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« Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem | Main | Books about Books and the Importance of Reading »

New books arrive even this week...great reads not to be missed.

I don't know why some publishers launch new books a few days before or after the 25th; wouldn't it make more sense to ship 'em earlier, or later?  Yet there are always a few fresh new stacks of brand new titles here at the end of the year and it is sort of exciting amidst all the exhaustion of the bustle and fa-la-la-ing. Some even have 2011 copyright dates.

Here are a few that arrived, in all but one case, just within the last few days.  Don't want them to slip through some time warp here at the end of the year, since they look really good.

HTBP Cover.jpgHow to Be Perfect: One Church's Audacious Experiment in Living the Old Testament book of Leviticus  Daniel Harrell (Faithwords)$19.99  A.J. Jacobs, author of the must-read, wonderfully written and flat-out hilarious The Year of Living Biblically, writes "Thou shalt read this book.  How to Be Perfect is a very interesting examination of commandments both famous and obscure.  I'm honored my project helped inspire it."  Tony Jones says "I think what I like most about (it) is the outrageousness of the idea."  Harrell is an amazing guy who has lectured at mainline and evangelical seminaries and for two decades was the pastor at the historic Park Street Church in Boston.  He's now somewhere off the deep end in Minnesota.  Or maybe not so crazy.  Harrell knows that Leviticus is the deep soil of Jewish Torah and the source of Jesus' "love thy neighbor" stuff.  One can hardly understand Jesus, or much of the Christian faith, without an understanding of Leviticus.  As the President of Biola University puts it on the back cover "I came to grasp my own faith as a child of God on a deeper level...(and it) taught me important lessons about holiness, worship, service, forgiveness, sacrifice, celebration, joy..."  He continues, "all who want a contemporary peek at a sacred text, read it."  I'd say, anybody who wants not just a peek, but a full-on, seriously fun stare into the heart of Christian discipleship will want to read this. 

Two things, at least, make this different than the fabulous A.J. Jacobs book: the experiment it describe wasn't done for a year and it wasn't solo.  Harrell realizes that Torah was given to a community, so he somehow hoodwinked a gang of friends to do this stuff with him.  As a working pastor, he worried his flock wouldn't really sit still--or show up, once word got out--for a sermon series on Leviticus, so he devised this "reality show" storytelling series, sharing lessons learned along the way.  It became a website and blog, facilitating a communal conversation about mildew and kosher foods and holiness and questions of hermeneutics, the relationship of the Older Testament to the Newer, the call to obedience, and, finally, grace, grace, grace.  I started this last night and found myself talking to customers about it this morning.  Highly recommended. 

Image.asp.jpgRight Here Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People  Alan Hirsch & Lance Ford (Baker) $14.99  Unless you've had your head in the sand or never follow religious trends or literature, you've surely heard that the latest churchy buzz word is "missional." Here is a great, short video by Michael Frost on the "organizing principle" of mission that should shape congregations; not as an add-on but a call to a new paradigm.  It is a good definition. Here is a nice 5-minute video by Tim Keller.  Don't miss this evocative photo-story by our missional friend Christine Sine which captures the vision beautifully.)  From church planting evangelicals to cultural-engagement hipsters to mainline denominational execs helping with church redevelopment, everyone is drawing on the deep insights of Lesslie Newbigin and other older missiologists to insist that congregations ought not see themselves as part of the cultural status quo, being about self-preservation, or existing for some purpose other than to be agents of God's reign in the world. God's mission in the world is where it's at.  Churches are to be crucibles for character formation of the sort that equip folks to erect signposts of God's redeeming work in the world, to become Kingdom witnesses that are both culturally relevant and yet counter-cultural, advancing God's movement.  Using time-honored missionary principles, local churches must re-think their relationship to the ethos of the surrounding Western culture (where faith is in decline and the forces of modernity and secularization press upon us) and learn to serve others in Christ-like passion oriented all they do by this overarching Kingdom mission.  Worshiping congregations are to be about God's Kingdom and as communities of the King, they seek to witness meaningfully and serve well.  After the "missional" term was coined by some Princeton guys, and the Gospel in Our Culture Network was formed, a seminal work, The Shaping of Things to Come, was written by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.  In more recent years Hirsch has written The Forgotten Ways, and a companion handbook for congregational study, and (with Frost, again) a fabulous book which I heartily recommend called Re:Jesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church. Hirsch has earned the right to be one of those missional leaders whose books we simply must know about.

