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October 28, 2014

THREE BY BRIAN J. WALSH: Subversive Christianity (Second Edition), The Advent of Justice (reprinted) and St. John Before Breakfast (brand new) ALL 20% OFF

Ssubversive 2nd.jpgubversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time  Second Edition  Brian J. Walsh (Wipf & Stock) $15.00  

A few weeks ago the prominent mainline denominational magazine Christian Century did an interview with me, an honor in which we are still delighting. In that interview I was asked to name some authors that would appeal to the Century readership that they may not know well. I named the spiritual formation author Ruth Haley Barton, the Biblical scholar and philosopher of aesthetics Calvin Seerveld, and a few others they needed to edit out due to space constraints.  I was quick to mention the astute and provocative writings of Brian Walsh.  His several works are among my favorite books, each for different reasons. 

I am not sure if Subversive Christianity, a small paperback published in 1992, was the first book on which I was invited provide feedback on the manuscript, or if it was the first book that mentioned me in the acknowledgements, but I think it was. So I feel pretty connected to this, and hope our friends and customers will take notice of this brand new edition. The first edition has been long out of print - until now, with this new reprinted, expanded version.  My old copy was certainly one of my most prized possessions.  That is, until I gave it away, or maybe sold it out from under myself.  I've been personally awaiting this reprint for more than a decade!

The first edition of the book was published by a faithful little indie press, but was never well known. It was just four meaty chapters, each given as speeches or keynote talks, all delivered in the harsh Cold War years following the seminal Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview, co-authored by Walsh with Richard Middleton in 1984.  Brian was carefully reading Walter Brueggemann - your welcome, Brian, for turning you on to The Prophetic Imagination, which for some deluded reason I fancy having done, even though I suppose it isn't even true, since you thank Richard Middleton for that lead. On some pages, Subversive Christianity could be called "Brueggemann-esque." With a tone of lament and pathos and a profound belief in how the Biblical text can serve as a counter-narrative to imperial design, evoking a new imagination, it offers fresh energy to break out of the accommodated captivity of the people of God. 

Transforming Vision, published by InterVarsity Press is still considered by many to be the best book on the development of aThe-Transforming-Vision-9780877849735.jpg Christian worldview, and the socio-religious / cultural critique is strong there. (The brief history of dualism and rise of secular idols is exceedingly helpful.)  But it becomes even more incisive and impassioned in Subversive...  In some ways Walsh was following the journey of his favorite Canadian rock star, whose Humans and Inner City Front albums documented his shift from a pleasant, folkie vibe informed by his evangelical conversion ("Wondering Where the Lions Are" you know) to a multi-ethnic, urban neighborhood and the music's increasing awareness of the deep brokenness in our lives, personally and culturally.  Cockburn was singing more about "the falling dark," about regret and toxic pollution, social injustice, his divorce, even as Walsh took up similar concerns. Brian was involved in the work of urban mission and public justice, trying to say no to the idols of the age (so clearly explained in The Transforming Vision) and immersing himself in the edgy discourse that eventually found voice in Truth Is Stranger Than it Used to Be (still the best book on postmodernism, and a must read for those interested in the pain of our timestruth is stranger.gif and an authentic gospel response.)

Eventually, this engaged pathos and socio-col rm.jpgcultural resistance was explored in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (still the best commentary on Colossians, perhaps the best commentary on any Biblical book I've ever experienced reading!) Although separated by two decades it isn't that big of a jump from the punchy, succinct Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Babylon (catch that important sub-title) and the dense, wide-ranging, spectacular bit of analysis of the dislocating pressures of our nomadic culture in Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement coauthored with Hope College environmental science professor, Stephen Bouma-Predigar.

Subversive Christianity reveals a challenging style of faith that emerged from Walsh's worldview studies at the Institute for Christian Studies, perhaps his frustrations with the more rigid dogmatism of some of the more strict Calvinists in his circles, his friendship with Dutch economist Bob Gouzdwaard and his brilliant work in reforming the fundamental assumption about economics and growth, his deep,Beyond Homelessness.jpg deep love for the Bible, and his Cockburn-inspired poetic honesty about both (to cite Cockburn songs) the "Lord of the Starfields" and the rim of the "Broken Wheel." That is, Walsh understood in those years, as now, both glory and pain, creation and fall, goodness and grief. (I don't think I know anyone who reminds us of this so candidly, especially in recent years on his Empire Remixed blog from his current faith community at the University of Toronto and their Wine Before Breakfast services.) 

As is clear in these four original chapters, Walsh thinks the true gospel of God's Kingdom offers a radical deconstruction of the wrong ideologies and hurtful ideas and sinful structures that are the idols of our time and that have facilitated human folly and dysfunction and dis-ease. The reign of God - the journey out of exile and through the desert and towards a new Jerusalem - is the penultimate story (Christ, his Jubilee inauguration, his move towards the cross, his passion and resurrection being the ultimate story) which should shape the imaginations and lifestyles of the people of God, and such a drama is truly a subversive message.  One cannot build a glad new world, or, more precisely, testify to its promised coming, unless one firstly renounces the grim news of the false gods, deconstructing and resisting the dominant narrative of the American dream and its bankrupt ideals.  Which is to say this gospel story subverts the (ab)normal, frames our lives with new hopes and desires and dreams, which, of course, brings into greater clarity the cost of discipleship.  Being counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, subversive, revolutionary, even, is hard.  But such a discipleship, grounded in real life and real hope bears fruit in lasting, deep joy (even through shed tears.) 

The shift from grief to hope, from Good Friday to Easter, isn't easy, but it is the arc of the Biblical story, even though too many churches and Christian TV preachers and Christian books don't push us too deeply to consider these things. This book helps us with that, immensely so.

In the first pages of Subversive Christianity Walsh confesses to not dealing much with suffering insubversive 2nd.jpg Transforming Vision and this personal remark is important. Indeed, the third chapter, about grief and lament, was delivered the night of the death of a dear colleague, an IVCF staff worker at Brock University; again the pathos is palpable, as we lament the human condition, our own souls, and particularly the sadnesses of a culture bent on war and materialism, led by scholars and leaders who promote false hopes and harmful ideas. This critical demeanor, grounded in grief, is abundantly clear in Walsh's feisty insistence that there is a malaise loose in the land, and that it is urgent to name it.  And name it he does.

From the false prophecy of uber-conservative intellectual Francis Fukuyama to the far left politics of Bruce Cockburn, Walsh draws on contemporary thinkers, artists, ideas and trends, to bring into focus the fundamentally subversive power of the Biblical texts that erode all false gods and upset all false hopes. These passionate, playful, creative, powerful sermons were worth their weight in gold, and became a life-line for some of us who rarely heard such evangelical faith proclaimed with such verve and guts.  This wasn't merely Marxist liberation theology, it wasn't inspirational humanism or the incipient social gospel, this was full on evangelical Bible study, Christ-honoring, orthodox stuff.  Walsh's good friend Tom Wright wrote the foreword, saying it is a "powerful little book." After extolling his study of contemporary culture and his patient academic work, Wright says of Brian, "he has also drunk deeply from biblical theology, and provides clear and creative exegesis of several passages in a way which breathes new life into them. Walsh brings together the Bible and the modern world in a way which is as original as it is compelling."  

This is exactly right, and these chapters do indeed bring together very insightful cultural studies and socio-political analysis with tremendous, exciting Bible exposition.

The first of the four chapters is titled "Imaging God in Babylon" about which he summarizes, "Christianity is a subversive cultural movement; the Christian community and worldview conflict; we are called to image God." He offers a contextual rehearing of Genesis 1:26 - 28 that is nothing short of brilliant.  I'm sure he thanks Richard Middleton for some of this (who later went on to write the magisterial Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 which is now footnoted in the updated edition.) This chapter may be a seminal project for those that know the importance of Richard's Liberating Image text and I'd guess they worked some of this out together.  Brian preaches it really well! (And had nicely dedicated the book to Richard.)

Chapter two is called "Beyond Worldview to Way of Life: A Diagnosis." Here he explores the "worldview/way of life gap." There is a profound diagnosis of Western culture (by way of Cockburn's song "The Candy Man's Gone" and Bob Goudzwaard. Here, he invites a truly prophetic response and pushes us to realize that merely getting a new "worldview" - incanting stuff against dualism, affirming a wholistic gospel, realizing the connection between creation/fall/redemption and the like - simply doesn't seem to carry the capacity to change lives and lifestyles.  This frustrating gap between a multi-dimensional, Kingdom worldview and the way those who hold to such broad visions still live in the world - captive? --- is named and explored. (Did Jamie Smith read this long before he cooked up his good stuff in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom?  Surely, yes, since Smith was with Walsh at the Institute for Christian Studies in those years. Smith's criticisms about how some quarters define and explore worldview may be related to Walsh's own concerns, preached so well, here.)

By the way, I think this talk was first delivered at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh.  Besides dancing with Brian to "Brown Eyed Girl" that year, this talk was a true highlight in the history of great Jubilee talks.

The third chapter of Subversive... is "Waiting for a Miracle: Christian Grief at the End of History" and, as you might guess if you followed much-discussed books from those years, he contrasts the then-popular scholar Francis Fukuyma who released The End of History that year (and who has another new much-discussed wonky book out this month, by the way) at first with Bruce Cockburn's song inspired by Central American peasants, "Waiting for a Miracle,"  but then, surprisingly, in a brilliant section, with the true prophet, Jeremiah.  This is a fabulous example of an incisive critique of aJeremiah Mourning by Rembrandt .jpg modern scholar and his role in shaping North American political and economic policy, and then a shift to profound Biblical lament.  

It is hard to say which of the chapters in this book is my favorite, but each offer profound insight, and reward repeated readings. And this one is stunning.

The last chapter is "Waiting for a Miracle: Christian Hope at the End of History" (notice the one-word switch in the sub-title.) In this chapter he cites Cockburn's "pilloried saints" and Jeremiah (again.) I love the "real estate at the end of history" piece, about the stunt where Jeremiah buys land behind enemy lines, and how Brian uses that as a parable for our times.  Wow! He insists we are all still "waiting for a miracle" but this time, with hope, hope that we can embody and live into.  

I have to admit when we got the new edition in a week ago, I turned to this chapter first. 

This brand new expanded edition offers a new chapter, oddly called a "post script" which offers much more than a post script, but which is a full on, serious piece.  This   new chapter brings us up-to-date and                                                                               Jeremiah Mourns Over Destruction of Jerusalem  Rembrandt

is called "Subversive Christianity 22 Years Later." Here Brian asks "what time was it" and "what time is it?"                

These questions about our social location and the ethos of the age sets him up for amazingly rich, thoughtful, Bible-infused social criticism,. (And, yes, Bruce Cockburn's recent work comes in to play once again.  Walsh has written a whole book on Cockburn, after all, so you can't blame him using that rock poet as an inspiration.) I rarely say this about new editions, revised and updated books that have a meager new foreword or afterward, but I will now: even if you have the first edition, that thin black paperback, it is well worth it to get this new one, if only for this new last chapter.

My goodness, am I glad this new edition has been released! (The abstract oil painting on canvas on the cover isn't given justice in the thumbnail above -- it works well on the real cover and you should ponder it.) The new chapter is good - strident, passionate, honest, but yet full of Biblical hope. His work on Josiah (applied to the regime of President Obama, event) is fantastic, I think.  Walsh amazes me; his ability to name gross sins and profound cultural disorientation, and yet call us to a joyful and upbeat kind of new way of life is unique. 

Look, I read a lot of books (and many of you do too.) And most of us listen to a lot of speakers, take in weekly sermons. There is hardly anybody who writes or preaches like Walsh does, and I am more than happy to commend this -- I am compelled to.  It might shock you, you might not agree, you may be driven to ponder your own faith community and its cultural accommodation and the maturity of its prophetic imagination. I know this is touchy stuff, and I don't mean to sound negative or critical, but the diagnosis and re-envisioning going on here is so very useful. You will be better for it, I am sure of it.

Here is the last paragraph of the last page of the new post script, Jeremiah Revisited, so to speak:

Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open. Multiply in a world of dept. Have children at the end of history. Seek shalom in a violent world of geo-political conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah's word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah's subversive word to us. And in this vision we just might see, with Jeremiah, a future with hope. (Jer. 29:11.) This is what is means to work and wait for a miracle. This remains at the heart of a subversive Christianity.

This was an inspiring, important, under-recognized book when it came out more than 20 years ago.  It is a great grace that it is now available again, expanded just a bit, and I hope our friends and fans buy it, share it, study it, discuss it.

May its inspired, subversive resistance to the idols of the age motivate you to say no.  May its joyful, costly hope of a cultural restoration based on Christ's Kingdom coming motivate you to say yes.  No and yes.  Lament and hope. Guilt and grace. This book is a gift. Thanks be to God.

Brian's meager royalties from this book, by the way, all go to our friends Rob & Kirstin Vander Geissen-Reitsma and their creative community development work through *cino and their Huss Project in Three Rivers Michigan.



Advent of Justice Brian J. Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Wipf & Stock) $10.00 

Iadvent of justice CPJ.jpg have long said that there is no other Advent devotional like this, nothing in print that comes close.  It has been out of print for a few years, and we are glad it has been re-issued, with a nicer, full-color cover. (Otherwise, the inside, the handsome fonts and nicely designed pages with a few art pieces by Willem Hart remain.)  

This is a set of 4 week's worth of daily readings, studies of lectionary texts (mostly from Isaiah coupled with seasonal NT texts) with a serious contextualized reading of these passages.  Some of the Isaiah passages are familiar to us while a few may be less so.  The hard-to-pronounce names of kings and prophets, nations and armies, are made more clear, brought into focus so we realize what was going on, geo-politically and religiously among the divided kingdoms and such.  That they invite us to ponder this and to apply the lessons to our own times, indeed our own lives, is a great holiday gift.  It is not sentimental and there is nothing about Christmas ornaments or hot cider or snowy winterscapes. This is Bible study with cultural analysis.  Dare I say it is an urgent antidote to some of the ways we've, well, you know... One friend who appreciated it a lot called it "Advent with a Vengeance."  Well, sort of.

I have read through these short pieces many times, and get something new with each reading.  Walsh brings the big picture gospel to bear, as always, and Middleton especially explains the intricacies and drama of Old Testament politics.  Mark Vander Vennen - an old pal and peace activist from our days in Pittsburgh, now a wise and respected family therapist - brings his own well-trained Old Testament scholarship to the plot, with very nicely written daily meditations, journeying with us as we wait expectantly.  The last week New Testament scholar (and organic farmer) Sylvia Keesmaat eloquently brings it all together. Dr. Keesmaat, by the way, served as chief editor for this whole project, and brings the touch of a scholar and creative wordsmith. 

This thin book is not light-weight, and for those not used to Old Testament prophetic literature, or forCitizens for Public Justice.jpg Advent being a time to inhabit the broad Biblical drama, this may even be challenging. Not surprisingly, it has some themes of social criticism, a faithful emphasis on justice and the common good, even as the texts point us towards these concerns.  That Advent of Justice was firstly produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a Canadian social justice advocacy group - the Citizens for Public Justice (formerly the Committee for Justice & Liberty) - is fitting. Old heroes of mine, such as the late, great Gerald Vandezande, led that ministry for decades, and this little devotional reminds us of the rich Biblical heritage that served to shape CJL and CPJ.  These authors live this stuff, and their own rich Biblical reflections have emerged out of their own engagement with issues in the public square, service to the marginalized, and taking stands for public justice and the common good.

Still, even though this is dedicated to the justice activists and citizen advocates of CPJ and brings themes of justice to the fore, it is - let me be clear - an advent Bible devotional, short readings, day by day.  They invites us to read the Bible text first, spend time pondering their explication, and then to return to the Bible text again, reading and hearing it with new eyes and ears.  They do this to help us have a meaningful and joyous holiday season, to await well, to make time for God's Word during Advent. They really do hope you have a good holiday season. May it help you wait well.

St. John Before Breakfast  Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast Community (Books Before Breakfast) $18.00 

WSt John Before big.jpgow -- we are just jazzed to tell you about this.  We may be one of the very first bookstores to carry this, and it is an honor to be in on its distribution.

St. John Before Breakfast is a self-published set of studies/reflections done mostly by Brian Walsh for his "Wine Before Breakfast" early morning Eucharistic service among his rag-tag "Empire Remixed" community at the University of Toronto.  Walsh is a campus minister for the Christian Reformed Church and has developed a band and worshiping community that meets before classes once a week (and others times, too, of course.) I have followed (as you may have) their "Empire Remixed" blog, and some of Brian's poetic ruminations on the Scriptures there have been simply stunning. (This past summer they did a weekly reflection on the book of James which was some of the best stuff I've ever read from that popular New Testament prophet.)  

Brian does a passionate and wise pastoral letter to his friends in the academic community at U of T right before Holy Week each year, inviting people to attend to spiritual practices that week - to read and re-read the gospel accounts, to attend church, to grief and wait and watch and pray as we move towards Resurrection Sunday and our joyful celebration of Christ's Victory.  It is my own Holy Week custom to read and re-read Brian's letters and these are doubtlessly the best stuff I read every year.

And they remind us of the pathos and power and truth of Scripture.

Which is to say I am sure these Biblical ruminations - some written in free verses, as poetically delivered, live -- will be potent, powerful, maybe a bit controversial, perhaps. As is his custom, he offers creative, contemporary exegesis of the Biblical text -- yes, the gospel according to John --  in engagement with pop culture.  One week it is a set of Joni Mitchell songs, maybe Leonard Cohen, maybe Springsteen or U2 or Mumford & Sons.  But mostly John, opened up and read and proclaimed with an edgy honesty.  Walsh loves the Scriptures, believes the book is subversive and, properly opened up, God's Word to subvert and challenge, heal and offer hope.  

