Hearts & Minds Awards for Best Books of 2011 PART TWO

I did my clever little intro in the last post, admitting that I’m not quite able to come up with that One True Best Book Of The Year.  Not even a top ten list.  Yet, I explain, we do want to give honorable mentions—I’d like to think a mention from Hearts & Minds is honorable, but some may disagree about that.  Here, then, is PART TWO of our declarations of distinction for non-fiction books in the year of our Lord 2011.

As you can see at the easy to use links at the end we have these all on sale at 20% off.


4 holy.gifFour Holy Gospels  Makoto Fujimura (Crossway) $149.99  We promoted this several times this year, and had the great privilege of being with Mako at his premier IAM Encounter event early in 2011.  The abstract art is evocative and the illuminations are both ancient and yet very contemporary.  The publisher reports that this is the first time a single artist has been commissioned to do an illuminated Bible portion in centuries.  This deserves awards for the clear and accurate translation of the ESV, the good binding and print job, but mostly for this extraordinarily creative, lavish, and reverent art done in serve of the Word.


22.gifThe Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America Gabe Lyons (Doubleday) $19.99  I must say this is one of the best books of the year for the sorts of things we most care about and the kinds of books we care to promote.  It is easy to read, but not lightweight; it is thoughtful and provocative, but not weird or unusual; it is Biblically-rooted, faithful, and orthodox, but not hidebound or stuffy. This is a book for all kinds of readers and it does two great things.  The first part is a good bit of important “finger to the wind” assessment of our time.  Jesus advises us to be able to read the signs of the times, and Lyons does this well: he notes how the culture wars are nearly over, the notions of a “Christian American” losing cache in even evangelical circles, and how such civil religious assumptions are certainly irrelevant to today’s rising generation of Christian younger adults.  He tells stories galore, offers just enough astute scholarship and footnotes, and in a few good chapters brings us up to the minute on where we are culturally.  This itself is laudable–and, on a second recent reading, more important than perhaps I first realized. Great stuff! 

The second half of Next Christians, though, is even better as Lyons shares his sense of how younger Christians see their life and times, what discipleship means these days, how being involved in the real world–living out Christ-like service by making the world a better place–is seen as central.  Lyons is being, I think, a tad proscriptive here, telling us what we ought to be thinking, how faith ought to be construed as we live under the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life and he is spot on.  However, he also is convinced this is the tone and vision of younger Christian folks, it is the heartbeat of the rising generation, the sort of activist folks he mets in his symposiums, his speaking at Christian colleges, those who read his award-winning website Q Ideas, or who attend his classy networking conference, sort of a Christian TED event, called Q.  These specific shifts about which he writes beautifully—embracing ideas of vocation, of lived practices, of spirituality, of being culture-makers (not critics),  of living in community, of making a difference—could largely be summarized by the term “restoration.”  Younger adult Christians are taking their cue from some older leaders and edgy new books and the conversations happening all over the country insisting that faith is shaped by the whole story of God–Christ is redeeming His planet—and that influences how we engage the world, as agents of transforming change.  We are called to be signposts pointing towards the restoration God is doing in the world. This is sweet stuff, radical without seeming pushy, exciting without being overheated, hopeful without naivety.

 Do you mind if I shout about this a bit?  This is truly one of the best books of 2011, a Hearts & Minds favorite, and an invigorating wake up call to us all—if this is, indeed, the direction the Spirit is moving (and I attest that it is) we should get on board.  Join us in celebrating this good title, honoring this good work. Buy three: one for yourself, one for your church library, and one for anybody you may think that faith is stuff, out of touch or socially irrelevant.  As your proper mother might say, warmest congratulations.  As a younger reader might shout, “boo-yah!”  Or as the kids say, ridiculous.   No matter your age, you need this book. Buy. It. Now.


222.gifSmall Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor  Margot Starbuck (Likewise/IVP) 15.00  I wrote about this recently, offering a long review gushing about this book, the joy it brings (it is a fun, fun read) and how well Starbuck writes. Beyond the zany tone, though, this is a very serious book, challenging.  It pushes us, calls us, invites us, teaches us, shows us, how to reach out to others, how to see the alienation and poverty and sadness around us and to take up the vocation of being Christ’s hands and feet in this world of need.  There is literally something for everyone (young marrieds? She has your number!  Senior citizens?  You can’t get out of this. either. Singles, men, women, introverts. left-handed plumbers from Idaho?  (Okay, I made that last part up.)  She has written this to be helpful, offering real insights along with the wit, and it offers such a valuable new vision of taking steps to serve the poor that it simply must be listed in this Best Books of 2011 list.  Ours is a small award, and in some ways, this is a small book.  Written with such great love.  Yes!


22!.gifFolks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World Joel Salatin (Center Street) $25.99  The New York Times called him “the High Priest of the Pasture” (he was featured in several recent foodie documentaries, and was cited in Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.)  I think of him and this remarkable book as less of a priest but, rather, as a prophet, denouncing the unsustainable and unhealthy way we think about food and where it comes from and how we get it.  He’s a hoot and a half, a vibrant writer that makes very serious stuff very enjoyable to learn about.  One reviewer said it well, that it is “as practical as it is reflective.”  Highly recommended for anybody who eats.


22!!.gifIndescribable: Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe Louie Giglio & Matt Redman (Cook) $24.99  This nice
sized hardback printed on heavy, glossy paper, offers some of the most amazing photographs of outer space that you will ever see.  Using the latest telescopes of the Hubble spacecraft, this shows the grandeur of the universe, the awesome glory of our home planet–even as it seems like a tiny speck of dust.  Giglio is a passionate preacher, Redman a fine and thoughtful contemporary worship leader.  Together they have given us a book full of theology and science, wonder and delight, a classy gift and a truly God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-driven look at creation.  God is amazing to create such amazing things, and Christ is to be praised for entering our tiny little world.  This is moving stuff, but alongside the enriching homilies is fascinating data, good stuff about science, and these wonderful, indescribably good pictures.  There is a brief forward by Joe Tanner, one of the most accomplished NASA astronauts (who has logged over 1000 hours in outer space and has done space walks) and Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who is currently the Senior Project Scientist for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.  Nicely designed, this is an award winner if I ever saw one.  Congratulations to all involved in bringing such a fine book to our coffee tables.