This brand new release, Right Here, Right Now is remarkable, with "briefing" and "debriefing" sections, a webpage with video clips for each section and an array of culturally savvy ideas for living missionally and some fabulous sidebars and discussion stuff.  Not unlike Len Sweet's fascinating volumes, just the footnotes alone are worth the price. Very much like the powerful book the Aussie Hirsch wrote with his wife Debbie earlier this year, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship, this takes the missional church conversation and shifts it to the "right here right now" daily implications for ordinary disciples.  Everyday people, as the subtitle puts it.  As Francis Schaeffer once wrote, there are "no little people."  We're all recruits for the reign of God.  Whether your own congregation is abuzz with the missional paradigm or not, this will help you discern important wants you can life more fully embraced by the missio Dei yourself.  What a way to start the year!

bakker-jay.jpgFall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society Jay Bakker (FaithWords) $19.99  I met the previously nerdy son of the discredited tele-evangelists Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker years ago; he already had full sleeves of tattoos and his warehouse Revolution church which provided a safe place for disaffected, underground kids was in full swing.  He was passionate, had a huge heart for the hurting, and was smart, very smart, and just a bit sassy.  His previous book, Son of a Preacher Man, was hard to put down as he told of his family's situation, his journey into radical faith, ministry among the marginalized and his call into this work among a pierced subculture many fear or despise.  This new book continues his journey, with an emphasis on his discovery of the gospel of grace, and how to be gracious, sharing grace with all, especially those who are often unaccepted in typical churches.  And, hey, how many books cite knowingly Martin Luther and South Park, the 700 Club and pro-gay leader Mel White?  Put on your seatbelt; this is going to be a wild ride through a bittersweet fun house, a fall into grace.

The Purpose of Passion: Dante's Epic Vision of Romantic Love  Kurt Bruner & Jim Warepurpose-of-passion-dantes-epic-vision-of-romantic-love.jpg (Saltriver) $12.99  These two guys have written together before, with nicely done evangelical books like Finding God in the Lord of the Rings.  I'm not sure "Finding God in Dante's Hell" is quite what they were going for here, and, of course, this new one is on more than just Inferno and Purgatorio, but explores the all of The Divine Comedy.  With an application for your love life.  (Think of the Maria song from West Side Story: "Beatrice!  I've just met a girl named Beatrice!")

Before you think this is too cheesy, let me assure you it is not.  It isn't an academic study, they translate the Latin for those of us who don't get it, and walk us through some complex poetry in some very understandable and reliable ways.  They pull out some great insights, cite important scholars---Charles Williams, Sheldon Vanauken, and C.S. Lewis on The Discarded Image and The Four Loves, for instance, and Christopher West, the Catholic "theology of the body" scholar--and do a very nice job.  Get it now to be ready for Valentine's Day! 

1onelife.jpgOne.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $14.99  Scot with one t McKnight is one of the most important popular Christian writers of recent years, relentlessly doing a high-quality blog (Jesus Creed), reporting and reviewing on the best books in Biblical studies and theology, doing exceptional scholarly work on New Testament literature, all the while releasing several popular level books on Jesus, spiritual formation, praying the litany of the hours, fasting, how to understand the Bible (The Blue Parakeet, btw, just came out in paperback.) Here in One.Life McKnight has given us an extraordinary book about "whole life discipleship" and how Jesus' announcement of the advent of the Kingdom of God's influences our understanding of discipleship.  With rave endorsements from Bill Hybels, April Diaz, John Ortberg, and Margaret Feinberg, you can see that One.Life will be an easily read but thoughtful, helpful, practical, and deeply faithful guide to living with abandon in the "one.life" we have to live.  Will yours be a cross.life? How will it effect your church.life?  Your justice.life? Your vocation.life?  I mentioned this a few weeks ago when I was doing that uber-post about all kinds of book recommendations for all kinds of people.  I didn't want it to be missed so announce it again, here; it is very well done, a bit clever, somewhat challenging and very helpful.  McKnight is important and this could be his best yet!

Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti's Hotel Montana  Dan Woolley (Zondervan)
512Iiu2OrxL._SL500_AA300_.jpg $22.99  It was nearly surreal getting this in just the other day, in the "hap, hap, happiest time, of the yeeeaaaar."  Woolley is an important Compassion International staffer and was, in fact, in Port-au-Prince the day of the horrible Earthquake a year ago.  He was, in fact, buried under a deep and dark pile of rubble from the six story hotel and amazingly survived after being in what Wess Stafford called his "dark and dusty tomb."  Hundreds of thousands of people did not survive that 7.0 Haitian earthquake so we dare not be glib about God's blessing to Mr. Woolley in his trauma, but this a truly extraordinary and inspiring story.  The author details his three days trapped and describes his survival methods---using an iPhone app to treat his life-threatening injuries, conversations with strangers buried nearby, letters to his family, and the decisions he made that were decisive for his survival.  It is powerful to see his blood-stained diary, prayers and letters to his family, written in the literal and metaphorical darkness of those 65 hours. Unshaken looks really powerful, set, of course, in the context of the poverty and joys of this island country and of the good work of Compassion International.  A portion of all book sales will be given to Compassion's work in Haiti.

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