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April 26, 2015

ANNOUNCING MY NEW BOOK: Serious Dreams, edited by Byron Borger - ON SALE Now


Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books)  $12.99

There are phrases that keep coming to mind, as I sit here, fingers poised over the keyboard, phrases that we all know that should guide decent conversation in the polite ways of appropriate humility.  One ought not "toot your own horn" or "pat yourself on the back", let alone "sing your own praises." 

I don't know quite how to get around this, though, as today, this is exactly my job.

Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, the book that some of you have heard I've beenSerious Dreams cover.jpg working on this past year, was just released by the publisher this week. Obviously, we just had to tell you!

Given that it was pretty much my idea -- yep, it's my little baby -- and given that the publisher is a respected but small, indie press without a huge reach into the marketplace, and, given, too, that it was rushed to publication quickly, as I hoped, without much of a marketing plan, I guess it is evident that it is my job to let you know about it now.  

Did I say this really is my baby? That Beth and I have been significantly involved with Square Halo Books to get this thing out their doors? That I think it is pretty amazing, even if it sounds impolite for me to say so? I'm blushing a bit, but I'm so excited to tell you all about it.

If ever there was a time when our dear BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds fan base needs to know about something (something that they most likely won't hear about anywhere else) this is it.  So forgive me as I review my own work.  It's a little weird, I know, but bear with me:  despite obvious bias and self-interest, I really do think you will want to know about this.  Dare I say you need to know about this?

And that we need your help in spreading the news about this book for young adults, recent college grads, especially, inspiring them to live well, taking up serious dreams of God's Kingdom coming.

Old_Main.jpgThe shortest version of the backstory is that I was given the great privilege of delivering the commencement address for the Graduate School and Adult Learners at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, last spring.  It was a thrilling event for Beth and me; associates there offered great support, the trustees awarded me an honorary doctorate,  and even some out of state friends arrived to help celebrate.  In that speech I talked a bit about the unique heritage of this Reformed Presbyterian college, its good legacy, their current conversations about the integration of faith and learning for the common good, and the future for recent grads, helping themByron at podium with flags.jpgByron at podium at Geneva.jpg imagine the complex tasks of stepping into their vocations in the world, for the life of the world. I preached on a few favorite passages, told a few stories, and cried out to God and the gathered community, hoping that these talented young adults would help advance Christ's Kingdom, especially in their various careers, jobs, workplaces.  It got a pretty good response, for which I was humbled and grateful. A number of people asked if I might print it up, and we considered briefly doing a little booklet to share with those who had wanted to read it. Borger getting a free doctorate was quite the news for a bit -- ha, ha - and we wanted to honor those who wanted to read my remarks.

calvincommencement.jpgA week or so later, I watched the commencement address at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, one delivered by then-Provost Dr. Claudia Beverslius, who built her marvelous speech around a beloved Wendell Berry poem, a funeral poem, actually.  Mr. Berry has visited their campus on more than one occasion and it was more than appropriate to use his work, it was genius.  With tears running down my cheeks in front of the live streaming video on Beth's computer, I commented that that was a speech that deserved to be widely read.

And so I set out to find other friends of mine or authors I respected who had given graduation speeches for evangelical Christian colleges, speeches I could acquire easily, that had not been published in a book before, and that cohered around a common theme - taking up what Steve Garber calls "visions of vocation" and living out the implications of the gospel of the Kingdom in all of life, for the life of the world.  Not a few speeches these days use the language of calling, finding purpose and meaning, making a difference, but I did not want any that were merely inspirational, without Biblical substance to inform the meaning of these grand rhetorical calls, and I wanted reflections that did not overstate the call to be radical, as if we are all called only to be revolutionaries changing the world, with unrealistic bluster. I wanted balance, substance, and talks that were beautifully crafted, well done, words that would last, bread for the journey as young adults make their way into the marketplace.

They didn't need to be in the same theological tradition, exactly, but I wanted them to hold together, offering a certain sort of worldview and embodied practices, in the world, but not of it, for the sake of God's glory and our neighbors good. And I found some great ones.

Serious Dreams Facebook Timeline banner.jpgSerious Dreams: Big Ideas... includes seven great messages and they all translate well from the spoken word format to the printed page. (I will write a bit about the adventure of editing these manuscripts, and why we left most of the talks mostly unedited, soon.) I think this small. compact sized book is not only a great gift for a graduating college young adult, but for anyone wanting to be reminded of the big picture of our call to follow Christ in all areas  of life, living missionally for the reign of God, even in our work and careers.

I begin the book with a long, opening introduction that, we think, helps frame the ideas of the speeches.  I admit that I like the breathy rhetoric of these upbeat messages, designed to inspire young professionals to enter the worlds of work and see their future destinations as venues for the redeeming work of God. I like the approach expressed in some of them, how our own life stories make most sense in light of God's redemptive Story.  My own speech in the book is pretty breathy and earnest about such things, maybe a bit fiery, even.  But much of my introduction is a gentle reminder not to take these motivational sermons to mean that we have to "go far" or "make something of ourselves" as "world changers" or that we have to do big things to "transform the culture."  No -- we can start small, live locally, be faithful even in baby steps as we live into this story, gain a sense of place, learn our craft, earn the right to be heard. 

Serious Dreams cover.jpgIn that introductory chapter, I mention authors like Wendell Berry and Eugene Peterson who remind us to find God in the down-to-Earth and mundane, even the rural and seemingly insignificant. Granted, some may be called to pretty glitzy careers in high-rise offices exploring remarkable careers, but most of us are not. I cite books like Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove's The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.  Although most of the speakers do suggest it,  I wanted to be clear: young adults transitioning out of college need both a big, transforming vision and a whole lot of patience; we need to be eager to make a difference in the culture, yes, but we also need good friends, a faithful church, good art, healthy food, helpful stores, enriching hobbies, maybe a bookseller friend or two,  living slowly into what I explain as "common graces for the common good." It is good to be involved in normal life, establishing sacred rhythms and living well, in ways that are not particularly extraordinary.  

I do not want to scare you away, but I also say in this framing introduction that we must also be prepared to suffer. I mention Henri Nouwen's good phrase, saying we can be "wounded healers" and tell an Anne Lamotte story about hard times.  I note that Nicholas Wolterstorff's spectacular speech is about having "two eyes" - one to see what needs to be done, a technical eye for skills and competence and excellence, and the other with which to shed tears.  I think this is liberating, good stuff, and it helps readers realize that although most of these speeches are motivational and encouraging, we do have to be prepared for the hardships of this life.  I say it better in the book, but wanted you to know some of the themes of my opening chapter.  It is called "Live Well, Do Good, Be True."

rich mouw.jpgRichard Mouw's is the first real chapter. He a master of the short speech (in fact, he has a book of very short speeches published by Eerdmans that he compiled during his years at President of Fuller Theological Seminary, called Praying at Burger King. It's great!) This commencement address, entitled "What It's All About" was given last year near us here at Messiah College. It is a bit longer than those short ones, but it is concise and powerful.  He starts with a splendid joke, talks about the significance of having been a collegiate learner, and reminds these soon-to-be-graduates of the importance of uniquely Christian scholarship, encouraging them to keep their minds sharp, and too look for ways to honor Christ even in the life of the mind.  He tells a few moving stories about the clarity we need about the first things of the gospel, about the courage that is needed to live out faith in our complicated world. He ends with a rousing Bible reading; it is an inspiring ending of a very good chapter. I must say it is a real honor to have Rich in this little book; he is one of our favorite writers and thinkers these days and it's a great lead chapter. His latest book, by the way, is a lovely little volume about some of these same themes and is entitled Called to the Life of the Mind.

nick wolterstorff.jpgMouw's old friend, himself a renowned political philosopher and renowned scholar, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor Emeritus at Yale, has one of the most brilliantly conceived pieces in the book. Nick explains as a philosopher can, the nuances of what good Christian thinking entails, and he, like Mouw, extols the good learning skills acquired in (Christian) higher education, reminding the young adults to continue to think well,  calling them to challenge the ways things are, probing the deeper meaning of things they encounter, even in their future workplaces and institutions.  But the heart of his talk comes from story about an obstetrician who once advised health care providers among those who experience the death of a newborn to have "two eyes - one to watch the IV, the other to weep with the bereaved parents."  And from there, Wolterstorff asks what it would mean for businesspeople or teachers or lawyers or engineers or workers in any career to have two eyes, seeing competence and compassion, skill-sets and excellence as well as the ability to weep with those who weep.  In fact, he suggested, if one is attuned to the suffering in any given arena of life, it is more likely that one will want to use her skills to bring reform and change in their profession so that those who are hurting might see justice. (And, conversely, even if a young professional is truly skilled, without the eye that sheds tears, she may not realize what might be wrong in the place she works, and her skill becomes mere technical competence, not Christian service.)  Over and over, the famed professor shows that we need two eyes. That is, he explains with great clarity and beautifully crisp sentences why we need "head and heart" - two eyes.  It is an amazing speech and well worth pondering, even worth the price of the book for us all.

amy sherman.jpgThe third chapter is another brilliant contribution, a concise and clear sermon on one passage of the Bible that will open up new vistas of understanding, create hope and energy for seeing one's life and work as a ministry for the common good, in the public square.  Dr. Amy Sherman delivered this talk called "Rejoicing Your Community" (inspired by Proverbs 11:10) at Malone College in Ohio, and, again, I would be glad to give this speech to anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of what we mean by stewarding one's career in ways that serve others.  Few have thought very explicitly about this, let alone heard akingdom calling.gif whole talk about it, but the text which Dr. Sherman explores says that the whole city will rejoice when "the righteous prosper." Rather than producing resentment (which would be understandable, the have-nots frustrated with the haves, so to speak) those who perhaps are not prospering will be gladly rejoicing if God's righteous ones are successful in ways that cause the healthy flourishing for all. That is, the city rejoices because, precisely, the tsaddiqim are not in it for themselves.  Their prosperity apparently is a blessing to others, and develops because of, and is bound up with, the good of the city in which they live.  

Her examples and questions about how to leverage one's professional skills and passions for the common good is exactly the kind of speech I wanted to find for this little volume, and we are glad Amy graced us with her good manuscript. For those wanting a fuller explication of this good idea, do see her significant Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (InterVarsity Press.)

claudia.jpgThe next chapter is the one I have mentioned by Dr. Claudia Berversluis, the one that draws on a poem by Wendell Berry, "The Memory in the Seed."  Not only does she artfully use his insight about the relationship of the past to the future -  seeds have been planted in the stuff learned at college, in the reading and learning in the classroom and in other places and ways, too - and they will be paid forward into the future.  Perhaps it is because I have a daughter at Calvin College, and have very dear friends who work there, but this wonderful talk was the one that inspired me to do this book, and it is a very, very, good address.  I have read it a dozen times, now, and do not tire of its inspiration, feeling her care for the graduating students and her hopeful confidence in the scope and broad vision of God's Kingdom coming, even in hard times. I commend it to you, I really do.

visions of vocation.jpggarber in front of church.jpgI perhaps don't need to say too much about the fifth chapter other than to say it is an elegant rendering by Steve Garber, a dear friend and respected leader, especially on issues of the relationship of faith and work. Again, when I felt led to do this project, I knew I would insist on having his work represented; a book like this just had to have him in it, and we are grateful for his eager support.  You may know his good efforts through his Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture. Perhaps you will recall his extraordinary book about living in the post-college years,  Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, which was a much-discussed book a few years back, and still very, very worth of your attention. I hope you know his newer, award- winning book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. In this talk - which was delivered  last year to the graduating class of seminarians at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri - Steve explores the notion that covenant could be an essential insight to understanding the nature of the world God has made, which he calls, sounding almost  like Francis Schaeffer, a "covenantal cosmos."  Garber brings Wendell Berry into the conversation, mentions his own work consulting with large corporations and nonprofit ministries to help explore the way a covenantal understanding of knowing the world could bring healing and hope and hints of reformation in these troubled times.  By using words like mutuality and responsibility, Steve models an allusive and profound language, and invites his listeners to learn how to speak about solid Biblical truths in ways that that unchurched and unfamiliar might understand and be drawn towards.

byron in front of bookshelf.jpgMy chapter -- Byron K. Borger of Hearts & Minds, for the record -- follows Steve's and if his is the most profound in the book, mine is perhaps the liveliest.  As I will explain elsewhere, it was tricky cutting a bit out that perhaps worked in the live setting, but seemed less compelling as read on the printed page.  In the original speech I made a number of comments about the college itself, and a former teacher there (Dr. Peter J. Steen) and I took some of those lines out, trimming the wordy text down to a more manageable contribution. (Mine is still the longest in the book -- "two speeches for the price of one" one wit quipped. Imagine!) I suppose you know I can get a bit flamboyant at times, and I hope the passion in this talk shines through. Even if I countered it a bit with the calm reminders in the introduction to live small and local, I do share some pretty big ideas in this bold chapter.  

I wear my heart on my sleeve, there, friends, and I hope you enjoy hearing me share this visionary stuff that I believe with all my being.  My message is called "Three Cheers for Sons and Daughters of Issachar" which alludes to the reputation of the group mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:32 - who "understood the times and knew what God's people should do."  Oh, if we had more sons and daughters of Issachar, who read the world and read the Word with faithful clarity and big-hearted passion, becoming wise leaders for change, ambassadors of the Kingdom coming, life-long learners willing to critique the culture and offer winsome solutions. Maybe this chapter will stimulate someone some-where to live more robustly for Christ's ways, prepared even to suffer for His sake, like Issacharians.  I'd be eager to hear what you think.

johnperkins.jpgThe last commencement speech in the book was given by the famous civil rights leader Dr. John M. Perkins, who preached up a storm at Seattle Pacific University's graduation ceremony a few years ago.  We really wanted to have Dr. Perkins included as he has been a real hero to many of us, and we have crossed paths many a time over the years, most notably at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. Many of the students affiliated with the CCO who attend Jubilee may know him, and those that do not, certainly should.  He is a prolific author and vibrant leader for evangelical faith that is deeply committed to racial reconciliation, social justice, and leadership development, especially among those who are hurting and marginalized. Perkins and his ministry offers a model of radical, prophetic welcoming justice.jpgimagination and gospel-centered, evangelical faith. 

This wholistic, but evangelical piety comes out nicely in his speech here, inviting us all to be on "three roads" with Jesus.  He tells about the Damascus Road (where Paul was transformed by a saving relationship with Christ), the Emmaus Road (where one walks with Christ, nurturing a spiritual friendship with Him, learning of His ways in the Scriptures) and the Jericho Road - the road of service.   Of course, he naturally goes into this "three rs" as well, as a strategy for effective change on that Jericho Road, but the heart of this passionate call to action is based on these three roads.  It seemed like a lively enough speech to put at the end of Serious Dreams and it reads well, as a good sermon in the black tradition should.

erica y r.jpgErica Young Reitz offers a great afterward, an epilogue, really, and it is an integral part of the book. Erica is one of the best campus ministers I know, working for the CCO through a church in State College, PA (home of Penn State.) Year after year she has paid special attention to her young friends who were college seniors, walking with them through that year of transition, and then doing some teaching and services around the post-college experience. (She has done a workshop on this at the Jubilee conference, too, for seniors, to great acclaim.)  Erica has a book coming out next year, tentatively titled Life After College  (on InterVarsity Press) which tells of her work and offers practical guidance for Christian discipleship in the post-college years, so it is fantastic to have her included here. (The only other book like this, by the way, which we heartily recommend, is by Richard Lamb, called Following Jesus in the "Real World.")  Erica's Young Reitz's words at the end of this book gives it a bit more of a practical feel, offering clear guidance that is down to earth and helpful.  I trust, also, that it will whet your appetite for her full book when it releases perhaps a year from now.

So, there it is, my description of the book I compiled and edited and now get to sell, before anywhere else. 

I hope you realize that as odd as it is to be tooting my own horn, I am so, so eager to get this little volume launched into the world.  We think it is so inspiring, and the authors each of such quality, that you may just want to have it, even if you graduated from college years ago, or perhaps never went to college. The talks are highly motivational, yet, well, serious; the insights, although concise and accessible, are really pretty profound -- not the kind of stuff you hear every day. These are learned and smart folks, so the writing is good.  As I describe below, it is a handsome, compact volume, with some very nice touches (including a brief reflective question or two at the end of each chapter to help readers process the content.)  I'd be grateful and honored if you picked it up from us.

Even if you do want one for yourself -- and I hope you do -- please do think of this as a great gift for any young adults who have graduated in recent years. 

Although these fine speeches were given at Christian colleges the primary intended audience includes anyone who has recently graduated from any kind of school who may appreciate the encouragement and guidance.  Perhaps you'd be so kind as to suggest that your church buy a batch so they can honor their college graduates, inviting them to dream Serious Dreams.

serious dreams copies fanned.jpg 


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April 23, 2015

NEW BOOKS, Helping Us Move to Maturity -- on sale 20% OFF

I hope you enjoyed the review I did last week of the latest memoir of the feisty and increasingly skilled writer, Rachel Held Evans. Searching for Sunday told of her frustrations with her experiences of conservative evangelical faith and her embrace of a more sacramental, open-minded sort of mainline denominational church experience. Our bookstore searching for sunday.jpghas always worked hard at showing books from various viewpoints and theological traditions, and while there seems to be an abundance these days of well-written memoirs and theological reformulations that tend to move away from historic orthodox views, there are - it is helpful to know - many who are moving (shall we say) the other way, too. (None that are as beautifully written as Rachel's though, or as dynamically passionate as Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber, say.)

There is an exodus from some mainline denominational churches which are often fuzzy about historic creeds and many of these disillusioned, hurting pilgrims are finding homes in more conventional, traditionalist churches, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox. (Frederica Mathewes-Green, who has a brand new introduction to Orthodoxy, by the way, is a stellar writer from a decade or more ago who wrote Facing East, a memoir of becoming Orthodox which is beautifully rendered, and a very compelling faith journey; Rosaria Butterfield wrote seriously of her conversion to conservative Reformed faith after years as a postmodern literary critic, religious skeptic, and lesbian, in her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Thomas Oden's big autobiography, A Change of Heart, about which I have exclaimed before, although not lyrical or elegantly composed, is a brilliant story of a leading theological liberal who discerned a fatal trajectory in his life and work and returned to ancient, multi-cultural sources, becoming in the process an expert in ancient North African Christianity and thoughtful evangelical pressing the church towards clarity about the first things of the gospel.)

Anyway, I resonated with much of Rachel's very contemporary, fabulously-written and tender book, and commend it. If you know of anyone who, like she, has gone through religious disillusionment and needs to find an orientation to faith that is less harshly dogmatic and more gracious, her story of refusing to give up on church will be an aid. If you are evangelical and concerned about those drawn to other sorts of faith experiences, I think it is a good window into the journey of many these days and will be an interesting read.  Here is another review that I thought was helpful on this very matter written wonderfully by Katelyn Beaty of Christianity Today.

So, on we go; we keep reading, keep learning, enjoying books and finding good conversations around the creative sentences and poignant pages found in these blocks of paper and print. I have often said that it is wise to work through classic works and maybe even some dry tomes, but I do hope you find pleasure in your learning, reading stuff that is enjoyable, stimulating, good to hold in your hands and hearts. Books matter, and reading a lot is a good thing. It is a joy to serve you by alerting you to books and titles, authors and ideas.

Here are some new ones that I won't take time to describe in detail. Almost without me realizing it at first, these are mostly all about deepening faith, maturing, being wiser and better informed, able to take up Christians ways of being in the world. I hope you notice the ecumenical diversity - we sure do stock books from a variety of publishers!  Maybe something here will strike you enough to order it from us.  We'd be grateful.

pray like a goumet.jpgPray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul David Brazzeal (Paraclete) $18.99  Brazzeal lies in France ("where he enjoys warm baguettes from the boulangerie and fresh cheese from the marche.) I gather he's a character -the back cover says "whether writing poetry, creating guerrilla labyrinths, or electro-meditative music, his work is inspired by the organic fusion that exists between the spiritual and the creative." Here, he offers bunches of ways to "pray like a gourmet" by drawing on all things foodie, imagining prayer like a find French meal, a flow of courses, one as good as the next, creative recipes, infusing all your senses, enticing you to return for more. 

One fantastic endorsement is from Graham Kerr, of the old Galloping Gourmet TV show - he is now a strong Christian! - which would make you want to read it immediately. The widely read and ever gracious Phyllis Tickle says it is the "gentlest, most readable, kindest guide to prayer one could ever hope to explore."  I love how she puts it: "Reading through its storied pages, one goes from "'I never thought of that' to 'I could do that' to 'I want to do that' and back again."  Now that is a nice endorsement for a book on prayer, isn't it? And, there's all that fun French food stuff.  Done in lovely full color art it is delightfully designed, offers creative insight and is a grand book, another in the "Active Prayer Series" published by this ecumenical, contemplative publisher. Beautiful, intriguing, wondrous.

FindingLivelihood-ag4-330.jpgFinding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure  Nancy J. Nodrenson (Kalos Press) $14.95  Kalos Press is known for being a classy, literary house that does thoughtful and beautifully crafted books of essays and memoirs. (God In The Sink: Essays from Toad Hall by our friend Margie Haack was their last release, one of our "Best of 2014" award-winners.) This brand new book is nothing short of spectacular, and I will surely review it more thoroughly, soon. I believe it is fair to say that Nancy Nordenson is a writer to watch and that this book should be considered a major, significant work. She has written in places as diverse as the Harvard Divinity Bulletin and Comment magazine.

This lovely book is about a lot of things, but mostly, about a spirituality of work.  It takes the "faith and work" conversation in new directions, drilling deeper, offering ruminations on the nature of good work, on measuring our significance, or discerning God's call.  I'll write more later, but it is extraordinary and I highly recommend it.

Here is what it says on the back cover: "At once a shrewd challenge of Buechner's assertion that "the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet" and also a lyrical journey to the place where labor and love meet, Finding Livelihood explores the tensions between the planned life and the given, between desire and need, between aspirations and limits."  Oh my, isn't that beautiful and intriguing and good? Don't you long for good writing and mature thinking like this? You will be hearing more about this, for sure.

jesus outside the lines.jpgJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides  Scott Sauls (Tyndale) $15.99  Perhaps the largest theme in the new book by Rachel Held Evans, that I reviewed last time, is her frustration with those who bring culture wars approaches from the so-called religious right to evangelical faith. She, and many of her fellow-travelers, have tired of that approach, and for good reason. Yet, some think, I suppose, that many progressives -- writing with such passion about what is wrong with fundamentalism -- themselves damage the church by fueling the fires of dissension. Are the religious progressives just the flip side of religious fundamentalists?  I don't know quite what to think myself, since I have such allies on various places in the Body of Christ, and have worked for reform myself, sometimes with a bit too much self-righteous zeal. I tired of it all, a long for healing and hope. Or at least civility... 

Scott Sauls brings a voice of relief, a rare view, indeed. That there is a foreword by Gabe Lyons isn't surprising -- Gabe has long made a case for a generous but robust evangelicalism that engages the culture without ideology or anger. Tim Keller offers a front-cover blurb, calling it "a refreshing look at discipleship in our late modern times."  That Keller observes the cultural location -- "late modern" times -- is not insignificant, of course, and is a clue that this book carries a degree of social sophistication. I think it is a very good book.

Yet, what Sauls offers is pretty basic: the gospel of God's grace, an invitation to color outside the lines a bit, redemptively.  For those on either side who are weary of "us vs them" we need not be polarized but can find truth and beauty, grace and goodness, by more closing following the patterns of Jesus Himself.  This book will not erase differences, or even animosities, I'm afraid. But it might offer us a way forward -- away from harshness, caricatures, and stereotypes, if only it is read and taken to heart. I know I need to be reminded of this call to civility and Christian charity, and I suspect you might too. Sauls serves as the senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, but previously served as a lead and preaching pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan.  My friend Bethany Jenkins (director of the Gospel Coalition's "Every Square Inch" project writes,

The "conform or else" mentality of our late modern culture is disheartening, lamentable, and transgressive to human flourishing. Yet the root of the problem isn't "out there" in our culture, but "in here" in our hearts. In Jesus Outside the Lines, Scott Sauls is authentic and vulnerable as he wisely and gently reminds us of our brokenness and shows us how the power and beauty of the gospel can heal us, from the inside out.