22!!!.gifThe Humane Vision of Wendell Berry edited by Mark Mitchell & Nathan Schlueter (ISI Books) $29.95  Any time there is a new book about Wendell Berry, it is cause for celebration.  We have several good ones about him, a few real favorites.  This could be the very best yet done, it is that good!  It came out just at the end of the year and while we do not hesitate to honor it was our feeble little award, I haven’t read all the chapters yet.  Believe me, I surely will—this is a truly provocative and fascinating collection, including some folks who really understand the agrarian populism ideals of Mr. Berry, linking him to a more conservative, Jeffersonian vision and rejecting the notions that only liberals who are against big business, say, should embrace him. (It does seem that conservatives have not paid as much attention to Berry as they might.) As the thoughtful editors of this extraordinarily rich volume note, “Berry’s work defies easy categorization and provides an alternative to the hackneyed left-right divide that typifies our national debates. In fact, Berry’s clear-eyed and deeply humane view of human existence offers a vision of the good life that is desperately needed in these uncertain and unsettled times.”  You won’t believe the array of interesting writers, social critics, farmers, poets and theologians who have pieces here–including a few friends of ours! It isn’t every day we see Allan Carlson, Matt Bonzo, Anne Husted Burleigh, D.G. Hart, Rod Dreher, Wallace Stegner and Caleb Stegall — and many more — all together.  One person quipped this is about conservatism, conservationism, and community.   Anybody who labors to create a book this handsome, with such a range of voices, exploring with such depth, the writings of one of  our greatest writers, surely deserves a distinguished honor.  Maybe some more important source will give them a prestigious prize.  For now, we are among the first to holler out from our small town that that this is an amazing, great book. 


22!!!!.gifLove Wins Rob Bell (HarperOne) $24.99  I don’t know if Rob is an agitator, per se.  I don’t think that is his intent.  But I hope he’d relishe this award–an agitator in a washing machine does the job of getting the job done, and in this sense, he deserves applause for getting an important conversation started, for stirring things up, for rocking and rolling us all a bit.  It is my belief that some bloggers overstated their criticisms and too many were unkind. I am equally sure that some folks too readily agreed with his position without adequately thinking through all the issues.  But (I hope, I hope) most readers are thoughtful, wanting to be faithful and true, and studied the book with an open heart and critical mind.  Most readers took him seriously, but perhaps with the proverbial grain of salt.  By the way, if anybody out there is giving awards for anything, I think I deserve at least to be a finalist for contributing too many words to the blogging Bellapalloza the week the book came out. I stand by what I wrote—the call for civility, for critical engagement, for wide reading, for placing Love Wins in the context of Bell’s other books and the strengths and deficiencies of his brand of hip neo-evangelicalism.  You can read my many posts about the book if you want, but know this: I think this is a great book to read, even if one doesn’t agree with it all.  We are happy to sell it, although invite you to prayerful and honest struggle with what the Bible does and doesn’t say about all this, reading other resources too.

We have four or five books that are written in contrast to Rob’s book, including Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins by an author I very much respect, Michael Witmer (Edenridge press; $14.00)  Mark Galli’s God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins is a good reply, too, and I’d highly recommend it.   There is a discussion guide in the back of that, too.


22!!!!!.gifThe Love Wins: A Study Guide for Those Who Want to Go Deeper (HarperOne) edited by David Vanderveen $13.99  I hope you don’t mind my goofy analogy: yeah, it is clever to say we need an agitator in a washing machine (and how Bell’s book served as that agitator.)  Get a whole bunch of machines together and it is a communal place for lots o washing, a laundromat.  This study guide is kind of like that.  (Okay, maybe it isn’t, but I’m in my awards show mood here, so bear with me.)  As we said when we first got it in this volume offers overviews of each chapter of Love Wins, study questions, Bible verses, things to ponder, and excerpts of articles or chapters of books by others, like having other folks walking with you through each chapter.  There are pieces included by creative types like Anne Lamotte and Fred Buechner, excerpts from theological straight arrows like Pope Benedict and Oswald Chambers, solid, contemporary voices like Richard Mouw and N.T Wright. There are great creative writers like Cathleen Falsini and edgy thinkers like David Dark and Peter Rollins. This study guide is worth having just for this handy anthology of these short chapters and articles.  Add an interview with Bell, follow-up exercises, group activities and an appendix of quotes from some church history greats and you have one fabulous resource.  In many ways, this chapter by chapter supplement is a model for what a study guide can be, and curriculum writers and other authors or publishers of Christian growth books should take notice.  Best study guide resource just isn’t as much fun as a laundromat award, though, is it?  


20!.gifWisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art  Abraham Kuyper (Christian Library Press) $14.99  I suppose you know the current hip phrase, popular among emergents and missionals and all sorts of serious types wanting to go back to older ways in order to move faithfully into our own upcoming times — “ancient/future”, get it?   Well this is just that, the fresh translations of newspaper columns–deep theology by our standards–written more than a century ago in Holland about common grace, about how the creation can sustain science and art, as we approach our involvement with wisdom and wonder.  This is not the place to explain the significance of Kuyper’s serious, dense ideas, nor why both liberals and conservatives ought to familiarize themselves with the contours of his arguments.  But this well designed book, with nice editing and some modernizing of the text, brings a sort of theological muscle that is going to be increasingly needed as Christians who may be unmoored to the deepest theological traditions (or coming out of dysfunctional or unhelpful ones) are yearning for a comprehensive, foundational worldview to sustain their efforts for cultural restoration.  Dr. Kuyper’s old-fashioned voice is important these days, his neo-Calvinist legacy extraordinary, and this book is the first new Kuyper work to appear in English in decades.  Kudos to the team that did this and the good folks at the Acton Institute who are enthusiastically promoting it.


20!!.gifChristian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History  edited by Michael Long (Orbis) $40.00  This is the most comprehensive and diverse survey of two thousand years of Christian voices for peace that we have ever seen and I was excited as I described in a day or so after Christmas in a BookNotes listing about peace resources.  I suppose most people don’t think about this much but, given the visions of Scriptures, the commands of Jesus and the horrific needs of the world for peacemakers, we should.  Who knew that the peace witness has been so deep and diverse?  In this book you will learn that there is more to the story than the pacifism of the first centuries and the peaceable witness of the Anabaptist and a couple of cranky prophets of the Catholic left.  As this book remarkably shows, there are sermons and letters and studies and stories in every century, and some are very persuasive.  Some could have been written last week.  A labor of love, documenting so very much from our past, this work is not the only resource for fully faithful overview, but it is a part of the story that has not been told as well as it may have been.  I am personally glad and trust this will help those who want to deepen their discipleship to take up their places as ambassadors or reconciliation, agents of grace, peace-builders, citizens of shalom


20!!!.gifPeace Be With You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror Filled World  David Carlson (Nelson) $15.99  This book works on several levels and I’ve read much of it twice or thrice.  Carlson sets off to visit monasteries–some of them pretty out of the way and off the map (if you get what I’m saying) to see if those schooled in silence and the rhythms of prayer had insights about how to think about the tragic crimes of 9-11.  Of course, those schooled in silence often don’t have much to say, so his anxieties about getting these monks and nuns to open up are in almost every chapter.  (Can’t say I blame him.)  This is a book about monastic wisdom for daily living, about how the soul gets shaped, about the authors own self-discovery as he visits these places that seem out of touch with the haste and violence of modern life.  There is no simple spoiler, but he does find that those called to the monastic life are, like any other grouping of people, hold various sorts of political views and some knew people who died in the attack on the WTC. Many were quite aware of the pacifist notions of their brothers and sisters but not all shared the same sort of biases.  One important thing is how most had desires to truly allow God to shape their hearts and how Christ-likeness and the Spirit’s work in their lives, even on these questions of politics and war and tensions with Muslims, was evident.  There is much to learn in this story, much to enjoy, and, as Phyllis Tickle writes, this is “one of the richest, most insightful, and most instructive books I have ever read.”  Gee, I almost ought to give that an award for best blurb of the year!  Yay.


