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June 20, 2016

NEW OS GUINNESS: Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization ON SALE NOW

Please feel free to use our secure order form page.  The link at the bottom of this BookNotes post will take you there.  We will deduct the discount and confirm everything promptly and quite personally. Thank you.


public faith in action.jpgreturn to justice.jpgI hope you saw the last BookNotes piece - a ramble through some of my memories of the old (and unbiblical) dichotomy between social action and evangelism, or, more generally, about the importance of justice within the Christian faith, those who had affirmed that, and those who had not.  Scot McKnight in The Kingdom Conspiracy (Brazos Press; $19.99) refers to these differing camps as today's "pleated pants" crowd and the "skinny jeans" tribe; I'm not so sure such an assessment is fully accurate now, although such a clever description of two sorts of tendencies sure captures much about my own experiences decades ago, even if we all wore bell-bottoms. After hinting a bit at some of my own travels through various groups and movements, rejecting the prevalent split between those who cared about Christ but not much about the world and those who cared about the world but not Christ, I reported with gusto that in recent decades evangelicals have certainly taken up the full-orbed Kingdom call, becoming advocates for social change and the common good. In that sense, it was a very exciting post.

I said that these new books served also as good illustrations of the truth that evangelical publishers are leading the way with the best books about social issues and public justice.  I thought it was a good post and the books worth reading.

If you don't see yourself as evangelical, but you care about the social implications of the gospel, I am positive you will value these new books. Really -- they are very good.  If you are a theologically serious evangelical, you, too, will find these books compelling in many ways, I'm sure of it.  Agree or not about the details of policy, the Biblical call to do justice and to work for the common good -- loving mercy, doing justice, walking humbly with God who died to save His own good but ravaged world -- is unavoidable, and those four or five books will help us all grapple with Biblical faithfulness in a needy world. They are on sale, and we hope you'd consider sending us an order; it really is something we are passionate about.

A few people, I might note, unsubscribed from receiving BookNotes after that one went out, although I suppose I don't know why.  In any event, if you want to deepen your awareness of ways to think about social justice and public advocacy, you should order a book or two from that list.  I especially hope that younger evangelicals will stock up on this meaty stuff; it allows you to avoid the wasted time and energy that many of us lost decades ago as this shift was in the making.  And if McKnight is right, that there is a new version of this old split still operative nowadays, it may be that these kinds of books will be just what we need.  Praise the Lord that there are publishers and authors and bookstores helping guide young activists with good resources like these.  


dust of death old cover.jpgI have told the story before about reading in the mid-1970's a (now out of print) early book by Os Guinness, The Dust of Death. It critiqued both the established technocratic culture of the West and also the East-facing, hippy counterculture of the left and then offered a "third way" of serving God in all of life with robust cultural engagement shaped by deeper Biblical truth. Hearing this stuff changed my life and in a way, my life's trajectory.

 I discovered Francis and Edith Schaeffer (with whom Os had worked) and other rising evangelical intellectuals (from Richard Mouw to Calvin Seerveld to Ronald Sider to Bob Goudzewaard) and realized that there were thoughtful Christian books that informed and challenged and guided us towards thinking about our social moment and offered an astute analysis of the way of life needed to countered the ethos of the time.  Os Guinness was indispensable in those years, and os .jpgover the last four decades he has done seminal, stimulating, beautifully-written, challenging, books that combine Biblical faith and sociological analysis with glorious erudition that have created for him not only a huge following of fans (folks like me who would read any book he wrote on any topic) but also a major group of people who read him seriously, if critically, wanting to spend adequate time grappling with his mature observations. Agree or not, they know he is a major contributor to religious and cultural discourse in our day and know they should have read his work.

I say all this for at least two specific reasons. 

Firstly, you should know that Os Guinness is one of the most important writers in my life, and one of the speakers and authors I consider to be a watershed leader; that is, he helped stem the tide of evangelical shallowness and goofiness, and helped catapult more than a handful of young scholars and pundits to integrate faith into all of life, to think Christianly, and to take up their callings in the world in serious ways.

the-call-by-os-guinness.jpgI still think his book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (W Publishing Group; $17.99) is a must, must-read! In all of his books he has made me think, driven me to ponder and to prayer, and is an important figure for our work here.

Secondly, besides his influence as thought leader and long-distance mentor to many of my best friends, Guinness is respected throughout the world as a speaker and teacher, having been led by God into conversations with significant organizations in Western Europe, in China, and within the think-tank world of Washington DC.  Sometimes, when he tells a story of speaking at a banquet with communist leaders in his beloved China (he was born there) or at a strategic think tank in Geneva or Brussels or Oxford or Stanford, I am deeply moved, that God in His providence has allowed for Guinness to be in world-class conversations about the unfolding 21st century with some of the most impressive people in the world. You see, it isn't just a handful of friends here that have discovered the importance of his books; he is internationally known and very widely respected.

I have highlighted many of Guinness's other books before - here is a good overview.

free peoples suicide os 10-8.jpgglobal public square os 10 - 8.jpgIn just the last few years Os did two books on religious freedom - one, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP; $17.00) reminding us of the importance of working on first amendment protections of freedom for and from religion in the United States and another on the urgent (if gargantuan) task of creating space for religious freedoms globally entitled The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity. (IVP; $17.00.) Both are very interesting and recommended. To understand his broader, structural plan for this kind of civility in US culture, offering evaluations of various "schools of thought" or models of working out the structures of a pluralistic society, see his under-appreciated The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It (published by HarperOne; $23.99.)

foolsTalk.jpgLast year Mr. Guinness released an award-winning hardback on the lost art of civil persuasion called Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP; $22.00) which we are very keen on. (Here is my long review of it.) Perhaps you can see the flow and connections of these books, a bit: Os is passionately committed to the principles and structures that allow for religious freedom for all (including those who practice no religion: it's freedom for and freedom from as well.)

But as an evangelical, he knows the importance of sharing the good news in a manner which is honest and free of coercion, so he both argues for religious diversity and toleration and he invites us to then learn how to more persuasively talk with each other about the first principles of the faith. He doesn't want to be pushy or coerce but can't settle with a "live and let live" approach, either, as if our differences don't make a difference, or as if the message of salvation in Christ wasn't of ultimate concern. If we truly believe something to be right and true we should want to share and persuade others about it.  We fight for the freedom for all to believe as they must, but he also wants to learn to speak effectively with and to any and all and whosoever will.

Guinness has, perhaps more than anyone I have ever known, interacted with some of the world's leading philosophers (Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayers!) and statesmen from several continents. He has talked with leaders in the US Congress and he has worked for the BBC and the Brookings Institution.  From Marxist activists to the biggest captains of industry to ordinary folks who show up at his lectures, he has learned to speak deeply with women and men of substance, all who, like all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, have hurts in their hearts and search for significance, meaning, joy. He embodies well his mentor Francis Schaeffer's insistence on "honest answers for honest questions."

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion is a book like no other as it takes seriously not only evangelical expectations of sharing faith unashamedly but also studies well the culture in which seekers find themselves.  It is a must-read for anyone who realizes the limits of preaching at people or merely asserting Christian truth claims (let alone bullying or unpleasant debating) but who wants to communicate with wit and passion in order to persuade others to think deeply and consider the truths of the Christian message. Again, within the large shelf of books about evangelism or apologetics or communication, it is a rare, brilliant contribution.

Renaissance -  Os Guinness.jpgIn the middle of these books about the dangers of our times and the desire to speak wisely into the quandaries of our age, Guinness wrote a powerful book called Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (published by IVP; $16.00.) It was a grand little book, eloquent and passionate and true.  Os's classic theology and deep spirituality came to the fore in that handsome book as he soberly assessed the complex and seeming insurmountable drift in our age towards secularization and social fragmentation.  With the church too often mired in cultural accommodation or trendy programs to remain viable, things could indeed look bleak.  In Renaissance Guinness reminded us - almost in contrast to books like To Change the World or the other popular "cultural engagement" literature and social transformation blogs and think tanks and conferences - that if social change is to take root, it will be because we have cried out to God and Christ is honored through the historic way: churches proclaim Christ as Lord, we wait on the Spirit to work, and we serve with sacrificial commitment to love God and neighbor as we seek renewal and revival.

This approach is absolutely not a step back from his life-time work of intellectual engagement and cultural analysis, but it did shift our attention to the essential truths of Biblical faith: we pick up our crosses and serve the best we can, and let the results to God.  Spiritual and congregational revitalization, social change, cultural renewal, all are gifts from the Sovereign King of the Universe which cannot be fabricated. Renaissance was sobering yet hopeful as he told stories from throughout history of how the gospel itself can transform lives and cultures and societies.

impossible people.jpgGuinness' brand new release, Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (IVP; $20.00) is a hefty sequel to Renaissance, extraordinary, and vital. The last chapter of Renaissance was called "Our Golden Age Is Ahead" and it was a beautiful illustration of Christian hope. Impossible People, however, will sober us to appreciate what it may take for us to realize that dream of God's whole-life renaissance breaking into history in our time. Courage and struggle, indeed.

Although it is a stunning survey of the contours of the culture of the late modern world,  the fundamental point so concisely and powerfully explored in Impossible People is that those who are called by God - the church of Jesus Christ, regardless of denomination or theological bias - are to be faithful, no matter what the cost, and that the hope of any cultural renewal in this era of increasing change and choice and secularization and biotechnology and so forth resides most in the ability of Christians to stand apart of the crowd, discern what fidelity looks like, and live in ways that are true to the authority of Christ.  He talks about needing to speak a clear "no" and a hopeful "yes." It is no cliche for him (as the fate of civilizations lie in the balance) but he insists we must be more intense in our study and more courageous to live out being "in but not of" the world, not in the abstract, but in little, practical, daily ways, even.  I have rarely read a book with such urgency, insisting that the erosion of Biblically-sane views and ways of living (whether from graying mainline liberals or hip, emergent faith communities, or grand evangelical mega-churches) must be reversed. In his view there is way to much cultural accommodation, to much re-configuring classic faith tenets, and way too much sloppy, theological fuzziness.  Although I may differ or want to clarify where I see such problems and how serious the consequences of each are, nuancing the critique in different ways,  I must say I most basically agree with his passion and concern.

As Guinness says repeatedly, there is a price to be paid for those who assert Biblical authority in any age, but it is particularly complex and demanding in an age renowned for creating a "crisis of authority" where nobody gets to assert anything as truly true, since nobody has authority (and there is no true truth to speak, anyway.)  Christians in the past (think of the early church in the age of the brutalities of the Roman Empire) have through God's grace risen to the occasion to both consider deeply the forces of the culture aligned against them and the ways in which Biblical faithfulness would drive them to resist and reform.  They paid a price.  Can we do it again?

Are we like Benedictine reformer Peter Damian (c 1007 - 1073) that Dante had in the highest circle of paradise? He was called an impossible man. St. Peter Damian was "criticized in his time for being fanatical and negative but in fact he was "passionate about the church's 'welfare of souls' and about faithfulness to Jesus and the truth of the gospel."  Guinness continues,

Yet it was these positive passions that made him sever and unsparing in his denunciation of all forms of corruption and immorality, and in attacking them he could not be swayed by either obstacles or opposition.  

Ever the master of the pithy quote and always informed by great thinkers of the past, reading this book will be a treat for anyone who loves to learn and who likes an informed overview of some of the greatest issues faced by some of the greatest writers ever - on this journey he quotes Hildegarde of Bingen and Karl Marx and Henry Kissinger and Nicholas Berdyaev and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and of course the likes of T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and so many more.  Anyone who loves good books -- I mean really good books -- will treasure this.

Guinness knows his Nietzsche and cites him more often and with more insight than any other Christian author I know.  One need not be a philosopher, though, to appreciate the profundity of his wrestling with the spirit of the great prophet and nihilist. To say Guinness is widely read is an understatement, and to say that he is a joy to learn from - whether you fully agree with his assessments or his conclusions -- is nearly to state the obvious.  Just over 200 pages, this new hardcover is not daunting, although it is serious. With his many points and sub-points it may seem nearly Byzantine, but with some close attention, it becomes clear that it is arranged with the expertise of a master craftsman.  You will not get bogged down as you might by a 500 page tome of detailed scholarship, although underlining and bullet pointing while reading will reward readers with greater comprehension. It will take some commitment to read it carefully, perhaps to journal while studying. It is well worth it.

I would never want to trivialize Guinness' work but I might say, sort of playfully, that this is almost a greatest hits album, with some new tracks and bonus material.  Much of this he has said before - in chapters here, in talks there, in other books, even. (I never tire of his telling how a dear foreign missionary misunderstood an entire talk he gave at Lausanne in the Philippines because she misheard his critique of modernity, thinking he was talking about maternity.  I never tire of his reports of communist leaders asking him off the record about the viability of the Christian worldview to sustain new ideas in their post-Mao era. And I always value hearing a new Winston Churchill quote - has he ever done a book without a fun story of the colorful Churchill?  I laughed right out loud learning about his proclivity to nap and his advice to sit, or better, lie down, whenever possible.)

Even if you've read nearly every Guinness book and essay and heard him lecture, you will learn much new as he outlines the forces of modernity (not maternity) and highlights chief threats, key consequences, top obstacles and the like. It is simply amazing stuff.

Some of the ideas and descriptions in Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle... have appeared in early essays and books, which does not imply it is re-treading old stuff, but that it is the maturing of his thought and an indication of his continued passion. He's not giving up or moving on, but still saying things that really matter. He has brought up some of this in brief books like Time for Truth and Unriddling the Times or the ever-relevant Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity. (Order it from us today!) His Screwtape-like spy novel - first called The Gravedigger File, now expanded and re-titled The Last Christian On Earth -- was an early creative attempt to popularize the significant cultural critique found in the pages of Peter Berger, and I highly recommend it.  Beth and I have heard Os offer brilliant and eloquent lectures on these themes, noting how both "the history of ideas" and "the sociology of knowledge" combine to help us understand our times and live faithfully "in but not of" the world of late modern capitalism and what some call hyper-modernity.  

And this is the theme of the new book - what are we to think and do in an age when there are forces causing the West to cut itself off from its obvious Christian roots, leading us  (dangerously) into what he calls a "cut flower civilization." That is, we still live with a general sense of goodness and beauty and ordered liberty and law and meaning and a desire for justice and a reason to fight evil, but the philosophical basis for that is no longer valued, and will soon no longer exist. How long can the (still lovely) cut flowers live and offer goodness and beauty once they are torn from the soil and their roots cut off?  As he put it once before, we are living off of a shadow of the real thing, perhaps soon a shadow of a shadow. Time is running out.

Although threats to cut ourselves off from our religio-cultural roots come from radical Islam and from progressive secularists, the biggest threat of all is more important, in part because it is less understood and more easily ignored.

As Guinness puts it in the very first paragraph of Impossible People, he worries that we have (mostly unknowingly) caved to the new dark ages that are fast coming and our shameless laxity and compromise has grave consequences.  He writes,

... whether through the general  seductions and distortions of advanced modernity, the tempting thinking behind the sexual revolution, or a failure to understand the significance of the hour and appreciate the implacable hostility of some of the forces against us - and so blunting our witness and betraying the lordship of and authority of Jesus.

Os is a careful and caring person, an astute observer, a man who likes a good joke and a good glass of wine; he is neither fanatical or impossible, in the negative sense. I do not think he is a Jeremiah, although, in this book - it's been building in recent years, I think - he is sometimes shrill.  I take it that his urgency comes from his reading of the times, his frustrations with how few seem to care about the condition of the world, or how many seem to care but are unable or unwilling to think through the implications of living as truthful, principled people.

We are not very well-schooled in deep cultural criticism, it seems, so it must be frustrating for him (as it is for us here at the shop, I'll admit) to find those who refuse to take seriously the philosophical and cultural impact on our very way of seeing, imagining, construing and living in the world, not taking seriously the increasingly pluralizing world where nothing is true, or (as Marx put it) "everything that is solid melts into air."  Sure, some Christians rise up to protest this or that affront to faith, we are riled by that hot button issue or this social concern, right or left, depending. We are concerned about pornography or post rebuttles on Facebook against those who mock Christians. Why haven't Christians (and especially evangelicals who claim such passion for "winning the world for Christ" and standing for piety and holiness) been more intentional about discerning the deeper and more corrosive ways that modernity has influenced us? How have social and ideological trends left us with a "yawning vacuum, hollowed out..."

What does Os mean by this?

impossible people.jpgJust think of how we've absolutized "choice" in our hyper-consumeristic world -- literally assumed now in nearly every area of life, embedded in our social imagination by the habit of having so many cereals and soaps and TV channels to choose from -- and how that subtly shapes our understanding of "church shopping"  or even conversion and spiritual formation, as if theology is just a whim to be selected based on personal preference.  Just think of how advertising and branding has over-inflated truth claims, and how that erodes trust and builds cynicism - even as our church growth plans and ghost writing and cheesy Christian sub-culture have too often played into that very superficial and finally untruthful way of talking about things.  We wonder why people are cynical about institutions when they are tutored in that habit of heart by the anti-hero stories they absorb on Netflex -- made more consumable and influential, in fact, now that people watch Netflix on their pocket phones. With our 24/7 news cycles we learn about the troubles of the world all the time; how can we not be jaded? Or even think of how our proper Christian worldview thinking (and the multi-cultural schooling from the culture at large) has properly led us to appreciate the "social construction of reality" and how we must work hard to understand the perspectives of others but how that same insight can be taken too far to bolster a view that there is no truth whatsoever and that everything - from what constitutes a family to what constitutes a church to what constitutes a just government or a true religion - is just up for grabs.  Or not even up for grabs, in this "whatever" world.  Could it be, too, that our daily experience of the speed of our computers or our on-line shopping habits using cell phones and our mediated experiences of choice and change have helped us experience life --  "see" and "know" what we think we see and know -- in this new way almost subconsciously? It is sort of obvious that our souls are in trouble more these days, say, lacking the virtue of patience, since we are used to high-speed internet and "do" waiting differently than anyone before us in all of history; that is, our very understanding and experience of time is mediated by our habits with gadgets so we don't have a clue about what is going on in so many Bible texts that call us to wait.  As James K.A. Smith has said in his extraordinary You Are What You Love, we must learn to ask what tools we use do to us.

