It almost always happens: we’re off to sell books at some great venue—-the UCC clergy retreat, a C.S.Lewis conference, a Christian education symposium, or Jubilee. Jubilee is our biggest event of the year, an annual gathering that, in the 1970s, catapulted us into a worldview and way of thinking about faith that included a redeeming gospel influence over every area of life. Thoughtful, culturally-savvy, interesting books are really essential at this event and it is our grandest display ever.
The 2010 Jubilee conference was as electric as ever, and the many good speakers (thanks to those who stopped by) and authors did a fabulous job. We get to sell books about so many things to so many difference sorts of folks. We saw anti-nuclear weapons activists and Christian specialists in medicine; we chatted with students wanting to think about how to do normative engineering while rejecting the idolatry of technology and we showed books to praise music leaders wanting a more mature and meaty theology of worship. Thanks to the students who asked about reading faithfully in their majors—nursing, business, psychology, social work, education—and thanks to the speakers like David Kinnaman whose UnChristian documents that without this kind of robust, vibrant, faithful and relevant form of witness outside the walls of the church, we will do little to win a lost and sometimes hostile generation. From racial reconciliation to third world development, from authors like Leroy Barber (The New Neighbor) to Peter Greer (The Poor Will Be Glad) we had a chance to sell books not only about work-a-day faith in the vocation of careers, but how ordinary folks can make a difference in social reforms, turning around awful manifestations of human sinfulness such as poverty, disease, AIDS or environmental waste. Yep, Jubilee allows us to showcase many of our favorite books, and many folks (older participants, especially, who have the eyes to see say they’ve never quite seen such a diverse array of theologically interesting Christian books before. If you’ve read BookNotes for a while, or come in to the shop, ever, you may know that what at first glance may seem overwhelmingly random—science? film? sexuality? gardening? prayer? economics?—are somehow inter-related and form what may be nearly a coherent selection. We are seeking the wise ways of God, through His grace, so that we might live into the “good works” that Christ has for us to do. Yes, we have books about the atonement, the cross, salvation and personal devotions. Yes, we have tons of stuff about church-life and congregational health. But, also, we have books for nearly any career or zone of life— open-minded, good-hearted, Biblically-shaped wisdom for the real world. Christ does, after all, as the Jubilee slogan this year put it, hold all things together. It’s all His.
Well, as I said, it almost always happens. Just after we skedaddle for the Big Event, in comes a box or two which I find when we return. I nearly blow a fuse with frustration—if only this would have come a day sooner, we could have taken it to the conference! Here are a few we found a few days ago, great books that I’d have been proud to push in Pittsburgh. I think it would have been cool, too, to have braggin’ rights on these, being the first place to show ’em off. Tee-heee. So we’re happy to brag about em here. You are among the first to know.
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.95 Oh boy, am I glad this is out. This is the sequel to the excellent Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, asking the basic question of how we shall live given this broad view of the Kingdom coming, the new creation we are born into, in Christ. Not only what shall we do–this missional Kingdom vision–but, more, what kind of people must we become? The first few chapters are on character (and may seem a tad dry or arcane to some, but it is important) and the second half soars, showing us with great erudition, just how the virtues of Christ can be worked out and the implications it has for daily living. One reviewer said his vision is “both gentle and radical”. Wow, this is one of the books of the year, for sure! Regardless of your own denominational affiliation, I am convinced that you and your people need this book. Think it through, stretch yourself, and be glad for such a thoughtful, articulate, gracious, and radical call to vibrant ethical living. Yes!
Surprised By Hope DVD N.T. Wright (Zondervan) $24.99 Zondervan sure has been promoting some very, very well made video product lately, and this 6-week DVD looks to be spectacular. What does happen when we die? Are we just to sit around waiting for heaven? Why is the resurrection of the body such a key phrase in the Apostle’s Creed? If we really are resurrected to a new creation, how does that effect our daily living now? Can we be people whose lives are signposts of real hope, hope within history? Is there a connection between this life and the next? This would have been perfect to suggest to collegiate Jubilee groups to watch in a study group back home, living out the implications of the J vision. I’m going to use this is our adult Sunday school as soon as they’ll let me. I hope you consider it too. Very helpful.