20!!!!.gifBeauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age Gregory Wolfe (ISI Books) $29.95  Okay, first this: forgive me for being inhumanely ideological here, but I’m convinced this line in the title is unhelpful, at best, and I don’t care if Dorothy Day loved it.  Yet, I’m also convinced that one bad line (even if it is on cover) doesn’t preclude a great book from being award winning.  And this is a great book!  BWStW just shouts a Hearts & Minds Award: ahh, but what category, really?  It is more than a study of the arts and isn’t exactly about aesthetics, or not only about aesthetics.  It includes social analysis by one of our most astute advocates of Christian thinking about culture (Greg Wolfe edits the brilliant, serious Image journal) and in many ways this book is a broad, rich, conversation about what secularization means, what cultural renewal looks like, how a faith-based vision of the imagination might counter the reductionistic and inhuman consequences of modernity,  why people of faith should encourage mature and nuanced thinking, seen, especially, in the work of artists.  By way of serious exploration of particular contemporary Christians who are commendable in their use of imagination, Wolfe points us towards a Christian humanism, inviting a new renaissance.  The first half include a lot of Greg’s own story away from culture wars and towards a deeper less polemical view of the imagination, and that alone is award-winning stuff; just wonderful, and so well written!  The last half about six writers, three artists and four men of letters is a book itself, packed with insight and inspiration.  This is a remarkable book, important, valuable, morally serious and a true blessing.  It may not save the world, but it sure will help.  Kudos!


!!!1.gifThe Best of the Reformed Journal  Edited by James Bratt & Ronald Wells (Eerdmans) $20.00  I love how this cover looks just like the old classic b/w covers in that font that Sojourners used to use that immediately caught my eye when my Reformed Journal used to come each month.&n
bsp; Two things you should know: first, this is not fire-breathing arguments about predestination or exclusively the sorts of Puritan stuff when one things of the recent interest in Calvinism among the young, passionate set.  (No, sorry, but film critic Roy Anker and South African freedom fighter Allan Boesak and C.S. Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog and poet/essayist Virginia Stem Owens  most likely don’t read John Piper or have any hip “Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy” tee shirts.  I don’t mean to suggest this is a more intellectual sort of Reformed view (not at all, since you don’t get much brainier in American history than Jonathan Edwards.)  No, this is more worldviewish, a broader, more nuanced, sometimes a less confident, Dutch sort of neo-Calvinism than the strict and more narrowly focused Piper, Sproul, or Grudem sort.  Published by Eerdmans from 1951 through 1990, this has been a vehicle for the voices of the likes of Lewis Smedes and Nicholas Wolterstorff and Bert DeVries.  Poet Lawrence Door and Roderick Jellema are here, so are literary types like John Timmerman and Henry Zylstra.  I read anything by Cornelius Plantinga and Richard Mouw, and of course they are here in all their Kuyperian glory.  There are pieces about politics and science, gender and prayer and worship and great books and film reviews. This is like spending a few hours rummaging through my old copies–what a great resource, a fine collection for inspiration and learning and worldview formation.  What a great gift!  Highly recommended for anyone who likes thoughtful, shorter pieces, quintessential essays, articles that speak in a robust, Reformed voice, about God’s rule and grace in a fallen world.  A few non-Reformed contributions are here, too. Award winning, for sure!


!!!11.gifSurprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis  Terry Lindvall (Nelson) $16.99  I’ve reviewed this elsewhere so won’t go on and on which wouldn’t be becoming when awarding a book about a demure, dignified Brit, a scholar and a gentleman.  Although, maybe he wasn’t always that demure—this book makes the wonderful claim that Lewis had a good sense of humor and that he often used a bit of “comic relief” as he himself put it.  This is a studious book (pushing 480 pages), and altogether good, quite enjoyable, noting that, for C.S. Lewis, “merriment was serious business.”  Lindvall has worked on this for years (and, I admit, this is an older book re-issued.)  Hahaha, I’m awarding an old title as a new book.  This isn’t funny or ironic, just true: this mirthful book unlocks insights about Lewis that we should appreciate, and that will warm the heart of any serious Lewis fan.  Hip, hip!


Scandrette-Cover1.jpgPracticing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in The Kingdom of Love Mark Scandrette (IVP) $15.00  I’ll admit it: I wasn’t sure about this.  (Sorry Mark.)  It is a little odd.  He talks about his “experiments in truth” (and no credit to Gandhi?) such as the cool effort to use a martial arts center’s style of training (called a dojo) as a way to do disciple-making; he calls it the Jesus Dojo. I don’t get that, but I’ve never karate chopped anything in my life.  There are nifty little bicycles on the cover, which I don’t get either, although I guess it comes from the good story on page 84.  Debbie Blue is an amazingly creative writer and bohemian preacher so when she said it was “immensely practical” I figured I should take that with a grain of pink Himalayan salt.  But you know, I just came to love this book, realizing it has some creative thinking, some hipster vibe, and, yet, at the end of it all, is offering much needed help in forming community, in loving like Jesus, in being disciples actually formed in the practices of Christian living.  It covers so many topics and, without being pushy, it does offer very good guidance on how to initiate and move towards greater faithfulness in daily living in the ways of Christ.  Grandpappy of the hip missional movement, Aussie Michael Frost, says this book “gave me goose bumps just thinking about the possibilities that could arise if a group of people really did find a space where they could work out the vision and teachings of Jesus in real life.”  Scandrette is cofounder of ReIMAGINE, a center for spiritual formation, and his poetic, artsy and socially progressive approach make this a rare and important contribution.  You know what? I think there are enough basic boring books on discipleship.  I’m awarding this a Best Book distinction for how rowdy and compelling and inviting it is, calling us to stake our lives on this good, good news we call the gospel.  