On the back cover it asks, "How does the Word made flesh take on new flesh in the urban heart of a city like Toronto? What happens when you allow the evocative narratives, symbols and imagery of this gospel to direct your prayers, shape your liturgy and transform your life?"

Walsh and students.jpg

I can't wait to read this self-published, handsome volume of "Wine Before Breakfast" Johannine messages.  I hope you are curious, too.

Each chapter of St. John Before Breakfast includes an opening reflection, maybe a story, setting the stage, sometimes using the music or something from the news of the week) and then a homily on the passage.  Many weeks there is a litany, a responsive reading, some sort of liturgical/poetic response. (These are very useful, by the way, and could be used or adapted in your own group or church service.)  A few of the chapters are offered by other "Wine Before Breakfast" members and friends. It is truly amazing stuff and I am hard pressed to think of any other book quite like it.  

This self-produced book is a fund-raiser for Walsh's campus outreach there, and we are glad to be able to help him sell it. It is a nicely done project, not widely available.  We hope that as you consider ordering Subversive Christianity or The Advent of Justice you will also consider picking up this, trusting that it will draw you into the extraordinary story John tells of this extraordinary Messiah, fully God, fully human, a suffering servant and healer of the cosmos.  John, who points us to Jesus.  A transforming vision, indeed.

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

October 20, 2014

6 Remarkable Books That Arrived Today at Hearts & Minds -- ON SALE 20% OFF

So I spent some of my extra time today working again on a review that I wanted to improve, to better express my enthusiasm for a book or two by an author I deeply respect and whose new work -- a recently-revised reprint and a new self-published book -- you might not be aware of. Man, I'm eager to release this impassioned review of these pair of powerhouse books.  But then, like Christmas morning, in comes some spectacular new books here at the shop, most which I ordered pre-publication maybe months ago.  When such a truck load of remarkable titles shows up somewhat unexpectedly, I feel almost jittery to tell somebody who cares.

So, I'm skipping my review for now, jumping in and winging this, quickly announcing six brand, spanking new books that we are thrilled to let you know are now available.  And that's not even counting the good stuff that trickled in a few days ago -- the new Mary Oliver poetry volume, the new Christian Wyman release, the eagerly-awaiting, prestigious novel Lila (a sequel to Giliad and Home by Marilynn Robinson) which we've been mentioning.

We have the BookNotes sale thing going on -- 20% off the regular prices which are shown.


Vvanishing grace.jpganishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $22.99  It isn't every day that a Zondervan book gets a wondrous blurb on the back from rock star St. Bono and evangelical popularizer Max Lucado.  Mr. Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace was nearly a landmark book and this could be seen as a long-awaited sequel to that contemporary classic. This new one showcases his trademark journalistic style, story-filled, thoughtful, accessible yet with no fluff. I am confident that it will be very, very compelling.  The back jacket says "Yancey explores how grace can bridge the gap between Christian faith and a world increasingly suspicious of it." Oh my.

There will soon be a DVD curriculum, too, which will be well made and eloquent and which we will stock.

Wwhy suffering.jpghy Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale (FaithWords) $22.00  Many people have wished for a book like this from Ravi, one of the most articulate, thoughtful and elegant apologists of our time. A convert (in his young adult years, after considering many, many world religions and philosophies) from Hinduism, he has been a caring, if rigorous, evangelist.  Not every evangelical leader grapples so honestly with Nietzsche, drawing on Alvin Plantinga and other stunning thought leaders. And (for any old Pittsburgh friends who may be reading) he cites Bill Rowe, who taught for a season at ICS in Toronto.  A great cover, too, for this moving hardback.

JJesus Prom book (good).jpgesus Prom: Life Gets Fun When You Love People Like God Does Jon Weece (Nelson) $16.99  My Nelson sale representative is a good man, and patient with me as I ply him with questions, sometimes needlessly snarky ones, suspicious as I am of some pop evangelical books these days.  "Jesus Prom"?  I almost cussed.  What in the heck does that even mean? And why does a book about Jesus need a disco ball on the cover? My ever-patient salesman pointed out the foreword by Bob Goff, a man I admire immensely. And then he explained that at the heart of this book is the story of a church that holds a full-on, big time prom for students with special needs. I almost cried hearing about it, glad for a church like this, doing stuff like this. Jesus loves people. Wouldn't it make sense, Weece asks, "that those who claim to love Jesus would love the same people Jesus loves?" This central Kentucky church pulls off this extraordinary event, and if Goff says it's the real deal, I believe him. I can't wait to read this, and am eager to promote the new DVD curriculum, too. When Beth and I used to work for an Easter Seal Society Camp in the summers, by the way, dancing with wheelchair-bound kids and young adults at the "Final Banquet" was a highlight of each week and, if truth be told, remains a highlight of my life. This book, I'm telling ya, will touch your heart.

GGod is in the City good.jpgod is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation Shawn Casselberry (Mission Year Life Resources) $17.00  Aww, I've been waiting for this. I hope you know Mission Year, an organization Tony Campolo started back in the day, that invites young adults to take a year to live in community in really rough ghetto neighborhoods, and share life with the poor, walk alongside those who are disenfranchised, and experience God in solidarity there, maybe bringing some fresh gospel light to often broken communities.  A hero/acquaintance of ours, Leroy Barber, was their Executive Director for years, and wrote a book or two that we have truly loved. (I hope you saw my review of Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White...) How folks come to learn neighborliness, and find goodness in raw places has been a theme in Mission Year -- it isn't about suburban college kids coming in to save the lost, poor people.  Shawn Cassleberry is an advocate for God's justice and the current head of Mission Year and this handsome volume (which is really attractively designed, and produced by them as a fund-raiser) looks splendid. 

Whether you live in an urban area or not, this book helps us understand many of our fellow citizens, dissuades us of dumb stereotypes, and will help you appreciate not only the hardships but joys of doing relational ministry in a fallen world. This is a fantastic glimpse into God's work, sort of a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" with guts and grit and true grace. You will thrill to read these stories, be glad for the hard work of these folk, and be glad -- inspired, even! -- that there are such stories afoot in the world. Dr. John Perkins, who wrote the foreword, says "I urge you to read this book. You will be inspired and transformed by what you encounter." Amen.

Jjust mercy.jpgust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00 Speaking of Campolo: years ago we heard Tony tell the story of an African American boy who grew up poor and ended up through God's grace at Harvard Law School.  He could land any prestigious job he wanted, a top-of-the-class black man with such a prestigious degree. The graduate eschewed worldly success and fame and wealth, though, discipled into the ways of Christ as he was, and went back to poor, rural Alabama, and served the oppressed there, working, then, with organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, and helping get those who claimed innocence a fair trail, often off of death row.  A friend of mine and I asked Campolo point blank if this was a real story -- Tony's stories are so flamboyantly told and so very moving the rumor is he makes some of them up (which isn't at all true!) Of course this story was indeed true and the kid's name was Bryan Stevenson. The CCO hosted him at their Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh years ago and even then, some of us realized that Mr. Stevenson was more than the real deal, he was one of the truly great people of our era. (Will he be nominated for something like the Nobel Prize one wonders.)  He now runs the Equal Justice Initiative, and has a deep passion about children who are in jail, cravenly tried as adults.

Just Mercy is his brand new book, carrying extraordinary rave reviews from top literary lights the likes of Desmond Tutu, Tracy Kidder, Michelle Alexander and Isabel Wilkerson, and a stunning quote on the front cover by the best-selling Baptist lawyer, John Grisham. Beth and I were incredibly moved when she saw that this came, feeling the great joy and privilege of carrying such books.  We were glad to see him on the popular back page of Time magazine this week.  I assure you that this will be one of the much-discussed, highly regarded, public affairs books of the year, a man lead to Christian faith who related his convictions to his sense of calling, and now is doing vital, powerful work in the world.  You really should read this book.  See what he says when folks compare him to Atticus Finch, here.

Ddisquet time.jpgisquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani (Jericho Books) $24.00  Well. This will absolutely need a longer review, but know this much: it is a wild and woolly anthology of all sorts of little pieces -- some remarkably well written, some really funny (Susan Isaacs) some a bit snarky (okay, a lot snarky) -- asking whether this or that weird part of the Bible is really so, or may somehow not, or something other, or whatever it all may mean. "The Bible is full of not-so-precious moments" they say (and if that doesn't win you over, you may not get the allusion to those awful little cutesy figurines.) From murder to mayhem to sex and slavery, the Bible is perplexing. Instead of turning a blind eye to the difficult ("and entertaining," they slyly note) passages, these authors take 'em head on.

Eugene Peterson writes the forward which gives this some appropriate gravitas. There are some important authors contributing here (from PCA scholar Stephen Brown to social activist Gareth Higgins to the spunky wordsmith Margot Starbuck.) Some of these folks are fairly conventional and quite thoughtful (Amy Julia Becker, Keith Tanner) and some are a bit edgy (Christian Piatt, Debbie Blue.) There is pathos, too, real honesty, humor, and some writing that you will want to ponder quietly.  And some parts you'll want to read out loud. I've got my advanced reader's copy dog-eared and can't wait to start conversations about some of this. Falsani is an amazing writer herself (and familiar with all kinds of pop culture, the art and the artists), a Wheaton grad, I think, with a bit of an attitude. (And she is the only person that ever confused me with Bruce Cockburn, for which remain bemusedly grateful.) Ms Grant has previously written two good books, one about the process of adopting a daughter, another about raising a family. Despite the throw-back goof-ball cover (although you have to love that depiction of raining frogs) this new release is a great collection, a very interesting book.  And we've got it!



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October 16, 2014

A Quick Listing: 10 Books that Sold Well at Wee Kirk, the Small Church Conference ALL 20% OFF

I hope you saw our Hearts & Minds Facebook page where I thanked the salt of the Earth folksbooks at wee kirk.jpg from small and struggling churches who we served again this year at Wee Kirk -- Scottish Presbyterian-ese for small church. Every year we gather at the great Laurelville Mennonite camp in Mt. Pleasant, PA, and hear great speakers, take in important workshops, and eat lots of food, laughing and worshiping with mostly rural and small town Presbyterians friends.  They buy a lot of books from us, and we thought we'd share a few of the best sellers, or at least some that were nicely discussed.  I have to be quick -- let us know if you have questions, or want other such resources.                                 

Sshrink.jpghrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture Tim Suttle (Zondervan) $16.99  I raved about this from up front, indicating how very well written it was, about how great the foreword by Scot McKnight was, and for all the great pull quotes on nearly every page that are themselves great gems for those who aren't serious readers. It is dedicated to pastors of small churches, and carries endorsements such as this by Chris Smith (author of Slow Church), "Shrink is one of the wisest and most significant evangelical books that I've read in the last decade; it is essential reading for every pastor and church leader!"  I agree. This book is extraordinary, offering critique to our fascination with bigness and growth, and calling us to fidelity and maturity.

Ffail.jpgail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure J.R. Briggs (IVP) $16.00  I have written about this before, and couldn't wait to share with these church leaders the great story behind this, Briggs own dis-ease with the "success" and big-time glitzy visions of so many other church conferences and books and websites.  His own "epic fail" lead to shame and discouragement, and not a few Wee Kirk friends share this sense of rejection and betrayal that comes with ministry failure.  The introduction by Eugene Peterson is wise and good, and if the story of J.R.'s coming to the transforming role of not measuring up to the heroism and big successes of the church-world enterprise can help folks recover from their pain and cope with their disillusionment, we are more than glad to promote this.  It was a big hit, for good reason. Highly recommended.

SSlow Church-Cover1.jpglow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison (IVP) $16.00  Okay, maybe I was a little prideful, showing off when I announced this, since our BookNotes blog was one of the first places to review this amazing book, and we are hosting Chris Smith to speak  here on November 7th.  But my own gushing aside, Wee Kirk folks -- who may or may not have heard of the "slow food movement" -- intuit that church is about quality, not quantity, and that relationships and patience are the way of the Kingdom.  We celebrated this good book, assured the gathering that it was perfect for book clubs and classes in their own small congregations, and -- yes -- it will challenge them, since even small churches often try to row faster, work harder, fret more then they should, trying to give the appearance of success.  This counter-cultural book commends a radical critique of the modernist worldview and the typical American "fast food" franchise habits, re-framing the way we even think about our lives, and re-imagining the very nature of the faith community. Slow Church is one of the most radical church books I've read, utterly faithful, and brilliant.

Abeautiful d.jpg Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness  Marlene Graves (Brazos) $15.99  Two things we find everywhere we go: many people are hurting, or have been through serious anguish in their lives, and people of faith long for greater experiences of God, and are interested in practicing spiritual disciplines which make room for God to work in their lives.  That is, the two things this book is about -- spirituality during hard times -- is exactly what folks need. Marlena (who grew up in rural North-Western Pennsylvania, where many of our Wee Kirk friends are from) has been through a lot, tells her story well, and offers Biblical insight about God making a way in the wilderness.  Beth and I knew it would be a hit.

Llila.jpgila: A Novel Marilynne Robinson (FSG) $26.00 What a joy to let people know that this new book released this very week.  As you hopefully know, it is a new novel, the story about the wife of the pastor in Robinson's beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead.  We sold Gilead, Home, and Lila. That Robinson herself is not only a brilliant storyteller but a Calvin scholar is pretty great. We had announced this as pre-order but Wee Kirk was the first place I got to announce it. Nice.

By the way, we've posted an interview with Ms Robinson at the Facebook page, and there are other good pieces about this important work on line. What a wonderful occasion to celebrate this writer and this new novel.

SSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good.jpgomewhere Safe with Somebody Good Jan Karon (Putnam) $27.95  Of course our small-town church folk loved hearing that there was a new Mitford book, and that we had autographed copies of this handsomely made hardback on hand made it that much better.  Fun. If you order any soon, we'll send a true, autographed copy (no extra cost.) While our supplies last.

Iimagining the kingdom cover.jpgmagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works
James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99   Last year I regaled the Wee Kirk community with the urgency of reading anything by Jamie Smith, and challenged them to dig deep into the important Desiring the Kingdom. You can imagine how glad I was when one of the workshop leaders (doing a class on preaching) mentioned this sequel to it each time in her presentations.  This is serious, meaty, and one of the most important books on worship in ages.

Ffeasting on the word Advent Companion.jpgeasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship  edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (Westminster/John Knox) $25.00  Of course at any gathering where there are clergy, we take all four volumes of the Feasting on the World lectionary preaching series for whichever year we are in or approaching (we are approaching Year B, starting in Advent.)  We take the Feasting on the Word Worship Resources and Daily Feast, the compact, faux-leather, daily devotional based on these same lectionary-based resources.  This one is spectacular, with lectionary exegesis for preaching, worship aids, children's sermon ideas, Advent and Christmas hymn ideas, suggestions for mid-week services, etc. We sold a lot of Advent resources, but was struck by how popular this new volume was. 

Mmercy & Melons.jpgercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet: Thanking God for All Good Gifts, A to Z
Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $15.99  Lisa is nearly a neighbor to some of the Wee Kirk gang, and even for those who do not know her they have recalled that we had promoted her creative proposal for creative Bible study, Writing in the Margins, last year (with a contest of people who could show us their own scribbled-in, marked up Bibles.) This year, I explained about just how very lovely and very eloquent and very moving this new set of meditations is. I'm glad we've told you about it here before, but thought you should know how popular it was at this gathering.  How 'bout that tag-line? "Thanking God for All Good Gifts, A to Z" which wonderfully links the so-called sacred and secular.

Llong walk to freedom.jpgong Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela Nelson Mandela (Back Bay Books) $18.00  There was a wonderful workshop by a bold urban activist (and dean of student life at Pittsburgh Theological seminary, John Walsh) comparing and drawing on the social ethics of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela for our own contemporary social problems.  Despite the reality that most small churches in this region are primarily white, and not particularly political liberal, these good folks wanted to learn more about racism, poverty and resistance to injustice. Mandela's huge memoir was a national best-seller and the basis of a powerful movie. The Los Angeles Times Book Review reviewer said, "Irresistible. One of the few political autobiographies that's also a page-turner."  The Financial Times raved, "One of the most extraordinary political tales of the twentieth century... for anyone interested in the genesis of greatness."  Many have put it on their life-long, best-ever, must-read lists. Three cheers!



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October 9, 2014

REVIEW: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Scot McKnight ON SALE

If you've recently dropped in to the Hearts & Minds Facebook page, you'll know we were just in Boston selling books with the Christian Legal Society, a fascinating organization of Christians who are lawyers, judges, law profs and such.  This is a large challenge and huge privilege for us.  When we work with these kinds faith-based professional associations or hang out with activist folks, we are glad for their ministries and service, scattered in the world. That God's Kingdom is advanced in some way through their witness and work - or at least signposts are created that point the way - seems evident and reminds us that God cares about God's whole world, not just the institutional church where believers gather. God's people are still church even when they leave the worship space, where they've first processed to gather, and then been commissioned to leave in service. It is obvious that the commonwealth of God grows - like that parable of the tree flourishing so that even the birds find refuge - and that the Kingdom of God is a unifying theme of the entire covenant story of Scripture.

 But what is God's Kingdom? 

Thanks for asking. It's a million dollar question, and we've got a new book that explores it well.  Unless one is willing to settle for an undeveloped simple view, or work to wade through weighty theology tomes, this may be one of the best ways into this important conversation.

We are very excited about the new Brazos Press hardback release, Kingdomkingdom conspiracy.jpg Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Dr. Scot McKnight (regularly $21.95; our BookNotes sale price is $17.60) and want to commend it to you.  But first, some of my own thoughts about it, such as they are.