Listen to the eloquent reminder from Steve Garber,

Scott Sauls invites everyone everywhere into an honest conversation about the things that matter most -- and therefore at the same time are the most tender and contentious for us. But he does so as a friend... agreeing to disagree where we must, but with love and respect, with listening and friendship. In our polarizing world, where the more we know about each other means the less we care for each other, Scott's vision is a gift for those who care about the common good.

from here to maturity.jpgFrom Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity Thomas Bergler (Eerdmans) $20.00  I displayed a big stack of these at two different gatherings of church leaders, recently, and nobody bought any, which discourage me more than I can say.  I suppose the subtitle is perplexing to some, and maybe they thought - if they had heard of it at all - that it was mostly about youth ministry, as was his first one, The Juvenilization of American Christianity. That book is one which you should know about, as it won a number of awards last year, and got rave reviews in both Christian Century and Christianity Today.  That  first book argued that the historical rise of the specialty of youth ministry in the latter half of the twentieth century (for all its value) created new norms, customs, expectations, within American Christianity (mostly Protestantism) that were, well, juvenile. It is a dense and sophisticated diagnosis, and its acclaim was well deserved.

This new book, From Here to Maturity... is equally serious, but is Bergler's guide to help both individuals and church groups to move on from juvenilization, to grow spiritually, and grow towards spiritual maturity. This book explains what maturity is, why it is desirable and attainable, and how to reach it. Of course, maturity happens in community, and the ethos of our church or parachurch may or may not be congenial toward members growing up in the Lord.  Some of this is based on research done in real congregations, by the way, and he has helpful appendices listing questions used in observing congregational cultures, and some observed characteristics of youth ministries that build maturity.  Church leaders: you should know this stuff, and I am sure From Here to Maturity will help remind you of your own high calling and the best practices to ponder and enact.

godly play volume 8.jpggodly play all eight.jpgThe Complete Guide to Godly Play Volume 8 Jerome W. Berryman (Living the Good News) $29.95  We have sold these unique resources since they first came out, and while this "Montessori" approach to Christian education is beloved by those who use it, it takes a serious and spiritually profound commitment to trust the Spirit's leading in drawing children to the Biblical text and playfully/prayerfully allowing them to imagine its meaning. You may know that the various books cover various seasons, or themes; this new one includes 15 new presentations. The back cover tells us "it also includes a wealth of capstone insights gleaned from decades of research and practice, as well as an appendix summarizing the foundational literature and describing the entirety of the Godly Play spiral curriculum as it exits today."

As one reviewer notes, "Forty years of Jerome Berryman's thought and wisdom are reflected in this long-awaited Volume 8, the capstone..."  It certainly fills in some gaps, offers some helpful introductions, and, we believe, will deepen learners of any age in their relationship with Jesus.  We carry the other books by Berryman, and some new narrative booklets to be used with Godly Play storytelling.

Becoming the Gospel.jpgBecoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $28.00 I don't often write about heavy theology texts or mature works of Biblical studies. I'm not particularly qualified for these deep waters, but I do know that - see above! - we must deepen our maturity as we grapple with God's Word and form communities of faith in the way of following Jesus.  Occasionally, a book of Biblical studies arises that even if it is seriously written, deserves to be widely known, widely read, and should be well considered.  Becoming the Gospel is that kind of book.  I'll admit, gladly, that Mike is a friend, and a customer here, and that I have heard him lecture on this very topic.  Dr. Gorman has several other books - some rather academic, on Paul (Apostle of the Crucified Lord, Cruciformity and Inhabiting the Cruciform God which are in many ways companions to this new work), a lovely book called Reading Revelation Responsibility and a recent one offering a "(not so) new" model of the atonement, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant. Among other things, Mike holds the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. 

One can learn a lot by noting who authors acknowledge and thank. When one thanks Tom Wright, Beverly Gavanta, Michael Barram, and Richard Hays (among others) for reading parts of the manuscript and offering feedback, well, you realize you are in the top ranks of New Testament work. One reviewer says "Gorman has written another superb and groundbreaking study."  Another calls him "one of the leading Pauline scholars of our age."  Maybe the best way to express how important this new volume is, and the acclaim it is already receiving, is to cite this endorsements from the back cover by Dean Flemming:

This book is a tour de force in missional hermeneutics. With clear exegesis and fresh theological insights, Gorman uncovers Paul's rich and comprehensive understanding of the mission of God. The book's central thesis, that Paul expected all Christians not only to believe the gospel, but to become the gospel, and thus to further the gospel, is completely convincing. Yet this study also packs a powerful contemporary message, challenging Christian communities to hear Paul's invitation to become the gospel, in word and deed, where they live.

The God We Worship- An Exploration of Liturgical Theology.jpgThe God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans) $20.00  Speaking of reading widely and deeply, and growing into creative, but orthodox, lively but sensible, whole-life, culturally-engaged discipleship, there is hardly a better person to give us philosophical foundations for our deepest Christian convictions than the estimable scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff.  He is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. (And, he has a chapter in the book I edited, to be announced soon, called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, maybe the most popular-level book Nick has ever found himself in!)

This new book, which I am working through carefully myself, were first given as the esteemed Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology, which are essentially evangelical equivalent of the prestigious Gifford Lectures (established in 1885 in Scotland, and still delivered and published annually. Wolterstorff has a book of those lectures, as well.) The first chapter here is introductory, "The Project: Liturgical Theology" and Wolterstorff brings his thoughtful eye to what we even mean by this phrase. This quickly alerts us that this is not a simple book of zippy steps for better - whatever that may mean - worship services. Nor is it a book about why we should conjure up more passion for an awesome God, although, I suppose I should say that the author certainly would think we need "better worship" and greater passion for God's attributes. But this book is deeper then that, and, consequently, surely more lasting.

Cornelius Plantinga notes that Wolterstorff "writes on Christian worship with enormous expertise...This book is a flood of light. It has all of the Wolterstorff marks, including brilliant clarity and powerful illumination of the subject."

Other back cover blurbs come from the esteemed classical and church musician Jeremy Begbie (who, like Nick, has written widely on aesthetics) and John D. Witvliet, of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  Witvliet says it is "a rare kind of book that can simultaneously challenge common assumptions about theological method, make bold theological claims about the character of God, correct readings of significant theologians in the history of the church, and inspire deeper liturgical spirituality of wonder, expectation, and hope."  Wow.

There are many lectures of Dr. Wolterstorff on line: here is his first lecture from the Kantzer Lectures which should inspire you to get this book!  It's about an hour, well-spent.

backpacking with the saints.jpgBackpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice Belden Lane (Oxford University Press) $24.95  Oh my, my outdoor experiential education friends, this is one of the ones we've been waiting for. We still need more really good, theologically sound books on "finding God in nature" and on the spirituality of the great outdoors. Those who read in this field know that Lane has himself been nearly a patron saint, with his excellent and lyrical Solace of Fierce Landscapes and another on geography and land metaphors in American spiritual formation, Landscapes of the Sacred. He has another heady one that we've really appreciated, Ravished By Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality.

I mostly want to rave about this great book, too, which, like Solace of Fierce Landscapes, is part travel narrative and part spiritual memoir and part theology of hiking. You should know that although each chapter looks great - I won't read it until I get to sit outside, later in the season, maybe on a pile of rocks down by the Susquehanna River, if I'm lucky -- but it is structured around his engagement with others who have written about faith and the outdoors; they are not all Christians, let alone Biblically-sound spiritual guides. Yet, as you surely know, we can learn much even from the misguided and odd balls (maybe we can learn especially from them!) There are chapters here on classic people from the heart of the Christian tradition such as Therese of Liseux, Thomas Traherne and Martin Luther, but there are also chapters on Gandhi and Rumi and Teilhard de Chardin. It may be jarring for some to read about the Anglican verse of the British Thomas Traherne in one chapter and the Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh and the eclectic Lutheran mysticism of statesman Dag Hammarskjold in the same book, but there you go: Lane is a wild man in more ways than one. In fact, the first two chapters are under a unit called "The Power of Wilderness and the Reading of Dangerous Texts."

What looks particularly interesting about Backpacking with the Saints is how Lane tells about each particular author while climbing or hiking in one specific place, with chapters grouped around different legs of the journey. (In this regard, it reminded me of the classic Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster with his grouping of "Inward Disciplines" "Upward Disciplines" and "Corporate Disciplines."  Foster is himself a hiker, by the way, and wrote a book with his son Nathan about climbing the fourteeners in Colorado, so here's hoping somebody gets Richard to review this book!)

With Lane's complex but clearly organized format we get cool chapters such as "Venturing Out: The Irish Wilderness and Columba of Iona" or "Solitude: Bell Mountain Wilderness and Soren Kierkegaard" or "Failure: Mt. Whitney and Martin Luther." The last chapters, by the way, are in the "fourth leg" of the journey, a grouping of entries on "returning home with gifts." I can't wait to get to the last chapter, "Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton."  This may not be your cup of tea, but if it is, you are going to love it!

road to character.jpgThe Road to Character David Brooks (Random House) $28.00 I simply don't understand the lurid animosity on the left against Mr. Brooks, and the nasty stuff written about him on blogs comments is inexplicable. He is, I am aware, a moderate conservative, and the tea party right thinks he is soft while the left increasingly is strident even about moderates.  Maybe it is a case in point about the urgent need of this extraordinary book, in fact: we are a nation full of folks who are deeply flawed, and as we grapple with this we could become more noble people.  I think Brooks is a clear and interesting writer, even though he is quite thoughtful and a bit sophisticated.  His two books about the sociology of place and class -- Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive are among my all-time favorite reads, and the best-selling The Social Animal is very, very important, especially for any of us who care about the workings of the unconscious mind, our interior lives, and how people change.  As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, "Brooks's considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share."

This new one is, simply (ha!) about character formation.  Brooks has written this book during, he admits, a period of soul searching, which gives it a certain humility, but also urgency; it is not a distant, academic bit of social criticism. Brooks has read, interviewed, and consulted widely, and the stories here are truly inspiring. 

That he thanks Tim Keller for helping to shepherd him through some of this has caused some to speculate if he is moving towards some sort of Christian conversion. (He writes about Augustine and sin and even a bit about grace in this book, for crying out loud!) The Road to Character looks at a wide array of people, colorfully and caringly described, who were, in many ways, great individuals, but who had deep flaws. He looks at the remarkable Bayard Rustin (a gay socialist who was very, very influential in the life of Martin Luther King) and Dorothy Day (the spiritually traditional Catholic convert who worked for radical social change with the likes of Thomas Merton and the Berrigan brothers), President Eisenhower and a host of writers, politicos, business leaders and others who served well in their professional careers but struggled to - as Steve Garber put it in the subtitle to Fabric of Faithfulness - "weave together belief and behavior."  I don't know for sure, but I have reason to believe that Mr. Brooks has read Garber's substantive book. 

I won't put too much emphasis on this, but the Road to Character starts with a bit of a survey of the stuff that is often said in college commencement speeches. That my soon to be released new book (Serious Dreams) is a collection of college graduation speeches designed to offer vision and inspiration for young adults to take up their vocations in the world, for the sake of the common good, is, well, perhaps an example that not all such speeches are inane, offering advice about listening to the self, or focusing on one's own bliss or suggesting other sorts of self-centeredness.  How we've shifted from the virtues of humility and service to self-aggrandizement and a theology of Self is a complex and important story, and he tells it with his characteristic blend of social science, a bit of history and a dash of good wit.

Please listen to this wonderful "On Point" radio interview with David Brooks here. He not only holds up examples of those whose character has been shown to be virtuous, but echos material in the book about how we got away from this as a culture. (Surprise, he does not blame the lenient 60s and the boomers.) I bet you'll be as intrigued as Beth and I were as we listened to this amazing stuff about faith and formation and character and theology on NPR, and you'll want to form a smart book club to discuss this splendid new volume.

Believe AND Think, Act, Believe.jpgBelieve: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus Randy Frazee, editor  (Zondervan) $24.99

Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ  Randy Frazee (Zondervan) $15.99

If some of the above titles remind us of the need to "grow up" in Christ, to seek creative and energetic ways to deepen our knowledge and maturity in faith, and to read widely in order to discern the contours of faithful discipleship in our age, then I think it is helpful to name these two books designed, mostly, it seems, for new believers. Since so very few churches have "catechism" for adults, and we all can benefit from knowing a bit about what we believe, and why we believe it, and how such beliefs can transform us into the people God wants us to be, it might be wise to see this pair of books as helpful resources for anyone doing adult education, Christian formation, Sunday school, or the mentoring of others, new believers or not.

Believe me, I think you could use these in fruitful ways, if not in a full class of seekers or new church members or young Christians, but in one-on-one mentoring, spiritual formation sessions, or "disciple-making." Maybe you could use it to inspire your own curriculum plans, or draw on it, bit by bit. Use it as a resource for your own teaching, or share it with somebody who you think maybe would appreciate a guide to being grounded in the basics.

Here's the deal with how they are arranged.

Believe- Living the Story of the Bible.jpgBelieve: Living the Story of the Bible is not exactly an abridged NIV Bible, but it is almost entirely Scripture, in a Bible-sized hardback, with the passages and texts arranged around three major themes. These themes are offered under the headlines Think, Act, Do Each has a subtitle that explains what they mean by Think, Act, Be:  "What Do I Believe?" and "What Should I Do?" and "Who Am I Becoming?"  Each chapter within each of the three sections has a "key idea" and a "key verse" but then mostly is just long passages of the Bible, annotated in italics with some basic context stuff, or single verses offered.  I've perused many of these annotations, what they say to frame the passages, and these brief connective, explanatory comments are clear, evangelical, helpfully designed for assisting people to see the truthfulness of these portions of the unfolding Story of God.

Think / What Do I Believe?  This section includes 10 chapters about God, salvation, the Bible, the church, humanity, compassion, service, and more. 

Act / What Should I Do?  This offers Scripture readings on worship, prayer, surrender, spiritual gifts, sharing one's faith, stewardship of money and time,  and other basic Christian practices.

The Be / Who Am I Becoming?  The last portion is a 10 chapter study of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, self-control, hope, patience, kindness/goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, humility) offering Bible portions from Old and New Testaments.

There are 30 chapters to this, and there is a nice, basic 30-session study guide in the back, offering a few helpful questions for readers to ponder or for groups to discuss.  I should be clear that although there is this handy format and organized structure and some apparatus naming key verses and offering annotations, this really is mostly Bible. It says on the back "It's one thing to know the story of the Bible. It's another thing to live it."  Believe really is grounded in carefully selected Scripture, offering a unique spiritual growth experience that takes participants on this journey of thinking, doing, and becoming more Christ-like in character.  I am sure you could quibble or refine his rubric here, but Frazee is helping if offering us ten key beliefs, tend key practices, and ten key virtues. This is an amazing resource.

think act believe like jesus.jpgThink, Act, Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ is a companion to Believe and is arranged in the same three units, adding a fourth called "Transformation" which presents more good information exploring how inner transformation happens and the benefits of deepening one's own journey towards Christ-likeness. It covers lots of ground, but remains accessible and clear -- useful stuff. For those that care about such things, Frazee and his co-writer Robert Noland draw on profound insights from philosopher Dallas Willard (of course!) especially the valuable V.I.M. approach explored in Willard's important Renovation of the Heart. (V.I.M. stands for Vision, Intent and Means.) These last few chapters on the "think-act-be" revolution" is really, really helpful for those who don't have much an intentional strategy about Christian growth, and it is well worth considering his insight about the relationship of believing and belonging, and the essential connection between doing and growing. It is my experience that few churches (or even para-church groups who are on the front lines of mentoring and discipling eager learners) have much of a strategy to guide life-giving teaching in discipleship.  This can help.

This paperback book is laden with good stuff, contains solid Biblical teaching about all manner of basic, sensible, Christian practices, written with lively, evangelical passion.  Here's what it says on the back cover:

In Think, Act, Be Like Jesus bestselling author and pastor Randy Frazee helps you grasp the vision of the Christian life and get started on the journey of discipleship.

In thirty short chapters, Frazee unpacks the ten key beliefs, ten key practices, and ten key virtues that help disciples to think, act, and be more like Jesus Christ. As he unfolds the revolutionary dream of Jesus, he shows how our lives fit into the big picture of what God is doing in the world.

I know, dear friends, that some of you don't like formulaic approaches or numbered points or too much simple appeals to Bible verses to guide you towards the deeper waters of faith.  Okay, read the mystics and postmodern theologies and ponder the transformational potential of ritual or find God in popular culture or missional service; I do, or try to. Use Brian McLaren's extraordinary We Make the Road By Walking as an essential guide for progressive spiritual movement into this world of personal change and communal growth and social change. I've recommended it often as a year-long story- journey through the Bible in ways that are designed to be transformational.  

But I am also convinced that without revisiting the basic, historically-grounded, classic matters, offered in Think, Act, Be Like Jesus we become unmoored and disheveled.  Our programs of spiritual direction become vague conversations about discerning one's own inner voice without much concrete guidance in formulating reliable application to process and integrate Biblical wisdom into our own transformation.

Thomas Bergler is right in his examination of how youth ministry visions and practices, and a pop culture of immediacy and sensation has caused us all to drift away from solid, good stuff.  His aforementioned Eerdmans book, From Here to Maturity might be best to start you thinking deeply about how transforming spiritual growth can be seen in your faith community.  Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus unpacks so much, in such readable, usable nuggets, that I think it would be a valuable resource for anyone wanting to know how to lead others into maturity in Christ, even if it is a tad basic for some tastes. If your church doesn't offer you this kind of stuff, take charge of your own faith journey, work through this, and see where it all leads. 



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April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans AND Hopecasting by Mark Oestreicher - ON SALE

evolving in monkey town.jpgI remember reading and reviewing the memoir Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evan's first book about growing up fundamentalist in the same town that gave us the  infamous Scopes trial. Dayton, Tennessee is locked forever in the American popular imagination as the site of the showdown between conservative religion and modern science and although the trial was in a previous century, Held used its defining impact as a springboard into her own feisty revolt against an anti-science sort of faith that is still too prevalent on the American religious landscape.

As I was reading it, years ago, I, myself, had been on the fringes of a battle here in our community, when a stupid lawsuit by the ACLU took an even stupider school board from Dover PA to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, over the school's legitimate (in my view) debate regarding Darwin's ideology about evolution happening by chance alone, and the philosophy of science that is inextricably connected to it. Could they mention that there were other views?  Darwin's great grandson was one of the several who sat in on the "Scopes 2" trial -- which lasted exactly 40 days and 40 nights ("Not by design," the judge quipped as the final official words of the trial.) Between the ill-informed creationism of many of the school board members and the militant secularism of some who opposed them, I was, it seemed, at odds with nearly everyone. It wasn't easy trying to get both camps to understand the other. Few seemed to want to grapple with the serious philosophical questions underlying the trial (as have been raised, say, in the brilliant Oxford University Press book by world-class philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies) let alone the more nuanced questions of philosophical pluralism in education policy.  

I remember this because Rachel's memoir put me in a world that I might not have otherwise known - again, she did, in fact, grow up monkey-town, and went to the college named after the lawyer in the famous Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan.  That is, you see, one of the reasons we so often recommend memoirs as they can be a window into the lives and views of others.

And this is one of the great reasons not only to know the writing of Ms Evans, but of her brand new book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (Nelson; $16.99.)

Rachel, too, wants various sides of debates and different sorts of faith traditions to understand one another, and although she has left her fundamentalism behind, with not a small amount of gusto, she remains an ally to any of us who want to bridge cultural divides, who long to nourish greater awareness and empathy of those who are different then ourselves. In her new book she says, in a very moving scene recalling her baptism, that there is no real escaping our past. This is who she is, one who was baptized into the body of Christ in a particular way, in a particular place, by a particular group of people.  Gladly, she does not disdain them. faith unraveleled.jpg

That fine first book of hers, in part about evolution, recently re-issued and retitled as Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask Questions (Nelson; $15.99) reminded me when I read it of some things I knew, and explained a lot I didn't, having not grown up in that world.  As a good memoir can,  it allowed me to enter into another's story. I appreciated much about the book, mostly, and, I think, said something to the effect that Rachel was a writer to watch.  Not only had she - quintessentially, perhaps - evolved out of fundamentalism and embraced a more open-minded, less dogmatic evangelical faith that wasn't tied to the Christian Right,  she was increasingly sharing her journey for all to see. 

She was a born storyteller and reporter, writing dispatches from the front, allowing us to listen in as she ranted and raved and ruminated on her increasingly important blog.  I think I was right to say then that she was a good writer and it is obvious now that she became a force to reckon with.  She was building a head of steam, on line and on the speaking circuit, coming on strong. Her Rachel Held Evans blog now has a global and dedicated following and she is loved and her work respected, despite the occasional crankiness and controversy that shows up on social media discussions.  

year of biblical womanhood.jpgHer second book was The Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master' (Nelson; $16.99) and was very entertainingly written, modeled after the sort of experiential memoir done of A.J. Jacobs.  This, again, showed her passion and resolve to leave behind a fundamentalism (and a Biblical hermeneutic) that is unhelpful and unsustainable. In that often hilarious book she attempts to actually do each and every thing the Bible commands of women, which leads her to do all manner of odd things, as commanded (at some point) in Scripture. Again, I mostly complimented this at BookNotes and highlighted it many places where we went, and appreciated her raising very legitimate questions about gender and Biblical interpretation in the delightful style of a comic memoir. You may take exception to this or that point or opinion of Rachel Held Evans but there is no doubt that she is a significant voice, an important writer, and an author whose work you should know.

searching for sunday.jpgEvans' brand new book, Searching  for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church is the triumphant third installment of these memoiristic tales of her faith journey. And it is without a doubt her best yet. It is stunningly exquisite, remarkable in its tender prose, good storytelling, and mature, ecumenical insight.  She offers her ruminations about the broader Christian church in a way that immediately resonated with Beth and I; Evans is positioned to see contemporary faith from a variety of healthy angles, from her ultra- conservative past to her progressive sensibilities, now. 

Evans journey is perhaps writ large, but she shares some similarities with other popular authors these days. Barbara Brown Taylor, for instance, who is perhaps the most famous Episcopalian writer of our generation, was nurtured in Christ in an evangelical campus ministry setting (as she briefly describes in her wonderful memoir The Preaching Life.) Nadia Bolz- Weber, who was raised in the strict Southern world of the Churches of Christ is now a tatted up, emerging Lutheran pastor. But more than these other women writers, Evans speaks of ecumenical and mainline denominational church life through the lens of her earlier experiences as a good-hearted fundamentalist.

It isn't every book that talks endearingly about AWANA and cites the Russian Orthodox theologian, the late Alexander Schmemann,  glowing about his brilliant book For the Life of the World.  It isn't every author that recalls (in a passage that for some reason brought tears to my eyes) her own childhood baptism with her sister - and the deviled eggs they made for her afterword, because somebody knew they were her favorites - and beautiful prayers from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.  My ecumenical heart is warmed by writers who cite Tim Keller and Brian McLaren and Robert Webber and Robert Farrar Capon and Rachel Marie Stone and G.K. Chesterton. 

rachel held evans photo.pngRachel Held Evan was born and baptized into the Southern fundamentalist church,  grew disillusioned, and yet - as her subtitle here says - has spent her years "loving, leaving, and finding" the church.  Like many of the recent faith memoirs of writers of her generation she has had her frustrations with the church, but sure couldn't shake Jesus. "Christ-haunted" is the term Flannery O'Connor used for the American South, and it is surely a common expression used by many described in (for instance) the important work of David Kinnaman and his research on young adults who have left church. (See Kinnaman's You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving... and RethinkingFaith [Baker; $17.99] for a remarkably interesting study of this.)  Ms. Evans has became one of the small handful of younger, post-evangelical writers who helped reshape the conversation about the nature of gospel truth and emerging forms of experiencing faith and living out relevant discipleship. 

