, every square inch of it) as the theater of God's work.  There are heady tomes about linking the gospel to vocation and God's grace to missional visions of the Kingdom coming. There are self-help books Christian and otherwise helping people learn to become all they were meant to be. This little book is meaty and mercifully brief, beautifully written and yet down to Earth. We think there is nothing quite like it, making it a very good choice for young adult readers.

We just edited a second edition, correcting typos and computer glitches and switched around a few grammatical quandaries that worked well when the speeches were first given, live, but that we needed to improve a bit for the printed page. We tried to retain the energetic tone of the speeches, given live as they were to real audiences, but needed to tidy it up a bit to make it better as a book.  My own was a bit tricky to edit since, well, let's just say there was a lot to work on.  Ha.

I owe a real debt of thanks to the authors who presented the talks captured in this little book. I am very, very grateful for their generosity in allowing me to edit their pieces for publication.  I know personally almost every one of these authors/leaders and have studied all their work for years; in a way I have told some people that Serious Dreams is a Hearts & Minds primer. These are authors that mean a lot to me, and whose "visions of vocation" and whose own serious dreams shaped my own.  If you appreciate anything about our work here at the shop or the book displays we do at events or if you find our BookNotes reviews somehow helpful, I think you'll like reading this curated collection of chapters, whether you are a recent graduate or not.

I hate to sound pushy, but the little indie publishing house that did such a nice job creating this for us doesn't have much of a budget for publicity.  We've got no PR firms or agents or marketeers. I am counting on Hearts & Minds fans and friends to help us get the word out.  I'm asking you to consider buying a few of these and spreading the news. (Is there an indie bookstore in your community that might want to stock a few yet this Spring?)  I think you won't be disappointed, and I am confident that those young adults who read it will be shaped, perhaps decisively, to think and care more faithfully about their own lives, their dreams, their passions and their vocations.

Here are the titles of the chapters and the names of the great speakers who delivered them:

Live Well, Be True, Do Good an Introduction by Byron Borger

In this introduction I frame the messages in the book, and remind young adults that starting small and living locally with an attentive sense of place, is a fine, good thing. We actually don't have to change the world.  "Small things with great love" Mother Teresa once said. I have been deeply gratified to hear back from some readers who found this chapter particularly helpful, especially as they face less than inspiring circumstances. It's going to be all right...

What It's All About by Richard J. Mouw

Rich Mouw is a prolific author and hero to many who want to "think Christianly" and relate evangelical faith to public life in civil, fruitful ways. This nice chapter reminds young grads to remember that which they've learned in their college years and live it out in the real world, for the glory of Christ. It is basic, clear, and delightfully compelling. Mouw is a Kuyper scholar and past President of Fuller Theological Seminary and this is a very nice opening chapter. 

You Need Two Eyes by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Arguably one of the preeminent philosophers working in the world today, this very helpful chapter powerfully reminds us that we need both competence and compassion, Christian excellence in thinking well and the virtue of caring for the hurting. I have read this a dozen times and it still inspires me. One reader wrote and said this chapter alone was well worth the price of the book!

Rejoicing Your Community by Amy L. Sherman

Ms Sherman delivered this very upbeat and inspiring talk drawing upon insights from her excellent book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.  This chapter invites us to the many implications of Proverbs 11:10 which reminds us that faithfulness to God must be connected to service of the community, responding to the needs of the hurting world. Her longer book -- or even this great little chapter -- if taken seriously, could change how we think about our own work, and could truly transform our part of the world! 

The Memory in the Seed by Claudia Beversluis 

I noted that this was the speech, delivered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, that so moved Beth and I to compile this book and have this chapter be a centerpiece. (Talk about a bold idea - I can't believe we actually pulled it off!) Claudia's use of the Wendell Berry poem is itself beautiful, and the call to long-term, whole-life, culturally transforming discipleship is priceless.  The world needs you she said, and she is right. Do you believe it, really? Do the young adults you know believe it? How might they draw on the best visions of your past as you move with virtue and depth towards the future, God's future? What "hard earned" memories do we carry with us?

Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber

I suppose you know that Garber is one of my good, good friends, and his two books (Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good) are among my own personal favorites. He is morally serious, always eloquent, drawing here profound connections between the Biblical use of the word covenant and the sorts of work and the kind of economy we want to envision in our times. And he cites Wendell Berry and U2.  This address was delivered at Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis and although offered for those going into vocations in ministry, it is substantive and offers thoughtful words and big ideas for us all.

Three Cheers for Sons and Daughters of Issachar by Byron Borger

Here is the one where I preach about cultural relevance, personal transformation, the integration of faith and learning, the need for hearts aflame and a robust, coherent worldview, through thick and thin, bearing witness to God's ways in every area of life. I was so honored to speak about Geneva College's heritage of promoting the Kingship of Christ and how that can inspire ordinary folks to live out their faith in the rough and tumble of a post-Christian society.  And I tell about Mahalia Jackson singing to Martin Luther King, long before that great scene in Selma.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Three Roads and the Three Rs by John M. Perkins

I hope you know John Perkins, a Mississippi-born, evangelical, civil rights leader, racial reconciliation mentor, and social justice advocate who has earned a number of honorary doctorates even though he only has a third grade education.  Considered a true elder statesman by many of us, I thought early on that if I were doing a book like this, I wouldn't do it without Dr. Perkins involved. I was honored that he gave us his exceptional sermon delivered at  graduation ceremonies at Seattle Pacific University.  You may have heard or read in his many books about his vision of the 3 Rs but his "three roads" message was fully new and just fantastic. Right on -- we all need to be on those three roads:  Damascus, Emmaus and Jericho.

Launch Out, Land Well an Epilogue by Erica Young Reitz

The sermons offered in Serious Dreams are all exciting and stimulating, provocative and inspiring. I think the little discussion questions after each are helpful.  I framed the big picture, breathy messages of the book in my introduction with a more quiet call to live well in our own unique context, inviting readers to listen to their hearts and pay attention to small stuff.  I wanted one more piece in the book, though, an epilogue by a wise guide to help young adults make transitions well with some clear-headed, practical advice. Erica Young Reitz is a dear friend whose own book After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith is coming out in August 2016. Erica has done college ministry with the CCO mentoring seniors, helping them "launch out" well.  We are very glad for this practical afterword. Her suggestions are good for those leaving college or, actually, for anyone in times of change or transition.  Thanks, Erica.

Serious Dreams Facebook Timeline banner.jpg

We would be delighted to have you support our work by ordering one of my Serious Dreams books. We think the pieces are strong, and the main chapters are written by Christian leaders who are certainly some of the most important women and men writing these days. (My own pieces excluded, that is, although I am proud of both of my chapters.) Without exception the chapters are nicely written and inspiring, each offering a vision of the Christian faith as a coherent world-and-life-view, calling forth a lifetime of robust, gracious discipleship. This proposes a faith that is a way of life that is strong enough to help young people not only thrive in their transition into post-college adulthood, but to come to desire that God uses them to impact the world, in big and small ways. I believe the title captures this bold idea well: we offer very serious dreams. For the rest of your life.

Might I ask you to share this with those who might have budgets or reasons to buy gifts for the young people in your church or fellowship? It sure would be cool to get to sign a stack of these, sending them out with love and big hope. Thank you very much.

Serious Dreams cover.jpg


Serious Dreams:
Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life

(Square Halo Books) $13.99

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April 14, 2016

"Silence and Beauty" by Makoto Fujimura ON SALE NOW

We hope you enjoy this BookNotes review, and we hope you will considering ordering Silence and Beauty from us at our discounted price. The link to the Hearts & Minds bookstore order form shown below will take you to our secure order form page at our website.  We will confirm personally and ship promptly. Thank you very much.

Please see below for our special sale pricing on a pairing of Mako Fujimura's SIlence and Beauty and Shusaku Endo's SilenceWe will offer 10% off for either one bought individually but will offer 20% off if both are purchased together.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (InterVarsity Press) regularly $26.00.

Thirty five years ago when we were dreaming up the idea of our bookstore we were faced with the question of what sort of novels we would carry.  Inspirational fiction published by evangelical publishers where on the rise and they were often pretty schmaltzy. As we explained our vision of stocking books offering a wise and thoughtful Christian perspective in different career areas and academic disciplines - engineering, nursing, urban studies, sports, biology, politics, business, and the like - and resources for those working on the burning social issues of our time (racial justice, environmental stewardship, being consistently pro-life, fighting slavery and human trafficking and on and on) we had to ask ourselves: what do we do about the popularity of so-called Christian harlequins? In the days when inspiration fiction was pretty uniformly of poor quality, we wondered, what, really, is Christian fiction.  

We had read Calvin Seerveld's lively 1970s-era A Christian Critique of Art and Literature, Madeline L'Engle's Walking on Water, C.S. Lewis's On Stories, and the stimulating work of Leland Ryken and the young Luci Shaw.

And the answer was obvious: even though they may not sell well in church circles, we will stock best-selling general market books that have something artful about them and something to say -- we championed the work of Barbara Kingsolver from almost the beginning, for instance, and last year we were early fans of All The Light We Cannot See. And certainly we wanted to promote those writers who are people of faith but not in the evangelical sub-culture - from Walker Percy to Graham Greene to John Updike to Dorothy Sayers, Katherine Paterson to Susan Howatch, from books like Kristin Lavransdatter to The Memory of Old Jack to Buechner's Book of Bebb. The very first book we sold the very day we opened was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

silence old cover.jpgIt was in that stimulating era for Beth and me when we were learning so much about literature and book-selling - she loved Things Fall Apart having read Achebe in college although I still hadn't even read To Kill a Mockingbird - that we discovered what is certainly one of the great novels of the 20th century, the highly regarded, provocative, Silence by the Japanese Christian author Shusaku Endo. We had it on our shelves, I think, the day we opened, and have recommended it often to those who want a bracing, passionate, beautifully-rendered, historically-rich, religious story.

Richly multi-layered and complex, it is simple to summarize: it is about the persecution of Christians in late 17th century Japan, a brutally awful period of martyrdom in the enigmatic land of the brutal Shoguns and powerful emperors. It is not, I sometimes say, for the faint of heart. Shusaku Endo was awarded many prizes and is to this day Japan's most celebrated writer; he was on the short list for the Nobel Prize in literature.  In a way, his Silence is a perfect example of the sorts of novels we think our customers should care about.

Alongside our interest in fiction is our interest in books about a faith-based perspective on aesthetics and the arts. We are truly thrilled when we get to sell books at CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) gatherings or other such event which nurture a Christian witness among artists and within the art scene.

makoto2.jpgThis is not the place to list titles for you of our large selection of books that attempt to relate faith and art, but I need to say that one of the best voices - an author, speaker and abstract painter of considerable renown - in the last decades is Mr. Makoto Fujimura, founder of IAM (the International Arts Movement/Culture Care) and author of several vital books in this field. His first published piece was a chapter in the altogether fabulous It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God published by Square Halo Books. His writing is eloquent and thoughtful, from his lovely (and beautifully designed) Refractions to the remarkable Square Halo Book release called Soliloquies showing how his work compares and contrasts with rare Georges Rouault pieces.  Mako, as he is endearingly called by his friends, contributed to a lavish art book we are honored to stock called Qua4tets, a collaboration with another painter, a writer, and a musician, culture care cover.jpgRefractions_coverE-380x570.jpgreflecting on T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. And he has a very moving chapter in a coffee table book about Japanese print-maker Sadao Wantanabe called Beauty Given By Grace.