The Last Christian On Earth: Uncover the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church Os Guinness (Regal) $14.99 Dr. Guinness’ The Call remains a perfect Jubilee book–gracefully written, well-informed by literature, philosophy, history, and offering the most elegant and profound invitation to find the grand purpose of our lives of any book I know. Yet, it was Guinness’ provocative, deeply sociological study of the nature of modernity (and the churches capitulation to the spirit of the times) that riveted many of us when he lectured powerfully at Jubilee in the early 1980s. Soon, the fascinating Screwtape-esque set of fictional memorandum collected as The Grave Digger Files was released. This brand new release is a slightly expanded version of that creative bit of cultural critique, now given this new title. Guinness has often been asked if Screwtape was his inspiration for putting out these alleged letters from the evil side, and actually, he reports in a great new forward, that it was John le Carre “and his brilliant descriptions of the gray world of intelligence” that inspired him. And, he writes, as many of us had expected, “As for the “old Fool” he is Malcolm Muggeridge, who was alive and well when I first wrote the book, and a dear friend. His utterly hilarious, but deadly seri
ous, brand of fool-making has long been an inspiration to my lifelong passion for Christian persuasion.” Os continues, “He is now in heaven, but he read the book when it first came out and his kind commendation has always meant the world to me.” The former BBC skeptic and public intellectual, Muggeridge, by the way, wrote of the first edition that it is “a most brilliant book…it is beautifully worked out, enormously entertaining and conveys great truth.”
Other endorsements for it come from Peter Berger and David Wells, who says “This is Guinness at his very best: clear and vivid language, sharp and cutting insights, and a brilliantly executed explanation of the current weakness of the Western Church. We ignore this argument at our peril.”
Our sociology section at the conference book display would have been stronger if we had The Last Christian On Earth, as it is a most interesting way to discern the contours of the times, a summary of a major sociological insight about modernity, success, and “digging our own grave.” . It could have been in our “church” section, too, as it is ultimately a critique of how the church buys into the spirit of the times in a shallow search for cheap relevance. And it could have been offered to our writing workshops, literature majors, as it is a fun and exemplary example of creative ways to use contemporary genres to teach and inform about the deepest truths. Ahh, I hope we can promote it now, as it is deep, intellectually demanding, rich, playful and spot on.
The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self-Obsessions Mark Sayers (Nelson) $14.99 Sayers wrote a stunningly important and woefully under-appreciated book and DVD a few years ago, a clever and engaging study of consumerism (The Trouble With Paris.) This is a perfect follow-up (or perhaps it could be read first) to that fabulous book about consumerism, false hopes, disillusionment and grounding a realistic faith in the doctrines of creation and incarnation. What a book (and contemporary DVD) that was!
In this postmodern, hot-wired culture, where we are offered the plastic promise of “being whatever we want” Sayers reminds us of the fundamental truths of our identity, and our placed-ness in God’s good but fallen creation. Our carefully cultivated personas just frustrate and confuse us, finally, and this book invites us to rediscover the one thing that can really fulfill—radical holiness, and a desire for appropriate health before a loving God. Young adults at Jubilee are surely on a journey of discovering who they are. This book could help. It has a blurb on the back by Chris Seay and a forward by Len Sweet (which is one of his more interesting ones, and he is always a great foward-er!). It is not another self-help book, in fact, he teaches us how that view of self is itself part of the problem. A quick skim of the footnotes, showing forth deep and important stuff like Richard Middleton’s vital work on the image of God, The Liberating Image, Rushkoff’s DVD The Merchants of Cool, the acclaimedThe Saturated Self, Neal Gabler’s Life: The Movie, and the very important work of Christopher Lasch. And nearly any book that cites Walsh & Keesmaat’s Colossians Remixed is worth reading. Wow, this looks great! Fun, informed by the best scholarship, culturally-relevant and deeply spiritual. Perfect!
Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith Francis Collins (editor) (HarperOne) $19.99 Every year at Jubilee we have conversations with non-Christian students, seekers, agnostics, confused and agnostic kids. Some are very aware of their anti-Christian bias (but they came to the conference out of curiosity or because some good-lovin’ Christian friend paid their way.) I know other workshop leaders and CCO staff have these meaningful conversations, too, but they do seem to often gravitate to the bookstore. “What does that author mean?” Why do you have those kinds of books?” “Do you have anything that might convince me to believe in Jesus?” It is rare that in a matter of a few days we have so many deep and important conversations. This year was no different, perhaps more so, as there was a Jubilee track dealing with the new atheism. Several atheist students were given time to speak and atheist leader Hemant Mehta (I Sold My Soul On E-bay) was on a panel discussing the relative merits of Christian convictions and the new atheism. And so, I really, really wish we would have had this reader as it is the prefect collection to put into the hands of anyone seeking after truth, anybody who wonders if it is intellectually credible to explore Christian faith, or for anyone who feels a need to study up on these foundations so they might answer the questions that come your way.
Do you have deep questions of faith, reason, justice, science, the credibility of belief? Do you know anyone who does? Francis Collins, as you most likely know, now serves in the Obama administration as the Director of the National Institute of Health. As former Director of the Human Genome Project, and a medical researcher known in cystic fybrosis work, he became known as one of the most renowned Christians in the sciences in our generation. His Language of God was a New York Times bestseller, he has a new volume coming soon on science, so this work of apologetics is a splendid resource, introduced and explained, by an esteemed and reasonable gentleman of deep Christian faith.
Here, in Belief, he collates and introduces a good 25 or so essays from a wise variety of sources that can walk readers towards the destination of knowing that religious faith can be credible, intellectually-sustainable, and that we can have good reasons to believe. From the earliest writers in the West (Plato, Augustine, Anselm,) through renowned writers such as Pascal and Locke, Collins shows the classic arguments for faith and reason. He has a wonderful few pieces on “the meaning of truth” (Os Guinness, Madeleine L’Engle, Dorothy Sayers) and some moving work on the problem of evil (from Art Lindsley to Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel.) I love his section “loving God with all your mind” which includes a classic piece by Elton Trueblood and a good essay by John Stott; in “the cry for justice” he includes a contemporary piece from Tim Keller’s Reason for God and a classic by Martin Luther King, Jr. And so on–from his beloved C.S. Lewis to Viktor Frankl to some “voices from the East” (Gandhi and the Dalai Lama) we see a breadth and depth of short excerpts, designed to not only whet the appetite, but to actually fill one with the cumulative weight of glory. It is the best meal of its kind.
Collins introduces these pieces well, and we come to see a solid understanding of the harmony of science and faith (for instance, John Polkinghorne) and a bit on the irrationality of atheism from the likes of Chesterton, Kung, Alvin Platinga and Anthony Flew.
Any book that has my friend Art Lindsley (a piece from his excellent True Truth) and Tom Merton (a bit on mysticism from his Ascent to Truth), the remarkable Alister McGrath and Mother Theresa, well…this is a stunning collection of essential writings, and I only wish I could have shown it to some young uncertain intellectuals at Jubilee. Maybe you know somebody you’d like to share it with? There may be other anthologies like this, but I don’t know any quite as good.
Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship Alan & Debra Hirsch (Baker) $14.99 We know Hirsch as one of the premier writers about the movement called “missional” and a helpful guide about how the church must contend with the trends of the new 21st century epoch. Here, he invites us to get serious about discipleship, a provocation to dedication, call call to contemporary commitment. This book is plucky and fun, edgy and serious, full of whole-life discipleship. It might have been good for the Jubby students to see these Aussies expose the pagan notion of a sacred/secular dualism (and that CCO aren’t the only folks insisting that as a central part of a Christian worldview, the rejection of dualism.) Jubilee pal Gabe Lyons has a blurb on the back noting its importance, as does Neil Cole, Margaret Feinberg, Reggie McNeal and Greg Boyd. Amazingly interesting, vital, earthy discipleship.