One the large assumptions behind the nature of our store and the diverse array of topics we offer -- books on science, art, media, education, psychology, environmental science, war and peace, politics, film, outdoor adventure, engineering, urban affairs, parenting, nutrition, literature, and so much more -- is that the redemptive work of God in the world (Jesus called it the Kingdom of God) includes all areas of life (not just church and "religion") and He has inaugurated a trajectory that promises the full and glorious restoration of all creation.  I think it is our wide selection of books in so many categories, and our hope to suggest "Kingdom perspectives" in all fields that appeals to those who invite us to serve their events, like the aforementioned CLS.  If somebody asks us why we carry books on faith and law or faith and art or faith and science, we suspect they simply don't have a very fully developed understanding of the Kingdom of God.

There are many authors who in recent years have underscored this vision of the reformation of all things (think of N.T. Wright, just for instance, or our celebration of the For the Life of the World DVDs.) Many mainline denominational churches have an implicit vision of the restoration of all things, but seem a bit embarrassed by eschatology, not wanting to get mixed up in any goofy "left behind" stuff. So their own best resources for an "all of life redeemed" whole-life discipleship lie too often undeveloped or untapped.

One of our favorite authors along these lines who does offer a wide and wholistic vision is the remarkably productive New Testament scholar Scot McKnight. His excellent Kingking jesus.gif Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Zondervan; $19.99) and the very useful, fun, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan; $14.99) are both fine books. Both offer this broad Kingdom vision and are very helpful as we explore how to bear witness to the coming Kingdom "on Earth as it is in Heaven."  His book on how to read the Bible well, Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan; $14.99) offers the very story of God's faithfulness to the creation, and Christ's redemptive story to heal and restore all things, as the key to read the plot line of the Bible.  He really gets this big picture story of God's creation-restoring good news. (McKnight's very popular Jesus Creed, by the way, was just re-released in an updated and slightly edited edition; that guide helps us live out the way of Jesus in daily life, learning to love God and others - wow, what a book!)


Many of us have been wishing for McKnight to spell out more of what he means by the Kingdom, what the reign of God is and isn't, sort of a deeper follow-up to the very good King Jesus Gospel.  This brand new Brazos Press book, Kingdom Conspiracy, may be his best effort yet. Despite my own disagreement with its biggest conclusion, it is going to be very, very helpful and we are happy to help promote it.  It is a book that loyal Hearts & Minds friends, especially, should consider owning.  It is very seriously informed by wide reading of the best scholarship - how does McKnight do it, knowing so much about so many sub-categories? -- and offers learned, but clear and interesting explanations.  It is a fine, fine book.


Without a doubt, Mr. McKnight is sounding a bit of an alarm, and insofar as he is truly picking up concerns, I applaud his calling us to better formulations.  I don't know how many people really say this, but McKnight seems to think that some writers and leaders believe that any good effort in the world -- say, a social justice campaign or deeds of public righteousness, mercy, art, kindness, seeking the peace of the city -- necessarily builds God's Kingdom.  He claims that many younger post-evangelicals, especially (and he should know, he teaches them at Northern Seminary and is exceptionally involved in on-line writing and discussion) are not dissimilar to the older (mostly bankrupt) social gospel movement that seemed to think any decent human action could be considered a mark of the reign of God and in some way redemptive. God's Kingdom a-coming was so combined with the hopes of human progress that serious consideration of salvation, the role of the cross, and the necessity of the church was pretty much left behind. In that view, which McKnight cleverly calls the "skinny jeans" view of the Kingdom, there is such an emphasis on cultural engagement and social witness that there isn't much concern about evangelism or personal piety.  He contrasts this, perhaps with a nod to Willow Creek baby boomers, with the "pleated pants" gospel, which, as you can guess, overemphasizes personal evangelism and conventional views of constricted salvation aimed at getting people to heaven and perhaps a moralistic view of one's inner life.

(Of course there are also old school fundamentalists with a conservative, narrow faith who wear skinny jeans, and there are some pretty radical voices coming from guys in pleated pants. So, yeah, his clever set-up is only somewhat helpful, as if age or aesthetics were the determining factor as to whether one has a typically liberal view of a social gospel or a more typical evangelical view of a privatized one. These caricatures do help get the conversation started, at least, so don't let that trip you up. Skinny jeans or pleated pants.  Ha.)

In contrast to both kinds of wardrobe malfunctions (that's my little contribution to the cleverness afoot) Scot wants to say clearly that the Kingdom of God is more than personal salvation or the promise of a heavenly afterlife, but he also insists it is more than working for social justice, much more.  In The Kingdom Conspiracy, McKnight covers Biblical and theological ground that others have explored, although he brings his own urgent angle. The must-read book on this part of the story in my view is the impeccable Good News and Good Works: A Theology of the Whole Gospel by Ronald J. Sider (Baker; $20.00) which, interestingly, insists that the theme of the Kingdom of God is the central Biblical motif that brings together the personal and the public, word and deed, spiritual renewal and social action.

Still, in every age we need reminded of the epic tragedy of this terrible dilemma, this tendency for so many towards imbalance. How sad that there are still those that are all about social concern but care little for winsome evangelism, or those who ignore our cultural obligations and social witness due to their overemphasis of church planting or evangelism or spiritual formation. It seems easy to say it is "all of the above" and proclaim "the whole gospel."  Ahh, but it isn't so easy to convince everyone who follows Christ that it is "both/and" and that the gospel is multi-faceted, and the Kingdom is creation-wide.  Which brings us back to this question of what we mean by the Kingdom, the reign of God, Christ's Lordship, God's will done "on Earth... " And -- wait for it, there's more... and there is the questions of the relationship between the Kingdom and the church.  As you can tell from the subtitle of McKnight's book, this is his biggest burden.

IMcKnight - KC.pngn this very contemporary assessment, our author is convinced that both the Biblical material and the needs of the day demand that we reassert the primacy of the local church as being the crucible of the Kingdom.  Yes, yes, the Kingdom of God is the longed for creation restored, and Christ's Lordship is to be proclaimed (and lived out) in all of life, across all of culture. The weight of the argument of The Kingdom Conspiracy, though, is that this happens through the local church.

Even now, I can imagine eyes rolling as some readers say - well, duh; of course. For others, I can hear the possibilities of them buying this book slamming shut from States away. Those pleated pants and skinny jeans are acting up again, resisting McKnight's challenges, even though both camps really need to consider this book. We all do.

Again, to be clear, this isn't a new idea. It seems to me that it has resonance in one way or another with both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions and with the Anabaptist views of the Brethren and Mennonites.) Consider, for instance, the exceptionally important work of Catholic Scripture scholar Gerhard Lohfink and his massive, celebrated work, Does God Need the Church? (Michael Glazier Books; $39.99) a title that McKnight surprisingly doesn't cite. Think of lovely recent books like Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (IVP; $16.00) that surely have a culturally-engaged, socially involved Kingdom vision, but put the locus of God's redemptive work within the community of faith living together in a world falling apart. (By the way, co-author of Slow Church, Christopher Smith will be here in Dallastown for a book talk on Friday night, November 7, 2014.)

Another personal favorite, a wonderful book that needs mentioned here is The Community of the King by Howard Snyder (IVP; $18.00.) It remains one of my all-time favorite books, and certainly one of the best on the local church, and he argues that the church, while not the entirety of the Kingdom coming, is at the heart of it.  McKnight agrees, and his willingness to assert this clearly is a large, important gift.  It is a good book about the Kingdom of God, but he laments our recent Kingdom visions to be somehow unconnected to the work of the church.



Some of us who have encouraged followers of Christ to have a prophetic imagination and Christian mind about all manner of things -- all spheres of life are being redeemed and we must be "kingdom people" in all we do, after all -- have drawn on the reformational worldview of what some call neo-Calvinism.

(Please note that neo-Calvinism is a theological tradition and social movement these days stemming from the feisty and wholistic cultural reforms of the Dutch theologian of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a journalist, academic, statesman, and Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper and is not the same as the popular, strict "new Calvinism" which is how some journalists describe the recent gospel coalition of those new to older forms of Calvinism and Puritanism. Neo-Calvinists are those who make much of the wide-as-life, creation-regained vision of renewed thinking in the line of the Dutch public theologian Kuyper; neo-Calvinism is the wholistic creation-being-redeemed vision that informs important voices as diverse as Francis Schaeffer and Brian Walsh, Neal Plantinga and Richard Mouw, Nicholas Woltersdorff and Calvin Seerveld, Herman Dooyeweerd and James Skillen, Anthony Bradley and Al Wolters, Comment magazine and Jamie Smith. I name these authors to offer further hints, spots on the map, for whom these names might ring a bell.)

It is a fascinating aspect of Kingdom Conspiracy that Scot McKnight interacts with this tradition, realizing that his Anabaptist vision is at odds with this reformational heritage.  You see, if, as Kuyper explored and as most neo-Calvinists proclaim, Christ's Kingship includes all dimensions of life and all zones of cultural affairs, then non-church spheres are every bit as much as God's Kingdom as is the churchly sphere.  Bankers and teachers and dancers and engineers are as much priests as are, well, priests in the church.

McKnight seems to realize that some form of Kuyperianism is capturing the imaginations of many these days (Andy Crouch's wonderful CT review of For the Life of the World was titled "Kuyper Goes Pop") and McKnight seems to realize that a robust creation-regained worldviewish vision of the Kingdom incarnated in all of life is one excellent way out of the dilemmas posed by the inadequacies of the individualized traditional gospel of the pleated pants crowd and the socially engaged emerging faith of the skinny jeans tribes.  And so, he takes on this ascending perspective. 

He briefly examines Mouw's delightful little book on Kuyper (Abraham Kuyper: A Shortabraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpg and Personal Introduction; Eerdmans; $16.00) and ponders "Kuyperian secularism." In a footnote he applauds Steve Garber's splendid book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) calling it "important" but suggests it doesn't talk enough about the church, a fault he attributes to Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00) as well.

I point this out because I know that some of our BookNotes readers will be glad for this conversation, and will want to follow the discussions prompted by McKnight's re-assessment of Kingdom theology.  It is great to see a good thinker and writer of McKnight's stature (and popularity) grappling with these themes of neo-Calvinism that have so influenced some of our favorite thinkers and writers and leaders.

Allow me a big aside, a story which might help you unpack this a bit, if you don't intuit where this is going. Or at least it might clarify my concerns with the implications of this.

I mentioned my appreciation for the great book The Community of the King by thec of the k.gif radical Wesleyan Howard J. Snyder.  I'm glad that book is still in print, and I still recommend it regularly.

You may want to know that it was the second book I ever reviewed in a real magazine, a brief review appearing in Sojourners back in the 70s.  I suggested, however, after glowing remarks, that to insist that the Kingdom is mostly found in the supportive relationships within the local fellowship, the church, is to not only to fail to enunciate the wide-as-creation scope of Christ's Kingdom, but to fail church members by not adequately honoring the complexity of their callings to work in the world, outside the proverbial walls of the sanctuary.  I took Snyder to task, as I recall, for telling the story of his friend and parishioner Archie, a good man and fine grocer, with nary a word of his Kingdom obligations as a grocer. From where does he buy his food, how does he work with vendors that mistreat their migrant workers, what is his role in the global food industry of cash cropping? How does Archie educate consumers about chemical additives and such? What does it look like to be a Christian grocer, not just a grocer who happens to be a good churchman? One person replied to me in a letter, those decades ago, suggesting I was nuts.  Another thought I was needlessly hard on old Archie.

Well, perhaps God has caused the stones to rise up, like Jesus predicted, since we now have a major culture movement about these very things, concerns about GMOs and healthy food and fresher produce and fair trade, most of which have been raised by folk not known for their Christian religiosity.  If the Kingdom is conflated with the church, you see, and the church therefore minimizes member's work in the world as holy vocations, we end up with a disconnect between Sunday and Monday, and guys like Archie, good church members that they may be, fail to create wholesome grocery stores, fail to fight for innovations in the supply chain, for more sustainable policies, for fair treatment of migrants, etc. etc.  Whole Foods has done that, of course, and the Biblical God of the renewed creation is pleased, I'm sure, although Christ should have gotten the glory.  This critique of over-emphasizing the communal/relational/liturgical aspects of the local church, a (minor) frustration with Community of the King remains my concern with the present McKnight volume.  He may criticize Crouch, Garber, Mouw, or Kuyper, but what does he say to Archie the Grocer?  He is right to poke the paucity of the skinny jeans kingdom and the old social gospel. But can his favored sources -- Yoder, say, or Hauerwas, even -- provide an account of Christian discipleship in the world that allows folks to make sense of their workplaces, their citizenship, their engagement with the arts, with entertainment and leisure, with the structures of media and technology that surround them? Without a full-orbed Kingdom vision, will a churchy faith enable us to make noble sacrifices promoting a prophetic imagination in these late modern capitalist times? Or does a vision of the Kingdom tied so closely to the church necessarily call us and our interests out of the institutions of life, and unwittingly promote an escapist pseudo-gospel?  I know McKnight does not intend for his church-based Kingdom approach to have this effect.  I cannot see how it would not.

Scot McKnight-Image.pngOf course, McKnight mostly expounds the Scriptures, and this is mostly rich, good stuff. I was thrilled reading much of this, and learned quite a lot by looking at his sources, his good footnotes and the two fabulous appendices. Along the way he reflects helpfully on the strengths and weaknesses of the old evangelical left and the Christian right, he explores the work of Tom Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, Rauschenbusch and the social gospel, James K.A. Smith, Brian Blount, and many more who have offered hints at the nature of the Kingdom and the relationship between the Kingdom and the local church. We always need reminded of "the Constantinian temptation" and in this, McKnight's project isn't unrelated to the much-discussed To Change the World by James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press; $27.95.)  Again, I like that he tweaks both the "skinny jeans gospel" of recent missional hipsters, and the "pleated pants gospel" of the mega-church baby boomers - fully aware (I think, anyway) that these are playful caricatures and goofy foils for his case. But with that, he leads us to a more full-orbed and Biblically-solid explanation of the Kingdom and the centrality of the church gathered.

So, his case, again, is two-fold: In contrast to the inadequate formulations of the exclusively personalistic or social gospels, he offers a robust, multi-dimensional, incarnational, wholistic Kingdom that is Christ-centered and promissory about the renewal of the cosmos. But he further insists, then, that this Kingdom of God a-coming is, in fact, seen most clearly in the moral community called the local church. "Kingdom mission creates communities of the redeemed" he insists.  So, if you aren't a church planter, well, I guess your work isn't related to the Kingdom of God. You know that lovely and provocative For the Life of the World we have been promoting?  Forgetaboutit.

Okay, sorry -- I'm being a little facetious. You'll have to read it yourself to see if I'm being fair. He deserves a fair reading, as he is a good author and important writer and this is his most significant work in years.

I will admit that I love reading nearly anything on the gospel and anything that helps us understand and love and promote the gospel is good. And McKight has always been a very reliable guide for me. (He has a book on Mary, a book on fasting, a book on the Sermon on the Mount, and more.) 

McKnight  inspires us with missional energy and visionary hopes and big dreams - note the word "radical" in the subtitle - even if he constricts the scope of the Kingdom and seems therefore to minimize the significance of so much of what ordinary lay people do in their day to day (non-church) life. Yet, I trust McKnight on this because, in his aforementioned books, he elevates the "one life" we live, in Christ, relating faith to our work, politics, recreation, sexuality and more. I don't know if his view of the Kingdom which is so thoroughly offered here will erode the importance of his books on whole-life discipleship like One.Life but it seems like it might. (If the church is really where it's at, the locus of the Kingdom, then, really, why must we fuss so much about public theology and aesthetics and justice and living faithfully across the many zones of life?)

This is a question I've hosted since the late-1970s when I studied both Richard Mouw (a Dutch Kuyperian) and the late John Howard Yoder (a Mennonite, who has influenced McKnight) as they engaged in Reformed/Anabaptist discussions about the role of creation and creation's order in our views of redemption and the vocation of being "in but not of" the world of the fallen powers.  I've heard Mouw tell how the distinctions between he and Yoder were once summarized when Yoder said, "Mouw, you always want to say reality is created, but fallen, but I want to say it is fallen but created." Ponder that!

The relationship of faith and real life, church and world, Kingdom and creation, Christ and culture, remains a burning question for me, and I think they are a constellation of questions that are some of the most burning for the church of our era, at least in the West. (McKnight certainly agrees that these matters are urgent, and he has followed the debate and contributed to it, as well as most. In The Kingdom Conspiracy he mentions many public theologians who grapple with these matters, influential thinkers as diverse as Miroslov Volf and Os Guinness, Walter Wink and Nicholas Woltersdorff; he discusses books such as the recently-re-issued Resident Aliens by William Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas.)  This is a living conversation that gets to the heart of what the Bible teaches, what Jesus said and meant, and what we mean by being Christians "for the life of the world" as the recent, popular DVD by that name asks.  McKnight's view of the Kingdom, it may seem, would resonate with the last episode of FLOW, which reminds us that the weekly gathered community worshiping together is a rehearsal of the wide-as-creation restoration that is promised. Church is, finally, eschatological.  Or at least I think that is what he'd say...

So, a few big thumbs up to the always-interesting Doc McKnight. Kudos for this good work, the inspiring reminder that the local church has a huge role to play in the "radical mission" of the Kingdom of God.

Still, as I've already suggested, I think he gets it wrong, here, or at least he overstates his case, but geesh, in these days, inviting people to church certainly isn't that bad of a fault (as long as it doesn't devolve into a fetish about churchy stuff and fail to equip the laity to serve in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and such.) Despite Kingdom Conspiracy being so very important, so very insightful in so many ways, so very interesting to read, I still want to insist that the local church need not be over-emphasized and our view of the Kingdom should be as wide as the Bible says it is - "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof!"  McKnight is a careful and generous scholar, and his serious, exciting book deserves to be studied carefully (and reviewed seriously, more seriously than I am able to do here.)