And, get this: she seems tired of the too-easy position of those who "love Jesus but not the church." In Searching for Sunday she shows a remarkable, wise, andwe long for our churches to be safe.jpg healthy love for the Body of Christ, for the local church, and for the ordinary stuff that gets done in the daily life of faith.  It isn't exactly the same as When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Jericho Books; $16.00) by UCC pastor Lillian Daniel -- which really is a tribute to the small, ordinary, local parish -- but I still cannot tell you how grateful I am for this fine work, this voice from the margins, aware of so much wrong with so many expressions of faith, and yet willing to tell us in such beautiful prose and revealing stories, why the church still matters.  And that it can still change our lives.  This is ecumenical, serious faith, expressed with wonder and grace and captivating prose.

Despite the lovely prose and the brave celebration of the local church, however, this book isn't all joy on the journey. This search is not a walk in the park.  Rachel - as we know from her previous books and blog - can be satirical, fierce, prophetic, even. She wears her heart on her sleeve.  And her shifting understanding of faith has not come easy.  After a passage describing attending services at her evangelical church, admitting that she resented the uplifted arms and how easily faith has seemed to come to some of her fellow-worshippers (even some who have suffered and been tested more than she) she fumes. 

Then she writes,

My husband of five years, Dan, stands beside me, steady as a pier to a drifting boat. Once we are home, we will crawl into bed together - both of us still dressed in our church clothes, but with our shoes kicked off - and he will listen as I mumble through my litany of grievances: the political jab during the announcements, the talk of hell, the simplistic interpretation of a complicated text, the violent and masculine theology, the seemingly shared assumption that the end times are upon us because we just elected a Democratic president with a foreign-sounding name. I glom onto these offenses, not because they are particularly grievous or even real, but because they give me reasons to hate going to church besides my own ugly doubt. They give me someone else to blame. Maybe it's time to call it quits, we will say. Maybe let's give it one more week.

There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, a sibling, a spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You're on your own for that.

There is some anguishing stuff in here.  In one chapter she tells of the story of J.R. Briggs (whose book about the shame of ministry failure, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure is a must-read!) That chapter starts with an epigram from Ian Morgan Cron, who has said "All ministry begins at the ragged edges of your own failure."

I was glad, also, to see her cite the indie folk-singer Gregory Alan Isakov, and his line "I threw stones at the stars, but the whole sky fell."  In that line is a whole story, of course, and Rachel using it says much about the price she has paid to find her place.  

Ian Cron offers a blurb on the back, too, by the way, and he is always worth listening to.

Of Searching for Sunday he writes, If you're done with church, or simply on the verge of throwing in the towel, then please, please, please, read this book. It is brave, wry, and exquisitely penned meditation from someone who knows precisely how you feel.

But this book is not just for those who are anguished about the church, angry prodigals or doubters. For anyone looking for a good read, there is such joy in taking in the spiritual memoir and reflections of a thoughtful sister who has seen a lot, considered much, learned some, and written about it nicely. Perhaps it takes one who has not been raised in the more liturgical churches to uncover some of the strengths of that tradition, but she does this well. Of course she thanks her friend  Diana Butler Bass and cites Barbara Brown Taylor and Lauren Winner. She draws on United Methodist leader William Willimon and the Lutheran Book of Worship.

Evans here tells of her insights about the church and the Christian life by telling of her journey towards a more liturgical and mainline sort of Protestant faith. Even though she opens with a quote from the current Pope.

Here is the key to the book: Searching for Sunday is arranged as a set of ruminations on what RomanRachel Held Evans picture of communion.jpg Catholics call the seven sacraments. (When I first heard this I wondered, although didn't think it was likely, that Rachel had become Catholic.) These seven parts, each with several chapters, of sacramental reflections are rich and give the book a structure which is more than just a random collection of her latest thoughts. It is a mature, developed, and highly insightful flow of what might be called spiritual theology.  She is doing helpful good work here, besides offering us an entertaining third installment of her ongoing series of memoirs. As she unfolds some of her story - their stint away from church, sleeping in on Sunday, watching Meet the Press and reading the paper ("one New York Times crossword puzzle away from liberal nirvana") and their eventual return, somewhat sobered - she also tells us what she has learned about the seven sacraments. 

She describes her approach like this:

I am telling my church story in seven sections, through the imagery of baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. These are the seven sacraments named by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, but one need not consider them the church's only sacraments. I could easily write about the sacrament of pilgrimage, the sacrament of foot washing, the sacrament of the Word, the sacrament of making chicken casseroles, or any number of outward signs of inward grace. My aim in employing these seven sacraments is not theological or ecclesiological, but rather literary. They are the tent pegs anchoring my little tabernacle of a story to the ground. I chose them because they have something of a universal quality, for even in churches that are not expressly sacramental,  the truths of the sacrament are generally shared.

She illustrates what she means with this bullet list:

The church tells us we are loved (baptism). The church tells us we are broken (confession). The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders). The church feeds us (communion). The church welcomes us (confirmation). The church anoints us (anointing of the sick). The church unites us (marriage).

As you might guess, she ends up turning over some similar ground that others have plowed, most obviously, here, Barbara Brown Taylor (Leaving Church, An Altar in the World, Learning to Walk in the Dark) and Lauren Winner (Still.)  That is not to say Evans is derivative, not at all. Like these other exceptional women writers, Held Evans uses the images and metaphors and insights about sacramentalism and invites us to see deep truths embedded not only in church teaching and congregational life, but in the created order itself.

At times the writing is luminous, helping us glimpse the the most profound realities of God's glory seen in what we experience, in what Robert Johnston has recently called in a book called God's Wider Presence.  As Evans says in her forward, she is not just writing about the search for church, but resurrection. 

It's about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It's about giving up and starting over again. It's about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk about Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet racing the rising sun.

I hope you like this book, and I hope you appreciate Rachel Held Evans as good writer, an honest seeker who refuses to succumb to cheap cynicism or bitterness, who sees resurrection hope in places like Becca Steven's community for former prostitutes and addicts called Thistle Farms or Sara Miles' work with the urban poor.  She knows that the body of Christ includes (and at its best draws on the insights and practices of) Mennonites and Anglicans and Free Methodists and free range folk of all kinds, from emerging house churches to third world base communities to non-denom Pentecostals to mega-church evangelicals.  And she knows our stories are not over until they are over.  She herself is proof of this; lost and found, left and returned. From Monkey Town to the Canterbury Trail.

I certainly do not think that this book is only, or even mostly, for the discouraged or alienated. Many of us who are fairly ordinary Christians, more or less glad to be where we are, aware of other churches but not obsessed with ecumenicity, glad to ponder how grace and goodness might spill over and make all of life a sacrament, will benefit from this, too.  We commend it to you, seeker, skeptic, or spiritual leader. It would make a fantastic book club title or something to take on a quiet day away. You will most likely not agree with it all; I did not agree with it all. But that isn't the point with a book like this, made of ruminations, memories, stories, reflections.
like it or not, RHE banner.jpg Her last chapters are about the mystery of marriage, especially as it is seen as a metaphor for the church. These are clever and precious pages; read this little part:

We married before Pinterest, so there were no photo booths or mason jars or mustaches-on-sticks at the reception. Back in those days, the photographer just lined everybody in front of the church like it was a firing range and took the shot. We didn't even think to pose inside a vintage mirror frame or sit on a rusty pickup truck. But even though we started out young and poor and Republican, our marriage has been a happy one, and has made the meandering journey in and out of church a less lonely one for sure.

Then, in writing about her marriage, and their bristling about strict gender roles and some unhelpful marriage books they read, she notes, nicely:

What Dan and I found within just a few months of living together is that marriage isn't about sticking to a script; it's about making a life together. It's not a choreographed cha-cha, it's an intimate slow dance. It isn't a formula, it's a mystery. Few of the Christian marriage books prepared us for the actual adventure of marriage, which involves improvisation, compromise, and learning as you go.

She tells of the church customs that put crowns upon the heads of the married couples in their wedding ceremony (and, once again, cites Alexander Schmemenn.) And then, she reminds us beautifully not only of a spirituality of family life, but, I suppose, what is the point of the whole searching for Sunday thing, the ultimate truth of the book:

Dan and I have been married for eleven years now. Sometimes our marriage looks like the kingdom. Sometimes it does not. Sometimes we wear our crowns with decorum and grace. Sometimes we fight to snatch them off each other's heads. But what makes our marriage holy, what makes it "set apart" and sacramental, isn't the marriage certificate filed away in the basement or the degree to which we follow a list of rules and roles, it's the way God shows up in those everyday moments - loading the dishwasher, sharing a joke, hosting a meal, enduring an illness, working through a disagreement - and gives us a chance to notice, to pay attention to the divine. It's the way the God of resurrection makes all things new. searching for sunday.jpg

Learn about Rachel's coming of age and beginning to chafe at rigid fundamentalism in her book set in "Monkey town" USA, now called Faith Unraveled. Join her in the hilarious year-long romp trying to learn how to read the Bible well described in The Year of Biblical Womanhood. Both are really good. 

But this, this is nearly a masterpiece, her finest book yet, including great insights, caring, artful writing, and poignant, powerful storytelling. Rachel Held Evans is one of our notable young writers, and an author you should know.  Who knows, maybe you, too, need a gentle push to start over, reconsider your faith, to broaden your attentiveness to God's presence and work in the world, in the sacramental stuff of life, and, yes, in a local church.

Join her in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding not only the church, but, perhaps, resurrection itself.

I suppose I should end my review right there.  But - you know how this works for me - there are several other titles that come to mind, that I'd love to mention.  For some reason, I just want to mention this one, now, as it somehow feels like a companion sort of book. They are very different in tone and topic, but here ya go.  It, too, is very, very good, and my quick announcement of it doesn't do it justice.
hopecasting-header.png hopecasting cover.jpgHopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen Mark Oestreicher (IVP) $16.00  Oh my, this book (with a nice foreword by Scot McKnight) deserves a long, weighty review.  "Why is it that some people are full of hope," the author asks, "while many of us struggle to get past the snooze alarm?" 

And isn't that a curious thing, how some people (I'm thinking of Rachel Held Evans, even) are resilient and are able to find fresh hope, while others grow hardened and stale and discouraged? What is hope, anyway, and how does one find it? How can we announce it to others, share it with the broken world? You know I loved (loved!) N.T. Wright's must-read, heavy-weight book Surprised By Hope. Perhaps you, too, will be drawn to a book called Hopecasting.

Well, this isn't just a simple study of the elusive quality of hopefulness in some people (although that in itself makes it worth reading) but it is a deep and profound and fabulous study of what hope is, loaded with good Bible study, and lots of illustrative stories. Princeton scholar and youth specialist Kenda Creasy Dean notes that it is "part memoir, part mentor, part prayer for the journey."

The genius recording artist David Crowder says "Oestreicher redefines hope, or better yet, pulls us back to a workable set of postures for receiving hope. This book reminds us that hope is a beautiful gift, an influx of Jesus into our dark and dry souls."  No lesser a hopester than IJM founder Gary Haugen has raved about it, noting that Hopecasting is "an invitation into active, faithful confidence in the goodness of God." (Gary, by the way, has seen some of the most gruesome stuff on the planet, walking through the corpses of Rwanda and now fighting brothels and child slavery throughout the world. If he, of all people,  says this is "deep encouragement for those of us who have ever struggled to cultivate transformative hope in hard places" then you can trust it. 

walt talking.jpghope within history.jpgmarko o.jpgFor what it is worth, if I were doing a bigger review, I'd further commend  Marko, as he is called (get it? Mark O.) for giving us a very nice introduction, without exactly saying so, to the work of Walter Brueggemann. Marko even joked that he considered calling this Brueggemann for Dummies and it does capture much of that for which Walt is known. Upon doing research for this book, Marko the gifted storyteller and upbeat youth worker, discovered Brueggemann, and holed himself up with two of my own favorite books, the greatly under-rated volumes of Walt's, Hope Within History and the sequel to The Prophetic Imagination called, simply, The Hopeful Imagination.

That Mr. Oestreicher channels some of the allusive, deep, Biblical vision makes of those two books makes this delightful, story-filled  book a true gift to God's people.

There are very interesting and practical reflection questions after each chapter (he calls them the "Hope Toolbox" -- something WB would not have done, by the way) that will be very, very helpful for those wanting to process this good material. The 10 chapters move us from an awareness of Biblical themes of exile and their resonance today, towards being honest with ourselves and God, even in lament, on towards an authentic encounter with Christ as "the hope bringer." Those paying attention to important discussions about faith formation and the transformation of desire will appreciate the penultimate chapter -- ""Hopes Dance Partner: Transformed Longings" which leads to the last great about how hope becomes hope-casting. (And, yes, if you must know, Moltmann makes a brief appearance.)  This is good, good, hardy stuff.

Jim Belcher is right, I think, when he says: "Read this book. Your life may never be the same again." Kudos to all involved.

hopecasting cover.jpgsearching for sunday.jpg



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April 9, 2015

Embracing the Body (Tara Owens), This Is My Body (Ragan Sutterfield), Spiritual Friendship (Wesley Hill), and The World Beyond Your Head (Matthew Crawford) ON SALE

Christ is Risen! 

He is Risen Indeed!

Even low-brow evangelicals and hipster missional house church folk have been adopting this ancientthomas painting.jpg Orthodox call and response these days. I'm heartened by how many have signed off their emails this week with the creedal reminder, and hope this Eastertide season of the church shapes our imaginations and habits.  Nothing against the start of baseball season, of course (we have a Baltimore Sun sportswriter Dan Connolly coming in to the store next month to talk about the Orioles!), but there is something good about rooting ourselves in the ancient story.  At the change of each liturgical season I get out Bobby Gross's great devotional Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (IVP; $18.00) and re-read Lauren Winner's spectacular introduction where she reflects on wanting to be more shaped by the church year than the customs of the American narrative and its secular feast days and calendar revolving around school seasons. What does it mean to be alive to the themes and insights about Jesus, season by season?

Certainly one of the great, great truths of this season is that Jesus rose from the dead.  So now is a goodMiracles.jpg time to think and maybe read about that. He did so in his body, the texts tell us, and I believe it -- the modernist lack of imagination among the progressive intelligentsia notwithstanding. If only we could pass out the latest Eric Metaxas book, Miracles (Dutton; $27.95), like loaves and fishes for those hungry for an enchanted universe. 

(And, while I'm on this preamble digression, allow me this tangent: New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, perhaps the world's leading scholar on first century ideas about resurrection has described how when he was trying to figure out if he was a Christian or not, he, of course, had to determine what he believed about this astounding claim that Jesus rose from the dead. To even entertain that, he had to first conclude if miracles - any kind of miracles - could even happen.  If not, then there was little point it trying to conjure up Easter faith.  So, he read C.S. Lewis's classic little paperback, Miracles and that was a key step in the process.  Once he came to realize that miracles are plausible, then he could proceed to the matter at hand: if that miracle - the literal raising of Jesus from the tomb - had happened.  Which is why I commend not only the Lewis standard, but the new Metaxas book. Not only because we may all need a little inspiration to recall that Hamlet was right in his quip to Horatio -- there is more to life then meets the naked eye -- but so that we can stand seriously on this ancient Christian essential truth:  Christ is Risen indeed.)

Okay.  That said, I'd like to suggest some books that seem particularly germane this week as we see life in light of the Light of the world, who is now much more than light. He is, as in the famous Updike poem, "Seven Stanzas At Easter," molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindled. ("Let us not mock God with metaphors" he writes. "Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body...") 

(John Calvin, you may have heard, was once asked if Jesus still sits at the right hand of the Father, as the Apostle Creed declares. His witty reply was that, most likely, He sometimes gets up and walks around. Which is to say, again, Updike is right. This is a real body, which Thomas touched and that reigns in Heaven, even now.)

Enough of me telling it slant, warming up.  Here are some books that are about the human body, since bodies matter.  Black ones, yes, yes, especially now, but that's not the half of it.  All sorts of stuff matters, and, in Christ, we are like new Adams and Eves, alive in the world, gloriously human, gladly bound by gravity and grace. "This is our Father's World" the old song says and despite the goofy lines in too many hymns (as documented in a few pages in Richard Middleton's A New Heaven and A New Earth) the whole Earth does declare the glory of God.  And that includes - like it or not - our bodies, from tongues to toenails.  

We suggest these books because they are very good. I suggest them now because, well, it is Eastertide, and it seems right.

Embracing the Body- Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone.jpgEmbracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone Tara M. Owens (IVP/formation) $17.00  This is the third spectacular book published by IVP in the last few years on the nature of the human body, living in our own skins, pondering the deep relationship between our deepest interior lives and our bodies.  (We recommend their practical and very spiritually enriching The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie Hess & Lane Arnold and the extraordinary, wonderfully-written What Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve, and Thrive by Rob Moll. I am sure Debra Hirsch's soon to be released Redeeming Sex, although a bit more specific, will also wonderful explore the relationship between our bodies and our faith.) I'm glad the acquisition team there are finding these kinds of helpful titles, and releasing them so affordably. Kudos to IVP.

This new book by Tara M. Owens declares that "Our bodies teach us about God, and God communicates to us through our bodies. Our bodies are more good that we can possibly imagine them to be. And yet at times we may struggle with feelings of shame and guilt or even pride in regard to our bodies. What is God trying to do through our skin and bones?"

tara m. jpgTara Owens is a spiritual director, a gifted, artful person, if a failed poet (so she tells us, although she doesn't blame her friends from the Image Journal Santa Fe Glen Workshop or her teacher Scott Cairnes) and a heck of a great writer. (I love somebody who cites the 21st century writer Christian Wiman and 2nd century poet, St. Symeon the New Theologian, C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell.) She edits an excellent, excellent spirituality journal, Conversations Journal, so gets to work with Gary Moon and David Benner and the likes of Richard Foster and Eugene Peterson and the late Dallas Willard. (By the way, do you recall that in Willard's breakthrough 1988 book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he had a chapter on the body!) Owens says her own "cranky patron saint" is the mystic Evelyn Underhill.  Besides her editing and writing, she is a part time instructor for the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program at Benet Hill Monastery.  She is qualified to write an engaging, spiritually profound, mature and discerning book.

But why this, writing on the body?  She seems neither terribly broken nor distressed about her body (there are some powerful memoirs about eating disorders, say, or cutting, which get at the woundedness so many know.) She is deeply aware, though, and writes eloquently about these hard things that happen to and in our bodies, even though she comes at this less as a physiologist or psychologist, but as spiritual director. She know that our bodies are a central part of who we are, and that we can embody God's glorious intentions only as we become comfortable with our bodies. Our spirituality is intimately tied to our physicality.

Part One of Embracing the Body is called "Body Reality" and the four chapters are:

Where Do Our Fears Come From?

How We Lost Our Bodies?

Broken Body, Broken Church

Dust to Dust

In Part Two, Ms. Owens uses her wise and pastoral insights to offer us ways to "face our fears."  She offers really profound ways to frame these conversations and I am sure this is going to be immensely helpful for many.  I think it might be helpful to just list these chapters and what they cover:

Angel or Animal: Beyond False Dichotomies

Beauty of Beast: Living with an Unglorified Body

Touch or Temptation: Issues Around Sexuality

Desire or Destruction: Exploring Our Impulses

The third part of Embracing... includes five more great chapters, moving us towards a Kingdom vision,glory of our bodies poster.jpg how God's people in the church -a Body! - might help us with better body images, and how Christ's redemption may shape and heal our own distorted views and approaches.   As you might guess, I loved a chapter called "Sensing God's Kingdom:  Encountering God's Physical Creation" and highly recommend the chapter on sexuality.  (She cites the beautiful book by Lisa Graham McMann, which I often recommend, called Sexuality and Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World.)  There are suggested exercises for reflection at the end of each chapter. 

Lauren Winner (whose brand new Wearing God I announced in our last post) says "This book is beautiful, learned and wise. It will make you think, and it will make you want to say 'amen' - and, more important, it will enable you to live as a body."  Micah Boyett (author of Found) says "Tara M. Owens is a rare find among contemporary writers. Part theologian, part mystic, her insight is bod and rich, and her writing is fine-tuned... I will be meditating on this book for a long time to come."

Enjoy this interview with Tara Owens, about her book, done by another astute blogger.

this is my body ragan s.jpgThis Is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith Ragan Sutterfield (Convergent Books) $22.99  It isn't every day that one sees a mature philosopher write a book about his own body (let alone a triumphant story of becoming an Ironman competitor.)  But this - this is smart, exceptionally well-written, captivating, a stimulating blend of memoir and reflection.  That Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says it is a memoir "that threatens to up-end spiritual writing in the twenty-first century" is significant. This is, truly, an embodied sort of spirituality, a meditation about flesh and weight and sweat and tears and aches and pleasures.  

Sutterfield, by the way, wrote a small book that we mention as often as we can, the fantastic Cultivating Reality: How The Soil Might Save Us (Cascade; $16.00) which ponders the harm of industrial food systems, and offers a faithful glimpse of sustainable, soulful, agriculture. That he is indebted to Wendell Berry and the new agrarians is obvious, that he loves the land is evident.  That he is a great, solid writer is also evident.  He cites rich pieces of the New Yorker and knows good literature from the classic poets to the best theologians. He is studying to become an Episcopal priest.

In This Is My Body Sutterfield helps us think about our physical natures in ways that remind us that "God glories in the flesh." Even on the back cover, he asks, "What if we had the same joy about our bodies" as God does?  Although there is plenty of spiritually-enlightening reflection and some good and challenging diagnosis of our cultural dysfunctions, it is, after all, a memoir. (Rodney Clapp, founder of Brazos Press, and himself author of Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels) says it is "unflinchingly honest." This book is exactly that, and it is almost stunning to see anyone reflect on his own views of his own body with such candor. Each chapter tells of a season of his life, from a certain setting. (Including his time on a farm, which is pivotal.)   

Chapter by chapter, Sutterfield unfolds his story as he tells how he perceived and experienced his bodySutterfield-Ragan-210x300.jpg as a body, as he awakened to his body, to his own body in college. He became obese, and has chapters telling how his body was lonely, broken, fulfilled... you've been there, no doubt. Interspersed with these auto-biographical ruminations are episodes from his taking up Ironman training as a spiritual discipline.  I usually have little interest in reading about these kinds of hard exercise regimens or extreme sports stories (although we do have a book called Slowspoke about a guy riding a unicycle across the country) but found these parts very interesting. Beyond that, they were inspiring, and one more way into this conversation that God cares about this world, that there are, as Bruce Cockburn has sung, "rumours of glory" and that Christ's own resurrection helps us know in the deepest sense, the promise of the redemption of all things, including our bodies.  Did I mention that one of Mr. Sutterfield's chapters is called "My Resurrected Body"?  

I like that on the back cover it notes that Sutterfield "counts his success, though, not in his decreased clothing size, but in his increased understanding of how much God truly loves us and what it means to be stewards, not just of our souls, but of our skin and bones, too." What a story!

Spiritual Friendship- Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.jpgSpiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian Wesley Hill (Brazos Press) $14.99 This book deserves its own longer review, and I am afraid I cannot do it justice here. It is one of the most important books of our time, vital, important, rare, wise, exceptional.  It is exactly about our embodiedness, yes, even about the redemption of our sexuality.  It is beautifully written, exquisite at times, and more candid then one might expect in an evangelical Christian book.  We are proud to carry it, and eager to commend it to one and all.

