13 New Books You Must Know About: Lauren Winner, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Erin Lane, Nancy Pearcey, Richard Rohr, Matthew Crawford, Tony Jones, Lee Strobel and more – 20% OFF

Thanks to those who have ordered the very cool and excellently produced new book which we proudly announced last week, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Ned Bustard & Greg Thornbury (Square Halo Press.; $17.99, on sale here at 20% off.)  We have enjoyed shipping this rare work about the long-running BBC geeky sci-fi show, even across the pond. Spread the word!

case grace strobel.jpgThe Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evident of Transformed Lives Lee Strobel (Zondervan) $22.99  I bet that not a few of us heard sermons this week about how the message of Easter can change our lives. Maybe you heard a good story or two of real people whose lives were transformed by the gospel. If you, like most people, love those kinds of stories – or you want to share a book with somebody who needs those kinds of stories – this is the book for you. Not unlike his other useful anthologies (Case for Christ, Case for Faith, Case for a Creator) Strobel uses his considerable journalistic skill and his own lively verve to tells the tales of those who met Christ, came to understand grace, were set free by free-flowing mercy. What great and intriguing and fabulous stories.  Strobel is more candid here about his own journey from atheism to follower of Jesus. There is an extensive study guide in the back, too, making this great for book clubs. This is Strobel’s most personal and practice book yet.  Watch Lee talk about it in this very nice short video clip.

Vulnerable Faith - Missional Living.jpgVulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick  Jamie Arpin-Ricci (Paraclete Press) $16.99  Like most of the titles in this list, this fine book deserves a much better review than I can offer here in these brief annotations. Trust me, here:  Jamie is the real deal; an experienced and wise missional pastor of an inner city faith community in Winnipeg called Little Flowers who is always worth listening to.  He has spent decades in urban ministry, and has written widely – good, if provocative and challenging, stuff on grace and discipleship, community and servanthood, prayer and public life. 

In Vulnerable Faith Arpin-Ricci brings an upbeat, informative, and really fresh telling of the story of the early Celtic Christian leader, Saint Patrick.  What transformation Patrick experienced as his own faith radicalized his lifestyle of mission and daily discipleship!  There is good reason why so many are interested in Celtic spirituality, the legendary sort of piety that honors the Earth and cares for the poor and respects the cultures of others. This new book, which has at times a gentle, devotional tone, uses the life of Saint Patrick to show how we all can take deeper steps to be more faithful to Jesus — in matters of being vulnerable, hospitable, nonviolent. He shows how to take faith seriously — in ways that invite us to more authentic community, a more contemplative way of spiritual formation, and a more costly sort of servanthood and lived out ethics.   I think this is valuable, too, because it has emerged from Jamie’s own work (in part through a group called Bridgefolk) drawing together Mennonites and Catholics. I suspect most BookNotes readers are neither Mennonite nor Catholic but I also suspect that a number of us draw on the best insights of these profound faith traditions. This book brings some really good stuff to us all, maybe like some mash-up of Celtic and Mennonite radical discipleship in light of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  A warm and very special foreword is by Jean Vanier.  Highly recommended. 

I really like the way they act out Patrick miraculous journey out of slavery, and the remarkable quotes endorsing the book that appear in this moving trailer for the book. Enjoy!

Lessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe.jpgLessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe Erin Lane (IVP/cresendo) $16.00 One of the best written paperbacks of the year, this is a truly splendid,  very honest,  often funny,   really enjoyable and profound rumination on commitment and belonging to a local church. I’m telling you, you’ve not read a book on community or parish life like this before!  If you are young and longing for community but not so sure of the local congregation, you have to read this. If you are an older reader, wondering why young adults may not be as active in church as you may wish, and want a wonderful and helpful glimpse into their lives and faith, this story is a must. Ms Lane has a degree from Duke Divinity School, to make matters more sticky, her husband is a pastor. She knows her way around good sentences and storytelling, too; she helped edit an anthology we love of Christian women telling their stories called Talking Taboo. Lessons in Belonging written by a “commitment phobe” is very highly recommended.

Wearing God.jpgWearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God Lauren F. Winner (HarperOne) $24.99  This is, for me, personally, the most anticipated book of the season, and I almost regret that it hit bookstores the week before Easter.  I have not yet more than cracked the cover and glanced at the table of contents and footnotes I (and, okay, the acknowledgements, because, well, that’s what I always do to get a feel for whom and what the author is grateful.)  This is not the first book that explores lesser known Biblical images for God, but it will most likely be the most beautifully written, the most inspiring, the most enjoyable to read, and significant to take to heart.  Here is what it says on the back:

Clothing. Beekeeper. A loaf of bread. A cypress tree. These are a few of the lyrical metaphors for God found in the Bible. Author, scholar, and priest Lauren Winner shows just how rich the biblical depictions of God are -and helps us consider how our friendship with God and our sense of ourselves, changes and deepens if we pray to a God who is as close to us as clothing, a God who laughs at injustice, a God who arrests our attention like a flame.