The blurbs on the back are notable and serious --- Soong Chan Rah reminds us that

the misappropriation of faddish terms can be an unfortunate reality for American Christians. The casual manner in which we toss around phrases like "kingdom theology" and "missional churches" can have an adverse effect on our efforts to form a robust ecclesiology... With prescient analysis and pastoral insight, Scot McKnight succeeds in providing a scriptural and theological text for those who have heard the word so often but failed to think through its meaning.

Greg Boyd says,

McKnight brings much-needed clarity to what 'kingdom of God' means -and doesn't mean - and how it relates to the church and its mission. This book needs to be read by everyone - scholars and laypeople alike - who want to understand and consistently live out what it means to be a follower of King Jesus.

I am glad for any author that calls us to church: to deeper liturgy, to worship well, to intentional body life, to parish commitments, to congregational revitalization. Yes, of course! We are confident that this is an important book that is sure to deepen your understanding of the Bible and contemporary theological trends, and make you think - hopefully with others - about the purpose of our discipleship, what it means to be Kingdom people, and the joy and implications of the Lordship of Christ, in the church and, yes, in the world.


Although they deserve much more time and space to review fairly, here are two other great books that came to mind as I wrote this, one quite new, one newly released in paperback:

Jjoy to the world greg forster.jpgoy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It  Greg Forster (Crossway) $18.99  When reading McKnight and his concerns about the hipster skinny jeans gospel that emphasizes social reform to the exclusion of evangelism or sound doctrine (not to mention his concern about the cheesy pleated pants gospel of merely personal salvation with little concern about betterment of the world or social reform) This is an amazing book and despite the fun retro cover, has little to do with any romantic return to the 50s.  With a stellar, foreword by rigorous Manhattan pastor Tim Keller, this offers ruminations on the cultural mandate, the Kingdom coming in all of life, the promise of restoration and hope, all inspired by lines from that marvelous hymn by Isaac Watts. 

I love the Timothy George quote on the back of Joy to the World: "This book is against sequestration - the sequestration of Christian life into 'spiritual' enclaves and churchly ghettos. But it also wants to the church to be the church - uncompromised, vibrant, and filled with joy." Our friend Amy Sherman notes that "Forster's deft grasp of history, philosophy, and theology enables him to offer up this rigorous yet accessible book."  Forster (PhD, Yale University) is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation, a socially engaged organization, even as he affirms the central role of the church. He laments that the church has lost its culture-shaping voice and civilizational influence.  He draws on the vivid and very public language of Joy to the World, where the "Earth receives her King" and blessings flow "far as the curse is found."  What would McKnight say about this?  How is McKnight's view of the Kingdom different than Forster's?

Texplicit-gospel.pnghe Explicit Gospel  Tim Chandler (Crossway) $14.99 I will admit that I love reading nearly anything on the gospel and anything that helps us understand and love and promote the gospel is good.  Chandler is a passionate young pastor of a successful Reformed church plant in Texas, and is a person who is increasingly known and respected. (That he recovered from a dangerous brain tumor is a great blessing. His latest book, btw, is a great study of Philippians, To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain.) We should always be immersing ourselves in these conversations - just what is the gospel, why did Jesus so regularly describe the gospel as the gospel of the Kingdom and what does that mean and look like?  We should so value Christ and his beauty and his saving work that we are explicit about our commitments. Ahh, but, again: what is the gospel about which we are to be explicit.  

This wonderful book compares and contrasts and holds in tension a mostly individual gospel understood mostly through systematic theology which unpacks atonement/justification and the more wholistic gospel of cultural restoration based on the Biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption-restoration. He wisely explains what happens when faith communities (or individuals, I suppose) dig too deeply into a personalized gospel of personal salvation without the Biblically-required vision of the Kingdom.  And, similarly, he shows how some of those who proclaim the full gospel of the Kingdom soon neglect central theological truths (about salvation, about the cross) dreaming big dreams of a renewed creation.  His point is clear: we need both vocabularies and both approaches to b speak about the Kingdom and the gospel as the Bible does. This isn't exactly the "pleated pants gospel vs. the skinny jeans gospel" of McKnight; as Chandler portrays these two ways in to the understanding of the gospel, both are strong, faithful, solid approaches (at their best.) We need to talk about Christ as simultaneously as savior and Lord; the good news includes personal salvation and cosmic hope. The Explicit Gospel would be a good book to frame why McKnight is so concerned about sloppy appropriation of Kingdom language and missional projects that are unhinged from the local church and confused about the nature of salvation, renewal, restoration and the like.   



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September 27, 2014

10 Great New Books Briefly Explained - ON SALE - 20% OFF

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Thanks for caring about Hearts & Minds, a cluttered, book-loving, indie, brick-and-mortar retail store with a handful of friendly staff in Dallastown, PA. We are glad for your on-line business and hope you are happy that this BookNotes blog ends up in your inbox (if you have subscribed, that is. Please do if you haven't.) 

We continually get new items in, and only a few get listed here.  We wish we could convey our enthusiasm for these wonderful resources that fill our shop. For now, here's a quick look at a handful.

We do hope that if you find something of interest here that you will send the orders our way.  That's only fair, eh? We're at your service and remain very, very grateful.  Happy reading.

Mercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet: Thanking God for All Good Gifts from A to Z  Lisamercy & Melons.jpg Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $15.99  You may recall how we raved and promoted Lisa Hickman's earlier book Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible (Abingdon; $16.99)(for which I had the great privilege of penning the forward, by the way.) We knew she was a colorful writer and a good, if a bit unconventional, artisan of generative Bible study, but I was still unexpected for the wonderfully creative lines that flow from her pen, here.  Yes, the very "praying the alphabet" format, and the lovely design itself, are fantastic, a rare idea and beautiful execution that is almost certainly not duplicated elsewhere.  But the writing -- what a joy to behold! Wow.

I haven't been going through it A to Z, actually, but dipping in at my heart's content, and the serendipity has been wonderful.  Hickman weaves together in each devotional essay a theological theme and a more mundane topic, although in her hands, the sacred and seemingly secular are not at odds, making it sometimes  hard to tell which topic is supposed to be the theological one.  She writes about "Down Comforters and Doubt" and "Grasshoppers and Glory" and "Imagination and Icicles" and "Justice and Jello."  Z is a wonderful entry -- "Zin and Zinnias" (do you know where Zin is in the Bible?) Her prose about the ordinary stuff of life is fantastic, and her linking these topics/items with theological themes or phrases is just brilliant.  I could tell you which I've most loved most so far, but you will have to discover these yourself. If you like things that come together, clever word-play, connecting the cosmic dots, you will love this.  "Soap and Sanctification" as a guide to prayer?  Indeed.  

Rev. Lisa Nichols Hickman is an adjunct teacher in the Religion Department at Westminster College and is a pastor at new Wilmington Presbyterian Church. She writes regularly for Faith and Leadership on line magazine, as well as its "Call and Response" blog. If you are drawn to this, you should buy two copies of Mercy & Melons, one for yourself, and another one which you will surely want to share almost as soon as you start reading it.  

Dwell: Life With God for the World  Barry D. Jones (IVP/Forge) $16.00  This certainly deserves adwell.jpg longer review than I want to give it here, and I am confident that it will be receiving a Hearts & Minds year's end "Best Book of 2014" award -- it is certainly that good.  And that important.  With a great foreword by Michael Frost, this wonder book makes the case that with all of our talk about being missional, we are often missing the need for being intentional about our inner formation (or, conversely, with those who are most interested about our interior lives and spirituality, often unhinge these from the missional project of God's redemptive work in the world.) So we often get it wrong, imbalanced at best. This is age old stuff -- I've written before about my own fascination with authors like Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer who have written profoundly about the relationship between what Betty O'Connor used to call "the journey inward and the journey outward."  Yes, Psalm 24:1 reminds us that all of the Earth is the Lord's and the "fullness thereof." This implies that God shows up everywhere, and that our redemption is -- as the popular Acton Institute DVD puts it For the Life of the World. This is a book that made me think about holy worldiness, about incarnational spirituality, about mystical earthiness, about what another author calls "missional spirituality."  It is so, so good!

That FLOW DVD, by the way, has become our biggest selling item of the year!  This Dwell book is a fantastic follow up, inviting us to "dwell" as we incarnate the ways of God in God's world. It is very well written, offers fresh insights and important wisdom about the nexus of living with God, in the world, with creative, valuable content.   Perhaps soon I will outline the ten great chapters, beautiful, good stuff, but for now, please know this is a wonderful book about spirituality, Christian living, Kingdom vision, and how we can incarnate in stories, practices and disciplines "an approach to Christian formation and discipleship that doesn't neglect our individual person-hood but sets it in a missional context." Not either/or but both/and, and that doesn't even do this justice.  Hooray.  

Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth Mike Cosper - foreword by TimStories We Tell.jpg Keller (Crossway) $15.99  I will be brief: I adored this book, so enjoyed it, thought it was one of the very best books exploring pop culture that I've read in a long while.  Some (like the must read Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William D. Romanowski) are broad and lay the Biblical basis for thinking faithfully about the popular arts.  Others examine certain films or trends within pop culture -- I hope you know David Dark's extraordinary Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons which is my favorite example of this.) This new one, though, Stories We Tell, has an exceptionally clear and well balanced framework, is both pious and open-minded, celebrating the imagination God has given us and our disposition to tell and enjoy stories.  Ponder the subtitle a bit -- this so rich. But it also spends most of its time looking at TV shows, past and present, and is as up to date as any book like this, including some ruminations on current reality shows.  The cover -- that retro look with an old TV and a cheesy Jesus statue -- is maybe supposed to appeal to the hip or ironic, but please know that this is a truly earnest, insightful, joy-filled and very helpful book that is very current.  Given how much time people spend watching TV and movies, I think this is a very important resource to have around.

Mike Cosper has already given us a fantastic book on worship (Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel) which shows his familiarity with narrative theology -- the short-hand of talking about creation/fall/redemption/restoration -- which also reveals how he enjoys pop music and the arts. His love for TV and movies is truly evident here, which is part of the goodness of this book.  He not only gets the broad, worldview-ish critical engagement piece, but he enjoys the stories that come at us, the higher-powered more intellectual ones and lower-brow, silly stuff, too.  Author Karen Swallow Prior (whose own thoughtful memoir about reading called Booked is a personal fav) calls it charitable, wise, and generous. Yes it is! You should read this book!  You should give it to anybody you know who likes TV and film, or anybody who really has a bone to pick with the artists in pop culture.  His gospel-centered grid, his good, Biblical wisdom, and his passion for stories makes him a great author for this vital topic.

Sslowing-time-cover-bookmark.jpglowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door Barbara Mahany (Abingdon) $15.99  The important industry journal Publishers Weekly said this was one of the top 10 books of the fall (in the "religion" category) and that made me eager to see it.  Abingdon has been doing some very lush, well-written, interesting books of late (think of Debbie Blue's breathtaking Birds of the Bible or the two books, mentioned above, by Lisa Nichols Hickman, or the wonderfully little book on prayer called The Book of Not So Common Prayer by Linda McCullough Moore; I think editor Lil Copan and wordsmith Lauren Winner have something to do this glorious output.)

Anyway, this is truly an original work, offering litanies and prayers, poems and observations, essays and recipes, reflection ideas and action steps (and even some lines in italics running along the bottom edge of the back, a curious design feature) all nicely arranged by the season of the year. This really is a book one can live with through a year.  Barbara Mahany is a devout Catholic, a very good writer, with a large capacity, it seems, to see stuff; to attend. Rabbi Evan Moffic says, that she "writes with the eyes of a sculptor and the ear of a poet." Mahany has been a writer for the Chicago Tribune  -- often talking about her family and their making a way in the world that is sane and good -- and this shows her journalistic chops quite nicely.  "Bracingly honest and heart-achingly daring, she explores the sacred mysteries with a voice that is recognizable and clear."  Slow down, realize the beauty and wonder of the ordinary, take heart.  This is "balm for the hurried heart." And it has seasonal recipes!

From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian's Discovery of the Global Christian Story Mark A. Noll From Every Tribe and Nation- A Historian's Discovery.jpg(Baker Academic) $19.99  I have raved about this unfolding series of books before; this new one is the third in the "Turning South" series, which tells the stories of "Christian scholars in an age of world Christianity." First up was Journey Towards Justice, the fabulous memoir/argument by Nicholas Wolterstorff who told passionately of how he came to take up his work as a political philosopher, inspired by meeting suffering Christians in Palestine and South Africa. Next was Reading a Different Story: A Christian Scholar's Journey from America to Africa a wonderful, slim book by literature professor Susan VanZanten who wrote wonderfully about her coming to appreciate the stories of the developing world. This new one shows how this leading historian, by offering his own personal account, has come to do his work, and particularly his recent work on the global Christian story.  Rave, rave, reviews grace the back, from Richard Mouw, George Marsden, Philip Jenkins and Robert Louis Wilken. Who knew that Noll was such a good storyteller -- he tells of his own boyhood growing up Baptist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, his early love of baseball, and, now, to his groundbreaking work on global faith. 

Philip Jenkins says of it, "Yes, I'm prejudiced. I know that any new book by Mark Noll is undoubtedly a cause for excitement, both for myself and anyone interesting in the history of Christianity. I am especially delighted in From Every Tribe and Nation, which takes the literature on world Christianity to a whole new level."  

True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World David Skeel (IVP/Veritas)True Paradox- How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World .jpg $15.00  I admire this legal scholar, a Presbyterian professor of Corporate law at University of Pennsylvania Law School. (Not too shabby, eh?) who has often engaged in thoughtful forums on campuses, nicely representing Biblical notions of goodness, justice, tolerance, and truth.  He's a very impressive guy.

I admit, though, that I was afraid this might be rather dense, too detailed, arcane, even.  Alas, what a delight -- this is an exceptionally well written, clear-headed, yet almost anguished plea to not "dumb down" the questions of meaning and faith, appealing to all sorts of thoughtful readers.  Not only does Skeel relish paradoxes, he notes that the complexity of reality is something for which we simply must give an authentic account. And here's the kicker: both traditional older-school apologetics -- defending the truth, making cases that demand verdicts, proving the reliability of the Bible and such -- and the outspoken new atheists, each have a view of truth and reality that is, well, finally unrealistic. That is, complexity and paradox are truly part of our experience. Could it be that this itself is a signal of transcendence, that the gospel itself points us towards a vision/story/worldview that helps us live into this curious aspect of our existence? 

We need not deny the complexities of life.  As it says on the back cover, "they can lead us to the possibility that the existence of God could make sense of it all."  Rave reviews on the back are from evangelical historian Mark Noll, Catholic social and policy activist John J. Dilulio, and a former editorial board member of the New York Times. Winsome, smart, profound, this is a very fine, approach book about life's biggest mysteries, and how best to respond to our complex world. And thank goodness for this small Veritas Forum imprint of thoughtful books coming from IVP.  Kudos!

Lean On Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community Anne Marie Millerlean-on-me-anne-jackson-marie-miller.jpg (Nelson) $15.99  Some of us know Anne Marie Miller as the former Anne Jackson, who wrote the funny, fabulous, helpful book on the epidemic of church leader's burn-out called Mad Church Disease and the engaging, even horrific at times, yet wonderful collection of stories (and art pieces) of things people feel they couldn't share in church, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace. This book seems to be the natural follow up to these two, and posits -- in her beautiful, winsome, engaging style -- that real community is the antidote to burnout and shame, exhaustion and loneliness. In other words, in religious institutions where "mad church disease" is so prevalent, and yet where we are discouraged from talking about our brokenness, fears, or foibles, we simply have to re-doubled our efforts to seek grace-filled, Christ-centered, life-giving friendships. It says on the back cover, "we live in a world and a generation where the world 'community' is often discussed. But how genuine and authentic are your relationships, really? Miller noticed an important tension all of us must recognize in order to have life-giving friendships. "We desperately want to belong yet as the same time, we yearn for independence."  Yeah, there's that.  I am very glad that Anne has attempted to tackle this.  She's gonna tell it like it is, I'm sure.

There is little doubt in my mind that "community" is one of the most urgent topics of our day.  Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine Pohl (Eerdmans; $20.00) is the serious gold standard in this category, but it may be a bit too heady for some to wade through. Life Together (HarperOne; $14.99) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written under the threat of Hitler's Nazi repression, of course, has been a standard go-to book for decades, and remains a Hearts & Minds bestseller --a vital quote from it ends Miller's good book. Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community is a nice starter book on this meaty topic, with a useful reader's guide at the end making it ideal for book clubs, Sunday school classes, campus Bible study groups, church staff meeting reading, and the like. I believe it will help many deepen their relationships, form more intentional, supportive small groups, and to arrange our lives together in our churches and neighborhoods to be more open and honest about our deep need for others. 

Or-di-nar-y  Michael Horton (Zondervan) $15.99   This is a wonderful little book, thoughtful, gospel-ordinary horton.jpgcentered, mature. It's a book decrying the hip new trend of being over-the-top passionate, extraordinary, world-changing, transformational, emerging, missional, big and bold, radical,  celebrating instead the rhythms of the ordinary life of discipleship, and the ordinary means of grace. Offering "ordinary and content" in part two  instead of "radical and restless" is a useful rubric, and it works well, bringing grace and truth to those of us a bit too hyped up on making a difference.  Mark Galli notes that "Horton's Ordinary is, well, extraordinary."  And indeed, it is. As a confessional Presbyterian, especially, I'm fond of this approach (even though it would be reasonable to worry if such a message might create luke-warm faith or cultural accommodation.  Horton does not think so, and I suspect he is right.)

But, okay, let me get this wee little thing off my chest: the orange cover seems meant to evoke Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt and yet he doesn't mention it.  Gracious of him, perhaps, but the cover sort of seems to imply something and alluding like this seems a bit snarky.  And, the cool dictionary-definition-graphic on the cover, with the word spelled in a nifty eye-catching way (and which shows the definition as "1. Sustainable faith in a radical restless world") seems a minor capitulation to the hipster marketing thing that drives so much of the "we can change the world" schtick pop evangelicalism. I suppose it doesn't matter much, but wanted to share this minor observation that even in the packaging of this book, the good marketing team had to give it some minimalist zip.  Which is to say, I guess, that ordinary need not mean bland or boring or routine.

