Even folks who come in our shop every week or so are sometimes surprised to see so many new titles. We don’t have tons of room, and we’re nothing at all like a mega-store or big box place and we don’t usually order giant stacks of the same item. But if you look closely there are new books on the shelves nearly every single day. The new sales associate position we’ve advertised (we’re seeking an all around bookseller and retail worker who feels called to this mission) will be putting these kinds of books on the shelf, and will have the joy of showing them off to customers and friends.
For those who can’t get here – that’s most of the readers of BookNotes, obviously – it’s my delight to tell you about interesting titles we have gotten in this week. You can order them all at 20% off (we show the regular retail price, but will deduct the bargain for you, of course.) Just click on the links shown at the bottom of this column. Our order form page is certfied secure so you can leave credit digits safely, or, as we explain, you can just ask for an invoice and we’ll send a bill along with the package.
Some regular BookNotes reviews are longer; I love telling about important works that I’m convinced are worthy of your consideration. Today, I’m trying to be at least a little bit more brief, just alerting you to the features of these new titles. These books all deserve more attention than a shout out like this. Kudos to the publishers and, of course, the authors.
Broken: Restoring Trust Between the Sacred and the Secular Greg Fromholz (Abingdon) $16.99 There are layers and layers of things going on in this feisty, creative book although the umbrella rubric is trust. Trust between overly strict Christian folks and their disapproval of pop culture, and, yes, of overly secularized unchurched folks who are convinced the church is out to get them. But more than a passionate, artful, interesting call to overcome the growing disconnect – if not fully caused, at least made more intense – between religious folks that seem to want to play it safe, avoid risk, and keep the faith compartmentalized and out of deep engagement with the complexities of the modern world. Fromholz is an Irish video director and an interactive iPad book app (Liberate Eden.) He was friends with the late chaplain for U2 (Jack Heaslip) who gave the book a happy endorsement before he passed and other smart folks in the contemporary Christian music world (Martin Smith of delirious, Chris Llewellyn of the Rend Collective.) Blurbs here are vibrant and very positive – from the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin to Shane Claiborne, who says he has a gift for uniting people in “subversive friendships.” Fromholz is obviously a colorful character citing edgy films and The White album and Richard Mouw on Abraham Kuyper and Tom Waits and Ray Bradbury and Eugene Peterson and Keith Green.
Q founder Gabe Lyon declares that Broken: Restoring the Trust Between the Sacred and the Secular is “A must read for anyone called to work for cultural renewal.” Which is to say, maybe most of our BookNotes subscribers.
Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church Roger Olson (Abingdon) $19.99 Those that follow our BookNotes blog know that I believe the false division of life into “sacred and secular” (with roots in pagan Greek philosophers like Plato, not the Bible, and seen most grossly in the weirdness of Gnosticism) is one of the enduring heresies in 2000 years of church history. There has been much conversation about this in recent decades and the above book by Greg Fromholz is one such call to a restoration of the full-orbed, creation-based faith – “for the life of the world” as the popular DVD puts it. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, I also think that if we are going to pioneer and sustain a fully relevant 21st century faith that rejects sacred/secular dualism and regains a fully Biblical vision of creation regained, we will also have to be on guard about other slippery slopes that draw us into off-based theologies, oddball thinking and goofy formulations of faith that, even if advanced by well intended, serious seminarians or cynically adopted by hurting ex-evangelicals, are not going to sustain healthy, lasting, mere Christianity.
And so, from time to time, we should revisit the great theological debates of the past and ask if the distorted teachings that were once vigorously rejected by the broad, historic, community of faith are not threatening to plague us again. Obviously, we dare not be ungracious or closed-minded, and we certainly, surely, ought not to make matters that are not essential into divisive core teachings, as if we have to rigorously fight every little thing we disagree about. Still, we must understand “the persistence of errors” and work for “recognizable ecumenical orthodoxy.” Counterfeit Christianity is, as any book on this topic, informed by the author’s own understanding of theological orthodoxy and not everyone will fully agree with his take on these ancient debates and theological clarification, or his assessments of this or that contemporary writer, movement, or religious trend in today’s church. There are 10 chapters here, the first two foundational (“Why Study Heresy” and “What Is Orthodoxy?”) and then 8 on some specific wrong views of God and faith as they first arose and were evaluated, and how they may still be around today.
Two quick reminders: not all dumb thinking is ruinous, and not all theological error is heretical. True heresy about fundamental things, though, is dangerous and can undermine our faith and our churches and our work in the world. Each chapter of Counterfeit… has questions for individual or group study. Some of the early councils of the Church lasted years; you could certainly take a few weeks to bone up on similar matters. Dr. Olsen teaches theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.