The always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor says of Wearing God,

Lauren Winner’s curiosity about the life of faith is so compelling — and her intelligence is so engaging — that there is nothing more satisfying then settling down with a new book from her. The only problem is that it is impossible to read her without being changed. So advance at your own risk – in this case, that you will begin to see God differently so that your old way of relating no longer works. This, of course, is the best possible news.

You will be hearing more about this (already you may have seen an excerpt in The Christian Century) so you might as well just order this form us now, and join the conversations. Happy reading!

Finding God in the Verbs.jpgFinding God in the Verbs: Crafting a Fresh Language of Prayer Jennie Isbell & J. Brent Bill (IVP/formation) $16.00 I think it is kind of funny to see the zesty swirls of color on this busy cover, realizing the authors are both Quakers. But maybe Friends are not as you imagine, and energy captured here is just right. This new handbook is not that quiet or still, not even all that sober, but is fresh and lively and full of mystery and energy; it’s about verbs, you know.  Language, they remind us, shapes and guides us, even our understanding of our encounters with God. As Nathan Foster notes of it,  Finding God in the Verbs “ultimately unlocks our hearts into a deeper, more intimate relationship of joy and ease with God.”  A book that offers “ease with God.” Wow.  (Now that sounds Quaker, eh?) These two writers and spiritual directors obviously have spent some time in some deep waters, and they are obviously lovers of words, of good language.  This book of exercises can help you deepen your love, too, for prayer and words and, finally, for God.

What the Mystics Know- Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self Richard Rohr.jpgWhat the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self Richard Rohr (Crossroads) $19.95  Anyone who keeps up with the most popular spiritual writers knows Fr. Richard Rohr, a lively and socially engaged Franciscan.  In this new hardback, he invites us to central values that guide the monastic path, offering, as he has in recent works, not only practices to know God more deeply, but ways to know one’s own self with more holy awareness. One of the interesting things about this handsome book is the color on the inside (even the ink color) and the full color pictures illuminating the text. This might remind readers of good on-line text or a classy magazine, with useful art and color and photographs.  Maybe these seven pathways were given as talks and these were the PowerPoint slides that enhanced it.  However it developed it is a bit unique, and many will love this guy into the mystical path.

Starting Something New- Spiritual Direction for Your God Given Dream.jpgStarting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God Given Dream Beth A. Booram (IVP/formation) $16.00  I have often recommended Booram’s lovely The Wide Open Spaces of God to those who are interested in experiential education and finding ways to relate faith formation and place; her book of meditation based on many different paintings of Jesus (Picturing the Face of Jesus) is a sleeper that should be better known.  The fabulous book Awakening Your Senses is packed with exercises and suggestions for using our senses to experience God and God’s creation.  This new one is a wonderful resource which, as Randy Reese puts it, “offers both inspiration and wisdom through her own story and the stories of those who trusted the Spirit’s stirring to follow after their own God-given dreams. Whether you are seeking direction or providing it for others, Starting Something New will help set people on a path they were meant to follow after.”  Here is what it says on the back cover: “Do you long to change your lifestyle or vocation, or to start a new business or nonprofit ministry? Do you find yourself wondering “How do I know for sure that this dream is from God and for me? And what in the world should I do?”  This really is a book to help guide you through the spiritual process of defining and acting on the idea stirring within you.

The World Beyond Your Head- On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew Crawford (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) $26.00  I hope you know how much we have appreciated Crawford’s brilliant Shop Class as Soul Craft, the rather heady, but truly wonderfully book  about opening a motorcycle repair shop, an eloquent mediation about blue collar work, the trades, why shop class is so important, and how working with one’s hands moves us away from the abstract and often surreal nature of higher education. If Shop Class was about the importance of manual competence, and mastering one’s physical environment, this is about mastering one’s own mind. He gives sustained attention to real things, and looks at certain workers and their individual abilities. I have been holding this waiting for the time to give it the attention it deserves. Surely this will be one of the most discussed books of the year; it received rare starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.  Here’s a video of excerpts of a talk Crawford gave  and a fascinating, serious panel discussion with our friends at Cardus not long ago.

