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November 20, 2014

12 Great New Advent Books for Your Seasonal Spiritual Formation: 20% OFF (and a free book offer, if you order now.)

Okay, friends, here it is, our annual description of new Advent resources.  Don't delay -- we are giving away a free Advent book if you order anything in the next 72 hours.

After that, all these fine resources (and some that we've mentioned other years, here, here, or even here, if they are still in print and still available) still qualify for the BookNotes reader's 20% discount. 

And don't forget my review of the newly re-issued The Advent of Justice devotional by Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, and Mark Vander Vennen, which I described here. 

So, if you order by the end of day Sunday, we'll toss in an Advent book or study (of our choice, something nice, with real value, as our gift to you.) After that, we still offer a 20% discount, deducted off the retail price that is shown.   

Spread the word, gather your group, send an email to Santa or do whatever you have to do.  There is something for almost anyone. We're here, helping you get ready to get ready.

Tthe-season-of-the-nativity.gifhe Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist Sybil MacBeth (Paraclete Press) $17.99  Wow, what's not to like about this - written, as it is, by a self-professed season "extremist."  Ha!  I love that! (And, as a good liturgical aficionado would, this resource includes ample stuff for Epiphany!) The spiffy ad copy on the back - with a design that looks warm and contemporary - says "Christmas sparkles brighter - when you celebrate the season in all of its fullness."  Okay, there's an allusion to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany - but it means more, I think.  Ms MacBeth, you see, is the author of the very, very popular Praying in Color (and the pocket edition, and the kid's edition) that invites us to doodle and design and be creative in our playfully serious coloring our prayers.  From colored pencils to other creative options, that book, like this one, is fabulous for those who can't just sit still and read and meditate.  When this invites us to celebrate in "fullness" it means to suggest a multi-dimensional, holistic kind of engagement.  And - kudos to the Sisters of Paraclete Press - the design of this colorful book is as lovely as the idea.  It really is vibrant, colorful, and winsome.

Listen to what Lauren Winner writes about it.  (She was, by the way, an early booster of MacBeth's earlier projects.)

This gorgeous book is going to remain at my reading chair, dog-eared and bookmarked, all through the Yuletide season. It will also be under the tree of just about everyone on my gift list. We will all have more interesting winters, and greater intimacy with Jesus, because of it.

Aall I really want abingdon cover.jpgll I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas Quinn G. Caldwell (Abingdon) $15.99  Well, somewhat like the Sybil MacBeth one, this looks cheery and upbeat, like one of those bright red advertisements for chain department stores that are so alluring this time of year (until you look carefully at the lower right corner.  Ha.)  But - but! - this is some pretty radical stuff, not just a pretty package.  As the author (a pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC Church in Syracuse NY) writes,

"Let's get one thing straight: this book is not going to help you 'simplify the season.' It's not going to help you throw a stress-free Christmas party or create the Best Christmas Ever in five easy steps. I'm not here to simplify anything for you.  Neither is God. If you have too many cookie exchanges or whatever, you're just going to have to find a way to deal with that yourself. This book is actually designed to complicate the season. It's here to invite you to think and pray a little more deeply about it."

So, yeah, there's that. 

As Lillian Daniel writes of it, "Accept this invitation to a five-week birthday party for Jesus, populated by aggressive cousins, evil dragons, and last-minute shoppers. Your Christmas is about to get hilariously complicated."  Or, listen to the punchy, passionate Debbie Blue (you do know her crazy-good, very provocative Birds of the Bible don't you?) "I love that the suggestions are surprising (set something on fire, decorate garishly, believe in a God that can co-opt the culture's co-option.) It's playful and funny and theologically profound."  These readings are pretty amazing, sure to make you think, knock you off balance a bit, maybe even knock some sense into us all.  As Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard says, he "releases us from forced cheerfulness and invites us to relish the rich, complex darkness of the season..." 

TThe Christmas Countdown .jpghe Christmas Countdown: Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for Families Margie J. Harding (Paraclete Press) $15.99  I'm always a little suspicious when a book promises "meaningful and fun activities" for families with children.  I'm not sure that most of these sorts of earnest resources work that well.  Maybe our family was just spiritually dull or religiously lazy (or, at times, overwrought?) but we were often a bundle of antsy un-cooperation.  I wish we'd have had this handsome book when our children were young: it combines moderate, ancient, solid theological insight and interesting, earnest, maybe even fruitful activities, from word puzzles and games to recipes and songs.  There are readings, discussion questions, prayers. There are "action" steps for adults and "prompts" for kids of varying ages, including an "onward" session for after Christmas.  I don't know how "new" these traditions will be - but if you've not tried this sort of thing before, or if you haven't found it meaningful, well, this could be a good next step.   Very nicely done.

LLight of Lights- Advent Devotions from The Upper Room.jpgight of Lights: Advent Devotions from The Upper Room Upper Room (Abingdon) $10.00  This little guy is a gem for a few reasons. It is brief, inexpensive, pocket-sized (almost.)  It could be used personally, as any devotional guide would be; the readings are mature, contemplative, well-written, as you'd expect from the altogether lovely Upper Room. But this is the main value and point: it is designed, really, to be a resource to be used with an Advent wreath.  There are four weeks of devotions with the themes (of the Advent wreath) of Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. There are some little tips for including the tradition of the wreath in your home or congregation, and there is a small group guide in the back, so it could be used in a small group, Sunday school class, or other faith community setting. We highly recommend this hands-on customer - especially if you have kids that like fire!  Light of Lights suggests a flame-retardant artificial wreath, but we say "humbug!" to that.  Go get some fresh-smelling pine or holly or anything real.  Let Christ, the very God of very God, be your light of lights!

Nnot-a-silent-night-leader-guide.jpgot a Silent Night: Mary Looks Back to Bethlehem Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $16.99  I suppose by now you know of this Kansas-based, United Methodist pastor, nearly a rock star, one of the biggest selling religious authors these days, a passionate, powerful speaker who appeals very widely.  His previous studies of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and the life of Jesus (see, The Journey and The Way) have been very useful, and are purchased by individuals, families, and, of course, congregations.  Like many of the others he has done, this book (which can be read as a stand-alone devotional) has a DVD, a leader's guide, a youth version, a children's resource, even a little flash-drive full of congregational ideas and preaching resources. We gave the different components, for sure!

Anyway, if you've read any of his other thoughtful, inspiring books, you'll want this. I suppose the "spend Christmas with Mary" has been done before, but maybe you've not explored it -- at least not like this, imagining Jesus from Mary's point of view.  Hamilton starts at the end, with Mary at the crucifixion and resurrection, and then travels back in time as she witnesses Jesus' life and ministry, and ends at the beginning, "with the Christ child born in a stable, Mary's beautiful baby." Wow.

UUnwrapping the Greatest Gift.jpgnwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99  Last year we raved about a very handsome hardback devotional by Ann Voskamp, the amazingly good writer of the very popular One Thousand Gifts.  It was called The Greatest Gift.  There is a fabulous DVD curriculum to use with it, which explores the great, rich tradition of "The Jesse Tree."  We were fond of that book and DVD, too, but can hardly express how this material has generated yet another Advent book by Ms Voskamp -- a full-color, oversized hardback with good, glossy pages, which beautifully helps families explore moving scenes from the Bible that lead us, step by step, through the history of redemption and towards the birth of Christ and the Advent of His Kingdom. Vivid, contemporary illustrations enhance the Scripture readings and questions and activities; links for downloadable ornaments are included that help communicate the stages of salvation history, starting with the Garden of Eden.  On the back cover of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift they invite us to "Celebrate the best love story of all time with your family!" Indeed, this helps your family retrace the linage of Jesus and fall in love with the story of God, unfolded bit by bit, with very nice artwork and these great downloadable ornaments. 

This is a beautiful book you will want to keep, because, we hope, it is one you will cherish.

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  You very well may know all four volumes, of all three liturgical cycles, all 12 of the Feasting on the Word preaching commentaries.  And you may have used some of the creative, helpful Feasting on the Word Worship Companion volumes which offer liturgical resources, prayers, litanies, and such, drawn from and inspired by the Feasting... project.  Well, the rumors are true: they've created one convenient volume for Advent (and Christmas eve and Christmas day) use, that includes preaching ideas as well as worship aids, with ideas on everything from Advent wreath litanies, suggested hymns and carols to children's service ideas and ready-to-use options for a mid-week service.

I know we've mentioned this earlier in the season, but it is useful for those that need such an all in one pastor's companion and deserves to be listed with the other best of 2014 Advent resources.

EEvery Valley- Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah.jpgvery Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah foreword by Albert L. Blackwell (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  This is an amazing, wonderfully done hardback (at a great price, I might add) that prints the libretto from Messiah (crafted by GFH's friend Charles Jennens) and the NRSV Biblical texts upon which they are based.  The 40 Biblical meditations are by a variety of pastors, scholars, and mainline denominational writers, adapted or drawn from the exegetical and theological material in -- wait for it... -- the preaching commentaries, Feasting on the Word Year A, B, and C.  Actually, this is a great idea, with sophisticated, brief theological reflections based on these classic texts, presented in a very nice devotional format. As it reminds us on the back cover, "These memorable words can easily be heard in a kind of sentimental haze, familiar from countless church choir concerts and Christmas eve services. But the Scriptures Handel set to music in his most beloved oratorio also tell as powerful story -- of God's promised one, from prophetic foretelling to birth, death, resurrection, and ultimate victory.  Find inspiration for your holiday season and year-round faith with these forty insightful meditations."  Hallelujah! 