I have to explain this.  There are books I am so glad to see I almost pee my pants when theysnoopy_happy_dance.jpg arrive.  I’m like a kid in candy store some days (and I am sad to say it doesn’t keep me from being cranky about too many bad books, or books that come wrongly, but that is another story.)  Happy.  Happy making.  Great gladness.  I hope you know that at my best, through God’s mighty grace, I live for Christ’s Kingdom, and will not be truly glad to see a book that I think is not good, that doesn’t advance the reputation of God and help bring healing to this broken world.  I like a lot of books, but only a few fill me with great joy.  Not every really good book makes me fully happy, giddy in my bones.  It may be, as you will see, that I have a particular connection to the book or the author or topic.  It may be a special alchemy of cover and title, of author and topic, of need and hope.  If the world doesn’t need this book, I suppose I wouldn’t be so jazzed, no matter who wrote it.  These, then, are beyond my personal favorites of the year, but they stand out as the ones that I truly was most excited about.  Any one of them would remind me why I got into this business and why I still count it as an important ministry.  These are books that made me happiest this year.  Rejoice!

!!!1111.gifMake College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning  Derek Melleby (Baker) $12.99  You know how we celebrated this, how we pushed this, and if you didn’t give this to your college-bound graduating high school students this year, I trust you will consider doing so soon.  It is without a doubt the best book for students heading off to college; many have found it helpful even once they get to school.  This makes me happy mostly because of the glad collision of two important things, and a minor third: Derek is one of my best friends and Beth and I think he is one of the finest young Christian leaders we know. Secondly, he knows what he’s writing about and this fine, little book came from his well-respected, practical work of the CPYU’s College Transition Initiative–he has done excellent research and gleaned the best information, putting together a book unlike any other.  The minor bit
? Hearts & Minds BookNotes is mentioned, and I’m thanked, which is nice, even though the book would have been fine without my opinionated input on everything from the cover to the books listed in the resource section.  Derek is the man, this is a great book, it ended up being a work of graceful substance, small enough to be read, and serious enough to be truly helpful.  So few students have a book that they will read that will help them grapple with the biggest questions of who they are and why they are in college.  This is a book we’ve needed for decades, and once it came out, and saw how cool it was, and realized how it would help, I almost cried tears of joy.  Hooray!

!!!11111.jpgArt That Tells a Story: The Gospel Through Shared Experience  compiled by Chris Brewer (Gospel Through Shared Experience) $24.99  You may know of our involvement in this genius project, a collection of modern art that walks viewers through the unfolding meta-narrative of the Bible.  That is, there are moving, modern art works here that explore the goodness of creation, the facts of the fall, the gift of salvation, and the promises of new creation.  Each art piece is briefly highlighted or described with an accompanying note or verse or poem.  Each of the major sections are introduced by Michael Witmer, who gets the full-orbed, creation-being-restored, Kingdom vision of the Bible as well as anyone.  The hope is that the art will invite pondering, conversation, transformation.  The coffee-table sized paperback gift book is artfully formated by an excellent art critic and graphic designer and achieves its goal of being a suggestion-rich, allusive invitation to think about the fullest implications of the core gospel message.  To see our name affiliated it is certainly one of the great privileges we’ve ever had in our 29 years of working in the book world.  Thanks be to God for art that makes me smile deep down.

!!!1111111.gifKicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination  Brian J. Walsh (Brazos) $18.99  I did a short review of this earlier, explaining that folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn is one of my all time favorite performing artists and that I own every one of his 30 some CDs; his songs and voice have meant more than me than I can say here.  It should also be known that Brian Walsh is a friend of mine, a good friend.  I appreciate his work, agree with almost everything he says–don’t ask me what I don’t agree with as that changes each time I read his stuff, which is regularly and often.  One of the things about Brian’s several important books that means the world to me is how he uses lines from Bruce Cockburn to illustrate his points, how he ruminates on Cockburn’s allusive rock poetry and sees his songs as a part of his own passionate and prophetic writing. Years ago, Brian said he was going to write a book about Cockburn’s music, putting his lyrics and vision into conversation with the Bible.  It was on-again and off-again, and when I was sent an almost finished manuscript to scribble on and offer feedback, and then was asked to do a blurb for the back cover, well, I was feeling as blessed as can be.  What a gift to have even a tiny hand in something I was so interested in, something so important to me, a book I  believed in.  Of course, this may sound a bit obscure, and as a bookseller I had to wonder about the fiscal viability of this book.   Would those who don’t follow the Canadian folk-rock star care about this book?  Will those who found  Brian’s books a bit heavy be willing to go with him on this journey through Cockburn’s work, discussed in the context of our anguish about a hurting, dislocated world?  Well, call me naive or idealistic, but I think yes. Yes!

This is an amazingly rich and thoughtful book and to hold it in my hands for the first time, was a true blast. How fun it was to see good friends cited and important authors endorsing it (Richard Hays, New Testament scholar at Duke? Bible scholar, cultural critic, liturgical leader and church lady Marva Dawn? Who knew they were Cockburn fans?)  This is certainly, without a doubt, one of my own personal favorite books. Ever.

A.K..gifAbraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00  I wrote about this at great length at the website, a heart-felt, two part explanation of why this means so much to me.  Mouw has been influential in my life and part of why I adore him (which I explained in a bit greater depth) is because of his being so influenced by this late 19th century, early 20th century Dutch statesman, a pastor who became political activist and eventually Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper.  He had some very distinctive idea that I can only summarize like this: because Jesus is Lord of all creation and the unfolding of history, we should be grateful and involved in society, bringing faith to bear in every zone of culture.  However, to do this wisely, we have to think through what each sphere of life is to be about: what is the task of the state, after all?  What is the relationship  of education, say, or sports.  Should businesses be regulated by governments?  You know, that sort of thing, the big questions about what we believe God intended for each thing in life.  Mouw explains that so clearly, and so helpfully, it makes you want to have a third way political party, like Kuyper started in Holland, that is neither left wing or right wing, but is somehow uniquely normative.  Anyway, I was so glad to finally have an upbeat and clear and brief overview of this still virtually unknown Dutch neo-Calvinist, the grandfather of the movement we now called Kuyperianism.  Many of the places for which I write (Capitol Commentary, Comment) have Kuyperian roots and our bookstore simply wouldn’t be here today doing what we do if we hadn’t read Mouw, I’d say, or hadn’t heard of Kuyper.  Wanna see what we’re all about?  This book is a good indication, written by a man who makes us  glad to be a Presbyterian, about a leader who makes me glad there is some Dutch heritage somewhere in my long-lost family tree.


!!!11111111.gifRumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing  L.L. Barkatt (T.S. Poetry Press) $15.00  I’ve mentioned this a time or two before and couldn’t wait to announce that we think it is truly one of the best little books of 2011.  It is an indie press, so may not be as known as it deserves, but it is a hidden treasure!  Barkatt is a devotional writer, a memoirist, a poet, and involved in a number of blogs and social networking sites that help on the art/faith interface. Here, she offers lovely little glimpses of insight about the creative process, about paying attention and writing well. I hope you believe me: this is a great read, a fine resource for creative living, whether you are an artist or not.  Maybe especially if your not. I love Leslie Leyland Fields ringing endorsement: “The real beauty of this book is the truth it teaches slant: good and beautiful and honest writing comes from a life that pursues the same. This is not j
ust a book about writing well, it’s a book about living well.”