This is not new ground for Os but this is an excellent and deepening and passionate study of it all, explaining how we got into our accommodating coziness with the forces of modernity. He helps us be critical about our own patterns and concerns -- have we been distracted by fighting smaller battles, failing to look at the deepest and most root causes of our cultural malaise, our deforming ideologies and idols and how they have influenced us unawares? Might we deserve the rebuke Jesus gave to the Pharisees who "strained out the gnat but swallowed the camel?"  Do we even know what that means?

One fascinating case study of this may be how some of us have insisted on doing intellectual battle with the new atheists, publishing books of apologetics, rebuttal, setting up debates and such.  Guinness clearly does not oppose that, but he is brilliant in his chapter on atheism - some of it will be of interest to those who read him more fully on this in Fool's Talk - but he is very quick to explain that modernism as a set of ideas (given full voice by the loudly hostile new atheists) is not the same as the subtle influence of cultural ethos modernity, which may be more damaging in the long run.  One is a set of ideas, which must be debated and countered, but the other is more subtle and more comprehensive, sucking us all into a post-Christian zeitgeist and practices and pattern of cultural assumptions. In this regard, it could be that debating atheism with the few loud critics of faith is not the primary or most foundational matter at hand. Maybe literally (re)thinking through the role of computers in our lives, say, or how we approach time or speed or sex or food or money or suffering or work might be more fruitful for lasting cultural reformation.

In a powerful illustration, he compares the legendary example the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, stopping the leak, and a more devastating and difficult task to stop the force of a mudslide. With a mudslide, there is no silver bullet, nothing one person can do alone, no easy answer, and thinking otherwise is itself a capitulation to the forces of expertise and bureaucracy and power.  Modernity itself actually teaches us to think like that - find the fast fix, the technical solution - and our secular age in late modernity has so captured our imaginations that we even think of reformation and revival in terms like this with quick, easy, church growth plans, or political advocacy, as if a new program or outreach or website or policy could stop the mudslide.


In this study of the intellectual and material and cultural influences of the modern era, Impossible People would be a very good read alongside James K.A. Smith's essential overview of the dense The Secular Age by Charles Taylor. (I have told some who are not terribly familiar with this kind of serious how not to be secular.jpgphilosophical work that if Smith's intro to reading Charles Taylor -- called How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans; $16.00) -- is a bit much, there is one brilliant chapter which summarizes Taylor in Tim Keller's small book called Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Viking; $19.95) insisting as he does that familiarity with Taylor is crucial for relevant teaching and preaching a proclamation to those living at the heart of our modern age.)  At any rate, Taylor's thesis about the seemingly disenchanted era in which we live - the quandary of finding meaning and purpose within the still-God-haunted post Christian secular age - runs in some ways parallel to Guinness's, and reading Guinness (while serious and sophisticated) will be an easier and more engaging experience for many than Taylor or even Smith. 

If you've read either of those and are familiar with Taylor you will surely want to pick up Impossible People.  If you have not, this is a great way into that broad conversation about our secular age, what it is and isn't, and what we might do about it. Not only does Guinness go out of his way to explain what he means by words like pluralizing or routinization or postmodernism or globalization, he offers overt Bible teaching, a closing prayer after each chapter, and reflection questions along the way, making it less arcane and more obviously helpful for most Christian readers. If you have read this sort of stuff, I think you will value Guinness and learn more, or learn to think more knowingly about what it means to be more deeply Christian in this world. Again, even if you have only heard of those books - Charles Taylor or Jamie Smith or Tim Keller's adaption - this new one by Guinness might be a great start, even though he curiously doesn't site Taylor or Smith at all. 

Just to be clear, allow me this long quote:

Let me be clear. If modernity is a deadly challenge to the church, it is not a frontal challenge in the way the hostile ideologies are. The new atheists, for example, are like the communists earlier. They are implacably opposed to the Christian faith and make no bones about their opposition to the Christian faith and their exclusion of Christians. (In the much-quoted words of the Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin, "we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.") "No faith wanted here" they say in effect, separating out people of faith as Nazi guards did certain Jews on their arrival at Auschwizt-Birkenau.

That crude, open kind of opposition is certainly the sort of challenge posed by certain modernists such as the new atheists, but it is not the challenge of modernity. After all, there is a vital difference between secularism (as a personal philosophy), seperationism (as a legal and political policy advocating strict   religion and public life) and secularization (as a process that is part and parcel of modernization. These three terms are commonly confused and while they overlap in having the same end result, they are entirely different ways to getting there, and the differences are crucial. The first is a philosophy, the second a political philosophy and the third is a process.

Guinness continues, importantly,

Modernism as a philosophy may oppose faith outright but modernity does not. Its damage is not through opposition but through seduction and distortion. It doesn't say, for example, "No faith allowed here" but "No faith is needed here." Contrary to Jesus and the Torah, modernity claims that man can now live "by bread alone," or rather by science, technology, management, and marketing alone. Secularists do not want God, whereas the secularized have no need of God, and that is only one of the many seductions and distortions of modernity.

After these kinds of astute explanations of terms and illustrations of how our secularizing age has eroded the influence of the Christian faith in the West - and will, increasingly, in the modernizing world, which, he predicts, could follow Europe and the US in leaving behind the principles and truths and values derived from a Jewish and Christian past - Os tells clarifying stories and offers prayers and Biblical reflection to put into focus the task at hand.  In this, it is quintessential Os, incisive social and cultural critique and inspiring Biblical preacher.  His take on Scriptural stories - contrasting the "Samuel moment" and the "Moses moment" in the powerful Epilogue - are themselves worth the price of the book. 

I mentioned that Dr. Guinness has spoken and written widely about these forces and trends and influences and challenges - each listed nicely, outlined, explained in orderly fashion - for most of his career.  Indeed, this brings his prophetic "no" and his plea for a classic, theological "yes" to the fore in a way that is nearly a capstone.

But I also said that besides being a greatest hits review, there are new insights (fresh as this year's news, vital as ever) and some brand new material.


Guinness has raised this before at least in passing more than once, but he has a great section looking at the role of generations in the Bible and how that might inform our too-casual acceptance of "generational" thinking. Are all born in the baby boom really all alike? Besides the obvious fact that millennials have all been raised post 9-11 and with digital gizmos, are they, as a generation, easily generalized? Os thinks this is sociologically sloppy and on most days, I agree with him.  It's in a chapter well worth pondering as a larger piece of his case of how we've bought into the current ethos uncritically, absorbing language which shapes understandings and drives us to practices (even in the church, with Gen X congregations or tween worship services and the like.) Os is brilliant at exposing the history of philosophical ideas and showing the social forces that have aligned to cause certain sociological shifts, and then pokes at our easy Christian accommodation to these popularly accepted trends.  Again, he doesn't cite Charles Taylor's previous work on "social imaginaries" but he could have. And his study of "generational" stereotypes is important in it's own right, but also another great case study of our cultural captivity.

There is one topic I've not heard him speak about before and it is very important to him in this book.  Readers will have to judge if he is right, but it is an exceptionally vital contribution, if he is correct.


He has two chapters in Impossible People on what is sometimes called spiritual warfare.  If we are to be Biblical people, fully using Scripture as our framing narrative and guide to thinking about all life and times then we cannot allow our embarrassment of how some within the church have trivialized or been oddly spooky about demons and evil spirits to cause us to ignore the possibility that there are, indeed, spiritual forces and demonic influences.  In this he draws significantly - although with valuable criticism, I think - of the late Walter Wink.  I only know of one other book that takes his study of principalities and powers seriously, and that is Marva Dawn's remarkable, appreciative, but critical engagement with Wink (in her Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God)   Guinness notices certain Biblical stories and teachings and cites Oxford-trained theologians of this topic such as Derek Prince.  

osguinness-feature-med.jpgHis study of "three tools" to discern and engage the advanced modern world, include a wise exploration of the weapons of spiritual warfare.   His rumination on assumptions about power, prayer, humility, doing God's work in Christ's own ways (he is not a pacifist, I am sure, but takes seriously the call to love even enemies and be gracious to all by following the way of the cross) are rich.  In a way, this part especially feels like a companion to Renaissance, reminding us that even in our cultural analysis and discernment about the pressures and seductions of modernity as a way of being in the world, we must always be prayerful and spiritually-aware.  (In fact, our assumption that there aren't demons and powers is itself an indication of our odd modern ways -- what other culture in the history of the world is so ignorant, indeed prides itself in its ignorance, about the invisible and mysterious aspects of reality?)

 Is Guinness correct to hint that there are demonic forces behind the intractable influence of modernity? Is he correct in suggesting that evils like the horrors of Hiroshima are indications of demonic idols in the land? Do the current culture wars and their painfully nasty spirit indicate some ugly evil spirits in high places that are doing their dark work?  He is not too explicit and he is not sanguine about this; his line of thought, though, is genuine and generative.  What do you make of it? It could be a fruitful conversation to have. Or are we too locked into what Max Weber called our "iron cage" and what the Bible refers to as "brass heavens."

Another thing that must be mentioned: Os is relentless - as he always has been --  about the dangerous of revisionist views of the Bible, inadequate views of the core teachings as presented in the creeds and councils of the historic church.  In Impossible People...  he is more bluntly outspoken than ever, or so it seems to me. In this regard he is resolute in offering rebuke. (Could it be that his own experience of seeing doctrinal laxity and corruption in his local denominational judicatory has been influential? It surely is more than that, and he has long been critical of fuzzy emergent or post-evangelical leaders who seem to abandon conventional theology and views of truth, not to mention his regular admonishment of sloppy liberalism within mainline Protestant traditions.)

Still, I am less sure that most mainline churches are so theologically bankrupt and that there is not still much value in a "big tent" approach to the broader church, liberal, mainline, evangelical , fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Catholic and Orthodox, global and local than this book seems to accept.  Os seems to believe that the mainline Protestant churches have decisively reneged on historic orthodoxy and that those committed to greater marriage rights for GLTB folks are necessarily shallow and scandalous in their disconnection from historic Biblical views.  I am less sure of that, and wished he has been more characteristically generous with his non-evangelical and revisionist brothers and sisters, some of whom would not see themselves as unfaithful as Os implies. This may not be the place to explore how blunt and confident one needs to be in denouncing the extremes of Biblical infidelity, and how best to more civilly describe and engage the motivations and intentions of those with whom we disagree, but I will note that I was disappointed by the tone of a few paragraphs here. It is understandable, and certainly is a cri de coeur, but anguishing to read nonetheless. I sincerely hope that those with whom he takes exception in this call to be unstoppably faithful, uncompromising people, will not disregard his call to truth and fidelity in these complicated times, even though he is simplistic in his assessment of their positions.

And so, like any book written by anyone, most readers should be careful to think critically, even as we are open to the insight of the author.  I suspect you will be offended by something in this book, and you will be deeply glad for much. You will scratch your head and perhaps commit to really think things through a bit more on your own, teasing out the implications for your family and community and church. You will learn much about history, philosophy, culture, sociology and the state of our current world from Guinness. Life-long learners simply must have it, and will be grateful for the vast amount of information, profoundly framed and urgently expressed.

But you will also be challenged, exhorted to be the sort of person who pleases God among all else -- to live before Guinness's famously put "Audience of One." Will Christ someday say "found faithful"?  This phrase means very much to Os, and it was a tender revelation to hear of it, not maudlin, but nonetheless exceptionally moving. I will let you read it yourself and discover it's meaning for him, but it is remarkable. May we all have such gumption and devotion, perhaps learned during times of great difficulty, perhaps learned through cultural analysis like the bulk of this book, or directly from the relentless teaching of the Old and New Testaments.  I am sure this book will help.  It is important.  As Guinness reminds us, after a moving meditation on the "show me your glory" theme, and how it must be our own urgent prayer,

"Only those who know God in unmistakable reality can stand the test of the reality of the world in our day."

os quote - hope.png


impossible people.jpgI read and write with a view of telling others about books they might enjoy, from which they would benefit. I, with Guinness, am deeply interested in the texture of Christian fidelity in this compromising age of change and choice and relativism.  So I think of other ways to connect the dots, other resources, other ways into the deepest conversations that matter the most. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization is surely one of the most important books of the year, one of the most anticipated books of the summer. I hope you order it at our discounted price, using the secure link below.

But, also, think of these, all 10% off the shown price:

Renaissance -  Os Guinness.jpgRenaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  I described this book above; it is hopeful and inspiring volume which is a prelude to the new Impossible People. Read it before or after, but read it, please. A wonder, a true gift. Listen to what Becky Pippert says:

"This is a profound, realistic and hopeful book that reminds us that even in the darkest times the power of the gospel can change the world....Guinness calls for renewal: in our confidence in God, in the power of the gospel and in the great truths of Scripture, even as we engage with the world around us. No other writer I know offers such a rich background of astute cultural analysis combined with a deep understanding of history. I finished this book feeling a deep sense of hope, which was fortified by his powerful prayers at the end of each chapter. If we heed the wisdom in this marvelous book, we could well become effective agents for Christ for such a time as this."

DVD The Problem of Evil - Os.jpgDVD The Problem of Evil: Why Do Bad Things Happen? Os Guinness (Discovery House) $19.99 I have said here, as many, many have before me, that Guinness is a brilliant communicator, a masterful speaker and a wonderful preacher. Here is a chance to spend time with him as he passionately and carefully tries to offer us tools for understanding the nature of evil, respond to the intellectual demands upon us when faced with great suffering, and learn how to offer profound, Biblical answers to this nearly insurmountable human issue, mysterious but essential for anyone wanting to live an examined life.  These six sessions are informal but nonetheless eloquent, inspired by his major paperback book Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Problem of Evil (HarperOne; $14.99) written after his speaking in New York on Wall Street right after 9-11.  This offers mature insight, all kinds of thoughtful reflections, and is fabulous for personal learning and certainly great for small groups or classes.

how not to be secular.jpgHow (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor James K.A. Smith (Eerdmans) $16.00  I have reviewed at BookNotes this at great length when it first came out and continue to mention this from time to time (including above.) We were so impressed, we sponsored Smith to lecture on it two years ago at our annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture, and although it is dense, Smith is always a lively writer; this an important, significant work for anyone wanting to get inside the head of those raised in these times. Seriously.  Taylor, and Smith's take on Taylor, compliment Guinness's large sociological insights and overtly evangelical virtues.

A Wilderness of Mirrors- Trusting Again in a Cynical World.jpgA Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World  Mark Meynell (Zondervan) $18.99  This is an amazingly rich, thoughtful, interesting book by a young writer that deserves your attention. I've mentioned it before and it came to mind while reading Guinness. Here is how reviewer described it: 

In A Wilderness of Mirrors Mark Meynell explores the roots of the discord and alienation that mark our society, but he also outlines a gospel-based reason for hope. An astute social observer with a pastor s spiritual sensitivity, Meynell grounds his antidote on four bedrocks of the Christian faith: human nature, Jesus, the church, and the story of God's action in the world. Ultimately hopeful, A Wilderness of Mirrors calls Christians to rediscover the radical implications of Jesus s life and message for a disillusioned world, a world more than ever in need of his trustworthy goodness.

The Fractured Republic- Renewing America's Social Contract.jpgThe Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in an Age of Individualism Yuval Levin (Basic Books) $27.50  I hope that you have seen this reviewed and cited on the internet or in significant journals -- I cannot wait to read this yet this summer as it has been promoted across the political spectrum as substantive and thoughtful. Left-leaning Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) says "this is the book American most needs in 2016" and Paul Ryan says "Yuval Levin is one of the most insightful and original thinkers of our time." Weaknesses? Strengths? Partisanship? We are dangerously fragmented in this "age of individualism" which is to say Guinness's call to radically rethink our embeddedness in the ways of modernity are played out here. George Packer says of his humane and good writing that "His work gives the sense that our future needn't be as grimly divided and dysfunctional as the present seems." Don't skip Guinness's bigger picture for this, but this will make even that much more sense once you've gotten Guinness's work in view.

 Christian Practical Wisdom- What It Is, Why It Matters .jpgChristian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters Dorothy Bass et al (Eerdmans) $30.00  You may be surprised to see this listed here, but I think their semi-scholarly study of the role of wisdom in modern life will resonate with those interested in Guinness's theme that our battle is not only against the ideas of modernism but the patterns of modernity. Here, they resist the abstraction of the modern world -- the very way we've been taught to think about knowing -- and restore insights about living wisely.  Many of their grand, serious essays are about "the modern world" and how embodying daily practices discerning in light of spiritual truths from the Bible can offer restored and redemptive counter-voices to the way things are. As I've explained before, these pieces are written beautifully by astute theological educators from mainline circles and I think it is generative in inviting us to (as Mary Boys says of it) "ponder deeply and live with great intentionality..."

How to Survive The Apocalypse- Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World .jpgHow to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World Robert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson (Eerdmans) $16.00  Okay, maybe you want to follow up Guinness's nearly magisterial overview of secularization, the forces of modernity, and the call to live faithfully within but sometimes against the culture, discerningly and bravely.  Want to follow Christ even in the details of life, like, say, your entertainment?  Do you watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or House of Cards? Did you like the Academy Award winning Her? As I have said before, these two brilliant young social critics offer half of their remarkable book as an introduction to Charles Taylor (and yes, they draw on James K.A. Smith.) The second half wonders how we can be impossible people, if you will -- resolute as followers of King Jesus, people of grace and wisdom, caring about the common good -- even as the culture is awash in apocalyptic pessimism and anti-heroes. As they say in the first paragraph: "The world is going to hell. Just turn on the television -- no, not the news. Flip over to the prestige dramas and sci-fi epics and political dramas." But why? And how then shall we live?  Read Guinness, please. But read this, too. It is serious and seriously fun.