TThe Messiah- The Texts Behind Handel's Masterpiece (Lifeguide Bible Study).jpghe Messiah: The Texts Behind Handel's Masterpiece (Lifeguide Bible Study)  Douglas Connelly (IVP) $8.00  You may know that the Lifeguide Bible Studies are the most popular small group Bible study guides out there, basic, clear, thoughtful, inductive without being self-evident.  This doesn't have too much about Handel or Messiah and so could be done by those who have little interest in classical music.  It examines in 8 sessions the key Bible texts that make up the grand oratorio.  Maybe you could even do a few weeks of it now, and safe the last portions for Lent or Eastertime.  There is a very nice suggestion at the end of each study (which they call "now or later") which invites a careful listening to the music, attending to this feature or that characteristic of the performance. It would be fantastic to do that as a group - I favor the "now" rather than the "later" - but they realize not every group wants to do that.  This really is a nice part of this inexpensive study, and we highly recommend it.  Maybe this is a bit overstated, but on the back it suggests, "Perfect for Advent or Lent, this guide leads you through Scripture passages used in Handel's Messiah that highlight who Jesus is and what he came to do. It might change the way you listen to Handel's oratorio. Even more, it might change the way you live."

IIn the Manger- 25 Inspirational Selections for Advent Max Lucado.jpgn the Manger: 25 Inspirational Selections for Advent Max Lucado (Nelson) $9.99  I think of all the many, many great books and devotionals Max has done over the last 30 years, God Came Near is one of his best, and remains a enduring, lovely, moving set of ruminations on the incarnation.  In this handsomely designed little hardback, we get short excerpts from this and other popular books by the evocative author.  Sentimental, challenging, insightful, worshipful, tender - each page is a delight, nicely done, helpful.   Lucado has written a lot of beloved books over his career, and this little compilation is very nice, not pushy or heavy, but yet compelling.

 In the Manger is the kind of book that you will enjoy if you are a fan of Max Lucado, and it is very nice book to give away to those who may not know his rich, inspiring prose.  A perfect stocking stuffer or gift to tuck in with another gift or greeting.

UUnder Wraps- The Gift We Never Expected .jpgnder Wraps: The Gift We Never Expected Jessica LaGrone, Andy Nixon, Rob Rendroe, Ed Robb  (Abingdon) $12.99  Okay, the "unwrapping" gifts has been done before in too many sermon series, Christmas tracts, Advent devotionals. I know.  I don't even love the cover of this with the silly (retro?) type font.  But you know what? This is a truly lovely book, handsomely designed with some very nice artful touches inside, with mature and meaty insights, good reflection questions and eloquent prayers.  I like it a lot.

The writers have been teaching pastors at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas, and this is solid, accessible, interesting stuff.  I was almost bowled over by the simple paragraph that talked about God becoming incarnate in Jesus "under wraps" and as I opened myself to reflecting on these short sets of readings, concluded that this is a very faithful, very fine, easy-to-use resource. The chapters attempt to reveal the attributes of God throughout redemptive history, in chapters called "God is Expectant", "God is Dangerous", "God is Jealous" and "God Is Faithful."  There is a final section for use during Christmas week called "A Season of Joy."

Besides this devotional, they've produced a DVD, a Leader's Guide, a youth study book, a children's resource, even a worship planning flash drive with lots of good stuff for sermons, PowerPoint, creative liturgical resources.  Call us if you want more info, as we have all the various supplemental pieces, including the nice DVD.

Llight-upon-light-a-literary-guide-to-prayer-for-advent-christmas-and-epiphany-31.jpgight Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press) $18.99  Dare I tip my hand and say that I intend to use this often this season?  It really is an extraordinary book, a literary and spiritual feast full of fiction, poetry, and excerpts of great literature. The book is elegantly designed with French folded covers, and an equally beautifully tone.  Perhaps you know Arthur's previous one like this, At the Still Point which was for use in Ordinary Time.  This includes a daily prayer which is most often a poem (including some surprising choices) and then a Psalm, Scripture readings, and then some daily offerings of poems and short excerpts of fiction.  If you believe in the holy coming to us in the guise of literature, this is for you. 

As poet Luci Shaw writes of it, "Sarah Arthur illuminates our whole year with the gift of flaming words. A treasure of enlightenment."  Just a thought: even if you aren't interested in Oscar Hijuelos or MacDonald's Gifts of the Christ Child or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Gerard Manley Hopkins or Fred Buechner or Christiana Rossetti, you surely know some lit-lovers, English majors, or aspiring poets who don't want a more customary Advent devotional.  This would make a beautiful, appreciated gift.



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November 17, 2014

Hearts & Minds presents: Eight Great New Books, all 20% OFF at BookNotes

Lots of great books keep coming in to the shop. Sales may be down in indie bookstores, but the publishing world is strong, writers doing their thing, publishers releasing important work.  What a joy, what a gift, to be a reader in these times.  Here are a few you should consider for your own library, or maybe for your small group. At least you could put some on that Christmas list you know you're making.  Or maybe you can't wait for that.  Send us an order, today!

Rrebel souls.jpgebel Souls: America's First Bohemians  Justin Martin (De Capo) $27.99 I love books that do social history, placing ideas and movements within a broader context, that unlock the personalities of people (famous or less so) showing how they reflected (and in some cases caused) features of our society that we now take for granted. In Rebel Souls Justin Martin tells us about Pfaffs, a storied 1850s bar in New York City that became (quite knowingly) the first place in America to forge an alt-community of artists and creative thinkers who called themselves bohemians. The word, coined in Paris a decade before, was inspired, in fact, by Puccini's classic opera, La Boheme (which, in turn, inspired the long-running Rent, set in the East Village.) Walt Whitman was a nightly feature at Pfaffs, and the coterie of these creative, troubled souls, had a reach that was stunning: into this story comes Emerson, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and some very important, if lesser known folks, including, perhaps America's first stand-up comic. They had no word for stand-up comedy in the 1850s so they called the performances of Artemus Ward "comic lectures."

You may know Justin Martin from his nicely-written, very informative, fascinating books such as the highly regarded Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted; he is a fine historian and great writer. Pulitzer Prize winner Debby Applegate says about Rebel Souls,  "A terrific book about a magical time and place in American history - Pfaff's basement saloon on Broadway on the eve of the Civil War, where boozers, brawlers, and barflies, journalists, comics, actors, and poets came together to create a bohemian paradise.  Like the West Bank of Paris of the 1920s or Greenwich Village during the Beat Generation, Pfaff's scene burned brightly and then burned out..." 

If space permitted, I'd tell you about the role of their writings and reviews, and the lasting significance. I'd tell you about the Naked Lady, the guy who wrote the first book (a big seller, published by Harper & Brothers!) on hashish, the role of theater in those years, the role of women, the Pffafians relationship with John Wilkes Booth, and - of course - more about the one who became the Good Grey Poet himself. I learned so much, and enjoyed the story greatly.

Also, I'd be sure to tell you how important it is to understand the ethos and orientation of bohemia for understanding today's new romantics, hipsters, neo-hippies, many artists and indie rockers, and some of the emergent religious communities.  As Martin tells us early in the book,

The Pfaff's Bohemians were part of the transition from art as a genteel profession to art as a soul-deep calling, centered on risk-taking, honesty, and provocation. Everyone from Lady Gaga to George Carlin to Dave Eggers owes a debt to these originals. They were also the forerunners of such alternative artists groups as the Beats, Andy Warhol's Factory, and the abstract expressionist painters who hung out during the 1950s at New York's Cedar Tavern. 

The pendulum continues to swing from rationalism to romanticism, control to freedom, thinking to feeling, from the straight and narrow to the wild and free (and it is not a stretch to say, red states and blue states.)  For at least one major manifestation of a zeitgeist that still attracts, hang out a Pfaffs for a bit with Whitman and his rag-tag crew of cultural creatives. Experience how this bawdy group of writers and thinkers shaped, in some ways, the very way some artists increasingly imagined their own vocations and work. Follow Whitman after the Civil War to DC, and then to Camden NJ, even as he publishes yet another edition of Leaves of Grass, this time with "O Captain! My Captain!" included. Think of Robin Williams, even, and say a prayer.

This is a wonderful book about bohemian culture, a fascinating history that reverberates yet today.  Thanks to Mr. Martin for his painstaking research and the obvious care of his subject that come out so nicely in his writing.

Ffather factor.jpgather Factor: American Christian Men on Fatherhood and Faith edited by R. Anderson Campbell  (White Cloud Press) $17.95  I do hope I can write more extensively about this later, because it is truly a fabulous, fabulous book, interesting, well-written, helpful. There is a small backstory or two: The "I Speak for Myself" series of which this is a part includes two books of young Muslim writers telling about their lives. These were helpful testimonials written by young Americans who were Muslims, one by women, one by men -- lovely stuff.  The third in the series was Talking Taboo which we reviewed and touted, a wonderful, important project of young Christina woman talking about their experiences as women in the church. A host of important writers I admire and a few friends were in that one, and we carried it around to many places we've done book displays.  The new fourth one is perhaps the best yet, with really, really good writing, and very, very moving stories.  I happily admit that Mr. Campbell is aanderson campbell.jpg friend I admire, and a dad I admire, and that two other former CCO staff friends -- Kurt Ro and Brian Shope -- are included among these 30 writers under 30 years old. (I don't think my judgment is too clouded here) but their pieces are amongst the strongest in the book.! Congrats, friends.

To summarize, these moving pieces are ruminations on the fathers of these guys, or their own role as a father, on knowing God as a father, and on this whole messy male business.  Sometimes, naturally, the reflections include both recalling their own dads, and their being a dad; you can imagine.  A young dad wants to be just like his own father; another young dad does not at all want to be like his own father.  There is joy and sadness and faith and rage and great grace in these pieces and I truly recommend them.

Matthew Paul Turner notes that "In many ways, Father Factor is a work of art, a beautiful collage of humanity and soul, a thoughtful collection of stories detail the lives, dreams and fears of American fathers. The essays in this book will make you laugh, bring you to tears, and at all times, cause you to rethink your approach to parenting. But most of all, Father Factor will give you hope.