Jones Did God Kill.pngDid God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution Tony Jones (HarperOne) $26.99  I suppose you are aware that there has been a lively (and at times ugly) debate in mostly evangelical (or emerging post-evangelical) circles, about the nature of the atonement, what the cross is about, and the significance of Christ’s death. I have read many of these recent books – defending classic penal substitutionary views of atonement and justification, looking at orthodox but fresh new perspectives, and even some that are what conventional believers who think to be a bit “out there.” There are good books that survey various schools of thought, and there are scholars who are irenic and balanced, some who are iconoclastic and deconstructive.  This small announcement is not the place to further describe this robust conversation, other than to say that I have found Tony Jones’s book to be one of the most interesting, stimulating, approachable and provocative books on this topic I have yet read. He covers a lot of ground, and explains things with wit and (most of the time) fairness.  From the honest explanations of why some of Bible stories and teaching (not to mention later theological formulations) are disturbing to some folks, to how various models or approaches were developed, this really does offer hope and new ways of holding all of this together for those who are frustrated with conventional single-minded teaching that explains the death of Christ solely in punitive ways. Although Jones is known as a provocative writer, this isn’t some fringe, weirdo topic: we all should reflect, regularly, how best to understand and explain this central core of Christian faith.  And Tony is right to ask what kind of God is behind each model of atonement, and what kind of fruit our theological explanations bears (he calls it “the smell test.”) This is vital stuff.  Adam Hamilton says “Every Christian should read this book” and Nadia Bolz-Weber (an edgy-looking emergent Lutheran pastor who preaches pretty standard law-gospel  messages week by week) says “I will be honestly referring people to it for decades to come.  It’s that important.”  

 Phyllis Tickle says, 

Did God Kill Jesus?  is the one and only book I have ever seen on the atonement that I can wholeheartedly recommend without reservation and with devout enthusiasm. Even-handed, historically complete, accessible to any reader who chooses to approach it, this is a masterful piece of work.

I might not endorse it as decisively in the way that Phyllis does, but she does gives you a sense of how important this book is. I really like how Brian McLaren recommends it:  “…you’ll be grateful for the chance to think alongside a passionate, inspiring theologian who writes with clarity, intensity, and relentless curiosity.”  Appreciate Tony’s “intense” style or not,  be glad for his drawing on Girard or Multmonn, be frustrated with his candor and crass language, and, finally, agree or not with his alternative understanding(s) of the death of Christ, it is still good to be curious, good to be honest before the complexities of this stuff, good to study along with a helpful guide.   

The Skeletons in God's Closet- The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War.jpgThe Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War Joshua Ryan Butler (Thomas Nelson)$ 15.99  This 350 page book was obviously a labor of love by a very thoughtful, aware and hip, young  pastor. (Joshua – a reader of BookNotes, I suppose I might add – is a pastor of outreach at the very creative Imago Dei Community in Portland. Rick McKinley, whose books I love, is from there, and wrote a nice foreword.) As one who oversees the churches considerable activism around foster care, against trafficking, homelessness and global issues like HIV-support and clean water projects, Butler  knows, more than most of us, what it means to long for God’s redemption of the fallen creation. He understands the hope of the gospel and offers here what Scot McKnight describes as “relief and joy.”  Let’s face it, though:  for many of us it does seem like God has some skeletons in the closest – some even think God appears like a moral monster, a sadistic torturer, even, especially when thinking about hell or the violence in the Bible.  I think Butler has given us one of the better books about all this, sensitive, honest, creative and fresh, energetic.  He doesn’t stretch for untenable, obscure answers, but yet willing to work out the implications of our “texts of terror” with the Bible’s testimony that God is good, and working to heal the fabric of this world. Can hell be merciful? Can judgment be surprisingly good?   I think this is a fine contribution, and will thrill those who appreciate Biblical scholars such as Oliver and Joan O’Donovan, N.T. Wright, Chris Wright, John Goldingay, Leslie Newbigin, Miroslov Volf.

finding truth.jpgFinding Truth  Nancy Pearcey (David C. Cook) $22.99  A few who know me know that one of the great influences in my life in the 1970s was a Dutch Kuyperian professor and activist named Peter Steen who taught college students to analyze Western society by discerning the main “spirits of the age” and the idols that formed the main worldviews of the secularized culture committed mostly to capitalism and progress. Drawing on Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, Steen taught us (including some in the CCO and those who founded the Jubilee conference) this conceptual tool that was somewhat akin, if a bit deeper, to the cultural and philosophical apologetic of Francis Schaeffer.) We learned that many of the cultural shifts of the middle of the 20th century (most bluntly, a reductionist rationalism, mostly on the right and bohemian romanticism, mostly on the left) have their most immediate roots in the eighteenth Enlightenment, even the French Revolution (even though Steen insisted that the dualisms and wrong-headed ways of seeing life and doing education began with the ancient Greek philosophers, and in the early church’s accommodation to pagan Greek thought.)

