TOP TEN New Books of January 2015 — so far… ON SALE

I’m in an award-giving mood, and yet, having spent time reviewing so many from the previous year, realized my stack is growing and growing, and I’ve got to make some time to read these new ones, just in and displayed on our “new release” table.  Of the batch of brand new titles in the brand new year, here is what’s on my list. I want to read more in each of these. Maybe you might, too. You know what to do.  Thanks.

simply good news.jpgSimply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good  N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.99  Although his massive scholarly works may not be for everyone, his more popular-level ones are just tremendous, thoughtful, insightful, interesting. I hope you have tried a few — they are very, very good.  So: we are huge fans of these kinds of books, perfect for the educated non-specialist, who want  more than fluff and yet doesn’t have time to wade through massive tomes. Wright is just such a great example of this kind of writer, and this is a perfect example of a book we’d like to really promote.  Plus, it isn’t just interesting and curious, it is Biblically correct: he doesn’t present the gospel as advice, but as news.  Really good news!!

Here is a helpful, fair review of this brand new book that explains what it covers and how good it is. The author suggests that Simply Good News is like a “greatest hits” compilation where the good doctor re-states most of his major themes. I say, fantastic!  Just what we need!  Although it isn’t at all a stale rehash, but a fresh re-articulation of the centrality of the theme of the Kingdom. As the reviewer notes, has a few truly new notions, here, too, including a really fresh chapter on prayer.  Simply Good News really does explore the truest truth, the gospel of the Kingdom, God’s saving grace for the life of the world, and I think it is not only the best book of the month, but will surely be on the Best Of lists a year from now.  Reading it now will deepen your understanding and appreciation and commitment to the Kingdom of God, and a great way to kick off your New Year’s reading resolutions.

church in exile.jpgThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom Lee Beach (IVP Academic) $25.00  Many will value Beach’s radical call to serious discipleship and his broad and astute observations about post-Christian Western culture. He is currently a professor and the director of ministry formation at McMasters Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. He has pastored in the CM&A denomination for over 20 years.  J. Richard Middleton, who calls some portions “profound”, sums up much when he writes of it, “We have much to learn from Beach’s insights about holy, missional and hopeful Christian living from the margins.” With strong endorsements by Michael Frost and David Fitch and JR Woodward, you can see it has good folks behind it, and many who appreciate his Biblical study of exile and diaspora. Frost, who has written about these themes himself, says that Beach challenges us to come to terms with the church’s identity as exiles in post-Christendom, and “to embrace the challenge for creative theological reflection funded by a prophetic missional imagination, to drastically break with traditional modes of church life, and to bravely launch ourselves as the people of God into this new world.” There is a great foreword by Walter Brueggemann who calls it a “rich exercise in hope.”

Fight Back with Joy- Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.jpgFight Back with Joy: Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears Margaret Feinberg (Worthy) $15.99  I had an early manuscript of this — thanks Margaret! — and pretty much fell in love with it.  I liked her previous Wonderstruck quite a lot, and this, too, shares her moving prose, her upbeat attitude, her deeply Christ-centered lifestyle, and her joyful, honest style.  But this time — hold on! — this time, she brings the raw honest style, and the joy, in extra doses. We find out early on in the book that she was given a very serious diagnosis with bad, bad cancer. (Is there any other kind?) She was setting out to write a book about joy. (What was she thinking? What was God thinking?) Alas, this tells the tale of her coping with some very hard stuff with some very realistic, hard-won joy. Kay Warren, who also had cancer, and has also lost a son to early death, knows tragedy and sorrow and the struggle for resilience. She writes, “You’ll be captivated by her skill weaving together words, thoughts, and phrases — but even more beautiful is the way you’ll be drawn closer to Jesus, our source of joy.”  There’s a neat letter from her husband, Leif, in the back, too.  Three cheers for this remarkable couple, and how they turned this hard year into an chance to do a different sort of ministry, to care for others, and be cared for. Three cheers for this book!  Margaret, God bless her, is really good at social media ministry and has some cool posters at Pinterest and other inspiring digital stuff.  Check her out.