In 2011 his illuminated gospels The Four Holy Gospels (ESV) were released to much acclaim, the first time that a Bible was hand illustrated with modern art. We stock the hardback version of this, too. (Watch a gorgeous and interesting 8 minute film about it, here.)

The handsomely crafted 2015 paperback, Culture Care, is Mako's recent manifesto for why Christians and other people of good faith should steward well the generative gifts that help culture flourish; it is impressive and important.  I've told customers that his Culture Care is a great book to follow up a showing of the spectacular For the Life of the World DVDs or to further explore the insights of Andy Crouch's wonderful Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.

silence and beauty.jpgMr. Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist who came to Christian faith while studying as a National Scholar in Japan. Some of Mako's own story -- he worked with some very important Japanese artists, studied some of the best thinkers of the East, was met by thoughtful Christian people there -- is told nicely in his stunning, significant new book, richly designed (with a beautiful translucent dust jacket) by the book artisans at IVP, called Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering.

Mr. Fujimura's telling of his conversion to Christianity is interwoven with his journey to his parent's ancestral homeland to formally study (the first non-native to do so) a very old Japanese style of art-making called nihonga. You can read for yourself how art and beauty, Asian worldviews and Western, gospel grace and good people conspired to draw Mako into the Kingdom of Christ, but, as is no surprise, those who took his questions and seeking heart seriously also affirmed his great talent and dedication to becoming a serious nihonga artist. Curiously, he didn't use this complex style (which includes grinding precious metals into the paste-like paint - pulverization he calls it) in the traditional Japanese way, but, rather applied the intricate method to Western abstract impressionism.

bowl_makoto_fujimura.jpgAfter his study in Japan and conversion to Christian faith, Mako, who had studied in Pennsylvania at Bucknell University (from where, interestingly, his friend Tim Keller also graduated), practiced his craft, created increasingly popular and respected nihonga paintings, becoming known within the serious art scene in Manhattan. He was encouraged by patrons and reviewers and critics.  I met him in those years PTS_Poster_2015_0413Noon.jpgunder a small tent as he gave a powerful talk about faith and the arts at an edgy Christian rock festival in Lancaster; now he lectures before large, prominent crowds, has earned an honorary doctorate, and leads conversations about his work at some of the finest galleries in North America, Europe and Asia.

And -- get this -- recently Mako has served as a conversation partner and consultant for Martin Scorsese as the world-renowned film-maker was shooting his forthcoming movie based on Endo's classic novel.  Mako tells us that Scorsese has thought about making this film for over 30 years and intends it to be one of his "life works." 

As Mr. Fujimura explains in the brand new Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, he traveled back to Nagasaki (the location of the novel) and to a place called Martyrs Hill; his discoveries and reflections there were soul-shaking.  As a traumatized survivor of Ground Zero on 9-11, Mako often writes about the power of art to confront injustice and to help us heal from social dislocation, hurt, grief. (Indeed, after 9-11 he helped create a public art space in lower Manhattan for just this purpose which he describes movingly in his first book, Refractions.) Civilians in Japan have been the targeted victims of two atomic bomb attacks (the steeple of the largest church in Japan was the targeted Ground Zero for the second nuclear attack, a few days after Hiroshima) so it may be that they have much to teach us about grief and loss and resilience. Can beauty and goodness overcome such evil? Does the pulverization of rich minerals into refracting color perhaps speak to those who have themselves felt crushed?

I will not try to explain the many strains of thinking in this extraordinary book, but can assure you that it deeply explores several profound issues, topics and themes.  Theodicy, as it is abstractly called, is certainly central.  As Mako notes that reading Silence was "an excruciating experience." He says that Endo produces "art of perseverance" and is a "novelist of pain." 

He continues,

I deal with uneasy questions in this book. Not all of them will be answered satisfactorily, but they do open up a larger set of questions about faith, betrayal, and the question of evil and suffering, which theologians call "theodicy."

In thinking about Mr. Endo's own physical pain and medical issues and his hospitalization while a student in France - alongside his existential and spiritual struggles - Fujimura compares him to Flannery O'Connor (who was pained with lupus.)  Mako makes this fascinating evaluation: 

As I pondered Endo's writings, it became clear to me over and over where Endo found his language: in the precision of the diagnostic terms of medicine and in the vulnerability of the experience of trauma. Endo must have experience the clear, concise communication of medical terms that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers, and he experienced trauma as a universal language that can connect cultures. Vulnerability and awareness of physical limitations lead to short, compressed, anguished expression in O'Connor's memorable, violent short stories, but reading Endo's work is like being tortured with slow drips of precise poison, but with a certain compassion...

silence endo new cover.jpgIt would be helpful to read Silence (recently re-issued in a colorful new cover, with a new foreword by Mr. Scorsese, most likely to tie in with the film which will come out late this year) as you read Mako's reflections in Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith...  There is a helpful chapter by chapter summary in an appendix in the back of Silence and Beauty.

It is at least good to know that at the heart of the historical reality that Endo is writing about in his compelling novel is the practice of forcing Christians - Portuguese missionaries and their Japanese converts - to stomp on and deface pictures of Christ (or Mary) essentially forcing apostasy and demoralizing their fellow believers. There are many of these fumi-e pictures on display yet today in Japan (also at Nagasaki), their edges worn and dirty from thousands of feet stomping them in acts of betrayal and desperation.

Endo seeing one of these antique fumi-e for the first time -- carrying the freight of past torture and repression and religious anguish -- moved him deeply and his subsequent writings galvanized him into a leader among the post-war intellectuals in Japan. (When Silence was released in Japan in 1966 it created remarkable controversy and Japan's minority Christian community was appalled by its graphic depictions; the similarities with the 1980's culture-war opposition to Mr. Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ is not missed by Fujimura.) 

Mako writes, powerfully,

In the worn-smooth face of fumi-e, and the disappearing face of Christ, Endo found resonance. He found perspective on his confounding question. Endo's writing does not answer the questions about suffering but it expresses empathy for those who cannot speak or write. Endo found his calling was to speak for them. In exploring the denial of faith, and faith that is hidden from the overwhelming pressure of culture, he opened up a path to probe the mystery of existence.

Silence and Beauty is not all about the hiddenness of God, the mysteries of pain, or the struggles with martyrdom and persecution - although, in the age of ISIS and the I Am N movement, this Japanese novel may be just what we need. Philip Yancey says as much in a brilliant, wonderfully lengthy opening foreword. (I have read Yancey's chapter twice and found it extraordinary both times.)

Neither is Silence and Beauty only a thoughtful engagement of Endo's Silence but it is more -- it shares Mako's own story of reflecting deeply on how art and beauty can help us (what is the word - cope?) with the world as it is. It about faith and creativity, about literature and art and God's goodness.

As Gregory Wolfe, editor of the prestigious religious literary journal, Image, writes, "Above all, Fujimura enables us to sense that grace can live - and inspire new life - even in the midst of suffering."

Or, as Thomas John Hastings, a research fellow of the Kagawa Archives and former theology professor at Tokyo Union Theological Seminary says, "...his layering of Ground Zero themes functions like a Rembrandt primer out of which a sublime beauty and grace emerges."

Beauty and grace.  Indeed.

silence and beauty.jpgThere is much about Japan and Japanese culture here - including what Mako calls "fumi-e culture" - and much about his own journey with "the ambiguous." Perhaps you, too, struggle with ambiguity, hiddenness, deep questions and considerable doubt. This book can help.  His chapter "The Redemption of Father Rodrigues" moves from The Silence to other great themes and is full of insight. His powerful penultimate chapter is "The Aroma: Towards an Antidote to Trauma."  What a phrase!

There is a centerpiece section inserted on glossy paper in Silence and Beauty nicely showing full color reproductions of several important paintings about which Mako writes. In a nod to "The Great Wave of Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai (you've surely seen it and will recognize it as it is shown) he has a brilliant chapter called "Mission Beyond the Waves." The final paragraph, summarizing this complex journey towards appreciating the Japanese insights about beauty and silence, and silence and beauty, and silent beauty, is stunning. In those closing pages Mako offers lovely, mature, deeply spiritual hope that can benefit us all. 

In case I have suggested to you that this book is too arcane for most readers either intellectually (citing the likes of Kierkegaard and David Bentley Hart and numerous Japanese scholars and historians) or emotionally (with its description of jarring scenes of brutality and the darker themes of God's hiddenness) I want to invite you to reconsider. Yes, this is an intense book, but it is a beautiful book and a very engaging one. Mako cites J.R.R. Tolkien, which is always nice, and has a big section on Anne of Green Gables. He mentions Jane Eyre and even Star Wars.

Here is a beautifully filmed very short feature about Makoto's work and his new book. There are moments when I sense that Mako is struggling for words to put to this profound, terrifyingly beautiful project.  I hope you watch it -- it's very well done.

'Silence and Beauty' by Makoto Fujimura from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

From his red barn studio and Institute in Princeton to his recent position at the important Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, informed by his considerable knowledge of modern American artists (Rothko, Pollock) to his first hand experiences in the Japanese art world, from moving words about Japanese saints to courage gathered from Martin Luther King, Jr., this new book will bless you with an extravagant learning experience.  It will move you to consider deeply the role of the arts in our lives, and, more, the curiously generative relationship of silence and beauty, of mystery and faith, of pain and hope, of sin and redemption. Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is very nicely made, majestic, grand -- a truly remarkable book, a book excellent for our times.  

It would be our great pleasure to send both books to you. 

Mako Fujimura's Silence and Beauty  AND  Shasako Endo's novel Silence.


Buy either one at a 10% discount.

Silence and Beauty regularly $26.00 -- at 10% off, sale price = $23.40                                           Silence regularly $16.00 -- at 10% off, sale price = $14.40


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Buy both together and save: package deal = $33.60



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April 10, 2016


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Let me just get something off my chest, for starters, so you understand.

I know I am not alone in admitting that I have had, and continue to have, great concerns -- in today's parlance, issues  -- with the history, legacy, reputation, and behavior of what might generally be called "the church."  

Christianity as a religion has brought many, many great blessings to the world, even as some representatives of the church have done great, great evil. There's all manner of contemporary nastiness and rigid sorts of dogmatism and graceless legalism; we seem to know more about the unsavory stuff that happens in churches and denominations these days, and it often isn't pretty.  Only a fool would deny it. Throw in the unfortunate experience of many who find within the church a general lifelessness, an apathy about the world at large, and a lackluster practice of the faith's demands and, well, it's no wonder there are books like Lyons & Kinnaman's Unchristian that offers data about how unchurched younger adults report that the first things they think of when thinking about Christians are, well, not particularly good. 

