Back before my two Father's Day posts, I did a long piece that you may not have seen. It was a heart-felt cry but too long to share here at BookNotes so I posted it as a "column" at the website, where I publish longer pieces and bigger lists. I hope you read that ramble through reformational distinctives, some of the problems with the too-narrowly focused (so-called) new Calvinists, and why many churches - mainline denominational and indie evangelical alike -- despite their best theological instincts, sometimes fail to offer a rigorous, embodied, practical "in the world but not of it" sort of perspective for faithful cultural engagement.
I ended the essay by describing (among others) a serious book published by Eerdmans written by Richard Mouw called The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship and I offered a free book, too. Check it out, here.
Everybody talks about vocation these days, but there is still only meager interest in books that invite intentionally theological thinking about how to relate faith and work, and few churches do all that much to equip lay people to life faithfully in their various spheres of life. Public theological, cultural engagement, living out a vision of vocation - these are hot topics, but not as much is actually happening, I fear. We are still too embedded in a narrative that divides the sacred and the secular; we still fail to connect worship and work, Sunday and Monday, we still don't fully appreciate the implications of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Anyway, that column and the books I name there was more of my lamenting all of this, and, again, reflecting on how we came to this vision, and why we offer the resources we do. Of course, as I've said before, it was Kuyper's reformational worldview that caused us to want arrange our store with these kinds of interests in mind.
We are glad you care, and share these concerns.
WAS I TOO HARSH?
I may have been a bit harsh, especially regarding my own mainline Protestant heritage. I know that the culturally-transforming worldview of Dutch neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper isn't known in most mainline churches and even his late 20th century popularizer Francis Schaeffer isn't known, let alone valued and studied. So as I write about this stuff, I feel a bit weird, marginalized, cryptic, even. I suppose I realize why more traditional Christian bookstores are more successful. I didn't mean to be sound grumpy. But I am frustrated when church leaders don't help people relate faith and daily life and professional callings, or draw upon the resources that best promote that kind of integration and engagement. We know you share these concerns, longing for communities of faith that read and study, learning to apply faith to work and culture and all areas of life.
It is obvious that many mainline leaders and their flocks are good, good people of profound faith who desire nothing more than to bear witness to the power of the gospel. We attend a mainline church, as you know. The evangelical world has more celebrities and ministries known in the media, and evangelical publishers are doing the most lively books these days. Granted. But we see many signs of life in ordinary, mainline churches.
I still appreciate the book Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (HarperOne; $14.99) by my friend Diana Butler Bass. Whether you are firmly situated in a ordinary, traditional congregation, or a hipster new church plant, or a conservative-leaning community or mega-church, seeing the practices she holds up and reading the stories of smaller, faithful churches doing good Kingdom work is helpful. This book was hugely popular a few years ago and I think remains a classic in the field.
I started writing some of this while selling books with good friends who are clergy within the UCC. What a great time we had with them. (And they bought a lot of books, too, including Diana's more recent book Christianity After Religion: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne; $14.99.) They didn't need me to tell them what a good writer she is and how fascinating this thesis and research is. They are eager to push envelopes where needed, and I admire their book buying gusto!
And then I wrote more while Beth and I were selling books at a large local Lutheran Synod gathering while they were prayerfully voting for a new Bishop. I actually know a few of the candidates whose names had been lifted up and I know they are wonderful Christian leaders, who serve the church with energy and insight.
We regularly experience similar congeniality among our good friends - very good friends! - in United Methodist, Presbyterian, Brethren, Moravian, Episcopalian, Anglican, and other denominations where we have served. Many BookNotes readers are involved in independent, conservative or evangelical churches, but we know there are lots of mainline Protestant and some Catholic fans, too. For this we are grateful.
After my long-winded jeremiad over at the columns, I thought I should do a more typical H&M list. I'll try to be succinct.
Here are 12 books among the thousands we took to the Susquehanna Synod Lutheran assembly (not to mention a healthy display of books by and about Luther.) These recommendations illustrate what mainline Protestants are interested in, what sells at events like this, and the sorts of titles and topics we notice people chatting about.