Good Faith- Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme.jpgGood Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons (Baker Books) $19.99  I have announced this previously and mentioned it often. It seems perfect to list here, as a read for those who aren't up to the big story stuff as Guinness walks us through the rise of modernity and the forces of liquid modernity as it is sometimes now called. His call to be uncompromising and diligent in our faithfulness is powerful and sophisticated but it is a bit heady. This quite readable book follows on similar tracks, inviting us to know the research (developed by the respected Barna Group) and consider how to respond to the increasing hostility about faith from the progressive secularist movement and others who, it seems, are more and more convinced that faith is just irrelevant, at best, and extremist dangerous, at worst. Guinness's book is more profound -- Gabe Lyon's himself has a rave blurb on Impossible People -- but this "cuts to the chase" as they say. It speaks (as  human rights activist Christine Caine puts it) "prophetically to the church by diagnosing our condition and prescribing a course of powerful treatment." Those with conventional Christian views or connections to churches are no longer part of the majority of the West. How we live out "good faith" in our generation will make a huge difference for the future of America. It is "an accessible guide" as one sharp reviewer put it.  Again, agree or not with all their assumptions and conclusions, it is a very helpful, practical, useful resource to learn from and to talk about.




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June 16, 2016

FOUR BRAND NEW BOOKS ON EVANGELICAL SOCIAL ACTION (and some personal ruminations and remembrances on a long-held concern.) ALL ON SALE NOW

The four new books I am about to tell you about are each excellent, truly worthy of your support, and so very interesting and helpful, but I want to accomplish two things in these reviews.  

First, of course, I want to alert you to these brand new titles, to affirm these publishers and authors, and to - yes - actually have you consider using these books in some kind of way.  Obviously, I hope you consider buying and reading them for yourself. (That would be buying them from us, that is: shame on you if you read my recommendations and go elsewhere!)  Maybe you could help get these books into wider circles. From a church library or small group to an Adult Ed forum or a campus ministry project, these books are useful as educational resources and we would be thrilled to be able to sell some to you or your group.

Just use the links to our secure order form page found at the end of this newsletter.


When we opened our bookstore we distinguished ourselves as a rare Christian bookstore that emphasized social justice topics, authors involved in faith-based social concern; we dreamed of making a living resourcing those who were making a difference and inspiring many to get involved in activisms of various sorts, from urban renewal to global peacemaking, from criminal justice reform to legislative concerns around poverty, hunger, and agriculture.  To be honest, we really don't sell many of those kinds of books and over the years it has raised a number of eyebrows, and cost us a number of customers. 

Which leads to the second thing I want to underscore here once again, a point I've made a lot in the last fifteen years or so.  I don't know if other Christian bookstores carry much social justice stuff (I've heard that they do not) or if the books I'm highlighting are found at the mainstream chains or ABA indie shops (again, I gather that they mostly are not.) But there is no doubt that evangelical Christian publishers are leading the way in releasing powerful, useful, insightful books for activists - academic books, semi-scholarly, serious ones, and popular handbooks for beginners.  The four books listed below that have been released in the last week or so are Exhibit A to show that evangelicals are much more interested in social justice than ever before.  These are some of the best books on this topic I've seen in years.

Justice Calling Where Passion Meets P.jpgSlow Kingdom Coming- Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly.jpg(I hope you saw my shout outs in the previous post about the must-read The Justice Calling by Bethany Hanke Hoang & Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) and the beautifully-written spiritual guide Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan (IVP) which are both further indications of the prevalence and quality of these kinds of gospel-centered, Biblically-grounded resources.)

(And I hope you recall that we are promoting Lisa Sharon The Very Good Gospel.jpgHarper's fine introduction to the social implications of gospel reconciliation in her marvelous, new The Very Good Gospel, published by the evangelical publishing house Waterbrook; $19.99. Did you see our review of it a few weeks back, and recall that we're hosting her out in Pittsburgh on July 26th? More on that later, but, again, it illustrates my point.)


I became aware of religious-based social activists while a high school kid - one of the trials of the radical Berrigan brothers was in nearby Harrisburg (for the record, a nutty trumped-up case cooked up by J. Edgar, alleging that these pacifist priests were going to kidnap Henry Kissinger and plant bombs in the Pentagon, a claim so ludicrous that even other hard line prosecutors and public policy hawks had to distance themselves from the show.) I met a few radical priests myself, read gay Episcopal poet Malcolm Boyd and the erudite William Sloan Coffin, got involved with Caesar Chavez's campaign for justice for farmworkers, and found that I was often very, very lonely.  By and large, many mainline denominational books I came across (a Harvey Cox book that looked like Sgt. Pepper, as I recall) were religiously weird, or arcane, but the more overtly Christ-centered, gospel-based authors and ministries had very little interest in social change. I sometimes characterize those days in my life as hanging around with people who wanted to change the world, but didn't care about salvation through Jesus and hanging around with people who loved Jesus but didn't care on whit about the world. I hardly knew anybody who really wanted to do both.

Most people, I suppose, were just sort of nothing, socially and politically speaking, though, and the status quo reigned supreme. These were the days when Catholic Bishops would literally bless the bombs heading to civilian targets in Viet Nam and Billy Graham would naively hang out with Richard Nixon, but it wasn't terribly pushy and it wasn't a thing; it just was.  This was before the creation of the Religious Right - an overtly Christian (and, in some circles, very well-intended) effort to link a Biblical worldview to public life, which ended up supporting crass right wing politics; before that it was just sort of a given that church folks would mostly be conservative but un-involved, or, in reaction, would be into the "social gospel" which, in my experience, was a sincere but not particularly Biblical blend of lefty ideals and counter-cultural  goofiness.   At one earnest church retreat about changing the world we took "communion" with Pepsi because, as the ad slogan back then went, we'd "come alive." Or was it Coke and that hillside "I want to teach the world to sing" thing? Whatever.

Apathetic conservatism propping up the status quo or radical weirdness dis-connected to the first things of the gospel?  Even as a teen I knew this was fishy, but I didn't quite know why.

(And then, for me at least, I would catch hints of a more integral, faith-based, gospel-centered, church-related movement coming from the Black churches and the civil rights movement down South and the writings of Dr. King and his associates. It would be years until I'd read up and eventually even met folks in that tradition.)


In November 1973, I came to later learn, there was an era-defining weekend conference held at an inner-city YMCA in Chicago that came up with the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.  Convened in part by the distinguished Carl F.H. Henry, people who later became friends and mentors - Richard Mouw, John Perkins, Bill Pannell, Ron Sider, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, the founders of The Other Side magazine and, of course, The Post American (that later was renamed Sojourners) were all  there, playing a part.  By the mid-70s Beth was visiting Koinonia, the famously inter-racial communal farm founded by Clarence Jordan in Americus, Georgia, I was wondering why I hadn't heard more of this robust, evangelical vision for wholistic Kingdom ministry, and recruiting people for Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and the anti-hunger citizen's lobby, Bread for the World (BFW) and the early version of what is now the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) then called the National Association for Christian Political Action founded by Jim Skillen.  

moral minority.jpgSome of this story (and so much more), by the way, is told in historian David Swartz's Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (University of Pennsylvania Press; we have the expensive hardback on sale for the paperback price = $24.95.) One of my dearest friends from Pittsburgh was one of the folks he interviewed for first-hand recollections.

The wonderful relief organization World Vision was getting to be better known and we had their President Stanley Mooneyham - he had written What Do You Say to a Hungry World? [now long out of print, but important in those years] - at one of our Pittsburgh CCO conferences, the precursor of Jubilee.  At the first Jubilee conference we hosted Senator Mark Hatfield, a rare anti-war Republican and vibrantly Christ-centered evangelical.  Because of my interest in some of this kind of stuff one friend seriously wondered if I was possessed by a demon which she named "the spirit of politics."  That's how anti-social concern some of my friends in my college fellowship group were, fearing evil in a matter as benign as raising money for the hungry.

Soon enough, I'd be wondering that myself, though, as it seemed like Screwtape himself was behind the 1980s rise of religious involvement in society as former evangelists known for preaching the gospel and the blood of Christ like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson began to twist the message to fit their nearly bizarre far right agenda, spewing all kinds of toxic stuff on the body politic in the name of Jesus. Do you recall Robertson raising money for military helicopters (the Boland Amendment make it illegal for the US government to do so directly) which sprayed death on civilians in Guatemala and Nicaragua?  Do you recall when Falwell said Dutch Reformed theologian Alan Boesak was a communist as he fought for the end of apartheid amidst savage mass murders in South Africa?  Do you recall the Nightline show when Falwell said Jim Wallis didn't really believe in the gospel?  (I do, and I debated him personally about it later that week!)  

Almost out of nowhere Falwell et al ranted against homosexuality and secular humanism - school prayer became an issue, as did abortion.  (Those of us on the front lines of crisis pregnancy work  -- I was at the first National Right to Life Conference, and help start a Birthright crisis pregnancy center at our college in 1973 and served our local CPC in the 80s and 90s -- found the harshness of the fundamentalists, new to the cause, counterproductive and more than a little annoying.) The evangelical  ministry of gospel-based leaders like Ron Sider saying we should affirm a mildly liberal view of economic reform  inspired by the Bible's teachings or John Perkins saying we needed to address racism as a sin, not just a social problem, were drowned out by sinfully stupid things being said in the national media by Pat Robertson and others of his ilk. (I'll never forget a David Brooks column in The New York Times lamenting that Falwell and his food fighting style was often selected by the media as a voice of evangelicalism. Brooks wondered why they never contacted somebody like John Stott.)

Yet, in a matter of a few decades, the Christian Right seemed to fizzle, the Moral Majority collapsed, some leaders (like Ed Dodson) emerged sobered, and young adult evangelicals increasingly identified themselves as caring about peace and justice, creation-care and race relations.  Shane Claiborn was published by Zondervan, quoting my old acquaintance Phil Berrigan and the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day. How did this happen? Why and when was the tipping point?  It used to be rare to find Bible-based, grace-filled, evangelical books on social justice and most publishers in the CBA world were reluctant to release much about public justice that wasn't linked to some super-star preacher or some far right agenda. (Although they'd publish Ollie North in hardcover!)

Now, even the most theologically traditional evangelical publishers - Multnomah, Tyndale, Moody, Cook, NavPress, Waterbook, Crossway, Kregal, Zondervan, Nelson, IVP, Baker - all do inspiring books about fighting sexual trafficking, about creation-care, about racial reconciliation, about God's passion for the poor, about orphan justice, mass incarceration, and more; a few even dare to publish books on Biblical pacifism, the kind of thing formerly only available from the Mennonites (or the publishers of the Catholic Left.) On almost any social topic, evangelical publishers in recent years have done more (and, in most cases, better) books than mainline denominational publishers have. While there isn't an evangelical consensus on policy -- there are brilliant conservative scholars, moderate, Biblical, fair-minded, and there are feisty and passionate leaders who tilt left --  but most evangelicals are desiring to be faithful, relevant, and compassionate in the world, not ideological or fighting the culture wars. (Most true evangelicals, let us be clear, do not favor Donald Trump.) This broader worldview which embraces concern for the common good is, I believe, one of the great shifts of recent years, and certainly one of the top two or three religious publishing trends in our lifetime, that social awareness and concern for the poor, for racial justice, fair trade, human rights and the like, are on the agenda, even if we don't always agree on how to pursue those goals.

When and how and why did this happen?

One of the fabulously interesting (and, I think, really important) books I am about to list tries to answer this very question, or at least paint a backstory of how it began to happen, in my lifetime. When did this shift happen, and why?  All four of the titles we're listing are indicative of this large shift and are great examples of the best social justice stuff coming out of thoughtful evangelical publishing houses today.

I think we can thank the pioneering work by Ron Sider and John Perkins and Jim Skillen and John Stott and even Francis Schaeffer, and, after his time in prison, Chuck Colson, names you most likely know (especially if you follow BookNotes.)  And, we should thank Gary Haugen. (Read on to find out why.)

 Anyway, in the words of the Dylan song I used to play at youth group so many decades ago, "the times, they are a-changin'."  Thanks be to God.

return to justice.jpgReturn to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscious Soong-Chan Rah & Gary Vanderpol (Brazos) $19.99 sale price = $17.99  As I've said, the resurgence of interest in social justice among evangelicals - even among organizations such as Cru or at flagship evangelicals seminaries like Gordon-Conwell  or at megachurches like Willow Creek or Saddle Back - is one of the grand shifts of faith (and within religious publishing) in our lifetime. Beyond the religious right and left, there is now an increasingly mainstream acceptance of Bible-based teaching about justice among those with a high regard for orthodox readings of the Bible, who feel called to share their faith, hoping to see others come to a personal, saving faith, and who express their spirituality often in deeply personal ways. (I myself am doing two workshops on Biblical justice for evangelical groups in the next few weeks!)  

Those who follow these things like to note that the earliest roots of the American evangelicalism were socially progressive. Finney preached against slavery, many evangelical colleges were quick to admit women, preachers like D.L. Moody cared deeply about the human suffering in the urban slums; of course, William Wilberforce (whose story is so wonderfully told in the must-see film Amazing Grace based on Eric Metaxas' book of that title) was part of a very wholistic movement of social and cultural renewal affiliated with the Methodist revival in England in the late 1700s.  So, evangelism and social concern, orthodox theological pietism and politics are actually old bedfellows, oddly eroded by the retreat from society with the rise of fundamentalism in the early 1900s, the middle class status quo liberal Protestantism in the middle of the 20th century  and then again by right wing political fundamentalism in the late 20th century.   Now, it seems evangelicalism is recovering its storied history. Hence the "reignited" in the subtitle here.

In Return to Justice, six key movements are described that have been influential in setting the stage for rising generations of young evangelicals and their return to wholistic, justice-oriented Christian social concern. 

I have not adequately studied Return... so am not sure which issues and personalities to which the authors attribute the most weight, but it seems as if it is doing good, rich, history from earlier decades, those which set the stage and built momentum. For sheer impact,  I vote for Gary Haugen, whose breathtaking story and valiant work exposing the horrific problem of child slavery and sexual trafficking in the late 1990s was one of the big, tide-turning influences that not only caught the attention of idealistic youth but also transcended partisanship.  Right or left-wing views didn't seem to matter much in the pitches given all over the land by Gary and his staff of the International Justice Mission (IJM.)  Who doesn't oppose sexual trafficking?

I believe that the current passion for social reform and the ethos of making a difference owes much to the tireless, funny, passionate, storytelling of Baptist preacher Tony Campolo, traveling around the country for decades, sowing seeds among those who are now middle-aged evangelical leaders. (Campolo ran for Congress in the mid 1970s as an anti-war, pro-justice, consistently pro-life Democrat.)

Agree or not with all of Tony's flamboyant one-liners on issues, one cannot miss that he is an almost-old-school evangelist, inviting people to accept God's grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ; his call to radical discipleship and socially-engaged commitment always emerges from his invitation to be embraced by the love of God shown in the gospel of Christ. (Interestingly, in two different co-authored books - Adventures in Missing the Point with his friend Brian McLaren and Red Letter Christians with his now famous former student Shane Claiborne - Tony is the more traditional of the two, sounding concerns when their views seem to verge on drifting away from evangelical truisms.)  I write all this to note that Rah and Vanderpol do not give much attention to Campolo as a seminal figure in this shift that is coming to fruition before our eyes.  Interesting.

Other folks have been at it a long time - John Perkins telling his story of being beat by racist cops and still promoting racial reconciliation, say, or World Vision promoting child sponsorship - but by the new millennium, momentum seemed to accumulate, some tipping point was reached, perhaps when Compassion International starting going to the major evangelical Christian rock festivals like Creation.  The impact of hearing first-hand accounts of the needs of starving children offered place after place, year after year, accumulated, and high school kids grew up knowing something about global development issues.  Liberation theologians were debating complex nuances in nomenclature in mainline seminaries but evangelicals were organizing massive fund-raising campaigns among youth, and their WWJD bracelets reminded them to think about the needy. Old conferences for evangelical young adults like CCO's Jubilee and IVCF's Urbana, and more recently, the Passion Conference, have naturally integrated social concerns into their display areas and messages; this simply wouldn't have happened without controversy 30 or 40 years ago.

So, Return to Justice really is helpful, giving us a glimpse of the Spirit's work in the generation that informed the resurgence within the last decades, and documenting how some of this extraordinary shift has happened, and how lasting education can happen around these key issues.

Besides a fantastic introduction and a solid and hopeful conclusion, here is an overview of this marvelous book:

In Part 1 ("Justice Is Personal and Relational") they explore the power of personal story by looking at John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association and the power of personal connection by exploring child sponsorship as a window into global poverty.

Part 2 is called "Justice Is Public and Prophetic" and this explores World Vision's work of prophetic advocacy and Sojourner's as a prophetic voice for those on the margins.

In Part 3, "Justice Confronts Power in Community", Rah and Vanderpol explore African American evangelicals and what true racial reconciliation needs to be; it draws on narratives about Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner (and the historic, tense Urbana 70 conference) and Carl Ellis and Clarence Hillard and others who pressed these issues in the 1970s within mostly white evangelical organizations, paving the way for ongoing conversations even this very season. The last chapter explores Rene Padilla's and Samuel Escobar's influence and the "The Fraternidad Teologica Latinoamericana. (Oh, what an honor it was once when Rene Padilla visited our Dallastown store!) Can power be shared in the 2/3's world? How has our global Christian world changed in our lifetime and how might that influence the experiences of rising generations? Soong-Chan Rah has an entire book on this (The Next Evangelicalism) and he knows his stuff.

Here are some of the rave reviews Return to Justice has gotten.  

