A I suppose it is due to my disposition as educator, evangelist, and salesman, but I can hardly listen to a lecture without thinking of books that the audience would appreciate, stuff that dovetails and supplements and enhances points that the speaker is making.
Maybe I’m easily distractable, but often, when reading a book, or listening to a talk or sermon, little bells goes off in my brain – ooh, what about this book? People should know about that. And how about that other one? If the speaker wanted, she could have cited such and such, right there, and, maybe during the Q & A I will suggest another book or two, at least this chapter, that author. The little bells keeping going off, driving my impulse to excitedly call out that if you liked what the speaker said about that, you could follow it up with further study by reading this. And don’t forget about this other one, and…
A poster from a previous event, about life-long learning.
And so it was with the fine presentation delivered at the Fourth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture( co-sponsored by the CCO) by Wheaton College prof, Dr. Vincent Bacote. His talk was based on his new book, The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life (Zondervan; $11.99) and we were thrilled to see old friends and new customers there in Pittsburgh. We thank Dr. Bacote for his willingness to come to Pittsburgh and we certainly thank the CCO for their willingness to co-sponsor this author event with Hearts & Minds. Beth and I are always inspired by and grateful for their campus ministry staff who care so deeply about young adults and God’s Kingdom and are so much fun as they live out gospel-centered, grace-filled faith, offered in service to others.
Here are a handful of books that crossed my mind as Vince Bacote lectured. He raised so many points on public theology and civic engagement and offered so much to think about, you can’t blame me for wanting to carry the conversation further. During his talk I didn’t blurt anything out, but I hope you enjoy these good book suggestions.
As always, you can order any of these by clicking on the ORDER link shown below that will take you to our secure website order form page. Any book mentioned here we will offer to you for 20% off the regular retail price that we list. We’ll gladly deduct the discount and send the books right out.
Your Mind’s Mission Greg Jao (InterVarsity Press) $5.00 In my formal introduction of Dr. Bacote, I read out loud a portion from a recently published short collection of essays by Richard Mouw called Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars, published by Eerdmans. It was a good quote and set the stage for the importance of what Bacote was doing: going public with overtly Christian thinking about political life, showing how the work of a Christian scholar can help us all. I like that new Mouw book, especially for young scholars, but if I were recommending just one small book as an introduction to the whole project of reading well, thinking faithfully, using your mind for the mission of God, it would be this. There is good, good stuff about God’s call, about a whole-life response to the gospel (including a sensitivity to issues of injustice and cultural diversity) and how thinking well can deepen our Christian discipleship. It is a must for those in college, although it is ideal for anyone, since we are all commanded to “love God with all your mind.”
I have a very heart-felt endorsement blurb on the back of Your Mind’s Mission saying, among other things, that Greg Jao is a wonderful writer and that this quick read really does offer a guide to “honoring Christ as king in every career and calling, across every zone of life.” I kept thinking that our Hearts & Minds Summer Lecture, and Dr. Bacote’s talk about public discipleship and political responsibilities makes most sense if we first understand the call to “think Christianly” and to be critical thinkers about worldviews, ideologies, and ideas. To live faithfully we must desire God’s glory to be seen, and we must understand that that does not happen easily in a culture if we are not thinking well. You really should read this little booklet.
Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians Bruce Riley Ashford (Lexham Press) $14.99 If Abraham Kuyper is known for anything it is the one glorious line about Christ claiming “every square inch” of creation. No area of life is separate from his kingly reign or gracious rule. No aspect of creation is secular, religiously neutral, or of little regard since Christ is creator and redeemer of all things. That “every square inch” line is found in a complex paragraph from Kuyper’s inaugural address at the university he bravely founded, the Free University of Amsterdam (you can read that whole speech, and another, in Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life.) It’s a little bit funny, but Bacote gave two lectures about or inspired by Kuyper and didn’t use the ESI phrase once. So, I thought, just for the record, I should list this book, with its title obvious swiped from Father Abraham.