The author is a very sharp, Anglican theologian (indeed, his just released his long-awaited scholarly book Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans; $26.00) which itself deserves much acclaim.) Mr. Hill, though, is perhaps better known as the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality which was published by Zondervan ($14.99) a few years ago. There, he tells his story of being a thoughtful, evangelical and undeniably gay.  As one who holds to the traditional interpretations of the often-contested handful of texts about same sex behaviors, Wes is clear that he believes that he must, like other unmarried singles, remain sexually celibate. Washed and Waiting is the only book of its kind, a candid rumination by an out Christian who is gay and who is committed to sexual restraint, without muchwashed and waiting.jpg expectation of God re-orienting his own desires for same sex intimacy.  Some on the progressive side of things have lamented his prissy fidelity to heterosexual norms and some in the fundamentalist camps have wished for less candor from the brother.  (An unashamed gay Christian? Yikes!)  We believe that book to be a watershed and exceptionally helpful for those wanting a third way between the extremes.  Agree or not, it is, as they say, what it is: a testimonial witness of a very thoughtful, young evangelical leader ruminating on his body, on the redemption of all things, and his hope as he waits for the new earth.

In that significant book he notes that if one is committed to celibacy - no erotic, sexual activity - one certainly needs brothers and sisters along on the journey. Everyone needs companions, serious friends, those who can share life and times more deeply than even in more typical friendships. One needs (embodied) spiritual friendship, and Wes promised that this would be the topic of his next book.  Many of us - gay and straight - have awaited this next chapter of his story, and his theologically rich call to better, more profound views of friendship. I cannot tell you how glad I am that this is now available.

Here are four features of this great book which underscore why you should consider buying Spiritual Friendship, as soon as possible.

Firstly, we all know that one of the great themes of our time is the need for authentic community. Not a day goes by without an article crossing my desk - in cyberspace, that is, which may be part of the problem and some of the answer - about the fragmentation of our mobile culture, and why younger Christians, especially, are seeking community.  A gang of us moved into a big old house a few decades ago and christened ourselves "an intentional community" and it is beautiful to see that tribe now including houses and apartments throughout that neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh, with diverse and nearly intergenerational housing arrangements. (Apropos of not much, I might say it was a pretty depressed area when we moved in, and now there is a Whole Foods and Starbucks nearby.) So, yes, we long for a sense of place, for friends with whom we can do life, for churches to enhance our relationships, for community.  Wes moves beyond the rhetoric, it seems, and pushes us beyond grand talk of community to real friendships. (He's very good on this in the video interview to which I link, below.)

As Richard Hays of Duke writes of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church...

Courageous and thought provoking. This is a book that challenges all of us -- whatever our sexual experience or longings may be -- to think more truthfully about the meaning of love and the complex ways in which our communities either stifle or nurture it.

As Eve Tushnet (author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith) says, "Honest and poignant, Spiritual Friendship is like a conversation with a good friend who has learned much for books but more from loving and being loved by others." 

Secondly -- and this, too,  fits with my theme here of the redemption of our bodies, of God's care aboutside_dr_wesley_hill.jpg physicality -- I suspect this book, which I have only started, will talk about the value of human embrace, of touch.  Just this week in church a single friend mentioned to me that she and others she knows are "touched starved." She was not hinting at anything illicit, of course, but only admitting that single people,  widows and widowers, and all sorts of folks need human touch. Let us even leave aside the question of whether we all need something erotic in our lives, sensual pleasures. There is no doubt that we all need touch.  I think that Hill writes about this, and enters these frank matters out of both his own personal experience (which he mentions in Washed and Waiting) and from his meticulous, rich, theological studies.

Thirdly, there is, in recent years, a large move to recover ancient theological sources. There is a lot of interest in the patristics, in early church leaders, in a new rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox. (Read the powerful, heady memoir by Thomas Oden called A Change of Heart for some of this story.)  Some of this comes from an awareness that much of the crisis of faith in our secularizing time has rattled down from the rise of rationalistic modernity and the Enlightenment. Many realize that it is beneficial to retrieve older sources -- pre-modern, if you will -- and that ancient guides could provide ballast for shallow evangelicals and liberal Protestants alike. Whether you are immediately interested in the presenting concerns of Mr. Hill, as a celibate gay Christian, or the question of friendship, you may find it helpful to see how early church or medieval teachings presented this notion of spiritual friendship.  Hill has recovered a large body of work about friendship -- in fact, he has a fascinating epilogue which is an essay on his sources -- making this book a major contribution to the growing literature on what Peter Leithart says is "a lost Christian tradition of committed spiritual friendship."

Lastly, this book is a book-lovers dream. BookNotes readers may not know the works of St Aelred of Rievaulx (Spiritual Friendship written in 12th century England) or the early 20th century author Pavel Florensky.  More might know The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis or the many amazing lines in Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (There is a footnote, by the way,  of a letter to Hill from Charles Marsh, about the spiritual friendship of Bonhoeffer and Bethge that fans will want to see.)  Henri Nouwen, of course, shows up, as well.  Besides other important theological voices from years ago, Hill quotes popular contemporary studies and recent author (yes, Dan Brennen, whose rare book about cross-gender friendships, Sacred Unions gets a much-deserved shout out.)  He notes that moving chapter on loneliness in Lauren Winner's book Still, the lovely writings on love and romance by Diogenes Allen and novels like The Goldfinch or several by Chaim Potok.  Again, his essay which is a guided walk through all manner of recommended books, his own sources ancient and recent, is, for some of us, worth the price of the book.

Here is a remarkable half hour interview with Dr. Hill about his course on Christian friendship that he teaches at Trinity Evangelical School for Ministry. It is very, very good and I highly recommend it.

The World Beyond Your Head- On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew B. Crawford (FSG) $26.00  I announced this notable book on this prestigious publisher in the last post, naming 12 of our favorite books that released last month.  I have only dipped in to this - the booksellers joy and frustration - but I have talked to one of our most astute customers, a serious and delightful reader, who assures me it is one of the better books of the year.  Crawford, as you surely know (since you read my post earlier this week - ahem!) wrote the much-discussed Shop Class as Soulcraft a few years ago.  His story in that rich and learned work, is fantastic. He grew weary of his abstract and seemingly pointless work as a scholar in a think-tank and found new joy and meaning in a motorcycle repair shop he opened.  As one well-schooled in the liberal arts (and still involved in the academy as a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies of Culture - run by James Davison Hunter) he can ponder the intricacies and nuances of cultural shifts with the best of them. (Ahh, but can other cultural critics fabricate components for custom motorcycles?) His call to re-instate shop class, for reasons both practical and soulful, is breathtaking.

Here, he moves further into this conversation that honors the work of our hands, literally.  Crawfordmatthew crawford.png extols practices and craft, he explains how the brain works (yes, neurology figures in to this new volume) and he invites us again to resist Gnosticism.  That is the theological heresy, of course, that devalued the physical world, hating the body as Plato did. (I still cringe when a congregation sings "I'll Fly Away" with its non-biblical, Platonic stuff about this world of God's being a "prison.") Crawford, by focusing on our literal, embodied labor and skills, helps us heady types recall the places we live and the ways we work.

Here is what it says on the lovely flyleaf of this handsome hardback (well designed and manufactured and delivered by real hands, by the way.):

We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self. He examines the intense concentration of ice hockey players and short-order cooks, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep slow craftwork of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the culmination of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.

The World Beyond Your Head promises to make sense of an astonishing array of familiar phenomena, from "the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster." 

This glorious book is divided into two major sections: "Encountering Things" and "Other People." It starts with an epigram by Vincent Van Gogh, who wrote, "The great thing is to gather new vigor in reality."

Here is a very serious interview with this smart guy from a recent National Review. Wow.

For those of us who believe that Christ is Risen, there is, indeed, a really real reality. God's Spirit can give us new vigor to enter it well.  Perhaps we can imagine, envision, inhabit and embody the new Easter creation by experiencing grace firstly in our bodies.  As down-to-Earth farmer/poet Wendell Berry put it, we must "practice resurrection."  Maybe these books can help.



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April 6, 2015

13 New Books You Must Know About: Lauren Winner, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Erin Lane, Nancy Pearcey, Richard Rohr, Matthew Crawford, Tony Jones, Lee Strobel and more - 20% OFF

Thanks to those who have ordered the very cool and excellently produced new book which we proudly announced last week, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Ned Bustard & Greg Thornbury (Square Halo Press.; $17.99, on sale here at 20% off.)  We have enjoyed shipping this rare work about the long-running BBC geeky sci-fi show, even across the pond. Spread the word!

case grace strobel.jpgThe Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evident of Transformed Lives Lee Strobel (Zondervan) $22.99  I bet that not a few of us heard sermons this week about how the message of Easter can change our lives. Maybe you heard a good story or two of real people whose lives were transformed by the gospel. If you, like most people, love those kinds of stories - or you want to share a book with somebody who needs those kinds of stories - this is the book for you. Not unlike his other useful anthologies (Case for Christ, Case for Faith, Case for a Creator) Strobel uses his considerable journalistic skill and his own lively verve to tells the tales of those who met Christ, came to understand grace, were set free by free-flowing mercy. What great and intriguing and fabulous stories.  Strobel is more candid here about his own journey from atheism to follower of Jesus. There is an extensive study guide in the back, too, making this great for book clubs. This is Strobel's most personal and practice book yet.  Watch Lee talk about it in this very nice short video clip.

Vulnerable Faith - Missional Living.jpgVulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick  Jamie Arpin-Ricci (Paraclete Press) $16.99  Like most of the titles in this list, this fine book deserves a much better review than I can offer here in these brief annotations. Trust me, here:  Jamie is the real deal; an experienced and wise missional pastor of an inner city faith community in Winnipeg called Little Flowers who is always worth listening to.  He has spent decades in urban ministry, and has written widely - good, if provocative and challenging, stuff on grace and discipleship, community and servanthood, prayer and public life. 

In Vulnerable Faith Arpin-Ricci brings an upbeat, informative, and really fresh telling of the story of the early Celtic Christian leader, Saint Patrick.  What transformation Patrick experienced as his own faith radicalized his lifestyle of mission and daily discipleship!  There is good reason why so many are interested in Celtic spirituality, the legendary sort of piety that honors the Earth and cares for the poor and respects the cultures of others. This new book, which has at times a gentle, devotional tone, uses the life of Saint Patrick to show how we all can take deeper steps to be more faithful to Jesus -- in matters of being vulnerable, hospitable, nonviolent. He shows how to take faith seriously -- in ways that invite us to more authentic community, a more contemplative way of spiritual formation, and a more costly sort of servanthood and lived out ethics.   I think this is valuable, too, because it has emerged from Jamie's own work (in part through a group called Bridgefolk) drawing together Mennonites and Catholics. I suspect most BookNotes readers are neither Mennonite nor Catholic but I also suspect that a number of us draw on the best insights of these profound faith traditions. This book brings some really good stuff to us all, maybe like some mash-up of Celtic and Mennonite radical discipleship in light of Bonhoeffer's Life Together.  A warm and very special foreword is by Jean Vanier.  Highly recommended. 

I really like the way they act out Patrick miraculous journey out of slavery, and the remarkable quotes endorsing the book that appear in this moving trailer for the book. Enjoy!

Lessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe.jpgLessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe Erin Lane (IVP/cresendo) $16.00 One of the best written paperbacks of the year, this is a truly splendid,  very honest,  often funny,   really enjoyable and profound rumination on commitment and belonging to a local church. I'm telling you, you've not read a book on community or parish life like this before!  If you are young and longing for community but not so sure of the local congregation, you have to read this. If you are an older reader, wondering why young adults may not be as active in church as you may wish, and want a wonderful and helpful glimpse into their lives and faith, this story is a must. Ms Lane has a degree from Duke Divinity School, to make matters more sticky, her husband is a pastor. She knows her way around good sentences and storytelling, too; she helped edit an anthology we love of Christian women telling their stories called Talking Taboo. Lessons in Belonging written by a "commitment phobe" is very highly recommended.

Wearing God.jpgWearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God Lauren F. Winner (HarperOne) $24.99  This is, for me, personally, the most anticipated book of the season, and I almost regret that it hit bookstores the week before Easter.  I have not yet more than cracked the cover and glanced at the table of contents and footnotes I (and, okay, the acknowledgements, because, well, that's what I always do to get a feel for whom and what the author is grateful.)  This is not the first book that explores lesser known Biblical images for God, but it will most likely be the most beautifully written, the most inspiring, the most enjoyable to read, and significant to take to heart.  Here is what it says on the back:

Clothing. Beekeeper. A loaf of bread. A cypress tree. These are a few of the lyrical metaphors for God found in the Bible. Author, scholar, and priest Lauren Winner shows just how rich the biblical depictions of God are -and helps us consider how our friendship with God and our sense of ourselves, changes and deepens if we pray to a God who is as close to us as clothing, a God who laughs at injustice, a God who arrests our attention like a flame.

The always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor says of Wearing God,

Lauren Winner's curiosity about the life of faith is so compelling -- and her intelligence is so engaging -- that there is nothing more satisfying then settling down with a new book from her. The only problem is that it is impossible to read her without being changed. So advance at your own risk - in this case, that you will begin to see God differently so that your old way of relating no longer works. This, of course, is the best possible news.

You will be hearing more about this (already you may have seen an excerpt in The Christian Century) so you might as well just order this form us now, and join the conversations. Happy reading!

Finding God in the Verbs.jpgFinding God in the Verbs: Crafting a Fresh Language of Prayer Jennie Isbell & J. Brent Bill (IVP/formation) $16.00 I think it is kind of funny to see the zesty swirls of color on this busy cover, realizing the authors are both Quakers. But maybe Friends are not as you imagine, and energy captured here is just right. This new handbook is not that quiet or still, not even all that sober, but is fresh and lively and full of mystery and energy; it's about verbs, you know.  Language, they remind us, shapes and guides us, even our understanding of our encounters with God. As Nathan Foster notes of it,  Finding God in the Verbs "ultimately unlocks our hearts into a deeper, more intimate relationship of joy and ease with God."  A book that offers "ease with God." Wow.  (Now that sounds Quaker, eh?) These two writers and spiritual directors obviously have spent some time in some deep waters, and they are obviously lovers of words, of good language.  This book of exercises can help you deepen your love, too, for prayer and words and, finally, for God.

What the Mystics Know- Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self Richard Rohr.jpgWhat the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self Richard Rohr (Crossroads) $19.95  Anyone who keeps up with the most popular spiritual writers knows Fr. Richard Rohr, a lively and socially engaged Franciscan.  In this new hardback, he invites us to central values that guide the monastic path, offering, as he has in recent works, not only practices to know God more deeply, but ways to know one's own self with more holy awareness. One of the interesting things about this handsome book is the color on the inside (even the ink color) and the full color pictures illuminating the text. This might remind readers of good on-line text or a classy magazine, with useful art and color and photographs.  Maybe these seven pathways were given as talks and these were the PowerPoint slides that enhanced it.  However it developed it is a bit unique, and many will love this guy into the mystical path.

Starting Something New- Spiritual Direction for Your God Given Dream.jpgStarting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God Given Dream Beth A. Booram (IVP/formation) $16.00  I have often recommended Booram's lovely The Wide Open Spaces of God to those who are interested in experiential education and finding ways to relate faith formation and place; her book of meditation based on many different paintings of Jesus (Picturing the Face of Jesus) is a sleeper that should be better known.  The fabulous book Awakening Your Senses is packed with exercises and suggestions for using our senses to experience God and God's creation.  This new one is a wonderful resource which, as Randy Reese puts it, "offers both inspiration and wisdom through her own story and the stories of those who trusted the Spirit's stirring to follow after their own God-given dreams. Whether you are seeking direction or providing it for others, Starting Something New will help set people on a path they were meant to follow after."  Here is what it says on the back cover: "Do you long to change your lifestyle or vocation, or to start a new business or nonprofit ministry? Do you find yourself wondering "How do I know for sure that this dream is from God and for me? And what in the world should I do?"  This really is a book to help guide you through the spiritual process of defining and acting on the idea stirring within you.

The World Beyond Your Head- On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew Crawford (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) $26.00  I hope you know how much we have appreciated Crawford's brilliant Shop Class as Soul Craft, the rather heady, but truly wonderfully book  about opening a motorcycle repair shop, an eloquent mediation about blue collar work, the trades, why shop class is so important, and how working with one's hands moves us away from the abstract and often surreal nature of higher education. If Shop Class was about the importance of manual competence, and mastering one's physical environment, this is about mastering one's own mind. He gives sustained attention to real things, and looks at certain workers and their individual abilities. I have been holding this waiting for the time to give it the attention it deserves. Surely this will be one of the most discussed books of the year; it received rare starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.  Here's a video of excerpts of a talk Crawford gave  and a fascinating, serious panel discussion with our friends at Cardus not long ago.

Jones Did God Kill.pngDid God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History's Most Famous Execution Tony Jones (HarperOne) $26.99  I suppose you are aware that there has been a lively (and at times ugly) debate in mostly evangelical (or emerging post-evangelical) circles, about the nature of the atonement, what the cross is about, and the significance of Christ's death. I have read many of these recent books - defending classic penal substitutionary views of atonement and justification, looking at orthodox but fresh new perspectives, and even some that are what conventional believers who think to be a bit "out there." There are good books that survey various schools of thought, and there are scholars who are irenic and balanced, some who are iconoclastic and deconstructive.  This small announcement is not the place to further describe this robust conversation, other than to say that I have found Tony Jones's book to be one of the most interesting, stimulating, approachable and provocative books on this topic I have yet read. He covers a lot of ground, and explains things with wit and (most of the time) fairness.  From the honest explanations of why some of Bible stories and teaching (not to mention later theological formulations) are disturbing to some folks, to how various models or approaches were developed, this really does offer hope and new ways of holding all of this together for those who are frustrated with conventional single-minded teaching that explains the death of Christ solely in punitive ways. Although Jones is known as a provocative writer, this isn't some fringe, weirdo topic: we all should reflect, regularly, how best to understand and explain this central core of Christian faith.  And Tony is right to ask what kind of God is behind each model of atonement, and what kind of fruit our theological explanations bears (he calls it "the smell test.") This is vital stuff.  Adam Hamilton says "Every Christian should read this book" and Nadia Bolz-Weber (an edgy-looking emergent Lutheran pastor who preaches pretty standard law-gospel  messages week by week) says "I will be honestly referring people to it for decades to come.  It's that important."  

 Phyllis Tickle says, 

Did God Kill Jesus?  is the one and only book I have ever seen on the atonement that I can wholeheartedly recommend without reservation and with devout enthusiasm. Even-handed, historically complete, accessible to any reader who chooses to approach it, this is a masterful piece of work.

I might not endorse it as decisively in the way that Phyllis does, but she does gives you a sense of how important this book is. I really like how Brian McLaren recommends it:  "'ll be grateful for the chance to think alongside a passionate, inspiring theologian who writes with clarity, intensity, and relentless curiosity."  Appreciate Tony's "intense" style or not,  be glad for his drawing on Girard or Multmonn, be frustrated with his candor and crass language, and, finally, agree or not with his alternative understanding(s) of the death of Christ, it is still good to be curious, good to be honest before the complexities of this stuff, good to study along with a helpful guide.   

The Skeletons in God's Closet- The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War.jpgThe Skeletons in God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War Joshua Ryan Butler (Thomas Nelson)$ 15.99  This 350 page book was obviously a labor of love by a very thoughtful, aware and hip, young  pastor. (Joshua - a reader of BookNotes, I suppose I might add - is a pastor of outreach at the very creative Imago Dei Community in Portland. Rick McKinley, whose books I love, is from there, and wrote a nice foreword.) As one who oversees the churches considerable activism around foster care, against trafficking, homelessness and global issues like HIV-support and clean water projects, Butler  knows, more than most of us, what it means to long for God's redemption of the fallen creation. He understands the hope of the gospel and offers here what Scot McKnight describes as "relief and joy."  Let's face it, though:  for many of us it does seem like God has some skeletons in the closest - some even think God appears like a moral monster, a sadistic torturer, even, especially when thinking about hell or the violence in the Bible.  I think Butler has given us one of the better books about all this, sensitive, honest, creative and fresh, energetic.  He doesn't stretch for untenable, obscure answers, but yet willing to work out the implications of our "texts of terror" with the Bible's testimony that God is good, and working to heal the fabric of this world. Can hell be merciful? Can judgment be surprisingly good?   I think this is a fine contribution, and will thrill those who appreciate Biblical scholars such as Oliver and Joan O'Donovan, N.T. Wright, Chris Wright, John Goldingay, Leslie Newbigin, Miroslov Volf.

finding truth.jpgFinding Truth  Nancy Pearcey (David C. Cook) $22.99  A few who know me know that one of the great influences in my life in the 1970s was a Dutch Kuyperian professor and activist named Peter Steen who taught college students to analyze Western society by discerning the main "spirits of the age" and the idols that formed the main worldviews of the secularized culture committed mostly to capitalism and progress. Drawing on Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, Steen taught us (including some in the CCO and those who founded the Jubilee conference) this conceptual tool that was somewhat akin, if a bit deeper, to the cultural and philosophical apologetic of Francis Schaeffer.) We learned that many of the cultural shifts of the middle of the 20th century (most bluntly, a reductionist rationalism, mostly on the right and bohemian romanticism, mostly on the left) have their most immediate roots in the eighteenth Enlightenment, even the French Revolution (even though Steen insisted that the dualisms and wrong-headed ways of seeing life and doing education began with the ancient Greek philosophers, and in the early church's accommodation to pagan Greek thought.)

Well, well.  Few cite Dooyeweerd as helpfully, or speak like Schaeffer so passionately, these days as Nancy Pearcey and in this new book she sets out to teach us "5 principles for unmasking atheism, secularism, and other god substitutes."  From modernism to postmodernism, from arid logic to touchy feely emotionalism, nothing is safe under Pearcey's incisive critique." Secular worldviews have become," in the words of John Erickson, the author of the great Hank the Cowdog series, "the intellectual fast food of our day -- nice taste, no nourishment." Pearcey can help us be critical thinkers, not falling for popular attitudes and sloganeering. Finding Truth, says David Naugle, is "wonderfully insightful...helps readers avoid becoming 'intoxicated' with idols and false ideas." 

One of the good friends of the aforementioned Pete Steen was Al Wolters (of Creation Regained) and he says, "Nancy Pearcey has produced another winner. Here again we find what we have come to expect from her: readability, clear thought, a nose for remarkable quotations, a high regard for biblical authority, and a passion for Christian cultural engagement." I hope to write more about this when I'm finished with it and process it a bit -- the book is over 360 pages, and I'm only half-way through -- but, like other titles on this list, I think one need not agree with every point on every page, to still come away immensely richer, more aware, educated, edified, stimulated, even. Which is to say, reading this kind of a book makes you more alive, more human, even, for (as is said in the excellent foreword) to be human is "to write, to compose, to create, and to dream. So is to think, to test, and to know why." Kudos to Cook for bringing this big, thoughtful work to us, to help us to ponder "why?" Thanks to Nancy for telling her very compelling personl story, and reminding us of the need for intellectual engagement, serious willingness to think and care deeply, for faith that is more than subjective sentiment, and for doing this kind of very interesting work. And for citing that old Dutch legal philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd. Listen here to an audio recording of the first few pages of this book. Listen to the first 3 or 4 minutes and you'll why she thinks this is all so very important, and how the principles she explains in this book will be helpful, perhaps even lifesaving. 

Rejoicing in Christ Michael Reeves .jpgRejoicing in Christ Michael Reeves (IVP Academic) $16.00 Reeves wrote a book a few years ago called Delighting in the Trinity which was a great primer on the nature of the Triune God, but with this experiential component, inviting us to delight in the goodness of this complex, relational Divine One-in-Three persons.  It was a rich and thoughtful academic work, but not heady or obscure, just good meat for educated readers.  Here, again, Reeves offers a book that is intelligent and learned, but still offered for ordinary educated readers to learn what our best theologians say about the nature of God and the person and work of Christ. With blurbs from Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary West) who says 

Michael Reeves has a knack not only for making great truths accessible, but for leading us to bask in the warmth of Christ. Our mediator not only in salvation, but in creation and consummation, Christ isn't just a gift-giver, he is the Gift.

This book, of about 125 pages, is, quite simply, a book about rejoicing in Christ. Here, a week after Holy Week and Resurrection Day, you may be drawn to focus on Jesus.  And, to learn how to rejoice in Him.