true you.jpgTrue You: Overcoming Self-Doubt and Using Your Voice  Adele Ahlberg Calhoun & Tracey D. Bianchi (IVP/Crescendo) $16.00  Adele Ahlberg Calhoun is an experienced leader in ministry and has written significant work on spiritual formation.  Her big and exceptionally useful Spiritual Disciplines Handbook is a go-to, oft recommended resource; her Invitations from God is spectacular, moving, insightful, profound.  She and her husband are good friends with the Keller’s of Redeemer, if that helps assure you of her thoughtful depth. Tracey Bianchi is also a writer I respect — she is quite an active young woman, who has written two books we loved — Mom Connections is about how young mothers need supportive friendship, and offers very good ideas for those in that season of life, and Green Mama which is an upbeat and fun look at the call to be environmentally conscious, and how to be more green around the home, as a faithful act of Christian discipleship. Great stuff!  I love Calhoun’s mature, sober style and I like Tracey’s passionate, colorful approach. Together, I am sure they are going to be justly famous: what a team! What a book!  You know that women have many expectations thrust upon them —  “act like a lady” “land a career” “find a man” (“be sure to stay thin.”)  With what Amy Simpson calls “empathy and sisterly candor” these authors explore how to be true to yourself. What does it mean to “find your voice?” (And what does it mean to use it well?)  I have to say, I don’t get the cover design, but it is cute, and the call to be true, truly you, is evident. There is a small group study guide included, and I am sure this is going to be a great book for women of all ages, to read alone or, better, together.  

Simply Open.jpgSimply Open: A Guide to Experiencing God in the Everyday Greg Paul (Nelson) $16.99  I have read other books by Greg Paul about his work in urban ministry, and they are beautifully written, raw and real, and both inspiring and challenging. He hits hard, speaks with truth and grace, and is a creative, interesting person.  Here, he offers us “the simplest, most transformative prayer you may ever pray.” This is a simple matter of practicing a prayer of awareness, which — as it says on the back cover — “can turn each ordinary workday into a deepening spiritual journey.”  For anyone interested in the contemplative path or who wants a deeper experience of God’s presence Simply Open invites us to use our five senses to encounter God and God’s world.  Moment by moment, God can open you up — eyes, ears, nostrils, hands, mouth, heart, and mind. I am sure this is exquisite to read, exciting to learn about, and will help you, if pursued. I can’t wait to read this book.   Paul is to be trusted, and this will be an amazing work.

divine magician.jpgThe Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith Peter Rollins (Howard) $14.99  I’ll admit that I’ve not fully embraced the popularity of this creative, energetic, storytelling, postmodern, Irish theologian. His live blend of music, visual art with soundcapes, theater, ritual and reflection sound sensationally moving, but the books are a bit more standard-fair blend of progressive theology, cultural studies, and a subversion of sacred cows. Here, he interrogates traditional religious notions, undermining the commonplace debates involving dogma, doctrine, and tradition.  The back cover calls it an “incendiary reading of Christianity” which “breaks the boundaries of religion.” I don’t know what that means, really, or why it is a good thing, but I’m going to find out. Why don’t you join me — let’s figure this out. The back cover says he is a “firebrand” and that he rejects both the “spiritual” and “religious” label. I think I get that.  As with his other books, it will create a lot of discussion, and we’re happy to stock it.

rise.jpgRise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story  Trip Lee (Nelson) $16.99  A year or so ago this hip-hop artist, who is also a pastor, wrote a nifty little pocket-sized book — with a spay-painted cover that just seemed right — about basic Christian living. It was called The Good Life, and we sold it collegiate gatherings on occasion and to hip high school kids who like his hip hop vibe.  Now, here, he offers us a new, more expansive book on themes of grace and Christian living, on honoring God and living right, with big purpose. He’s got rave endorsements from NFL players, hip hop stars (like Lecrae, who was just on Jimmy Fallon last week) and a few NBA stars. This dude is taking off. He’s known in certain circles, brings a passion and clarity about life, faithfulness, and Godly discipleship – and this cover is great, too!  It like how John Piper in the foreword explains the book’s rare blend of both relevance and reverence.  