Coming of age spiritual memoirs, testimonials of faith and doubt, have long been a staple of religious literature. I must restrain myself from a tangent here, but you know there are wonderfully-written books telling of writers who have been attracted to or departed faith. We have a lot of wonderful books in our memoir section here at the store;. They used to be more about coming to faith rather than the occasional story of leaving the fold; now it seems almost the other way around. 

once upon a time you had it all sorted out.jpgI have noticed in the last several years that there is a sub-genre of this kind of book and you surely know it too; I am referring to memoirs of former fundamentalists or evangelicals who have put pen to paper to tell of their growing disillusionment with the simple certainties of their youth, their frustrations with their old churches, books telling of faith journeys that end up perhaps still Christian (sometimes robustly so) but not quite of the sort they used to be. It really is a thing, nowadays.

Many of these books are good reads, offering illumination about the paths life can take, the choices people make, the deepest things that grab or bless or hurt or shape us.  Some are funny and entertaining (see Post Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing by Reba Riley), some may be infuriating for those of us who don't quite understand why some are so turned off by a little messiness in the church. Some such stories of becoming de-churched are luminously written without any proscriptive intent (think of the stunning In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown County by Kim Barnes) while others (think of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans or Diana Butler Bass's very thoughtful Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community) are as much about their own visions for what good church should be like, with their well-told personal story the vehicle for lament, advocacy and pleas for reform.

And so, again, what I need to get off my chest: I get it. I, too, have issues, big issues, with lots of stuff within the Christian community, among high church liturgical types and low church evangelicals, among mainline denominational denominations and charismatic/Pentecostal ones. Indeed, I've spent time protesting church complicity in injustice -- how many of you have been physically carted out of a church and how many of you have lost a beloved ministry job due to offering prophetic critique (or, have, while I'm airing my dirty laundry, been fired from a Family Christian bookstore for having a bit too much integrity?) Oh yes, I've got issues.

But yet, the other thing I need to say: I sometimes grow weary of the recent, hip negativity (what one friend has termed the "valorization of exile.") And what's with these big, broadly generic accusations about "Christians" (what Christians?) "the" church (which church?) I sometimes tire a bit of all the whining blogs and expose articles, earnest and beautifully written as many of them are. I am not so sure that venting all the youthful disillusionment with evangelicalism is all that helpful -- interesting as the memoirs may be and valid as many of the concerns are -- if they tend to make cynicism and being jaded more acceptable.  As Rob Bell says in his powerful "Resurrection" video, "It's easy to be cynical."

Maybe I'm still too much of a baby boomer thinking we can change the world, or a do-gooder who thinks if you're not part of the solution your part of the problem, but I want to note that I am sometimes surprised that evangelical young adults are surprised to learn the church is messed up. Sometimes I want to poke them in the chest and say who are you kidding: we all have some screws loose, no church is perfect, many of us have been wounded by harsh religion and your Captain Obvious story is getting old. Of course religion has been dysfunctional and of course we should be wary -- haven't you heard of the Crusades or the middle ages heresy hunting or the Salem Witch trials or Westboro Baptist? (For a good dose of healthy reality please pick up Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith edited by Mae Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah.) Surely you know that many evangelicals just a handful of decades ago stood by silently while blacks were lynched by good Sunday school teachers. You are surprised that the church is sometimes awful and even on a good day, pretty messed up?

Still, I like that old saw (attributed to Augustine and used often by Dorothy Day) about how of course we know the church is a whore. But she is still our mother.  And, I'd add, that means her members are still family to me.  So watch out who you're bitching about -- those fundies, liberals, wackos, Pharisees, evangelicals, emergents, missionals, mainliners, liturgicals, mystics, Pentecostals, Calvinists, Arminians, Catholics, postmodern, legalistic, old school, new light, whoever else you don't like these days -- they're my peeps, for better or worse.

And, anyway, for every goofball bad Christian and toxic church there are two good ones, devout, lovely folks, living out their faith in good and healthy ways, quiet, sober, kind.  So the outrage I see on line sometimes makes me wonder if the aggrieved post-Christian prophets just don't get out very much.  If they did, they'd know this is true. There's a lot of quiet beauty and gospel grace out there.

Maybe it would help if we all had a bit bigger, broader view of that abstraction: the church. I'd recommend reading my favorite book on ecumenism, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church by John H. Armstrong and a few memoirs about ordinary church life, something like Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery by Richard Lischer or When "Spiritual But Not Religious" is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church by UCC pastor and very good writer, Lillian Daniel. Maybe Eugene Peterson's memoir,The Pastor.  And, although it plays to the disillusioned and jaded looking for a way out of conventional church, Nadia Bolz-Weber's Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People made me weep with how ordinary her famously edgy church is in many, many ways -- good but broken folks trying to love each other as they worship God and follow Jesus, through good outreach and lots of failings, too.  Reading these stories of local church life gives me hope.

So, having said all that...

I will list 5 recent books that capture this trend, this movement, if you will, this genre of writing that often appears as memoirs of those moving away from older certainties and towards newer understandings and expressions of Christian faith. These are voices to hear, good books to read in part because they are indicative of something going on and because -- as a bookseller, I truly believe this -- they can be helpful as you consider your own faith journey, church involvements, loyalties and convictions, doubts and fears.  Are you at peace about your own religious experiences? Disillusioned or hopeful? Have you emotionally grappled with and resolved some of the hard stuff you've encountered in your own church experience? Has your faith community discouraged asking hard questions or sharing doubt or are they safe and supportive and gracious?  Are you on the cusp of new layers of insights -- listen to your life, Fred Buechner said decades ago --  and are you working through that in a local congregation? Do your questions about the Bible itself lead you to deeper study and good conversations?  Agree or not with any of these 5 books and authors, they are notable and they offer enjoyable, engaging reading and can be useful to stimulate your own self reflection.

Next, after those 5 recommendations, I will list 5 new books of theology that, if I may be so bold, might be helpful for those asking the big questions about the meaning of faith and what it might look like to (re)consider Christian faith for our time.

That is, if one of the trends we see in these memoirs and reflective studies is a disillusionment with old ways of getting the faith described and lived, then what might a better way be? These five theology books are, in fact, mostly conventional. We need an ancient-future view, you know, not just throwing the baby out with the bath water and all that, historic stuff explained afresh. I've said it before  -- a wise teacher in art school once told students wanting to do abstract modern art that "you have to know the rules before you break them."  So I might suggest these books of fairly classic theology or faith formation to those attracted to the artful memoirs of faith and doubt written by those seeking different kinds of church experience. Before serious, life-giving re-formulation can happen, we have to know the basics. If we are pushing away from old stuff, we have to know where we've been and what direction to head. I sometimes wonder if the authors of these sorts of contemporary books narrating a theological shift had these kinds of strong resources, and were part of faith communities reading this kind of meaty, good stuff together, how their lives and faith might have worked out differently?

If you are familiar with these sort of questions and concerns, then you know what I'm talking about and you will appreciate these books, I'm sure. But if none of this seems familiar to you and you aren't a part of these kinds of conversations at all, perhaps these few titles and authors might be useful to alert you to the pain some feel about their churches and the struggles some have with conventional expressions and formulations of a faith.  Welcome....


Out of Sorts- Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.jpgOut of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith Sarah Bessey (Howard) $15.99  I very much liked Bessey's last book, Jesus Feminist and really appreciate her thoughtful, creative writing style. I think Jen Hatmaker is right when she says "Sarah Bessey manages to be poetic but accessible, prophetic but gentle, crazy smart but approachable, strong but gracious." She is in some ways a poster-child for this trend about moving beyond simple and dogmatic theological views and practices from her previous evangelical background. Like she says, her faith is evolving. In many ways, it is a lovely thing to behold.

Of this recent release Micah Boyett (author of Found) says, "Bessey writes with the fire of a preacher and the soul of a mother, critical thought without cynicism. This book is for all of us wonderers who long for Jesus and distrust easy answers."  See what I mean?

The very lovely writer Shauna Niequist mentions s "complicated dance with church and all its tentacles..." Check.  Brian Zahd (who himself has a book about his own out of sorts journey, self-published and not available to us) says that Bessey is sharing "her search for an authentic Christian faith -- a search that led her away from the church and then back home again."

Bessey's Out of Sorts is a beautiful book and the title and the subtitle itself evoke much of what it is about. Frank Viola says it is "honest, sober" and Pete Enns says it is "moving and real."  I highly recommend it and think it captures exactly what many, many, formerly evangelical young adults are thinking and feeling.  You should read it.

Night Driving- A Story of Faith in the Dark .jpgNight Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark Addie Zierman (Convergent Books) $14.99  I cannot wait to read this new one  -- I loved her very moving memoir, a quintessential example of this genre, called When We Were On Fire (which I reviewed at BookNotes and which Publishers Weekly named as one of the top five religious books of 2013.) Rachel Held Evans says, correctly, that Zierman is "a master storyteller" and, whewie, is she ever! She can turn a phrase and pull you into a scene. Having dipped in to just a few pages, I know it will be a great read. 

Here is the gist of this important new memoir: Zierman grew up with an emotionally-charged, fire-filled sort of faith that seemed so very real because one felt God's touch. But now, at age 30, she tells us, she feels nothing. "Just the darkness pressing in. Just the winter cold. Just a buzzing silence where God's voice used to be."  The organizational structure of this is a road trip -- she piles her two kids into the minivan and heads South in a last-ditch effort to find Light in the darkness. Each chapter is a different leg of the literal journey.

I love a good road trip and I love a memoir ruminating on finding faith, searching for lasting answers, meaning, hope. I think this fine writer, blogger, and speaker will deliver what I suspect is a beautifully-rendered sequel to her moving away from fundamentalism story told in When We Were on Fire. I think it is going to get a lot of attention. Enjoy.

.jpgThe Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs Peter Enns (HarperOne) $25.99  I sort of thought most people knew this by now, but apparently not: "having the right beliefs is not the same as having faith."  If one is going to ruminate on the relationship between right belief and right behavior and the good life, Enns is a good choice to lead us in pondering this. He is a top flight Old Testament scholar, and formerly taught at the exceptionally theologically conservative and doctrinally rigid Westminster Theological Seminary where he lost his job by asking questions about the doctrines of innerrency and how to handle responsible criticism of the discrepancies in ancient Biblical manuscripts that seemed out of line with their own heritage. Dr. Enns has written serious books about all that (Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament) and more popular level books about how to read the Scriptures well, such as The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. But through and behind his story of being fired for what some might think to be fairly moderate theological positions, there is this bigger question: what is the role of rational truth in Christian faith, and what is the role of orthodox doctrine? What does it mean to know? And what kind of trust (and in what?) does faith demand? The Sin of Certainty is a very readable collection of fairly short chapters with insights from Enns's own journey, his reflections on his own evolving views of the Bible and Reformed evangelicalism, and how these shifts have effected his own family, work, life, and church involvement.