More importantly, this is a wonderful reminder of what it means to be faithful and mature, not gunning for unrealistic expectations and setting ourselves up for disillusionment. That he brings older faith traditions to bear is commendable and good (and, for what it is worth, for the few people who notice such things, he cites Mercersberg's Nevin against revivalist Finney, draws on Jamie Smith, and seems to agree much with Kendra Creasy Dean who worries about congregations not teaching their youth.

I especially recommend Horton's Or-di-nar-y to those whose faith seems to be a little faddish or those whose faith seems over-the-top emotionall without corresponding inner growth and time spent in the local church;  also, I think it would be very useful for more mainline pastors or leaders who have long called for less sensational faith expressions in favor of the low-key long haul, but maybe need to understand the (newer) radical evangelicalism of our day.  By the way, after Horton's compelling treatment, recall how we've promoted the sleeper of a little book called The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People by Matthew B. Redmond (Kalos Press; $10.95) which I liked very, very much.

The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the World of C.S. Lewis edited by JohnThe Romantic Rationalist- God, Life, and Imagination in the World of C.S. jpg Piper & David Mathis (Crossway) $17.99  This is a great collection of papers that were presented at one of the legendary "Desiring God" conferences run out of John Piper's ministry.  Those who have followed Piper's "Christian hedonism" know that much of his doctrine of joy comes from Lewis, who he has studied carefully for nearly a lifetime. It wasn't surprising to know that Lewis and his writing was the theme of last years conference.  The first chapter tells us more about Piper's appreciation for the Oxford don, and it is quite nice. The book is very useful, and the chapters are lively, passionate, concise.

Louis Markos says that this "paints a well-rounded, sharply observed portrait that balances criticism with a deep love and appreciation for the works and witness of Lewis." Michael Ward calls it "altogether an interesting, lively and thought-provoking read." With authors like Piper, Philip Ryken, Douglas Wilson, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Randy Alcorn. you can be assured this is thoughtful, evangelical, insightful. 

Alcorn, for instance, is trying to show how Lewis' view of the new creation -- this world renewed, like a paradise restored --  is similar to Al Wolter's in Creation Regained and I suspect I will return to it often. (Piper has a similiar chapter, too, about the sanctification of the things of earth, drawing on CS and St Paul.) One chapter explores Lewis' view of the Scriptures, another part explores his view of hell, another draws on his use of the imagination, suggesting its importance for ongoing theological work. Throughout there is this sense of he was both romanticist and rationalist (oh yes!)  I hope you read Lewis, and about Lewis, a bit each year.

I like the title, don't you?  

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian Gregory S. Cootsona (Westminster/John Knox) $16.00C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian Gregory S. jpg Allow me to sneak in another new Lewis title, too, that just arrived last week: this one is written by a pastor of Adult Discipleship and College Ministries at Bidwell Presbyterian (USA) Church in Chico, CA, although he had previously served at the prestigious Faith Avenue Presbyterian Church. In this new paperback he shows us how Lewis can be a good guide for us in our own "ups and downs" as we cope with the hardships of our own faith journey.  Lewis felt the absence of God in his life, he wrestled with grief, with doubt, and he knew temptation.  Why haven't we unpacked this more?

Lewis biographer James Como exclaims that "Greg Cootsona's book is as distinctive a contribution to writing on Lewis as any I know. With no claim toward breaking new ground, the author nevertheless brings a perspective so fresh that even a veteran reader of the master will be instructed..."  

Mark Labberton of Fuller Theological Seminary says "Greg Cootsona's treatment of C.S. Lewis reflects the passion and thoroughness of a devotee who savors the insights of a long-term mentor. He relishes handing on morsels of Lewis's imagination and insight, while he also analyzes and measures Lewis's enduring value. Reading this book will enhance your experience of the feast that is C.S. Lewis but will also fortify the heard and imagination for the "crisis" that all true faith must engage."



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September 21, 2014

12 Brand New Books, Briefly described. ALL ON SALE for Hearts & Minds' BookNotes readers

Here are some fairly short, if not quite pithy annotations of some great new books. Most are brandkeep-calm-and-smell-all-the-new-books.png new and I've only skimmed them, enough to say that they all deserve more then pith, even more than brevity. I'm too busy, though, for much more, now, but these are so good, I just had to tell you that we have them here in stock, on sale for BookNotes readers.  

We show the regular retail price, but will deduct the discount when you order.  As we say at our order form page, we can send you a bill so you can pay later by check, if you'd like, or you can use credit cards. Your digits are safe as our order from page is certified secure.

So here ya go.  We are awaiting your reply.

TThe Bible Tells Me So- Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read it .jpghe Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read it Peter Enns (HarperOne) $25.99  Not too many professional Bible scholars have such deep history in places like an evangelical Christian college and Westminster Theological Seminary, where Enns was edged out having taught there for 14 years, as well as the more mainstream Jewish and liberal Protestant scholars at Harvard Divinity School where he was profoundly tutored about what to do "when the Bible doesn't behave." And none are as witty and entertaining as Enns as he walks us through the Bible's big problems (Canaanite genocide, just for instance) and how to best understand them all.  Rachel Held Evans says it is a "game-changer" and Brian McLaren says it is "super-enjoyable, highly informative, disarmingly honest, and downright liberating." Tony Campolo writes, "I, as an old-fashioned evangelical have some problems with what he has written, I think that many other readers will find answers to some of the most perplexing questions that they have about the Bible." 

I love that he starts with a useful excerpt from C.S. Lewis (from Reflections on the Psalms on how to read the Bible.) It's a small thing, perhaps, but I also loved the cleverly written acknowledgments, and his own story, "My Life, In Brief, and Such as it Is." If his Bible teaching thing doesn't pan out, maybe he could moonlight as a stand up comic.  He's told us he already failed at baseball.  Agree or not, he's right that we simply have to come up with better ways to read the Scriptures, and to be read by them. This is an upbeat books about a life-or-death matter, and we recommend it.

Sshrink.jpghrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture Tim Shuttle (Zondervan) $16.99 Listen to what Stanley Hauerwas of Duke says of this brand new book: "Church growth strategies are the death gurgle of a church that has lost its way. Suttle helps us see how God in our time is making us leaner and meaner. I hope this book will be widely read."  Who writes a book blurb like that, wanting us to be "leaner and meaner"?  Ha!  Intriguing, eh?  

You may know we are bringing C. Christopher Smith (author of the fantastic Slow Church to D-town November 5th -- more on that later) but here is what Smith says of this new book: "Shrink is one of the wisest and most significant evangelical books that I've read in the last decade; it is essential reading for every pastor and church leader!"  Wow, that's quite an endorsement for a significant author and cultural critic. You may have heard the phrase "good to great." Shuttle maintains that "great may not always be good."  You may know that, or maybe this is a new idea.  Surely you know that there is often some kind of tension between quantity and quality, and that church shouldn't be mostly about numbers.  I bet you need this book!

Tsacred year banner.jpghe Sacred Year Michael Yankoski (Nelson) $15.99  All right, I'll admit it, I was drawn to this because of the cover.  Yankoski is an energetic speaker and his book about living with the homeless -- Under the Overpass -- is fantastic: clear, passionate and inspiring. He received his MA at Regent in British Columbia and is a novitiate Oblate of St. Benedict, which is pretty cool. Here is what it says on the lovely front cover: "Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived my Life."

This memoir of a year's experiment just may be the most fascinating, and insightful, book about spiritual practices I've ever seen.  Dear Phyllis Tickle says "This book is a joy to the soul and a delight to the heart. It is destined to become a classic within the genre of contemporary spiritual and religious writing." 

TThe Making of An Ordinary Saint- My Journey.jpghe Making of An Ordinary Saint: My Journey From Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines Nathan Foster (Baker) $14.99  We know Nathan is a storyteller -- he wrote a captivating, raw book about the growing distance he felt from his famous father (Richard Foster) and the subsequent disillusionment about Christianity he faced as a troubled young adult, and how he wisely challenged his dad to hike a bunch of Colorado mountains with him, in a last-ditch effort to restore their relationship. (That was the very nice Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet.) I heard the two of them do a splendid, entertaining tag-team talk at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing last spring, and have been waiting for this book ever since.  In a way, this is a second generation Celebration of Discipline as the hip, young son tells of his own frustrations (and restorative glories) of practicing the classic spiritual disciplines. Ruth Haley Barton says it is "Delightful.... simply delightful" and Eugene Peterson says "Read this book and find yourself a new companion as you follow Jesus." Yeah, that's it. He is a honest, ordinary, reliable companion.  Richard Forster, by the way, offers a nice foreword and good reflections throughout. 

PPresence and Encounter- The Sacramental Possibilities.jpgresence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life David G. Benner (Foreword by Richard Rohr)  (Brazos Press) $15.99  I am really drawn to these kinds of books, about the spirituality of the ordinary, the mystical embedded in the mundane, practicing the presence of God and so forth.  Some are truly luminous, beautifully done and so very helpful. I am sure that this book -- inspired by the author's early confrontation with the "I-Thou" worldview of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber -- will help us realize that attentive presence is what allows for real encounters to occur. As it says in the advanced promo: "Drawing on over thirty-five years of experience integrating psychology and spirituality, Benner examines the transformational possibilities of spiritual presence and encounter in fresh, exciting, and practical ways."  There are end-of-chapter reflection exercises for individuals or groups, and these are profound and experiential (that is, not just discussion-based study questions.) This is a bit deep, and may be important for those longing for greater discernment about God's presence in their daily lives.

Yes or No: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Shape Your Life Jeff Shinabarger (Cook)yes or no.jpg $15.99 I hope you recall how we raved about Shinabarger's previous book about a more simple -- and creatively generous -- lifestyle (called More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generousity.) In a way this new one, Yes or No, travels similar territory, invites us to think our deepest motivations and how we can be more of who we really want to be. This is more than a simplistic self help book, but it is exceptionally practical. There are good chapters here, explaining how to assess our natural decision-making styles, gaining tools to define our own philosophy of choice, and even how to engage a team or group with targeted discussion questions.  This really is fascinating.

Check out and come back and order this from us.  After you ponder the decision, of course.  It could shape your life forever, after all.  Ha-ha. But, I don't think I'm kidding -- Jeff makes a strong case about how decisions have huge implications, and how to make them well.  Do consider this; I trust this guy a lot, and admire his energy and insight, his storytelling and his clear teaching.  I am sure there are those who would benefit greatly from this visionary, but wise assistance.

RRed Brown Yellow Black White.jpged Brown Yellow Black White: Who's More Precious in God's Sight? A Call for Diversity in Christian Missions and Ministry Leroy Barber with Velma Maia Thomas (Jericho) $26.99  I have been with Leroy on several occasions and just love him -- he's real, funny, dynamic, caring, and a true leader, bringing together folks to care about racial justice, wholistic ministry, urban renewal and more. He told riveting short stories of urban youth and how Mission Year communities work for renewal in their lives and in their neighborhoods in the creative small book,New Neighbor, and then wrote a more general book which I adored called Every Day Missions. (If you haven't used that in your small group or book club, it works really well.) 

In this new RBYBW, Barber examines racial issues, especiallleroy-barber.jpgy within US ministries, and the implications of our racial dysfunctions upon who ends up taking up mission projects, domestically and globally. I think this may end up being a much-discussed, very significant book as it brings some things together about multi-cultural diversity and racism and missions that no other book has yet done. If you are in any para-church organization or mission agency, especially, it is simply a must-read -- the sooner, the better, too.  As Jim Wallis says, "It is the start of a much-needed conversation on diversity in missions leadership from a man who has lived out these ideas in his own life in an exemplary way."  Ground-breaking, yes, but with practical, action-oriented solutions. Let's spread the word on this so the those who need to grapple with it learn about it.

LLoving Our Enemies Jim Forest.jpgoving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment Jim Forest (Orbis) $20.00  Those of us who have been involved in peacemaking ministries or anti-war activism know well the name of this author; he was an international leader of Fellowship of Reconciliation, a long-standing, vivid activist and advocate for nonviolent resistance, and wrote what some still think are the best biographies of both Dorothy Day (All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day) and Thomas Merton (Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton.) I met Forest years ago, and admire his courage and depth and ecumenicity. He is now an Orthodox Christian (and has written a few good books on icons, too), living in the Netherlands. I am sure this will be very, very moving, insightful, a mixture of deep spirituality, Biblical study, and a bit of savvy public theology.  Rowan Williams says it is "a statement of the gospel challenge and the gospel hope so clear that it is frightening; this is real, this is possible, this cannot be written off..."  Even if one isn't drawn to the bigger social issues of the day, all of us must learn to forgive, after all, and this certainly is a very helpful guide. 

OOccupied Territories- The Revolution of Love From Bethlehem.jpgccupied Territories: The Revolution of Love From Bethlehem to the Ends of the Earth Garth Hewitt (IVP) $16.00  This surely deserves a more substantive review, but for now you may know that Hewitt was a British evangelical folk/rock singer, doing thoughtful, engaging Christian music with friends of his such as the late Mark Heard and other socially conscience faith-based troubadours. (Has he ever played with Bruce Cockburn? I wonder.) Hewitt has worked for the Micah Trust traveling all over the world as a storyteller and advocate for just solutions to some of the world's most grueling problems, and has written widely, and beautifully, including liturgical resources for peace and justice.  I have a friend who knows him well, who worked on this manuscript a bit, and who assures me it is one of the best books in many a year! 

If you were inspired by our program last month with Jeremy Courtney and his book Preemptive Love, or have any interest in the tragedies unfolding in the Middle East, this would be a very useful, very poignant, very important follow-up.  Highly recommended. A beautiful cover design too -- this is a very special book.

Ooverrated banner.jpgverrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? Eugene Cho (Cook) $15.99  I could hardly put this down, and could hardly stop grinning, so glad to hear an evangelical leader say this mature, wise, honest stuff about the recent rhetoric about changing the world, transforming the culture, serving the poor, et cetera, et cetera. (And, might I add, honest about his own foibles and lifestyle, motivations and family life.) The subtitle -- Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? -- says it all, but you will want to be warned that the author (who not only is a pastor but the visionary founder of One Day's Wages) does in fact, want to change the world. His organization works to alleviate extreme global poverty and Cho does want to recruit us to make choices in our own lives to be more giving and active, more Christ-centered and faithful in our service to others.  There's a cool foreword by Donald Miller, too, but listen to these blurbs on the back, with which I heartily concur:

I read every word and pondered what I read. Overrated challenged and chastised me, inspired and energized me. I highly recommend it.    Lynne Hybels

Eugene Cho shatters all our hipster coffee-shop talk of justice and dares you to dive into the trenches and do something real with your life.    Shane Claiborne

I encourage all believers to read Overrated.      John Perkins


Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today Mark Labberton (IVP) $16.00  This compact hardback is a gem -- a small book elegantly written and exceptionally thoughtful and deeply moving about "first things." It is not a rehash of the doctrine of vocation and calling, nor is it particularly about the interface of faith and the work-world as are many books with the word "called" or "calling" in the title.  This really is about how to live as followers of Jesus, written by a hero of many, a long-standing Presbyterian pastor (at the storied and vital First Presbyterian Church (USA) in Berkley, CA), active ministry leader (having served with the John Stott Ministries and more recently as a Fellow of the International Justice Mission) and who is now the President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Blurbs on the back are from very respected writers, Andy Crouch, Soong-Chan Rah, Gary Haugen, Ruth Haley Barton, who all rave, recommending it to one and all.   

As Andy Crouch puts it, "Too often we settle for a 'calling' that is really just sanctified individualism, paddling in the shallows of the self. This book pursues the deeper questions of flourishing, sacrifice, community and transformation that are the heart of the Christian life." 

TThe Pilgrim's Regress Wade Annotated Edition .jpghe Pilgrim's Regress - Wade Annotated Edition C.S. Lewis; edited and introduced by David C. Downing (Eerdmans) $25.00 Wow! C.S. Lewis fans have been wishing for a volume like this for decades, and when word was out that this was in the making, it has been eagerly anticipated. It is a needed book, and will help enhance many a perplexed reader.

As Alan Jacobs (author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis) says, "Among all of C.S. Lewis's books, the one most in need of annotation is The Pilgrim's Regress, which fairly bristles with allusions to writers and ideas, some ancient, some recent, some famous, some obscure. It takes a learned and discerning scholar to tease out all these references. Fortunately, David Downing is just such a scholar, and this book is an outstanding contribution to Lewis studies."

Lewis's allegory, a nod to Pilgrim's Progress, of course, is the first book Lewis wrote after becoming a Christian and some appreciate it as a personal window into his own journey "from cynical atheist to joyous believer" (as Devin Brown puts it.) Brown continues, "It is no exaggeration to say that David Downing's superb annotations allow those of us who do not share Lewis's vast philosophical, literary, and linguistic background to understand and enjoy this classic work in a way that was not possible before. A must for all Lewis fans."

Lewis himself, it is interesting to note, wrote later in his life of the "needless obscurity" of this early fiction about important ideas.  Later, he added notes and a new preface; Dr. Downing happily uses these, and has done even more, explaining it all, making it accessible, clarifying and opening it up for us all.  

As the preface tells us,

This edition of The Pilgrim's Regress, produced in collaboration with the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College, contains nearly five hundred page notes, including definitions of unusual terms, translations from a half-dozen foreign languages, identifications of key characters, and cross-references to other works by C.S. Lewis.... Lewis's own handwritten notes in an early edition of Pilgrim's Regress are set in boldface in this edition...

In a fascinating introduction Downing invites us to revisit "Lewis's inaugural work of prose fiction and to see it with new eyes." 