By the way, we carry his new CD, too — Rise.

lessons in belonging.jpgLessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe Erin S. Lane (IVP/Crescendo) $16.00  I first encountered the good writing of Ms Lane when she edited a wonderful collection of autobiographical sketches of young Christian women from various denominations and cultures. (It is called Talking Taboo and we raved about it when it came out.) I realized then that she had some Quaker connections, and friends with (sorry with the friend joke) perhaps the most famous Friend these days, Parker Palmer.  To see Parker Palmer’s introduction here, on a book from the evangelical publisher IVP, is just so very sweet. I think this is going to be a great, great read; the “Crescendo” line is an imprint of women writers, but not necessarily just for women readers, I’m so interested in this. (In fact, two the rave blurbs on the back — Mark Labberton and Shane Claiborne — are men.)  The others rave, too: Phyllis Tickle says it is “one of the clearest and certainly one of the most informing pictures I have seen to date of the generation of young adults who presently are shapping the twenty-first century church.”  Lane is very smart, and her footnotes show off her wide and interesting reading — yay!  Her description of her varied church experiences (she graduated from divinity school, works in spiritual formation, and is married to a pastor) is simply stated: “It’s complicated.”  I am sure you will enjoy this funny, smart book, and I am also sure that it’s wisdom about community and connection will be important for you. I’m eager to help get it well known and widely read. 

The Grand Paradox- The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God.jpgThe Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith Ken Wytsma (foreword by Eugene Cho) $22.99 I don’t know if you are surprised to see a book on a mainstream evangelical publishing house with the word “paradox” in the title. It is profound, and it is a mature, good work.  Called “a contemporary guide on the pursuit of God” and with a foreword by Eugene Cho (we gave his Overrated a Book of the Year award) this seems to include a powerful mix of reading the Word and reading the world, of ruminations on God and reflections on the brokenness of the world, of the mystery of God and the messiness of life.  Ken Wytsma knows the messiness of life, well, too: he has organized the nationally-known “Justice Conference” and now knows missionaries, advocates and activists from all over this sad world.  So he knows a lot about the necessity of faith as we walk on in this world, trying to make a difference. Not only is it great that the author is so widely read and broadly schooled, and it’s cool that the title includes words like mystery and paradox, there is this blurb on the back, by the grand Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff of Yale University: 

Thoroughly honest, never evasive, free of cliches, deeply Christian, encouraging rather than scolding in tone, it is the most perceptive and helpful discussion of faith that I know of.

Read that last line again. Oh my goodness. Now that is a book you should own!  The Grand Paradox.

aloof.jpgAloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides Tony Kriz (Nelson) $15.99  Except for some early church Greek fathers and medieval mystics, there has not been a big tradition of many books written on the perceived absence of God.  In our time, a few that have been written have been either glib (don’t worry, God’s presence will return) or theologically odd. Some shine: Still by Lauren Winner and Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor are personal favorites, although both are fairly artful memoirs, telling the stories of their own unique journeys of faith and the experience of the absence of God. I don’t quite know anyone who has written directly and clearly and faithfully about this hard quandary. You may know Tony Kirz as Tony the Beat Poet from the famous Blue Like Jazz.  His first  good book, mostly a memoir, Sinners and Other Wise Men, got a rave review from us here and we still gladly stock it. (What a story!) Aloof has plenty of rave reviews itself, from authors I respect from John Pattison, Randy Woodley, Tim Soerens, Sean Gladding, Leroy Barber, Lisa Sharon Harper, and more. There are some edgy young post-evangelicals, some classy big shots (a Senator, a college President) and a few lively endorsements by those I don’t know, but they really were touched by it. I’m impressed, really impressed, and can’t wait to read it. (There are even some cool pen and ink drawings, too, enhancing it.) Maybe you should share it with somebody needing a book in an authentic conversational style that helps us process God being with us, and our awareness of that, in various stages of the life of faith. One reviewer says “no one will put this book down feeling cheated. It is a work of art!”



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