Sarah Bessey says,

Enns is brilliant. This book is accessible, freeing, empowering, and beautiful. I underlined almost every page. I'm deeply thankful for Enns's work and his new book is right on time for many of us.

Brian McLaren says of The Sin of Certainty

If you're afraid that your theological questions and doubts disqualify you from being a person of faith, theologian Peter Enns has good news for you. Very good news. And it's a delightful read, too!

And there is a lot of Bible study here. Walter Brueggemann notes professor Enns's "puckish affirmation of the buoyant, sometimes outrageous, boundary-breaking capacity of biblical faith."

There are other resources for this journey -- I love books like Daniel Taylor's IVP release The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment or his novel, for that matter, published by Slant, called Death Comes for the Deconstructionist.  Enns is not alone in deconstructing certain reductionistic ways of knowing and promoting more faithful, storied ways of understanding God's authoritative revelation, and he explains how this debate about the roots of Western culture has been "festering for centuries."  Anyway, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs -- puckish as it may be -- is an important new release, part behind the scenes personal story and part seminar on thinking about church, Bible, discipleship and true faith. Fascinating.

How-Jesus-Saves-the-World-from-Us.jpgHow Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity Morgan Guyton (Abingdon) $16.00  Okay, this is less of a memoir and more of a Biblical/theological church revitalization study, and the author (a United Methodist elder and campus minister) surely doesn't intend to merely bad-mouth the church, inviting doubt and celebrating exile from institutional religion. No, he's all in.  But his take is edgy and critical. And really interestingly written, in what Diana Butler Bass says is "Powerful. Provocative. And true..." She continues, "if you've been tempted to dump Christianity, give this book the chance to convert you to the possibility of a deeper life in and with God."  

Listen to the back cover, noting not only how good and needed this is, but how it seems to capture something of this tendency these days to be critical of the church, to seek antidotes for toxic behaviors and bad attitudes.

It says,

Christianity has always been about being saved. But what Christians need saving from most today is the toxic understandings and behaviors we ourselves have been practicing! We have become precisely that Jesus came to stop us from being.

This is a book for Christians who are troubled by what we've become and who want Jesus to save us from the toxic behaviors and attitudes we've embraced.

This book with the interesting title, How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, offers ways to more faithfully participate in God's redemptive work. It reminds us that "there are many reasons to lose hope about the state of our world and our church" but invites us to not give in or give up, but to rethink faith ("poetry not math"), worship (it's "not performance"), church ("temple, not program") and service ("solidarity, not sanctimony") and live afresh into lives that are about "communion, not correctness." 

I'm sure you can see ways in which some of these slogans perhaps need not be "either/or" and how in some places, some of Guyton's accusations in the hard-hitting How Jesus Saves the World... may seem ham-fisted. But, mostly, I suspect he's right and these antidotes are not only indicative of things the Spirit is saying to us these days, but of stuff we really need to ponder.  Guyton has seen young adults drift from faith for some of these very reasons; he's obvious familiar with the data shown in UnChristian and knows about the anguish and discomfort many feel with what they know about church. This is his response.

girl and the end of the world.jpgGirl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future  Elizabeth Esther (Convergent Books) $14.95  This book came out two years ago so is not brand new, but it is such a great and moving read and such a clear example of toxic faith from which she does indeed need to escape and be healed that I wanted to list it here. She tells a very moving tale about her upbringing -- secret family plans to be "rapture ready", abusive "child training" stuff, being forced to preach fire and brimstone on street-corners as a child -- that seems bizarre to most readers. Esther journeys through what can only be called PTSD and the realization that the authoritarian religion she knew was nearly cult-like, beyond the scope of most conservative evangelicals, for sure, and simply not healthy or true.

Sarah Mae, a fine writer of books for women, whose work we appreciate, says, 

Elizabeth shares with candor, wit, and near flawless writing about the religion she was so deeply hurt by. Her story is heartbreaking, yet redemptive, and we would all do well to pay attention to how religion without the love, grace, and truth of Jesus Christ is an empty and destructive force.

I greatly appreciate Rachel Held Evans evaluation:

What a story! Girl at the End of the World is witty, insightful, courageous, and compelling, the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day. Elizabeth Esther is a master storyteller who describes her journey out of fundamentalism with a powerful mix of tenderness and guts. With this debut, Esther sets herself apart as a remarkable writer and remarkable woman. This book is a gift, and I cannot commend it enough.

It isn't a foregone conclusion in Girl at the End... nor in any of these stories, that there will be anything like renewed faith or healing or hope. Thankfully, Elizabeth Esther does experience great grace and displays even good humor in her masterful prose. We see the cowering girl who finds great awareness of God's love and a more life-giving faith.  


Pictures at a Theological Exhibition.jpgPictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church's Worship, Witness and Wisdom Kevin J. Vanhoozer (IVP Academic) $20.00  I love the look of this, the format, the metaphor, which Vanhoozer creatively plumbs throughout.   It might become -- it just came so I can't say for sure -- my favorite theology book of the year. It sure looks meaty and fun, edifying and interesting.  

I'll let Marva Dawn say it:

I have always loved Pictures at an Exhibition, but the music and the art, and now that Vanhoozer has structured his theology book according to its promenade and galleries, I will remember his descriptions and clarifications that much better. He is a meticulous explainer, so his work in tis book is very unambiguous as he reckons with many issues such as the role of a pastor interpreting a text, the affective relation doctrine and worship, and debate about cognitive enhancement. Then there is the added prevention of his artistic sermons. Don't miss this display!

One has to appreciate a book that somebody like Cornelius Plantinga says is "deeply revealing" and is written "with enormous discernment and love."

Besides this walk through the exhibition hall, teaching about applied theology ("the church's worship, witness, wisdom") there are sermons interspersed as well.  This truly is a great plus.

Listen to Fred Sanders of Biola University:

Vanhoozer has a reputation for unveiling the big picture for us, but here he devotes his considerable critical powers to a series of small ones. For fans of his earlier work, there are characteristic delights and a few surprises--not least the interspersed sermons that answer the question, 'Yes, but will it preach?' Vanhoozer's playfulness, recursions, puns and layered allusions all pay off exceptionally well in these miniature studies. And readers who have heard that Vanhoozer's theology deserves attention but have wondered where to begin studying are well advised to start with these rich and accessible essays.

One reviewer -- knowing Vanhoozer's own interest in theatre and drama -- calls this book an artful picture/play.  Still, though, it is mature, faithful, seriously orthodox theology.  Oh if only seekers and skeptics and shallow preachers alike would commit to doing this kind of good reading. We could recover what Vanhoozer calls our "discarded imagination" and recovery a theological vision that serves the church, enhances the lives of the people of God.

Delivered from the Elements of the World.jpgDelivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission Peter J. Leithart (IVP Academic) $30.00  I have got to read this big book before selling books at an event with professor Leithart at a Mercersburg Theology conference in Lancaster later this Spring. It is mature and meaty, not unlike his many other serious books. He is the president of Theopolis Institute in Birmingham, Alabama and an adjunct senior fellow at New Saint Andrews College; perhaps you read him at First Things.  His is, by all accounts, brilliant, a serious Biblical scholar who is at once utterly orthodox and yet a bit unconventional, feisty and remarkable.

I can best recommend this to you, and assure you of its importance, by offering these three breathtakingly good endorsements by three very important scholars.  Few books get this kind of acclaim:

When you read Peter Leithart, you suddenly realize how timid most Christian theologians are, tepidly offering us a few 'insights' to edify our comfort with the status quo. Leithart is like a lightning strike from a more ancient, more courageous Christian past, his flaming pen fueled by biblical acuity and scholarly rigor. In this book, he does it again--here is the City of God written afresh for our age, asking a question you didn't know to ask but now can't avoid: Why is the cross the center of human history? Couldn't God have found another way? Leithart's answer--this book--is a monumental achievement."

--James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College, editor, Comment magazine

"Among contemporary theologians, only Leithart has the biblical erudition, theological breadth and rhetorical power necessary for writing a book like this one. His Christian creativity and love for Jesus Christ jump off the page. As an account of atonement, this book is also an account of the entirety of Christian reality, and indeed of the reality of Israel as well, in light of pagan and secular cultures and in light of the church's own failures to live what Christ has given. At its heart is an urgent call for all Christians, living in the Spirit, to share the Eucharist together against every fleshly barrier and Spirit-less form of exclusion. Leithart's dazzling biblical and ecumenical manifesto merits the closest attention and engagement."

--Matthew Levering, Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"Peter Leithart is one of our best and most creative theologians. In this wide-ranging book Leithart shows that doctrine is not some abstract entity disconnected from contemporary life but is in fact deeply relevant and pregnant with social and political insights. Leithart is biblically, theologically and culturally literate--a rare combination--and thus able to produce the sort of work we so badly need today. Attending to the doctrines of the atonement and justification, he writes in the best tradition of apologetics, namely that of creative, orthodox, contextual theology."

--Craig Bartholomew, professor of philosophy and religion and theology, Redeemer University College

Core Christianity- Finding Yourself in God's Story.jpgCore Christianity: Finding Yourself in God's Story Michael Horton (Zondervan) $14.99  Okay, this is a different sort of book than the first two listed.  While Horton is a remarkable scholar, writer, journalist and radio host (see his White Horse Inn broadcast) himself and while he has written serious, mature books about the troubles of even the evangelical church for drifting from robust, serious theology, this book is not designed for heady thinkers and certainly not for the academy or scholars. It is simply what we believe and why it matters -- an intro to the study of God that leads to awe and wonder and clarity about grace and our response to it all. Horton shows his pastoral side here and tackles, as it says on the back cover "the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. In addition to unpacking these beliefs in a way that is easy to understand, Horton shows why they matter to our lives today.

Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California so comes at this as a stanch advocate of the Reformed tradition. Yet, on the back, non-reformed authors (such as Scot McKnight) offer good recommendations. Kelly Kapic says it affords readers a change to "learn from a master who is not afraid to put things simply and clearly."

Scattered throughout this book that is not much more than 175 pages are charts, interesting side-bars, definitions and a few pictures. It is strong on themes of the covenant, offers a Biblical sort of narrative theology approach and, as the subtitle illustrates, offers to show that solid thinking about Biblical doctrine should shape our own story, giving us meaning and direction, not merely intellectual certainty.  He's up to speed on contemporary issues, but, more urgently, he's old school, arranging historic views in sensible form, helping us know the basics of core Christianity. Nice.

The Dusty Ones bigger.jpgThe Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith A.J. Swoboda (Baker Books) $15.99  I named this as a spiritual formation sort of book to be read during Lent when it first came out a month ago.  I raved about A.J.'s A Glorious Dark noting that it is honest and raw, even, about our doubts and pains, the darkness that we know and that we attend to especially during the Holy Week rituals and the tridium. He's a fun and colorful writer and a good storyteller but he's also that kind of guy, naming real world stuff and inviting us to an authentic faith experience, even if at times (gloriously) dark.