Pray for the World- A New Prayer Resource from Operation World.jpgPray for the World: A New Prayer Resource from Operation World Foreword by Patrick Johnstone  (IVP/Operation World) $15.00  Many know, and some use, the spectacular prayer guide which offers details about and need to pray about for every country on Earth. Operation World remains an essential tool, but it is, in a few cases, a bit dated, now, and is, admittedly, chock full of data.  This up-to-date new volume emerged from the Operation World research teams who asked Christian leaders in every country one key question: 

"How should the body of Christ throughout the world be praying for your country?"

It would seem to me that every one of us should want to know their answer. It is a matter of ecumenicity, of course, but it is also obvious that many brothers and sisters in other lands are in dire straits - some poor, some the target of state repression, some, of course, violently persecuted.  Some are struggling with secularization and modernity, some with the loss of cultural traditions, some are in need of renewal, some need food and medicine. These country-by-country specific prayer requests are humbling and informative, and if you choose to pray through this book, I suspect it will change you for the rest of your life. Kudos to Operation World and IVP for bringing this remarkable daily payer guide so inexpensively to us. Perhaps you should buy a few for your fellowship, church, ministry, or Christian school.



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March 30, 2015

Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Thornbury & Bustard (Square Halo Books) ON SALE NOW

bigger on the inside coming soon banner.jpg


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burning bush 2.jpgA new book cleverly called Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet by Paul Asay (Abingdon; $16.99) suggests that God may not speak decisively through prophets and burning bushes like in the ancient days, but that "God still longs to connect with us" and perhaps does so "in our movie theaters, living rooms and smart phones." Does God speak to us in our entertainment and media streams? Paul Asay, who is an associate editor of the youthful Plugged In, is a good and whimsical writer, and has written for publications as diverse as The Washington Post and Christianity Today. His earlier book was God on the Streets of Gotham: What a Big Screen Batman Can Teach Us about Spirituality and Ourselves (Tyndale; $14.99.)

A much more academic, and more broad study of how "general revelation" (as it is sometimes called) works can be seen in a recent book we have raved about more than once at BookNotes: God's Wider Presence: Reconsidering Natural Revelation by Robert Johnston (Baker Academic; $25.99.)

This breezy, brand new Burning Bush 2.0 book, though, is just another in the many that have come out in recent year ruminating on this theme. You may recall how I raved about The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper (Crossway; $15.99) which is a splendid work looking at a religiously-informed and Biblically-wise narrative approach to popular shows. 

Of course we have long recommended these kinds of books, before the rush of good thinking and good books that have come out in the last decade. I even helped a tiny bit with the Everyday Apocalypse.jpgeyes wide.jpggranddaddy of many of these books, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by the brilliant Calvin College prof William D. Romanowski (Brazos; $23.00) and was an early fan of and continue to rave about the very, very interesting, colorfully-written, and provocative study Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons by David Dark (Brazos; $18.00.) Yeah, we've got a lot of these sorts of books, but these two are "must-reads."

I say all this to insist that these foundational works are important, and to brag just a bit about our large section of popular culture studies include all sorts of books on the popular arts, from Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games by Kevin Schut (Brazos $18.99) to iPod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment by Brent D. Laytham (Wipf & Stock; $19.00) to Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music by Mark Beuving (Zondervan; $16.99) to the recent book I've also mentioned before, The Gospel According to Breaking Bad by Blake Atwood (Atwords Press; $12.99.)

Stocking these books so that people might buy them is not incidental to our bookstore program or some obscure corner for heady film buffs or cultural specialists.  It seems to me that nearly all of us -- even those whose reading tastes gravitate to the novels of Wendell Berry or Marilyn Robinson or whose discipleship is shaped by the holiness piety of the likes of A.W. Tozer or Andrew Murray -- are breathing the postmodern air of pop culture. Some of us enjoy it more than others, but (not unlike political debates or conversations about contemporary ethical quandaries) we must be salt and light and leaven in our worlds; as Calvin Seerveld quipped "culture is not optional."

Further, if we care about reaching our increasingly unchurched neighbors and friends, we must build gospel bridges with our culture's poets and storytellers, as did Paul in Acts 17.  It behooves us to pay attention. Maybe, even, Mr. Asay and his Burning Bush 2.0 book is right: we not only need a missional strategy of being discerning about the ethos of the age, being "in but not of" the world, but we need to be open to the possibility that God may be speaking to us through the burning bush artifacts and work of contemporary artists. Even those who make TV shows, video games, comic books, rap songs, and British sci-fi shows.

Which takes us to our announcement here which I believe to be (dare I admit it) important.

Not only important, though, but jolly good fun and pretty darn cool.  

bigger on the inside cover.jpgBigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books; $17.99.)

Our BookNotes sale price: $14.40

We here at Hearts & Minds are, at this writing, at least, the only retail store which is selling the brand new book Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard. We're grateful for this partnership with our friends at Square Halo Books, the publisher.  And we are thrilled to be able to tell you about it, friends and fans of our little south-central Pennsylvania family-owned book shop.

Bigger on the Insider is a perfect example of the sorts of books we need -- interesting, theologically robust, evangelical without being stuffy, and attentive to the deep themes and specific details of specific cultural artifacts. In this case, Bigger... is written by and for serious fans of the long-standing British BBC TV show Doctor Who, which is nearly iconic in the weirdo-world of genius sci-fi TV, full of smart mystery and geeky fun.

Doctor_Who_-_Current_Titlecard.pngThe show premiered in 1963 (the day after the Kennedy assassination) incredibly lasting in its first incarnation until 1989. Increasingly, perhaps a bit like the Star Trek franchise, the Doctor Who show has developed a cult following, especially now, after the popular relaunching/revival of it the show in 2005. There are, you should know, a lot of companions.

The title of this new book, I might as well say, for those who are not Whovians, is a Tardis.jpgcommonly-used expression when characters in the show learn of the phone-booth-like, British police box that serves as the Doctor's time travel machine, the TARDIS. (Just the other day I saw a funny license plate on the back of a Ford Taurus which read: "My other vehicle is a TARDIS.")

One doesn't have to be a Whovian fan, or even have seen the splendid Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, The Theory of Everything (let alone read Dr. Steven Hawkings's dense bestsellers) to know that the world of quantum physics and high science and the study of relativity and time leads to all manner of philosophical condominiums, and - in the hands of really funny thinkers - not a few existential shenanigans. And some eerie strange stuff, too.

That the writing of some of the early Doctor Who episodes was done by Douglas Adams -- the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- might give us a clue to these curious fantasy shows. This is nearly Monthy Python satire at its most brilliant, Rod Sterling at his most creepy; the shows are known to be eccentric, stimulating, provocative, fun -- and growing in popularity! I can't tell you how many really smart high school kids have picked up on the new versions of this old show. I am struck by the extraordinarily zealous following it has.

As Square Halo Creative Director, co-editor and designer of this handsome paperback  has written,

Like the TARDIS itself, the fanatically popular series Doctor Who is bigger on the inside, full of profound ideas about time and history, the nature of humanity, and the mysteries of the universe. The stories are full of wonder and hope. Perhaps these sci-fi parables can even illuminate the mysteries of faith. Bigger on the Inside is determined to find out, exploring key episodes of the series to discover what light they shed on the contours of Christian thought.

Barry Letts, one of the early directors and producers of the show, in fact, has said,

I think it is inevitable because of Britain's cultural heritage, that a long-running program about the fight between god and evil will have some Christian themes."

Well, yeah. Cheerio to that typical English touch of understatement.

So, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who offers more than a dozen good chapters, each bringing theological evaluations of specific episodes. The authors are wonderfully remarkable and diverse, ranging from a published evangelical scholar and college President (Dr. Gregory Thornbury of The Kings College in NYC) to a home-schooled highgreg t and ned b reading.jpg school student to an Anglican minister with a degree in the natural sciences from Cambridge.

A few of the contributors are experienced authors. J. Mark Bertrand has a great book on worldview formation (Rethinking Worldview, published by Crossway) as well as three serious crime novels and Ned Bustard has a chapter in his edited volume on the arts and aesthetics, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Almost all of the Whovian theologians here are uniquely qualified to do this kind of work: they have degrees in film studies (or are film-makers themselves) or in medieval theology or literature. Some are Anglican priests (in the UK or in the US.) Kudos to Square Halo Books for finding these fine folks.

All of the contributors seem to be great book lovers, too. Of course they cite the episode about which they are writing, and every chapter is laden with plot features, opinions about character development, speculations and theories (Spoiler alerts, you know.) Of course the book really is about the show. But there are also great and insightful literary references and theological scholars and pastoral writers scattered across the essays, as the authors build their cases.

Don't be surprised to see Who people and places (the Daleks, Rose Tyler, Amy Pond, Cybermen, The Master, and "the Diagmar Cluster") linked to conversations about early church fathers such as Polycarp, the Nicene Creed, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Benedict, the Westminster Confession, T. S. Eliot, Karl Barth, Louis Berkhof, Steven Hawkings, John Paul II, Madeline L'Engle or very contemporary authors as diverse as Ian Barbour, Stanley Grenz, Tom Wright, Art Lindsley, James K.A. Smith, Tim Keller -- even singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen or the  filmmaker behind The Matrix. Need I say that there are not a few quotes by C.S. Lewis (On Stories, naturally) and from the theological fantasy master himself, J.R.R. Tolkien. I hope you can see that this is a book full of thoughtful, rich considerations, and is both a guide for serious fans of the show, but good for anyone who appreciates curious studies or wants an example of how to do theological work in light of contemporary culture. Bigger... is better than you may realize, and we're seriously glad to promote it.

Each chapter explores a certain episode, or, sometimes, a pairing of episodes.  Each chapter is first introduced, usually, by just one word: Baptism, Scripture, Transformation, Temptation, Story, Evil, Prayer, Suffering, Time (a brilliant essay entitled "The Now and the Not Yet" inspired by the episode The Wedding of River Song which aired in October 2011) and more. There is the excellent Thornbury chapter on "God the Father" and a remarkably thoughtful one on "The Sanctity of Life" written by Rebekah Hendrian (this explores two episodes, The Rebel Flesh first aired in May of 2011 and Kill the Moon which aired in October of 2014.)

Doctor W full cover.jpgI mentioned that Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who is, like all the resources published by Square Halo Books, handsomely designed with some very nice graphic touches.  I'm a big fan of all they do.

Big fans of the show will be gleeful about the use of the Whovian Gallifreyan Writer that was used just a bit throughout the book, offering a design for each chapter. The Gallifreyan writing language is based on the work of Loren Sherman who has developed a computerized program that enables you to, as Bustard puts it, "type like a Time Lord."  Although challenging, Bustard whimsically notes, "it is certainly much more enjoyable then learning the language of Tersurus (featured in "The Curse of the Fatal Death," Steven Moffat's first televised Doctor Who script.)"

If you are a fan who nerds out on this stuff, this book is truly for you. If you know anyone who is into the good Doctor, this book would make a great gift. Do it -- you can thank us later, as they will be tickled and edified.

If you are mildly amused by all of this, why not pick it up and give it a try? Support indie religious publishers doing good work, who add something fresh to the glut of unremarkable, mainstream Christian books these days.

And who knows, maybe Paul Asay is right, and God is speaking through this great example of a burning bush 2.0. As Eric Bumpus, founder of (who has himself written at bit on Doctor Who) says, "this exploration... demonstrates that God can speak through anyone, anywhere, for any reason, at any time--no matter if it is 6 B.C., 2015 A.D., or even 5.5/Apple/26."

There are some other great endorsing blurbs on this book. Here is my favorite, written by a fine connoisseur of culture and a great CCO staff campus ministers, Ivan Strong Moore. This, again, not only invites you to consider buying the book, but hints that it could be good to give as a gift to seekers or anyone wanting to learn deeper paths of discipleship.

Jesus often invites people, normal everyday people, to join him on a journey of transformation, service, love, and, at times, suffering. Jesus has a way of entering our lives and completely changing our worldview. Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who invites us all to enter the TARDIS and, like many of the Doctor's Companions over the years, have our worldview expanded to include all of Time and Space. Whether you are a fisherman like James and John or a department store clerk like Rose--are you ready to accept the invitation?"

bigger on the inside cover.jpg



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March 23, 2015

MUST READ REVIEWS: Rejoicing in Lament (J. Todd Billings), In God's Hands (Desmond Tutu) AND Ghettoside (Jill Leovy) ON SALE

I want to list three more books that would have fit well in our last post, books that facilitate our own self-reflection during this time of Lent, books which are honest about the pain and hurt of this hard world.  Such books, if they are raw and real, can be liberating, as they resist our tendency for pat answers, glib faith, superficial sentimentality. Rather, these honor our own brokenness as we try to cope with our wounds and fears and find ourselves found by the God who is there. The books I listed yesterday were each well written and life giving.  Here are three more, each very special in its own way.

We show the regular retail price, but will deduct 20% off when you order. Use the link below which will take you to our secure order form page.  Thanks.

rejoicing in lament.jpgRejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ J. Todd Billings (Brazos Press) $18.99  In yesterday's BookNotes post I highlighted the eloquent and moving collection of meditations for the dying, written by the exceptional wordsmith and poet Marilyn Chandler McEntyre called A Faithful Farewell (Eerdmans; $15.00) and the feisty and almost fun narrative about having cancer called Fight Back with Joy (Worthy; $15.99) nicely told by the young adult ministry leader and author, Margaret Feinberg. Although Ben Palpant in his extraordinary indie-press release A Small Cup of Light (Ben Palpant; $9.99) was not dying, he did not know that; his was a strange and frightening chronic illness and his telling of it showed exceptionally artful writing. Beloved blogger Kara Tippetts, whose book The Hardest Peace (Cook; $15.99) I celebrated, died yesterday, as we noted. These books are each tender and poignant and each immediately connects with the reader as we are invited into these hard but holy episodes in their lives. (The others we described are about God's distance, about other kinds of loss and grief, or about the paradoxes of faith, not illness or death, A Glorious Dark by A.J. Swoboda, and Aloof by Tony Kirz, and Between the Dark and the Daylight by Sr. Joan Chittister, and these are also exceptionally well written and very, very good.)

Todd Billings, whose new Rejoicing in Lament book can only be described with numerous, glowing superlatives, is not a hip ministry leader or a poet, and does not have an international following on line. But yet, like these other authors, he has chosen to be vulnerable by sharing his deeply personal story, and to do so in a way that is (like the others, like any good memoir) uniquely his own. And what a curious angle he brings to his now very messy life.

Todd Billings, you see, is a theologian. His impressive Th.D. is from Harvard Divinity School and he teaches at the renowned Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is ordained as a pastor in the Reformed Church in America but works, rather inconspicuously, I gather, as a scholar and seminary prof.

Professor Billings tells us in the beginning of the book that he was just starting a sabbatical, and was entering his next season of scholarly research, when he got the blood cancer diagnosis. (He has done very important work on Reformed theology, documenting how John Calvin's notions were received, understood, misunderstood, and disseminated in the generations after Calvin's own work, a book on the theology of Scriptural interpretation, and has done an exceptionally rich book called Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church that has been very positively reviewed from many quarters and which we often recommend.) His next research and writing topic was necessarily adjusted upon his severe diagnosis, and he proceeded to write about his own story of illness and of suffering, offering theological reflections about his cancer, live, as it were. (In deed, it was his blow-by-blow reflections, both medical and theological, that he was sharing in a blog that lead friends and colleagues to encourage him to expand those thoughts into a major book.)

Dr. Billings writes,

This book was written during various stages of my cancer treatment process; that process has not ended but continues with chemotherapy as I write this preface now. Some sections of the book were written in the hospital. Other parts were written while I was in quarantine from public places because of a compromised immune system after a stem cell transplant. All of it was written amid the physical and emotional turmoil derived from both my cancer treatments and my new prospects as someone diagnoses with an incurable cancer at the age of thirty-nine.
But, yet, this is not only a memoir of a person with serious health issues. Rejoicing in Lament is written by a theologian, after all, and while I suppose he couldn't really help himself, it is his particular vocation to think well about deep stuff, with and for us all.  He talks about his project by showing "the way in which I intertwine my cancer story with the exploration of a much weightier story - the story of God's saving action in and through Jesus Christ."

And for a guy like Billings, this implies a whole, whole lot, beautifully considered, carefully explored, and passionately articulated. I sometimes call this sort of effort "practical theology" or "theological spirituality" -- a hybrid genre, serious, systematic, but written for the people of God, fresh theological ponderings applied to daily life, not only for the academy or guild of professional scholars. Add to this practical, pastoral flavor, that it was written in the very human place of suffering and fear of dying -- literally some of it composed in the hospital! -- and you can see that this isn't your typical theology text.

Billings explains,

After my diagnosis, I prayerfully immersed myself in Scripture, especially the Psalms. New biblical and theological questions were becoming urgent. Since my diagnosis took place in the middle of a sabbatical semester of research and writing, I had the time and space to turn my attention to biblical and theological works that pursue these questions as I began chemotherapy... I wrote this book for others but also as a part of my own process of coming before the presence of God in my new life after the diagnosis. I decided to honestly take on the tough theological and existential questions rather than dodge them. They are the questions that I live with. And frequently, they are the questions that other Christians who have experienced loss live with as well. There is an urgency underlying this book that is analogous to one that many reviewers experienced in the 2013 movie Gravity. Dr. Ryan Stone in desperate conditions says it this way: "I know we're all gonna die. But I'm gonna die today."
He continues sharing a bit about what it means to do theology when "my hopes toward the future cannot be what they used to be." Whew.

This is a loss not just for me but for my family, for my friends, for my community of faith. How does this sudden loss, which sinks in gradually, relate to the abundant life we enjoy in Christ? Does Scripture give us the "answer" to our pressing questions about why this is happening, or does God give us something different - even better - than that through Scripture? How do the psalms of lament, the book of Job, and the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ and life in him testify to the loving power of the Triune God? The most potent questions, when one pushes deeply enough, are ultimately not about our experience but about the story of God made known in Jesus Christ.
Not all of us say things like this; some of us don't even read things like this (or hear such theologically substantive phrases from our pastors or preachers.)  I'd invite you to revisit those last lines to be clear what Billings is saying. He is telling us that he is going to develop this book, using the psalms of lament and other portions of Scripture that address human loss and grief, and see how they  -- comfort us? Give us courage? No, that is not what he says. He will show how they witness to Jesus Christ and his redemptive work in the world, the world made and held by the Triune God of the Bible.

He explains,

I sought to give a window into my life as a newly diagnosed cancer patient as a step along a larger path of faith seeking understanding, a disciple joining with others to follow Jesus Christ. I do develop a set of biblical and theological arguments related to praying the Psalms, providence, and life in Christ as chapter builds on chapter in the book. But I do so as a way that relates my cancer story to the story of God's promise and ongoing action in Christ, by the Spirit.
As Billings puts it, he is writing Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ not only for scholars and students (although there are great footnotes providing hints for those who want to explore the more academic issues these concerns raise) but for  -- get this! -- "inquiring Christians who struggle with questions about how the Triune God's story in Scripture could possible relate to their calamities of cancer or other trials that seem to leave us in a fog, in lament, and in confusion about God's deliverance." The book is dedicated to those who "cry out to the Lord amidst the fog."

Has that ever been you? Anyone you know?

I suggested that Dr. Billings is not a poet, like the splendid Ben Palpant whose book title comes from a Billy Collins poem, or isn't a practiced literary writer, like Marilyn Chandler McIntyre. I am not sure if he is known as a captivating, audacious storyteller like Tony (the Beat Poet) Kirz or the exceptionally clever AJ Swoboda.  But, please know, this book is very well written, not only as he offers exceptionally clear and cogent arguments about the nature of prayer or God's intervention in the world, or the implications of our convictions of God's restoring work in the world, or how the doctrine of the Trinity is important in our suffering, but also in his great gift of being allusive and artful in how he gets it all said. Not every scholar, even under such poignant and gut-wrenching circumstances, can craft lines like appear in this fine work.
Rejoicing in Lament quote banner.jpgOne chapter title is called "Walking in the Fog: A Narrowed Future or a Spacious Place?" Another is called "Joining the Resistance: Lament and Compassionate Witness to the Present and Future King." Yet another is called "The Light of Perfect Love in the Darkness."  (Ha - let that sink in!) You can see he is exploring some deep stuff, and he has a good eye for a good phrase.

In the hands of a bombastic fundamentalist or one without much nuance or graciousness, some of this may seem a bit heavy handed. But yet, there it is, one of the truest truths: "I Am Not My Own" which is the first part of a chapter called "Our Story Incorporated into Christ's." Perhaps in our hyper-individualized, consumer culture, we want to be our own, to own our own self. Could this declaration - we belong to somebody else, "body and soul" as the Billings's beloved Heidelberg Catechism puts it - be good news? Perhaps it is even subversive.
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This book of serious Biblical and theological exploration also unfolds like any good memoir. There are stories that are shocking, stories of prayer meetings, stuff at work, hospital crises, family affairs. He has riveting excerpts of his personal journals offered as sidebars and pull quotes, making the book nearly multi-dimensional. It is a good, good read, if a bit demanding at times, and I cannot say enough about it for thoughtful readers.

Gerald Sittser says, "Rejoicing in Lament is a profound witness to the gospel. I can hardly find words to express its intelligence, honesty, and richness."

Other endorsements on the back come from a variety of corners of the theological world: Kathryn Greene-McCreight of the Episcopal Church at Yale, Cornelius Plantinga of Calvin Seminary, Marianne Meye Thompson of Fuller, and Carl Trueman of WTS.
Michael Horton says,

Every chapter brims with pools of insight, pointing us beyond platitudes to the God who has met us -and keeps on meeting us - in the Suffering and Risen Servant. This is a book not just for reading but for meditation and prayer.

Certainly Lent is a proper time suitable for asking how our own human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger Biblical story. But it is, of course, essential for all of us, any time, to do some of this kind of work. I hope you get this book soon, reading it as a guide for your own struggles, or - if you are fortunate enough to not yet have had too many harsh waves surging over you - to read now while you can, to build a foundation for how best to cope, when that time comes. Rejoicing in Lament will offer very much for your life of discipleship and hopefully - as the publisher promises - point you to "a joyful entry into life amid loss."

HERE is a youtube video trailer for the book, a nice explanation from Dr. Billings.

In God's Hands Desmond Tutu.jpgIn God's Hands Desmond Tutu (Bloomsbury) $23.00 I hope you know that every year the Archbishop of Canterbury suggests a book to read during Lent. It may be (given the world-wide nature of the Anglican communion) one of the most popular "book club" reads of which we know. We usually carry this Archbishop's Select (which makes it sound like a fine wine) and we were especially glad this year that the 2015 selection was a brand new one by Desmond Tutu.
The Revered Doctor Tutu is, of course, a South African Anglican priest, an exceptionally admirable person, an internationally recognized leader of the struggle for peace and justice, one who has written widely about (and served boldly promoting) public policies and social initiatives of reconciliation and forgiveness. He won the Noble Peace Prize in 1984 for some of this kind of work. Tutu has spoken out passionately about human rights and social justice but he has also created moving prayer books and a delightful collection of children's Bible stories called Children of God Storybook Bible (Zondervan; $18.99) and a great creation-story picture book, illustrated by Nancy Tillman, called Let There Be Light (Zondervan; $16.99.)  His most recent book, co-written in 2014 withbook of forgiving cover.jpg his daughter, Mpho Tutu (who lives in the US and is also a priest) is a fine book called The Book of Forgiving The Four-Fold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World (HarperOne; $25.99) and that would itself make a wonderful Lenten read for the next week or so.

Much of what has influenced Tutu over his many years of public service is his unshakable conviction that humans are made in God's image, and so, are created with dignity and worth. (This comes through in a beautiful way in his children's Bible, by the way, and especially in Let There Be Light, where the children are crowned with light as they live in the good creation, bearing God's own regal stamp!)  "Each one of us is a God-carrier, a tabernacle, a sanctuary of the Divine Trinity," he says. What are the implications of being the beloved of God?