For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts Edited by David O. Taylor (Baker) $14.99 We had a great display of books about the arts, aesthetics, creativity and such. Mako Fujimura did both a plenary session and a workshop, and we had poets, writers and dancers doing their thing. Interestingly, much of our effort is to convince folks that taking up their artistic calling before God does not mean one must work in or for the local church. Of course we need more artistic influences in our congregations, and it would please God (and many people) if aesthetically wise people contributed to the making of banners, bulletins and hallway art in our ordinary church buildings. Still, we need artists in the wider culture, too, and Jubilee invites young art majors to serve God with their creative selves, not only in the doing of liturgical art or Sunday school pictures, but in galleries and graphic design studios.
So, along comes this book, informed by precisely such a broad vision of God’s good creation and the call to serve Christ in the marketplace, with callings and careers, integrating faith and daily work (in this case the work of painting, dancing, film-making and such.) Yet, this book wisely also says that, yes, indeed, our artists can serve the Kingdom in the world, but must also serve the congregation and the church. There are chapters for pastors, for patrons, for artists in the congregation, a look at “dangers” and great chapter on worship, one called “the practitioner” that looks very good.
Let’s hear it for this excellent collection, with lavish endorsements from rock music producer and author Charlie Peacock, poet and memoirist Luci Shaw, writer and church leader Marva Dawn and, yes, abstract artist, Makoto Fujimura. Here we have what sure looks like profound and wonderful pieces by Eugene Peterson, Lauren Winner, Barbara Nicolosi, Andy Crouch, Jeremy Begbie, John Witvliet and more. (My, my, I looked at this again, in the middle of my dumb blogging here, and stopped–I just had to read Lauren’s chapter, which is truly wonderful writing, and very, very insightful and honest about being supportive of the arts. What a piece! Andy’s is excellent, and I note that Eugene Peterson cites a book that I once sent him. Nice.)
So, this is nothing short of a thrilling book, a great and interesting and enjoyable anthology of some of our best church leaders calling us to consider the church’s stewardship of the arts. I am glad we had It Was Good, Objects of Grace, Walking on Water, Art and Soul, Breath for the Bone, God in the Gallery, Refractions and (of course) Rainbows for a Fallen World as foundational books for the art students at Jubilee. But, gee, I sure wish I could have shown this to some folks. It may be the next great book in this vital, developing field, with this great application to ordinary congregational life. Kudos to Taylor and team. Check out his blog, here.
Well, there are more. The latest in the “Living Theology” series edited by Tony Jones just arrived, called The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as The Way of the Church by Andrew Root (Abingdon; $18.00.) While it may be a bit much for younger students, it is certainly a book I simply must read–about the nature of suffering and being a community that attends to the hard stuff of life.
Or, for instance, a brand new book on why we should love the church, esp as it teaches us spiritual disciplines and forms us into a community, may have been excellent to show these young leaders: Giving Church Another Chance: Finding Meaning in Spiritual Practices by Todd Hunter (IVP; $18.00.) With rave endorsements from everyone from Phyllis Tickle to Jim Belcher to Dallas Willard, this looks tremendously rich. If only it had come a few days earlier!
Ron Martoia is an author whose work seems to resonate with Jubilee; his amazing Tranformational Architecture talked about seeing your life as a story, and learning to tell that story has changed (by God): narrative theology mashed up with spiritual formation as the key
to authentic evangelism! So I was frustrated that his brand new book came a bit early, a few days after the big conference. The Bible as Improv: Seeing and Living the Script in New Ways (Zondervan; $14.99) looks really right on, a helpful way to honor the immense and foundational ways the Bible shapes us, but also how our outworking of our tasks simply must have a degre of “improv” to them. The Bible must stimulate dialogue, discussion, discipleship, play, experimentation, risk. Alan Hirsch says this is “unconventional” but it seems to make perfect sense. With comedian and actress Susan Isaacs (Angry Conversations With God) at Jubilee, it would have been fun to promote a book about improv. So, I improv now, riffing on a book I’m excited to tell you about. Yeah.
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