I named this one as a broader sort of book, but similar. As you can tell, and as I explained, it picks up the theme of wandering, and what it means to wander well.  (I cannot help but note that the word sounds a bit like wondering -- curiously asking -- and then there's that song "I Wonder as I Wander.") So this is about being honest about deep stuff, about real questions, and about moving into those seasons and places when we are restless, doubtful or questioning.  The road may be "always bumpy" but Swoboda says it is "always worthwhile."

I wasn't sure this book fit my theme -- five books about disenchanted faith or evolving faith stories and five books of theology that might offer ballast and a framework for those who are seeking or evolving.  This is perhaps even an example of the former, not the later.  Yes, there are stories here, some about hard times, about restlessness, even a chapter called "Displacement." In a way, this very much represents the sorts of longings and rejection of easy answers expressed in books like Out of Sorts or Night Driving. 

However, The Dusty Ones is not telling of the awkwardness of bad faith or offering stories of shifting away from childhood certainties, it is a positive proposal for how questioning and wandering can be good. There is plenty of solid thinking here, good teaching about a Biblical vision and imagination, and theology of the sort that is formative and encouraging. It invites dusty journeys, honors those times when we feel lost, and doesn't back off of faith that is provocative. But at the end of the day, as they say, being dusty is to be close to Christ, to be like most Bible characters, to be on the road with a lived and lively faith. He looks at our idols our "invisible loves" (he's been reading Jamie Smith) and he invites us to walk, to go, to follow along that pilgrim way.

I like that the memoirist Seth Haines (recovering addict and author of the award-winning Coming Clean: A Story of Faith) says 

A.J. Swoboda is the kind of pastor, writer, and theologian today's church desperately needs. Capable and engaging, he has a bent toward vulnerability that is simply honest and beautifully human. And it's this human touch that makes The Dusty Ones a unique, well-rooted, and spiritually nourishing work. If you've experienced your own desert seasons or periods of wandering, this book is Swoboda's gift to you.

Can you see why I again recommend this, listing it here, in this list. Some of the first books lament the lack of room their legalistic churches gave for those who wander, or even wonder. The evolving shift away from fundamentalist paradigms the increasing jadedness about conventional religion is partially because such rigid faith systems can sometimes become unhealthy, covering up doubt and the "beautifully human" plight of our limits and foibles.  And those congregations that aren't fundamentalist, but still insist on wearing our "Sunday best" and protecting their status quo, can also implicitly discourage those who ask questions. If churches -- more liberal or more conservative -- used resources like this utterly Biblical, theologically fine book, God's children would be better served, people would flourish in faith development that is rigorous without being rigid, open-minded without being shallow, truthful without fostering pride, honest about being lost and earnest about being found. I'm a fan of this kind of serious faith formation, theology on the road, spiritual development for the heart and mind, situation smack in the questions of a hurting, wandering world.  This is highly recommended.

51% Christian- FInding Faith After Certainty .jpg51% Christian: Finding Faith After Certainty Mark Stenberg (Fortress Press) $16.99  Well, I'm not sure what to say about this -- it isn't everyone's cup of theological tea, I suppose. Stenberg is a founding pastor of two innovative, emerging churches, House of Mercy Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and Mercy Seat Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis. This is a recent release from the "Theology of the People" series (edited by Tony Jones) and carries a very moving foreword by Nadia Bolz-Weber. So that might help you place it.

But, don't be fooled, thinking that its out-side-the-box, radical approach is too eccentric to be unhelpful. Stenberg may be iconoclastic and Russell Rathbun of House of Mercy may say he is "the funniest theologian I know" but this slight goofiness aside, this is a book grounded in pretty classic mainline Protestant formulations. It is laden with footnotes including one mentioning that Stenberg weeps -- every time he says -- that he reads Karl Barth on freedom. Now that, my friends, is commendation for a theological author, if you ask me: he doesn't say he believes Barth is right about everything, but he knows enough about him and cares enough about these deep things that the dense Swiss thinker makes him weep.  That's a guy worth reading.

Debbie Blue, author of two great collections of exquisitely edgy sermons and the extraordinary Consider the Birds says "Stenberg is a brilliant theologian. In 51% Christian he makes some of the most graceful and beautiful theology you could ever imagine extremely accessible without sacrificing depth and complexity."  Another reviewer says the author "takes you on a wild ride across theological terrain few are willing to enter."  Rathbun says he's funny, but he also says he's "the smartest theologian I know."

This guy knows his theological stuff, classic, contemporary, radical. He often quotes Dale Allison (a Girardian), draws on the genius systematic theology of James William McClendon, and happily appreciates the Canadian John Douglas Hall. And St. Thomas Aquinas and (naturally) Martin Luther. 

And, I might add, the book makes some pop culture allusions, from Lewis Black to Bruce Cockburn to Malcolm X.

Pastor Stenberg has chapters with titles like "De-Greekifying the Divine, or How to Quit Thinking About God" and "Why Your Theory of Atonement Sucks." I particularly liked "How the Cheatin' Heart of Modernity Double-Crossed the Doctrine of Revelation."

Okay, this isn't J.I. Packer or John Stott or Abraham Kuyper; it isn't even close to the previously mentioned authors named above, contemporary as they each are. But if we are inviting congregations or people to read serious-minded, practically-written, interesting theology that might make sense, moving away from nonessential dogmatism and heavy-handed, overly scholastic systematics, then this kind of neo-orthodox, very contemporary, provocative stuff should be part of that conversation. It seems to be helping some along the way, and even if it isn't fully conventional, it is asking good, good questions, inviting answers that can point us to faith that doesn't have to be cynically discarded or evolved out of with hurt and confusion. Let's wander and wonder together, finding Biblical faith after unhelpful commitments to wrong kinds of certainty. 



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April 5, 2016

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by Andy Crouch ON SALE NOW

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press) $19.99  sale price $17.99

There are so many reasons that we recommend the latest Andy Crouch book, Strong and Weak that I hardly know where to begin. There have been a number of other reviews by people I trust, although, for my own quirky reasons, I haven't looked at anyone else's comments yet. I hear they are very good; I am sure, come year's end, S&W will be on many "best of 2016" lists.  We were so appreciative of Andy's other good work, and a lecture we heard about this project as he was working on it that we wanted to tell you about it as soon as we knew we could take orders for it; maybe you saw our advanced promo of it at BookNotes at the end of last year.

culture making.jpgAnd then, it arrived just in time for me to shout out about it on the big stage last February at the CCO's Jubilee conference.  It was delicious for us to have it right out of the gate, glad for the publisher's eagerness to have it known among those gathered in Pittsburgh.  Andy had spoken at Jubilee previously, and his talk there a few years ago on the goodness of God's creation and our "culture making" task to "make something of the world" is surely one of the great main stage talks at Jubilee.  You will enjoy the mastery of public speaking Andy shows, you will learn something, and be newly inspired to think about the large role faith can have in inspiring us to responsible action in the world as those who bear the creative image of God in the world.  I do think that his 2008 Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $22.00) is one of the most significant books we've sold in our thirty-plus years of our own trying to help make something better of the world here in D-town. His Jubilee talk captures much of that book's insight and pleasing, reasonable energy.  WATCH IT HERE.

playing god.jpgPlaying God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (IVP; $25.00) was released in 2013. I sometimes say is the necessary follow-up to Culture Making. Insofar as we take up our callings to be creative in the world, paying attention to God's presence in the wider culture, nurturing postures of holy, healthy involvement as Culture Making commends, we will, sooner or later, come up against hard complexities that we can abbreviate by words like sin or corruption or, less negatively, perhaps, power. There It is: if we are serious about culture-making, we will have to grapple with what it means to exercise power properly, what it means to speak truth to power effectively, and what it means to pay attention to institutions, local and national and perhaps global and to what some call our "social architecture." The subtitle of Playing God is about "redeeming the gift of power" and that tips his hand considerably: power is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be exercised redemptively. Few Christian thinkers have thought adequately about helping us take up cultural influence in positions of power, even with the social architecture of institutions and mediating structures, in ways that might be called redemptive.  

Of course, taking up power is a vague phrase, and Crouch is exquisite in Playing God as he carefully explains what it may or may not mean, and exploring the different sorts of institutions and arenas where we might exercise power properly. Or where we might be seduced to betray Christ by exercising power unjustly; the book title itself does bear that ominous concern.  There are not many books like that one, and we have been promoting it since it came out, believing that it really is important. It is not only important, but it is so very thoughtfully written, with the right mix of astute theological awareness, good Biblical references, informed sociological analysis and tender (and at times powerful) storytelling from his own travels around the globe. Both Culture Making and Playing God are very good books.

S&W.jpgWhich takes us to the new, smaller - although still quite ambitious - lovely new work called Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing. It is (or so it seems to me) somewhat of a sequel or coda to Playing God.  It continues to ask questions about power and authority, servanthood and embracing vulnerability by taking serious risks, learning how to avoid the grip of idols that can lock us into ways of living that are not free and flourishing, and ways of leading or exercising influence that are not generative or fruitful.  As you should gather from the title, it draws upon in important ways - I only know a handful of books that seriously do this -  Paul's claim in 2 Corinthians 12 about boasting in his weaknesses. What in the world does that mean?

Crouch's book is a must for anyone thinking about leadership or anyone who is hoping to take up responsible mission in their areas of influence. Work, home, church, civic life, campus? This book can help.

Click here for a nice, short video clip of Andy speaking about the book. 

This video captures Andy's smart prose, his remarkable insight, and the potent paradox this book explores.

However, as the subtitle suggests, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing is about full human flourishing, giving it a broader appeal than being about leadership as such. Yes, I recommend it to those wanting to be more responsible in "owning" their authority, their calling to exercise influence, for those who see themselves in positions of leadership, whether in the church or at work on within voluntary associations.

But I want to say that this book is wonderful for nearly anyone. If you are interested in reflecting on the very essence of the good life, if you are inclined to deepen your awareness of the nature of being in the very image of God, if you are willing to ponder some mysteries of the human condition and some curious angles on personal and societal flourishing, on personal growth and how that translates into wise and fruitful living in the world, this book will be one you will want to read and re-read. It is not simplistic, nor is it one of the nearly ubiquitous zippy pop treatments about getting stuff done or being happy; the first lines are these:

Two questions haunt every human life, and every human community. The first: What are we meant to be? The second: Why are we so far from what we're meant to be?

So, yes, this book is for anyone seeking a good and meaningful life that is profoundly shaped by the Biblical story and faithful answers to these essential, haunting questions.

andy tension.jpgI've said this before and I hope it intrigues you -- please don't allow this description to minimize its sophistication or profundity -- but much of Strong and Weak is an extended meditation on four ways of being, four combinations of authority and vulnerability.  It is, simply put, about a single paradox that generates a "fruitful tension" of "complexity and possibility." It is not simplistic, but it is fairly simple to explain.