Tutu writes, sounding themes with language that is dear to many of us,

And humans were given dominion over all of creation. That is why we were created: to be God's viceroys, to be God's stand-ins. We should love, we should bear rule over the rest of creation as God would. We are meant to be caring in how we deal with the rest of God's creation. God wants everything to flourish.

After some clear preaching about the degradation the created order is now facing, he nearly sings the truth:

For us, who hold the Bible to be central to our faith, these are issues that should not be peripheral, or the concern of people who are regarded as a bit peculiar. These are the issues that are made central to our lives because the Bible is central to our lives - or it should be.
I don't know if African Anglicans shout out "Amen!" but right here, I wanna ask - do I hear an Amen?

After a foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury, we have six chapters in Part One of In God's Hands:

·      The Subversiveness of the Bible
·      We are Created for Complementarity, for Togetherness, for Family
·      The Biased God
·      You Are Loved
·      It's All of Grace
·      In the Beginning, God; At the End, God
The second part is an extended discussion with the author, an interview in which he delightfully talks about his younger days, his spiritual influences (including the great Trevor Huddleston) his boyhood bout with TB, his reading Cry the Beloved Country, the anti-apartheid movement and his life today.  It is all very interesting, leaving me wanting more. I guess I might revisit his big, authorized biography, Tutu.

(And I love his acknowledgments to some assistants who helped work on the book. "Poor dears, my hieroglyphics must have driven them round the bend." Ha.)

Ghettoside- A True Story of Murder in American .jpgGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in American Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00 I have written in the last BookNotes column that Lent is a time to be honest about the brokenness of our world, lamenting our own complicity in sin and attending to our own pain and sorrows. The Bible authorizes this among us, and healthy piety and spiritual practices always allow us to be more honest, more authentic, not less.  Perhaps it isn't wise to always "air dirty laundry" as the elders among us used to put it, and maybe we need not wallow in our own miseries, such as they are. But, again, at least in this season of the church year, we follow Christ towards his own great passions, and are fortified to take up the sadnesses of our lives, and the sacrifices of our own callings
One of the Via Dolorosas of our time - and certainly one some of us have walked down this last year - has been harsh, inner city streets; we recognize the growing awareness about racial inequities in our criminal justice systems and many confusions about race and racial animosities in our land. There is tension on the streets, and tensions in the blogosphere and among friends who see these things very differently.

We have promoted books about multi-ethnic ministry and racial reconciliation since the day our bookstore opened, and we continue to want to point our customers and supporters to important books in this field, confident that it is as needed now as ever.

(Last year we named as one of the most important books of 2014 the stunning, exceptionallyforgive us .jpgjust mercy.jpg informative and deeply moving Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by a young hero of ours, Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau; $28.00.) Also, we promoted often the collection of essays inviting the church to public repentance, a book I even read in manuscript form, to offer an endorsing blurb, called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith edited by Lisa Harper and others (Zondervan; $22.99.) Either would make an excellent read over the next week or so and we commend them both.)

Yes, these would be good to read as we walk this road the next week or so. So would Ghettoside, a very new book that I am highlighting here, now. I don't know, but it just might be the book God wants you to read during Holy Week. Not at all religious or spiritual on the face of it, Ghettoside: A True Story of a Murder... allows us to get a detailed glimpse of the behind the scenes story of racially-charged crime in America. And what a glimpse Ms Leovy provides! Oh, my.

One reviewer, Michael Connelly, says,

Ghettoside is fantastic. It does what the best narrative nonfiction does: it transcends its subject by taking one person's journey and making it all of our journeys. That's what makes this not just a gritty-heart-wrenching, and telling book, but an important one. From the patrol cop to the president, everyone needs to read this book.
The acclaimed writer Martin Amis says,

Jill Leovy writes with exceptional sharpness and tautness, and her pages glow and glitterJill Leovy.jpg with the found poetry of the street. This book will take an honored place on the shelf that includes David Simon's classic Homicide and Michelle Alexander's explosive study of mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow.
David Baume, author of the bestselling book about New Orleans, Nine Lives, says it is "A thoroughly engrossing true life policier full of vivid and sympathetic characters," which is a great endorsement, I'd say, but then he simple says this: "but also the bravest book about race and crime I've ever read."

More and more, the endorsements have raved. The prestigious Publishers Weekly gave it a coveted starred review, saying "Absorbing... Readers may come for Leovy's detective story; they will stay for her lucid social critique."

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is a detailed true crime investigation that has been applauded by folks from a variety of quarters, police and anti-racism organizations, policy wonks and street level activists. It has been endorsed by reviewers from both the cultural left and right, so to speak. It was, in fact, this widespread appreciation for it that first attracted me to it; I wondered how this book might be used to bridge some of the harsh divides that have appeared particularly since the rulings on Ferguson, etc. It is gritty and it is compelling, literary journalism at its best.

Want to walk down that urban road, perhaps a Jericho Road where you are called to understand and show empathy and care? Perhaps it will be a road to Jerusalem, where there is trouble and danger, a world of unjust arrests and trumped up trials? Or, perhaps reading might take you to the Calvary Road, leading to that place of the skull, Golgotha, where we see self-sacrificial suffering?  This amazing and gripping book will help us understand how homicide investigations work especially in our troubled urban centers, how those stuck in poverty in places like South Los Angeles experience life. If we want to contribute to the on-going debates -- the sort raised so beautifully and faithfully by Lisa Sharon Harper and her co-authors in Forgive Us, or in Stevenson's heroic Just Mercy -- this kind of true story could help us understand the complexities of urban life, at least, and especially about what some call "black on black" crime, what some tell us is a forgotten sub-culture, those who are the victims of "ghettoside" killings.

Here is a two minute clip of her talking with Tavis Smiley. It's provocative.

lent journey road.png
 I don't know how all this will work for you, but it seems that entering into these kinds of specific scenarios for a time might allow us to understand our world a bit more, holding its hurts somehow even as our own, and maybe becoming more reliable interpreters of how injustice works and how things might be reformed. Maybe books like this will help us on the way, even now, during Lent.

Thanks for reading, thanks for caring. Let us know how we can help.



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March 22, 2015

TWO AMAZING MUST-READ BOOKS A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda AND A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant (and a list of 5 others) ALL ON SALE

My pastor started her sermon last week citing Walter Brueggemann, saying that Lent is a time for honesty.

"It's all good" somebody said a few days ago, even though we both knew it wasn't.

A person I care a lot about told me that something I said in a presentation not long ago about embracing the brokenness, the darkness, of our lives, was more helpful then the other stuff I had proclaimed about the Kingdom, about all of life redeemed, about the hope of new creation. 

We can admit to the messiness of life -- in fact, as Biblical people, we must; it is part of our story to tell, bearing witness to the sin, dysfunction, idols and disordered loves we all foist on this world, this world that is not, as the famous book on sin puts it, "not the way it's supposed to be."

Tonight I will mention in a program at a church the classic book from decades ago Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey, which I was looking at recently for a friend, realizing again that it is one of the great books of our time -- honest, poignant, true, a must-read.

Watching the news the other night I was struck (again) at the way in which politicians of nearly every stripe seem to live by the story of progress,believing that we are somehow on an upward spiral (more and more, bigger and better) and that the God of the universe endorses our American exceptionalism, since, well, as the story goes, we bring progress to the world. Even bomb makers like GE are known for sweet ads that say they "bring good things to life."  Such evangelists for the myth of progress, especially when it is measured, as it usually is, so crassly by mere economic growth, seem to me to be helping us towards one big river.  You know the AA joke: denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

If we are in the grip of denial, it is absolutely liberating to speak the truth.

Yes, Lent, indeed, is a time for honesty. It is for naming our issues, owning up. Lent is like spring housecleaning, as some have called  it. So, let's get busy, being honest about our stuff, our fears and doubts and hurts and screwy values. There are books that will help you, and these below are all exceptional.

For instance, I have recently read a very new book that gets at the personal pain of living in a broken world in as beautiful prose as I have ever read in this genre. It is a quiet, little indie-press release called A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant, about which I will tell you shortly.

I have started another, what is surely another of the very best books of the season, but am holding off reading more, wanting to savor its finish two weeks from now. I want to tell you about it now, though, the extraordinary, excellent and very thoughtful work on the pain and joy of the end of Holy Week, A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A. J. Swoboda, a charismatic writer, colorful, bold, passionate. This is a perfect book to read during Lent, and you should consider getting it right away. Let me tell you why.

glorious dark.jpgA Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience  A. J. Swoboda (Baker) $14.99

 A Glorious Dark is one of those books that if you are a book lover, you will want to get and start right away. One customer of ours -- a really smart guy who reads a lot, and knows a good book when he sees one -- called to be sure we had this, as he wanted to drive right over, right on the spot, because he has read a sample chapter somewhere. That reminded me of how I like this author, and how I wanted to start this new one.

It is, of course, about "finding hope" so it does get at that longing to have deeper faith, faith that works, a spirituality that enables us to experience God's grace in ways that actually make a difference. What do we do when all our good rhetoric, our best-formulated doctrines, our sincere trust in God begins to crumble? What happens when God seems distant, or worse?  What do you do when, as it says on the back cover, "what you believe isn't what you see"?

"Real, raw, and achingly honest, A Glorious Dark meets us right in those uncomfortable moments when our beliefs about the world don't match up with reality."  That is what this book promises. 

And Swoboda pulls it off better then nearly any book I've read lately.  As Jonathan Merritt writes in his review of it, "Too often Western Christian churches focus only on the sunny side of life. Why? Because it takes far more courage to walk into the darkness." 


There are two or three things you should know about this amazing resource. Firstly, although it can be read any time, it is arranged in three parts, simply called Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It is about the three-day Triddum (although he does not start with Maundy Thursday, which he explains.)

There aren't many books available, and certainly not on this topic, that are so very interesting, and so accessible, reflecting on these awkward days, standing within the great tradition of liturgical thinkers about this topic, but who writes for ordinary folks.  It does't feel like a respectful, stuffy liturgical study, but a real-world, honest guy coping with the realities of this part of our story, grabbing at the big questions but with a bit of manic gusto.  There isn't much on Holy Saturday, anyway, so it is worth having this book for that portion alone. It is that good. Kudos to the funny and deep AJ and his editors at Baker for bringing these reflections on this to us. 

(That he doesn't quote the magisterial, brilliant Eerdmans book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan E. Lewis is a bit of a mystery to me. That is a superb work,  a true classic, and I'm sure he knows of it.)

Secondly, besides the useful structure of Good Friday-Holy Saturday-Easter Sunday, A Glorious Dark is written with exuberance -- with what Len Sweet says is "fiery wisdom and icy wit" -- and it includes a playful lot of pop culture references (Scooby Do!) and allusions to great literature and music.


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Not too many authors draw on such great and diverse theological guides -- from Jorgen Moltmann to Orthodox monks, from Hans Urs von Balthasar to a hero of mine, Bob Goudzewaard, from David Wells to Madeline L'Engle, from Leslie Newbigin to Charlie Peacock. So, yes, he draws on women and men of faith, great writers, interesting voices. Even the title seems to echo other mature works -- it makes me think of The Magnificent Defeat by Fred Buechner or maybe his Hungering Dark, which Swoboda cites.

And he talks about Scooby Do. And Charlie Brown.  And James Brown. (Well, maybe I made that up since I was on a roll. In fact, maybe he doesn't mention that soul singer, since he has a chapter called "Numb" and he doesn't even mention the U2 song off of Zooropa. What's the matter with writers who draw on pop culture these days?)

Still, this is a truly witty and wonderfully engaging and very cool book. In fact, how cool is a book that talks about John Wesley and Martin Luther and Rumspringa  and SuperHero Red Rider and relates the Trinity wisely to Chewbacca? There is a chapter called "The Gospel According to Lewis and Clark." This is way cool, and very, very interesting. 

Clever as it is, it is also serious. It isn't exactly written with gravitas, but it is, as I've suggested, looking at some heavy concerns. It is mature. It is solid.  As Jon Tyson writes of it,

A.J. Swoboda has written a beautiful book. It felt like reading the Psalms. He touches on the full bandwidth of the human experience with compassion, honesty, and humor. And this book ruminates with love for God. Not the sentimental love of evangelical culture, but a deep clinging to Jesus through all the complexities of faith and discipleship. This book will resonate deeply and inspire faith to walk boldly into the glorious dark.

I respect Swoboda a lot as he was contributed some very important work to our religious discourse. he co wrote a book we named last year as one of the Books of the Year, a book called Evangelical EcoTheology (BakerAcademic) and edited a remarkable, radical volume called Blood Cries Out: Pentecostals, Ecology and the Groans of Creation (Pickwick Publications.) (Did you know the founder of Earth Day was a Pentecostal Christian? Wow!)  This new book, on these last three days of Holy Week, and what it all may mean for this messed up world, is just tremendous, and he should be a well known name in our BookNotes circles.

A Glorious Dark is a prefect book to move you from Lent into Holy Week, and, obviously, perfect for the days of Easter weekend. Experience the Triduum unlike you've ever had before. Get this book!

small cup of light.jpgA Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert Ben Palpant (Ben Palpant) $9.99

Oh my, this book truly "blew me away," (as we sometimes say), keeping me up late at night several nights running, as I dipped in and pondered its unfolding story. The plot is simple, but beautifully told, with nuance and mystery and a richness that is hard to explain. That the title comes from a Billy Collins poem might give you a hint of the calibre of writing that is in store.

But little will prepare you for the odd and chronic illness that debilitates him, and his exceptionally candid telling about his own interior life as he coped with his pain.

Palpant experienced for no apparent reason, an attack of extreme pain in his head, and the book opens with a breathtaking scene of the onset of what remains a nearly inscrutable illness. From headaches and disorientation to numbness and loss of the ability to speak (and even some memory loss) made me think it was serious Lyme Disease or maybe early onset Parkinson's. He doesn't give readers an adequate sense of his medical visits or the doctoring he did or didn't do -- a drawback in the narrative, I thought -- but this is not a conventional memoir. It is a slice of his life, narrated mostly around the theodicy question.  Why, God, why? What is going on? What should I do? What can I do?

This guy is in severe pain and is equally paralyzed by shame (he doesn't want his fellow teachers and school colleagues to know) and, in what seemed a bit odd, even guilt. (I don't know why I say it is odd; it seems it isn't uncommon for those with severe chronic pain to be ashamed, and to fear they somehow brought it on themselves. Or at last they feel guilt for the inconveniences they cause their loved ones. So I get that.) He is a very smart guy -- Palpant teaches literature at a classical school and knows his stuff -- and a pretty serious lay theologian. I admired his weaving together literary citations with, oh, say, stories of Puritans or other serious Christians who wrote about these very matters. How many books quote poets such as Li-Young Lee or Edna St. Vincent Millay alongside brain studies on, say, REM sleep cycles, coupled with insights from Thomas Merton?  

Palpant is a great storyteller. He has locked into his mind -- and now exquisitely rendered in what almost feels like short stories -- some remarkable episodes from his  young life.

I happen to know a little bit about a small portion of his life; his sister, Andrea Dilley Palpant, has also written a memoir that I have raved about before. Her story, Flat Tires and Other... is about their their earliest years in Africa (their parents were medical missionaries there) and her subsequent struggle with faith, and her rocky road out of the safe evangelical subculture while in her tumultuous, artsy college years. I loved her book, and came to respect her family very, very much.  A respected Christian author who has written what may be one of the best books about grief ever penned -- Jerry Sittser, who wrote A Grace Disguised -- befriended Andrea in her years of tough questions, and they remain friends. She is left with an open-minded faith, I guess it is fair to say, a bit sobered and less confident. It is a fantastic story by a thoughtful young writer, and I recommend it. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see that Sittser interacted with Ben, too. In fact, he makes a few cameo appearances in A Small Cup of Light. 

Of Ben's book, Gerald Sittser writes that it is, "Stunning.. a superb book in every way."

Wow.  Coming from Sittser, this is a great acclaim.

J.I. Packer, who appreciates more than most solid, Reformed theology, and playful, good writing, too, says it is "Haunting, deeply pondered, and beautifully written."

That is, friends, what some in the book biz might say is a blurb to die for. If that doesn't inspire you to want to read this, I'd be surprised. Knowing that Ben did almost die, I guess, may ramp up the drama a bit, too.

Watch this great video which is a trailer for the book.

Small Cup...  though, is not a medical drama. As I noted, I wished for a bit more about the mystery illness, and how he felt not having a good diagnosis. Mr. Palpant is obviously a fairly philosophical gent; the theological questions haunted him, as did the experiential, spiritual ones-- where is God and how can I know God better through this, for Christ's glory! -- so there was less attention to the medical details than to the existential ones. I gather this is a true rendering of his years with this horrible condition, but we know this much, as least: he is telling the tale in light of his haunted, soul-wracked questions. And although these questions came to him in humiliating attacks leaving him bed-ridden and wracked with pain, they come to us all.  We all must learn to come to terms with our lot in life.

There are gloriously written passages here, and the near climax of the story includes a time of him sitting in a red, plastic kitchen chair outside in the falling snow, where he explains that he finally is able to let go of his obsession for control and give in to the truth of God's great sovereignty. This surrender was beautifully written, although nearly plain: he was sitting, stuck with wonder and awe of the still beauty, nearly unable to move, and he somehow knew that this was it, the moment of his resolution. He was able to yield to God, giving him over to the arch of the universe, held in the hand of the One who made it all and knows the hairs on our head. His tremors were not healed in that moment, but something important had transpired.

Some readers will disapprove of his strong emphasis on God as the One who oversees the universequote from Ben Palpant.jpg. He is in a camp with the likes of Jonathan Edwards and John Frame and John Piper, here, and it was a great comfort to him, knowing that even suffering is redeemed by an all powerful God. (This comes through in the powerful trailer video, above.)

Those that are taken with a more ambiguous approach -- I think Barbara Brown Taylor's two exquisite books on preaching about absence and pain, When God is Silent or God in Pain are good examples of a less rigid view -- will disagree with Palpant's conclusions when he is a tad didactic near the end of this fine book. But so be it. It is his memoir, his testimony, his story. His conclusions make sense to him, and will stretch some readers, challenging others, perhaps annoy others.  Yet even those who do not fully agree with all of his large conclusions will be deeply grateful for this God-centered, Christ-glorifying, Spirit-led direction, allowing God to teach and shape and mold him, even in his distress.  To use the Psalms of lament to passionately, to feel the horror of his situation and not grow bitter, oh my.  This is mature, spiritual stuff, told wonderfully.

There is a story near the end, a memory crisp and good like a few others he tells, that is worth the price of the book, a parable for him, and for us all. It cannot be summarized elegantly, but it is a memory of his father taking him deep into the bush from their home in Kenya into dangerous territory in war-ton Uganda.  They were going, of all things, to see a large, hand-made, improvised, wooden and communally-played xylophone. How this energetic and joyful artistic expression -- nearly the whole village singing and clapping to the music -- pushed back the darkness of his fears is so beautifully told, it will be, I am sure, read out loud in book groups, and re-told in sermons from pulpits across the world. What a story-teller, and what a story.

And what a story this whole book is, a mysterious illness, chronic depression, anger and anxiety healed -- at least a bit -- as one comes to the hard truth that the God of the universe is near us all. As he says more than once, all of history is God's story. And what a story of goodness and grace that is.  

Palpant ends the book, remembering the fear he had in Uganda, the stress of his malady, the ongoing struggle with is health and happiness. He writes for us a benediction of sorts:

Rejoice with me. In this valley of tears, this valley of the shadow of death, God has given us songs to sing. We are singing pilgrims, so sing with all your heart. God is our song. When we sing in the darkness, our songs reverberate back to us and make us glad.

May this book be a small cup of light for you, dear friend. Take and drink. Lift up weary hands and frightened faces to God. Lean into his story. Even in darkness, he is there. He is the one beside you, singing you. Remember. And this is my prayer: May you find his light in your darkness, his life in your death, his joy in your sorrow. Forever and ever.

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I think these two books -- A Glorious Dark: FInding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda and A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant -- are two of the most moving books I've read in quite a while. They are both about hardships and disappointments, making them exquisitely timed, perfect for the end of Lent.


Here are others that deserve their own mighty reviews. I regret that I can only name there here, choosing them over many other worthy ones. Here are some I have to list.

the hardest place.jpgThe Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard Kara Tippetts (Cook) $15.99  I have had this book on the stack to tell you about for several weeks now, waiting till this column. You may have been following the amazingly poignant, deeply sad blog of the dying Kara Tippetts, called mundane faithfulness. You may have heard that she died today, and we name this book, now, published less then a year ago, in her honor. I don't want to say much more about this, am sorry for her husband and family, but it has been very moving for many and we wanted to show it. She started the book before she was really well known, and includes more than just her time of dying. Rest in peace, honest sister.

A Faithful Farewell- Living Your Last Chapter With Love .jpgA Faithful Farewell: Living Your Last Chapter With Love Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Eerdmans) $15.00 You may know my profound admiration for this writer, whose book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies is an all time favorite, often mentioned in workshops I do on reading and books. (They were the Princeton Stone Lectures a few years back, knowingly standing on the shoulders of Kuyper.) She did another wonderfully written set of ruminations on phrases of the Bible (What's in a Phrase?) that was wonderfully done. This just came in, reflections for the dying. She has volunteered in hospice work and may have had the loss of a family member recently. These first-person essays have fantastic endorsements, from Richard Lischer, Michael Lindvall, Harold Koenig and others who are well acquainted with the night.

Aloof- Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides.jpgAloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides Tony Kriz (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 Years ago, Tony was most known as Tony the Beat Poet from Blue Like Jazz. I raved about his memoir Neighbors and Other Wise Men.  Here he has taken spiritual memoir to a new level, reflecting honestly about God's absence, or our experience of God's absence.  Frank Schaeffer says of Aloof, "It is a work of art."  Randy Woodley says "Tony Kirz asks difficult questions and shares sacred stories that find their way into our souls, drawing out our hidden questions and helping us to voice our sacred stories. Tony's style reminds me of someone...sometimes his words are in red!" There are pages and pages of endorsements on the front -- from edgy activist friends like Lisa Sharon Harper and Tim Soerens and Sean Gladding and Leroy Barber, and more established figures like Dr. Andrea Cook, the President of Warner Pacific College and Kevin Palau Oregon State Senator, The Honorable Jason Atkinson. In a way, this is brave stuff, shifting away from any formulas, and sharing doubt with honesty and passion. Kudos.

Between the Dark and the Daylight-.jpgBetween the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of life Sister Joan Chittister (Image) $20.00 This, too, is brand new, and I've not spent much time with it. But Sister Joan, a Benedictine who I met years and years ago in Erie, has grown to be one of the top and most beloved religious writers of our time. (Sometimes people ask me who has taken over the spot left by Henri Nouwen. Joan's name always comes to mind.) With endorsements from Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr and James Martin, you can imagine that this is progressive, gracious, well written, Catholic spirituality. Judith Valente (who wrote the great memoir Atchison Blue) says "Joan Chittister has written what promises to become a spiritual classic -- a guide for those of us who have ever spent sleepless nights wrestling with our own frustrations, fear of the unknown, and pain of loss and separation... This is the most poetic writing yet from a woman who is a modern prophet."  I like what Barbara Brown Taylor says when she insists that "these are the questions that make you human, and can make you more joyously human if you choose." And right there's another seeming contradiction, a paradox, if you will.  Reading hard books about complicated things that don't have easy answers can be enjoyable, and give us great joy. How 'bout that?