He writes,

Apart from its intellectual acuity and spiritual perceptivity, Regress also reveals the imaginative vitality and sparkling prose that would eventually make Lewis an author of worldwide renown. Despite its limitations, which Lewis himself recognized, The Pilgrims Regress remains a seminal text for readers of Lewis -- a rollicking satire on modern cultural fads, a vivid account of contemporary spiritual dangers, and an illuminating tale for a whole new generation of pilgrims.

Three cheerios for this large project, this good work, for David Downing's dedication, and for Eerdmans' lovely new slightly over-sized, hardback edition at such a reasonable price.  By the way, Eerdmans has also re-issued the excellent collection of Lewis essays (often over-looked) Christian Reflections in a paperback with new cover art, matching this new edition of Pilgrim's Regress.  They look nice together...



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September 12, 2014

CD REVIEW: Winnowing by Bill Mallonee ON SALE - $15.00

Our tears they speak a language that's uniquely all their own... "Dover Beach (Out in the Cold)" on Winnowing Bill Mallonee & The Darkling Planes

In his splendid theological study of literature, Frederick Buechner uses as the title a famous linespeak what we feel Buechner.jpg from Shakespeare's King Lear: Speak What We Feel, Not What We Ought to Say. In another book -- I mentioned it in my BookNotes list of books about evangelism last month -- Buechner's title is golden: Tell It Like It Is: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, Fairy Tale.  He explores the characteristics of these genres and shows how the gospel story itself can be described in these enduring forms.

Music can help us "speak what we feel" perhaps more viscerally than novels.  As I wrote a few days ago about Beverly Lewis' lovely visit to our store to speak of her new Amish novel The River (Bethany House; $15.99) -- which has some dark currents sweeping through it -- I did some free association to link it to Bruce Springsteen's anguished song "The River."  Talk about speaking what we feel, about redemption somehow coming in the form of tragedy. "Is a dream a lie if it doesn't comes true, or is it something worse?"  Most, but not all, evangelical "Christian fiction" ties things up pretty nicely, almost unable to host Springsteen's question (even though the Bible offers these very sorts of questions!)  Now, I'm glad there is reconciliation at the end of Lewis' The River and - spoiler! - that a modern bit of technology, a pacemaker, is involved.) This is helpful and inspiring and has its place in one's reading diet.

But some of our best artists know that the life is hard, and they help us cope, not with easy answers about the human condition.  I hardly need to say it, but that life can be a trail of tears is also true for people of faith (perhaps especially so for people who have tasted glory and trust God's promises and seek real joy.) Need I really say that it is good to be honest about our doubts? Does your throat not quiver when you sing that line "I'm prone to wander, Lord, I feel it"?  We don't need to valorize or romanticize our pain or foolishness, but it does help to give voice to our disappointments and troubles, to read books and listen to artists that walk the dark side of the street, who tell it like it is. They help us speak not what we "ought" but allow us to berumours of glory memoir.jpgkicking at the darknes.jpg honest about our own fears and foibles, living as we do in a very broken world.

Brian Walsh has written brilliantly about this - see his meditation on Bruce Cockburn's "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" alongside Psalm 137 in his "Wine Before Breakfast" sermon.  Perhaps you should read this, first, a short meditation on "Exile, Song, and Rage." In fact, you could read his whole book about the prophetic imagination of Cockburn in his remarkably generative study Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos; $19.00) which I describe in detail, in a long review, here.  

(Big aside: Cockburn's hefty auto-biography called Rumours of Glory: A Memoir is coming out from HarperOne ($28.99) the first week of November, and we are taking pre-orders for it, at 20% off. It is sure to be provocative.  There will also be a commemorative boxed set selling for something like $150.00 which includes all the songs Bruce mentions in the book, in order, making it a 9 disc soundtrack.  The admittedly pricy boxed set also includes 16 previously unreleased or rare tracks, a 90 page booklet, photographs, and a full live concert DVD film during his "Slice O Life" tour. We'll have it on sale, too. Send us a note for more info.)

Which brings me to my review of the harrowing new Bill Mallonee album.  Almost.

Look. I am a huge, huge U2 fan. We carried Boy and the others when we first opened in '82, U2 Songs of Innocence.jpgright, alongside Petra and Amy Grant (and, yes, all of Bruce Cockburn's catalog) and we took great joy in introducing many folks to the boys from Dublin's early work, and continued to stock all they've done. I am still just blown away by nearly every album - yes, I love Rattle and Hum and yes, I am even moved by some of the hyper-irony of the electro-weirdness of the Zoo TV years.  I saw them in Philly during the Joshua Tree tour when Springsteen showed up.  And I can't tell you how many times I've just wept and wept listening to that sad list of names at the end of "Walk On."  Haven't you? How can you not?

Bwinnowing cover.jpgut I just can't write about the new iphone Songs of Innocence release because I am absorbed in listening over and over to what has become my favorite album of the year -- the incredibly poignant release by the tell it like it is, speak what we feel, gospel as tragedy Americana/rootsy graveling desert beauty of Bill Mallonee and his new record Winnowing created with his musical partner and wife, Murriah Rose, singing together as the Darkling Planes.

To distract me from a new U2 album is quite a feat. And Bill and Mariah do so, mister. 

I find it hard to review music. I can explain books, but it is difficult to capture the aural experience of music, those wailing Rickenbacker guitar solos, those acoustic chords that bring to mind "All Along the Watchtower" but aren't that, that crisp moment when a syllable is hit in falsetto, that whispered one-two-three-four that launches so quickly the next track, that time when the loud harmonica merges with the wailing electric guitar, and we don't quite know which instrument is which.  

We shouldn't separate the lyrics from the music, the timbre of the vocals, the whine, and thebill Mallonee from Winnowing cover.jpg shout and the whispers, the instruments, the arrangements, the production and engineering;  as we talk about records, we must remember that the words are part of songs. But how to tell you about it, entice you to listen? For those that don't know Bill's large body of work (50 + albums, most now available as downloads, some as real CDs, this new one even available in vinyl) I think the closest comparison to put you in the ball park of the sound is Neil Young, with moments of Jackson Browne at his best, maybe Tom Petty. (And, oh, how Bill's voice ends each time in the chorus of "Got Some Explainin' to Do" sounds so much like Neil!) The fuzzy guitars, the distortion that is so gripping, the high and lonesome beauty given a rock and roll edge. it is very, very moving for those that appreciate that school of alt-rock.  You can hear tons of his songs for free at his Bandcamp site which I show below.

My own tastes include artists in this very orbit: Robbie Robertson (and the entire catalog of The Band) and CSNY and Mark Knopfler, Jackson, and Americana stuff, channeled nowadays by the likes of The Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers.  And did I mention Rattle and Hum? I appreciate smart, writerly indie bands from The Head and the Heart to The National, The Airborne Toxic Event, and older school passionate singer-songwriters like Peirce Pettis, Phil Maideria, country-ish Buddy Miller. Bill is louder and rougher than Iron and Wine and Fleet Foxes, but I had to mention them. Can you relate?

bill mallonee hand tattoo.png

If you like rowdy, electric finger-picking, fuzzy, jangly, Byrds-like soaring guitars, and vocals that can at time nearly be called Dylan-esque, you should pick up Bill Mallonee. Founder and front man of the stunning Vigilantes of Love, they were hot in the glory days of the Athens, Georgia music scene, preaching the gospel in harsh, acoustic songs with punk energy, allusive, dark lyrics, deep in the club scene that gave us REM and the Indigo Girls, drawing insight about faith and songwriting from the likes of the late great Mark Heard.

REM's Peter Buck co-produced a critically acclaimed album, Buddy and Julie Miller joined in occasionally, the world-class alt-country legend Emmy Lou Harris did background vocals. Paste Magazine declared him to be one of the top 50 songwriters of all time. VOL days long behind him, his output continued for a decade or two of being on the road, putting out downloadable, low-fi, self-produced mostly acoustic WPA series all with artwork cuffed from the old Works Projects Administration (renamed in 1939, Bill might tell ya, as the WPA) of FDR.

Bill has always had this sense of being rooted in the past. From songs about the dust bowl toaudible sigh cover.jpg songs inspired by Jack Kerouac, from allusions to miners or farmers (one great album, just for instance, is called Victory Garden) or historical incidents ("Andersonville" about the horrific southern civil war POW camp still sometimes shows up in his live shows) or several utterly romantic songs about the WW II-era romance of his parents, he, more than nearly any folk/rock performer I know, can be called rooted (even if his roots too often have him on the road; in a line on Winnowing he says "once I mistook her for my home.") Just look at that album cover from Audible Sigh, that historic train wreck.  

This may not be the old-timey roots music with a lot of banjos or Appalachian fiddles, but the sound and tone and lyrical allusions are often from other very American decades, from hardscrabble people and places from the heartland. (The way he often says, about somebody, "kid" or "mister," sounds like some wiser blue-collar elder talk, doesn't it?) Again, think of the Steinbeck vision of Woody Guthrie, more fiery then Springsteen's Dakota, maybe more like his Seeger Sessions.


In this new record, set clearly in his high desert home in New Mexico, Mallonee mentions horses, a pick-ax, pistols under waistcoats, a skeleton key, a boxer (who "grabs all the prize money - and a few other things") and somebody with "an ace of diamonds up the sleeve" which somehow perfectly creates the feel and mood of this song cycle about being down and out, tumbling down out West, smack in the middle of (as the second song puts it) "Those Locust Years."

"There's nothing left in Oklahoma," he sings in "Tap Your Heart On Your Shoulder," "on your right hand or your left/ we took God's good green earth and turned it into sand." Yeah, so that's it, a whole lot of remorse, for the loner who has to move on, and, it seems, for the whole cosmos which is scarred, somehow, and what approaches despair.  But yet, this song is a plea to "tap your heart on its shoulder and see if she's still awake."  Listen to that line a coupla times if you don't have time for a spiritual retreat or money for a shrink! 

Bill's not giving up, and in this jaded, secular age, he is nearly an evangelist, worth more to un-churched ears then a dozen slick worship bands with goatees and nicely torn jeans and big amps.

The first song is sublime, and, like nearly all of his tunes these days, insists on a lot of harsh reality, but with glimmers of light. The song is subtitled "Out in the Cold" and that is the theme.  It is his life, these days, road-weary, world-weary, tired but sober, feeling under-rated, left out, yet committed to finding hope where one can. ("No, I am not a scoffer withholding my thanks," he sings, believably, "My purse? It is empty but my heart overflows its banks.") The proper title of this wonderful opener is "Dover Beach" and is inspired by the famous Matthew Arnold poem about the restlessness brought on as the waves of meaning receded in the modern world.

I can show you where my heart was broke there on Dover Beach

Truth receding like a wave/too farther out of reach

Love may bring the tide back in/hard to live, easy to preach


Mr. Mallonee's raw song-writing and passionate performance isn't exactly depressing although he does confess much, a practice that many of us might be well be instructed to own up to, as well.  He sings,

Every conviction that I lived by, every truth that I was taught,

Every sermon that I sat through; well, it was all for naught.

I was always pretty bad at carryin' my cross


Abill mallonee and murriah in concert.jpgnother slow, sad song achingly, but yet somehow beautifully sung, offers the chorus, like a litany of confession -- "Now You Know."  Perhaps it is more than you want to know.  Or perhaps it can serve as your own confession, too.  "I can feel it all disintegrate/like paper in the flame."  This is a line, by the way, following an allusion to the pride of warriors - Caesar on his steed, crossing his rubicon.

After speaking of the "sadness of this place" ("Deserts speak in whispers but she rarely shows her face/ They say that you get used to it, ah, but I've not found that the case") he sings, "No matter where I sing these songs/the devil's always at my sleeve." Now you know.

Speaking, literally, of the devil, one brilliant song - for those that know his work, it almost reminds me of "Bolt Action" or some of the louder ones from the Blister Soul-era  - is called "Got Some Explainin' to Do (Gotta Give the Devil His Due.)" The stanzas (without too much gruesomeness, thankfully) highlight examples of brokenness and sin in the world: "No matter what the disguise is, well ya gotta give the devil his due. But whoever he is, has got some explain' to do."  That's for darn sure.

He gets as preachy as he does on this CD at the end of this song, countering the works of the devil with this cry:

Time for banishing darkness

Time for doing what is right

Time for loving the planet

Time for stepping into the light.


Winnowing isn't all lament and remorse, though. There is a lovely song about what I'm sure is a real tavern, somewhere out there, called the Dew-Drop Inn. "Store-front glass & red brick, non-descript with a few old ghosts roamin' round."  But there, "every one's yer friend and everybody's got a story unsung."  There's some sad stuff there, too ("Sam's tending bar, brother, he's seen it all, seen the good die young" and their the community can realize "Some dreams get born but, most get beaten' out /And some folks forget how to dream at all.") But, yet, "Stories got told and drinks were poured and for a moment? It was Heaven here..." 

As in many of his songs, there is this narrative of the broken and ordinary redeemed byBill and Murriah.jpg community, even if of misfits, and then also his own personal sense of being loved. The sub-title and refrain here is "I love you just because." Is it sung to his wife and band partner Murriah Rose or to the loners and oddballs hanging out at the Dew Drop?  Maybe both.

Similarly, in a beautiful, passionate song, "In the New Dark Age" he sings -- lamenting the loss of a culture of love and hope and change -- "the only lamp burning bright/is you." Murriah? Jesus? You and me? I don't know.  He sings the words briskly, building the case, singing, "the game was declared over, love was escorted out, there was hardly a shout/I'll take the crimson & clover." (Don't you love that reference to the flower-power, Tommy James hit?) Dark as it may sound, this is a rowdy, fun song, Beatle-esque, trippy with organ and what almost sounds like backwards electronic stuff, like it would fit on his wonderful Locket Full of Moonlight album or VOL's Summershine, two of my own all time favorite CDs.

He says, wrongly, I think, "in the new dark age, no one puts up a fight."  Ahh, but he does, doesn't he? -- even if he will go down swinging. Mallonee's art testifies, bears witness to his fight. This record makes you want to join him there, makes us want to be that light burning bright. Is it a plea to his remaining fans? An altar call?  "All the dominoes fell/we sent under a spell/and all hell. broke. lose." It is a lament, but also an invitation to be the light, I swear it is.

"Hall Full of Mirrors/Room Full of Woe" sounds ominous enough, but, I'm telling you, it is an encouraging song, great melodies, great ringing guitar riffs, evocative lyrics.  It's one of the more upbeat tunes, despite the use of the word "woe" -- and well-produced (Bill and Murriah as the Darkling Planes play everything) and it is splendid. The acoustic guitar at the end trails out with chords from "All Along the Watchtower" that just seals the thing, turning it into an anthem.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Several reviewers have highlighted the gorgeous "Blame it on the Desert (Whisperin')" which is surely one of the album's centerpieces.  In bouncy, countrified boogey he sings,

What the mystic knows

What the Good Book does proclaim

You only ever own

What you give away

Blame it on the spirit

Blame it on the red wine

But then again,

Blame it on the desert whisperin'


Mr. Mallonee then sweetly sings a quick line, "the mantra of the asphalt/road-side diner, communion table" and reminds us of the Christ-like instruction "take only what you need/leave what you are able." We are naturally led to think of the wine of Eucharist, of grace, of gospel.  Or, then again, maybe it is just the desert whisperin' -- which the Bible itself says is God's own Word, eh?  (Calvin Seerveld, referring to the lines in Psalm 19 which tells us that the creation speaks, calls it "God's glossalia.") Yes, Bill has heard, and brings to us, The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, the God of the desert whisperin'.

When Bill sings "what the Good Book does proclaim" it makes me grin, brings me a joy each time.  Not only is "the Good Book" an old, rural colloquialism, the "does" just nails it.  Who talks like this - Abraham Lincoln? Woody Guthrie? Your great grandma?  Yet, it isn't affectation.  Bill is firmly situated in the current century - there are lines about duo-jets and the 1%.  But he's also "betting the farm, babe" on some kind of old wisdom, some deep truth gleaned from his desert, dust-bowl (locust) years. 

The last song may be an allegory, or may serve that way - I suppose he didn't quite mean it as such, but, then again, who knows? The first line is, with his keen ability to create the image of a place, about a town in Oklahoma called Dalhart. It sounds just like dull heart.

"If I ever make it out of Dalhart/to a place where I can stand tall/a horse would do quite nicely/but if I have to...I'm gonna crawl." 

This is one hell of a post-modern Pilgrims Progress, from Dover Beach to making it out of the dull heart of Dalhart.

It is the journey of many of us, I suspect. He sings, obtusely, of what may be the "hound of heaven" (the poet's phrase he has used on other albums) singing  "whatever keeps tugging at your sleeve/this old flesh and blood has gotta find a reason to believe."  Maybe this is your experience; Something tugging at your sleeve, Christ-haunted, restless, yet not giving up on the search. Give Winnowing repeated listens, and something will break open.  Maybe, with a little luck, even what the mystics know, what the Good Book does proclaim.

Thank you for reading my feeble effort to explain this artist's gifts to us, this music that means so much to me.  Because others have said it more eloquently and with better insight, if you're interested, see these two excellent reviews from Wood Between the Worlds and from Lay It Down. Both are well worth reading.

Here is one of his many interviews, describing his history with VOL, his solo work, his concerns about the commodification of art, etc etc. Worth a read if you want his take on the not so recent past.

We stock his last two similarly great, jangly, alt-country rock CDs as well, The Power and the Glory (2011) and Amber Waves (2012.)  Order them all from us, on sale, for $15.00 each.  As Bill would say, "thank you, ladies and gents."

And, if you order all three, we will throw in as a special bonus, an old Mark Heard CD that is sure to please. Bill would dig this promo, too, I'm sure.