There is also a DVD curriculum for this. It is five episodes. DVD + Participants Guide $39.99
Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $14.00 My life was significantly impacted when Dr. Peter J. Steen, a Dutch neo-Calvinist philosophy professor (who I mention in my chapter in Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life) gave to me in the mid-1970s Walter Brueggemann’s excellent book of Biblical scholarship, The Land. It was years later that I came to appreciate his Prophetic Imagination and came to know him and his passionate, insightful, broad teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps like you, you’d read Walt on almost anything, even if you may not completely agree (or even understand) all of his eloquent, nuanced, generative prose. And, perhaps like me, you, too, have been waiting for this book for a long, long time. In some ways, it is a brief follow-up to The Land, written for small group use, offered in light of the very tragic current events in the Middle East.
I suppose I don’t have to tell you that Brueggemann tilts left in his politics (recall his life-long immersion in the prophetic ethics of the post-exilic prophets and that shouldn’t be a surprise) and he is, naturally, very aware of the horrors inflicted upon the Palestinian people by a militarized and hard-right Israeli policy. He says repeatedly that Israel is under great duress and although some readers will want him to say this more often so while the book isn’t glib about the legitimate security concerns of the Jewish homeland, some will see the book as too pro-Palestinian.
Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun and author of Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy for Middle East Peace writes, ” Brueggemann has done a great service to the Jewish people and to all who rely on the Hebrew Bible as a guide to life by demonstrating in this book that there is no straight line between these ancient hoy texts and the oppression of the Palestinian people by an expansionist Zionist government in modern Israel.” Rabbi Lerner isn’t the only Jewish leader who has endorsed this thoughtful study.
That Israel is “God’s chosen people” is both a promise and a problem, he says, and the book offers ways to think through the way in which the Biblical texts and the theological traditions have understood this, and what implication it has for the land and politics of the Holy Land today.
There are four chapters, addressing the main questions people have regarding what the Bible says about this ongoing debate. A question-and-answer section in conversation with Brueggemann at the end supplements the main chapters (and could be itself a fifth week in an adult class or Bible study group. It is richly spoken and very interesting.) I Chosen? Reading the Bible… in one sitting – the print is large and includes only 59 pages of real text. The remaining 20 pages offer a glossary, a helpful class study guide, and a guideline document that had been created by the PC(USA) for respectful dialogue that may be helpful if your group is heated.
I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories and Scholarship edited by John Byron & Joel Lohr (Zondervan) $24.99 Wow, does this ever look fascinating. I suppose most BookNotes readers are aware that in the 20th century the story: there grew a huge divide between highly critical scholarship of the Bible which was developed in increasingly specialized academic circles, often subverting traditional faith of ordinary Christians who went off to mainline denominational seminaries or studied religion or Bible at liberal arts schools or state universities. In reaction, more traditionally minded, evangelical scholars increased their own robust scholarship, digging deep in the academic guilds, doing PhDs often in scholarly programs that were sometimes hostile to their own traditional positions. (Just think of something fairly simple – were there two or three writers of Isaiah, or just one? Are the opening chapters of Genesis to be read literally or literarily? Did the miracles really happen, or where they gussied up a bit by subsequent (re)writers of the scrolls and oral traditions that became the Bible as we now have it? And, significantly, are the accounts of Jesus’s bodily resurrection really reliable and therefore true?)
Fortunately, in my view, in the last few decades a younger generation of scholars in both camps have learned from one another. Some liberal divinity schools have thoughtful and well-trained evangelicals on staff, and some evangelical scholars share much with their critical, and sometimes ideologically unusually colleagues in the Society for Biblical Literature. Some evangelicals do remarkable scholarly work to bolster conventional views (think of D.A. Carson) and some have embraced more critical methods themselves (think of Peter Enns.) And many who find themselves in more mainline seminaries give often beautifully accounts of their innovative projects. Anyway, times now seem different then they did when there was this pretty strict modernist vs conservative battle for the Bible going on.
I suppose one doesn’t need to know much more about this century-old dilemma to appreciate why this book is so very, very exciting to see. This amazing paperback collects the testimonials of 18 different Bible scholars, each masterfully and poignantly telling their stories, explaining their work, and sharing their own faith journey. Is serious academic study of the Bible a threat to real faith? How do scholars in liberal or mainline institutions relate their own personal piety to their academic work?