I was fortunate enough to get to offer a blurb, alongside more famous and better writers, from Richard Mouw, Christena Cleveland, Eboo Patel, to my friend Lisa Sharon Harper.  For what it's worth, here's what I wrote:

I love memoirs -- who doesn't love a good story? -- and these short narratives are a joy to read, a reader's delight, getting a glimpse into the lives of others. There is wonder, loss, love, joy, pathos, romance and laughter, a little cursing and a lot of praise. But there is more: these are exceptionally brave stories from many different sorts of men reflecting profoundly about God the father, their own fathers (for better or for worse) and their own particular journeys into fatherhood. This is not a self-help manual, but guys from all stages of life will learn much and be better fathers because of it. Highly recommended. -Byron Borger, Hearts & Minds Books, Dallastown, PA

Llife together in christ.jpgife Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community Ruth Haley Barton (IVP//formation) $18.00  Do you long to experience transformation in community?  Ponder that, and ponder it again. You know we've admired Ruth Haley Barton for years, view her as nearly a spiritual mentor, and have read and commended all her many books over the years. This, though, I must say, really, really touched me. I believe it was just what I needed, and it may be what you need, too.  She offers a concise, powerful, but sensible call to combine two things, two things we all long for, and yet are rarely adequately combined: community and spiritual growth, or, in other words, relationships and transformation. 

Life Together in Christ  provides a model that is specifically created to help you be more intentional about your journey into spiritual growth by being in the company of others.  I love her reflections (sometimes fairly obvious and lovely, other times creative and extraordinary) on the much-loved story of the two walking on the road to Emmaus. The back cover promises that she "offers substantive teaching and direction for small groups of spiritual companions who are ready to encounter Christ - right where they are on the road of real life."

There are some great conversation starters at the end of each chapter, some things to ponder solo highlighted in sidebars and boxes, as well as some resources for small group use, making this not only inspiring but very practical.  Some of us don't value the "processing" stuff in these books, but for this one, it is essential.  As I've already pondered some of these bits, I can am confident that they will be worth your time, valuable for you and your group.

There are, not surprising, rave reviews here from authors as diverse as Mark Labberton and Ronald Rolheiser, James Bryan Smith and J.R. Briggs.  And they are right - this is an excellent resource, a lovely book, and a sure guide to deepening one's life, by allowing God to bring transformation to a group walking together. 

Bbeloved dust.jpgeloved Dust//Drawing Close to God By Discovering the Truth About Yourself Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel (Nelson) $16.99  I have been pondering how to describe this book; I had an advanced copy, as I respect these two thinkers immensely.  Goggin edited one of the best books of earlier this year, a serious, semi-scholarly work inviting evangelicals (and others) to be more intentional and thoughtful as they take up the best mystical and devotional classics; Stobel (who is, among other things, a Jonathan Edwards scholar) has a real gift to take deep, sanctifying truth and make it upbeat and helpful for readers who are perhaps not used to wading in deep spiritual waters.  

At any rate, Beloved Dust is a very contemporary book, with a self-awareness about life and times, written in a witty and at times clever narrative way. But, but, believe me, this is remarkable material, including some excellent Bible study and some guidance into patience, prayer, and openheartedness. If you want to truly know God, John Calvin taught, one must know oneself. And knowing ourselves as we are - beloved dust - is the heart of this book about spiritual formation.  This is one of a great kind of book I've noticed recently, a happy blend of pretty ancient, dare I say profound stuff, presented as only young, contemporary pastors can. Maybe it's the double-slashes in the title, maybe it's the subtitle, artful cover.  But this is a cool book, but one that, as cool as it is, has a degree of gravitas. Nice!

If you're not sure if a heavy book of serious spiritual theology could be written in a very contemporary way, and be as solid as it is winsome and inviting, just check this out, and then come back and place an order with us.

Wwhat your body knows about god.jpghat Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve, and Thrive  Rob Moll (IVP) $16.00  Where to begin to let you know how great this book is?  How about this: Christianity Today gave this a very rare, exceptional five-star review.  Singer-songwriter Michael Card wrote a truly lovely, well-written foreword. Scot McKnight and Richard Sterns and Katelyn Beaty and other good writers have added their rave reviews. You really should know about this.

Or, get this, from the very smart Jamie Smith:

"The theologian Henri de Lubac once said that human beings were created with a natural desire for the supernatural. This marvelous, accessible book by Rob Moll picks up on this conviction brilliantly, inviting us to embrace our bodies as the gifts they are. The incarnate God meets us in our bodies and brains. An excellent exposition of the bodily basis of discipleship."

I loved Rob Moll's 2010 IVP book The Art Of Dying which was beautiful and wise and worthy of repeated reading. This new examination of neuroscience and brain studies and religion is, without a doubt, the best one of this sort I've yet read (and there have been a good handful the last few years.) Moll tells a lot of very tender and engaging stories, including a brave section about his wife and her mysterious chronic illness. He does mature and solid Bible study, he draw connections between all sorts of things and invites us to take seriously that God has wired us for God's own self, which - get this! -  can release stuff in the brain that literally can help us become more empathetic and kind. You will learn a bit about amino acids and the role of the brain and the body in our faith (even a chapter on worship.) You will learn that Moll works for World Vision and cares deeply not only about our own molecules and the mystery of our spiritual lives, but of the brokenness of the world, and efforts to bring redemption and hope. The title and subtitle of this important new book is very helpful to explain what it is like and just what the book is about.  It is a real winner.  Spread the word!

Mme to we.jpge and We: God's New Social Gospel Leonard Sweet (Abingdon) $17.99  I hope you know my appreciation for Len Sweet, as a thinker, a writer, a leader, a public speaker, preacher, and friend.  I'm a fan, and that won't easily change.  His early books were important for me, his recent ones fantastic.  They are always energetic, playful, learned, and always worth the price tag in part due to the truly extraordinary amount of fascinating, unexpected, and important footnotes.  One can enhance one's plan for being a life-long learner just by reading carefully Sweet's own reading recommendations and sources.

Like most of the books on this little list, this new one truly deserves a long and more attentive review.  Time and space do not allow, but I can say these few things, too quickly.  If you like Sweet you will like this, but you may have to, as with some of his books, overlook a few jumps in logic, one ADHD leap from topic or illustration to another. Although the "house and garden" metaphor, drawn from the magazine title, I guess, figures prominently, I still don't know what he means by that.  I track with most his stuff pretty well, but I was left scratching my head on occasion, maybe moreso in this one than in others.  (Take that as a dare, friends, not a warning.)

Secondly, you might surmise this, but if you don't know, you will learn right away: Sweet may be seen as an edgy postmodern prophet, but in his heart of hearts he's an old school Wesleyan revivalist of the holiness tradition.  He has no patience for those who might drift from a Bible-based, God-exalting, Christ-centered, cross-preaching, church-going, soul-saving, true gospel.  He is ruthless in dismissing the liberal social reformers of the early twentieth century, and, seemingly, as hard on the new century post-evangelical, hip, emergent folk who seem to similarly allow their missional vision to become so attuned to (at least the rhetoric, if not the work) of social justice that the first things of the gospel are squeezed out. He is, on this score, not unlike Scot McKnight or even John Piper.  As deeply as he swims in the waters of cultural studies, he does not sound like Brian McLaren, let alone the politico Jim Wallis. Yet, despite his apparent disapproval of the so-called Christian left, he is adamant, as he always has been, that our gospel work must be culturally-relevant, socially-engaged, communal, green.

It isn't that complicated, but in Sweet's witty, provocative hands, this stuff sounds wildly innovative, perhaps a viable alternative between the right and the left, the conservatives and the progressives.  Sweet cites Ivan Illich and Wendell Berry a bit (and calls him "the world's best living poet") and he affirms some of the passionate voices who critique consumerism and materialism. He offers some interesting ruminations on racism, a little tirade against "simple living", and some blunt observations about the anti-globalization movement. A good part of the last half is about what it might take to birth a new (Christ-like) economy.  He works creatively with Genesis -- "tend and keep" (the garden) becomes "conserve and conceive."  Whether you pick up on and draw energy from his endless plays on words or whether you roll your eyes, his framing of the gospel as both/and - me and we - is immensely helpful. His hinting at or briefly stopping to give a cursory critique to all kinds of stuff in light of his relational/holiness theology along the way is evocative, and his weighing in on a few major day issues of the day is important.  He invites us to see the world in a very different way. When an author - through profound wisdom or sheer literary elan, or a bit of both - can do that, that, my friends, it is worth buying a few, gathering some people together for a night or so, and chatting it up. 

In this case, it may be a bit of a roller-coaster ride, and you may be a little dizzy when it is all done.  But you'll not only be glad you took the Sweet ride, you'll be very glad for the "we" that emerges from that shared experience.  Heaven knows we need a social gospel.  A new kind of social gospel. Me and We: God's New Social Gospel will make you think about that in ways you haven't before. 

Iimagination redeemed.jpgmagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind Gene Edward Veith, Jr. & Matthew Ristuccia (Crossway) $16.99  I have been waiting for this book for a long time, and I think we need a Biblically and philosophically faithful Christian view of imagination that is written in a way that ordinary people can appreciate and learn and grow from it.  This is that book, the best thing I've seen at an accessible level, and no other book that I know of does quite what this does. Redeemer Presbyterian's Center for Faith and Work had Matt Ristuccia speak at their annual event a week or so ago, and everyone raved.  The Executive Director of CFW, David Kim, wrote about the book "Through their seasoned pastoral and scholarly gifts, Veith and Ristuccia have done the church an incredible service in lifting up the critical role of the imagination in the Christian life."  When a scholar of aesthetics and musician of the caliber of Jeremy Begbie says it deserves to be widely read, you know it is important.

I'll say just a few quick things.  Firstly, Vieth is clear and succinct in his unpacking of the role of the imagination, which he insists is merely the ability of the mind to create mental images.  I think he's a bit wrong about that, and his latent conservative rationalism colors this book, as it has his others. Still, it's an informative, instructional and even colorful read, and his parts are a valuable contribution.   I'm pondering (among a whole lot of other things, the cover, too, by the way.  What is going on there? And what kind of cover would have been evoked to serve a book with a more robust, wild, less linear view of imagination? Just some kind of inchoate hunch here...)

This is not exactly the place to pick scholarly nits -- imagine a mental image for that, if you will -- and in any regard, I am not enough of a philosopher, I'm afraid, to do so. (I say this as I'm working on a long review of a new set of Calvin Seerveld books which I'll publish soon, by the way, DV.  Dr. Seerveld, I would suppose, might not locate the human ability to imagine in the brain as simply as Veith & Ristuccia do.) If you like to think about these things, certainly you should get this book and let your mind run wild, as you consider what the imagination is and what it means for our daily life.