I know Rah and VanderPol personally and highly respect them and cherish that they have done an excellent job in articulating the history of the return of justice to the evangelical church. I am blessed we can participate in that return as we find ourselves at a wonderful crossroads. I wish that the church community worldwide could read this book, particularly those who are a part of this new multicultural church planting and post-racial generation.

--John M. Perkins, founder, John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation; author of Leadership Revolution

The resurgence of concern for justice emerges from deep wells in the evangelical tradition, and the story needs to be told--and in fact has now been told in Return to Justice.

--Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary, author The Kingdom Conspiracy 

Return to Justice tells the story of an evangelical history that must not be forgotten. This book examines several influential evangelical movements that have shaped our understanding of service, compassion, and justice, including contributions from the African American and Latino evangelical communities. It provides valuable insights that both inspire individual growth and compel us toward an authentic return to God's heart for justice.

--Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World

This carefully researched book shines a spotlight on modern evangelical movements that expound the gospel message as a mandate for social justice as well as eternal salvation. While the authors' recommendation of these groups includes some critique of their aims and actions, they want other evangelicals to realize how thoroughly evangelical the activities of John Perkins, World Vision, the Fraternidad Teol√≥gica Latinoamericana, and other groups have been. They make a persuasive case.

--Mark Noll, historian, author of Turning Points


advocating for (better).jpgAdvocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures Stephen Offutt, F. David Bronkema, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Robb Davis, Gregg Okesson (Baker Academic) $22.99  sale price = $20.69 Well, again, that a book like this even exists - with such a blunt title and such serious content -- and is promoted as a major release from an evangelical publishing house is further indication that something is afoot in our times.  That Stephan Bauman (President of World Relief and author of the inspiring Possible about how we can make a difference in the world) calls it "a watershed book" is perhaps another way of noting how important it is.  Wow.

Yet, this is a hard-hitting critique, and a needed one, I'm afraid.  It is suggesting that despite all the talk about justice and the great move of social concern that seems to be prevalent in our evangelical churches -- and, our mainline ones, too, I'd say - we really are pretty unaware of how the world really works, who has power and how power does or doesn't serve the common good.  Advocating for Justice is a book that is pushing us to complete the journey from a empathy and charity to a broader social vision to a uniquely Christian advocacy for institutional change.

Miriam Adeney (former missionary and now of Seattle Pacific University) writes of it,

This stellar book asserts that evangelicals are anemic with regard to structural evil. We don't know how to think about power, so we settle for strategies that are too simple. Yet we are animated by the God who both creates and conquers the powers. Clear, orderly, theoretically rich, theologically vibrant, and full of examples, this book is a must-read.

These authors themselves are another fine illustration of the maturing of the mind and cultural sophistication within evangelicalism, not to mention the ecumenical flavoring of many within theologically evangelical institutions.  For instance, in this collaborative effort, one author has a PhD from Boston University but teaches development studies at Asbury, an evangelical Christian college. Another has a PhD from Yale and teaches at the Baptist-related Eastern University. Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy has a degree from Weston (a Jesuit school of theology) and works as an evangelical church outreach organizer with Bread for the World, the ecumenical anti-hunger citizen lobby group.  One author is an elected official - yay! - and Gregg Okesson (himself with a PhD from the University of Leeds) is dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary.  

What does it mean to truly be advocates for lasting social change? What are Biblically-informed and theologically substantive views of power and institutions?  For many of us, Ron Sider's must-read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is still one of the best books on all this, but this takes these concerns about structural readjustment to a new, thoughtful, and necessary level.  It isn't about politics exclusively, although there are some great case studies about the details of funding debates on things such as AIDS/HIV research or immigration reform,  but it is trying to help us understand longer-term structural change, lasting institutional reform, and being advocates, as citizens and in other spheres where we can do more than "come alongside" the marginalized, but learn effective advocacy practices.  This isn't the final word on all of this, I'm sure, but it is an essential, nearly stunning, next step. Kudos. 

public faith in action.jpgPublic Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity Miroslav Volf & Ryan McAnnally-Linz (Brazos Press) $21.00 sale price = $18.90  I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this and hesitated listing it along with these others for fear it would get lost in the list. This is a book that deserves to be very, very widely read and discussed, and is needed during this election cycle so very badly. Not only because we need to counter a thoughtlessness and knee-jerk response from various quarters, but also because this not only affirms a careful and wise approach, but because in it's graciousness about prudential judgements about which we can disagree it is -- as James K.A. Smith observes -- "an anti-dote to polarization."

And we can't get enough of that right now, can we?

If the first book I listed above (Return to Justice) offers some historical background and some fairly contemporary case studies of those recovering an evangelical commitment to public justice and the second (Advocating for Justice) is a serious study of how power works and why we need to think carefully about structures and institutions as we advocate for social transformation on behalf of the poor, then Public Faith in Action is a handbook to living this out in this exact time. It is a guide to being a better informed citizen, guided by integrity and fidelity to our best principles.  It is, as Ron Sider himself says,

A concise, readable, theologically-informed guide for Christian political engagement, this book deftly integrates relevant biblical principles and contemporary data, summarized the key issues at stake, and points to important additional reading. An excellent contribution to the rapidly growing body of work on how Christina can engage politics in a faith way. 

I sort of wish this wasn't a hardback, as it ought to be promoted widely and used in classes and study groups, especially this summer and fall.  It isn't just a quickie manual, as it is profound -- what else would you expect from the likes of Volf, a theological scholar from Croatia, now at Yale (both teaching theology and directing the esteemed Yale Center on Faith & Culture) who is respected around the world? His Exclusion and Embrace was voted by Christianity Today as one of the best 100 religious books of the 20th century.  (And I have a blurb on the cover of his very impressive A Public Faith; just saying.)

Listen to these impressive endorsements from advanced reviews of Public Faith in Action:

The question isn't whether you'll live out a public faith but how. In this wise, measured, and refreshingly concrete discussion, Volf and McAnnally-Linz encourage Christians to be active, thoughtful contributors to the 'life together' that is society. The book is unapologetically convicted, but it makes room for the global realities that demand different responses and creates space for Christians to come to different prudential conclusions. Here is an antidote to polarization.

--James K. A. Smith, Calvin College; author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit; editor of Comment magazine

Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz's volume achieves its aims: opening up a series of serious questions that are a matter of public debate in a pluralistic society, while exhorting Christians to responsibly explore the answers through the lens of faith.

--Stephanie Summers, CEO, Center for Public Justice

The world needs our active Christian faith more now, perhaps, than ever. Public Faith in Action provides a deeply thoughtful model for how we as Christians might work out our faith for the glory of God and the flourishing of communities and people. One needn't agree with every application here in order to be instructed, challenged, and inspired by this call to commitment, conviction, and character as we strive to serve a suffering world faithfully and well.

--Karen Swallow Prior, author of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

vegangelical.jpgVegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith Sarah Withrow King (Zondervan) $16.99 sale price = $15.29  Sarah King starts off this short book telling about her growing up with good family devotions, becoming born again, the purity ring she wore as a younger Christian girl, and her wholesome recollections of being raised in a Godly, evangelical Christian family. She's been a vegan for years, has been an animal rights activist as an evangelical (talking about Christ with her colleagues in PETA) and now offers this, her second book on the topic -- published by perhaps the quintessential evangelical publisher. Do I really need to say "I rest my case" regarding the shifts within evangelical publishing?

animals are not ours.jpgI list this book (alongside her other recent, somewhat more scholarly one, Animals Are Not Ours (No Really They Are Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology) published by Cascade; $25.00; sale price = $22.50) not only because it is truly fascinating and important, but because it does indeed, again, illustrate the point that there is something remarkable happening when the theologically traditionalist evangelicals at this storied, mostly conservative publishing house thinks they can publish a book on why Bible-believing Christians should consider becoming totally vegan.

I am not at this point myself, by the way, and I must admit I wish Sarah would have gone the route of just protesting the abuses of factory farms and proclaiming an ethic which insists on treating all creatures with dignity and care -- with what Joel Salatin in his new book calls "the marvelous pigness of pigs." I think more folks would have given her a hearing. 

But she will have none of my wish to tone down her convictions: she critiques (kindly, in footnotes) much of the rapidly-growing evangelical creation-care literature for how it misses or confuses what she says in a key aspect of Biblical and theological creational ethics: radical animal welfare.  This book really is one-of-a-kind; few, if any, of the other such books on this topic are as accessible or so particularly evangelical in tone about this blind spot in our thinking and practices.

We here at the shop have a large selection on animal welfare -- one Christian woman was so struck by seeing our selection she broke down in tears, realizing she was not alone in her passions.  But, really, this is ground-breaking as it offers such grace-filled, Bible-based, evangelical insights with wit and without compromise.  Agree or not, you have to appreciate a book like that.  

So, let's be clear. Nope, her children do not drink milk and have never been to a McDonalds (obviously.) She doesn't go to the zoo. She agrees with C.S. Lewis that animal testing (vivisection) is cruel and wrong.  She doesn't wear leather and she's trying to live as fully by her principles as she can.  But, delightfully and surprisingly to some, she is not angry or judgmental or trivial. She is playful, deeply Christian, and invites us to consider a whole lot of stuff that we really ought to consider so that we honor God and live in ways that are consistent with the best practices of new life in Christ.  There are good study questions to ponder and it would be fascinating to discuss together (if your group can hold in tension a lot of disagreements and perhaps painful conflict about it.) Both books really are commendable, and I'm happy to tell you about them.

I love these blurbs about Sarah and her book -- especially the first by a guy who isn't even a consistent vegetarian, let alone vegan. Listen up:

I love animals. I also love eating them. This book isn't a self-righteous rant. It's a provocative, funny, spiritual manifesto about how precious life is. It's easy to forget that God's original plan was to hang out with a couple of naked vegetarians in a garden. Our McDonalds-and-Chipotle-loving fast-food world has come a long way from the ole Garden of Eden. Sarah's book is an invitation to step back and consider how God really intended for us to relate to all these wonderful creatures. -- Shane Claiborne (backsliding vegetarian)

A significant introduction to the important but too-long neglected topic of a solidly Christian approach to the (mis)treatment of animals. One need not agree with every argument to realize this book presents an urgent challenge that biblical Christians dare no longer ignore. King's chilling stories, extensive statistics, and probing biblical arguments offer a great place to begin. -- Ronald J. Sider

And, please, consider these wonderful assessments by two sharp, Godly women I admire greatly:

Sarah King's book about how to love Jesus and love animals was overwhelming. Overwhelmingly fun - with her quick wit and accessible writing style. Overwhelmingly challenging - in that she suggests some ideas I honestly don't know how to integrate into my own evangelical practice and spiritual life. And overwhelmingly good - she asks critical questions the 21st century evangelical church has yet to wrestle with and entertain. May Vegangelical be a guide for us who choose to follow Jesus and seek to honor and love His creation and the human-animal relationships that are a part of it. -- Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, , author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World

An articulate, sincere introduction to Bible-based social and environmental justice, opening the conversation to how God forms us through our interactions with the created world. A must-read for protectors of all creatures, great and small. -- Nancy Sleeth, , co-founder of Blessed Earth




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June 14, 2016

Home Again, Home Again, BIG BLOW OUT SALE -- 5 DAYS ONLY --

It has been a while since our last post and that has been both intentional and by necessity.  We wanted to allow time for everyone to see that last review of Chris Smith's spectacular new book Reading for Reading for the Common Good.jpgthe Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish - I asked you to re-send my reflections, and almost begged you to buy the book.  If you haven't yet read that review I hope you do as it shared much of dearest things to our hearts (the role of reading, learning, Kingdom vision and missional outreach) and explained why Reading for...  is such a great book to enjoy and from which to gain missional energy and vision and quite a bit of helpful insight.  I don't mind featuring a quintessentially Hearts & Minds-ish column for a while, hoping many read it.  I think it's one you should save and send, discuss and hopefully act upon.  That is, buy the book!

But, also, we've been out on the road at a string of complicated set-ups, traveling to three out-of-town locations to create three different displays (and doing workshops at two of the events.)  Beth and I have relied on the kindness of others to help lug some heavy boxes after midnight and some hard-working staff back at the store to order and compile, box and re-box, carry and stack, lug and load, box after box after box.  And don't even ask about our spooky encounter with bad brakes in the big green van heading North on Route 15.  We are grateful for God's protection and rejoiced when we at last pulled into Dallastown in the middle of a very late night.


So, here's a bit of a tribute to those trips - we're told people like to hear this kind of summary of some of the places we go and the books we sell here and there. Setting things out on display tables with our crates and shelves in special pop-up book rooms does remind us of some of our favorite books to promote, or special books that some groups need.

Ergo, here we go: a FIVE DAY SALE, ANY BOOK MENTIONED, 30% OFF while supplies last.  This sale expires at end of day Sunday, June 19. 2016.


ELCA.jpgOur first big set-up last week was with our good friends at the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.)  This is the denomination in which Beth grew up and her home church has produced a number of active lay delegates, folks doing dedicated social service, and a few ministers of Word and Sacrament and it is fabulous to see old friends.  We respect so much of what they do and the space to set up at Messiah College is grand.  It took four of us 12 hours to do the big display (just to give you a sense of how much and how good we try to make it.)  It was a good event - they did their denominational business, worshiped well - ah, our local Lutherans know how to worship well - and there was a good spirit in the place, busy as they were.  They don't push books much at their event, so not many particular titles sold well.  I don't do any stand-up book announcements (I know, they don't know what their missing) so sales are sort of smattered all over the room, from spiritual formation to congregational revitalization, from memoirs and light-hearted stuff to a few books of Biblical and theological studies, social concern and children's books.  We even sold a silly board book Dancing With Jesus which (features a host of miraculous moves) and includes dance steps.

One book they did announce, though, is for a project they call One Synod One Book - yep, they attempt to get every parish on board reading together.  How cool is that? In past seasons they've used the lovely God in a Bag of Groceries and the important The New Jim Crow; last season they read the new edition of Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. Although the Synod invites folks to buy them at a discount from us, we suspect most parishes either don't do the program or they get the books elsewhere. Still, it is exciting to think of even a handful of churches with reading groups and book clubs, learning to deepen their love for God, their hunger for justice, through talking together around the printed page.  I wonder if your own church might take a lesson from their good idea?

Telling Tales About Jesus- An Introduction to the New Testament Gospels .jpgAt the Synod gathering they announced next season's One Synod One Book selection, a meaty study of the gospels, Telling Tales About Jesus: An Introduction to the New Testament Gospels by Warren Carter (Fortress Press; $39.00.)  We sold a good handful at the event, and hope that others will buy multiple copies soon.  It's a fascinating introduction to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bringing together contemporary critical scholarship and a high regard for the power of the Jesus stories for daily life and discipleship and for faith communities in their mission in the world.  His explanation of much about the nature of the political background of the Roman Empire is informative and his showing the different purposes of the four different accounts is helpful.

We've got plenty here, still, so if you are interested, right now is a time to order it at this extra 30% discount.  When this sale ends, we will continue to sell it to ELCA book groups at 20% off, but for the next few days we offer this extra BookNotes savings.

October 31, 1517- Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World.jpgThe biggest seller at the Lutheran gathering was, not surprisingly, October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World by Martin E. Marty (Paraclete; $19.99.) Dr. Marty is one of the preeminent Christian writers and leaders of the last 50 years so a new book by him is a treat and a treasure. He's a Lutheran, so a new Martin Marty book was perfect to feature - it was greatly appreciated (by those who saw it, at least.) With the upcoming celebration of the 500th anniversary of the eve of the Protestant reformation, this is a great first salvo of what I suspect will be a big topic in religious publishing this year.  I thought it was fantastic, and funny, even, that a Jesuit (James Martin) wrote the forward.  Another Catholic has a blurb on the back and Richard Mouw (a Presbyterian) offers a lovely endorsement.  I have to admit not everybody understood my comments about the curiosity of Catholics endorsing this book; perhaps our Protestant churches, for better or worse, don't know much about what happened in October 1517.  Yikes!

Anotated Luther.jpgAn important Lutheran scholar, Timothy Wengert (who has his own book on Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses) has been doing a major project, leading a team doing annotated editions - big, expensive, glorious, hardbacks with Fortress Press - of the complete works of Martin Luther.  We didn't sell any of those (even though we were told a Fortress Press editor was around who might have pushed them, but I gather never visited the large book room, a great disappointment.)

But what we really hoped we would have sold were the brilliant paperbacks, oversized, handsomely done, excerpts of the big annotated hardback texts.  We had four of Luther's must-read volumes in these good translations with lots of helpful study notes and annotations in the big margins: The Freedom of the Christian, Treatise on Good Works, The Bondage of the Will, and The Larger Catechism. We commend these classics of the Protestant reformation, these brilliant writings from this legendary Christian leader. The annotations help and the handsome feel of these study editions makes these really nice to have and useful for groups.

These regularly sell for just $14.99 each but we have them on sale, now, at 30% OFF - until June 16, 2016. There will be more released in this series.

Freedom of a Christian.jpgtreatise on good works.jpg

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Mercer2.jpgWe boxed up these books at the end after midnight in the muggy, soft rain, and struggled to stay awake heading home.  Early the next morning we repacked and selected a different array of titles to set up - again, lugging in during a crazy downpour - at Lancaster Theological Seminary at their annual Mercersburg Society Conference.