Fight Back with Joy- Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.jpgFight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears Margaret Feinberg (Worthy) $15.99  Dear Margaret does not write like Henri Nouwen or Joan Chittister, although I am sure she appreciates them. She is more lively, more funny, more conversational about real-world daily stuff (her dog, her hubby) and although a bit Pentecostal, it seems, she brings a down-to-Earth faith that always leaves me buoyed. Except here, which tore me up as I read an advanced manuscript. Margaret, who we learn in the very beginning, is setting out to do another book, and it is to be on joy. She experiments with some typical Feinberg stunts -- saying yes to everything!  Joy is going to be her "one word" etcetera -- and too soon, on page 9 to be exact, she gets the dreaded call. She has serious, serious breast cancer. I am overcome sitting here, thinking about it, even though I've read that damn page a dozen times.  Still, she concludes she should carry on with her joy bit, and, indeed, it saves her life. Fighting back with joy becomes a serious study of the costs of discipleship, the "dangerous duty of delight" as another author once put it. She is not Ben Palpant, debilitated and paralyzed with existential and poetic questions, she is a go-getter and, cancer or no cancer, is convinced God wants her to be joyful, to share good news with others, to be a blessing. She's like Bob Goff on steroids, bringing helium balloons to others and overcoming depression by reigniting her imagination using laughter and goodness. 

I do not want to sell a book that is glib about something as dangerous and death-dealing as disease. Margaret may seem a bit light-hearted, but this book is at once tragic and sad, and, yes, inspiring. She "discovers freedom from the past by learning how to turn mourning into joy" and rises above "endless demands" to become "more winsome, cheerful, and thankful.

I wondered if I should list this here with other books that have a decidedly more somber tone (even though Swoboda and Kriz are funny, and Palpant is such a good writer I am sure you will smile at places.) But even though the theme is joy, it is a narrative of a friend coping with cancer. It is about this Lenten journey, after all, allowing ourselves to feel the pain of these days, not covering up, being honest. That "spring housecleaning" can lead to some amazing stuff, and Feinberg helps us, as she puts it, "we awaken ourselves to the deepest reality of our identity as beloved, delightful children of God." 

There is, by the way, a brief but very helpful portion as an afterword of sorts, called "Six Lessons I Learned from Crisis" and another from her husband, Leif. Again, this illustrates how seriously real this all is. I think I maybe isn't the book to read during Holy Week, but, you know, it just might be perfect for the week after. Fight Back With Joy will draw you to Christ Jesus. 

Did you know that the first book written in English by a woman (circa 1395) was Revelation of Divine Love by the mystic Julian of Norwich?  She wrote, even then, "This life is a muddle -- I know it myself, a mix of well and woe." She continues on to remind us that we are held by a God who loves us, writing that "we all feel miseries, disputes, and strife." 

So, don't we need some help with Lenten honesty? Spring cleaning? Digging a bit deeper and hosting our hurts, our losses, our sadnesses, including our anxieties about God? This is a safe season to do so, and we trust these books will help. Perhaps they will help somebody you know. We are very glad to be able to tell you about them here. 



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March 16, 2015

MUST READ: Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World - ON SALE

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World by AmyRunaway-Radical-Cover-in-High-Resolution-672x1024.jpg Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth (Thomas Nelson - regularly $15.99) is a book that is very well written, exceptionally moving, of interest to many different sorts of readers, and, I think, is very, very important. I could hardly put it down, except when I had to stop to talk to Beth about it. (And boy, did it cause me to ponder, to pray, to confess, even. It struck fairly close to home, for some reasons I need not describe here.) I think it is the best book I've read so far this year.  

RR is a quick read, although one will want to ponder it, maybe talk with others about it. It is a book worth having, worth sharing. I want to describe it to you, dear H&M friends, as it is a fascinating story, co-written by a mother and her son, (itself a winning combination in this case as both are good writers, characters I've come to care about.)  And both have a story to tell; do they ever! It's a mother watching her son, and her son's own recollections as his life goes haywire.  The slogan on the cover shouts, "When Doing Good Goes Wrong." Wow.

Of course, you can order this at our 20% off discount by clicking on the order form below, which takes you to our website's secure order form page. I think that many BookNotes readers will be drawn to this wise and poignant book as the concerns it raises are, as we say, on your radar screen. I know they are very much on ours.

The subtitle gives a hint of what is to come: the young man, Jonathan, is drawn to a radical sort of missional faith, and is eager to show the world what genuine Christian compassion looks like. He has read books, attended conferences, come to realize that bland and ordinary faith pales in comparison to a lively, sacrificial, culturally-engaged discipleship, and that the fruit of such a radical vision is seen in serious acts of selflessness and caring outreach, showing love to the loveless, tending the wounds of the broken, befriending the homeless, serving the poor.  

A youthful mission trip to Central America leaves him stunned, wanting to do more long term work to alleviate brutal poverty.  He deepened his passion for such things, inspired by the likes of our friend Shane Claiborne who a few years ago was particularly known for calling on young evangelicals to give away their wealth and live among the poor, or the titular Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (David Platt) that pushed theologically conservative young adults to renounce the idols of the status and wealth and normalcy and give their lives to missionary service. Jonathan deepened his friendship with the local poor, gave even college money away, shaved his head as a sign of renunciation, and started a rigorous process of meditating on quotes from recent books  -- sources that some might call "radical Christianity" or new monasticism, perhaps.

Runaway Radical, you might surmise, doesn't end well  and you wouldn't be far off in that judgment.

Although, actually, it ends beautifully -- the eloquent, wise, painful and joyful last chapters are to be savored, maybe through tears; the Epilogue ("Saving the World") is worth the price of the whole book.  Jonathan is no longer the self assured, (arrogant?) evangelical solider with zeal and confrontational, hard truths, but humble, sobered, a bit tentative, even, with the tone, perhaps, of reoriented Hebrew faith after the exile -- restored, yes, joyful, even, but a lot wiser for the wear. 

To get to the end of this story, and to share this new found comfort being in a place of some woundedness and with no easy answers in sight, other then the confidence in God's great mercy, one has to go through some exceptional weirdness and some very sorry stuff. His own interior life is transformed (not to mention those of his parents) as his missionary experience goes very wrong, he is abused by a toxic home church, his faith and much of his worldview dashed. The book unfolds wonderfully, bringing together these themes and chapters of his downward spiral, from his mother's point of view and then in his own recounting. There are poignant and revealing journal entries and some lovely memoir - Amy recalling stories of Jonathan's childhood, prayers the parents prayed for their children, questions he asked them as a child, the faith journey of Jonathan in high-school and his first year of college before he left to serve in Africa.  Much of this will sound familiar to anyone who has watched the faith development of serious young Christians these days.

Amy, as the mother of this boy who grows increasingly religiously obsessed, is an excellent writer (and no stranger to the evangelical publishing world) and pours out her admiration and concern for her son. She sees the red flags, she notices some peculiar traits, but she also knows that great missionaries or social reformers of the past have appeared critical of a church or culture given to trivial pleasures or cultural accommodation or American nationalism. It is hard to argue when your son is writing quotes from the church fathers or Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King or heroic world missionaries on his bulletin board. Her telling of her own navigating all of Jonathan's changes is itself part of the brilliance of this story and not to be missed. Any parent concerned about their children, I think, will resonate with much of this, and be glad for her pleasant memories and her shocking revelations.

The family's faith seems to be a bit charismatic and they are part of a lively evangelical subculture, eager to follow the promptings of the Spirit.  Despite the warning signs and the rather judgmental attitude their son develops, they are supportive. (How could they not be: she recounts wonderful memories of Jonathan's tender conscience as a child; they have been attentive to his dreams, both his passions and interests, and the literal sort.  More than once, Amy recalls and dissects haunting dreams with profound self-awareness.) There were moments in her narration that I was struck by what a good parent she seemed to be. She and her husband, despite Jonathan's furious foray into a radical movement that proved to be unhealthy, can serve as good role models for how parents of young adults can accompany their adult children, and I commend the book for this reason, too.

For instance, she tell us,

One Sunday morning before church I began to pray for him. The kind of praying that starts out very noisy, then the words fail and trail off and you end up mostly listening.  And what I heard was that my husband and I were to pray about whether Jonathan should take a year off school to serve overseas. Of course I didn't remember at the time that Jonathan had predicted this, had asked for it two years before when he started college. A lot had happened between then and now, including the false starts and missteps. At the moment it wasn't in Jonathan's plans; he was filling out applications to transfer to a new college in the fall. I told my husband right away what I had heard in prayer, asking him to hold the arguments against the gap year until we had more time to talk about it. I had the same concerns. Leaving college midway doesn't always end well. There was a real chance he wouldn't finish his education. And the timing on previous attempts to go had always been off.

A few minutes later Jonathan came down for breakfast and he and Jeff were alone in the kitchen together. "Are you excited about starting a new college in the fall?" my husband asked. "No," Jonathan answered. "I really think I'm supposed to take a year off to serve instead."

In a paragraph on the next page she writes a simple observation that nearly brings me to tears as I re-read it now:

Then the whirlwind began. Inquiries were made, and the first agency he asked accepted him. The money was raised in six weeks. Every detail fell into place. It was the first of many milestones, the first of many lessons. It was also the year we learned the cruelest of paradoxes, that a young man can be both called and led astray.

I want to say a few things about this book, and the matters it raises, and we invite you to order it so you can see for yourself the beauty of the writing, the honesty of the narrative, and the significance of this conversation.

First, the way in which Jonathan became obsessed with his own wealth, his own need to show himself to be more literally committed to Christ's ways, and his passion to make a difference in the world became harsh and twisted, and this distorted approach is discussed with raw integrity and much candor. As he tells it, he realizes now that he was stuck in a view that was "the antithesis of grace" and missed the truth that Christ came "to liberate us from the need to be radical."  I am not sure why he took to books like Radical and Crazy Love and The Irresistible Revolution, and then read them in such a legalistic and graceless manner, but he did. "If it was legalism that shut me out," he finally writes near the end, "it was grace that snuck me in." In many ways, this is the heart of the book -- what some call "works righteousness" versus free grace.  It is vital and sweet stuff, lessons hard learned, important for suburban moms and conventional, older pastors as well as culturally savvy and radically committed young adults.

god of the mundane.jpgordinary horton.jpgThis is not the first book, by the way, that has named some of the problems of what may be a "new legalism" (as Anthony Bradley has called it) and the apparent disdain among many popular authors and leaders to an "ordinary" kind of faith. This is directly discussed in the new book by Michael Horton called Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan; $15.99.) We have promoted here more than once the lovely little book called The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People by Matthew Redmond (Kalos Press; $10.95) which anticipated some of these recent concerns and, to be honest, it is why I did the column a few weeks back on books that celebrate the common pleasures of life in God'sbecoming worldly saints.jpg good creation, with titles such as Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? a must-read book by Michael Wittmer (Zondervan; $15.99.) 

I could (and perhaps should) write much more about this, but I shall say this much for now: even though some have misinterpreted the call to resist the idols of our American culture and the need to serve and distorted it into a new more-radical-than-thou form of self-righteousness or a new kind of gruff legalism, we should not blame the call to fight poverty, to love the unlovable, to forge a church that is missional and outward focused, or those who offer those calls, for how some may misapply the challenge. Perhaps the call to the cost of discipleship in our time isn't being given with enough joy and grace, making it easier for some listeners to turn it in unhealthy or self-destructive directions or to disturbing extremes. Still, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, here.

We don't typically blame authors who call us to pray and stop promoting books about prayer when some oddballs start peculiar practices that turn intimacy with God into weird mysticisms. We don't stop hoping for fruitful evangelism even though some are pushy and rude, and we still promote the best books on the subject, perhaps even more so, to counter the negative practices; we don't quit searching for healthy and wholesome sexuality because some have turned to nasty negativity or liberal license.  In each case, the possibility of somebody taking good books and twisting them into attitudes or lifestyles that are not intended by the authors shouldn't keep us from pushing those ideas. Like anything, good ideas can be warped and lived out in unhealthy imbalance. 

In other words, there is a lot of discussion we need to have, especially around this question of how countercultural our faith should be and in what contexts radical lifestyles should be pursued and in what ways a wise group of discerning friends in a local faith community can help us remain winsome and healthy even as we commit to serious sacrifices. Those of us who promote these sorts of books and invite people to more dedicated sorts of discipleship, especially around social concerns, need to be thinking about this, and we need to be talking about the possibility that we may be liable for leading impressionable younger adults astray if we don't offer them a solid, grace-filled and healthy foundation out of which they can make life-transforming decisions. This book gives us a lot to ponder, so I commend it especially to those who work with younger adults, youth and campus ministers, and anyone involved in developing social activists or missionaries.

Such urgent conversations could be stimulated by Runaway Radical even though it isn't the task of this memoir to give us a healthy and balanced and Biblically-wise view of how to go about joining the fight for a better world or what to think, theologically and practically, about stuff like John Perkins calling us to "relocate" or John Piper saying "risk is good" or Ron Sider calling us to a more simple lifestyle, inspired by the Bible's demand for charity and justice. (I loudly praise God for Ron Sider and his Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger book, by the way, and will happily celebrate yet another new edition this summer. He is a mentor and model of a balanced, fair-minded approach to these matters.) 

We dare not throw under the bus the jovial gadfly Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way and the new monastic movement, or activist authors like pastor Eugene Cho (Overrated), Chris Heuertz (Friendships at the Margins and Unexpected Gifts) Jeff Shinabarger (More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity,) Scott Bessenecker (The New Friars and LivingPursuing-Justice-Blog-Image.jpeg Mission), Christine Caine (Undaunted and Unstoppable), Jeremy Courtney (Preemptive Love), Ken Wystma (Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Greater Things) or the good folks at Mission Year, say, inviting young adults to a year of voluntary service where they can see, as their latest, wonderful book puts it, God is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation (by Shawn Casselberry.) Who would ever want to silence the always whimsical, Jesus-centered, if sometimes audacious Bob Goff, author of the popular Love Does? I'm glad for extraordinary DVD curriculum like the World Vision produced Start.  Or the compelling book by their director, Richard Stearns, The Hole in the Gospel. And glad for the publicity given in recent years to those who fight sexual trafficking through groups like A21, The International Justice Mission (IJM) or Not for Sale.

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey... does not suggest that any of these authors or organizations knowingly misguided anyone, and I do not mean to imply that the Hollingsworths have given up on making a difference in this sad world, or blame any particular book or author for seducing Jonathan into his misguided Africa trip. But some readers might, so I say, again, that we shouldn't throw these prophets in our midst under the bus. For my own part, I had to ask myself tough questions, since we have so promoted these exact kind of books, and have been eager to see these sorts of young voices picking up the causes of global justice.  In my own years of campus ministry decades ago, I had these very kinds of conversations and figuring how to be grace-filled and balanced and sustained by Christ-like virtues as we engage the powers has been a long-standing concern of mine. 

(I recall reading in the 70s something by John Stott about being a "conservative radical." I love a book that we still stock by Ron Sider called I Am Not A Social Activist which is about keeping Jesus at the heart of our efforts for social transformation. There is no new legalism in these kinds of works, but many of us have struggled hard to keep this all in balance. It is in some respects, the heart of Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, that asks how we can love the broken world God so loves without growing bitter, jaded, cynical. Oh how I wish I could have pressed these into the hands of Jonathan years ago... and oh, how I will press the Hollingsworth's RR book into the hands of the latest generation of  young radicals.)

Recently, interestingly enough, I was interviewed by a reporter for a trade journal for the publishing industry, asking about changes we've seen in our 33 years of book-selling. One of the top changes on my list? Evangelicals robust and thoughtful and characteristically energetic embrace of the Biblical call for peace and justice, racial reconciliation and creation-care, grounded in a consistent ethic of life. What Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action were crying out about 40 years ago is now commonplace among most young evangelicals, and this is surely one of the most interesting sociological phenomenon of our lifetime.  We should be very glad for this trend, a faithful move of young authors and leaders calling us to care, to take up serious work, and to be more involved than we often are in the call to help heal the broken, hurting world. I am glad for events like The Justice Conference or the sophisticated Urbana world missions conference and even the risky Christian Peacemaker Teams who are giving folks options for social involvement. (I am even more glad for the way our beloved Jubilee conference raises up equal passion for daily jobs and vocations in the marketplace and the arts, one of the great contributions they make to the feisty project of tapping fruitfully and wisely into youthful idealism and desire to "change the world.") 

So, to be clear: I am glad for these recent books about changing the world, serving the poor, working for social justice and such, even if our dear Jonathan recklessly misread or misapplied some of their challenging invitations.  And we should, as perhaps Jonathan didn't (the book's greatest weakness is that it does not say) have wise friends around us, committed equally to social change, global justice, and balanced, beautiful, gracious, understandings of a mature interior life, that would help discern the ways in which we live into these big, big matters. I do not mean to digress to far afield, but this is why books that remind us of the communal and intimate nature of the local church are so important. Do you recall our discussion of Slow Church by Chris Smith and John Pattison last fall?


The self-destructive legalism and desire to prove to God that he was fully committed isn't theJonathan-with-Cameroon-Children-First-Photo-Higher-Res-Copy.jpg only sad part of the story of Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World. A significant part of the story is a surprising twist in the plot: the mission agency in Cameroon where Jonathan goes is, to put it simply, corrupt.  He sees abuse of funds, abuse of people -- domestic violence and spiritual manipulation and emotional abuse. He cannot blow the whistle; he himself is seemingly caught in a nearly tragic situation. (Oh, the irony, that the Cameroon church leaders, all men, in that place, are preaching an extreme version of the false "prosperity gospel" and living large at the expense of their impoverished flocks. It is widely known that this troubling North American teaching has found significant inroads in many parts of the African church, and I was surprised that the Hollingsworth's had apparently not adequately vetted this particular ministry or expected these sorts of troubles. How this mission agency was chosen is not explained although it becomes clear that it was connected to folks Jonathan knew, perhaps in the church in which he was involved. It is a slight hole in the narrative, but I suspect they are trying to be discreet and honorable.  Throughout the book no names or authors or churches or ministries are named, which I suppose is to their credit.)

The book has an active facebook page and Ms Hollingsworth has been writing a bit about the reception the book has gotten since its release just a few weeks ago. She is a lively and good writer, as I've said, and she is in communication with readers of all sorts. Not surprisingly, others have poured out their stories, she has said, telling their own tales of missionary service gone awry, mission agencies that have been abusive, and more. They are stories that need to be told.

There is a large shelf here at the bookstore of books of missionary biographies and autobiographies - some tell of evangelism and church planting, others talk of medical missions or social service efforts, and of course we have books about those who have started relief or development projects in the developing world. Some document the history of mainline denominational churches and their long-standing work (my friend Mark Englund-Krieger just released a history of Presbyterian (USA) missionary work called The Presbyterian Mission Enterprise: From Heathen to Partner) while others write of edgy, fresh projects, such as Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis which tells of her unusual solo journey to Uganda to adopt dozens of children or Preemptive Love by our friend Jeremy Courtney who is networking medical missionaries and others to perform life-saving pediatric surgeries in Iraq as they try to reform the complicated health care problems in a war torn, religiously conflicted land. A few tell about the great sacrifices and hardships endured, but end well. Or, maybe they don't, and they are less sanguine then the success stories. 

Few, though, so honestly share these kinds of stories of the really dark side of missions, the misappropriation of funds and the harsh treatment of incoming missionaries. Jonathan knew in his gut something was wrong when a building he was to work on was nonexistent, when the class he was to teach had just let out for the summer, when a large number of guitars that he had lovingly collected and personally shipped there for children were absconded for other uses. His hosts were strict bosses, even forbidding him to spend time at a nearby medical mission hospital as it was staffed by more mainline denominational Christians. Of course he wanted to be culturally sensitive to his new colleagues, submissive to their expectations of him, but he grew to believe that what they called "the African Way" was a crass justification for patriarchy and domestic violence.  When they captured his visa and airline ticket home, he realized he was in some very deep trouble.


Runaway R news story.jpgAnd so, the book continues -- Jonathan telling of his experience in Cameroon, some of which is quite touching, occasionally delightful, even, while some becomes exceptionally disturbing. His mother shares her own memories of the sparse communications during those months, chapter by chapter they take turns, moving the narrative on. 

The story gets even more complicated and even uglier -- oh my, can it possibly get worse? -- when he arrives home to a toxic congregation, and strict orders from a head pastor to be utterly silent about the mistreatment of money and soul from the African mission leaders.  The church was apparently committed to saving face and thought Jonathan was derelict for coming home prematurely, and did not appreciate at all he and his families concerns about misappropriation of money or the unbiblical, dangerous practices  and dysfunction so prevalent at the mission compound. I needn't explain it all here, but this harsh stuff back home in his Maryland sending congregation is demoralizing and infuriating. They tell the story well, and with a fair amount of grace and balance -- I think other writers might have justifiably shown more bitterness.  It is not a tell-all screed, but the manipulation and mistreatment back home is an important part of the story, and another contribution to the struggle about faith in this young man's life. So they report it and at times it feels surreal. They bring you effectively into their world as only the best writers can.

This RR book, then, is about three big things -- and a fourth.  

First, it is about this radical movement of idealistic, costly discipleship which seems to be being understood by some as extreme, lacking in grace, a new Pharisee-ism. These books are being read by many young adults, inspiring some to a zealous and sacrificial dedication that is both exemplary and distressing. It is explored mostly not in the abstract as a theological movement, but as a set of influences that played havoc in the tender soul of this one young man. It is, after all, a memoir (in two voices) and you learn about Jonathan, less about the books and ideas and movement which informed him.

Secondly, Runaway Radical is about the experience of a missionary compound, staffed by indigenous folks in Cameroon, which was heterodox and dysfunctional at best, and toxic and dangerous at worst. Few mission stories speak of this down side, and it is as revealing as it is riveting.  

Thirdly it is a bit about an unforgiving and manipulative church leadership team that did not offer support, let alone grace, to the troubled and hurting young man that came home broken from his failed missionary call. That some churches are grossly inadequate in welcoming home missionaries is known in the biz. That they would be manipulative and dishonest and threatening is tragic. This proved to be a "final straw" that broke dear Jonathan and outraged his parents, but they do not outline too much about this.  If the book ended here it would be a very good book, honest and informative, enjoyable, if distressing.  But it becomes a truly great book because of the final, fourth theme.

And it is this: heavy-handed, black and white thinking of the aggressive sort that guided thegrace.jpg fiery young man's faith left little room for doubt, let alone failure. Yet, in his journey into tough questions, a failed discernment of his call, and his experience of spiritual abuse at the hands of fundamentalists, he has emerged with a sober, gentle, and lighter sort of faith.  He has not renounced the gospel, he has come to understand it more profoundly.

Some will applaud his new, tentative if grace-based faith, while others will fret that he has shifted towards a more ambiguous, less didactic and certain form of faith. He laughs more, now, it seems, and is healing. He is moving on. Neither mother or son seem cynical, even though they have reason to be. The book's call to this more open-minded and grace-filled approach is beautifully rendered and the book ends well.  

You will have to go along with the Hollingsworths on their journey, the ups and downs, and live the Paschal rhythm with them, I think, to see for yourself. Can this death of a previous faith be the fertile soil for new birth? Can a more sustainable faith rise out of the shell of the old? What is better, too much confidence or too little? Tight fists grasping  onto truth or open hands?  This is the old, old story, or so it seems to me -- life from death, resurrection after crucifixion. Runaway Radical: A Young Mans Reckless Journey to Save the World is a great book to read in this Lenten season, and it is a revealing study of serious faith, serious global needs, serious misunderstandings and confusions, and serious, glad, if less ambitious, new understandings of faith, and renewed appreciation for grace.  What a story, so well told! 




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March 8, 2015

BRAND NEW: Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective by Brian Jensen & Keith R. Martel ON SALE

Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective by Brian Jensen & Keith R. Martel (Falls City Press) $18.00

storied leadership.jpg

I can't wait to tell you about this new book on a new indie press, written by two friends of mine. I am a huge fan of this title, but I have to set it up by saying some stuff I want to say about the recent Jubilee conference.  These two authors spoke at Jubilee 2015, so, well, they won't mind if I ruminate a bit about a key idea or two from that event, and mention some more titles for those that want to explore a bit more deeply.

As you will see, I'm going to suggest that this book is connected to all of this and in a way is a watershed, indicative of a new generation of scholars and practitioners building on the shoulders of "visions of vocation" they inherited from CCO and Jubilee, and their respective influences. 