The first chapter in Ashford’s Every Square Inch is called “Competing Views of Theology and Culture” while the second fleshes out a general theology of culture, a view shaped by Kuyper that Bacote could have easily expounded. The third short chapter is on calling – such a still overlooked doctrine and yet so generative! — and the fourth offers six case studies to help us see how this plays out in real life. From there the book has chapters on various aspects of culture life (art, science, economics and the like) starting with a quick summary of how each sphere is created by God (and declared “good”) but is now distorted by sin and idols, and yet is being redeemed by Christ. Chapter by chapter, the book looks at the arts (yes, even recommending Calvin Seerveld), the science, politics and the public square; there is a chapter called “Economics and Wealth” (with which I somewhat disagree), a good one on scholarship and education. All have a few bullet point “action steps” with ideas for further pondering or application. This is very nicely done compact sized hardback and would make a nice discussion resource or a good read for somebody that wants to dip in to a Christian perspective on a variety of topics and spheres.
Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People Warren Cole Smith & John Stonestreet (Baker) $16.99 A healthy part of the background of Vince Bacote, as he describes in his small Political Disciple is that discovering the all-of-life-redeemed vision of Abraham Kuyper was like an oxygen mask for him, helping him realize the legitimacy of his love of everything from rock music to social action to his interest in biology and science. Yes, Kuyper and the others of the Dutch revival( Herman Bavinck was perhaps the most substantive theologian of that era) taught so many of us, God is indeed at work bringing His redemption in Christ to “all things” (as it says in Colossians 1.) This Biblically orthodox emphasis on the cosmic scope of redemption is heard in many quarters these days, (for instance in the previously mentioned book) and this brand new book strikes me as a perfect example of a contemporary version of Kuyper and his agenda for bringing restoration and public justice to every aspect of life. And, like Kuyper’s revival, the agents of transformation were most often his “little people” – not the well off, not the famous or powerful. Ordinary common folks can make a difference, and can be animated by mature, thoughtful theology to respond to the call of God to embody faith in every corner of culture. And this is good news, isn’t it?
In Restoring All Things, in the words of pundit and writer Eric Metaxas, “Stonestreet and Smith aim to restore some balance to the doom and gloom narrative by pointing to the stories that prove God is still at work today through people who are addressing the brokenness and taking the opportunities right in front of their noses.” This not only illustrates a broad, winsome, conservative worldview that imagines gracious social action in the 21st century, but tells us the stories of people actually living it. Restoring All Things is positive, exciting, and even if one doesn’t agree with all their specific policy proposals, no reader can be left uninspired to more intentionally engage the world around them, with deeds of mercy that bring hope. Bacote would certainly appreciate their chapters on serving the poor, on a good economy, on the dignity of women, on educational reform, racial reconciliation, criminal justice, sexual sanity, caring for orphans, nurturing the arts, and more. If anyone in the Lecture thought it was too abstract or wonders how to get on with it, this tells the stories, offers practical guidance, invites us to get busy. Nice.
Culture Care Makoto Fujimura (Fujimura Institute) $25.00 We have been supportive of the famous abstract painter’s written work since his first published essay in the Square Halo classic It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. In the books by and about Mako there is this extraordinary insight that art is important, of course, and that the visual arts are naturally to be valued alongside other art forms (including film, poetry, music, literature the like) but, further, that artists must also find themselves alongside others stewarding their various talents for the sake of the common good. Such multi-faceted work by a variety of scholars, activists, volunteers, patrons, publishers and citizens for cultural renewal allows for multi-dimensional societal flourishing. Bacote did not speak directly about how non-political gifts exercised in non-governmental spheres of influence and other avenues of culture-making effect our political lives, as such, but he would surely agree: we all must do our best to care for the streams that feed cultural renewal. (Which is to say, we need more than healthy churches and strong families and good government!) A healthy, just polis will be sustained by a robust civil society which is enhanced by a healthy cultural ecology. We all have roles to play. Agreed?