Now is not the time to explain all of the fascinating fascination with the "mediating theologians" of 19th century Germany and how they influenced the likes of Pennsylvania German Reformed folks like Nevin and Schaff - who taught at Mercersburg, PA, before they moved their seminary to what lancaster theo.jpgbecame the now-Ivy League Franklin & Marshall, and the beautiful, small, UCC seminary across the street.  Suffice it to say that these "high Eucharistic Calvinists" are of interest to UCC friends seeking substantive theological discourse and renewal within their own denomination, and that there is a growing interest within conservative PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) folks. To have Dr. Annette Aubert from Westminster Theological Seminary lecturing about her sophisticated, scholarly book, The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century The German Roots of Nineteenth Century Aubery.jpgAmerican Theology (Oxford University Press; $78.00) at an admittedly pluralistic/liberal seminary like Lancaster, with rigorous conversations with Barthians (and, for instance, Church History professor Dr Anne Thayer, with her PhD from Harvard -- and a degree in science! --who edited Christ, Creeds and Life and Dr. Lee Barrett, who wrote a book comparing Kierkegaard and Augustine, Eros and Self-Emptying) was tremendous. You should pick up on sale, now, his great, contemporary translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, published by Pilgrim Press; it is usually $9.99 but on sale it is only $6.99, until Sunday, or as long as we have some left.

You can read my ruminations about and book ideas from last year's Mercersburg Society conference here.  My daughter Stephanie and I were delighted to again serve this feisty, fun, interesting academic conference.  To be invited to do three workshops about books was a real honor that I did not take lightly.  And what a joy to again be with the Right Reverend Dr. Nathan Baxter (former dean of the National Cathedral) and other ecumenical participants.  Kudos to Mercersburg Society President Dr. Carol Lytch for hosting such a curious and (let us pray) consequential event.

he Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity.jpgIf you want to come up to speed about this revival of Mercersburg theology, we invite you to buy The Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity by Brad Littlejohn (Pickwick Publications; $25.00) Brad is a young and brilliant participant who has served as general editor of a set of Nevin and Schaeff's stuff in an ongoing study series published by Wipf & Stock.  Brad's own book may be the best intro to this of which we know -- substantive and important. Get it now at 30% OFF, while supplies last, until June 19, 2016.

We have every  major book we could find about Mercersburg, although we have now on sale a few of the big Mercersburg Society study volumes in extra quantities so we can sell them now at 30% OFF, too. (Yes, why supplies last, up until Sunday.)

Consider these:

  • The Mystical Presence: The Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord's Supper by John Williamson Nevin, edited by Linden J. DeBie ($44.00)
  • Coena Mystica: Debating Reformed Eucharistic Theology John Williamson Nevin & Charles Hodge edited by Linden J. DeBie ($29.00)
  • The Incarnate Word: Selected Writings on Christology John Williamson Nevin edited by William B. Evans ($34.00)

Mystical Presence.jpgCoena Mystica.jpgThe Incarnate Word.jpg

We were thrilled to finally get to meet and hear Peter J. Leithart, a rock star of sorts in some neo-Reformed circles. (See his very cool Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies HERE.) As was no surprise for those that knew his work, even his blogged column at First Things, Leithart was provocative, thoughtful, learned, eloquent, and kind.  He has studied Mercersburg stuff well, even as his he stands on different ground to appropriate it than the UCC and RCA folk there at the Society gathering.

Dr. Leithart has written bunches of books - from Deep Comedy to a small biography of Jane Austin, from a collection of wedding sermons to his justly famous Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom and several Bible commentaries.  We stock them all, and offer them even now at 30% OFF, this week only.

Might we most heartily suggest these two, though, all offered this week at our 30% OFF sale:

Traces of the Trinity- Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience.jpgTraces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience (Brazos Press) $20.00   This is brilliant, nothing quite like it in print. I love books about the spirituality of the ordinary, and believe strongly that reading about the doctrine of creation -- the reality of God's good world, here and now, as a created order upheld by God's own Word -- is vital.  This is neither a straight, typical study of the Trinity, although you will learn about that anew, nor a standard affirmation of God's presence in the daily, although it gets at that "creation regained" worldview and the nearness of God in the world quite nicely. But it is more.. It does just what is says in the title. 

Listen to what the brilliant John Frame writes:

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

Delivered from the Elements of the World.jpgDelivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission (InterVarsity Press) $30.00  This is his latest and perhaps his most significant yet. If you buy serious theology books at all, this is one to add to your collection. And if you don't, it is one that may still fascinate you.

I simply can't improve upon the learned consideration of James K.A. Smith, who calls it "monumental" and writes:

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

 Matthew Levering of Mundelein Seminary offers a rave analysis, and then says,

Leithart's dazzling biblical and ecumenical manifesto merits the closest attention and engagement.


Reformational philosopher and theologian Craig Bartholomew says,

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


The next leg of our Hearts & Minds book-selling road trip was to the lovely Susquehanna University - where I bumped into a sharp grad student from Taylor University who heard me speak at their leadership conference last February -- to serve the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ at their annual gathering.  They are a fun and pleasant group, their convention more leisurely then some, with good workshops and book announcements and time to browse.  It's a lot of work setting up these huge displays, and to be welcomed with such care is lovely.  It was funny, too, seeing some clergy there who had been at Mercersburg event the day before, from an academic conference with papers mostly about the 19th century to the progressive ethos of this small denomination who says "God is Still Speaking..."

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We thought you might like to see a few of the titles we sold well there, random stuff that we promoted at my workshops, or things that - frankly - we didn't sell so well and have an abundance of now, overstock in the retail lingo.  We offer these now at 30% OFF, while supplies last.  As we've said above, this sale lasts through the end of day June 19, 2016.

Strong and Weak- Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing.jpgStrong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00  Once again, this is a must-read, exceptionally well-done book, a personal favorite and one I am committed to promoting.  It seems easy enough to explain -- the four quadrant balance of vulnerability and power, and the need to understand how we can be strong and weak, culturally influential by taking meaningful risk in the world. But it doesn't seem to grab most people, and it's harder to sell then it should be. I have even said I'd give people their money back if they don't think this is wise and thoughtful and good and important.

At the UCC event I even played this video clip to illustrate how articulate Andy is and how interesting and important his book is.  Please, get this now, on sale, as it is surely one of the best books of the year.  By the way, the theme for the Penn Central UCC tribe this year is "risking the new." So there ya go.

[And, as an aside, some of you will be glad to know that in my workshop on reading, I suggested that for many of us the most "new" thing we could do would be to read old books.  I cited C.S. Lewis, naturally, even though I don't fully agree with his formula of reading two old books for every new one. It was fun poking around that whole business a bit, using phrases like "chronological snobbery" and "ancient future." My Mercersburg Society friends -- at least one who was friends with Karl Barth so many decades ago -- would have been proud.]

You Are What You Love- The Spiritual Power of Habit.jpgYou Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit James K.A. Smith (Brazos) $19.99 Yes, once again, I said this is the Book of the Year, incredibly important, potent, needed. I don't know who needs this more, independent, evangelical community churches with their general distaste for sophisticated liturgy and seeker-sensitive piety or stodgy but often theologically fuzzy mainline churches.  Across the spectrum, I hear no one saying this sort of stuff with such power and clarity and conviction and urgency.  This is a readable and practical version of his heavier, serious works, Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom. You need this book, and I urge you to get a few. I'm not kidding.

Watch this great talk he gave at Bioloa University for an example of the stuff he's talking about.  You want the book, then, for sure!

slow church.jpgSlow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus  C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $17.00  Needless to say, I promoted Smith's Reading for the Common Good but to do so had to set up the story with his previous, remarkable, very good 2015 book, Slow Church.  I'm thrilled to offer it now, at this deep discount. Hey, talk about risking something new: how about reading a book calling us away from speed, efficiency, success, growth?  How about this counter-cultural call to pay attention to our place, to care for community, for taking the notions of the "slow food movement" and applying them to church life, living out congregational life and mission in slower, more authentic, more Christ-like ways?  What an amazing book, now with a study guide.  We'll do the discount even on that if you want.

at-the-still-point-a-literary-guide-to-prayer-in-ordinary-time-26.jpgAt the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete) $17.99  We sold a nice number of her earlier works by this thoughtful Wheaton College grad -- Between Midnight and Dawn was her literary prayer book for Lent and Holy Week and her Light Upon Light is her literary guide to prayer for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  This one, At the Still Point, like the others, brings together all sorts of poets, writers, and literary works, but this one arranged for daily devotional reading during the long weeks of what some churches call ordinary time. It has beautiful endorsing blurbs by Leland Ryken and Kathleen Norris. (Pretty great, eh?)  You should get this now, while we have some left at this bargain price.  Kudos to Paraclete Press for doing such handsome volumes.

Revelation- A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World .jpgRevelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World Dennis Covington (Little Brown) $26.00  I can't tell you how moving this book was, full of spunk and adventure and pathos and brilliant sentences and haunting episodes. I trust you know his 1995 American Book Award winner, Salvation on Sand Mountain, to this day one of the most unforgettable books I've ever read. What a great writer, her exploring through first hand memoir how violence and faith and hope and goodness can flourish, even as he wanders around war zones, crossing borders in the Middle East, and bringing back reports that are harrowing and humane and, hinting at hope.

As Ron Rash writes, "In his newest book, Dennis Covington addresses questions of doubt, faith, and belief with the same uncondescending and unflinching manner as in Salvation on Sand Mountain, but his scope is larger now, venturing into some of the world's most brutal places in a search for faith, and hope. Revelation is a marvel."

 Christian Practical Wisdom- What It Is, Why It Matters .jpgChristian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters Dorothy C. Bass, Kathleen A. Cahalan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, James R. Nieman, Christian B. Scharen (Eerdmans) $30.00  Wow, what a book, what an amazing contribution to the conversation about practices and uniquely Christian lifestyles, ways of being in the world. This focuses on wisdom, and, as the subtitle promises, "what it is and why it matters."  This is well worth every dollar, with over 300 pages in what Stephanie Paulsell (of Harvard Divinity School) calls "A beautifully written and much needed exploration of Christian practical wisdom." This asks what (in the words of reviewer Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung of Calvin College) "dancing, imagining, and collaboration have to do with 'gaining a heart of wisdom' in what Charles Taylor calls 'our secular age'? This creative and compelling case for Christian practical wisdom practices what it preaches. The authors "show" and "tell" how a more holistic kind of knowing -- beyond academic expertise -- is essential to an authentic and living theology."   This collaborative work by five distinguished scholars of Christian education invite us to really understand why wisdom matters and how we can renew an interest in it, in the academy and in our churches. As esteemed Christian educator Mary Boys says, "This substantive and beautifully composed book deserves to be read slowly, allowing the authors insights to take root and germinate."  Want to ponder deeply and live well?  This is a very impressive book.

The Way of Love- Recovering the Heart of Christianity .gifWay of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity  Norman Wirzba (HarperOne) $25.99  I was surprised this didn't sell well - it's Norman Wirzba, people, theological voice of the land and place, friend of Wendell Berry, author of lovely radical books like Keeping the Sabbath and Making Peace with the Land and, recently, the brilliant From Nature to Creation. A book by a localist, a mainline theologian (he teaches at Duke) on love, and on how love is truly the heart of the Christian faith. Mainline folks who have generally been less hung up on proper doctrine have had this as their mantra, and this articulates it as well as anything, with good theological insight. I have before quoted this blurb by Eugene Peterson:

 Love is one of the most hackneyed and trivialized words in our language. Wirzba wants to rescue this essential word from the dust bin of the everyday and restore it to usefulness. Connecting love and the hope of heaven, he provides a most satisfying and convincing conclusion.

 Buy it today at our limited time 30% off deal and live with it for the summer. You won't regret it.

.jpgThe Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs Peter Enns (HarperOne) $25.99 Well, just the hard-hitting title is enough to make you ponder, eh?  I've met Enns a time or two and enjoyed him a lot, and have appreciated his previous books. So, I enjoyed plugging this, with a tiny bit of trepidation and some personal pathos, I'll admit, as Enns is on a journey away from his creedal emphasis (he taught at Westminster Theological Seminary which subscribes rigorously to the details of the Westminster Confession) to a view that has earned kudos from writers and leaders such as Brian MClaren, Rachel Held Evans, and Richard Rohr all who have knowingly crossed conventional theological boundaries. Still, I think he is mostly right -- many seriously Reformed thinkers have rejected as inconsistent with the best of Christian thinking the scholasticism behind Westminster -- and his story of doubt and a painful exit from his previous faith community to a new home in more mainline circles is not tragic, but it is hard, and a bit worrisome. This is all indicative of much going on in evangelicalism and what some call post-evangelicalism in our time. It's a worthwhile book in its own right; it is also valuable as an important glimpse into a recent movement.

Becoming Wise- An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living .jpgBecoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living Krista Tippett (Penguin Press) $28.00 This was naturally of interest among our mainline friends, and we are happy to commend it to you here. This beautifully written book emerges from Tippett's acclaimed NPR show, "On Meaning" and expresses much she has learned from these many years of interviewing deep, good people.

This isn't just a collection of Ms Tippett's fabulous interviews (although that in itself would be great) but this is her reflection upon all she learned and pieced together from the remarkable people she interviewed over the years. She arranges the book somewhat as a memoir, dipping into her own childhood, but comes back to five main themes: words, the body, love, faith, and hope.  

Becoming Wise is surely a beautiful, gentle, grand book.

Grace in Practice- A Theology of Everyday Life .jpgGrace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life Paul F. M. Zahl (Eerdmans) $18.00 This is an older book that we really appreciate, and sometimes  we bring to events where folks need a thoughtful, grace-filled theological vision for their ordinary lives. He looks at grace in every zone of life, from family life to international affairs, from one's deepest faith convictions to public and social concerns. The great Peter Gomes, chaplain at Harvard, had a blurb on the back  -- who called the book itself an "act of grace" -- as did Ligon Duncan III, who called Rev. Zahl  "a formidable scholar, an admired colleague, and a courageous churchman." This is a passionate, witty, important work, and we are glad to have a few copies left. Does the word theology maybe scare people away? It shouldn't -- this is just wonderful reading!  By the way, we have this at a lesser expensive price to begin with (it now sells for $23.00, I believe) so with our 30% OFF deal, it's quite affordable.

Paul Debate (Baylor U).jpgThe Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle  N.T. Wright (Baylor University Press) $34.95  I'll admit I didn't succeed in convincing folks to take this (perhaps because of it's salty price - I still think it is brilliant and very useful.  We're willing to sell them at this good discount to get a few into reader's hand -- it is the best deal for new copies you will find anywhere. I don't like putting it like this, but some say that Tom is too conservative for most  liberals and too liberal for most conservatives, which means all camps should read him. At any rate, this clearly organized book summarizes 5 key issues in Pauline studies and clarifies where he stands, in response to the questions of critics and recent reviewers. Yes, it's Wright's clear response to these chief questions, but it is equally a wonderful overview of the current discussion about the New Testament. You could read a chapter a day for a week and quickly accomplish nearly a semester's worth of a fine course on Paul. Fantastic.

Justice Calling Where Passion Meets P.jpgThe Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance Bethany Hoang & Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) $19.99  Once again, Brazos Press gives us a truly remarkable book, nicely bound, with great writing, rooted in solid Biblical commitments, but with relevant, urgent vision. This introduction to the Bible's story of justice and its exploration of how we can be people who persevere with hope is perhaps the best thing I've seen on the subject. There are a lot of good books like this and this one surely deserves to be widely read. We're sad it didn't sell better among our mainline friends -- perhaps they don't know the stellar work of IJM with whom these women work. It is a groundbreaking book in some ways, and we'll gladly sell it here on sale now just to move a few out the door. If you know anyone interested in the way God desires justice or how we can be people who respond to God's call to do justice, don't hesitate getting this as a great resource.  Kudos to Brazos and the wonderful, gifted, passionate authors.

Slow Kingdom Coming- Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly.jpgSlow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World Kent Annan (IVP) $16.00  I hope you may recall our telling of two other books by Kent over the years (Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle and After Shock, both set in amidst his hard and redemptive work in Haiti.  This book steps back a bit to look at the deep stuff underneath the activism -- "truthfully and beautifully rendered"as one review put it. What kind of people do we need to be to take up God's suffering in the world, to take up the work of serving the hurting, to take up the Micah 6:8 challenge, to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God.  If his other books have been, in a way, about mercy and justice, this one is about walking with God. What does that look like? What kind of practices allow us to be loving and kind? Can our spirituality form in us a "long obedience in the same direction" so we can sustain our passions and cares?  This would make an excellent follow up to the above mentioned one by Bethany Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson, or, a great prelude to it. It's a gem, a holy book about a holy project. Highly recommended.

Executing Grace.jpgExecuting Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) $17.99  This is hot off the press and I so wish I could have promoted it more at these events. Books sometimes take some time to become known and few even knew this was coming.  We were taking pre-orders a month ago, and we thank those who bought it early.  For the next few days we will again offer this at a deep 30% discount - what a tender, careful, important book.  Shane told me how hard he worked on this, how much research and conversation and heartbreak went into it, and I think it is a very readable, valuable resource.  Please order it today!

How to Survive The Apocalypse- Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World .jpgHow to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World Robert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson (Eerdmans) $16.00 My super smart friends at the Mercersburg Society conference snapped this up, realizing it drew on the seminal work of Charles Taylor, using his secularization theory as a lens through which to view pop culture stuff from The Walking Dead to Mad Men, Game of Thrones to House of Cards. How do we live in hope when the cultural malaise in our times is deepened by stories of dread?  What a brilliant, serious, interesting work -- I hope you saw my short review of it previously.  This is amazing, rich, mature. Get it cheaper than usual, now, before the end times hit.  You snooze, you lose.

Reality,  Grief, Hope- Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.jpgReality,  Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $15.00  Walt Brueggemann sells a bit at these sorts of events, and we take his stuff anywhere we take Biblical studies.  This is one of Brueggy's books published last year and we feature it often. His newer one is the short and helpful Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (WJK; $14.00) but as the Reality Grief Hope one is a sequel to his 1980s classic The Prophetic Imagination we really think it is important.  I think his call to lament and grieve as a prelude to subversive hope is nothing short of a necessity in our time.  If your pastor hasn't read this yet, buy it for him or her immediately. And get one for yourself, too. By the way, folks love his Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No the Culture of Now (WJK; $14.00) and it very readable. Yay.

silence and beauty.jpgSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00  I have reviewed this at great length here at BookNotes before and hoped it would catch the attention of those seeing the big stack at our three different book displays. Yes, we took it to each, and proudly explained that we know Mako and have heard him talk about this book, his friendship with Martin Scorsese who is making a film -- has been wanting to for over 30 years -- of the Japanese novel Silence about which this book is an extended meditation. As it says on the beautiful back cover, in koan-like cadence,

In this world of pain and suffering,

God often seems silent. 