As we did at Synod, we show the regular retail prices, but have the 20% off discount deal going on. Click on the order form link at the end which will take you to our certified secure website page, and just tell us what you want. We'll take it from there, sending these out promptly to you or your church. Enjoy this list, generated at a mainline church gathering, interesting books for typical mainline pastors and church leaders. Maybe you could call this a top list of things these churches do well. Good stuff, for sure!
Finding God in a Bag of Groceries: Sharing Food, Discovering Grace Laura Lapins Willis (Abingdon) $15.99 Leave it to a major mainline publisher to have an endorsement by Desmond Tutu, Franciscan guru Richard Rohr and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Jon Meacham. This is a great example of what mainline churches have done well for generations - motivated people who, without much hoopla, get in their cars and deliver food to others. (Both Beth and I grew up knowing our parents were involved in the service called "Meals on Wheels." This memoir tells of a woman who considered becoming a priest, got involved in a small food pantry, and came to realize how this ministry of offering food to others transformed her own soul. Don't we all hunger, for God and sustenance, for community and justice and love? This is a great story by a good writer and experienced community organizer. I'm glad for the social service witness of our friends here in the display hall, where more than half of the booths are great examples of concrete service and advocacy on behalf of "the least of these."
The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality Henry G. Brinton (Westminster/John Knox) $17.00 Mainline churches are all abuzz talking about hospitality, inclusion, graciousness. They are right about this, of course, that we are called to offer graceful welcome to all. There have been many writing on this lately, good studies, and this one is in their debt (that is, it is theologically rich and astute.) This is designed as a congregational study, a reflection on faithful practice of churches that build community and what comes of it all. Good reflection questions at the end of each chapter. This is a great read for anyone, and certain will offer guidance for those wanting to achieve greater openness and diversity. The author is senior pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Fairfax VA.
Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Church Vitality Steven Chapin Garner and Jerry Thornell (Alban Institute) $17.00 This is a recent book published by the Alban Institute, a publisher that does many research-based, best-practices sorts of books for mainline church leaders. We take almost everything they do to these events, squeezing them all in. So many are useful, on church vitality, on leadership, on conflict or congregational systems, or congregational redevelopment and so much more.
This book is a fine example of much that we like about the mainline churches -- the congregation seems balanced, politically progressive, deeply interested in the gospel and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I've read their other books, and this is full of stories and ideas.
Listen to what UCC pastor Martin Copenhaver writes:
The religious landscape of our country today is a picture of general decline, but with pockets of vitality -- dynamic congregations energized by the Holy Spirit in ways that are inspiring and instructive. They play the role the abbeys played during the Dark Ages, preserving the tradition and building upon it. Chapin Garner and Jerry Thornell serve just such a faith community. There is so much we can learn from him and from the congregation they lead.
An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythms of Work and Rest Alan Fadling (IVP) $15.00 Mainline churches, like most people of faith these days, are interested in questions of spiritual formation, and know that principles of Sabbath are key to Biblical renewal. Doesn't the cover of this book speak volumes - the go, go, go of the speedboat with much noise and splash in its wake, and the slower, quiet, but somehow appealing paper boat floating along at a more graceful human scale? Are you a recovering speed addict? Nobody suggests we ought not work hard and there are times we do have to go fast. But few of us have the work/rest rhythm quit right, so this book should have universal appeal. Jan Johnson (we sold her book Abundant Simplicity the first day here!) says of it "greatness of soul requires an unhurried life." She interestingly says it is a perfect follow up to The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. Whether you are a clergy person or not, this book is for you. It is very profound; highly recommended, wonderfully written, and certainly speaking wisely to one of the great concerns of our era.
Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology William C. Mills (Hillenbrand Books) $18.00 We always feel at liberty to bring Catholic and Orthodox books to mainline events, and this Lutheran gathering certainly shows interest in the liturgical tradition. I hope you know the must-read For the Life of the World by Schmemann - it gets at the sacramental nature of an enchanted, being-redeemed creation as well as almost anything - and this study reflects on his view of pastoral work. As an Orthodox theologian, he wrote exquisitely about the assembly of God's people in worship, and how liturgy shapes the calling of the pastor. Maybe you, like me, don't know that much about Orthodox views of Baptism and Eucharist, but any pastoral leader could surely learn from this brief book. Kudos to Lutheran clergy who desire mature and faithful worship, and know that any renewal of public witness will emerge from ministries of Word and Sacrament.