The second part of each chapter is written by Rev. Ristuccia, who does, basically, a vibrant, evocative Bible study of Ezekiel, and it is quite good. (The few lines where he compares the different visions of Ezekiel with different Beatles albums is, uh, spectacular!) This bit of prophetic imagination is splendid, solid, helpful, and makes for good reading. Three cheers, right there! 

If you are not drawn to a critical evaluation of the assumptions about these things -- is Veith right about what the imagination is, and how it works, and is Ristuccia right in bringing Ezekiel to the table like this? --  then, by all means, read the book happily, and be glad that this literary scholar/professor and Bible scholar/pastor have dreamed up this very interesting book. You will be glad to consider how things like remembering and planning, learning and listening, dreaming and hoping, are contingent on a robust, redeemed imagination. You will learn about the goodness of how God made us, be reminded of the vexing ways sin can disrupt and distort our imaginative capacities, and will be invited to open up your efforts to enhance this aspect of your God-given mindfulness. 

There is, finally, a nice concluding appendix which will be of special appeal to some, a suggestive reflection on how paying more sustained attention to the imagination (and the arts) can help in our apologetics.  There are full books on this, thank goodness, and it is nice to have these few extra pages included in Imagination Redeemed. This is good stuff, and we should be sharing this book widely - it will help us embrace this too-often ill-considered gift of our human-ness, this part of the mind that is a gift of God designed to bolster and deepen our faith and lives.

VVainglory.jpgainglory: The Forgotten Vice Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (Eerdmans) $14.00  It isn't every day that we get to announce a mature, thoughtful, but popular-level book released from the prestigious philosophy department of Calvin College;  we are happy to note that Dr. DeYoung is a stellar prof at that productive, legendary department. Her scholarly work has been on Aquinas and a previous excellent book called Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Deadly Sins and Their Remedies was, in my view, not as widely read or valued as it should have been. I suppose it is fair to say that this new one is a bit of a follow-up, related, obviously, to her study of sin and dysfunction in the human heart and how culture can reflect the sad situation.

The books starts in an eloquent, but nonetheless funny way: she is to give the heady, respected Stob lectures, and is wondering if it is prideful, or even vainglorious, to be glad about such a thing.  Should she tell of her own struggle with vainglory as she explores the topic in the lecture (or is that, in itself, vainglorious?) Does not talking about her own foibles imply she is above the fray? Is that reflective of some distorted desire? She ends up inviting her students to check her, making lists of instances of pride, vainglory, or hints of false humility.  Ha - even those pages were a razor's edge, and she navigated it wonderfully.  I was hooked, knowing she would be a thoughtful, nuanced, and pleasant, an honest guide.  Early on, I realized that she would be candid, but not gooey, erudite, but easy to read, even as she was rigorous with herself and her readers. The book maintains these standards and seems to me to be a quintessentially excellent Eerdmans release.

First, you should recall this: vainglory was one of the earliest, deadliest sins in that nasty list, but was dropped somewhere along the line. Through nuances of definition and translation, we now more commonly talk about pride.  Or vanity. Vainglory, though, is a particular sin, and although we don't use the word, much, we all know the sin. In others, and, I suspect, too often, in ourselves.  Especially (as DeYoung explains in one very good section) those of us who are public figures, teachers, preachers, artists, writers, all whose job it is to publicly impress others.  I suspect not a few BookNotes readers may find this important to their own developing virtue.

It is always good - at least for our little corner of the book world here at Hearts & Minds and our little BookNotes niche - to see philosophers, spiritual directors and pastors all endorse a new book with equal enthusiasm.  Robert Roberts (who I seem to think is a Kierkegaard scholar) has written deeply about the spirituality of emotions and the psychology of virtue, says "DeYoung's Vainglory is the best thing out there on the vices of pride.  It's profound, readable, witty, telling, historically informative, and pastorally helpful."  William Mattison notes that "DeYoung writes with the wisdom and expertise of a theologian of psychologist, yet with the accessibility of a college roommate discussing life over a meal in the dining hall."

And then there is this from Richard Foster, who is judicious in his endorsements:

At last a book that takes head-on what is perhaps the capital vice of modern culture. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung draws from the classical tradition of Christian moral thinking to introduce us to the life-giving virtues, which alone can free us from the plague of narcissism that is the cultural zeitgeist of our day. I recommend this book highly.



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November 11, 2014

FREE BOOK OFFER: Buy "A New Heaven and a New Earth" by Richard Middleton at 20% OFF and get a free Richard Mouw book

I know, I know, I've already declared (months ago) that Steve Garber's exquisite, profound, deeply thoughtful book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) will surely be the Book of the Year, which we will properly announce in our Best of 2014 awards column at the end of the year. 

There have been so many other good releases this year -- there will be a handful of other true very honorable mentions. 

It may be that the just released A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical new heavens and new earth.jpgEschatology by J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic; $26.99) is the most important book in its field, a magnificent, innovative, lasting contribution to the field of Biblical studies.  I can hardly understate just how significant this new book is. 

Walter Brueggemann says, "when his book catches on, it will have an immense impact..." 

James K.A. Smith notes that "Richard Middleton has been one of my most important teachers. Every encounter changes me.  This book is no different.... if as widely read as I hope, this book would transform North American Christianity."

Interestingly for many Hearts & Minds customers, this book about God's promises to renew all things, is actually not unrelated to Garber's important voice about recovering a sense of vocation in a fallen, complex world.  It is also somewhat related to what has become our biggest selling item in years, the colorful, nuanced, delightfully interesting, and very useful DVD curriculum published by the Acton Institute, For the Life of the World. All three have some connections to Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies graduate school in the 70s where they were, in one way or another, influenced by the legendary Christian philosopher of aesthetics, Calvin Seerveld, and the philosopher cum Bible scholar Al Wolters who wrote the often-cited Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview.  Like Transforming Vision, which Richard Middleton co-authored in 1984, these innovative reformational thinkers at ICS did their high level scholarship in light of the inherent connection between different acts of the Biblical drama: creation-fall-redemption-and restoration/consummation. 

HCFR.jpg bonnie jpgere, on the left, is how my dear friend, Bonnie Liefer, an artist working for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) has shown the Biblical story, inspired somewhat by these same teachers back in the 1970s. Notice the themes from Genesis 1 and 2, Genesis 3, Matthew 27 and Revelation 22.

Richard's passion to explain a full-orbed and fully Biblical holistic eschatology, the last square on the lower right, so to speak -- God restoring all creation, following the revealed trajectory in the Bible of a good creation, a radical fall into idolatry and distortion, a decisive redemption by Christ, and a creation-wide restoration -- was nurtured by that story, taught by scholars in that place in those years.

Understanding the historical-redemptive unfolding of the Biblical drama in light of this grandbig story (moody).png story has been one of the most popular developments in popular-levestory of god, story of us.jpgl Biblical literacy in this generation and nearly antrue story of whole world.jpgy church plant (in this remarkable era of so many fresh church plants) nowadays, besides cool graphics and nifty names, will invite people to find their story and meaning in light of the big story of God's redemptive work in the world. From emergent to missional, from Acts 29, The Gospel Coalition, the Fresh Expressions movement, to the 1001 new projects the Presbyterians are working on, the language of story, and the appreciation for the vision of the Kingdom of God and this renewed emphasis of the overarching trajectory of the Biblical narrative is central. It seems that all kinds of folks are surprised by hope these days.

Yes, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection, and the Mission of the ChurchSurprised by Hope-b.jpg (HarperOne; $24.99) by the former Anglican Bishop, N.T. Wright, may have popularized these themes more than early books of Wolters, Middleton, et al, but there is no doubt that Wright himself was influenced by them (and was in conversation with them in the late 70s via his friendship with Middleton's co-author, Brian Walsh, whose recent work I highlighted just a week or so ago, here.) 

If you do not know the magisterial, much-discussed Surprised by Hope you should know it. It is surely one of my all time favorite books.  If you aren't much of a serious reader, the Surprised by Hope DVD curriculum expertly produced by Zondervan, is an informative, clear-headed, lecture series with N.T. Wright and is very creatively produced.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Both the book and the DVD remind us, to put it simply, that many of our most cherished assumptions (and much of our popular vocabulary) about heaven and the afterlife are not Biblical.  

Of course it is more complicated, and there are perplexing Biblical texts and notions from church history - for better or worse - that must be examined, but the short version is sensible, but counter-intuitive for many, still: God's Kingdom comes "on Earth as it is in Heaven" and the end of the grand Biblical narrative (Revelation 21-22) is not about us leaving the Earth, but Emmanuel, again, God with us, in a restored, healed cosmos.  That is, Left Behind and Hal Lindsey and apocalyptic bumper-stickers about the rapture notwithstanding, we don't go to heaven to live forever.  Heaven comes to Earth.  The meek inherit the Earth. As Paul Marshall puts it in his tremendous book about living out the Christian life in various arenas and sides of life, "heaven is not my home."

This is the carefully argued thesis of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, Richard Middleton's careful, complex, book of fascinating Biblical study.


I can hardly tell you (based on my own intentional observations about these things for nearly 40 years) just how important this all is.  It is not arcane or an eccentric little side matter. In what feels like a lifetime ago, I considered writing a book about it. 


You see, it is almost always the case that people live their lives in light of some sense of what they expect in the future. Garber lapses into Latin and talks beautifully about our telos.  "Why do you get up in the morning" is a more playful way of asking it, he notes in the powerful first chapter of his first book, Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior (IVP; $17.00.) What gets us up, our sense of what matters, the goal of our purpose driven lives, our telos, always animates and guides and informs and shapes how we live.  That is, our view of the end of things matters a lot.

Wbyron speaking at montreat.jpghen speaking on this very theme at Montreat College in North Carolina last week - at a symposium for students on work and vocation, arranged around keynote talks exploring themes of creation/fall/redemption/restoration - I cited, I think, Romans 8, that mentions that the whole creation is groaning, awaiting the salvation of humankind so that the creation itself can be healed. John 3:16, I reminded them, uses the Greek word cosmos for world, which is to say that when Jesus says "God so loved the world" He means just that. (And Leonard Sweet once quipped, if God so loves the world, why don't we?)  