Mako in this handsomely produced paperback (with onion-skin dust jacket) brings his artist’s eye to the broader duty to care for culture, to strengthen the common wealth and nurture our capacity for order and beauty, goodness and truth. He is a good, good writer, and draws on fabulously interesting sources (from T.S. Eliot to Dallas Willard, from Roger Scruton to Dana Gioia, from Noam Chomsky to Wendell Berry, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Harper Lee.) This recent book published by the Fujimura Institute is a rare, wonderful treasure, a gift for us all and we encourage you to order it from us. More than once in Bacote’s lecture I wanted to say, “Wait, let’s back up and think about what it means to be a caring steward of culture before we talk about civic life.” This book can help us frame our conversation about renewing our societal institutions and advancing our political discipleship.
The Kuyper Center Review: New Essays in Reformed Theology and Public Life Volume 1 -5 (Eerdmans)
Now we are talking Bacote’s wheelhouse: these books are produced by the important Kuyper Center at Princeton Theological Seminary, until recently directed by John Bowlin. (Bowlin was also the Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life at PTS.) In these collections of academic papers, Kuyper scholars and others reflect on his robust and curious theological distinctions, exploring the work of others who were allies in the renewal of public life in the Netherlands in the early 1900s, and how that applies to different aspects of contemporary life. Bacote didn’t dwell on these sorts of academic perspectives about what has come to be known as 20th century neo-Calvinism (not the “new” Calvinism/Puritanism of the Gospel Coalition and Southern Baptists, by the way) but he could have. For anyone wanting to read widely in the growing field of Kuyper studies, or who wants to understand the implications of Bavinck et al, these volumes from Princeton Seminary are must-haves for your library. We had them all out at the Pittsburgh Summer Lecture, but they are a bit demanding. Maybe you will find something intriguing.
The Kuyper Center Review Volume One: Politics, Religion & Sphere Sovereignty Gordon Graham$24.00 Explorations by world-class scholars on Kuyper’s views of the role and limits of the state, how religion impacts public life and the like. There is a truly excellent piece by Anglican ethicist Oliver O’Donovan, an excellent chapter by Kuyper biographer James Bratt, another very insightful contribution by former ICS political science professor, Jonathan Chaplin. And there are many more studies, from Kuyper on Islam to Kuyperian considerations of the welfare state. A great collection.
The Kuyper Center Review Volume Two: Revelation and Common Grace John Bowlin $36.00 Does the creation itself speak? What is the relationship of the Bible to general revelation? How did the Dutch reformational movement adjudicate common grace and the antithesis? Can the Kuyperian emphasis on common grace lead to a sustainable vision of pluralism and toleration? There is quite a lot on Herman Bavinck, too — a must for anyone serious about further neo-Calvinist scholarship.
The Kuyper Center Review Volume Three: Calvinism and Culture Gordon Graham $26.00 A fabulous, serious look at various Calvinist and neo-Calvinist views of art, literature, culture and more. It is an especially valuable volume for those of us interested in this on-going movement — for instance, there is a back-and-forth discussion between Neal deRoo and Al Wolters (“Culture Regained?”) and there is a fascinating piece by Jim Bratt about Kuyper and artist Piet Mondrian, and don’t miss the excellent introduction to reformational approaches to architecture and urban planning. You’ve got to read Jennifer Wang’s piece on the “Eucharistic Poetics of Emily Dickinson” and the Dooyeweerdian take on American avante-garde music by Janet Danielson.
The Kuyper Center Review Volume Four: Calvinism and Democracy John Bowlin $30.00 It is remarkable to realize how the Reformed tradition has considerably effected how we think about modern democracy. There are pieces here on Kuyper, on Bavinck,on constitutionalism, a remarkable piece by Jeffrey Stout on Kuyper’s famous “class struggle” speech, and another offering comparisons with Bonhoeffer. Great for anyone interested in political history. Very thoughtful.
The Kuyper Center Review Volume Five: Church and Academy edited by Gordon Graham $24.00 Obviously, important research for churches near the university, and a must for Christians who work in higher education. Many of these pieces are by scholars from Holland — which is now a very secularized nation — making this particularly relevant to anyone thinking about the meaning of distinctively Christian higher education.