But light is yet present in the darkness. 

And silence speaks with hidden beauty and truth.

Talking the Walk- Let the Language of Theology Live Again.jpgTalking the Walk: Let the Language of Theology Live Again Marva Dawn (Marva Dawn) $26.99  The local Lutherans brought Marva in to speak to them early this past Spring and we were delighted to connect with her again, if only briefly.  (She is one of the great, great Christian writers of our time, and we are so honored that she once went out of our way to visit our bookstore in Dallastown!)  This is a nearly unknown book of hers, originally published by Brazos, in a handsome hardback. It offers short mentions on various theological terms and why they are important for our faith and practice, in our lives and in our congregations.  What a great book!  Marva is one of the short list of authors that I will read anything she writes.  This is one I bet you didn't know about, eh?  Get it from us, on sale, while supplies last.

songs of jesus.jpgThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms Timothy Keller & Kathy Keller (Viking) $19.95  I would hope that most BookNotes fans know that we esteemed the exceptionally intelligent Presbyterian church leader from NYC, and appreciate his no-nonsense, thoughtful, but always applicable Bible teaching. In this often tender year-long devotional, he and his wife ruminate on the Psalms, known as the Bible's songbook (and a prayerbook Jesus surely would have known and used.) Two decades ago Keller began reading the entire Book of Psalms every month and these insights are drawn from his accumulated years of study (and, with important input from his wife who herself uses the Psalms, including during times battling a chronic illness.) Mainline parishioners often don't buy as many serious books as do those in more evangelical churches its seems, but folks always like to hear about a good devotional. It was nice to be able to share these with those seeking a way into the practice of daily quiet time and Bible reading.

Jesus Freak- Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead  .jpgJesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead  Sara Miles (Jossey-Bass) $21.95  As you might guess, the edgy and beautiful writer Sara Miles - she is coming to the Welcome Table, an O and A congregation near Lancaster Seminary in late July - is popular among mainline folks these days. Her remarkable story, stunningly told in Take This Bread, of her conversion to Christ after receiving communion for the first time and her subsequent desire to start a food pantry in the sacred space of her San Fran Episcopal church, is well worth reading whether you agree with her opinions or not. This sequel to that book is oddly named, has a less than appealing cover, and is hardback, so it doesn't sell as well, but I'll tell you it is every bit as powerful and moving and inspiring as her first one.  It is, doubtlessly, one of the most stimulating books I've read in years, and we were eager to promote it at our recent gigs.  Alas, it languishes. Why o why?  Folks, read this book!  Again, agree or not with all of her radically inclusive theology and lefty politics, it is a very moving memoir and a delirious call to action in the world of hurt and need.  If you like Anne Lamott or Nadia Bolz-Weber, you should read Sarah Miles.

Read these reviews to hear of how movingly it is written:

"Sara Miles is amazing, a wild, unique, funny Christian who puts her lack-of-money where her mouth is, which is in loving Jesus and taking care of God's children. I love her work."
--Anne Lamott

"One of the most inspiring books I've ever read."
--Rob Bell

"When Jesus calls, Sara Miles follows him into the beautiful and messy diversity of human life, where people long to be fed, healed, and forgiven, and discovers the vibrancy of Christian faith that often eludes the institutional church. If this is what it means to be a 'Jesus freak, ' sign me up!"
--Diana Butler Bass

"This is a love story unabashedly, a love story between one woman and Jesus. It is also the toughest, tenderest, most textured, poignant, and substantial love story I have ever read."
--Phyllis Tickle

"Sara Miles writes gorgeous prose . . . She's way too wound up for toned-down liberals, and way too out-of-the-shrink-wrap for straight-laced conservatives, and she calls both of them to a new vantage point. She has actually experienced something, and Someone, and by hearing her story, you start to catch what she's caught: which includes a sense of being caught, and caught up, and fed, and empowered to feed others. A beautiful, joyful, raucous, reverent book."
--Brian McLaren

"Oh, what a wonderful book! Its exciting and dynamic Christianity would have put me completely to shame were it not for the glowing warm-heartedness with which Sara encourages us into the faith life, the Church, of the future. Instead of shaming us it offers us a witness at once solid and tantalizing of what it is to be hooked into the Gospel."
--James Alison, Catholic priest and theologian

Accidental Saints- Finding God in All the Wrong People.jpgAccidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People Nadia Bolz-Weber (Convergent Books)$23.00  Oh my, what a book.  Again, like Sara Mile's three books, Nadia is a popular voice that is edgy and radical and all about God's grace, being inclusive and caring and creative in reaching out to and within a carnivalesque, postmodern world. I suppose you've heard of her tatted up sleeves and chest, shown well on the cover of her memoir Pastrix, and her colorful cussing, which makes for a really interesting read(Hey, she's in the tribe of Martin Luther, so don't start on the cussing bit.) This second book is better than her first, sharing much about her church (House of All Sinners and Saints), her passion for the lost and marginalized, and how her goofy congregation navigated all manner of surprising changes in their church plant.  They were okay, naturally, with the trannys and addicts and underground hipsters who they hoped to reach, folks similar to their own style from their own scene. When fairly white-bread, middle age guys in slacks from the suburbs began to show up, it challenged them profoundly.  How ironic -- they had to stretch themselves around God's grace to be welcoming to those people, so not like themselves. Can we do the same, show grace to those we would rather avoid? Ha - what a book!  Thank you, Nadia, for your honesty and color.  Why not buy this for your next book club - and hold on!  You will be surprised by its sheer beauty and admittedly provocative stories.

Live Like You Give a Damn! Join the Changemaking Celebration.jpgLive Like You Give a Damn: Join the Changemaking Celebration Tom Sine (Cascade Books) $24.00  I have mentioned this before and I can hardly express how many heros and leaders I admit have endorsed it -- pages and pages of celebrations for this feisty book collecting great stories of young social entrepreneurs who are making a difference. In some ways this is a long-time sequel to his famous Mustard Seed Conspiracy or the great The New Conspirators, but this time showing how even those outside the churches can teach us much. This lifts up a new generation (and in some ways new kinds) of activists and invites us to join God in Christ as He is "bringing heaven to Earth." Can we allow the Spirit to ignite our imaginations? Can we be innovative in solving today's pressing problems? This is good stuff.  We are glad to offer it now at this discounted price, just this week. It's a winner, written by a friend and conversation partner, so do check it out, please!

The Spirituality of Wine  Gisela H. jpgThe Spirituality of Wine Gisela H. Kreglinger (Eerdmans) $24.00  This is another book I was so happy to tell about, a book to promote among foodies and wine connoisseurs, but also to theologians, sustainable agriculture workers, Bible teachers and more. This is a thorough, lovely book which carefully explores the connection between Sunday worship and Monday work, between field and faith, that studies wine in the Bible and in the vineyard. The author works in a family vineyard which goes back hundreds of years (in Germany) and has given us here a book unlike any now in print.

The story and theology behind this book makes great sense, and it is endorsed by all kinds of readers. I suggested in one of my workshop that it has as delightfully diverse a bunch of endorsers as I rarely see on a book. Raves come from Alice Waters (famous food and sustainability activist, cookbook writers, and founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley) and heady theologian from Tubingen, Jurgen Moltmann. Add a blurb from Carol Petrini, founder of the international Slow Food Movement and a lovely forward by Presbyterian Eugene Peterson, and you can see what I mean.  What a great book!  Buy it now on sale, while supplies last.




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June 2, 2016

Hearts & Minds BookNotes review: Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish ON SALE




ONE WEEK ONLY (offer expires June 10, 2016) 

Otherwise, please enjoy the special BookNotes 10% off discount.

Okay, sports fans, get excited, because this is going to be like a world class championship game, right here.

Get ready to rock, dudes, this is going to be one world tour arena show, right here, right now.

This review is your Great White Whale, your big game trophy, the movie you've been waiting for.

To use an over-used metaphor in book reviewing, this a sumptuous report of a five star meal.

I really mean it.

This. Is. The. One. 

I'm talking about Reading for the Common Good:  How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith (IVP - regularly $16.00.)  And I'm talking about why you should buy two and get a third one free.  We have to get this book out there.

Look, I even know that good friends have already said that I should have written this book.  While I appreciate the vote of confidence, I am quite sure that C. Christopher Smith is certainly the best man in all of America to write a book like this, and the time couldn't be better.  Although I have said repeatedly that James K.A. Smith's You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is the Book of the Year, this one sort of dovetails with it.  I now have to seriously consider adjusting that assessment.  Can I award them both -- Smith and Smith?

Reading for the Common Good.jpgReading for the Common Good is the book I've been waiting for.

For like 40 years.

And, yes, other than the one I already did called Serious Dreams, this really is the book I might have tried to write.  But I am so glad I didn't as Smith 2 - that's C. Christopher Smith of the Englewood Review of Books in Indianapolis - did the job marvelously. It is a book you simply must buy, and book you will really appreciate and I'd say you should probably buy a bunch.

Maybe you've heard the story of how Beth and I used to work in campus ministry out near Pittsburgh in the late 1970s, before Hearts & Minds, before Dallastown, before BookNotes.  We learned about the world of thoughtful Christian literature as we used books to learn about the real relevance of Christian faith, how a Biblically-based view of all of life being redeemed could guide us into relating, as we sometimes said it, the Bible and life, connecting Sunday worship and Monday work, prayer and politics.  A whole new world opened up as we read widely, talked about big ideas gleaned from good books.  We read old books - C.S. Lewis insisted that we do - and new brand new stuff.  We read novels (although not enough) and theology, spirituality and public affairs. Christ and culture, as they say.  

Literally - was it this way for you? - reading those kinds of books changed my life.  As I wrote in a column about the power of books a few years ago, page by page, authors invited us to see the world differently, to live differently.  Sometimes lightening bolt type epiphanies came on a certain page or from a certain chapter; more often it just crept up on you, small changes in perspective, new imaginations, different desires, transformed habits as we learned to live into the new creations the Bible said we were.

I hope it is for you as it was for us: we read in community.  We read with other friends, with book sellers and reviewers, within networks of friends at church, colleagues in ministry, idealistic kids almost as young as we were and older ones, teachers, mentors, pastors, parents.  

We have been told that we here at the bookstore serve that purpose for some of you and what a honor it is. Reading BookNotes maybe puts you more knowingly in the great tradition, the great conversation. By being aware of and sometimes engaging with good authors and good books, and talking about them together, we increasingly broaden our horizons.  Books, we often say, can enlarge our hearts and deepen our discipleship.

It is why nearly any good book on spiritual formation and almost every book on leadership reminds us to be readers.  

One of the chapters that helped me really appreciate this notion that reading is a spiritual discipline and an act of faithful discipleship came in Richard Foster's now classic, nearly seminal contemporary work of ancient spirituality, The Celebration of Discipline where he explains in chapter 5 that reading carefully is a tool not unlike prayer and worship and meditation and service, gifts from God to help us grow. 

I still treasure and recommend books like Discipleship of the Mind and Habits of Mind by James Sire or the lovely, compact A Mind for God by James Emery White - his stories of reading are so inspiring and I've re-read it several times. As a grand opening gift the day we opened 33 years ago we passed out the potent little book by John Stott called Your Mind Matters -- still in print, and still timely. When Eerdmans released in the late 1990s a collection of miscellaneous essays by Eugene Peterson called Subversive Spirituality, I nearly memorized certain stories about how reading novels was important to him, and his own advocacy for Christians reading broadly. His 2009 book Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading is an extended meditation on slow, meditative reading, mostly about reading the Bible deeply, but is a must for any loyalists to the printed page.

It is a tad dense for some, but we love the brilliant Oxford University Press title The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by the splendid Alan Jacobs. For deeper thinkers, I sometimes tell about The Love of Learning and the Love of God by Jean LeClercq, a study of learning and reading within medieval monastic culture.  Nurturing the heart and mind by being in a community of bookish discourse is nothing new; I sometimes joke (maybe by reminding listeners about the book reading regimen of Charles Wesley and his Methodists or the impact of books on the likes of world-changers like William Wilberforce) that Oprah didn't invent the idea of book clubs. Ha. In our bookstore we have a whole section of "books about books" and we gladly offer resources about the ups and downs of a bookish life.

If you are a pastor and you've heard me at any number of clergy events where I've given talks about books I have probably tried to press you into buying Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga. It is one of my all time favorite books about books, with the great title The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists. Although it is preachers, firstly, anyone who teaches or is a public speaker will appreciate it, showing as it does how books can influence our moral imagination, our rhetoric and vocabulary and cadence and more. I have sometimes sold it paired with another all-time favorite, the truly wondrous, insightful, oddly powerful Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, a writer I very greatly admire. 

I am not the first and certainly not the most knowledgeable or eloquent to say that books matter and that the art of slow reading and even "caring for words" is of huge importance not only for personal health and maturity but for the culture at large. McEntyre makes the case rather allusively, with great charm.  Smith brings his gifts of cultural analysis and helps us understand the times.  Please not the subtitle on the new Chris Smith book -- the end-goal isn't just personal enrichment or reading for personal pleasure, but for human flourishing. 

 Anyone who has heard me in workshops on all this know I often draw on Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and Nicholas Carr's must-read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, both which bring a sober warning about what happens when we allow our fast paced e-culture of zip zip zip to erode our commitments to real reading, to reading a lot and reading well.

Our enthusiasm for learning and growing, for using books as tools for spiritual growth and public discipleship, for book clubs and book conversations and book budgets and church libraries are all under threat.  We need reminded - often and urgently - that books matter and that our culture is not as friendly to reading well as it perhaps once was.

And we have found our prophet, we have found a voice, we've got the book that can help us consider and reconsider why all this matters. 

I'm obviously talking about Mr. Smith and his brand new Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish published by IVP.


This new book by my friend Chris Smith is a wonder, and he gets it just about pitch perfect, bringing a passionate love of books, telling some tender tales of his own love of reading, explaining why it matters, how it has worked out in his life and his own church and its presence in their neighborhood. (For what it is worth, unlike Chris, I was not particularly bitten by the book-loving bug as a youth. We went to the library often, but I wasn't as keen on reading as being outside playing with my pals.)

Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help... reminds us why books matter, and Smith uses some great devices, on-ramps to the conversation, so to speak, that will thrill the true book lover, and will convince those who are less passionate about their love of reading. He even helps us understand a bit about the obstacles facing us these days, although that isn't his main focus. He knows it isn't easy, but he knows what is at stake. Unlike Postman and Carr, say, he doesn't mostly moan about how little people read these days or how much time we spend on the internet; Chris spends a lot of time on the internet. He mostly invites us into a better story. Pun intended.


chris smith smiling.jpgFor instance, unlike nearly any other book about Christian learning and reading, Smith invites us to read with and for our neighbors.  That is, this is decidedly a missional book; "read for the Kingdom" I used to exclaim at youth conferences or events like Jubilee and Smith and his gang really do so.  Smith takes us beyond sloganeering and walks us through the complex matter of being attentive to our locale, our communities, our world, and explains how books help us do that. (The chapter called "Hope for Our Interconnected Creation" is just splendid!)  The subtitle about public flourishing is no mere add on, but is at the heart of Smith's project.  He tells us about his own urban congregation and how reading and talking and learning together as a faith community within their own neighborhood has helped them bear witness to God's work in their city, among their friends. (Some of this includes literacy classes, God bless 'em.) Reading rightly can truly be an act of mission, and this book explains that better than anything I've ever seen. Bar none, this book helps us appreciate a missional approach to books.

I hate to sound prideful by even bringing it up, but for those who wonder, I am positive, quite literally, that I could not have said it better myself. Smith has a gift, and he's done so much as a missional reader, a church leader, an applied theologian, a down-in-the-trenches practitioner, albeit always with a few books under his arm. My hat is off to him and his family and his community.  Yours should be too!

In fact, this marvelously-written book is all about being attentive.  Novels and poets and any serious work of literature when carefully engaged slows us down and helps us attend to the details and nuances of the writing, and almost unknowingly schools us in paying attention, of thinking in terms of story, of plots and nuances, of seeing our own role as agents within a story.  Smith explains the quiet impact of books on our "social imaginary" and how good readers become more humanly engaged in the world around them. Maybe they even gather some skills at self-awareness, seeing how they see, perhaps.  Books can do that. 


slow church.jpgDo you recall our BookNotes review of Smith's co-authored first IVP release, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus? It has an incisive social critique, looking at the dangers of doing church within a superficial culture that erodes quality for the sake of quantity and speed and efficiency.  Think of the dangers of fast food, and, as an alternative, the famous slow food movement with its values of authentic and local ingredients, care, community, scale.  In a way, that book was Smith and Pattison's cry against the McDonaldization of the church. 

In some significant ways, Reading for the Common Good is a sequel, a how-to, next-steps kind of book.  Do you want to "cultivate community in the patient ways of Jesus" that counteracts the toxic influences of fast-paced, hot-wired, disembodied lifestyles?  Read.  Read slowly. Read together. Read with a view of how what you are reading impacts your world. Read about your world.  I think that Chris and John wouldn't have written Slow Church, or at least it wouldn't have had such wise depth, if they themselves weren't readers. (Did you know that they worked together several years ago with a third guy to release a book called Besides the Bible which included 100 book reviews of books most often suggested "besides the Bible, of course." I even had a chapter in there, a huge privilege to get to describe one key title. That book was one indication of Chris's gift of being a bibliographer and curator of book lists.) Reading is key to being alive and well in this crazy culture, and is a marker of church health. It can make a difference, as these gents showed.  Books matter.