Yes, we should care about God's good, if fallen world, because God loves it, and intends to rescue it. The verse does not say that for God so loved our souls, or for God so loved our churches.  Cosmos.

When more than one professor thanked me profusely after that talk at Montreat, I shared my own little concern: am I just firing people up with my natural talent for enthusiasm, but not really saying much new? Maybe my big insight that God died to save the universe, that the new creation is really this world restored, that (as C.S. Lewis put it) "matter matters," is really just a lot of stuff we all know, dressed up as some big paradigm shift. But just not that urgent to keep saying, over and over, as I tend to.

But -- and this is the point, for now -- both professors insisted that they hear "all the time"evangelical ecotheology.jpg people saying that we need not care for this Earth since "it's all going to burn, anyway."  Yep, we live inspired by our view of the end, and if we think God is whisking us off to some other place -- we're "only visiting this planet" as one famous Christian rocker said -- then why care about current events, or much of daily life, really?  I was once scolded (one can't make this stuff up) for caring about world hunger because, as my critic explained, the worse things get here on Earth, the sooner Jesus will come back to carry us home to heaven.  So, let 'em starve was the take-away of that awful eschatology. And it made a difference in that person's daily living, including a blatant disregard for the poor and starving.

One professor of environmental studies at Montreat says he oddly gets asked from evangelical church folks why a Christian college would teach ecology (again, since it is all going to burn.) Interestingly, he has also been asked this by secular colleagues from state universities as well. Why indeed would you (at your Christian college) teach environmental studies, they wondered, if your religion tells you it is all going to burn?  Odd, both the skeptics from the church and the secular university each assumed that a Christian college wouldn't care about caring about the Earth. Because God is going to destroy it all anyway and "take us to heaven to live with him there" as the beloved carol Silent Night puts it.

Which is just one example of why we've got work to do to give a better account, to the church and to the world, of God's gracious (Triune) goodness in creating the world, blessing it, sal means.gifsustaining it, and - after our rebellion and tragic fall from grace, the "vandalization of shalom" as Cornelius Plantinga put it in his excellent Not The Way It's Supposed to Be - Christ's own redemptive work to reclaim and restore the world He so loves. That "salvation is creation healed" (as Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett put it in their great book of that title) needs to be proclaimed with Christ-exalting clarity. That God is not scraping the covenant made with all the critters (see Genesis 9) and nuke the creation, but intends to remain faithful to the promises, and will remake and restore and heal the world is a major theological truth that must be understood and explained, taught and preached, appreciated and lived.


Enter Dr. J. Richard Middleton, (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam), whose new book will help us more than any other serious study yet done on this topic. 

Middleton is professor of Biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary andj-richard-middleton-2012-left-facing.jpg adjunct professor of theology at Roberts Wesleyan College. (He has also taught at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School for a season.) I have already mentioned that he co-wrote The Transforming Vision and its sequel, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be with Brian Walsh. His large, scholarly work on what it means to be human, exploring the nature and consequences of the Biblical teaching about the imago dei is called The Liberating Image (Brazos Press; $27.00) and it has been considered by some to be the definitive book on the subject. Heavy as it may be, it is an extraordinary work, with vast implications, and should be on the shelf of anyone with serious interested in Biblical theology. It is that important.

Anew heavens and new earth.jpg New Heaven and a New Earth is also a bit hefty, over 300 pages, some of it fairly detailed.  But it is not designed only for the guild, or Bible professors or even clergy, but is offered as a serious gift for anyone who wants to read and study and learn. It is, like Liberating Image, so significant in its research and so fresh in its articulation, that it might be considered definitive. The great wordsmith and thoughtful preacher Cornelius Plantinga observes that it is "comprehensive, learned, accessible, and exciting."  Al Wolters says he is inclined to call it "magnificent."  Terence Fretheim of Luther Seminary says it "deserves wide attention."

We helped "launch" this book at the very first place it was sold, last weekend's conference on imagination and innovation in the workplace at Redeemer Presbyterian's NYC Center for Faith and Work. Apparently Keller's team there thought it was important enough to have him speak at their famous yearly gathering about this brand new book.

The book opens with a poignant story of Richard as a boy, sitting with a friend atop a glorious mountain in his Jamaican homeland. They climbed there to enjoy a beautiful sunrise, and were deeply taken by the sublime beauty of it all.  As they praised God for this moment, Richard's friend said "what a shame it is all going to burn up."  Even as a teen, he recoiled. A strong evangelical Christian with early familiarity and love for the Bible, Richard sensed that this was not so.  He set himself, he tells us, to explore this theme in the Bible, and it has been a passion of his ever since.


He pokes at bit at some old hymns that talk about going to heaven, to live there forever.  From obvious examples like "I'll Fly Away" or "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder" to lines in "Love Divine, All Love Excelling" or "My Jesus, I Love Thee" to "Silent Night" and many others, he documents our fuzzy thinking about all this. (Wasn't it the revival preacher A.W. Tozer who said the church doesn't have to tell lies, we just get together and sing them?) I have my own list of stupid lines that I find detrimental, and these few pages are striking and will cause us to think.  Again, we have our work cut out for us if we are going to unlearn centuries of poor articulation and outright unbiblical ideas.

After this opening foray in Part 1, sharing the journey "from creation to eschaton" and showing the real plot of the Biblical storyline, Middleton walks us through in Part 2 what he calls "holistic salvation" in the Old Testament.  From "the exodus as a paradigm of salvation" to "earthly flourishing in law, wisdom, and prophecy," and even the nature of the coming of God in both judgment and salvation, he offers excellent, illuminating, clear Bible study, including some formulations that may be new to some.  This is rich, fresh, solid stuff.

Whether you are at a mainline church or an independent, evangelical one, whether you are highly liturgical or less so, I am convinced some of this material will simply rock your world. You will be made to reconsider shibboleths and sacred cows and you will have "aha" moments.There are fascinating and useful footnotes, too (a lot of them -- hooray!) and Richard's passionate insight about the Biblical text is matched by his fluency in the most important literature, old and recent, scholarly and popular.

In the next 50 or so pages, Middleton offers in Part 3 two strong chapters under the headline "The New Testament's Vision of Cosmic Renewal" and here he echoes N.T. Wright's good work about how the resurrection of the body implies so very much about our future hope.  (Middleton also explores "the restoration of rule" which is excellent and generative, drawing somewhat on his previous work on our task as image bearers) even as he points us to what it means to say that God intends "the restoration of all things."  Again, this is dynamic, fresh, and for some, new, radical material. I have not read a book about the Bible as exciting as this in years!

For what it is worth, I had an advanced copy of the manuscript, which is how I had the good fortune of getting to study this long before it arrived this week.


Part 4 of A New Heaven and a New Earth looks helpfully at problem texts for holistic eschatology.  After my presentation at Montreat College's symposium on this topic last week  folks lined up to talk about the rapture, the curious I Peter passage about the elements being destroyed (or does it say "disclosed" as any good study Bible will note?) and other contested texts. This part of the book is immensely helpful, and you will need it if you are using the creation-fall-redemption-restoration drama as part of your own spiritual formation work.  If you see salvation not as an escape plan from the world, but as a "homecoming" and restoration to our place in a (re)new(ed) earth, these few problem passage must be addressed.

The Greek word used in the popular "all things new" promise of Revelation 22 is the word thatall things new graphic.jpg means re-newed (not "brand new." They had a word for that, but that isn't what John saw in his vision; it is a restored earth, not a brand new earth, indicating some continuity, between, as they say, this world and the next.) This sort of lexical explanation is worth the price of the book!  

Why do we continue to think of eternal life as some ethereal place for disembodied souls (and worse yet, why do we say dumb stuff when a child dies, like "God needed another angel" as if humans ever become angels?) The Biblical tradition is does not offer some dream-world, some woo-woo spiritual soup into which we all merge -- Christians give a different account for our hope than do Hindus, Buddhists or Platonists.  

We care about the environment because God has pledged his Holy Self to it. 

And Jesus entered it, and died for it.  He -- remember Colossians 1 -- holds it all together, and is reconciling "all things" through the blood of His cross.from the garden to the city.jpg

The Bible teaches that this good world will be saved and restored and renewed and transformed as we, in renewed, resurrection bodies, rule once again in some kind of culturally developed paradise.  As the very good book on technology and digital culture by John Dyer (who did a workshop Montreat) puts it, we move "from the garden to the city."


Does all of this really matter that much?  I will give you my short answer, and tell you about how Richard answers it, as well.

As I tried to develop in my passionate Montreat College talk, I am convinced (as I wrote earlier) that how we think of the future does indeed effect the tone and vision of our contemporary lifestyles. It's that telos thing mentioned previously: how we think about the future, our end-goal, colors the sort of hope we have now, which shapes the kind of life we live, the things we invest in, the stuff we do, and how we do it, and how we explain it to others.

When a couple finds themselves to be pregnant, it slowly changes everything: the birth which is to come starts to effect daily choices, from nutritional decisions to economic ones to even legal matters. The couple grows closer in their love as they dream together about the good future they will share with their offspring. They start preparing the baby's room, shopping for a crib, picking names. Oh yes, this future blessing has present consequences.  The reality of what is to come rubs off in the here and now, and nothing is ever the same. The present itself is pregnant and the future is like a magnet, pulling us toward its hope.  As we sing at Christmastime, "the hopes and fears of all the years" are met in Christ. This alludes to our past longings and anxieties, but perhaps also to those regarding the years yet to come. I truly believe that our daily discipleship is deepened and enhanced and given direction by a proper understanding of the new creation God has promised to bring into our midst. We start to live in the "already" even though we know the Kingdom's fullness is "not yet."

N.T. Wright assures us of the confidence we can have, given that Christ Himself has walked into and through death, and come out alive on the other side, in the reality of new creation. It is, he says, like a call we may get in the middle of the night from an earlier time zone.  It may seem like night to us, but -- in fact! -- the caller is calling us from the future, and it is bright as day there.  Yes, with Christ's Easter victory and ascension, we know the future is assured.  He is risen, in the body, a first hint of the new creation which is ours.