I can hardly believe that the CCO's big Jubilee conference at which we had such a large book display was two week ago. Beth and I are still exhausted and exuberant about it all, and still wishing I could help our non-Jubilee friends to more fully appreciate the significance of this lively, catalytic, college ministry event. I want to mention some books -- it's why you read BookNotes, after all --  that would be good for any of us, but especially for CCO staff or mature students following up the conference.  I hope you saw my last post about Jubilee and that list of books and that limited time offer for some great deals.

You won't be surprised to be reminded that we think that studying books (especially if done with others) after events of this sort helps carry the vision back home. Retreats, conferences, revivals, seminars, and workshops can inspire us and motivate us to make changes in our daily thinking and living, but we have to take steps to process and apply the new insights and commitments gained at such events. We should all ponder the moral seriousness needed to respond well to the verse in Philippians charging us to "work out our salvation"  -- which is to say we must somehow embody the implications of our Jubilee vision. Of course we don't do this out of any sense of legalism or guilt, or to earn God's love -- Christ's Kingdom is about grace, if it is about anything -- but there is a joyful lot to explore, much to learn, and new ways to work for shalom in our time.  To a large extent, this is why we opened our bookstore decades ago, trying to help others find resources that will help them ponder and work out the implications of our faith for all of life.  Read for the Kingdom we sometimes shout!

And so, I recall with joy the lecture given at the start of Jubilee by Dr. Anthony Bradley, ablack scholars in white.jpg conservative, Reformed theologian and public intellectual who has written widely about racial injustices, black theology, and just released a volume he edited, Black Scholars in White Space: New Vistas in African American Studies from the Christian Academy [Wipf & Stock; $26.00.] that includes pieces by a number of African American scholars and leaders in higher education, including some who were at Jubilee.

With his classy bow tie and his Nutella jokes, Dr. Bradley unpacked what it means that we live in a good creation, and that the foundation of any Christian engagement in culture or sense of vocation and calling, is rooted in the conviction that we are made in the image of God, designed to open up the potential, in creative stewardship, of the stuff of life that God embedded into the creation order.  From science to art, law to education, from family life toAnthony-Bradley-3.jpg political life, we are to honor God by opening up the potentials of the created order, designed and upheld by the Triune God of the Bible. 

I hope you know that one of the most important books of the last 30 years that has helped many, many churches, mission groups, nonprofits and educational institutions develop this very notion -- and its mark on the Jubilee conference is legendary and palpable, probably second to none other -- is Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters (Eerdmans; $18.00.) Every year, it seems, Dr. Wolter's profound chapter on creation (and the equally profoundc-r.jpg ones on the fall, and redemption) helps frame the conference.  His chapter on discerning God's creational ordinances, in contrast to the distorting and disfiguring misdirection caused by sin, idols and ideologies -- he uses the distinctions between "structure" and "direction" which is to say that we must know what is good, ordered by God and creation and what is sinfully off, twisted, not as it is supposed to be -- is nothing short of brilliant. It was great to hear Dr. Anthony Bradley preach around these themes, knowing he is familiar with this key text, Creation Regained.  That Dr. Bradley is one of the stars of the For the Life of the World DVD didn't hurt, either. That DVD is so, so solid on this very matter.


For those wanting to explore further this sense that God's world is ordered in such a way that we can gain real insight into it, studying not just the Word, but the world, allow me to name four serious books.  I've named these all before, had them at Jubilee, but think they deserve special consideration now.

The Bible Speaks Today- The Message of Creation.jpgThe Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Creation: Encountering the Lord of the Universe David Wilkinson (IVP Academic) $20.00  I trust you know the commentary series "The Bible Speaks Today." In recent years they have branched out, doing Biblical exegesis, as you would find in a solid, mid-range, useful commentary, in books about a theme. This one, systematically commenting on all the Biblical texts about or alluding to creation, is extraordinarily useful as this Bible scholar traces the theme of creation through the rich tapestry of Scripture and brings it into lively conversation with contemporary concerns.  There is even a several week Bible study guide in the back making this ideal for small groups or adult Christian education classes.

wisdom & wonder_front.jpgWisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art  Abraham Kuyper (Christian's Library Press) $14.99  The spectacular Saturday night speaker at Jubilee, Jon Tyson, co-wrote (along with Gabe Lyon) an excellent  foreword to this recently translated book which was written in Dutch in the early 20th century by the famed Dutch theologian and statesman. Jubilee conference friend and regular speaker there Vincent Bacote wrote the very helpful introduction. This is Kuyper explaining more about common grace and the goodness of creation, especially as a key to understanding a Christian view of work in the sciences and in the arts. To think this rich work was written more than 100 years ago and is still relevant for those who want to dig deep for a sure-footed foundation.

god's good world.jpgGod's Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation Jonathan R. Wilson (Baker Academic) $25.00  I raved and raved about this when it came out in 2013 and continue to think it is one of the more helpful (and important) books of its kind. There are large implications for the robust Biblical view of creation, and this explores many of them.  It is serious, but just wonderfully written (and even includes some artistic touches, which are not incidental.)

This is a profound, yet entertaining, and handsome study -- very highly recommended. 

God's Wider Presence.jpgGod's Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation Robert K. Johnston (Baker Academic) $25.99  Here is how the publisher describes this outstanding recent work: " a senior theologian explores how Christians are to understand the wider revelatory presence of God, mediated outside the church through creation, conscience, and culture."  You should know that Johnston wrote a book years ago on play, and has written three very influential, insightful books on film. He understands that the fruits of human culture --- modern cinema, for instance -- functions in the world graced by God, and is, in many ways, a good example of the implications of a high doctrine of creation.  

Okay, you get the picture. This is important stuff, fresh territory that theologians haven't explored as much as they might in our generation.  

(An aside: I talked with Dr. Walter Brueggemann decades ago about why this is. He was talking about "new creation" and I asked why we haven't had this explored in modern theology much, the implications of that we live in a God-sustained creation which is being recreated in Christ. He said the German theologians, especially, were understandably afraid of legitimizing Nazi ideology, which made a lot of the motherland; blood and soil and the like. Later, in a famous exchange in a scholarly journal, he and Richard Middleton debated whether a robust doctrine of creation is necessarily conservative and counter-revolutionary, as he feared. Richard showed him otherwise, which he happily conceded. You can download Richard's article from the Harvard Theological Review here and read some of his other indebtedness to Brueggemann here.)  

If we are to live out our faith -- working out the implications of Christ's claim over "every square inch" as Kuyper put it, and as the Jubilee conference relentlessly proclaims -- we have to notvisions of vocation.jpg only realize the good news of the gospel, how we are forgiven in Christ and made new by His Spirit, and invited into the new community called the church, but how this narrative of creation/fall/redemption makes sense of our world. As Steve Garber often suggests in his must-read Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good this is the world we live in. It is a world of wonder, true, but also a world of ache, and we need the gospel not only to save us from ourselves but because in the Scriptural story, we get the "truest truths of the universe."  If we are to take up our callings in the world with any integrity and longevity, we need these visions, and these visions come from the greatest story every told, which is also the truest.  


N.T. Wright has been singing that song lately as well, and his new, very accessible worksimply good news.jpg Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes it Good (HarperOne; $24.99) really does help us see how this narrative of the Kingdom coming simply must shape and direct our lives. After that, if you haven't, be sure to read his How God Became King (HarperCollins; $24.99) and his much-discussed Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $24.99) which further develops these same themes.  

Of course, you know that in my last post I celebrated the role of Richard Middleton at Jubilee this year, not only for his early, significant books (The Transforming Vision and Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be) but for his must-read, incredibly important new book about which he preached, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic; $26.99.) Here is a link to Richard's new heavens and new earth.jpgown blog  which offers all sorts of good pieces. A while back he mentioned the influence his co-author and friend Brian Walsh has had on Tom Wright's early thinking. Yes, this game-changing stuff -- Walsh & Middleton studying with Al Wolters, writing Transforming Vision as he was writing Creation Regained,  influencing N. T. Wright, all while the Jubilee conference was being named and developed in conversation with them and others in their circles back in the mid-70s -- and is part of the story we share here at Hearts & Minds. (Oh my, and I just noticed, while getting these links to his Creation to Eschaton blog, just now, that Richard has a post about Beth and I and our Jubilee book display even with some pictures.  Now I'm sort of embarrassed, but might as well share it with you.  Thanks, Richard, for the encouragement.)

And, friends, I guess you should know that as a BookNotes reader and mail-order customer, it is, like it or not, I suppose, part of your story, now, too. 


We must move from this talk about the big story of God, the redemption of all things, and this "wholistic eschatolgy" to how it works out in our main callings in life, our families, our citizenship, our work and our play. For all of us, but certainly for college students and thoseevery good e.jpg whose callings take them into sophisticated professional careers, the next step in all of this is to take this story of all of life redeemed and do a lot of thinking about what all that means for the particulars of our work lives and the work-places we inhabit. It is essential to know the doctrine of vocation and calling from visionary books like The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness (Nelson; $17.99) to theologically substantive but practical books like Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Faith to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway; $150.99) or Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller (Dutton; $16.00) or others I describe at this large bibliography, here.


And then, after realizing and being able to articulate a Christian view of vocation and the calling to work (and good luck with that, since most preachers rarely mention such things, although it is changing) it is vital to be willing to "think Christianly" about the details of your particular academic area of study or your specific job.  That is why we always (always!) promote to Jubilee students the essential Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guidelearning for love of god banner.jpg to Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby (Brazos Press; $14.99.)

If you know any church kid who has gone off to college, I sure hope you have sent them this book. Every year, I push it hard at Jubilee, and every year we hear of students who are struck, even surprised, to hear that God cares about their studies, and that there is a particular set of practices that would help them learn to be faithful in their academics.

For a reflection on what I mean by "thinking Christianly" perhaps you could read my column from a few years back where I write about books about politics that I think are exemplary in this effort.

I like the C.S. Lewis quote, "The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism and education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters; just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists -- not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time."

The Jubilee conference, just for instance, and our bookstore, are both designed to help the "unionists and educators, novelists and dramatists" who Lewis mentions, to be inspired to do this work, to think through the principles that should inform them in their callings. It seems to me that pastors need to read some of this stuff, too, learning how to inspire the folks in their congregations to be thinking about the Godly principles that might help be restorative in the world world and society at large.  As I have sometimes lamented, not many people buy these books, and I wonder if it is because they just have never heard of the need to do so.

Student or professional, newbie or executive, we must ask: what are the ideas and values, the beliefs and assumptions, about what is true and good in your field or profession? What does it mean to have the mind of God for your occupation? What difference does being a person of faith, inspired by the Biblical narrative, make for the principles and practices that are influential in your field? Do truths learned in Sunday worship spill over to Monday work? (Indeed, can we say, as former Bethlehem Steel executive and Lutheran lay leader William Diehl taught us to say at Jubilee years ago,Thank God It's Monday"?)  Can you name something of the goodness of God's creation that you see in your field? Or, also, must you renounce certain values or practices that are not right in your work world? Can you discern the good foundations built into God's creation that cause your work to exist, and also name the harmful misdirections where your profession has gone awry? Are there ideas that Christian authors (or others) have observed that might make you a reformer, a whistle-blower, an agent of gracious change within your field? 

Why not find somebody in your own field and read a book with mature Christian insight in yourreading books makes you better.jpg discipline or career area -- health care, business, architecture, video game design, psychology, counseling, art, music, theater, writing, math, engineering, education, social work, law, economics, sociology, advertising, family studies, child development, sports, outdoors education, physical therapy, urban design, computers, history? 

We surprise people each year at Jubilee and Jubilee Professional when they see our display, when they realize that we are a Christian bookstore that has books offering faith-based insight and wisdom into these various spheres of God's world and professions in modern society. That people are surprised is telling, eh?

All of this is a reminder of why we get so fired up about Jubilee, and why we are encouraged to know that many are trying to think faithfully and live in faithful ways, even in their jobs and work, by realizing -- for starters -- that they live in an ordered world, a creation that is coherent and blessed (even if fallen and wracked by sin.) We are not at liberty to do whatever we want in art or science or business or families because we live in a world that is made by God and upheld by His Word.  Engineers and politicians and novelists are not free to make up meaning in any way we want. We are called to be shaped by the details of living in a real world.  This is one of the great benefits of reading Wendell Berry, by the way, who seems to intuit this beautifully. We live in the world God has made and must not think that our abstract theories can wish away the facts, literally, under our feet.

To say it bluntly, the story of God should shape how we think about stuff, even if the best sellers and popular opinions about things don't.

Take, for instance, the meaning of leadership.


I know it was an long and winding road to get to day's new review, but all of this important in order to best explain the utter importance of this lovely new book, a book that I want to heartily recommend. I have been kicking myself for two weeks for not having adequately shouted out about it at Jubilee -- it arrived the day we were setting up and was so very new I just hadn't been able to get the slides made to put it on the big screen as I gave my book plugs. I talked off the cuff about it at Jubilee Professional (and I assume groups like Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation will find it helpful as they develop leaders in their own work.)  But I so wished I would have given it a big celebration at Jubilee.  I had read it in manuscript form, and new how appropriate it would have been for nearly everybody in that big hall.

storied leadership.jpgI refer to the wonderful little book named at the outset, above, written by two dear and well-loved friends, Keith Martel and Brian Jenson, Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective. Both of these men have worked at Geneva College, just West of Pittsburgh, for many years, and both have been influenced by the CCO. (Keith and his wife had worked for CCO before working at Geneva.) These guys have poured their lives into their students and graduate students, mentored many, and taught and inspired many more.  They have cared about the institutions for whom they have worked, they have been active in their local churches, and they have invested in their own local town. In every way that matters, I find them exemplary Christian leaders, and, further, I know them to be fun and funny, joyfully serious, deep thinkers, and great storytellers. They are energetic and inspiring. In other words, I respect them so much, and find them so interesting, that I'd read anything they wrote. And you should too.

keith m w_ painting.jpgStoried Leadership is easy to read, and not long, but it is deceptive in its breezy conversational style and upbeat illustrations and stories from their own colorful lives. Not every book that so easily captivates readers with good writing, whimsical and moving stories -- sneaking out of children's church to listen to Casey Kasem, getting to know a small town luthier who restores old guitars, leading outdoor wilderness trips, having heart to heart tender talks with their Brian-Jensen-413x232.jpgchildren -- also offers a substantive, serious biblical theology.  But this book does both; it is chock full of gratifying episodes, helpful insights drawn from crazy stories, and truly wise comments (not to mention a few wise cracks) as it offers what has to be called a robust, narrative, Christian theology. Perhaps I could say it offers a subtle, Biblically-informed, Christian philosophy. (They quote, most helpfully, the Dutch Kuyperian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, for crying out loud, which gives it away as a particularly thoughtful project.) Like I say, this is a fun, but serious work.

They make a few really good points, and they do so wonderfully. They insist (in a chapter that will be beneficial to anyone) that our lives our lived out influenced and made sensible by the story we find ourselves in. They use good lines from a lot of good books, including from Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew (you should know their magisterial overview of the Bible, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story and their very astute study of worldviews, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview.) They help us understand the role of narrative, how stories matter, and why storytelling is important as we make sense of our lives, and communicate a coherent vision of life to others. They don't cite the renowned philosopher Alister McIntyre, but they could have. They do quote James K.A. Smith. If you like Donald Miller or Bob Goff, this "storied" approach will be appealing. I assure you, this first chapter is fantastic.

In the next several chapters they show how the Biblical drama is the one that most makes sense ofour lives, and how we so often mis-use the Bible by taking texts out of their storied context.  They offer a Jubilee-esque telling of the Biblical story as the foundational narrative to make sense of our lives, and to shape us if we are to see ourselves as leaders.  Much of the book draws on this narrative approach to the Bible, but they always show how this influences how they think about leadership. 

For example, they are insistent that -- since we are all called into this true story of the whole world -- it is not helpful to talk about a few chosen and skilled leaders, while the rest of us are somehow consigned to be mere followers.  No, their vision of leadership -- itself informed, they argue, by the Story of God as heard in the Biblical drama itself -- is one of collaboration for purposeful change. We are all called into this cosmic dance, reflecting God's own image, being stewards of the gifts and potentials in the creation and in our own lives. In different spheres and times and places, different ones of us have different insight, authority and power, and together, we cooperate and collaborate to create normative social initiatives that push back the darkness and allow in a little light. They grappled with other definitions of leadership and, without weighing us down in arcane scholarly debates, the posit their view in distinction to other views that may be familiar. It is so helpful gift to have such clear and succinct prose, with a few stellar footnotes, perfect for younger readers, and, I am convinced, instructive even for those who read widely in this field of leadership studies.

It is significant that they insist on a multi-faceted, wholistic view of the human person, and so therefore, leadership isn't conferred only on those with great intelligence or charisma or power. Leadership certainly isn't mostly about techniques or skills. In a few fascinating pages they expose as unhelpful this view of leadership that grew to its high water mark in the modern, industrial era.  They help us realize that we all are called into callings of leadership, and we don't usually travel that journey alone. We are in this together, and they inspire us to great solidarity and collaboration throughout the book.

Donald Opitz, the College Pastor at Messiah College, puts it well in his colorful forward,

These authors are weary of books that turn leadership into a technique or a program. They recognize that leadership is not a form of coercion or a mode of control; rather it is a relationship. It is a pattern of social life and that pattern emerges in a narrative context.   

In the great, great chapters unpacking the Bible, they camp out on some of my favorite passages, and teach things that I myself have been saying for years, so I am greatly encouraged to see these good lines and important proclamations and couldn't be happier then to commend this to you. Although they weave stories about leadership development and offer insights about servanthood and the wise nurturing of what Brueggemann calls "the prophetic imagination" throughout, much of the book is informal Bible study.  They know their stuff, they offer remarkable insight about many key passages, and I am sure that you will learn something new if you read their work.

In fact, I promise that in my own inside cover endorsement of the book, betting that you will shake your head and wonder why you never noticed that about a passage or text or idea in the Bible.   After saying that, I continue

You smile as you read their stories, and, more importantly, you will be engulfed in and shaped by the truest story of all.  Few books combine big picture transforming visions and down to Earth, practical advice.

Many other women and men endorse it in glowing ways. Steven Garber writes,

Jensen and Martel's conversation ranges across the whole of life -- thinking as we must about why we lead and how we lead. Reading widely, they are as familiar with leadership theory as they are with biblical theology, and offer a seamless, story-formed vision of what a good life looks like. I hope that people read it, and read it again.


After the first two thirds of the book -- their argument that the Bible is a story, and that that story should shape and inform how we think about leadership and calling and our work together in God's Kingdom -- they then end the book with a good set of short chapters which they call "Practicing the Story." 

Here, they give no-nonsense advice, drawn from their own years in ministry, in higher education, and in church work.  They know that folks need more than the rhetoric of "living a better story" but to inhabit their own local places and spaces in healthy, normative ways.  We need to rebuild among the ruins. They know that people do not need techniques or formulas, not even exactly spiritual disciplines, but life-giving practices. Drawing on the most innovative learning theories (and face-to-face conversations with Wendell Berry and others of his localist perspective) they fashion a set of refreshing practices which will help anyone pursue their leadership over the longer haul of their lives.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction says Eugene Peterson, drawing on the clever line by Nietzsche.  Jensen and Martel get this, and want to offer their readers on-ramps and hand-rails, guidance for doing life in better ways.

These last chapters are clear and sensible and very helpful, even if they are mostly nothing new. 

I say mostly, as there are some ideas in this part that may strike some as very new. This bit of good advice accompanied by great illustrative stories was more moving then I expected. (Two of these chapters, in fact, nearly moved me to tears.)

Importantly, they frame these spiritual practices as ways of "practicing the story" so even in their telling, they offer them in fresh and compelling ways.  This stuff at the end is really good.  The discussion questions are very good, and the  exercises are practical and not to be missed.  Living out new practices shaped by God's redemptive story is the point, and their guidance in these things is helpful indeed.


Briefly, I will tell you that in the first of these storied practices, they talk about vision and vision casting. Then there is one of the great chapters called "Networking for the Common Good" (in which they talk about one of our mutual friends, Scott -- you know who he is if your in those circles.) The "Expectation Gap" is a wise and honest chapter, worth its weight in gold. And then there is the other one that too me by surprise and blew me away, a hard practice, being "Disarmingly Honest." "Restorative Conflict" is the next, followed by wise teaching about sabbath and "Rhythms of Rest." 


For what it is worth, I wanted to start this BookNotes post by writing about Jubilee once more. I wanted to declare how books like Al Wolter's Creation Regained have given a generation of younger activists and scholars and speakers a foundational framework for thinking about the narrative nature of Scripture, how we can find the meaning of our own unfolding stories by being found by to be a part of the story of God. I wanted to assert how the doctrine of creation -- and all its implications for culture making -- is essential for Christian scholarship about various careers and aspects of modern society. This "Christian mind" stuff as we work out the details of our vocations and callings is at the heart of our business here, and the CCO and their Jubilee event celebrates that with such enthusiasm. 

In starting there, though, I also wanted to show -- as one shining example of young authors writing fresh books inspired by this very vision -- Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership From a Christian Perspective as a book that has unique connections to the CCO and to the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference. It takes the doctrine of creation seriously, and it explores how the how narrative arch of Scripture should inform even the way in which we think about (in this case) leadership.  And it doesn't end with highfalutin' philosophical ruminations on leadership, it ends with embodied practices that help us dig in and learn the craft of being in God's world in a particular way. 

As Keith's wife says in her great new Storied Leadership blog for moms, "every practice emerges from a story about reality."

Storied Leadership is a great little book good for anyone wanting to see how the story of God shapes our efforts to serve God.  But it also is a case study, a great example, of what we most need: intentionally thoughtful but down to Earth, communal reflections working out the details of the rhetoric of "creation-fall-redemption", "creation regained" and "all of life redeemed" that so many of us thrive on.  This books is a treasure and I tip my hat to the authors for "working out" the implications of this in such nice ways.  And for their (storied) leadership.

Which does, in fact, circle back to the CCO and the Jubilee conference. Jensen and Martel write in their foreword

We are both grateful for the influence of the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) and the important work they do in the lives of college students. We are different people because of this organization. The CCO's Jubilee conference is perhaps the most important gathering of young people in America. For decades it has helped students understand the connection between the grand biblical story and their lives and vocations. 


You obviously don't have to go to Jubilee to know that God is rescuing the beloved and blessed creation.  

Scholars from all sorts of theological viewpoints have long held this. 

God Dwells Among Us- Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth .jpgan altar in the world bbt.jpgflow package.jpgJust think of the Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemenn's book For the Life of the World and the upbeat, artful DVD with that same name which was produced by Reformed folks at the Roman Catholic Acton Institute. Or recall the book I've often touted Salvation Means Creation Healed by Wesleyan scholar and former missionary, Howard Snyder, co- written by Anglican Joel Scandrett. Or pick up the themes creation-fall-redemption, seen as homemaking, exile, and homecoming in the extraordinary and generative work of Brian Walsh & Steve Bouma-Prediger in their groundbreaking Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. Or catch the vision of the recent overview of the Bible by former emergent leader Brian McLaren developed as a year long devotional in The Road Is Made By Walking and its quest for "formation, reorientation and activation."  From a recent study of the promise and perils of technology in Biblical perspective by Dallas Seminary tech guy John Dyer called (get this!) From a Garden to A City to the likes of Barbara Brown Taylor's exquisite rumination on the goodness of creation in An Altar in The World: A Geography of Faith to the serious Biblical theology of Greg K. Beale & Mitchell Kim in their God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth we are seeing an ecumenical renaissance of how all this works together to help us live more missionally and faithfully for the life of the being-redeemed world -- living a long obedience in the same direction towards the new Jerusalem. 

These books are laying the groundwork from which and out of which fresh work can be done in different fields.  Storied Leadership takes this vision and perspective and knowingly explains it in accessible terms, and shows how it shapes and influences a new vision of leadership. As I said, I think it is well worth buying. Thanks for considering it.

storied leadership.jpg



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