Think this is idealist?  Don't believe me?


Smith told us a bit in Slow Church but he tells us even more in Reading for the Common Good about his Englewood neighborhood in the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, and he explains how his church started a little bookstore, a book review journal, and how very small groups of folks grapple with books together.  He obviously loves the decent, lovely writing of "sense of place" authors like Scott Russell Sanders (who has a blurb on the back), Wendell Berry, Norman Wirzba, and Parker Palmer; he is very fluent in the new urbanism conversation and his bibliography in the back offers all kinds of great suggestions for those wanting to deepen their own awareness of this strain of nonfiction literature.  From fun fiction (including science fiction) and poetry to astute social analysis and cultural studies, Smith guides us through books that can help us see and care anew. His breadth of reading and depth of understanding amazes me.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, explaining that Reading... is truly about civic flourishing, guiding us towards books that might help us understand even the politics and economics of our neighborhoods and towns; I'm getting ahead of myself when I say this truly about missional reading. It is the moral center and passionate vision of the book (notice the map on the cover) but it isn't where Smith begins.


Quite properly, Smith reminds us that before we read for the Kingdom, read with our neighbors, read about our communities, enjoy books that will broaden our understanding of our place in God's world and God's story of redemption, before all that we must be the church. His Anabaptistism gives him particular theological resources to strengthen his analysis of the local church as alternative community, but all of us should agree that the local church needs strengthened, that we cannot give ourselves to innovative, social entrepreneurship within our region if our own worshiping and spiritual formation practices are thin or ill-conceived.  (This, by the way, is a great strength of the other Smith's You Are What You Love, which ends up "every square inch" comprehensive in scope - we serve Christ as Lord in all of life - but is mostly about renewing the worship practices of the local congregation, realizing that good liturgy is transforming in ways that form us for service in the world.)  For both Smith's the local congregation is of supreme importance.

Chris Smith's Reading for the Common Good starts with a must-read, tremendous and energetic introduction called "The Local Church as Learning Organization" drawing on the insights of Peter Senge.  It is sound and insightful in how it describes the context and foibles of local faith communities, how to understand the culture of an organization. It is thrilling to hear how his own church sees itself as based upon good relationships, relationships forged around engagement with Scripture.  The act of reading - primarily the Bible! - forms us in new kinds of relationships and gives us practice in the art of conversation (including the skills of civil discussion, dialogue, and disagreement.)  Books help in significant ways, and these few pages are worth the price of the book.

Wonderfully, in that introduction, Smith lists a few ways books help us learn, Christianly, even. He uses a line from Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known (that has been influential for other writers, perhaps most notably for many of us, our friend Steve Garber, seen in his mature and thoughtful Fabric of Faithfulness.) Smith says,

Reading carefully and attentively is an essential part of a journey into knowledge that is rooted in love. "[A] knowledge that springs from love," notes Parker Palmer, "will implicate us in the web of life; it will wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy; it will call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability."


I love that he reminds us how books can help give shape and direction to our impulse to get involved, the "just do something" reflex.  Yes, we need to care about the issues of the day, and the needs of our community, and, as he notes, "to ignore this reflex is to be hardhearted."  But, "we must be attentive not only to what is to be done but also to how and why the work gets done."

That is, to be church, and to be faithfully missional, means knowing what the heck we are to do once we show up. Books - and the very habits of heart that reading and discussing them nurtures - help us discern, help us learn to discern.  In a way, Smith is saying that reading helps us become motivated to action, but only the wide and studious reader will have deep wisdom to know what to do and how to do it.  Ahh, yes, books become conduits of wisdom.

Anyway, this opening chapter is worth its weight in gold, and I hope you read it, talk about it, wonder with your own church family how you can be more intentional about learning, about the ethos within your community, as learners, as readers. Is your congregation and your circle of friends interested in books and reading?

The upbeat foreword by Scot McKnight nearly made me cry as he told of being at a party with church members, and they chatted with enthusiasm about the books they were reading. In what order should we read Marilyn Robinson's three related novels? What do you make of the differences in the faith/science conversation between authors such as Francis Collins and Michael Behe? How can our congregations embody Godly unity within diversity if we all read the same thing? What if we don't read much at all, or have little common vocabulary about what books are important? 

McKnight says,

Our unity at Church of the Redeemer is of the Spirit and in Christ through the Father's deep grace, but at work in that unity is a fellowship of shared ideas and beliefs and associations and joys and images and metaphors because we read similar books and talk about them with one another.

I do not have this kind of experience in my life, and certainly not in my own fairly large church.  Do you? Do you hunger for that, long for that, wish for conversation partners and shared assumptions about faith and the Bible, nurtured in part because of shared familiarity with the same sort of authors, the same formative influences?  If so, Chris Smith's Reading for the Common Good is for you.


It starts, as I've noted, with the local church understood as a learning community.  There is an amazing chapter called "Reading and Our Congregational Identity" where Smith explores this more deeply, with wonderful insights.  In it, he uses a bit of a case study, drawing significantly on a book called Reading in Community where theology profs Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones explore the process of reading a Bible passage (and allowing the text to read us, as it is sometimes said.)

After this rigorous study of how we engage the Biblical text, Chris uses the insights of Fowl and Jones to guide us to a process of reading other books, also in community, for the sake of the world.  

He reminds us,

Once again, contemporary poetry and fiction can she needed light on the times in which we live, often helping us to see connections in ways that narrow, siloed genres of nonfiction - politics, economics, and the like - cannot.

I should emphasis that we need to be ever attentive to why we are reading and not just what we are reading. Our end it not to make a successful life for ourselves and our family or to navigate the turbulent waters of our times successfully. Rather, our end is to understand our times in order that our church communities might be able to live faithfully in them.

Reading is essential for the work of understanding our identity as churches that are seeking to embody Christ in our places. And our identity is interwoven with our vocation, and reading likewise is essential for discerning and maturing in our vocation...


Which is exactly the topic of his next good chapter, "Discerning Our Call." It offers new insight (and believe me, I've read a number of books on this topic-- calling, vocation, work.)  He again suggests we orchestrate much of this process of reading and discerning in the local congregation and delightfully cites authors as diverse as Dorothy Day and James K.A. Smith, quoting from Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak to Thomas Merton's classic No Man Is An Island. I have written before about using books to help young adults think faithfully about their own vocations (have I mentioned Serious Dreams? Ha.) More could be said, but Smith's chapter here is right on. It will be profitable, maybe provocative, for you.  

If you want to be renewed in your own intellectual journey, need a reminder of the joys of learning and the value of reading, this new book should certainly be on the top of your list. What a wonderful, delightful, stimulating read this is, reminding us that books can change lives, and that reading together can change communities. Aren't you just thrilled to be reminded of that, to have a book not only to convince you, but that you can share with others. I think some of you will want to be evangelists of the book, sharing this one, to help others renew their own commitments to reading. As I've noted, his commitment to localism and a sense of his own place, has informed his reading so this is - if I may inelegantly use the phrase, "pay off." The ripple effect is going to be seen, I just know it.  


Walter Brueggemann weighs in on the book, saying, nicely, that it is "a fresh, rich and quite unfamiliar proposal concerning human renewal and church regeneration."  That someone who gets around as much as Walt (and who reads as much, fiction, social science, Biblical studies, history) it is fascinating that he suggests this proposal is not only "fresh" but "quite unfamiliar."  Wow. Is he right?  I don't know any book quite like this, come to think of it.

Maybe some of us have been saying this for years, but, yet, in Smith's hands, this invitation and his almost programmatic agenda does, indeed, seem new.  Listen to the uber-creative Ken Wystma (founder of The Justice Conference) when he states that Reading for the Common Good a paradigm-altering book and one that is sure to enrich and inspire as we seek to find meaningful ways to think about and engage our communities, cities, and the world.

Karen Swallow Prior (who wrote a tremendous memoir-by-way-of-book-reviews called Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me) assures us that Reading for the Common Good will motivate "anyone who cares one whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."  Let us pray that it is so.  Won't you please order some today?  I'm serious!

 I simply cannot say enough about this fresh take on an old practice: reading widely and well so that we might be equipped to be better people, better Christians, within better churches, for the sake of the world.  It is the best case I've ever seen for why we need to promote books in our congregations, why books are important for robust and lively faith lived out in the culture, locally and down to earth.

Reading for... will surely appeal to serious book lovers but also those who maybe are more practically-minded, wanting just to get on with things.  It will be of use to those who want to be thoughtful about forging a faithful sort of life in the world, and will be inspiring to those who aren't that worried about such things, but just love reading novels and short stories.  From heady theology, Bible study, and cultural philosophy (yes, he cites Charles Taylor) to crazy fiction and memoir, kids books and fantasy, Chris Smith reads really widely and he has stories of how he and his comrades have together been shaped by talking about these books.  For the most astute reader to those still young in learning how and what to read this book is a winner. It brings together "two interwoven threads: learning and action."

It helps us read for the Kingdom.


And, it ends where it begins, in the local congregation. In a lovely chapter called "Becoming a Reading Congregation" he takes on the questions of how to make this happen within your own church. He talks about Godly Play as one method of Christian education (do you know Jerome Berryman's Montessori-influenced work, inviting children to slow, meditative engagement with Bible stories?) He talks about ways we read throughout our shared lives, he advises on how to curate book lists and how to more effectively promote reading (even slow reading in our "accelerated age.") His Slow Church is part of the background here, but his book-lovin' ways and his wide familiarity with authors of note on display here is just wonderful to see. And so, so valuable.  I hope you agree.


(One criticism here, which I have to get off my chest. Chris and I have talked about this, and I would rail with greater might about it if I didn't love the book and the author so much:  there is a positive passing reference to Amazon, which I find reprehensible since they are corporate bullies, are under investigation for anti-trust violations and tax fraud, are well known for abusing their workers, remain one of the larger porno dealers in the land, and by selling below cost with little regard for the common good they have damaged our civil society, the health of our mainstreets, and, some think, our book buying habits in ways that a localist like Smith surely knows. To order under-priced books from them is flatly an act of huge compromise with a dysfunctional and unstewardly economy. For a book about economic faithfulness learned by reading good books curated by a trusted community to not distance itself from their amoral algorithms and well-documented injustices is ironic, if not shocking.  Did not the good editors at his publisher even note this? I suspect not, which is terribly disappointing.  Further, that there is very little discussion about finding and supporting good bookstores as partners in forming a reading culture in our families and churches and neighborhood organizations is unfortunate.)

Despite this oddity, and with my self-righteous opposition duly noted, Reading for the Common Good: How Books  -- not bought from Amazon, I'll add -- Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish will be, if bought and read and discussed and shared, the most important missional church book in years. It is visionary and practical, fun and serious, attentive to our virtue and formation as well as our social imagination and worldview. Smith helps us realize how books can help us in the journey inward and the journey outward, so to speak. Smith himself is obviously interested in beauty and justice, in delights and hard service. It surely is one of the best books that is most dear to me, one of the most interesting and valuable that I've read in my entire life.


Let me say that again, more simply: Reading for the Common Good is one of the best books I've ever read.

So I'm pulling out the stops here, charging you with all the muster I can, to buy this book.  I have tons of other books to tell you about yet this year, but I'm saying it now: if you only buy one more book this year, let it be this one.


Or, better: take us up on our buy two get one free offer.  Three's a perfect number to make stuff happen (says Andy Crouch at the end of Culture Making as he's  prompting us to take fresh steps to "recover our creative calling" by getting busy thinking and doing something new.) Buy a couple of these and give 'em away. Sow seeds that will help us be better readers, more fluent in the best books for missional living. For the glory and reputation of God who cares so much about the life of the world, read Reading for the Common Good and share it widely. 


A closing reminder: although I tend mostly to review non fiction books at BookNotes, and Chris is himself a very well-read reviewer of good non-fiction works - and what an education we get just by paying attention to the books he cites here. He is a fan and connoisseur of good novels. In a great chapter where he draws on Charles Taylor explaining what "social imaginaries" are and how these worldviewish assumptions work, he draws nicely on Madeline L'Engle, a little known novel called Flatland, and then, in a splendid few pages, explores "Reading and the Social Imagination." His quick name-dropping foray into novels from across the centuries and across the world is, again, nearly worth the price of the book, as he tells us how this or that author can help us.  But where does it all lead, these references to everything from Oliver Twist and Uncle Toms Cabin to the Hunger Games trilogy, from Shusaku Endo's Silence and Geraldine Brooks Caleb's Crossing to the poetry of John O'Donohue and Robert Frost?

That chapter ends with a section called "The Transformative Power of Conversation." That is an important phrase, and it carries a deeply help assumption for Smith and his Englewood Christian Church. Reading good books will enhance your own commitments to the conversational arts.  Readers, it ends up, don't just become leaders. They become listeners. They become more empathetic. They become better people. And maybe there is a key to changing the world, to Christ-honoring missional living.


Reading for the Common Good.jpg

Reading for the Common Good
C. Christopher Smith




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May 28, 2016

12 Recent Novels for your Summer Pleasure -- ON SALE NOW at Hearts & Minds

byron reading book als.jpgIf Memorial Day is seen as the start of summer, why not get in the mood by thinking about what novels you might read this summer? Yes, plural.  Everybody ought to enjoy good fiction, and summer months are a great time for many of us to enjoy some stories and even some poetry.  I'm going to soon read a George Saunder's collection of short stories -- or so I tell myself today, but I have to finish the spectacular Tartt masterpiece The Goldfinch, not to mention the amazing memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty  -- and we're awaiting the forthcoming Wendell Berry poems (A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014releasing in a few weeks.  How about you?

This isn't a list of best books or must reads or all time fiction favorites, just some I grabbed off our shelf that I thought would be fun to tell you about.  A few are fairly literary, a few less sophisticated, all fine choices, some very popular, some rather indie.  Want some other novel, old or new? We can easily get almost anything that is in print, so do let us help you have a good stack of summer reads and beach books for these longer and hopefully slower days, designed, it seems, for getting immersed in enjoyable reading, page by page by page.

The order form links below will take you to our secure order form page. Happy reading!

The High Mountains of Portugal.jpgThe High Mountains of Portugal Yann Martel (Spiegel & Grau) $27.00  At first I couldn't put this down, then it rather perplexed me, and then I was utterly captivated, and even a month later I can't stop thinking about it. This is by the famous author of Life of Pi and it is essentially three inter-related stories, pitched (on the back) as A Quest, A Ghost Story, and A Mesmerizing Tale of Love and Loss. The three sections are captioned in the book as Homeless, Homeward, Home -- itself intriguing, eh? The middle part is way weird, but not what I'd call ghostly; just magical realism, if you will.  A guy walks backwards, there's a search for an ancient crucifix from a disgraced missionary, learned about from a previously ignored diary found in a museum, there is a sad death, there is a simian, and the end offers a remarkable, homecoming resolution. Amazing.

Smoke Dan Vyleta .jpgSmoke Dan Vyleta (Doubleday) $27.95  I was glad our library had this as soon as it released this last week as it sounds to me like one of the most inventive novels in recent memory. The author is an esteemed historian and novelist and the advance word on this has been fabulous. (One reviewer says it is "one of the most original and enthralling books I have read in a long, long time.")  The plot seems complex -- I just started it last night -- but the premise is fantastical and intriguing: smoke arises from the bodies of people when they think bad thoughts; their inner lives of greed and lust and envy become known by all.  (The idea from this, by the way, came from one specific sentence in a lesser known Charles Dickens novel who pondered what such a world would be like.)

Part Victorian morality tale, part Potter-esque fantasy writing, perhaps informed by the likes of provocative Philip Pullman, Smoke was described by Publisher's Weekly as "a fiercely inventive novel." 

That review continues,

Vyvlet's bold concept and compelling blend of history and fantasy offer a provocative reflection on the nature of evil, power, belief, and love. Dickensian in its imaginative scope and atmosphere.

Obviously, a question emerges about whether the pollution of the common (second hand?) smoke effects others. Can sin be contagious? (Can virtue? But I digress.) What becomes of those raised in a  social environment that is, shall we say, smokey?  Is this something like the impact of soma in Huxley?

Here's another part, I think.  What happens when some -- the upper classes, of course -- are able to go to school to learn out to adapt, to control their excreting of smoke?  Can such persons start to look down their proverbial noses at others whose sins are more noticed? Is this, finally, a study of class, or is it a study of the making of Pharisees?  Why not order this from us today?

the secret chord.jpgThe Secret Chord: A Novel Geraldine Brooks (Viking) $27.95  What a solid book to hold in your hands, in the back yard or at your outdoor coffee-shop or, in my wife's scenario, before bed. She loved this artful and provocative re-telling of the David story, beautifully wrought and insightful -- "unvarnished" the publisher says --  from the admittedly imagined view of Nathan.  You should know the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks at least from her People of the Book, which we also loved.

Of course, in dealing with a fictionalization from the Bible, the author is not going to please everyone. There is plenty on display here about David's sensuality, his violence, even. (One reviewer somewhere used the phrase "alpha male personality.") I am sure the talented Ms Brooks means no disrespect to her source materials. Like other tales of this ancient era think of The Red Tent, set in an even earlier period) there is much to learn, and great artists can help. It's a novel, though, keep in mind. And apparently, a very thoughtful and entertaining one at that.

When Girls Became Lions.jpgWhen Girls Became Lions: A Novel  Valerie J. Gin & Jo Kadlecek (Gin/Kadlecek) $14.99  "The memory of a strong woman is a sanctuary..."  This is how the story, set circa 1893, begins, in this self-published novel by a legendary and beloved soccer coach and a renowned writer of nonfiction and memoir.  This is a story about soccer, about women's sports, specifically about the impact of Title IX legislation had on one mid-western town.  