Each of the four positions or postures explored and appraised can be seen in one of four quadrants of a four-square, 2x2 chart. And he has reprinted said 2x2 chart in every chapter, with a strong chapter on each quadrant.

I laughed out loud when I heard Barna leader David Kinnaman quip that "spreadsheets are my love language." I smiled similarly when Andy wrote "There is nothing I find quite as satisfying as a 2x2 chart at the right time."

He explains:

The 2x2 helps us grasp the nature of paradox. When used properly, the 2x2 can take two ideas we thought were opposed to one another and show how they complement each other.

The world is littered with false choices. The leadership writers Jim Collins and Scott Porras talk about "the tyranny of the OR and the genius of the AND."

You gotta love that, a reasonable, moderate fellow poking away at our either/or framework -- taking up "the genius of AND."  Consider how he does it, by exposing a less helpful mental model, contrasted with the more generative 2x2 four-square chart.

Imagine the standard continuum, a right to left linear line with one extreme on one side and another extreme on the other.  That's how we often think about things, isn't it? Contrast this with the four-quadrant 2x2 chart which transcends a simplistic this or that approach. As Crouch nicely says,

what we need is not a linear "or" but a two-dimensional "and" that presses us to see the surprising connections between two things we thought we had to choose between - and perhaps even to discover that to have the fullness of one actually requires that we have the fullness of the other.

Wow, what a quote that is!

He doesn't belabor this (it is not at all tedious) but explains it helpfully.  In his clarifying examples, he shows that it is often unhelpful having a mental model that puts two attributes on the left and right of a linear spectrum, in opposition. For instance, he invites us to consider good parenting; should we imagine a single-line spectrum with the qualities of firmness and warmth in utter opposition (on one end of the line, the authoritarian, boundary-setting, disciplinary parent on the far left pitted against, on the other side, a responsive, interactive parent full of warmth)? Should someone pondering what it means to be a good parent embrace one side of the spectrum or the other -- or some muddled middle half and half?  We are sometimes asked "where do you place yourself on the spectrum of..."

No.  Crouch continues with the parenting example, to help us see the point of the 2x2,

Firmness and warmth, it turns out, are not actually opposites. They can go together - in fact, they must go together for children to flourish. Their relationship is much better shown with a 2x2.

He puts one on a vertical line axis and the other crossing it on a horizontal line and shows it with a diagram.

Map firmness and warmth this way, and you quickly discover that either one, without the other, is poor parenting. Firmness without warmth - authoritarian parenting - leads eventually to rebellion. Warmth without firmness - indulgent parenting - leads eventually to spoiled, entitled brats.

In fact, there aren't just two ways to be a bad parent - there are three! The worst of all is parenting that is neither warm nor firm - absent parenting.

I so appreciate his helpful pages working this out in parenting, exposing the false choice and the way the four quadrants help us see the results of bad mental models.  The lower left quadrant is perhaps the worst as it has neither warmness nor firmness. Up and to the right is the quadrant that combines firmness and warmth.  In a way, that is the theme of Strong and Weak: up and to the right!

In fact, Crouch says this in this good introductory chapter. "Actually, the deepest questions of our lives is how to more further and further away from the quadrant III (absent) and more and more fully into quadrant I (kind.)" He says that this really "leads from a life that is not worth living to the life that really is life. And that, in a nutshell, is what this book is all about."  

Say it with me: up and to the right!

2x2 chart.jpgI suppose you see where this is going.  Plot authority and use of our power on an up-and-down vertical axis.  Cross it with the horizontal line marking vulnerability, risk, weakness.

Up and to the right? That's the revolutionary Pauline/Christ-like combo of high power and high weakness. Can you imagine the lower right quadrant: no power and much vulnerability: that is called being exploited and yields suffering.  Or, think of the upper left: high degrees of power but no risk or vulnerability: raw power is called tyranny; whether in an office or church or family or in the halls of government it leads to the sin of exploitation.  And that lower left one: that's what Crouch calls "withdrawal" and it could be characterized as low power and low vulnerability - those who live in this box take no meaningful risks since nothing is attempted and so there is little vulnerable in the safety of this room.  A cruise ship may be fine for a few days, but this lifestyle of seeming safety is something less than full human flourishing.  Authentic human flourishing is in that upper right quadrant, using God-given potential by taking risks to exercise meaningful authority, a paradoxical embrace of strength and weakness. Crouch doesn't often use the term "servant leadership" (or cite the fabulous and moving book by Dan Allender called Leading with a Limp) but I gather this is what he's talking about.  Up and to the right - high amounts of authority coupled with high degrees of vulnerability.

Here is a short video clip of Andy explaining with great clarity and eloquence the "paradox of flourishing" -- combining authority and vulnerability. Don't miss it.

It's counter-intuitive. A paradox, eh? 

Well, welcome to Christology 101.  There is something more profound going on here then the already keenly profound Pauline "boast in my weakness" thing. There is the grand insight of Chalcedon, crystallized in Phillipians: Christ is fully God and fully human. As a human, he truly suffered. His incarnation necessarily involved taking on limits and wounds and pain and - yes! - even death.  The historic creeds insist, Andy reminds us, that Christ "descended into hell."  What?

harrowing-of-hades-492x357.jpgIn a very moving chapter in S&W entitled "Descending to the Dead" Crouch tells of the Orthodox icon called "The Harrowing of Hell" that "shows Jesus, triumphant over death, grasping the arms of Adam and Even - in most versions of the icon they look rather startled - and lifting them out of their graves."  Crouch continues,

Whatever exactly took place on Holy Saturday, that most solemn of Sabbaths, the day itself is crucial to the full truth of Jesus' lordship as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There is a gap - between Jesus' death and his resurrection....

After some beautiful writing that reveals how Mr. Crouch is nicely ecumenical and deeply rooted in the best spiritual thinking of the ancient Christian traditions, and after some psychologically profound comments about the fear of death, he comes back to descendit ad inferos. "The descent to the dead finds its way into the myths that shape our culture - and probably every culture" he notes, which leads to some fun nods to pop culture and ends up with a few serious lines about the exceptionally serious endings books of J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series.  I suppose most will recall that the otherworldly version of the famous train station is named King's Cross. 

The most beloved children's books of our time - or perhaps any time - are unflinching in their understanding that true happy endings are won only a the greatest cost, and that no king is truly a king without a cross.

And so it goes, from Orthodox icons to smart children's literature, from anecdotes of respected Christian leaders illustrating vulnerability by their own transparent lifestyles to examples and laments of deep injustices - from the abuse of authority in the local church to horrific global matters such as sexual trafficking and child slavery.  Crouch is elegant in his prose, judicious in his stories, always clear, often moving, and occasionally delightfully understated.  This is not a loud or demanding book, it isn't packed with breathy calls to change the world or high-octane stories of ostentatious transformation. S&W is a rich, thoughtful, mature, and remarkably interesting guide to taking better steps towards deeper human and cultural flourishing.

There are, to be clear, four key chapters in the first half of the book,  each on the disorders and possibilities within each of the four quadrants in his nifty 2x2 chart.  He has lived with this stuff well and has much to say in chapters simply named after the four quadrants:

  • Flourishing
  • Suffering
  • Withdrawing
  • Exploiting

s & w Andy Crouch better.jpgThe second half of Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing unpacks the process more, highlighting the journey "up and to the right." These rich chapters include the aforementioned ruminations on the descent to the dead which I commend to anyone wanting to understand the grand paradox of Christian living (and dying to self.) There is a very provocative chapter called "hidden vulnerabilities" that is about the perceptions other may have of us, about carrying our own vulnerabilities in secret, a chapter that is a must-read for those in leadership positions. Read it, also, for the spot-on description of doing a public speaking gig with brand new shoes on! Ha!)

Yes, of course, Crouch quotes the now famous "Daring Greatly" TED Talk by Brene Brown, but this is no cheap swiping of the current phrase de jour.  Andy has lived into this deeply spiritual and truly challenging path and he helps readers by inviting us to several disciplines and practices - from confession of sin to laughter, from fasting to learning via ropes courses, and some clear-headed, if radical, advice about giving up power and willingness to suffer. Throughout S&W, he offers lovely description of conversations he has had with others on their own struggles "up and to the right." From social justice activists in Central American war zones who work with the poor to seemingly wealthy entrepreneurs in their high-tech start-ups to fairly ordinary church folk dreaming up new initiatives in their parishes,  Crouch explains how the temptations and blessings of these four quadrants - three of them rooted in imbalances of power and weakness - are worked out in ordinary life,. He shows nicely how the move towards embracing vulnerability can lead to the proper exercise of power and can form within and among us the virtues of the good life. The life that is true life.

The invitation to deeper risk, greater embrace of our own vulnerabilities, of power embraced as part of Christ-like servanthood, is described more creatively and more carefully, more profoundly and probably more practically in Strong and Weak than in any other book I know. Crouch's four-quandary 2x2 chart inviting us "up and to the right" is golden, solid, helpful, brilliant, even. Maybe Crouch himself feels a bit vulnerable taking this risk of appearing simplistic or cute after his magisterial Playing God. I don't know. But I do know that I am grateful not only for this schema and the rubrics that he's developed to help us imagine and talk about all this, but for his candid sharing of his own stories, making the book really helpful. I am very grateful for this near-genius way of getting at true flourishing, the kind of life we are made for, both/and, not either/or. Can we be both powerful and vulnerable, have authority and yet serve others? Does the path "up and to the right" make sense, and is it do-able? Should we take this seriously?  Read it for yourself and see. I think it is transformational. 

andy_crouch_is_too_cool_for_school.jpgHere are two final observations about this fine book.

First, I suppose you know that Andy is a prominent evangelical thinker and highly regarded journalist/speaker; his platform is well deserved. He has more experience than most in the halls of power, having worked in elite ministry at Harvard and having served on Boards as internationally known at International Justice Mission. His wife has a prestigious PhD in science and teaches at an Ivy League school. Andy plays classical piano, and, well, he's a pretty sophisticated guy.  Even in this accessible work he draws on very serious scholarship (one may not realize this until one studies the end-notes which nicely comment on books such as the Cambridge University Press text The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology by Oliver O'Donovan or Victor Austin's significant  T & T Clark masterpiece Up With Authority or the very, very good We Answer to One Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God by David Koyzis.) Mr. Crouch is aware of large issues in our culture, including freighted matters of race and privilege and class and the abuse of power - the pages on healthy views of policing are very, very good and timely --- and I just don't want anyone to think this is light-weight stuff based on his little chart or that he hasn't done significant homework about the nuances and implications of this stimulating material. It is very nicely written, but every page reveals his fine, substantive thinking.