!!!111111111.gifThe Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Tim & Kathy Keller (Dutton) $25.95  There are wonderful books in this category although there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best one in years.  It’s strength, and what catapults it to the award-winning category, is how it is so reasonable, teacherly, theologically-based, clear-headed about, well, the meaning of it all.  I suppose there are some folks who need even more basic, simple steps to recovery from years of tragic dysfunction in a bad marriage.  But for most of us, frankly, I think we would do well to explore the deeper essence of this mystery, pondering well how to get the most foundational things right.  My wife and I do not share all of Tim and Kathy’s convictions (we are more egalitarian than they, although they qualify their views of headship so much it doesn’t seem to offer much particular daily difference in how they live their lives.)  I loved this sober book–although a few of the stories about their own troubles were touching, and a few made me chuckle.  If one of the great Christian writers of our time and most effective and balanced pastors can be such a goof, well, there is hope for all of us.  Highly recommended.  By the way, how about that sub-title–“the complexities of commitment.”  

1 Chronicles 12:32 names the legacy of the sons of Issachar. They “knew the times and knew what God’s people should do.”

!!!1111111111.jpgThe Crisis and the Kingdom  Economics, Scripture and the Global Financial Crisis  E. Philip Davis (Cascade) $18.00  I must admit that I am ill-equipped to vote for the best book about global economics and high finances.  Still, there are simple very few books which have–out of an intentionally Christian, deeply theologically and wisely Biblical starting point–analyzed the great financial collapse of a few years ago.  Donald Hays (who wrote about Christian views of economics years ago) says Davis is “careful and judicious” and affirms the insight of his Biblically based critique.  (I was glad that somebody I trusted said that “it would be hard to find someone better qualified” to do this kind of a book.  Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has a blurb on the back, again, affirming that the importance of this uniquely Christian voice about the global financial crisis.  David is Senior Research Fellow at the UK National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a Professor of Economics and Finance at Brunel University, London, and a Pastor of Penge Baptist Church.  He has two scholarly books on finances on Oxford University Press.  Not too shabby.  We say, he deserves an award, just for showing up with Bible in hand and these good notes.  I am sure there is more to be said.  Serious Christian thinkers, though, will have to at least start here.


!!!!1.gifGod Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China Liao Yiwu translated by Wenguang Huang (HarperOne) $25.99  I am not the first to name this as a significant work (the prestigious Books & Culture named it the Book of the Year!)  Those who know China know that Yiwu is a known literate figure, a dissident, and a person who does not call himself a Christian.  Yet, this is one of the best accounts of the extraordinary work of the Spirit (and the suffering of the people) in mainline China.  This work is beautiful, and has been acclaimed by the likes of Liu Xiabo (2010 Nobel Prize Winner) and scholar of the global church, Philip Jenkins. The texture of daily life is shown, the stories of ordinary religious folk, the drama of the explosion of faith amidst the communist repression.  Perry Link, professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton offers a tremendous endorsement when he notes that “Humanity oozes from every vignette, and every detail rings true.”  Congratulations for an excellent book which is both a page-turner and heart mover.  I invite our readers not only to support this important book but to pray for the courageous author.


!!!!11.gifLaying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses  Philip Jenkins (HarperOne) $26.99  I do not think I would have written this book quite in this way.  I’m still pondering it, long after having read an advanced copy a half a year ago.  Nonetheless, when one gets rave reviews from liberal Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass and evangelical Methodist Bible scholar Ben Witherington and kindly, activist Muslim peacemaker Eboo Patel, you know you are on to something big. And this is big–tackling what is obviously one of the hardest aspects of Biblical hermeneutics: handling the violence and brutality in Holy Scripture.  This is interesting–and gutsy, too–in part because of how Jenkins does some “compare and contrast” work with Islamic texts as well.  Surely there is direct commandment in the Koran to murder infidels.  The even more gruesome texts in the Bible are equally disturbing but one might say they are mitigated by the fact that they are usually historical narratives, not ongoing commands to be obeyed today, and they are mitigated by powerful counter-texts, most obviously the ones that call for justice and mercy, even nonviolence.  So both sets of Holy Books are troubling on this score and it simply will not do to be simple-minded about the damage such violent texts can wreck.  Jenkins is a world-renowned historian, scholar of religion, and here his looks “unflinchingly at biblical stories of mayhem, murder, genocide and war” (as Butler Bass puts it.) This is provocative, it is serious, and, oddly, pretty darn interesting.  It offers a hopeful vision for how religions can grow from terror to mercy.  We can’t help but be impressed with the tone and approach of this audacious project and want to give Dr. Jenkins a holy shout out.


!!!!111.gifA Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors James Houston & Michael Parker (IVP Academic) $24.00  For starters, just know that gray heads are usually good things in the Bible–a sign of wisdom, worthy of respect.  This book is full of wisdom, worthy of respect, big time, as the kids say.  There simply isn’t any book that has even come close to the depth, insight, theological soundness, and usabili
ty as this great, great resource.  Houston has a stunning breadth of knowledge about spiritual formation, drawing on his evangelical roots and his wide, wide, reading in the spiritual classics.  Parker is a professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine & Palliative Care and Center for Aging at the prestigious University Alabama.  This is one of the most urgent and un-discussed topics in the church today and this theologian and gerontology prof remind us that seniors aren’t the problem, they are the solution.  There are hard, even painful, matters, though.  (This book not only includes serious thinking about all manner of things, but has about 40 pages worth of appendices, practical sheets, hand-outs, surveys and such.  Very useful.) If you are a pastor or educator or church leader and don’t read this–or something like it–you will regret it soon.  


!!!!1111.jpgAmazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion Mark Pinksy (Alban Institute) $18.00  Released just under the wire at the end of 2011, lie those great movies being released for holiday enjoyment, this book ought to be a blockbuster.  But let’s face it, it won’t be.  But it ought to be.  It is well written, the author is a hoot (you know him from, for instance, The Gospel According to the Simpsons and other thoughtful, zany works on the interface of faith and American culture.)  But beyond how lovely it is to read, how many inspiring stories are so nicely told, this speaks powerfully to our fast-paced and idolatrous culture that values efficiency and strength and success; to make room for others, in this case, those with disabilities and difficulties, is a counter-cultural, nearly prophetic act.  Those in this little book, though, may not see all the political implications of their choice to be welcoming to those who are different (although some surely do) as they are just being busy caring for those with lupus, or chronic pain, or traumatic brain injury or mental illness.  Three big honorably cheers for this great reportage of churches and synagogues and mosques who create space for those with handicapping conditions, who show love in action.  Bravo.