Here is a description from the back cover: 

It's 1983. Teacher Bailey Crawford and a bunch of rag tag girls are about to make history as their school's first, and only, state champions. But few in town care; they're only girls, after all. It's not until twenty-five years later in 2008 when new coach Reynalda Wallace discovers their story, and recognition for the champs finally arrives. In the process, Rey learns how much of her own life--past and present--is bound to those first athletes whose struggle she never knew existed. Until now.

The rave reviews of this book have come from men and women, sports analysis, coaches, professors, young people and not a few famous leaders (such as the President of Tuskegee University, women head coaches, women in the Olympic Hall of Fame, and more.)

Listen to this rave  from Les Norman, former Jr. Olympic Gold Medalist, MLB outfielder, TV analyst and syndicated sports radio host.  Authors Val & Jo were recently interviewed on his show, Breakin' the Norm  He says,

As an AVID sports fan and voracious reader, I search for compelling stories that will both move my heart and have the potential to change the world.  I found those very things in When Girls Became Lions!  I laughed, cried, grew angry at injustice, and cheered with joy. This is not only a book about the champion spirit that lies within female athletes, but the athlete in general . . .

Jo & Val have given the highest honor to the trailblazers of Title IX, to those of us who've been honored & blessed to wear an athletic uniform, and to athletes, coaches and parents of either gender who live out their passion by giving with all their heart. When Girls Became Lions brings about a triumph of the human spirit and resolve, and is now one of my favorite books of all time!!  I highly recommend it for both female and male athletes alike!"  

Check out the trailer for their book, here, and then come on back and send us an order.

The_Chimera_Sequence_Elliott_Garber-copy-200x300.jpgThe Chimera Sequence Elliott Garber (Osprey Press) $15.99  I have been wanting to read this since I first heard about it from the proud papa of Elliott Garber, none other than Steve Garber, author of Hearts & Minds favs, Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation.  As you know from reading Steve, he is passionate about equipping folks to think about faith relating to all of life (including work, career, and our duties in the world) and that he, himself, uses novels to help open up conversations with consequence about life and times. I cannot think of a time I've heard Steve lecture or preach where he hasn't cited stories, books, music, or films, and he and his librarian wife, Meg, raised their children around the very best books and films. I say all this to give you background and confidence that Elliott's book emerges from a mature and thoughtful place.

And oh, what a place it is. Young Garber has been on active duty as a military officer who serves as a veterinarian. He has lived and worked with large animals in India, Egypt, Mozambique, and Italy (and traveled to over 50 other countries, including a recent deployment Iraq.) It is this global experience that informs this thriller -- an action-packed work of science-fiction (or is it?)

Here is how the back cover explains it:

The story starts as Cole McBride makes a chilling discover while investigating a mysterious disease causing the death of endangered mountain gorillas in war-torn central Africa. When a humanitarian aid hospital nearby diagnoses a disturbingly similar human case, the former Special Forces veterinarian knows he must figure out how to stop this outbreak from spreading -- before it blows up into a global pandemic.

And that, apparently, is just the beginning. The story moves from a massive cargo ship moving out of Sudan's largest port which carries something headed for the Persian Gulf. A Lebanese restaurant owner in DC is involved, there is a plot worthy of House of Cards about an unpopular President and, well, you can imagine.

If you like thrillers based on real scientific research (well, at least the part about animal-spread diseases), this will be a winner for you.  Maria Goodavage, herself a New York Times author of Soldier Dogs and Top Dogs, says, "I couldn't put down Garber's engaging, rapid-paced, action-packed thriller."

Here is a great endorsement from James Rollins, author of the Sigma Force Novel, The 6th Extinction.

Elliott Garber's debut thriller The Chimera Sequence has everything I love in a novel:  great characters, a thrill ride of an adventure, and a looming global menace.  But best of all, the story hooked me from the first intriguing page to the last illuminating line. I can't wait to see what this guy writes next!

And, get this amazing quote, the sort any first-time novelist would be proud of:

"Not since Jurassic Park has a science thriller of this magnitude been written..."   Wow.

That's from Dr. Marty Becker who you may know as "America's Veterinarian" and a respected, best-selling author.

I don't know much about Ebola, and even less about Zika and their subsequent public health policies. We do quite a bit about the science and politics of Lyme and other tick-born diseases, which are only getting worse as they infect our geography and bodies and as the standard medical establishment refuses to keep up with vital research.  You know that this stuff could keep you up at night, and maybe it should. Perhaps The Chimera Sequence and its fiction of global menace is merely something exciting to read for those who love that kind of an adrenaline-packed reading experience. Or maybe it is more, something we really should be thinking about, imagining, talking about.  Kudos to Mr. Garber for releasing this important first novel, illustrating his own interest in eco-systems, public health, and helping us think about some of the biggest problems of our world.  All in the form of a high-energy thriller.

This Is Why I Came Mary Rakow .jpgThis Is Why I Came Mary Rakow (Counterpoint) $24.00  I am, as I often am, taken with a book just by reading a review of it.  Such was the case,  I suppose, here. I hope to spend some slow hours with this later this summer, but we ordered it forthwith as soon as I read a remarkable book review of it in The Christian Century (here) by the always impressive Rev. Lawrence Wood.  Here is how that review begins:

A  woman comes for confession, her first in 30 years. Anxiously she fingers a hand-stitched notebook filled with her own version of Bible stories, driven by her reimaginings of biblical characters. We never learn exactly why she has written these fragments, although themes emerge--uneasy family relationships, physical disabilities, mental illness. Perhaps the woman's own story shapes them. The stories are told slant, very slant, so the reader feels their gravity. But they truly engage the scriptures. They are luminous, numinous.

Her name is Bernadette. Like the visionary saint who saw the biblical Mary in Lourdes, France, in 1858, this Bernadette too is something of a cipher as she provides a link to the sacred. She does needlework like her namesake, shares the same infirmities, and wonders if she's going mad. She herself may be a saint--barely.

Mary Rakow's novel is just barely a novel. But in 62 brief chapters she manages to make familiar characters strange and fresh. They migrate from the Old Testament to the New, from the Bible to contemporary life, with the suggestion that they themselves may be authors...

So, the main character has a hand-stitched notebook full of Bible stories. (Does this seem like the famed collection found in Winesburg Ohio?)

Perhaps like that story, Wood suggests that That's Why I Came is "miraculous" as in it "the lines between sacred history and contemporary life might be wonderfully blurred." 

Later in the review he notes that these rambling pieces written by the novel's main character (Bernadette)  are both fragmentary and complex; the writing of the novel itself tends to the poetic.  It is, at times, raw and perhaps disturbing.  This is, I should note, on a serious, literary publishing house (perhaps best known for publishing the novels of Wendell Berry.)  Rev. Wood continues,

A lesser writer would have made this book a satire. Rakow, a theologian who studied at Harvard Divinity School and Boston College, instead has written with great love and deep faith, raising issues latent in the original text. Like Bernadette, Rakow seems to be sitting in church, hoping to find peace again.

The Abbey- A Story of Discovery James Martin.jpgThe Abbey: A Story of Discovery James Martin SJ (HarperOne) $24.99  It is great to see this popular nonfiction author -- who has written about Jesus, about humor (Between Heaven and Mirth), about the Jesuits, and more -- trying his hand at fiction, and, wow, has it been successful. This is a major book this season, lots of buzz -- one person likened it to Screwtape Letters (although another suggested The Shack.) It is notable for how it handles religious searching, grief, spirituality. (And it is, by the way, set in Pennsylvania.) The Abbey is getting lovely reviews.  Imagine having these authors blurb your book on the back -- Ron Hansen, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Joyce Rupp.  It has gotten many endorsements like this, from memoirist and poet Mary Karr:

With trademark wit, wisdom, and elegant prose, James Martin has written a powerfully moving novel about (among other things) how an unbeliever can journey from suffering into spiritual practice. How it happens in an eyeblink. Another triumph from one of our best scribblers working like a master in a new form.

The Nightingale- A Novel Kristin Hannah.jpgThe Nightingale: A Novel Kristin Hannah (St. Marin's Press) $27.99  The other day one of our staff paired this in a display with my favorite novel of recent years, All The Light You Cannot See. Not sure why, really, but the lovely, gold-embossed cover, is a rich and luscious one, and it calls out to be held. This is a serious, thick, and weighty novel, and it has been exclaimed about since it came out. Of course, it was displayed next to All the Light... because, it, too, is set in World War II -- France in 1939 to be exact.  As the description of it begins, "In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are."  This is an epic tale (Kristin Hannah is known for big and moving works of historical fiction) set in wartime France but about the divergent paths of two sisters. It is the sort of book that reviews claim to read in one sitting (although, at over 400 pages, I can hardly imagine.) I am sure at times it is harrowing, and it is said to be historically illuminating.

There are endorsements on the back from Lisa See (of popular best-seller Snow Flower) and Christina Baker Kline (author of the immensely popular and satisfying Orphan Train.) I appreciated this from Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants,

A beautifully written and richly evocative examination of life, love, and the ravages of war, and the different ways people react to unthinkable situations?not to mention the terrible and mounting toll of keeping secrets. This powerhouse of a story is equally packed with action and emotion, and is sure to be another major hit.

Thirteen Reasons Why.jpgThirteen Reasons Why Jay Asher (Razor Bill) $10.99  This is a powerful YA novel that an adult friend recently recommended.  We knew of its immense popularity, hear the author on NPR, maybe, and knew of its significance.

Neither Beth nor I have read this yet -- not sure if I am up for it, although I think I will. The plot is simple: a young girl named Hannah Baker took her life and left audio tapes behind, each for one of the 13 people who he saw as complicit in his death.  (You can listen to the "actual" Hannah Baker Tapes at a youtube site made to go along with the book.)  The book explores how these accusations and reports of petty cruelty effected Hannah, and how learning of this effected her friend Lay Jensen.

The reviews have been mostly stellar.

"Eerie, beautiful, and devastating" said the Chicago Tribune. "It will leave you with chills," said Amber Gibson on All Things Considered.  Words such as "shattering" and "anguishing" are understandably used by readers to describe it and yet it is also life-affirming and beautiful; the respected Kirkus called it "brilliant and mesmerizing."  It is known not only for the story, but for it's moving prose. Thirteen Reasons has been named on many "best book" lists and garnered many awards.  One line that most drew me in was the description by the wonderful YA novelist Sherman Alexi, who called it, "A mystery, eulogy, and ceremony."

For what it is worth, some have suggested it isn't realistic, that it does a disservice by not adequately exploring issues of adolescent mental health. 

Two Steps Forward- A Story of Persevering in Hope.jpgTwo Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope Sharon Garlough Brown (IVP) $18.00  I have mentioned this before and it seemed right to name it again.  Although it stands alone, it is a sequel to the popular Sensible Shoes, a novel which explores the emerging friendships of a group of women who meet at a spiritual retreat and agree to check back in with each other after their experiences with a spiritual director. Partly a story of women's friendship, partly a set of stories of how faith helps us navigate live's pains and challenges, and partially an observant report of what it is like having a wise spiritual director, this is a book that seems to be part novel and part spiritual guidebook. It is a story about what it means to be made in God's image, discern wisdom, find grace, and what it looks like to grow into greater Christlikeness.

Both Sensible Shoes and Two Steps Forward center around Meg, a widow and recent empty nester, Chrissa, a conscientious graduate student (and, in the second -- spoiler -- an unexpected pregnancy), Hannah, a pastor, now on sabbatical, and Mara, a wife and mother who longs for her difficult family life to improve.

Sister Eve and the Blue Nun- A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery.jpgSister Eve and the Blue Nun: A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery Lynne Hinton (Nelson) $15.99  I don't read mysteries, so don't know which are better than others. There is this whole thing of clerical sleuths -- think of Father Brown, at least.  Hinton is a long-respected author in the world of inspirational fiction and is a New York Times best-selling author. This is just out, the third in a popular series -- the first two were Sister Eve Private Eye and The Case of the Sin City Sister.  In each, I gather, the good sister's gifts for detective work might be seen as a calling, or a temptation. Eh? In this new one, it is set up like this: "After a murder at the monastery, Sister Eve may need a miracle if she is to prove a dear friend isn't a cold-blooded killer." 

The "Blue Nun" bit figures in because the poisoned victim was Dr. Kelly Middlesworth, a researcher on the life and ministry of the 17th century revered "Blue Nun."  A set of irreplaceable historic documents have disappeared before they could even be examined.  

Oh, did I mention that Sister Eve rides a motorcycle? So there's that, too. Ha.

Lord of the World Robert Hugh Benson (Christian Classics).jpgLord of the World Robert Hugh Benson (Christian Classics) $15.95 I am embarrassed to say I have never heard of this novel, although I've learned a bit about the famous author and the significance of the tale.

Written in 1907, we are told in an introduction to this new edition that,

Lord of the World claims to be the first modern dystopia, preceding the more famous ones, Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell's 1984 (1949). For academics, Lord of the World has always been a scholarly footnote of the Catholic literary renaissance that saw so many British intellectuals and artists like Benson convert to the Catholic faith in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

But here is something even more interesting; very interesting, indeed. It has been made known that Pope Francis has reported that this novel has significantly influenced his own thinking.  Mark Bosco explains:

In a homily in November 2013, the Pope referred to Lord of the World when he warned about the dark side of globalization. Offering the term "beautiful globalization" as an expression through which national identity and traditions are preserved, he warned that this phenomenon can become the more sinister "globalization of hegemonic uniformity" that is found in Benson's novel -- a uniformity of secular thought born out of human vanity and worldliness.

Get this:

In January 2015, as part of the Pope's in-flight interview from Manila to Rome, he referred to the "ideological colonization" of international family-planning agencies and national governments that impose population control as a condition of development aid. Asked what he meant by the term, Pope Francis told the plane full of reporters, "There is a book, excuse me but I'll make a commercial... it is a book that, at that time, the writer had seen this drama of ideological colonization, and wrote that book. It is called Lord of the World. The author is Benson... I advise you to read it. Reading it, you'll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization ...

I really enjoyed reading Bosco's complete introduction to this just today. There is also a "theological reflection" essay and a bit about Benson's conversion. This stuff helps, explaining why it is important. (And this cover gives it a bit more gravitas than the "Doomsday Classics" edition from Dover.) This intro is fascinating as it explores the rise of science fiction and dystopian, apocalyptic genre. (Just last night I was reading the recent Eerdmans release How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World by Robert Joustra and Alisa Wilkinson. Ooo-boy.) 

Apparently, Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson really is important, and apparently, it's a rip-roaring read. It is said not only to be quite well-crafted but "a prophetic novel that anticipates and dramatically renders the spiritual and cultural crisis of the twenty-first century."

Listen to the Tolkien scholar, Joseph Pearce, who commends this new edition:

Benson's dystopic novel is more sinister than the simple hedonism of Huxley's dystopia and more subtle than the sheer brutality of Orwell's. I welcome Ave Maria Press's new edition of this classic and prophetic work.




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May 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's not too late.jpgIt's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith Dan Dupee (Baker) $15.99  Admittedly, this isn't for parents of little kids, but, you know, it wouldn't hurt for any parent to read it. Dan Dupee's INTL is the best book that I know of for parents of teens (and, especially young adults) that not only affirms the parent's necessary role, but links the skill sets needed to be good at parenting to these very themes of being transformed by the gospel in ways that propel us to ask the questions of vocation and calling.  As you most likely read in my several BookNotes reviews of it, it cites most of our favorite books, and mentions Hearts & Minds as a resource for parents who want to help college student think about their callings in the world, even picking a major and a career.  It's not too late to read this book, and, I'd say, it is hardly too early, either.  Highly recommended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like the way the publisher put it:

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

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

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

Here is what the publisher says: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cesar chavez.jpg




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May 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Survive The Apocalypse- Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World .jpgHow to Survive The Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World Robert Joustra & Alissa Wilkinson (Eerdmans) $16.00  Okay, I'm going to admit it. I haven't read this yet, although I've been anticipating this for a year before it came out. The authors are my acquitances, and among the smartest, most astute young scholars I know.  Both write professionally -- you surely know Alissa from her well-respected work as film critic at Christianity Today and may know Joustra for his astute political-slash-philosophical commentary at Comment, the "public theology for the common good" journal  edited by James K.A. Smith.  So these are good thinkers and great writers, doing this very clever project: how in the world do we do hopeful, faithful politics in an age when everything is going to hell in  a hand-basket. From Walking Dead to the zombie apocalypse, from the dystopian Hunger Games and Game of Thrones to the jaded House of Cards, this pop-culture savvy study is, in fact, an exploration of Charles Taylor and more.  

Check out these great blurbs:

Makoto Fujimura

-- artist, speaker, writer, cultural shaper

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


Michael Wear

-- founder of Public Square Strategies LLC

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


 Brett McCracken

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

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


Richard Mouw

-- president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary

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


Kevin R. den Dulk

-- director of the Henry Institute, Calvin College

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


Stephanie Summers

-- CEO of the Center for Public Justice

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


Gregory Alan Thornbury

-- president of The King's College

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

Publishers Weekly

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attention: Awakening to Justice

Confession: The Posture for Engaging

Respect: The Golden Rule for Helping

Partnering: With Not For

Truthing: Hard Thinking and Feet on the Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Letter of Consolation

Letters to Marc About Jesus

The LIving Reminder

Making All Things New

Our Greatest Gift

The Way of the Heart


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

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



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May 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Very Good Gospel.jpg

Executing Grace.jpg



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May 12, 2016




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

Picture of Wauconda High School grads from The Daily Herald.                  

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

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

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

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

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

The picture of the young woman reading is from ParentMap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, listen to Steve Garber:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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May 7, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, our three day Spring Cleaning Sale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALE PRICES  BOOK, $11.00; GUIDE, $6.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALE PRICE $21.00 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALE PRICE $ 11.20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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