The second is this: Andy tells a few wonderful stories that show us that as scholarly and urbane and well-read as he may be, he, like most of us, lives in the ordinary world of raising teenagers, doing the dishes, getting along with extended family, paying bills and all the rest; he writes about going to a high school reunion, about college-age crushes, a pretty significant job failure, about his foibles as a public speaker, about coping with anxieties on a high ropes course, about dear, dear friends he has tragically lost to cancer. In that regard, he is like you and me, living day by day in the typical stuff of the real world.

Several times he tells poignantly of Angela, his own niece, who has a exceedingly severe handicapping condition, and the great joy and burden, the beauty and cost, of raising her well. At times I was moved to tears as he captured the stress and love within the extended family that has rallied in care for this beloved girl. In the hands of a lesser writer or an author of dubious character these revelations might feel maudlin or even tawdry. Like Henri Nouwen, though - I am thinking of Adam, his lovely book about his mentally-challenged friend Adam - Andy is frank and realistic and yet invites us to ask very hard question. Is Angela flourishing? Is her family? How does that work?

I certainly know (and you probably do, too) that this stuff -- taking risks, being vulnerable, serving the poor, giving up idols in order to exercise Christ-like cultural power for the common good -- "preaches" well. It really does sound great, doesn't it?  It's easy to say that we must give up control in order to embrace more authentic flourishing, daring greatly and all that. But, really?  What does that even look like in an ordinary life? And isn't such a vision a lot more distressing and costly then we usually admit? Do we with privilege sometimes romanticize the plight of the poor, the condition of those who bear burdens like Angela and her parents?  Andy does not romanticize this or think about only in the abstract; his tender stories about his niece and her family become nearly iconic in the book.  This is where the rubber hits the road, this offering of insight into the implications of being strong and weak, of being truly human, of a deeply Christian view of what it means to embrace a life of love. 

Which is to say the book is serious and clear, potent and charming, powerful and gentle.

Maybe I should draw up my own 2x2 chart, putting heady, serious, institutionally-savvy, theologically-rich, culturally relevant, mature, important content on one vertical line.  I'd put wonderfully-crafted, charming, moving, poignant, touching, story-telling on the other, crossing it over, making that four-box chart.  Some books are high on the content continuum but they score low on the writing line. Others have strong writing but must be placed low on the serious content axis. (Ahh, and then there's that lower left quadrant: bad content and bad writing. Yikes!) Andy Crouch and his three books, including the new Strong and Weak? They are up and to the right, high on strong content and created with well-crafted writing.  You should join him there.

Order Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by clicking on our order form link, below. It is certified secure for credit cards although we say there that we are also happy to send books and just enclose an invoice for you to pay by check later.  We are grateful for the opportunity to serve you.  Thanks.

s & w Andy Crouch better.jpg



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April 1, 2016

Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce B. Crump Jr. ON SALE NOW

To order any of the books mentioned at our BookNotes discount, you can use the link shown below which takes you to our secure website order form page. Or send us an "inquiry" for more information -- or call the shop.  We're open 10 -6 every weekday, until 8 on Friday evening, and 10 - 6 on Saturdays as well.  If you are ever in South Central Pennsylvania -- our place -- we would be delighted to welcome you.

Recently I had the great privilege of leading a two-hour workshop with a group of people doing church work, reflecting along with these leaders on the nature of long-haul, wholistic, hopeful, ministry. (Also speaking, doing remarkable Biblical study, was my good friend Don Optiz, a Presbyterian minister who serves as the chaplain at Messiah College; you may know his name as I often heartily recommend a book he co-wrote called Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness [Brazos; $14.99] which is my favorite book to press into the hands of college students.) We invited these folks doing outreach and disciple-making and educational ministry to ponder together what it means to do wise and fruitful work through their congregations or para-church ministries impacting the lives of others for the sake of the gospel.

I usually have much to say at times like this - imagine that! - and we had a nice Hearts & Minds pop-up book display, with titles about the nurturing of a Christian worldview and the Christian mind, resources for befriending and mentoring others, books about spirituality and living well in God's good world, from personal growth to coping with hard times, from leadership development to public justice stuff, from church life to civic involvements. I made an announcement featuring the importance of James K.A. Smith's new Brazos Press book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit and a handful of others.

In my workshop, though, I found myself just wanted to work with two books.  We had done some substantive Biblical stuff previously - think of the call to "seek the welfare of the city where God has sent you" vision of Jeremiah 29 - so I wanted to recommend to them, as I want to recommend to you, two recent titles, both which are fantastic.  Both would make great book club choices, with lots to discuss, and much to ponder. Both are accessible and not complicated to read and both will, as they say, rock your world. I will tell you about one of them, now, and will reflect more on the richness of Andy Crouch's Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Live, Risk and True Flourishing in the next BookNotes.  I ended my talk with these folks drawing on Crouch.

But first, I am thrilled to explain to you five things you can learn from this new book.

renovate a cover.jpgRenovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are Leonce B. Crump Jr. (Multnomah) $14.99  I just love the first words in large type on the back cover of this, a teaser that immediately grabbed me and made me wonder if this book would be as unusual and profound as I expected: "God Is Not Wiping This World Away. He Is In the Midst of Renovating It."  And then, this: "Leonce Crump invites you to do what God did when He wanted to make a difference in the world. He moved in."

Rev. Crump doesn't unpack it much, but I suppose you know how the Hebrew Scriptures show the tabernacle - a portable, symbolic replica of God's creation house where God's glory dwells (Opitz in our workshop called creation "God's B&B.") And then, in John 1, tabernacle is famously turned into a verb. Eugene Peterson's memorably translation of John 1 is "God moved into the neighborhood."  Renovate: Changing Who You Are... is a book about God's restoration of creation, God's faithful commitment to the world God so loves, and as such, it gets at the Biblical vision of big hope for real renewal very, very nicely. It opens us to the Biblical story of creation-fall-redemption-restoration by way of underscoring the incarnation.  God came down, moved in, God got involved in an embodied way.  Among other things, the incarnate Christ modeled what Crump calls "the ministry of presence."

Rev. Leonce Crump is himself a remarkable person, a clear, upbeat, honest writer who tells great stories. He is obviously a lively speaker and good communicator and his leadership at Renovation Church in the urban core of Atlanta is hard-earned. He tells of several failed church positions, fizzled church plants, and struggles in small-town Kentucky and urbane Atlanta.  That he has found his stride in a growing urban church is palpable and he is eager to share his ups and downs, the hard realities learned and the great, great joy of helping his church folks learn to love their neighborhood, their town, and the various vocations within their community. His church people seem on fire for Jesus and commitment to the hard work of social transformation.

There is a lot of stuff going on in Renovate, but I'll highlight five very big take-aways from this very fine book -- besides the sheer pleasure and great inspiration of reading somebody who can teach and encourage us with the right stuff.  My quick summary cannot do it justice.  His own stories and Biblical references and explanations enrich his key points, and his light touch makes it a quick, enjoyable read. 

First, God cares about the world, and intends to salvage it, not destroy it, so Christ's death and resurrection, the grace of redemption, must be seen as both personal and social and creation-wide. The reign of God is "on Earth as it is in heaven." (Rev. Crump even cites Al Wolter's exegesis of 2 Peter 3 arguing that the elements of creation are not "destroyed" in the eschaton but "revealed", and that the fire of final judgement is not annihilation but "smelting" yielding the "total renewal of the world."  He cites the great book by Michael Williams Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, reminding us,

The structure of the biblical drama has matching book covers... It moves from a creation story through a drama of sin and redemption to a consummation in a new and restored creation.

Surprised by Hope-b.jpgcreation regained.gifWhen we opened our store over 30 years ago and talked about this, some thought us odd.  But the literature on this nowadays is vast and stimulating. Drawing on the popularity of books as diverse as Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright or A New Heaven and New Earth by Richard Middleton or the "four story gospel" explained in The Next Christians by Gabe Lyon or Salvation is Creation Healed by Howard Snyder or Creation Regained by Al Wolters or Reconciling All Things by Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole or any number of books about wholistic ministry and social justice and racial reconciliation, the "all of life redeemed"  theme is one to whichnew heavens and new earth.jpg many evangelicals are waking up and many mainline folks are recalling from their own DNA: the gospel can transform lives and social structures; Christ is savior and King, the Bible offers personal solace and assurance of pardon but also narrates a grand story of who we are, where we are, what is wrong with the  world and what God is doing about it; that is, salvation isn't merely a life-insurance policy for life after death but offers a quality and caliber of life here and now, inviting us to make a difference in the broken-but-being-redeemed world. 

Which is to say, we need to do more than describe ministry as evangelism plus social action: we need a full-orbed, creation-wide, culturally-engaged vision of thinking and living faithfully in everything, everywhere. Christians are to be salt and light in the institutions of culture, agents of God's healing and hope in every zone or sphere or area of life, because the Bible rejects any dualism between the so-called sacred and secular, so everything counts. "Every square inch" Abraham Kuyper insisted, and it is cool to see a former New Orleans Saint football star and black, urban pastor, citing the old Dutch statesman (not to mention his 19th century associate, Herman Bavinck.) Pastor Crump nicely explains all this with as much righteous vigor and down to Earth clarity as any simple book I know -- brief, solid, vital. He admits in the beginning that he hopes this truth will be "disruptive" - that is, that you will be open to new insights, new vistas, new desires and passions, and new behaviors after deepening your awareness of the nature of God's purposes and plans.   As he puts it expressing his own hopes, "the right words at the right time equals real change."

The second key point - I read several whole pages out loud in my workshop the other day about this - is captured nicely by the great subtitle: "Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are."  Again, Crump wants to see us transformed, to be changed by his lively material (I like a book that pulls no punches, that invites us to take its content seriously, that offers us some expectations. This isn't presumptuous; it is, in my view, as it should be: Crump and other such authors put their sweat and tears into their work and into their writing so that it might make a atlanta_downtown map.gifdifference in how we live. Right?) And how do we really "change who you are"?  Crump is convinced: it is by "loving where you are."

Are you content?  Do you take simple pleasure in your daily comings and goings? Do you know the topography of your region, appreciate your town? Do you know the history of your place? Are you, as we say, "invested" in the communities you find yourself in?

Renovate brings together helpful stories and offers useful principles for church life, urban ministry, neighborhood flourishing, and public justice by offering some very good thinking about nurturing a sense of place. He cites cultural studies gurus like Richard Florida and nature writers like Barry Lopez and Rebecca Solnit. As I wrote in a playful, enthusiastic tweet I sent out when I first looked at an advance readers copy of this, it is notable and fun to see a hip and urbane black church planter quoting Wendell Berry.  It was less surprising to see him drawing on some of the Reformed theological insights about culture and place from Timothy Keller. I was glad, but not terribly surprised, to see Crump draw wisely on the mature thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.  But Wendell Berry? Thanks be to God.  So, yes, we need to care about the places we inhabit, learn to love our locales, and have sense of God's purposes within and for the local cultures and built environments and storied histories where we live.