David Arms offers this artful rendering of the creation/fall/redemption/restoration story:cfrr art.jpg

As Marva Dawn and Tom Wright and Brian Walsh have all written, our current-day faith communities can be seen as actors doing improvisation, acting out a missing scene or two in coherent ways, inspired and informed by the parts of the play we have: the first part and the last part. We know how the playwright worked in the past.  We know how the story resolves. Here in the middle of time, we improvise, knowing the plot of which we are a part, and knowing how that story ends. 

Understanding the ending correctly is essential for getting our daily work now right. This stuff really does matter, and it matters a lot.  Which is why I think this book is so very right for our times, when there is renewed interest in the fate of the Earth and the full picture of the Story of God.

Here is how our friend Sylvia Keesmaat (co-author of Colossians Remixed and editor of The Advent of Justice) puts it, in her rave review blurb inside the front pages:

Richard Middleton is talking about a revolution! Why should Christians settle for the anemic goal of eternity spent in heaven when the Bible's robust vision is one of a resurrected humanity on the new earth? Set your imagination free from the chains of other-worldly dualism, and enter into the brilliant and fascinating world of the biblical story, where the vision of all things redeemed breathes new life into our discipleship.

Richard Middleton also wants to show how this has vast consequences; almost like he's talking about a revolution. He ends A New Heaven and a New Earth with a major section exploring how this all might matter now. 

He calls this section (perhaps unwisely, in my view) "The Ethics of the Kingdom."  He does not mean only ethics as some might think of that word - what we are to believe about euthanasia or lying or genetic engineering or sexuality) but he means how we live out our daily life, in a full-orbed, multi-faceted, way that is animated by a Kingdom vision, embodied in society.  He starts with Luke 4, that famous passage where Jesus reads from an Isaiah passage which alludes to the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25.  This Nazareth manifesto insists that Jesus is the long-awaited God of Israel who is bringing this new era of shalom and grace to the culture. Richard's explication of the implications of this Jubilee theme is remarkable.

He begins the second chapter in this last section like this:

In the receding chapter I argued that Jesus's proclamation of the kingdom of God in his sermon at Nazareth was good news because it addressed his hearer's full-bodied, concrete earthly needs. But the episode at Nazareth did not end on a positive note, with the praise of his audience. It is the burden of this chapter to explore how Jesus went on to complicate this good news, so that it would not be understood superficially and self-righteously. Rather, the good news of the kingdom can be grasped only through a radical challenge that requires a fundamental reorientation of life.

I wish I could summarize this provocative chapter where he does close readings of many gospel passages, and draws out important mandates for our Jubilee vision. He is both prophetic and pastoral, here, and I appreciate how he warns us - including those who are fond of worldview education, and kingdom language - to seek God's Spirit to guide us in these perilous days ahead. I have read this chapter twice, now, and commend it to you as an excellent way to end this extraordinary, vital work.

Ahh, but that isn't even the end. 

There is an appendix that will appeal to those interested in Christian scholarship, in other books on this topic, and on recent church history. The appendix is called "Whatever Happened to the New Earth" and there Middleton annotates a variety of books and schools of thought, explaining in this literature review the twists and turns of the story where we've tended to get this topic so very wrong.  He does review Wright, and Randy Alcorn, and others who have in recent years reminded us that (as Wright put it in our backyard a few years ago, preaching from his book How God Became King) "Orthodox Christian doctrine affirms the rescue of the created order itself, rather than the rescue of saved souls from the created order."

Richard is not alone in making a case for a very robust, very multi-dimensional, very "this worldly" sense of God's rescue plan.  He is not alone in insisting that this is exactly what the Bible teaches, misunderstandings and heresies and bad pop theology notwithstanding. But with A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology he has become the preeminent scholar who has given us the preeminent work on this vexing, vital subject.  It is my hope that every Bible teacher, every pastor and preacher, and every Christian who longs for a more coherent, meaningful, faithful daily discipleship struggles long and hard with the content of this book. It is that important.  Our visions of the future, and our faithfulness to the Biblical story, matters more than we may know. 

Getting this right is urgent.  This book will help.

new heavens and new earth.jpg


To sweeten the deal just a bit, if you buy this book now at our sale price we will -  this weekwhen the kings come (Mouw) good.jpg only - send you also a free copy of one of my all time favorite books, a little book that is as life-changing as any I know on these topics, Richard Mouw's lovely When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans; $15.00.) 

You know (and you will know better, if you read the Richards -- Middleton and Mouw) that humankind was given the grand task to "tend and keep the garden" which, as Genesis 1 puts it, means we are to "fill the Earth." This so-called "cultural mandate" implies God wants us to cultivate or "fill" creation by developing its glorious potential. From schools to CD players, from games to governments, art to astrophysics, humankind has filled the Earth. Mouw reminds us that the Psalmist claims that the Earth is the Lords and the "fullness thereof" which is an allusion to the "filling" - which is to say, the development of human culture, skyscrapers and all. God must love the Beatles and Monet and chocolate and ipads, perhaps. In the famous "wealth of the nations" passage of Isaiah 60, this filling, this stuff, the cultural artifacts (like lumber from Lebanon) are renewed and purified for the new creation, another signal that we are not destined to inhabit some disembodied heaven singing worship songs for eternity. Isaiah and John imagine a new city filled with good stuff, animals and culture and restored civic life. "What are [the international commercial vessels] the ships of Tarsish doing here?" Mouw asks?

I hope you wonder that, too. Knowing at least a bit about what God is working towards will help us discern norms and patterns for our engagement in culture, now.  We will give you this great book for free if you order Richard Middleton's A New Heaven and a New Earth right away. While supplies last, naturally -- we're not in the new Earth yet, so we have some limits. Our offer ends November 16, 2014. 

The BookNotes offer of 20% OFF A New Heaven and a New Earth remains indefinitely, of course, but we can only give away the Mouw book for the next few days. I hope you agree that these two books, one on sale and one for free, could be very helpful for you and yours.



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November 6, 2014

Slow Church event with C. Christopher Smith: Friday, November 7th, 2014.

Crazy.  That's what we sometimes call our busy schedule, schlepping books here and there, serving others with a few boxes selected for a small event, or a truck load for a larger gig, often two or more events at the same time, and, all the while, keeping the shop open, six days a week. Of course Beth and I enjoy this "on the road" aspect of our work (and we couldn't do it without our dedicated staff who work hard each and every day in Dallastown.) Sometimes, though, we grow weary. I've heard people say that they get tired just listening to our wacky schedules.  We sometimes wonder if it is healthy, being stretched and stressed, juggling a too few many balls in the air some months, so often in a hurry. 

We loved our time at Montreat College this week, and respect the remarkably good work theymontreat books.jpg are doing there at that small, liberal arts college tucked into a mountainous cove in the Black Mountains of North Carolina.  Doing workshops and selling books and speaking there, serving their "Faith and Vocation Symposium," was surely one of the most memorable and rewarding things we've done this year. Thanks to folks there for hospitality and receptivity (and for help with the book packing!)  It was a whirlwind event, but very meaningful for us.

But we're reminded again of our crazy schedule -- we had to hurry back, not lingering there, or on the beautiful Route 81 drive north because Friday night (tonight, November 7th) we are hosting C. Christopher Smith, co-author of the very provocative, thoughtful, and important book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. (You can read my earlier, longer review, here.)  

Yes, we are having an author appearance, book reading, and slow church conversation withSlow Church poster-2.jpg Chris, starting at 7:00 pm over at the nearby Living Word Community Church, 2530 Cape Horn Road, Red Lion, PA. (We're very grateful for their support of our occasional projects, and their great coffee bar, free parking and warm space to host a book signing like this.)

Ironic, eh?  We are nearly burned out from a bunch of events, a lot of hustle, and too much speed, only to hurry back to this slow, patient conversation about, uh, yeah: slowing down, learning patience, resisting the tendencies of our culture that suggest We Can Have It All and We Can Do It All. 

In what Christopher Smith and his co-author call the "McDonaldization" of the church, modern congregations sometimes seem to adopt strategies out of the fast food industry -- ending up with seemingly tasty offerings efficiently delivered with speed and uniformity, maybe even with zippy ad campaigns to complete the consumerist brand -- and have thereby unknowingly subverted or compromised what should be at the heart of any church: relationships, community, authenticate care for people and places and the quality of our life together.

Faith, of course, is not a product to be marketed or consumed, and church is not a business.
Large or small church, evangelical or mainline, most of us know that.  But sometimes, we need to step back and ponder the pressures, to wonder a bit about it all.

Slow Church takes a cue from the "slow food" movement, and invites us to think about church being informed by terroir (the foodie term explaining how the local ground seeps into the very taste of wine or food), stability ("fidelity to people and place"), and patience. They invite us to take up deliberate slowness which allows a greater attention to relationships and context; such relationships, not incidentally, allows us enter more deeply into the suffering of others.

The book begins with a little study of the industrialization of the church, which has paralleled the industrialization of agriculture -- not to mention the near demise of the family farm. They quote Joel Salatin (who's book about farming we stock here, and showed at the farming workshop at Montreat, btw), Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc. The profound social criticism of Salatin, Pollan, Wendell Berry, and the like is wise and important.  Applying it to the church is a stroke of generative brilliance. In Slow Church Salatin is quoted noting that 

conventional agriculture experts view the soil as merely a convenient way to hold up the plant while it is fed from the top in the form of ever-increasing doses of chemical fertilizers.  He describes this process as superimposing a mechanistic mindset onto a biological world.  Nature, in contrast, feeds the plants from the bottom up, through the soil. Thus, for the conscientious farmer, the health of the soil is a top priority.

Ahh, you can see the connection to church, can't you?  Caring for the foundational stuff, patiently bearing good fruit by attending to the soil.

Slow Church continues:  

Western Christianity has similarly adopted shortcuts that are the church equivalent of imposing a mechanistic mindset onto a biological world. When evaluated in terms of efficiency -- defined as the easiest way to get someone from here to there, from unsaved to saved, from unchurched to churched -- these top-down inputs seem to yield impressive short-term results: they can sometimes pack the pews. So, on the upside, the church has been busy.