!!!!11111.gifThe Story of God, The Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible  Sean Gladding (Likewise/IVP) $17.00  Oh my, how I resonated with this, how I loved his creative retelling of the stories of Israel and church, how he offered this edgy, energetic vision of how getting lost in this story is the way to life.  As missional hipster Alan Hirsch says, it is “as artful as it is significant.”  Fresh is an overused word, so is creative.  So is pointing out he has a uber-cool uber goatee or chin beard.  And that the DVD curriculum to go with it is a hoot and a half, a very creative documentary of his realizing this story has coherence, from a garden to a city.  This is cool, insightful, wise, and very helpful for those who don’t mind a bit of drama.  Literally.  Gladding should get an award for best screen play.


!!!!111111.gifWelcome to the Story: Reading, Loving and Living God’s Word  Stephen J. Nichols (Crossway) $15.99  Nichols is a fine writer, prolific, and very knowledgeable, with seemingly endless imagination and energy.  He has nice biographies of a handful of Christian leaders, he has a book on the earliest church creeds.  He has written about the academic shifts in evangelical views of the authority of Scripture and he has a great kids book, one we often show as it is illustrated by Hearts & Minds pal Ned Bustard (Church History ABCs.)  He has a big book on how Jesus has been seen in American popular history.  He has a book about the blues. I make my point;  he has the ability to craft good books about any number of things. The reason this one wins an award is simple:  I think it may be the best single book about the Bible that is not too much over 100 pages, adding in a few chapters on how to read, how to apply, and how to live the Bible. (Ahh, the chapters “Loving the Story: What the Bible does To Us” and “Living the Story: What the Bible does Through Us” are great.) This is delightful, solid, a bit playful, uses some nice literary quotes, and deserves great accolades.  Cheers!


!!!!1111111.gifOld Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction  Craig Bartholomew & Ryan O’Dowd (IVP Academic) $30.00  I have told groups throughout this spring and summer that I read the first 30 pages of this and was so moved, I read ’em again.  This is a splendid example of what a serious Biblical commentary can do, and how can be so good to have such a commentary at your side from time to time.  You may not zip through this like a page-turning memoir, but I assure you it is award-winning caliber: we honor Bartholomew & O’Dowd for being so very Biblically-wise–the whole story of God just seems to be in their bones and their detailed study of any given piece of wisdom literature is shaped by their deep worldview (even as they contrast certain ideas with contemporary philosophy, another field in which they are particularly fluent.)  Further, they have this fabulous way of showing that they have one foot solidly in the academy (oh my do they know their stuff!) and yet desire for ordinary church folks to be shaped by the truest truths of the God of the Holy Scriptures.  Interestingly, God teaches (also in the wisdom literature) that God speaks through creation, so these master exegetes keep an eye to the night sky, too.  I commend this book (that carries ringing endorsements by the likes of Bruce Waltke, John Goldingay, Jamie Grant and Tremper Longman.)  


!!!!2.gifDisruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture and the Church Walter Brueggemann edited and introduced by Carolyn J. Sharp (Fortress) $35.00 Yes, this is a book by Brueggemann, and yes we award something of his every year; he publishes a lot!  Admittedly it is sort of a greatest hits album, an anthology of great and helpful, fairly academic pieces.  But it is more, much more, and it deserves special commendation here.  Carolyn Sharp (who teaches a course on Brueggemann at Yale Divinity School) has chosen to guide us through some illustrative pieces of Brueggemann, describing how they fit into his bigger project.  That is, it is a guided tour—arranged in four main sections.  She shows how he handles Biblical texts from the torah, from the prophets from the writings, and, lastly, about how he relates these questions of canon to churchly life.  It is helpful to have a Brueggemann scholar explain a bit what to look for, nam
e the importance of these themes, and select key chapters, essays, magazine pieces, or scholarly journal articles, showing why they are emblematic of this world-famous, prolific scholar’s overall project.  


!!!!22.gifSimply Jesus: A New VIsion of Who He Was, What He Did, And Why He Matters (HarperOne) $24.99  Not to many people agree with me, I’ve heard, but I think it is an excellent practice to commit to reading (at least) one new book about Jesus every year.  For those who claim he is there best friend, their living Lord, their cosmic King, there graceful savior, their wise teacher, geesh, you’d think we’d want to know as much about him as we can.  Okay, enough with the guilt-tripping—this is an awards show, right?  We’ll let’s bring N.T. Wright up yet again; he’s on the top of our list most years, and I do not tire of saying it.  Wright brings some of the most balanced and insightful work to bear on his task of calling church folk to take Jesus more seriously, to know Him as the restorer of creation, the long-awaiting Messiah and Risen One.  Can we, as the back cover puts it, “unleash the full story of Jesus?”  A few friends get hung up on some small thing they don’t like about Wright and give up on him (and on us since we endorse his work.)  A few folks think he’s too conservative and fail to see the radical, transforming vision of His work.  To one and all I say, enjoy this basic, introductory book about Jesus and see if it doesn’t ignite your faith, enhance your commitments, deepen your discipleship.  I’m giving it the Best Book in this category for 2011.  I’ll give ya your money back if you don’t agree.


!!!!222.gifThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $19.99  Look at it this way: N.T. Wright is about the most important Bible scholar and pastoral leader on the planet. He writes a book about Jesus, he wins the award.  So, having said that, Mr. McKnight’s fine book is just about the best book; maybe I should call this the best book on the gospel’s outside of N.T. Wright. Ha. I think McKnight’s good gift is to take his scholarly mind (he reads about as much as any scholar I know) and re-tells what he learns in ways that less academic folks can appreciate.  I don’t mean he is a cheap hack who dumbs everything down; not at all.  Dr. McKnight is an original thinker, too, and a fine writer in his own right.  But this really is a summary of much of the best thinking about Jesus these days (the duel forwards by N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard seem to illustrate this.) I like what Wright writes: “Once, long ago, I heard John Stott say that some people had been talking about “the irreducible minimum gospel.”  He dismissed such an idea. “Who wants an irreducible minimum gospel?” he asked. “I want the full, biblical gospel.” Well, hold onto your seats. That’s what Scot McKnight is giving you in this book.  And for that, he deserves a very dignified Hearts & Minds honor of recognition.  Thanks, Scot!


!!!!2222.gifJesus Has I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity J.R. Daniel Kirk (BakerAcademic) $21.99  There is much knee-jerk blather about the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” and there is also some very astute critiques of various versions of this newer perspective.  I hope nobody distrusts this book because of any assumptions that it is connected to a controversial school of thought (let alone because of the unique title.)  This is a fine, fine, book, award-winning, if you ask me.  You want a storied gospel, shaped by a view of Jesus’ coming Kingdom?  Then you’ll  want a narrative understanding of Paul, too.  Some scholars perceive a tension between Jesus and Paul, and this book puts that to rest, but yet continues to press the need for seeing Paul in his place as architect of the storytelling of the meaning of Jesus for the early church.  Listen to this blurb by New Testament scholar Michael Gorman of St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute of Theology, “If a book about Jesus and Paul could ever be a page-turner, this is that book….if we listen to his wise counsel, we will  become more faithful communities of the cross-shaped life-giving gospel.”