If you want to see his many, many downloadable projects, visit his amazing bandcamp cite, here. But buy these three from us, please! $15.00 each.

power and the glory CD Bill M.jpgamber waves CD Bill M.jpgwinnowing cover.jpg


Bill Mallonee CDs

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September 9, 2014

In-Store Author Appearance: Beverly Lewis promotes her new book, The River (And, yes, I give a shout-out to Springsteen and more.)

The River author Beverly Lewis (Bethany Publishing House) $15.99 BookNotes sale price 20% off; $12.79.the river banner.jpg

Although we've shouted it out on Facebook and Twitter, we thought we should share here for those that were wondering that our "Evening with Author and Activist Jeremy Courtney" went very well. Jeremy and his wife Jessica, who features prominently in Jeremy's book Preemptive Love: Nurturing Peace One Heart at a Time, did a great job sharing with us about their brave work as peacemakers in Iraq, forging creative collaborations with Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, Jews and others... all focused on the audacious goal of finding a structural remedy to the backlog of tens of thousands of sick Iraqi kids who need heart surgery to save their lives.  The conversation moved from dramatic stories and pictures of medical staff working in pediatric surgery theaters to broader themes of peacemaking in such a tense and violent context. 

Through stories and slides, pictures and even a live song (Jeremy hails from Texas so his love for folkie blues music is strong) they humanized the people and cultures of what was once the land of Babylon. Yes there is awful stuff going on, but there is also goodness and beauty.  Their stories were so good, and I thought of them when I read this powerful, splendid short piece at the High Calling blog by our friend Denis Haack called "The Power of Storytelling: From Understanding Ideas to Indwelling Them."  

Iraq was, of course, once known as Babylon to whom Jeremiah wrote a famous letter (Jeremiah 29:7) from which we have the famous Biblical command to "seek the peace of the city." Perhaps storytelling is part of that.

We had some lovely refreshments that Beth called "a Pennsylvania Dutch interpretation of Iraqi snacks" -- Hadgi Bada, pistachio cookies, cardamom tea and stuffed dates were all fun to share. 

Our local newspaper, the York Daily Record, did a front page story the next day, too.

We have some autographed Preemptive Love paperbacks left, and ourpreemptive love.jpg on-line price here at BookNotes has been 20% off. They usually sell for $15.00; our sale price is just $12.00.  Let us know if we can send one. Just use the order form which is secure for credit card digits, or give us a call.

Jeremy left Central PA and headed in to mid-town Manhattan to tape an episode of of the talk show with Mike Huckabee; I hope the Preemptive Love Coalition lets their followers know when it will air. Then he was off to London to offer a briefing with members of Parliament.  Pretty great, eh?

And so, thanks for caring about the things we do here at Hearts & Minds.  I know some of you prayed for us, and others pre-ordered the paperback. And some of you helped spread the word to others who might want to order from us, or who might even be able to attend.  I know some of our friends and followers have contacts in our area.


On the heels of that, I'm going to ask you to share some new information today, too, if it seem right.  Is there somebody to whom you could forward this?

We are hosting an autographing reception to meet and greet New YorkBL head shot.jpg Times best-selling author Beverly Lewis, this Thursday (September 11, 2014) here at the shop, starting at 7:00 pm.  There is free parking available at several lots nearby, and on the street in front of the store.

Her new book is called The River.

We have enjoyed sponsoring a Beverly Lewis event before, and were delighted with how many different sorts of folks enjoy her Amish-themed fiction.

As I said at the Jeremy Courtney gig as I was announcing it - and I'm sure a few of my super intellectual and sophisticated friends maybe thought I was reaching a bit to connect the events - it seems to me that the heart of most of Lewis' easy-to-read, breezy books are, in fact, of enduring, classic stuff: identity (who are we? to what community do we belong?), hospitality (how do we relate to others? who's in and who's not?) and can we get along despite our differences?  And what does it mean to know God's grace and do right?

From Romeo and Juliet to the profound work of Chaim Potok to Preemptive Love (and, just to show off, I'll add Exclusion and Embrace the heady, award-winning theological work of Miroslav Volf written in the context of the Serbian-Croation war and Bosnian genocide) this is familiar and fearful, yet vital territory.  If part of the gospel is about showing hospitality to "the other" and serving "the stranger" and working towards reconciliation, certainly learning about those who have had to cope with forgiveness after being excluded, shunned or betrayed, can only be an asset to our discipleship. 

Even if it comes to us in a fun, stirring story.

AThe River cover Lewis.jpgnd so, we can suggest that although Beverly Lewis is a genre writer and some may find her work a bit obvious with the Christian messages and sentimental lessons learned, we are very proud to host her, glad for her support of our shop, and eager to have you tell those who might enjoy it, inviting them to swing by Thursday evening to meet her. She has an obvious care for her fans, and a heart to share the gospel through her storytelling and writing. Of course you may not know anyone nearby, but you can buy an autographed copy, here on line of almost any of her work -- we've got it all.  We have plenty of her adult and kid's books, and we can easily have her autograph some for you or yours. (If you want them inscribed to a person, just be sure to tell us the name, hopefully before Thursday evening!)

Beverly Lewis was born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, but now lives (where she occasionally writes with her husband David) in Colorado.  Her own mother's dramatic story of leaving the Old Order Mennonite tradition is told in her most famous book The Shunning which has sold more than one million copies and was made into a Hallmark Channel movie. (In 2007 her similarly popular novel The Brethren was honored with a Christy Award.)

Here is a wonderful, enchanting video of Beverly briefly talking about her young years and her early love for writing, keeping a journal, doing short stories, and some of the early inspirations of her creative fiction.  It is very nice.

row of Bev Lewis books.jpg

Beverly Lewis has written over 25 adult novels, 6 lovely picture books, over 50 youth books, a cookbook, and more...

the river banner.jpg

The River is her newest novel, just released last week. Beverly is doing a 25-stop tour to promote the new book and to have the opportunity to meet her fans and readers.

We are pleased to host Beverly in part because she is so gracious, and because so many of our local customers appreciate her books.  (One local Presbyterian leader is related to her, and vouches that some of the landmarks and descriptions of the homestead in The Shunning are spot on accurate!)

But I myself am drawn to this new story for a couple of reasons. Let me explain.

Interestingly, a friend who is herself a sophisticated author of non-fiction religious books offered a question just the other day at her facebook page: are there rivers in America that we might consider holy or sacred? (What does that mean, I asked, as I speculated about the iconic and mythic role of the Mississippi in Americana roots music, which gave rise to gospel, blues, and rock and roll, not to mention the title track from Paul Simon's Graceland.)

Two things worth sharing: scores of people immediately shared stories of their favorite rivers and why they are spiritually attracted to them, revealing their own sense of place. This all was quite lovely and reminded me not only of SPRINGSTEEN_RIVER_5X5_site-500x500.jpgWendell Berry and his novels that include a vivid sense of (rural) place, but it also, oddly, brought to mind that powerful short story of a song, "The River," by brother Bruce Springsteen. I can hardly listen (especially to the more raw, acoustic versions) of that song without being overcome with anguish. The river may have some deep, good attraction for many, and maybe even some redemptive meaning in the Springsteen story, but it ain't easy, that's for sure; at the end "the river is dry" he it continues to haunt him.

One of my favorite nature writers, Kathleen Dean Moore has a book called Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water whichriverwalking-reflections-on-moving-water-kathleen-dean-moore-paperback-cover-art.jpg exquisitely explores the deep beauty of bodies of water and those who appreciate them. I can hardly think of rivers without thinking of that wondrous book. But, again, this excellent writer and serious thinker is aware of the foreboding nature of moving water.

Around here, rivers are dangerous (especially our own mighty Susquehanna with sink holes and weird currents and deadly low-head dams.) Some around here who enjoy boating and swimming in rivers travel the tributaries of the Susquehanna, and love the many streams around these parts, including the namesake river alluded to in this tragic Beverly Lewis tale, the Conostoga. The Conostoga River winds its way through Lancaster County like a snake, twisting and curving in geologically surprising ways. 

The deadliness of the river in The River novel is not due to exceptionallyc creek.jpg bad currents or particularly bad water features, though.  No, it came from human error. We learn in the first few pages that the protagonist, Tilly, who has long ago left the Plain life for modern English ways, is haunted by a catastrophic accident in which her younger sister drowned, years ago, while playing in the river.

No need to explain it all, but the plot of this, not unlike many others in this genre, explores the tensions of broken relationships and complex ethical dilemmas as two sisters - both no longer in meaningful relationships with their Lancaster county Amish parents and siblings - feel compelled to return home to an anniversary celebration of their parent's marriage.  Their father is sick and they surely cannot remain aloof much longer.  But there is this unresolved sadness and responsibility for what happened at the river. As it asks even on the back cover, "Can they face the future in the light of a past they can't undo?"

Aamish buggy.jpgmish folks with their rejection of modern technologies and Anabaptist commitments and old order ways are - it seems dumb to even say it - quite human. They are not caricatures.  Any fiction that tells a story from within a subculture - Iraqi Muslims, Jewish New Yorkers,  duck hunting rednecks down South, hipster atheists in Pamish-clothes-sm.jpgortland -- can run the risk of devolving into stereotype, and good storytelling will be careful.  Lewis runs this risk, of course, in this sort of writing that isn't attempting extraordinary nuance. But there are rich aspects of typical Amish life, and she plumbs them well.  From "letting it all loose" during the infamous rumspringa seasons to the difficulties of offering forgiveness (see Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zecher's Amish Grace and the sequel, The Amish Way) there are fairly universal human emotions at play, and to write stories about those who are, or are no longer, within this close-knit subculture is certainly fascinating. 

The River is not only about the consequences of this tragic loss of a littleThe River cover Lewis.jpg one, and the large matter of regret,  but is also about mended fences, reconciliation, learning to love across differences. Is the river a symbol of danger? Is it a symbol of the flow of healing that can wash over us?  Or maybe it is not a metaphor for much, just a huge geographic fact in the background of this story set in a particular geographic region.

Anyway, I suspect you know about, and have opinions about, this mass marketed genre of Amish fiction.  If you are a brainy type and want to know more, we heartily recommend Valerie Weaver-Zercher's important semi-scholarly work, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels (Johns Hopkins University Press; $24.95.) It studies the development of the genre and wonders about the appeal. Her thesis is fascinating and her study - of everything from the book cover designs to the plots themselves, to the small sisterhood of popular authors in this field - is well worth reading for anyone interested in the interplay of religion in American commercial fiction.

All of which is to say I'm in the middle of this brand new book by Mrs. Lewis don't want to spoil anything, but am eagerly awaiting her visit with us here at Hearts & Minds.  If you want us to ask her anything for you, or want any books -- early Christmas presents for mom or grandmother, perhaps? -- just let us know.

By the way, I was struck by the importance of the river in The River (which may be why I get paid the big bucks -- tee-hee) and wrote most of the above before I noticed, just a bit ago, an "author's note" as an afterword on pages 315 - 316 of the book.  

She writes, 

The Conestoga River captured my attention one October afternoon two years ago -- it seemed to call to my heart. I was preparing for the final shoot of the long day, the last segment of my documentary, "Glimpses of Lancaster County with Beverly Lewis" [which you can see at her website.] We were set up right near the historic Hunsecker's Mill Bridge, and I had walked down the grassy slope to review what I'd planned to say, inching my way toward the wide river. There, as I stared at the rushing water, Tilly's story presented itself to me, as did little Anna's drowning. In that moment I knew I had to write The River, with all of its heartrending yet redemptive threads.

I will long remember the surge of emotions, the power of the story. And the way the river seemed to demand top billing in my lineup of Eden Valley characters. 



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September 3, 2014

OP-ED COLUMN SENT TO OUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER - Preemptive Love author Jeremy Courtney to speak at First Presbyterian Church, YORK

I thought my BookNotes review last week of Jeremy Courtney's book, Preemptive Love, just out in paperback, ended up pretty good, so I do hope you read it.  It's really a spectacular book, page-turning, informative and inspiring. 

And, we are hosting an event with Jeremy here in the area this Friday night. 

Here is an early (longer) draft of an op-ed column I sent to our local newspaper, which they chose not to run.  Somedays I rub my eyes at the silly stuff that gets in the paper, but I suppose I'm biased here. 

Hosting Jeremy is a great, great privilege and the event is going to be awesome, fun, even, amidst the horrific news of what is going on in Iraq these very days.  We are grateful that our church has partnered with us to bring this event to Central Pennsylvania.

Here's how I tell tried to tell local folks about it.

In recent weeks the story of the terror waged in Iraq by the army known as ISSI has exploded across the news and social media.  We have learned of religious hatred and political crisis.  Some of us despair of the reports of genocide while others rant against the political party that we think has been most irresponsible.  The situation is tragic. There is very little good news coming from the Middle East these days.

Cpreemptive love.jpgentral Pennsylvanians will have an opportunity to hear an aid worker just in from Iraq, the founder of a medical NGO there, Jeremy Courtney, who may be one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown named Courtney's book, Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time, about his work with sick children in Iraq, one of the Best Books of 2013. The first Friday of September (9/5/14) we will be the first bookstore to officially launch the new paperback edition of Preemptive Love with a guest appearance by the author himself.

The historic sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in downtown York is a perfect venue to host Mr. Courtney and his family, whose work in Iraq invites racial and ethnic reconciliation by way of collaborating in the dramatic effort to do much-needed pediatric heart surgeries. A binding 1967 document of the Presbyterian Church (USA), called a "confession," insists that peacemaking is part of the high calling of followers of Christ, and First Presbyterian has long attempted to serve as agents of reconciliation. In the tense days of race riots in York, First Presbyterian merged with Faith Presbyterian, bringing together as a signpost of inter-racial unity a primarily black church and a primarily white one. In the hot heat of the 1980s Cold War, FPC hosted meetings of the nuclear freeze campaign, insistingfpc.jpg that treaties for bi-lateral disarmament were necessary and in keeping with a faithful politics. We hosted Russian clerics in a time when that was not popular (indeed, an international religious service was picketed by out-of-town hawks.) Drawing on our Confession of 1967, we use the word "reconciliation" a lot.

Like most churches, the congregation has developed partnerships with ministries in other lands, even sent our own health care teams overseas. We've hosted classes on peacemaking, understanding Islam, explored racial concerns, and have taken other initiatives to explore how the gospel leads to wise and fruitful relationship-building for the common good.

Ahh, but none of us have done the sort of audacious ministry as has Mr. Courtney, whose work has earned him an Islamic fatwa, or death threat, and has landed him in foreign jails.  


By helping Arab kids get life-saving heart surgery in Israel, where they met, perhaps for thePLC logo.jpg first time, real Jews, who showed themselves to be kind and good. As Mr. Courtney explains in his book, Preemptive Love: Pursing Peace One Heart at a Time, these medical miracles did just what the religious extremists who opposed them feared: kids and their families learned to love their enemies!  The standard-fare demonization of enemies can't stand when it is undermined by preemptive love.

Courtney's PLC organization experienced further obstacles and agony in helping save lives of countless children in the Kurdish region of Iraq when it became clear that the only hospital in the region able to serve them was in Turkey (interestingly, a Johns Hopkins affiliate.) Those who know the anguish of the people of Kurdistan know that the Turks have committed their own genocide against them and have repressed them for centuries. Can love win in the effort to overcome such long-standing mistrust and animosity? Can a legacy of violence and abuse be overturned? 

Courtney thinks that the power of love can do what our bombs cannot: by building trust, families and village can be transformed.

child with chest scar.jpgOf the children his Preemptive Love Coalition has served and whose lives were saved by multi-ethnic, inter-faith cooperation, he says "they will carry the scars on their chests into law school and parliament and tell a new story of a new Iraq..." 

Perhaps we, too, can play a part, telling a new story, even here.

* * *

Medical missions are always complicated in the developing world when infrastructure is problematic, funds lacking, and procedures untried. When the needs include pediatric heart surgery, in a war zone, amongst people groups who are hostile to Western ideals, the mission is extraordinarily fraught.  And yet, this young Texan continues to believe that love can overcome the worst of odds. He has been betrayed and threatened, and yet, his Preemptive Love Coalition is finding success.  As he quickly says, he and his wife and teammates have been shown hospitality and grace by new Iraqi friends and global colleagues. Together, they are learning to do the heart-mending operations in Iraq, building local capacities and infrastructure. The backlog of kids needing heart surgery is immense (Iraq has one of the highest amounts of childhood heart defects in the world, apparently thanks to the enhanced radiation warheads used in the first Gulf War and the horrific gassing of the Kurds by the brutal "Chemical Allie" serving the dictator Saddam Hussein.)  And they are doing something about it, in trainings they call The Remedy.

The war, the embargo, the limited worldviews, the radiation and the poison gas have all conspired to create one of the most urgent health crises in the world. Jeremy Courtney has become a hero in the efforts helping to end the backlog of kids awaiting life-saving surgery.  While some still threaten him and his team, many more are joining the Coalition, coming to believe that their motto --  "Love first, ask questions later" -- is not only the need in Iraq, butPreemtive Love poster.jpg perhaps, a way into a new way of life for us all.


You are invited to hear Mr. Courtney as he talks about his book Preemptive Love and his organization, The Preemptive Love Coalition, September 5th at 7:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Queen & Market in York.  There will be a reception afterword, with light (Middle Eastern) refreshments and a time for autographing books. There is free parking behind the church. 

The LA Times said, "this is the best news to come out of Iraq in a long time." 