But then, this: "on the downside, it's not clear at what long-term costs these methods have been employed or how helpful and sustainable they will be going forward."

That is just the beginning of the remarkably interesting, well-written, and deeply considered rumination offered in Slow Church and we are thrilled to have Chris with us to continue the conversation over at Living Word Friday night.  

As the authors put it, "Slow Food and other Slow movements hold important lessons for the American church. They compel us to ask ourselves tough questions about the ground our faith communities have ceded to the cult of speed."

The cult of speed.


In a way, this is something I need to hear, now. My own workaholism, my own tendency to live as if God's creation has no limits, my assumptions about scarcity (rather than the generous abundance of God's economy in which we can rest) all need to be evaluated and refined. Of course, most churches -- indeed most of us with super-hectic, busy lives, want "quality over quantity" and no church I know is only interested in metrics and numbers, growth for its own sake. Of course, I don't know any bone fide mega-churches, but from what I gather, folks at places a lot like Willow Creek, for instance, resonant deeply with these very concerns. Willow Creek themselves have been very committed to nurturing a more contemplative spirituality and a radical social vision, including notable work in peace and justice, charity and service.  Chris has spoken about the book, and it is being used, in a number of fairly large churches who are eager to apply the books principles within their own fast-paced, very professional context. 

It is clear that even those of us with very good intentions, who have read books about slowingunhurriedlife_sm.jpg down, practicing spiritual disciplines, keeping Sabbath, focusing on quality, being deeply faithful rather then merely popular, we too often are undone by our own bad habits and co-opted imaginations. (Alan Fadling's An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythms of Work and Rest is just one recent book that I found very, very helpful and wise in this area.)  As Jamie Smith has reminded us in his stunningly important Desiring the Kingdom, our passions and desires and habits and practices are most often informed more by the secular liturgies of the world than the often thin formation generated within the local church.

So, ironic as it may be, Beth and I are zooming ahead, creating this program, and are fretting that we get enough turn-out. Our guest author, Mr. Smith, may care less about this than I do,  but my eagerness for numbers -- people showing up, books being sold -- perhaps needs to be adjusted.  Is repentance too demanding a word?  This "slow church manifesto" does make me squirm a bit.

If you are in the region, come on by.  It will be a good conversation, you'll get to meet a low-key, down-home, small-church leader who will help us talk about our culture and our lives, our churches and our ministries.  

If you want an edition autographed by Chris, let us know right away, and we'll see if we can make that happen, too.  It would make a nice gift for a church leader or pastor you know.


Thanks to those who have extended very warm words about my fast and furious closingbyron speaking at montreat.jpg plenary talk at the Montreat Faith and Vocation Symposium. I hear they might post videos at the Montreat College website of all four talks, each which were quite good. The first was on creation/vocation, by Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters;  then the fall and sorrow was explore profoundly by Steve Garber, author of Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation (starting with a Mumford & Sons song); next, a broad and decisive redemption was gloriously proclaimed, eloquently and powerfully spoken by Messiah College chaplain, Donald Opitz, co-author of Learning for the Love of God: A Guide to Academic Faithfulness; lastly, there was yours truly, preaching about the adventure of living out this hope of a restored creation, the implications of this kind of big gospel, a closing with a meditation on "Standing in the Breech" from the new album by that name by Jackson Browne.  This grand Biblical story that calls us to work in the world, for the life of the world, by realizing that God's Kingdom is best known as the creation regained, is not only taught by the books I drew upon in my final talk --  When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem by Richard J. Mouw and Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church -- but, interestingly enough, also in this wonderful Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus.  The vision of a wholistic worldview, if you will, shaped and informed by the epic rescue plan portrayed in the flow of the drama of Scripture, is what we talked about with the students and faculty at Montreat (especially applying it to college life, majors, callings, and careers.)  It is also what Smith and Patterson remind us of in the dynamic and evocative middle part of Slow Church and apply it to the nature of the local church.

Just listen to the conversation topics in the "second course" of this meal (in keeping with theirSlow Church-Cover1.jpg slow food theme, each unit of the book is envisioned as one of a three course meal.)

They call the second course "ecology" and they talk about wholeness (that is, the reconciliation of all things), work, by which they mean "cooperating with God's reconciling mission, and, then, also, sabbath, which they invite us to consider as the "rhythm of reconciliation."  This gracious good news of God reconciling all things, restoring all things, bringing healing and wholeness and hope to the creation that is so loved, appears to us here in the midst of our broken history and dysfunctional culture and often less than faithful churches.

Can our churches learn to be crucibles of the Kingdom, to be places where, in deep and real relationships, we replace fast-food-like cookie-cutter, quick and easy techniques with more mature, sustainable,  deeply spiritual ways of pursuing a missional lifestyle of wholistic discipleship? Can our formation in community allow us to become more missional, taking up vocations to care about the Story of God?  Can we?

Well, yes we can.  We saw glimpses at Montreat.  We know of glimpses at our host church, Living Word Community Church in Red Lion.  You have tasted deep spiritual quality in your own life and relationships, too, I'm sure. We just have to slow down enough to allow God's abundance to take root.

If you can, please join us at 7 tonight for a casual evening with Chris Smith designed to ponder this slow process of spiritual formation in a local church that is radically Christian, maybe even considering how to be counter-cultural, willing to resist the pragmatic and glitzy, in search of a deeper, more communal expression of radical discipleship.  

If you can't join us, you can order the book from us. It's tasty, almost gourmet. But be prepared to chew a bit.  And be sure to read it with others.  Slow food together is much more fun.



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November 2, 2014

10 brand new ones -- don't miss this list: 20% OFF too.

I hope you saw our last BookNotes post -- they are all archived here at the website, of course.  Some have subscribed and get them coming into their inbox each week, others just click through to the website from twitter or facebook.  The formatting is always a little ragged when it goes out via email, but if you click on the top headline, it will take you to the somewhat nicer viewing on the real page.

Last time I told you about my affection for Brian Walsh, his books co-authored with Richard Middleton (Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be), Steve Bouma-Predigar (Beyond Homelessness) and Sylvia Keesmaat, (Colossians Remixed.) I think these are stunningly important, well-written, passionate and wise.

But, per usual, that was the set up, the background, helping you realize a bit of the backstory of the three new ones I told you about. 

I explained about an important, if lesser known book that had been out of print and has just been newly reprinted in an updated version, Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Dangerous Times (Wipf & Stock) and a newly re-issued set of daily readings for Advent (co written with three others, including Richard and Sylvia) called Advent of Justice.  I closed with a summary of the brand new St. John Before Breakfast, homilies, reflections and some liturgies that have emerged from Brian's work with a campus community at the University of Toronto.  It is provocative, powerful, and generative.  Again, it isn't terribly well known (self-published as it is by their little Wine Before Breakfast worshiping community) which makes my short review so important.  We need to help get the word out about it, and these other rich resources. I sincerely hope you were pleased to hear about these remarkable books, although the pleasure was mine to get to write about them a bit.

You can read or re-read it here; perhaps you could pass it on or share the news...

Between chasing a chipmunk out of the store today -- you should have seen the little rascal scurrying and literally jumping off of a big stack of Old Testament texts, doing a little flip -- and packing our rented van to head to our next venture (speaking and selling books at a symposium on faith, vocation, and work for college students at Montreat College in North Carolina) and getting ready for our evening with Chris Smith (author of Slow Church) next Friday, November 7th, I realized a ton of great new books have arrived. 

They are the kind of books that I simply cannot not tell you about.  Beth and I will be on the road, and if I don't post something now about them, I'll be thinking about it non-stop for the next nine hours as we drive down the edge of the now snowy Appalachians.

So, then.  Here ya go:  we list the regular price.  We'll deduct the BookNotes sale discount of 20% off if you order them from us. The order form page is secure -- just type in what you want. Easy.

TWay of Tea and Justice.jpghe Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World's Favorite Beverage From It's Violent History Becca Stevens (Jericho Books) $22.00   Maybe you know the deep, profound, tender, feisty writings of this strong woman, who has given us lovely, thoughtful, good books in the past.  Her own memoir, called Thistle was powerful and wonderfully written.  Here she tells the story of her cafe and soap-making business that employs former prostitutes and addicts, giving them a new lease on life.  Who knew this work with Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Cafe would end up not only being central to new stories and new lives for countless woman who have been abused, trafficked, silenced, but has become part of an astonishing movement to bring freedom and fair wages to women producers worldwide where tea and trafficking are linked by oppression and the opiate wars. As it says on the inside cover, "in this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for cafe workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on Earth."

PPrayer- Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.jpgrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God Timothy Keller (Dutton) $26.95  I probably don't need to tell you that Tim is a thoughtful and articulate spokesperson for historic, Reformed faith, and is situated in Manhattan doing successful ministry with some of the world's leading artists, financiers, designers, movers and shakers, along with the ordinary, forgetaboutit New Yawkers. Skeptic, seeker, struggler -- anyone wanting a mature, no-nonsense, theologically mature exploration on the meaning and practice of Christian prayer will find this exceptionally valuable.  Given that Tim's own wife and he himself have suffered serious health issues (not to mention the stress of such a high-profile, demanding leadership calling) it should not come as a surprise that they have learned to practice daily prayer, and have considered its meaning, carefully, deeply.  What might be surprising is how it didn't come naturally, and how he has had to ponder, think, study, and obey the commands (and take in the promises) of the God of the Bible.  Rev. Keller, as you might guess, is not fully comfortable with some of the more subjective mysticism floating around out there, and he does a good job distinguishing Christian spirituality that is wise and grounded from more trendy sorts of fascination with the inner life. More should be said, but this is an important book, a rare substantive contribution to a field that is loaded with titles, some good, some less so.  Agree with all his conclusions or not, take up all his suggestions or not, this is very higly recommended.

