A Handful and a Half

      Rather than explore one “must read” title as I have done the past few months (remember The Unnecessary Pastor by Peterson & Dawn and the new Os Guinness treatise, A Time for Truth?), this month I’ll highlight a handful and a half; titles I like and thought you might enjoy knowing about. Any of these would make good sabbath-day reading or nice gifts for students for their summer reflections. Hope you enjoy knowing about them as much as I enjoy telling you. Let us pray that some are encouraged in their discipleship with such literature and that we all are ever-growing in our understanding of the ways of the Lord.

      A Walk Through the Bible by Lesslie Newbigin (Westminster/John Knox, $9.95). Who wouldn’t want to firm up their basic overview of the flow of the biblical drama? Who (for under ten buckaroos) wouldn’t desire to get, once again, the Big Picture of the coming of the Kingdom, seen through the Holy Book? And who, in under 85 pages, wouldn’t enjoy saying they polished off a work by the prestigious and serious former Bishop of the Church of South India? These were radio talks that the good Bishop had done shortly before his death a few years back. Known as an evangelical within the often-liberal World Council of Churches, and esteemed for his brilliant Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Newbigin is quoted by our favorite folks and was admired by nearly everyone who knew him. Here, in language anyone can understand, he affirms the Bible as the story of humankind’s fall and God’s acts to fulfill His intentions for His planet. One of those big ol’ hairy CCO thingies is, of course, biblical literacy for us and our students. This is a sweet place to start.

      The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel by Walter Wangerin (Zondervan, regular price $27.99, sale price $14.97). What a writer this wonderful Wangerin! (I’ve been wanting to say that for quite some time.) Seriously, he is an exquisite craftsman of the word and a solid interpreter of the Word. Many of us have used his book on marriage, his book on prayer, his Lenten or Advent devotionals (not to mention his fiction!). Here, he retells the Bible as a crowded, sprawling, mega-story, complete with delightful, fictionalized dialogue and detail. The great thing with this edition (besides the while-supplies-last offer of an almost half-price deal) is that it includes a forthcoming chapter from the not-yet-released sequel on the early church, entitled Paul: A Novel. Despite the almost 650 pages, you can easily read this fatso in less than the summertime.

      Never Beyond Hope by J.I. Packer (IVP, $14.99). This nice hardback is just out, and is essentially J.I.’s astute biblical teaching on various characters of the Bible. Once a mainstay of evangelical piety, the “character study” approach has been properly criticized due to the tendency to focus on the ethical character strengths or weaknesses of the person, rather than focusing on the grand history of redemption and the faithfulness of God, who should always be seen as the Main Character of the story. Still, this discipline of focusing on the people of the Bible and what we can learn from their stories has stood the test of time and, under trustworthy guidance, can be not only instructive, but tons of fun. Want to know more about Samson, Jacob, Manoah’s Wife (huh?), Jonah, Martha, Thomas, Simon Peter or Nehemiah? Packer and his co-writer, Carolyn Nystrom, have put together solid, Reformed Bible teaching complete with journaling ideas, discussion questions and prayer suggestions. Very, very good. And if this notion strikes your fancy, remember that we have raved about Eugene Peterson’s wonderful study of the David stories, called Leap Over a Wall (HarperCollins; $12.00). For the more adventuresome, the new Bad Girls of the Bible (United Church Press, $13.95) by UCC clergywoman Barbara Essex explores women of questionable virtue and wonders just what we might learn from the likes of Potiphar’s wife, Jezebel or Sapphira. These notorious women may have something for us, if we dig just a bit deeper and deconstruct the traditional approaches. Interestingly, there is another recent book with the exact same title, written by a storyteller hot on the evangelical women’s circuit these days, Liz Curtis Higgs (Waterbrook, $12.95). While not having the same feminist hermenuetic that Essex uses, Higgs brings a fresh take to well-known Bible stories involving women who we usually distrust. Both make for fascinating reading. Feast of Life: Spiritual Food for Balanced Living by Jo Kadlecek (Baker, $11.99). What a nice book, a gentle and stimulating menu of good friends and good spirit. For balanced, healthy living, we need good food, and this includes the “spiritual food groups” like solitude, service, community and contemplation. Seasoned with anecdotes and sprinkled with interactive challenges, this book spreads before us the key components for bringing order and balance to our lives. I have told some of you how much I have relished just the forward to this book, where Kelly Monroe tells of a healing time of food and rest with her friend, Jo Kadlecek. This is a wonderful approach to spiritual formation and gets our highest recommendation.

      The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of by John Eldredge (Nelson, $16.99). Just about the most anxiously-awaited book of the season for us, this follow-up to the fabulous The Sacred Romance is touted as a profound work of knowing the heart of God. With endorsements from the likes of Dan Allender, this looks to be on par with Richard Foster, Dallas Willard or Brennan Manning. Eldredge teaches at the Focus on the Family Institute, a worldview-ish study center which does some of what the American Studies Program does in DC, allows students to study policy issues from a coherent and thoughtful Christian framework. (Perhaps you saw their booth at Jubilee.) Send some students to Colorado Springs for the Institute and they’ll meet Eldredge and, I’m told, they’ll come back transformed.

      Prayer and the Art of Volkswagon Maintenance: Finding God on the Open Road by Donald Miller (Harvest House, $10.99). I would like sometime to do an entire review of this unique journal of two guys trusting God on the road. While the title is an obvious tip of the pen to Persig’s road classic, this memoir is not nearly so heady. Most of us will know what I mean when I say this is so Gen X, they are all about finding meaning, hanging out, doing wilderness stuff, talking about coffee, the opposite sex, music, sex and discipleship. They quote poetry just a bit, study Scripture a bit, pray a lot when their unreliable minibus keeps dying, and marvel at the beauty of the desert, the mountains and, finally, the strength gleaned from the bonds of friends. Moments annoyed me and occasionally the writing was trite (they are just out of college; maybe even guys you know). But other times, and there were quite a few of them!, the writing was so wonderful it nearly hurt. I wanted to reread pages, just for the sheer joy of the words and the genuine search these two earnest evangelicals were on. This book is way cool, a fun treat, and not a little bit inspiring. Just don’t give it to anybody who is likely to want to take off; they just might.

      Out Walking: Reflections on Our Place in the Natural World by John Leax (Baker, $14.99). Although the stunning autumn scene on the very handsome cover cries out to be carried around and shown off in the fall, you will want to start this book the moment you get it. Although Leax is becoming better known as a serious Christian poet and significant professor at Houghton College, his passion for ecological issues and his avocation as a gardener and hiker and naturalist shines through in this lovely memoir. That no lesser a writer and activist than Bill McKibben likens him to Wendell Berry should be convincing enough. If you’re hiking, take this along. If you’re not, read this and you’ll long to. Either way, this will increase your delight in God’s good creation and lead you to, as Eugene Peterson puts it in his endorsement, “a life of prayerful appreciation.” What a gift!