We can experience it right here in Central PA.


stack of preemptive love books.jpg

If you want an autographed copy of the book, we may be able to get you one.  Just tell us if you want the hardback or paperback, and to whom you want it inscribed. If we have books left over Friday night, we'll get one for you, and ship it, happily.   Use the link to the order form, shown below, or give us a call. As they might say in Arabic speaking Iraq:  Shukran Jazeelan


Preemptive Love:
Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

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order here
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August 26, 2014

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber (IVP) ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

visions banner.jpgI just love hearing stories of how churches have special liturgies or ceremonies to honor people's work lives.  Of course, some do this during the Labor Day season; more than once I've helped organize litanies as people brought to the front of the church items from their workplace. 

moveable feast tt.jpgThe great new book that I mentioned last week, A Moveable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days (ImaginationPlus; $12.00) by our friend Terry Timm, offers a whimsical, smart, and inspiring theology of worship that realizes and develops the inherent relationship between corporate Sunday worship and our various offices and tasks to which we are called on weekdays. (In fact, there is a wonderful appendix that offers an entire service around the themes of work, with worship aids, prayers and litanies and such.) It might be worthwhile Labor Day meditation for some of you.

Mainline denominational churches, it seems, were hot on this topic twenty or thirty years ago (with good books by standard denominational publishers.) Now, evangelicals have been the most thoughtful and -- to use the overused word  -- robust in promoting a uniquely Christian view of work, based on a mature theology of calling and vocation, drawing on themes such as common grace, public faith, the renewal of institutions, the dignity of labor, and the common good. From Os Guinness' seminal and still essential, eloquent volume The Call: Finding and Fulfilling Your Life's Purpose (Thomas Nelson; $17.99) to the exceptionally insightful book co-written by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton; $16.00), we have seen in the last decade or so a remarkable consensus of the importance of themes of calling and vocation, leading to intentional reflection on the meaning of labor and the spiritual practices needed to be faithful and fruitful in the work-world.

I have written here about why all this is so vital and exciting for us (check out that live James Taylor video doing "Millworker" this Labor Day!) Here is a piece I wrote about this topic, inspired after a forum on faith & work here in our area with Steve Garber. Here is a piece I wrote after one of the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith & Work annual conference. (I hope you find the rumination and reviews helpful, but the special sale announced there is over.)

Here is a large bibliography on vocation and work that I did a few years ago which some have found helpful. It is one of the most-visted pages at our website, I gather.

visions of vocation.jpgThrough many, many of these conversations and in the development of new ministries, non-profits, think-tanks and publications from coast to coast, there has been one person, our good friend Steve Garber, author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00; our sale price = $12.80.) 

Steve has encouraged city-wide organizations helping professionals think and serve faithfully in their varied professions, and has helped seminaries develop curriculum to equip pastors to think about their priestly work among workers. I have written before how he has been influential in my own life,and my small connection to his earlier book.  He has been influential, and especially among our friends in Pittsburgh who run the Jubilee conference for college students. I know there are other strategic leaders and authors, but Steve has nurtured relationships and conversations around themes of caring for God's world, taking up our places in various spheres and careers, that have been transformative and consequential. He has been showing up behind the scenes in church basements and coffee shops, workshop rooms, or retreat center spaces for years, inviting people to deeper discipleship, thoughtful, relevant orthodoxy, and an "all of life redeemed" sort of wholistic Kingdom vision.

Garber's reputation as a mature thinker, eloquent speaker and author, and a caring friend andfabric of f.jpg teacher grew nation-wide after the publication of his much-acclaimed book about the years beyond higher education called The Fabric of Faithfulnness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior (IVP; $17.00; our sale price = $13.60) In that book he uses pop culture and heady philosophers and cultural critics to ask the huge questions of those trying to figure out the meaning of their lives: what does it mean to know something, and how can I keep on, with Christian convictions lived out with character and integrity, in community with friends. I has been very positively reviewed and is esteemed by very reliable authors and leaders. The new Visions of Vocation book has echoes of similiar themes, and in some ways it is a sequel. Yet, it seems more accessible, and will surely attract a broader audience. I think VoV is a good place to start if you haven't worked through FoF.

So, again, this new book -- which we helped launch into the world at Jubilee in February -- is called Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. I had the great privilege of reading an early manuscript and so knew how very good the book was before it was released. We confidently announced as we took pre-orders last winter that it would doubtlessly be the 2014 "Book of the Year" and I have no reason, now more than a half a year later, to back down from that big claim. There are some fantastic books that have come out this year, but this truly is the most eloquent, wise, interesting, stimulating, and valuable book I've read in years. It surely will be the Hearts & Minds Book of the Year.

VoV speaks volumes of Steve's long obedience in the same direction as he pursues his own calling to be a raconteur and traveling professor and friend to many, helping folks "weave together believe and behavior" as they consider their own tasks and callings and places to serve.

You know that famous Buechner quote about our vocations being that place where "your deepvocation - buechner quote.jpg gladness and the world's deep hunger meet"? Garber agrees, it seems, that "neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do" and he helps people explore that, day by day by day and although he doesn't say so, Visions of Vocation could be seen as an extended mediation on that potent quote.

I could ramble for way too long about the merits of this exceptional book, or citing the rave, rave views on the cover and inside pages (wow!)  but instead I will be relatively focused, naming four things I like about it, things that I think will benefit you as a serious reader. 


If you are familiar with the language we often use here -- the integration of faith and learning, aVoV.jpg wholistic Kingdom vision, the unfolding story of God's redeeming work in the world, taking faith into public life -- you will know that Garber's worldview and vision are consistent with (in fact has helped shape) our perspective here. I hope you know I am sincere when I say that if you appreciate our work at the bookstore, our curating of books at events, and these BookNotes reviews, you should get this book!

That is the first thing. Steve, without using much of the breathy rhetoric and lingo to which I so often resort, stands in the tradition(s) that have helped evangelicals learn to speak so passionately about cultural engagement, social change, and a long-term vision of living with integrity "in the world but not of it." He reads Kuyper, Al Wolters, N.T. Wright, writes for Comment magazine, The High Calling blog and more. Steve is humble, increasingly an older, capable friend to rising leaders, trusted because he himself has been guided by some of the best evangelical leaders of the previous generation, those that have held together solid theology, deep piety and prayer, and a non-partisan, sensible, radical Christian view of life and times. From Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness to J.I. Packer and John Stott, Steve has been informed by lasting friendships with important leaders.

And, he reads widely, carefully, delightfully, even, awed, often, by good lines from Dickens and Marx, Walker Percy and Camus, Chaim Potok and Wendell Berry, the contemporary novels of Thomas Wolfe and classics like Victor Hugo and, always, the poetry of Steve Turner. For those who want to know these things, he often cites Church of South India missionary Leslie Newbigin and Jewish Biblical scholar Abraham Heschel. I love a guy who quotes Dutch Calvinist Geerhardus Vos and the famous British Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Lutheran intellectual Jean Bethke Elshtain and the poetry of Madeline L'Engle.

So, Garber gets it. God cares about all of life, we must move from thinking about worldviews to embodying restorative ways of life, and we do that over a lifetime of being shaped by worship and Word, reading and talking, slowly and carefully, drinking deeply from the deepest wells, renewed so that we can be the people God calls us to be in this creation being restored.


Secondly, not only does Steve's book call us to this wide-as-life, creation-regained worldview that pushes us to discern our vocations and callings and take up our places in the work God gives us to do, but he does this heavy lifting with eloquence and real tenderness.  He is an excellent writer, knowing how to develop a theme with quotes and stories, Scripture and song, drawing on older authors and the latest sociology, pacing things just so with some sophisticated analysis and some charming prose.

For those who just love a good book, this quite simply is one of the best.

There are many books these days written with whimsy and upbeat energy. These are cool and fun and commendable, especially for younger readers or those who need the hip banter and jokes to keep their interest. But these titles and their authors, I'm afraid, will not last, and will not guide us very deeply, not for a lifetime. On the other hand, I hardly have to say that dense, stodgy works that are dusty and dry don't help many of us very much, either.  

GSteve Garber Jubilee headshot.jpgarber strikes a balance, with his gifted style, his deep knowledge, his mature guidance, and his very stimulating stories, richly told. He delightfully cites movies, mentions meetings with pop icons and rock stars. U2, Mumford & Sons, Dave Matthews Band, are quoted. He exegetes poems and rock songs and films, always offering exceptional insight, gifted as he is at doing these things. He doesn't just cite a star so he can seem hip to a demographic, or because some editor asked him to lighten up. Steve is one of the most naturally gifted discerners of popular culture who can speak with profundity and intellectual acumen, keeping a foot properly planted in what some call the real world. 

So that's the second thing: he not only gets the big picture of the Biblically-saturated mind and the way toward a reformingly Christian perspective, he writes really well, striking a rare balance between serious insight and great stories. I truly believe this to be one of the best written non-fiction books of applied theology I've seen in a long while. I know that Steve poured his heart into this manuscript for years and years, not rushing to complete it, letting his life and words simmer so they sounded out truth truly and nicely.


Thirdly, besides the perspective and the prose: I think this book strikes an amazing tone of joy and sorrow, of idealism and realism, of honesty and hope. Books like this are all too rare. Many religious books are glib, happy-clappy, or superficial in their positivity. (There are also those that are so harsh and hard that, while beneficial, can be almost too somber or angry, creating agitation in the reader, not wisdom and hope.) So the third strength of this book is how it handles the hard stuff of our lives and our world.

Actually, this is a major theme of Visions of Vocation. That is, it is not just another rumination on the doctrine of calling or the joy of a purpose driven life or a rousing call to make a difference. It isn't mostly about labor and the work-world, even though that is a large part of the consulting and teaching he does through his remarkable Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture. If it has "vocation" in the title, but isn't a book mostly about callings and careers, exactly, what then does he mean by the title?

I think it is mostly this: we are, indeed, called by a covenant-making God who initiates redemptive work in our lives, recruiting us for God's own purposes in the world. That invitation -- that call to us -- comes with a large consequence: like Jesus, the incarnate One who models this very calling to serve God, to pray and live "thy Kingdom come, on Earth," we are called to behold the world, and realize its deep sorrow. This is our vocation: to care for the world as God does, to love, to take upon ourselves some of the aches of our time. If we are not to grow jaded or cynical or apathetic or pessimistic, we will simply have to figure out how to love well despite disappointment. Although not a cheap "self help" book,VoV will help you do that. 

I recall years ago, in a story that is hinted at inVoV, Steve shared how when he and his wife were first married, and she got to know him more intimately, privately, learning of his deepest flaws and foibles, he wondered if, knowing who he really is, could she continue to love him. That is a very fundamental question for us all, isn't it?  Once we are known, we wonder if people will still love us as much as they did before they saw us as the broken, stupid sinners that we are.  And what kind of a person can do that?

And so it goes, as we are called to care about the world, to serve God in the world, to be Christ's agents of change in the culture, to take up our own place in the choir, even as we find out that it isn't as easy as we thought. It is messy. Change the world? I can hardly change myVan Gogh sad man.jpg attitude. Make a difference in politics or business or media or medicine? I can hardly make a difference in my own skin or my own family. It's a bumpy ride, this journey to live well in a screwy world, and Garber thinks we need a strong and lasting sense of vocation to withstand the tendencies to grow cold, to care less, to give up. We need to internalize deep and solid and fruitful visions of vocation, knowing just what we are called to do and be. 

So, this book, unlike almost any other, gets us to think about what we most care about, how we choose to live, in light of various images and ideas about our calling into the world. Can we know the world, and still care?  Can we care and not burn out? Can our relationship with the rabbi Jesus help us shed tears like He did, to flare up in righteous anger as He did, in holiness and mercy, to reach out and heal hurts, in some way, as he did? Can we be Christ-like image-bearers even in our public lives, in the spheres of influence where we spend our dollars and our days?

As Steve asks, more than once in this profound book, knowing what I know, what will I do?

That question really is the heart of the book.

I mentioned that he tells good stories, and that they aren't cheap little inspirational nuggets gathered from some writer's anthology of neat illustrations. Steve walks alongside people -- medical researchers stationed in Africa, movies stars stationed in LA, college students stationed in Ivy Leagues colleges, mothers pondering the art and vocation of caring for families -- and the stories he tells of them are inspiring and, frankly, somehow extraordinarily meaningful. He has a way of underscoring and illuminating the dignity and meaning of the struggles of these brave folks to serve God where they are, even in their own brokenness. I cannot put my finger on it, but Garber sees into the holy reality of these friends of his, and tells their stories in ways that capture dignity and purpose.

From his pals in Jars of Clay (and their Blood:Water Mission) to his friend Hans who started anb-wm.jpg environmentally-sensitive burger chain using organic ingredients and grass-fed cattle to a Korean friend who works at the World Bank to a Lawrence, Kansas, carpenter guy, a former student of his who now owns his own small construction business, rebuilding homes with integrity, stories are shared as examples of people who are intentional about their live's callings and the fidelity needed in that arena or responsibility. In each case, these folks have stepped into a way of doing their work that starts with deep knowing. He describes one as a person with "a seriousness about things that matter and a softness of heart."

One story he briefly tells is of a school teacher who struggled with the deep implications for education found in C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man. Another is of a white South African, now in the states, who tells of his journey towards political action for public justice by his regular reading of the Psalms; yet another friend he tells us about is an Anglican priest who is recasting his vision of ministry, learning to be a pastor to people who take their work and public life seriously. Another couple has a gift of hospitality, serving good wine with good laughter among friends and guests. 

Of them, Steve writes, "People who keep at their callings for a lifetime are always people who suffer. The world is too hard and life too broken for it to be otherwise. And that is true for Deirdre and Claudius." After describing some of their illnesses and surgeries and hardships, Garber continues, "But they live with gladness and singleness of heart, which at the end of the day is the best that any of us can do."

As he reflects on this couple and the witness of their lives, he writes,

Their life for others is a window into the meaning of common grace for the common good. From the hospitality of their table to the way they live in their neighborhood to the work that is theirs in the worlds of law and psychology, they have chosen vocations that give coherence, making sense of what they believe about God and the human condition, and have unfolded habits of heart that are a grace to the watching world.


I suppose this captures the fourth reason I think Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good is such a stellar book, a wise gift to us all, a work well worth reading. It offers an exceptional idea, really: that the Christian life is to be offered for the watching world, as a grace, as he puts it. It may not come as a surprise that Garber has been influential among those who made the popular For the Life of the World DVDs that I have raved about here. The title of that video series is an answer to the question "What is our salvation for?" Interesting, isn't it?

"A grace for the watching world", he says. 

Igrce&peace.jpg know there is much written these days about a gospel-centered life, about the doctrine of grace, both as it helps us understand the work of Christ's cross (for our justification and sanctification) and as a style of nonjudgmental living, a gracious shift away from legalism. Yes, yes, we need gospel-drenched teachings. But Garber talks also about what some call "common grace" which is to say that God (in patience and mercy) upholds the creation for all creatures under the sun, and all of life somehow can point us towards the truth of the God who is there, and the sustainable abundance of life as it was meant to be. We can happily live in the real world, spending our ordinary days, in our ordinary occupations, knowing of God's presence we can offer grace to a needy world. Perhaps our gift will be mundane; in our day to day we will learn to incarnate goodness, showing forth lives that embody meaning. In other words, living well for the sake of the world, because of God, makes sense, unfolds the meaning of our days. I think that may be close to what Garber means by a call to coherence -- to craft lives that makes sense because the gospel is true. 

We take up our human calling to care and we find ourselves complicit and responsible; therein lies the beauty and the joy. We can, in Christ's power, take steps to reverse the curse, to live for better things, to actually do what we know. Words can become flesh. 

Garber writes,

The Hebrew vision that echoes across the centuries through culture offers a different way to be human, where knowing becomes doing. And the Christian vision incarnates this conviction, telling the story of the Word become flesh, and of words becoming flesh in and through our vocations.  This vision calls us to know and to care about what we know; in fact to love what we know. And, strange grace that it is, it becomes possible to know without becoming disillusioned, to know the worst and to still love - not only people, but the world in which we live. We will never do that perfectly, only proximately, at our very best. But in this now-but-not-yet- moment in history, that is enough.

Visions-of-Vocation Van G.jpgHere, then, a quick summary. 

FOUR GOOD REASONS TO BUY Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. And we have it at 20% off, too, a reason I hardly need to mention.

1.   1.    It is one more very good example of a growing body of literature about cultural engagement, about serving God in the world, especially in our work, and this big picture of how to imagine the Kingdom coming -- moving from worldview to way of life -- is timely, important, and offers insights into the best way to live out daily discipleship. If you like books about a Christian worldview (and I hope you do!) this is great. If, however, you don't resonant with that word, this book is really great -- I don't recall that he uses the W word at all. Steve's ecumenical, orthodox vision is broad and important, a transforming vision.

2.     2.  Visions of Vocation is very well written, eloquent and inspiring, without being cheap or glib. The stories are well-told, offering important clues into lives well-lived, but aren't so dramatic or historic that we cannot relate. This is a beautifully-crafted book, profound and realistic, even as it is written with a seriousness of vision and an exceptional command of language. The sentences are good, the paragraphs and pages sometimes sublime. One reviewer said "love and vulnerability exudes from every page." I think the artful cover even hints at this: this is a beautifully-done book to own and to share.

3.     3.  The heart of VoV, like FoF before it, is profound and vital, and something we just don't hear much: not only are we invited to be agents of Kingdom transformation, serving Christ in all areas of life, but to do this will inevitably cause us to suffer. In fact, the deepest meaning of our human-ness is to know how to be responsible in a complex, broken world. Can we love well, even knowing what we know? Will we resist the tendency to sell out, burn out, or to grow cynical or apathetic? I predict that 20 years from now, some people will report that the reading of this book was one thing that helped them keep the faith, in part because it was honest about the human condition and the state of the world. To say it is realistic about our pain and the agonies of the world is a deep, good thing, and sets it apart, even making it urgent.

4.    Visions... points us to coherence, to a meaningful life that makes sense, a way of being that is sane and good and full of faith, hope and love. That is, it is an uncommon grace to us; God will use it to inspire you as you realize how you serve the common good. As you care about the world you will thereby find ultimate meaning: loving God and loving neighbor. Put simply, I am sure this rich book will help you discover a depth of meaning and significant coherence to the story of your life and will help you flourish, yes, for the sake of the world.

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