The Four Gospels on Sunday: The New Testament and the Reform of Christian Worship Gordon W. Lathrop (Fortress) $49.00 Lathrop is the renowned and vibrant professor from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I have often talked about his heavy three-volume set Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology, Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology and Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology, a powerful trio that brings to mind the aforementioned Alexander Schmemann. Those are certainly worth reading. Lutherans should be glad for this new book which is both scholarly and beautiful, bringing together his two great specialties of Biblical studies and liturgics. We could all learn from this. This is a truly beautiful, solidly-made book, of great importance, but I wish it weren't so expensive. I know it would sell better here if it were more reasonable. Maybe the discount will help.
Feasting on the Word Worship Companion Year C Volume 2 edited by Kimberly Bracken Long (Westminster/John Knox) $35.00 Most of our readers know of the extraordinary resource called Feasting on the Word, co-edited by Barbara Brown Taylor, a four volume set of preaching commentaries on each text of the lectionary for each liturgical year. (That is, there are four volumes for Years A, B and C, making Feasting a 12 volume set, in all. Each volume offers four different perspectives on the pericapes of the day (an exegetical, theological, pastoral, and homiletical view) and they are by far the most talked about preaching resources we've seen in our 30 years of theological bookselling.) This new Worship Companion is the second of a two volume set for each year, offering liturgies drawn from Feasting. This one, obviously, is for use now, the second half of Year C. It starts on Trinity Sunday and ends right before Advent. There are weekly calls to worship, confessions, lectionary-based prayers, responsive readings, benedictions and the like. The wording is elegant but contemporary; theologically rich and generous. Comes with a CD-ROM for easy use making bulletins, etc. Long is a Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, which is Presbyterian CHurch (USA.)
Worship as Repentance: Lutheran Liturgical Traditions and Catholic Consensus Walter Sundberg (Eerdmans) $18.00 Here is what it says in the back. A friend raved about this to me, so thought we'd recommend it: "Against contemporary trends that conceive of Christian worship primarily as entertainment or sheer celebration, Walter Sundberg argues that repentance is the heart of authentic worship. He outlines the history of repentance and confession within liturgical practice from the early church to mid-twentieth Protestantism, advocating movement away from the "eucharistic piety" common in mainline worship today and toward the "penitential piety" of older traditions of Protestant worship." This illustrates the significant discourse happening among the best mainline clergy. Not all are this astute, but when evangelicals caricature traditional worship as nominal or blase, they simply aren't aware of the kinds of reforms happening within the mainline. Important conversations.
Zionism Through Christian Lenses: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Promised Land edited by Carole Monica Burnett (Pickwick) $25.00 I am sure you know that mainline churches are strong on public justice advocacy, that their global denominational connections allow them to be in communion with brothers and sisters all over the world. In this powerful collection of essays you can get solid, Scripturally informed and political contextualized chapters by a Lutheran, two Roman Catholics, two Episcopalians, an American Baptist, and Eastern Orthodox Christian and a UCC pastor. This explores ancient Israel's covenant, the early church's theological insights and the post-Reformation experiences of various branches of Christianity around this question of whether we are called to be pro-Zionist. Naim S. Ateek, the Director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem wrote the passionate forward. The author, by the way, is not only a peace and justice advocate in the Middle East, but is an editor of the Fathers of the Church series and an adjunct professor of Latin and New Testament Greek at the Dominican House of Studies in DC. We've met, and I can assure you she is sharp and thoughtful. This is an excellent book. I am glad for the way mainline Christians have led the way to a balanced concern for peace in the Holy Land.
Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox) $17.00 We take Brueggemann books anywhere we go where we take Bible stuff, and, naturally, he is esteemed in all sorts of circles. Lutherans know him as their publisher (Fortress) did many of his most famous books such as The Land, The Prophetic Imagination, and The Hopeful Imagination. We are featuring a big stack of these right alongside others of his. As I have mentioned in a previous BookNotes, he here looks at Moses, Solomon, Elisha, Josiah, and a final chapter called "Power and Truth Among Us." Amazing. Just amazing. You should order this. Kudos to those in the mainline churches who have, in recent decades, redoubled their efforts to do serious Bible study in their parishes. I know there are some traditional denominations, who don't have a particularly conservative view of the Scriptures, who study it more frequently and with more delight and intensity than their evangelical neighbors, who insist loudly that they are Bible-believing, but actually don't study it that much.
Green Leaves for Later Years: The Spiritual Path of Wisdom Emilie Griffin (IVP/formatio) $15.00 Mainline pastors have been schooled well in pastoral care and it is evident that aging issues remain important for their congregations. We take books about the greying of the church to all our religious events, and they are always discussed. Here is one that we've sold a number of - Emilie Griffin is the author of a number of books, including some classics of contemplative spirituality; she knows formational literature very well, and has worked in this field a long time. Her good writing and her own life stage allows her here to offer a nearly one-of-a-kind book. It is ideal for individuals or groups; it has great reflection questions and a prayer. So well written - very highly recommended. By the way, we take all the formatio imprint of IVP almost everywhere we go -- some of the very best stuff on spirituality out there.
Healing Marks Bruce Epperly (Energion Publications) $14.99 Bruce Epperly gets around and is well known in many circles - he is a Disciples pastor, not long ago served Lancaster Theological Seminar tirelessly and is the author of oodles of books. He has published with the esteemed Alban Institute (we carry all his Alban titles, which are very well done) and he has worked with larger and smaller presses. Here, in a book that ought to be well known, he offers a study of healing and spirituality (mostly from Mark's gospel.) Healing is multi-faceted and grace-filled. As his friend Kent Ira Groff writes on the back, "Jesus' touching dirt-poor sick folks and well-heeled tax collectors bids us to spiritual practices and social justice using scientific tools." That is, it is grounded in a critical study of the Biblical texts, uses deep psychological awareness to see touches of grace and healing that comes in many forms, and it is medically sound. (Bruce spent more than a decade as chaplain at Georgetown University Medical School where he also taught, innovating courses on faith, medicine, healing and wholeness. This isn't a book of cheap miracles, but neither does it keep gospel transformation at arm's length. It is fascinating to see how many mainline churches anoint with oil and have (liturgically-oriented) healing services. We have this propped up for all to see. And many of his other titles, too.
Worship the Lord with Gladness: God's Children in Worship Rita B. Hays (Abingdon) $18.99 This brand new study reminds us of the important interest in mainline churches of helping children learn to worship in the main worship service of the church. This is a tremendous study, great for teachers as it is so well arranged, helping younger children (kindergarten through 3rd grade, they say) understand what worship is, learn what the Bible teaches about it, and appreciating different aspects of typical Protestant churches. It is fun, uses crafts and activities for each of the 13 sessions, and kids get to learn about everything from understanding a worship bulletin to the Apostles Creed to passing the peace. This is very highly recommended.
Why Do We Have to Be Quiet in Church? And 12 Other Questions Kids Have About God Clare Simpson (Paraclete) $14.99 This small hardback is a lovely little book, with great illustrations by Kay Harker, and is designed to answer typical questions younger children have about God and faith and church. We like this book and it is great here for at least three good reasons: it has a modern, contemporary feel; that is, it is artful and not too silly or cartoony. Secondly, it has nuance and allusive hints to applying truth, unlike some books that are so didactic and heavy-handed. Thirdly, there are small hints of scenes of mainline church settings - pews, a pastor in a clerical collar, a Baptismal font. Children who attend ordinary mainline churches will recognize themselves in this. Why Do We Have To Be So Quiet in Church is a great little book, short and sweet, published by a contemplative Episcopalian publisher that we love. That mouse is cool, too, eh? Thanks to the Lutheran folk who bought kids books at their Assembly. Kudos to all congregations who make room for kids of all ages and temperaments and needs. We have many, many more children's books - I'll list some others before too long.
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