!!!!22222.gifJesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright  edited by Nicholas Perrin & Richard Hays  (IVP Academic) $24.00  This rewarding book includes the transcripts from an extraordinary conference held at Wheaton College in 2010 which brought together amazing, important scholars to discuss (and offer friendly critique) to the famous Rev. Wright.  The first day was dedicated to unpacking and doing some incisive evaluation of his work on Jesus; the next offered evaluations of some specific aspects of his work on Paul.  After each days’ panel, Wright responds, and it is all here.  What a great way to learn, what a model of gracious conversation and discussion, even when the conversation turned a bit blunt (Sylvia Keesmaat is a very close reader of Biblical texts, and she and her husband Brian Walsh–both good friends of Wright—not only tangled nicely with his interpretation of a text or two, but called him to follow his more recent work in making social justice an increasingly clear aspect of his ringing call to Biblical faithfulness.) Other good folk are here—Edith Humphrey, Richard Hays, Marianne Meye Thompson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Jeremy Begbie and more.  This is a very important book for several reasons and I want to invite others into the conversation about Wright’s project by naming this as one of the best books of the year.  


paul through med eyes.gifPaul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians  Kenneth E. Bailey (IVP Academic) $30.00 There are many workable Bible commentaries, some that sing, some that are beautiful, some that are deserving of accolades.  I don’t know much about the heavier ones, but I know when a deep Bible commentary has “genius” written all over it, when the author is an elder statesmen in the global Christian community, and when a work is so insightful that it can be easily called a “must read” resource.  Yes, this fits Ken Bailey’s new book, the first he has written on Paul, somewhat of a companion to his fine collection of pieces, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.  This, though, is a straight study of 1 Corinthians, bringing all of Bailey’s cultural insights to bear on the text.  This is over 550 pages, and is simply in a class by itself.  I don’t want to scare the casual reader away, but to underscore that I’m not just making this up because I know Dr. B, listen to Gary Burge, “Bailey’s work opens a new genre in the rhetorical analysis of this famous and difficult letter. Bailey uses tools unavaila
ble to the average NT scholar: ancient translations of 1 Corinthians in Arabic, Syriac, and Hebrew, as well as commentaries as far back as ninth-century Damascus. This book is a gold mine of astonishing new discoveries and will inevitably join the ranks of the great and important books on this epistles.”  Told ya so.  


theo turn.gifThe Theological Turn in Youth Ministry  Andrew Root & Kenda Creasy Dean (IVP) $18.00  Okay the classic Byrds song has the phrase turn turn turn, and the word turn is in this book.  Clever award, eh? No, I’m not grasping at straws here: it is a song from Ecclesiastes and the reminder that there is a “time” for new things is vital: we simply can’t do outreach, youth ministry, even church life, necessarily the same old way, generation after generation.  There is a turn afoot; we may be in a season of new views of faith and theology and the nature of our time.  Is this a trendy book just hopping on some emergent bandwagon?  No.  Is it arcane and deep, something ordinary youth workers maybe needn’t take time to wade through?  Again, no.  Mike King, himself an important voice in youth min circles, says “I am euphoric over this book.  It is a seminal work that will stir up the prophetic imagination of youth workers. Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (perhaps the West coast counterpart to the justly famous Ms Dean of Princeton) say that it is “a practical theology winner” and notes it’s “masterful synergy of breadth and depth.”

If the thesis of Christian Smith’s important work (Soul Searching, upon which Dean built her famous book Almost Christian) is true–namely that churches are not doing a very good job helping youth name their spiritual yearnings or giving them categories to think theologically about life and discipleship–then this is a rich and vital answer, to that strong critique of our thin approaches.  Can youth be practical theologians?   Can we shift in our approaches, turning towards a more “rigorous and meaningful” youth ministry, one that is theologically grounded and engaged in and with the work of the church?  The time for this is overdue, my friends.  It is the least we can do to give it a very honorable mention, awarding it the Best Book in this field in a long, long time. By the way, I hope to review this in greater detail soon, but you should know that as serious-minded as this it, it is fun to read, and hugely helpful–there is a chapter about outdoor trips. There is a chapter about mission trips.  There is a chapter about adolescent hormones and sex. There is a chapter about summer camp, a theological piece about confirmation (and doubt!)  I’m telling you, this is one of the best books of the year.  If you are not in youth ministry, buy it for somebody who is.


lost in T.gifLost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood Christian Smith (Oxford University Press) $27.95  Okay, I admit, Seth Rogen doesn’t come up in this book.  Although I trust you get my drift. In Part One of our Best Books post we celebrated the great book You Lost Me based on research done by the Barna group on young adults who have drifted from the Christian faith.  It is a must-read for anybody who cares about the church or has young adult friends in their lives.  This more weighty, academic treatise is based on very rigorous research by one of the best social scientists writing these days, published by the world’s premier scholarly press, so we need to pay attention to it, too.  Tim Clydesdale (whose First Year Out is the best book on following what happens to teens their first year out of high-school) says it is “public sociology at its best.” Jean Twenge, a very important cultural critic and author of Generation Me says it is “groundbreaking, compelling, and deeply necessary…courageous, nuanced, deep-dive look at today’s youth.”  Think she likes it some?  We do too.  Not unlike last year’s must-read book by Kendra Creasy Dean (Almost Christian) this shows that there is widespread moral relativism, ethical confusion, and spiritual hunger that does not bode well when one considers the striking problems older youth are now facing. Based on well-researched surveys with 18 to 23 year olds, who almost uniformly like the raunchy vulgarity of Rogen, Apatow, et al.  Could this book explain why?  Granted, it isn’t very funny, but we are happy to award it a Best of anyway.


grace for the journey.jpgGrace for the Journey: Practices and Possibility for In-Between Times  Beverly Thompson & George Thompson (Alban Institute) $17.00  We remain grateful for all the good resources published by the Alban Institute, a primary source for books that are professional in nature, mostly for pastors and leaders in mainline denominational churches.  Here, two esteemed pastors tell of their own journey towards joy as they trust God in the midst of congregational difficulties.  Every community of faith journey’s through periods of transition, they tell us, and this wonderful little book invites congregations to open themselves to the possibility of knowing God more deeply in these periods “between the times.”  It has good Biblical study, lots of contemporary stories and seems to me to be helpful for those who realize that many congregations are in times of transition.  What does it mean to be the people of God in a place? How can we develop deeper spiritual disciplines, offering practices of attentiveness to God’s Spirit and what might need to be discerned within the congregation?  I like how Joanna Adams notes that this is a “refreshing alternative to anxiety.”  Endorsements from Alban leader and respected scholar of congregational change, Alice Mann, assures us that his is a gem.