Before moving on to the third major feature of this lively little book might I note that although Crump doesn't clutter up the book with too many academic references or too many footnotes (although he does have some great ones!) I wouldn't be surprised if he draws upon (without no home like place.jpgwhere mortals dwell.jpgquoting) the major books on the subject. Other theologically-informed writers have developed this topic with great depth.  Might I suggest the excellent No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place by Leonard Hjalmarson (Urban Loft Publishers; $16.99) by or the magisterial Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today by Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic; $32.00) or the powerful, detailed, complex, and extraordinary Beyond Homelessness: Christian Beyond Homelessness.jpgstaying is the new going.jpgFaith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh, all which offer a more substantive, robust approach to Crump's theme. For a lighter, energetic, and truly wonderful book that is similar in many ways to Renovate, see Alan Brigg's Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You by Alan Briggs (NavPress; $14.99) which we named as one of the best books of 2015.

Pastor Crump's good stories - including his learning about his beloved Atlanta, his willingness to listen and learn, his struggles with gentrification and racism and injustice - make this a gem of a book but these others offer extra layers of learning for those on the journey to think Christianly and care faithfully about place and what Crump calls "placemaking."

Another thing that we must grapple with if we are to truly love the places and people God has given for us to love has to do with a skewed sense (is this particularly American?) of the value of mobility.  From romanticizing wanderlust to the "grass is always greener" tendencies to our Promethean desires to transcend the limits of geography by being constantly on-line and virtual, we have a large problem. This is actually where Crump starts, and it captured my attention. He writes on page 2,

The obstacle standing in the way of our lives and our communities reflecting the glory of God is transience... the world we live in is one of almost limitless mobility. We can, physically and mentally, be almost anywhere in the world at any moment in time. This is a truly incredible time to be alive. But with all our advances in technology, I'm afraid something has been lost. Because of our now limitless mobility, the great majority of us have lost a sense of place that was inherent to previous generations. 

He continues,

It seems, at least from the perspective of most, having a sense of place is antithetical to the postmodern buffet of limitless options and unfettered mobility. In other words, wherever I am right now is the most important place in the world. And wherever I will be next will replace it. 

Part of what is wrong with this tendency is spelled out succinctly:

The bottom line is this: if I am only connected to a community to the extent that it can sustain me, we have a parasitic relationship, and I will siphon its resources without regard to its well-being. In an impersonal sense, it affects the culture of community. In a personal sense, it affects the people. 

Again, Pastor Crump wisely doesn't footnote every major contribution by those who are attentive to this quandary in modern life. He knows his stuff and is a pastor-scholar, it seems, so I suspect he knows these additional books, and you should too --  books that not only commend a sense of place but alert us to the obstacles that prevent of from living well, the wisdom of stability.jpgsocial forces that stack the deck in favor of transience.  I very highly recommend The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove -- which sports a lovely foreword by Kathleen Norris (Paraclete Press; $16.99.)  I really enjoyed a fascinating study of how the book (and recent movie) On the Road by Jack Kerouac shaped generations of American youth,  guiding us away from staying in place, from making commitments to ordinary life by romanticizing being on the road, valorizing a sense of cynical exile through some bohemian sense of moving away.  See The Road Trip That Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory That Will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and Importantly, Yourself by Mark Sayers (Moody; $14.99.)

To explore the impact of virtual and on-line experiences on social relationships see, for example, Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books; $17.99.) This is a huge concern for many, actually -- the little pocket book by David Kinnaman and Jun Young (part of the Frames series), The Hyperlinked Life: Living with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload (Zondervan; $7.99), documents that many younger adults, especially, actually feel they are too deeply involved in on-line stuff, and wish for ways out of the constant pressures of being artificially connected and perpetually distracted.

slow church.jpgBooks like Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison (IVP: $16.00) offer serious critiques of our efficiency driven, fast-past, hyper-mobile world, inviting us instead to stability and patience, resisting idols of productivity and success and "quantity over quality" all of which grow best in the fertile soil of an intentional, abiding sense of place.

I suppose it is fine to note that even I address this in my long introductory chapter in my own book for college graduates, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99) where I question the curious linguistic trick where we often, in affirming someone's success, say "she really went far" as if staying home or living local is for losers. In that chapter I invite young adults to consider moving home without feeling ashamed, about resisting the lure to think that one must be some glitzy "world changer" by doing extraordinary things.

In Renovate: Changing... Mr. Crump reminds us that all followers of Christ are called and sent and that we should desire God's grace and glory to be known everywhere; that is achieved best, in Crump's view, mostly by "staying put" and by learning the contours of the contexts in which we form redemptive communities.  Yes, we are sent; yes, we are missional (a word Crump gladly does not use.) I do love the title of the similar book, though, Staying Is the New Going -- Pastor Leonce would agree!

Early on, Crump writes, "This book is about fleshing out this solution of permanence and developing a theology of place. At the same time this thread of sentness runs through everything that is said here. They are dependent on one another; you simply cannot have one without the other."  In other words, we learn to love our places because we are "sent."pastor-leonce-crump-renovate-340x160.jpg

The third big point of Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are is both interesting and challenging (although he gives some nice suggestions about processing it and taking actionable steps.) Crump reminds us that we have to "go to school" to be educated by our place.  And every school, he reminds us, includes history lessons.  I appreciated that Crump came to understand that as much as he loved the idea of his living and doing ministry in Atlanta, and felt a growing love for the place, he didn't really know much about the history of the development of the neighborhoods, the institutions, the good and the bad of the region's past.  In my workshop the other day, inspired by Crump's honest admission about his needing to "go to school" to learn the history of his place of ministry, I invited the particpants in the room to ponder how much they know about the history of the town and place where they served. On a scale of 1 to 10, I asked, how much do you know about the place you live?

How about you?  How about me?

Hear what Crump writes, after noting how "every place has a history that has shaped and formed the demographics, the population density or lack thereof, and wealth/resource distribution. Every city has scars, left behind from years of calculated and sometimes cataclysmic decisions." He says,

I cannot stress enough that for you to truly transform a community; you have to understand how it came to be in the first place. So take a moment. Think about it. How well do you really know the place where you are? Can you narrate its story?  Can you place names and faces on the ideas and structures that presently govern its existence? Do you know why God needed to send you there?

Fourthly, there is something that follows from all of this: namely, that one must learn the culture and ethos of a place in order to communicate well, to contextualize the gospel in ways that are, to put it simply, spoken in the language of the people.

Of course, in many places, there are (increasingly so in North America) many languages spoken - metaphorically and literally!  So, to talk about "the culture" or "the language" of the locals is itself a bit specious, and it is a dubious proposition to name "the" language of a neighborhood, ethnic group, or generation.  Wealth, status, gender, race, professional association, age, family background and even personality type -- not to mention religious convictions -- are all influential in how people come to perceive the world, and even the most homogeneous neighborhoods or churches have those who are, say, deeply resilient and those that are terribly wounded; there are those who are old and young, men and women, locals and those who recently moved into your community, those who are liberal and those who are conservative and those who are something other.

leonce crump.jpgStill, Crump's point is very colorfully told and a good thing to ponder: are we connecting with the primary "language" spoken in our community?  Crump tells a great story of a season in his life when he was doing ministry in a small, almost entirely white, small town in Tennessee. He had to leave his sophisticated learning and multi-ethnic/New Orleans urbane tendencies aside in order to - as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 9 - "be all things to all people." He tells about watching Country Music Television and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour (and quoting Larry the Cable Guy in a sermon on John 5!) The connection that eventually developed as he embraced the language of his new friends in his new town, he reports, was nothing less than communion. Pastor Leon asks us to do some thinking about our own sense of the language and ethos and cultural mores of our own context and invites us to some self-reflection, being honest about our own struggles, and what might be behind those struggles, regarding our own incarnation of the gospel in our own context. What you do with page 75 of this book could be of immense importance, I think, and I commend it to you.

Lastly, I will note one other take-away lesson to be learned by reading Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are. It is very important, although not precisely central to his teaching about place as a key theological category and an essential missional strategy.  It is, simply, that as a black man Pastor Crump has had an inordinate amount of obstacles - stopped by cops more than his fair share, treated with suspicion or worse, called ugly names, etcetera, etcetera, sadly, etcetera - and that his commitment to advocating for racial justice is not only necessary in his own place of Atlanta, Georgia, but is most likely a necessary part of almost any ministry in almost any place these days. With a gospel-centered vision of reconciliation, and an obviously profound awareness of the depths of systemic injustice and institutional racism,  Rev. Crump is able to help us.  This will be important stuff to talk about with others, I think, and may be for some the hardest part of the book.  Go with Pastor Crump, though, walking towards the necessary implications of this embodied book: be glad that he moves us to deeper thinking about how racial prejudice and the tensions of working in racially diverse settings as well as our longings for (or lack of longings for) multi-ethnic ministry might be part of the story of our place and the story of God's work in our place.

renovate a cover.jpgThe last chapters of this nice book are obviously written out of a deep passion for justice and considerable experience in naming and working for Christian answers to what some call "America's original sin."  Especially in our post-Ferguson world, any book about learning to love our places, learning the history and language of our regions, and doing incarnational, embodied ministry framed by a vision of God's restoration a-coming simply must deal with race and racism. I am glad for this part of Renovate and this aspect of the ministry of Renovation Church, and it gives the book some considerable bite at the end.

That Leonce ends the book with a potent quote from Wendell Berry - from the Kentucky farmer's  own book on race called The Hidden Wound - is helpful.   This is not a concern only for those in the ghettos or big cities.  As Berry reminds us, and as Crump knows, resisting injustice and doing Christ-centered, gospel-based, ministries of Kingdom restoration must be local, must be embodied in place, and therefore, must deal with the perplexities, joys, and sorrows of how the down-to-Earth realities of skin color, economic status, and cultural norms can divide and harm us, each in their own ways in our own unique places.

There is a curious chapter in the middle of Renovate which I skipped the first time through. It is called an "intermission" and is a "round table discussion" conducted by Pastor Crump, chatting with some friends who he obviously loves dearly.  Included are a white pastor of a nearby church in East Atlanta, another gentleman who has lived in Atlanta for 15 years, and the increasingly high-profile hip hop artist (who is a member of Crump's church) Lecrae Moore. They talk about the new urban renewal movement, church life in a changing culture, and what it means to not just talk about cultural renewal, but, as Lecrae puts it, "actually stepping into it."  They talk about counting the cost of all this, carrying our wounds, and learning to pray for the peace of the city. They drop the names of some people that have influenced them (Van Til!) and one of the guys mentions Eugene Peterson and the need to slow down, to be patient, to - like a farmer - "take the long view."  

The transcript of this conversation in this one chapter isn't edited, and it feels like an informal conversation. It annoyed me a bit at first, but then it hit me: this is as it should be. Pastor Leonce is showing us the real deal, here, walking the talk, revealing something about his own life in his own space among his own community. We need to do this, too: gather with friends and talk about important stuff that matters, stuff that matters to you, to you and your place, here in God's redeemed house, Christ's own restored B&B.  Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are can help.  I invite you to buy it from us, or your local bookshop (if you've got one) today.



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