Black Scholars in White Space: New Vistas in African American Studies from the Christian Academy edited by Anthony Bradley (Pickwick Publications) $26.00 Dr. Bacote has a number of chapters in a number of books – and in my introduction of him I should have mentioned a few. This is one that is particularly significant, a moving chapter where he struggles with various understandings of race and the commonly used phrase “racial reconciliation.” His chapter in this fascinating volume is called “Erasing Race: Racial Identity and Theological Anthropology.” Bacote works with exceptionally thoughtful evangelical scholars, drawing on J. Cameron Carter’s significant book, Race: A Theological Account, the sociological insights of George Yancy, and other race theorists, bringing them into conversation with theologians who have written on the imago dei such as Richard Middleton, Anthony Hoekema, and, yes, Kuyper and Bavinck. As Bacote lectured with great humility and moderation about being responsible Christians in the public square, he naturally had to talk about race (how can we not?) and as an African American scholar he brought some helpful insights and sounded some good notes. This chapter by him is further example of his thoughtful attention to these matters.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander (The New City Press) $19.95 Bacote did not mention criminal justice issues or the recent moves by our President to attempt to address crime and punishment. But he could have, and probably should have. I think it is this simple: I don’t think one can meaningful engage in much serious debate about race and justice in our society in these times without knowing this book. Unless you’ve read a lot of reviews and summaries, have watched her on-line, and have been informed well by those who know her work, I think you simply must work through this award-winning, much-discussed, ground-breaking book. It has been called “an instant classic” and “stunning” and “profoundly necessary” and even “devastating” (by Forbes Magazine.)
Not every sociological work of this sort becomes “the bible of a social movement” as one review put it, nor do most books get mentioned in a rock song. Listen to the blazing, powerful song “The Rise of the Black Messiah” by the Indigo Girls on their new release One Lost Day and tell me you shouldn’t read this book to see some of what their singing about. (Here is a fascinating video of their work recording and producing the song, with a bit of the back story explained by Amy Ray. The song title, by the way, comes from a memo by the FBI.) Here is a powerful live version.
By the way, kudos to the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America who have invited every single parish to hold book discussion groups on this important text.
Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson (Spiegal & Grau)$28.00 I’ve mentioned this often, here, insisting it is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in years. (I also like that he has been likened to [the Mockingbird era] Atticus Finch.) Again, as Dr. Bacote carefully brought up matters of public controversy -the SCOTUS ruling about marriage equality, religious liberty, the latest state of race relations, from Ferguson to Baltimore and more, he reminded us that responsible citizenship is more than just voting or taking “stands” but must include being well informed and getting involved. This page-turner of an unforgettable book simply is a must-read to get the bigger picture of law and race and injustice, and how poverty, class, and other sad realities of our culture impact the very soul of our nation.
A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World Mark Meynell (Zondervan) $18.99 Through-out much of Bacote’s lecture (and in good conversations afterwards) I kept thinking about how public action for the common good – from volunteerism to public policy advocacy to the act of voting – presumes a willingness to engage with fellow citizens for the good of the commonweal, but that those practices are less and less attractive for many because (among other things) we don’t trust one another. We don’t trust institutions, we don’t trust our leaders, we hardly trust our neighbors. We live in a cynical and jaded world, and even those not inclined to think about the big picture of human flourishing, public life, the common good (etc.) still have a general sort of proclivity to be cynical or suspicious. This is a marvelous new book of cultural analysis, and, in a way, a fresh sort of apologetic, offering hope for a mistrusting world. It says on the back that this is “the radical antidote to the poison of broken trust.”
The back cover continues,
In A Wilderness of Mirrors author Mark Meynell explores the roots of the discord and alienation that mark our society and outlines a gospel-based reason for hope. An astute social observer with a pastor’s spiritual sensitivity, Meynel grounds his antidote on four foundational aspects of Christian faith: human nature, Jesus, the church, and the story of God’s action in the world.
I think you’ll have to read this through to see how he develops this plan to restore and strengthen the frayed fabric of our society, but I trust that you can see why it seems so apropos after Bacote’s plea for great civic engagement.