collected sermons.gifThe Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann  (WJK) $30.00  WJK has a few other volumes in this uniform set of great sermons by leading preachers of the 20th century (William Sloan Coffin, Fred Craddock, Will Willimon, for instance.)  Gathering messages from this prolific and active preacher was a blessed chore, I’m sure, as they had several volumes worth from which to chose.  So, it could be said these are the cream of the crop, the most prophetic, the most imaginative.  You get my point.  Agree with him all the time or not, appreciate fully his cadences and rhetoric and vocabulary or not, he is a master of the language, a student of the text, a fearless teacher of gospel truth to today’s church.  Anyone who cares about the breadth of their library of theological and religious books should consider this ample, first-rate collection.  Oh, maybe we could consider living into this vision, too—say a prayer, read them aloud with your friends or small group and hold on for dear life.  We offer our little award with hope, believin
g this stuff matters.  Kudos.


preaching god's transforming j.gifPreaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B, Featuring 22 New Holy Days for Justice  Ronald J. Allen, Dale Andrews, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm (WJK) $50.00  Okay I know some of our readers don’t preach; a few don’t care in the least for this sort of stuff.  But I am convinced this is a bold and helpful move by this publisher, offering lectionary based Bible studies that show how to bring justice issues into sermons and preaching.  Nobody suggests that preaching should always be about social justice or that economic injustice is always in the Biblical text or that we always have to be direct in talking about racism or sexism.  But it is true that these things come up in the texts fairly regularly, and few commentaries emphasize them faithfully, or all that helpfully.  This book not only offers socially-engaged ways of thinking about issues of race and class, poverty and power, justice and hospitality, and the like, it offers ways to celebrate justice and social righteousness within worship services and other congregational events.  Key figures are held up (Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, etc) and reminds us of holidays that may be worth noting—Juneteenth, Earth Day, World AIDS Day and the like.  Besides the essay for each lectionary entry there are contributions by homileticians, pastors, biblical scholars, theologians and social activists.  Wow, this surely deserves some kind of award, and we are happy to honor it.  As Walter Brueggemann says of it, “The book surely holds promise of transformative energy for preaching, teaching, interpreting work of the church. Welcome indeed!”  


straw house.gifStraw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow: Four Novellas  Daniel Nayeri (Candlewick Press) $19.99  Okay, I got me some ‘splainin to do.  This is over 400 pages (written entirely on his iPhone, but more on that later.)  It is a quartet of four YA novels, so it isn’t for little kids.  It is demanding, each story written in a particular style, a genre, if you will.   Some of the PR pieces for this intriguing, ambitious work, says each chapter is a “riff on classic genres” and it introduces readers to a broad range of writing styles.  Oh yeah, that’s putting it mildly.  The first chapter is a sizzling suspense story, a cowboy story, really, complete with a showdown at high noon (and a sheriff) but it’s a bit odd since the setting is a farmer who grows living toys (and rather soulless humans, I think.)  The second section (Wood House) is a science fiction tale, and if the first story was a bit eccentric, this one is even more complex–a roadtrip story with a teenage girl who must save the world from a technological revolution thing going down. (The big bad corporation is called ReCreation. Ha!) Brick House brings us a detective story, set in the author’s current home town, the big, bold New York City.  (He is, interestingly, a Reformed evangelical, now on staff working with youth at Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  He is also a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction.)  Did I mention it is creative?  Written on an iphone? A whole lot of genres?  This third piece takes the cake with the “wish police” but I can’t say more; it is morally serious, important, even.  Blow?  Well, that one is funny, in an old Woody Allen sort of way, where the narrator of the tale is Death himself. It’s nearly Shakespearean.  I like what it says on the jacket about the handsome and charismatic hero ” who may steal your heart in more ways than one.” Uh huh.  There is a bit of spicy language here (although nothing that unusual) and there is a deep moral center to the whole affair.  There are universal themes, as in any good children’s work, and Daniel reminds us that these stories include themes such as identity and belonging, betrayal and friendship, love and mortality.  For those who have ears to hear, as another great storyteller once said, there is immense truth here.  SH, WH, BH, B is a wild ride; I read a bit of it out loud, just for the fun of it.  It is imaginative (obviously) and giddy as it plays with words, images, ideas, and perhaps some interlocking relation between the four stories.  The characters are inventive and it surely deserves honors for sheer creativity and playful energy.  It isn’t immediately clear how all four hold together (except maybe the epigram from the Three Little Pigs before each chapter.)  It isn’t for the squeamish, those who want obvious religious symbols, or tidy stories that they think are safe against the big bad world.  This takes you into the big bad world, in a clever and whimsical and sometimes even scary and disturbing way, and says, blow.

Daniel is a sweet, sweet guy, besides his church work, he works in publishing, and knows books extremely well. He’sDan N.jpg a fascinating fellow with very wide interests. It is wonderful to know of such a thoughtful person so fluent in the world of contemporary literature who is also a thoughtful, happy Christian. He loves his iPhone and, as we said, used an early Notepad app to write this large work. He was the first to do this, it seems, inspired by how some critics were dismissing the now-famous teenage girls in Japan who were doing short serial stories on their cell phones. Serious critics were all alarmed that this medium would ruin the idea of the novel, so he wanted to work in this form that some saw as transgressive.  I told you he’s a smart guy, and, no matter how gentle, a thoughtful artist, doing serious work.

For anyone who wants to learn more about this, by the way, here is a great interview with Daniel done by our friends at the International Arts Movement. Do give it a listen.

Don’t miss it when Christy Tennant of IAM asks Nayeri if there is theology in the book,which leads to a brief discussion of Tolkien and allegory, and a David James Duncan quote (and the possibility of misinterpretation.)  She notes that there is no fear that his is a “shallow river.”  Nice.

You can scroll down his blog a bit to find four trailers for the book. Very cool.

Here is a discussion guide that is very helpful in using the book in groups, in families, or for your own reflection.  Check it out:

You may know how much we esteem and enjoy the Newbery Award winning children’s author Gary Schmidt, whose wonderful follow up to the fabulous Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, is certainly one of the finest books of the year, has said this about Daniel Nayeri,

Whenever we invoke this title — Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow — let us breathe this word soon after: virtuosity. In a remarkable collection of four novellas, Daniel Nayeri plays a modern Lewis Carroll, pulling us down rabbit holes where the world is cockeyed — disturbingly cockeyed — and anything at all can happe
n. In one, toys planted by an absent creator are left to fend for themselves when evil arrives; in another, the very air we breathe has been infected with a technology that allows us to create our own reality–or others to create it for us; in another, the narrator Death is moved to play the jerk by powerful love. With characters deft and real, with language quick and clever, with insight deep and full, these stories lead the reader to wonder, Is this possible? Whatever is going to happen next? And then, incredibly, it is possible, and it happens. Dare to read this

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