FFierce Convictions.jpgierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More -- Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist Karen Swallow Prior (Nelson) $24.99  Oh my, where to begin? I want to read this because I don't know much about the remarkable woman who came alongside William Wilberforce in his on-going struggle against slavery (perhaps you recall her small role in the film Amazing Grace.) I am sure such a valiant woman's story will be very, very valuable to many, and I for one need to know more about this era, and her role.   Secondly, Karen Swallow Prior is the smart and sassy author -- her first book was a memoir about influential books in her life -- and I think I'd line up to buy whatever book she had on offer after that brilliant debut. And, then there are these magnificent, ebullient blurbs: sometimes you pick up a book just because so many people you really respect rave about it.  From the foreword by Eric Metaxas (whose earlier book on Wilberforce was fantastic) to Richard Mouw to Mark Noll to Ann Voskamp to Leonard Sweet, many are insisting it is one of the best of the year.  Sweet (who knows a thing or two about the Brits in this era, by the way) writes, "Here is that rarity of a book: scholarship of impeccable rigor that's also a compulsive page-turner. Reading Karen Swallow Prior feels like a privilege." Yes!

The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit  David F. Ford (Brazos Press) $19.99 

Again,The Drama of Living- Becoming Wise in the Spirit.jpg with this release, Brazos shows themselves to be one of the most important presses in the North American religious publishing landscape. I've been waiting for this sequel to The Shape of Living for, oh, gee, maybe fifteen years.  I read that book about the time my father died in car wreck (not realizing there was a chapter on death) and it took my breath away.  Subtle, nuanced, deep, beautiful without being flamboyant, this wise, thoughtful theologian has given us practical theology and a spirituality of life itself. It isn't simple, but it is eloquent.

Endorsements for the US edition are from the likes of Ellen Charry of Princeton, Geoffrey Wainwright of Duke, and the award-winning poet Micheal O'Siadhail (to whom the book is dedicated, by the way, and whose poems enhance the text.)  In the acknowledgements he thanks (among many, many others) Rowan Williams, Richard Hays, Jean Vanier, Randi Raskover, (formerly of York College here - hey, hey) and the Irish Presbyterian mystic and Wild Goose songwriter John Bell.  Kudos to Brazos editors Bob Hosack and Lisa Ann Cockrel for working on this project.  I cannot wait to spend some slow, quiet time with this.

Tzimzum.jpghe ZimZum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage Rob and Kristen Bell (HarperOne) $24.99  I suppose you know Bell's pushing the boundaries, very creative, delightfully interesting and poetic writing style. I think you know he speaks to and for many, many people of diverse faith.  I think he brings a lot of very helpful, Biblically-informed insight, and here he writes -- perhaps almost like he did in that amazing little book on grief (Drops Like Stars) about a very personal, human situation: marriage. Tzimtzum is a Hebrew word, used at least in the Rabbinic traditions, as a way of getting at this energy of of creation. It's about mutuality, and I suppose it is fair to say this new book includes a little sciency stuff, a little theology, a little self-help practical advise rooted in the deeper mysteries of grace, something built deep into the very fabric of the universe.  There are some funny dialogues between Rob and his wife, and one I read touched me right away. 

Do a google video search and you'll find a number of promo video clips with Rob and Kristen talking about this "space between" a couple -- big, wild, heart-breaking, sacred.  He's going on tour with Oprah, too.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life Eric Metaxas

Miracles.jpg (Dutton) $27.95  I am sure you know: this guy is a way too talented follow, an amazing writer, a great conversationalists, a fabulously entertaining storyteller, funny as all get out (yes, it is true, he used to write for Veggie Tales) and his early books were very clever, straight one questions-and-replies for seekers and skeptics.  This sort of brings all of this together in an amazingly energetic study and apologetic for that one-word title that has been appropriated by everybody from C.S. Lewis (always worth re-reading) to the smarmy tele-evangelist that is hardly worth watching for a moment.  Yes, this topic has been done and redone, explored well, and poorly.  This books has tons of fun and exemplary endorsements -- from the hilarious Susan Isaacs and very smart actress to the artist Makoto Fujimura to the Daily Beast journalists Kirsten Powers. 

Novelist Brett Lott says it has "the cool rain of intelligent truth."  This is storytelling, science, and a bit of journalistic magic: profound, curious, honest.  As one author put it, "As a secular reader, I come to such books with a certain resistance. Metaxas won me over instantly by meeting me where I live. His intellectual honesty, coupled with an openhearted wonder at the sheer breadth of human experience, is irresistible."  You should buy two: one for yourself, and one to give to that person you are thinking of right now. You know who.

GGod's Wider Presence.jpgod's Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation Robert K. Johnston (Baker Academic) $25.99  Wow, I have got to get to this, and soon. Johnston is one of the premier faith and film scholars, having written widely about the common grace that comes to us through engagement with the arts, and specifically, the art of cinema. As Michael Frost says, "Johnston weaves a marvelously rich tapestry that opens up our understanding of how God' whispers to us through nature, conscience, and culture. Who else could reference baroque art, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ingmar Bergman, C.S. Lewis, and Star Wars in such a scholarly and yet readable fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed every page."

Richard Peace (who himself has a lovely book in hearing God's voice in natural surroundings, among others, in service, in solitude and the like) says it is "seminal., one that greatly enlarges our understanding of the multiple ways in which God is present in the world." Amos Young says this "reconsideration of general revelation moves the discussion  light years beyond the sterile binaries" and says it is "a new starting point for twenty-first century theological reflection on important matters regarding the human experience of and encounter with God."

I could cite other rave reviews and interesting observations about this brand new, fresh release. I think it is going to be much discussed, and you should know about it.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir Bruce Cockburn (HarperOne) $28.99

I zipped through the more thanRumours of Glory.jpg 500 pages of this in a few days over a weekend -- my friend Jeff blessed me generously by giving me an early manuscript that he somehow acquired, and I've hardly been happier all year. What a read! How fun to revisit old songs and earlier albums, learning about them all.

Although, truth be told, my musical hero comes across as I feared: Mr. Cockburn no longer calls himself a Christian (although he is very, very candid about the earnest and thoughtful faith he held for years) and he is a bit spicy in his language (nothing new there.) He's an eccentric dude, we know, and I realized this more and more in this very revealing memoir. He is honest about a handful of romantic relationships that haven't worked out. Like many artists, he's got some issues; he is also a remarkably virtuous person in many ways.  His narrations of making music, writing songs, preforming with other great musicians, his production of his many albums -- I know each one by heart! -- is fantastic and a must for true fans. If you are interested in popular music, or care at all about this telling of his tale, this really is a great book.

Cockburn's well known lefty activism, his philanthropy, his reporting from all over the globe, his travel-based research and bearing witness to repression, war, poverty, ecological crisis, and more makes the book not just entertaining and a good read, it is riveting, vital, important, deeply moving at times. We need to hear this stuff -- from the awful ways in which the US funded torturers and death squads in Central America to the way the "radium rain" came down after Chernobyl to the land mind issues in Cambodia and Africa... one really learns a lot from this, and his explanations are often first hand and come from solid research. This is first hand story-telling, with politics and prayer, romance and sex, fear and bravado, song-writing and art, mixed together in a life story of one of the more important pop singers of our time.

Jackson Browne (who appears in it, of course) says

This is the story of the development of one of the most astute and compelling songwriters in the English language. Bruce Cockburn's journey, both as a musician and as a thinker, draws us with him into spiritual and political realms and becomes a chronicle of his engagement in the major issues of the past thirty years. Rumours of Glory is highly personal account by one whose quest for expression engages the most important social questions of our time. 

Lewis Hyde, author of that amazing book on creativity and generosity, The Gift (which inspired Bruce's great song of that same name) says "Cockburn gives us a finely-grained account of the ground from which he harvested some of the finest songs of his generation." 

I have written elsewhere about my appreciation for Cockburn, and I've reviewed at BookNotes Brian Walsh's book Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination, but I might add here, for those reading along -- I first discovered Brennan Manning through the liner notes of Cockburn's Big Circumstance album, and I once gave Cockburn a bi-lingual collection of some Nicaraguan poetry, while back stage chatting with him, Sam Phillips and Mark Heard. Unforgettable.  Not in the book, though. 

Let us know if you are interested in the huge, autographed, numbered box set of CDs that go alongCockburn boxed set.jpg with this (8 CDs, one an entire disc of previously unreleased or rare releases) and a video of concert footage, as well as a 90-some page booklet that is said to be beautiful. It retails for $149.99 but we will sell it on sale, for $20.00 less-- $129.99, if you just have to have it.  It, too, is called Rumours of Glory: Limited Edition Boxed Set.

SSmall Talk.jpgmall Talk: Learning from My Children About What Matters Most Amy Julia Becker (Zondervan) $15.99  Becker writes about faith, family, and disability for, the  New Yorker Times, The Christian Century, Huffington Post, etc. Her first book (A Good and Perfect Gift about "a little girl named Penny" was excellent, and widely admired. (It was named one of the Top Ten Religious Books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly.)  This just came in today, so I haven't yet read any of it, but we all know that sometimes God uses the smallest voices to teach us great truths.  The three main parts of these essays are "Holding On" "Letting Go" and "Growing Up" and I think it looks very, very good. excellent writers I admire give rave reviews -- women like Margot Starbuck, Rachel Marie Stone, Ellen Painter Dollar, Rebekah Lyons. Looking for a smart, entertaining,reminder of the joys and issues of parenting, by a beautiful, thoughtful writer. This looks fabulous!

SSoul Feast- An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life.jpgoul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life  Marjorie J. Thompson (Westminster/John Knox) $17.00  This newly revised, expanded, updated edition just came out, and I'm glad it did.  It carries a new foreword by the always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor (as well as the classic one by Henri Nouwen.)  Whenever anyone asks about good primers on spiritual formation, or a handbook for deeper growth, this is always one of the first I think of.  From the contemplative practices of meditation to the corporate practice of worship, from Bible study to prayer, this offers nuanced, wise insights and helpful, good advice. She worked for over a decade as the Director of Congregational Ministry with Upper Room Ministries.  We recommend this as a tool for your work, or, as Taylor says, "a map to living water, along with a packing list of what you might need..."



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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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Advent of Justice revised cover.jpg

St. John Before jpg



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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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