A previous presenter for the Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture and admired friend Dr. William Edgar, has a wonderfully brilliant review on the inside saying Meynell’s fresh apologetic confronts us with both miserable desolation and great joy. And Steve Garber (author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good) says,
With his richly wrought theological vision and uncanny honesty, he offers a way forward for all who wrestle with how to form a good life in this disorienting time in history, where the more we know, the more cynical we must become. Here we are offered a hard-won, deeply thoughtful reason to believe otherwise.
Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding Steven K. Green (Oxford University Press) $29.95 One of the astute contributions to the discussion following Bacote’s lecture raised the question of civil religion; the questioner was himself an serious Reformed theologian who understands much about the nature of the Biblical covenant and the call of God’s true covenant people, among (but never to be confused with) the nations. Alas, we all know the way in which our own U.S. A. has a peculiar heritage of religious exceptionalism, which has too often led to an odd Christian nationalism. (Don’t even get me started about the spiritually dangerous practice of flags in our worship spaces, but I digress.)
Dr. Bacote’s good friend Dr. John Fea (of Messiah College) has the must-read book about the religious roots of America’s founding, entitled Was American Founded as a Christian Nation? which we have regularly promoted; throughout the lecture, but especially after the comment about America’s sense of covenant, I kept thinking of this very new work by one of the premier legal historians writing today. As Jon Butler (Professor Emeritus of American Studies at Yale University) writes,
Steven Green’s Inventing A Christian America is that rare book where scholarship and sensitivity can calm one of America’s most volatile issues. Its breadth and fairness allow understanding and perspective to run ahead of simply inaccurate notions about America’s ‘Christian foundations.’ The result is a marvelously readable account of the fascinating ways religious freedom actually emerged in America and uplifted nation and religion together.
Or, as John Fea himself writes on the back of this important book, “Inventing a Christian America is the most thorough critique of Christian nationalism available today….anyone interested in the subject must read this book.” I should have stood up and mentioned it!
Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World Richard Mouw (VP) $16.00 I have written about this often before, but I still think of it at times like these. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish to suggest it to others, or feel like I should re-read it, prayerfully allowing it to convict me of ways in which my own public etiquette may need to be refined with grace. Anyway, Bacote’s nice reflection on being truly Christian in the public square, offering a passionate reminder that we dare not sit on the sidelines of the struggle for public justice and social renewal, as good as it was, didn’t sound this theme directly. I wanted to stand up and remind folks that Vince surely doesn’t want us to get involved in ugly discourse or adopt models that want to “take over” the public realm. (He did poke a bit of fun about how some internet debates can challenge our sanctification, gently advising us to be careful about our on line demeanor. ) Had I given a shout out to Christian civility in our public discourse, I’d have recommended this book, as politely as I can.
On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si) Pope Francis (U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops) $13.95 I was delighted that an old, old friend of mine, who himself now serves our commonwealth as a behind the scenes public servant , ended our Summer Lecture evening with a reminder of the deep thinking and profound public witness of the current Pope Francis. I added a reminder of how what is known as Catholic Social Teaching has for centuries worked out a social theory with significant public policy implications; Pope Francis in this sense is continuing to advance a long-standing framework of public theology and exercising his prophetic task. I think both liberal mainline Protestants and contemporary evangelicals have a great ally in this ancient, well-developed social and ethical tradition, including this new encyclical which speaks much on the ethics of climate change and the call to more intentional stewardship of God’s creation.
By the way, as much publicity as this document has gotten regarding is embrace of the consensus about anthropogenic climate change – His Holiness has a degree in Chemistry, by the way, perhaps the first Pope trained in the sciences — Laudato Si includes much more then teaching about environmental issues. We were proud to have it on display at the Summer Lecture and wished I would have called the audience’s attention to it. So I’ll tell ya now: you should buy and study this document.
And, lastly, dear readers, a reminder that Dr. Bacote’s lecture was celebrating the release of his most recent paperback, The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life, which is part of a new four volume “Ordinary Theology” series published by Zondervan, edited by New Testament scholar Gene E. Green. Three cheers for this kind of simple, good stuff. Get ’em now, on sale, by clicking below. Thanks.
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