Well, well.  Few cite Dooyeweerd as helpfully, or speak like Schaeffer so passionately, these days as Nancy Pearcey and in this new book she sets out to teach us “5 principles for unmasking atheism, secularism, and other god substitutes.”  From modernism to postmodernism, from arid logic to touchy feely emotionalism, nothing is safe under Pearcey’s incisive critique.” Secular worldviews have become,” in the words of John Erickson, the author of the great Hank the Cowdog series, “the intellectual fast food of our day — nice taste, no nourishment.” Pearcey can help us be critical thinkers, not falling for popular attitudes and sloganeering. Finding Truth, says David Naugle, is “wonderfully insightful…helps readers avoid becoming ‘intoxicated’ with idols and false ideas.” 

One of the good friends of the aforementioned Pete Steen was Al Wolters (of Creation Regained) and he says, “Nancy Pearcey has produced another winner. Here again we find what we have come to expect from her: readability, clear thought, a nose for remarkable quotations, a high regard for biblical authority, and a passion for Christian cultural engagement.” I hope to write more about this when I’m finished with it and process it a bit — the book is over 360 pages, and I’m only half-way through — but, like other titles on this list, I think one need not agree with every point on every page, to still come away immensely richer, more aware, educated, edified, stimulated, even. Which is to say, reading this kind of a book makes you more alive, more human, even, for (as is said in the excellent foreword) to be human is “to write, to compose, to create, and to dream. So is to think, to test, and to know why.” Kudos to Cook for bringing this big, thoughtful work to us, to help us to ponder “why?” Thanks to Nancy for telling her very compelling personl story, and reminding us of the need for intellectual engagement, serious willingness to think and care deeply, for faith that is more than subjective sentiment, and for doing this kind of very interesting work. And for citing that old Dutch legal philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd. Listen here to an audio recording of the first few pages of this book. Listen to the first 3 or 4 minutes and you’ll why she thinks this is all so very important, and how the principles she explains in this book will be helpful, perhaps even lifesaving. 

Rejoicing in Christ Michael Reeves .jpgRejoicing in Christ 
Michael Reeves (IVP Academic) $16.00 Reeves wrote a book a few years ago called Delighting in the Trinity which was a great primer on the nature of the Triune God, but with this experiential component, inviting us to delight in the goodness of this complex, relational Divine One-in-Three persons.  It was a rich and thoughtful academic work, but not heady or obscure, just good meat for educated readers.  Here, again, Reeves offers a book that is intelligent and learned, but still offered for ordinary educated readers to learn what our best theologians say about the nature of God and the person and work of Christ. With blurbs from Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary West) who says 

Michael Reeves has a knack not only for making great truths accessible, but for leading us to bask in the warmth of Christ. Our mediator not only in salvation, but in creation and consummation, Christ isn’t just a gift-giver, he is the Gift.

This book, of about 125 pages, is, quite simply, a book about rejoicing in Christ. Here, a week after Holy Week and Resurrection Day, you may be drawn to focus on Jesus.  And, to learn how to rejoice in Him.

Pray for the World- A New Prayer Resource from Operation World.jpgPray for the World: A New Prayer Resource from Operation World Foreword by Patrick Johnstone  (IVP/Operation World) $15.00  Many know, and some use, the spectacular prayer guide which offers details about and need to pray about for every country on Earth. Operation World remains an essential tool, but it is, in a few cases, a bit dated, now, and is, admittedly, chock full of data.  This up-to-date new volume emerged from the Operation World research teams who asked Christian leaders in every country one key question: 

“How should the body of Christ throughout the world be praying for your country?”

It would seem to me that every one of us should want to know their answer. It is a matter of ecumenicity, of course, but it is also obvious that many brothers and sisters in other lands are in dire straits – some poor, some the target of state repression, some, of course, violently persecuted.  Some are struggling with secularization and modernity, some with the loss of cultural traditions, some are in need of renewal, some need food and medicine. These country-by-country specific prayer requests are humbling and informative, and if you choose to pray through this book, I suspect it will change you for the rest of your life. Kudos to Operation World and IVP for bringing this remarkable daily payer guide so inexpensively to us. Perhaps you should buy a few for your fellowship, church, ministry, or Christian school.



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