Most of the contributors here are standout significant scholars in their fields, and for some, this is the first time they’ve publicly shared their own Christian testimony in this way. Here is what the description of I (Still) Believe promises:
Reflecting on their own experiences at the intersection of faith and serious academic study of the Bible, the essays are uncontrived. The stories are real. And the complexities and struggles they hold are laid bare.
Included are Richard Bauckham, Walter Brueggemann, Ellen Davis, James Dunn, Gordon Fee, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, John Goldingay, Donald Hagner, Morna Hooker, Edith Humphrey, Andrew Lincoln, Scot McKnight, J. Ramsey Michaels, Patrick Miller, Walter Moberly, Katharine Doob Sakenfield, Phyllis Trible, and Bruce Waltke.
As David deSilva of Ashland Theological Seminary says of I (Still) Believe,
A very important and salutary book for all who struggle holding the critical study of Scripture and a commitment to the apostolic faith together. These ‘heavy hitters’ in biblical studies, share how faith has been a driving force in their scholarship and how their scholarship has been formative for their faith and practice.
Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty, and Adventure – Right Where She Is Sarah Mae (Tyndale/Momentum) $15.99 Sarah Mae co-authored a good book on mothering that came out about a year ago called Desperate and we recently realized she was nearly a neighbor (she lives over in Lancaster County.) We were so impressed with an early reading copy of this new book that we hope to have her do an author event here someday soon! For now, you should know about how delightful a book Longing for Paris is. On the back cover it says it is “for anyone who has ever daydreamed of another life…” Although it is written mostly for women, I enjoyed it a lot. I’m hoping people pick it up.
Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search… is an antidote to the old (and quite common) “grass-is-greener” syndrome which can be truly debilitating – how many people can’t find contentment because of their idealized wishes about being someplace else, or somebody else. Mae adds some helpful, light cultural criticism here, examining the way we are often encouraged to be “romantic” and dream about places like Paris. We ache for something more than our mundane day-to-day lives and we dream of adventure and escape. (How about that Woody Allen book, Midnight in Paris? eh? She talks about it.) The glorious city of Lights is known for breath-taking beauty, inspiring art, exquisite food, philosophy, social change, charm, romance. Who doesn’t long for such rich, good, meaningful things?
I think this book is a light-hearted and artfully accessible exploration of the same sorts of things explored by philosophers like James K.A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom) and David Naugle (Reordered Loves, Reordered Lives) and the memoir Teach Us to Want: Longing Ambition and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel. Longing for Paris by Sarah Mae is a lovely book that examines our desires, the longing of our hearts, and wonders how we can not only be content in our daily and often pedestrian lives, but also how to imbued them with art and beauty in ways that, well, don’t entail an expensive once in a lifetime trip to Europe. (At the end of each chapter she gives some charming suggestions of things to do, making this a real guidebook to a more artful, local, contented, involved life.) Of course there is nothing wrong with going to Paris. But for most of us, we can’t afford that, and most likely never will. More importantly, we all need deep joy “right where you are.” Sarah Mae–who has experienced significant heartbreak and personal struggle (you’ll have to read the book yourself for this poignant drama and story of redemption) – shows us how. And she adds some great quotes along the way, including from Leif Enger’s novel Peace Like a River. I enjoyed this book. Maybe it will help you, too.
Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me: What My Favorite Book Taught Me Ab out Grace, Belonging, and the Orphan in Us All Lorilee Craker (Tyndale/ Momentum) $15.99 This is a beautiful memoir that unfolds a bit of the author’s story — yes, dealing with being an “orphan” and stuff around adoption – interspersed with lovely exploration of the insights and meaning of the beloved L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables novel published in the very early 1900s. Craker is a really good writer. Shauna Niequist says she “writes with both lightness and depth, and I found myself taken by all three stories -her’s, Phoebe’s, Anne’s. The beauty of her storytelling and the tenderness of the events she describes makes this a thoroughly rich reading experience.”
Our pal and great writer Margot Starbuck wrote one of the best adoption-related memoirs ever (The Girl in the Orange Dress) and I was glad to see that she endorsed it. Margot says “In this artful tapestry, Lorilee Cracker – consummate wordsmith – gifts readers with a beautifully woven journey into the human heart. For her tender vulnerability, creative insight, and beautiful sentences, I highly recommend Cracker’s moving memoir.”
I appreciate that Elisa Morgan, whose memoir was pretty amazing, given her own hare story, says
We are all enamored by the plight of orphans and gobble up their tales in the wide world of literature. Perhaps we see ourselves – our fears of abandonment and creases of inadequacy – in their stories. Gently and with honest vulnerability, Lorilee Craker weaves the universal discoveries of orphan Anne into her own very personal story of being an orphan of adopting one. Open the cover. Turn the pages. You’ll come out the other end glad for the read and deepened by the journey.
Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send J.D. Greear (Zondervan) $19.99 This looks similar to any number of recent books on being a missional church, “outwardly focused” congregational health, and how a vision of Kingdom service is the key to vibrant, revitalized church. It is about being a “disciple-making church” and reminds us that being “gospel centered” is the ground from which our proclamation of grace and service must grow. Unlike most missional books (that explore “staying” and witnessing amidst secularized North American culture) this new hardback book invites us to re-capture (or develop, if it not in your congregation’s DNA) a mission of global church planting and deepening our missionary agenda as a sending church. This is a major point and it is clear that Greear’s church (Summit Church Raleigh-Durham, NC) has learned the art of “sending” and therefore many of the chief leaders, workers, (and givers!) of his congregation leave – on purpose, of course! Gaining By Losing will surely deepen our trust in God if we dismiss our best folks, and it could reignite a deeper desire to be faithful, risky, even in counter-intuitive ways. It is on my “read soon” list, and for those of you who are in congregational leadership positions, it maybe should be on yours, too.
Thom Rainer is a writer who has done good work himself on congregational health, and he has researched and consulted with hundreds of churches, so his endorsement means a lot.
Thom Rainer says,
Wow! I just finished reading Gaining By Losing. I rarely finish a book and feel like it took my breath away. This book by J.D. Greer is nothing short of incredible. It’s just that powerful.
The Holy Spirit Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon (Abingdon) $13.99 Holy smokes, it has been a while since Hauerwas & Willimon have collaborated like this. Just this year a 20th anniversary edition of Resident Aliens was released which reminded many of how important this duo have been, not only in their more academic works, but in these small guides to lively Christian living. I was really thrilled to learn this was coming, and glad we just got it in.
There are only four chapters here and I’m sure it would make a profitable study for groups or classes. (Oddly, there is no study guide or reflection questions.) The first chapter is called “The Trinity” (and includes, happily, a picture of the famous Andrei Rublev icon.) The next chapters are “Pentecost: The Birth of the Church”, “Holiness: Life in the Spirit” and “Last Things.” Just under 100 pages, with fairly large type and some handsome pull quotes, this is a fine little paperback.
As Luke Powery (Dean of the Chapel at Duke Divinity School) colorfully notes,
When these two longtime theologian-friends and disciples of Jesus gather in a room to write, you can be sure that you will hear a sound of a rushing mighty wind, feel the heat of holy fire, and be ignited by dynamite on the page as you read. This is literary bread from heaven fed to you by anointed servants of the Holy Spirit. Take, eat, and be filled with the Spirit of Christ.
Post Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing Reba Riley (Howard) $24.99 There aren’t too many Christian books that hold a bright endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert, who writes that it is “hilarious, courageous, provocative, profound.” She continues, “If the Pray in Eat, Pray, Love had a gutsy, wise, funny little sister who’d never been to India, it would be Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.”
Here’s the deal: Reba Riley was some kind of evangelical poster child, apparently, and, I suppose for understandable reasons given her branch of fundy faith and a devastating chronic illness, she concludes she should explore other faiths and their particular practices. There is some planning, some tongue in cheek exploration as she prepares for a project of immersion journalism – always a good time, if you ask me — and some genuine searching for answers, at least a la A.J. Jacobs, say. On her 29th birthday Riley decides to try out “30 religions before 30.)
Devout practitioners will be horrified, naturally, by any sense that one can “try out” a religion in such a perfunctory, quick way, but as a fun story that at least approximates a spiritual search, and a playful way to recover from some post traumatic church stress, this adventure could be a great read. You may recall that I loved the (admittedly flawed, for similar reasons) Man Seeks God book by the amazing Eric Weiner (who also wrote The Geography of Bliss, and has another coming late this fall, The Geography of Genius, but I digress.) If Post Traumatic Church Syndrome’s adventure is even close to that, I’m going to enjoy it a lot. That Riley was once an evangelical, and that this is being co- published simultaneously by two religious presses (Howard and Chalice) may make it more significant for some of us then Weiner or Jacobs.
Here is some of what is promised in bullet points on the dust jacket: Ms. Riley was interrogated by Amish grandmothers about her sex life, she danced the disco in a Buddhist temple, went to church in virtual reality, a move theater, a drive-in bar and a basement, fasted for 30 days, washed her lady parts in a mosque bathroom, was audited by Scientologists, learned to meditate with an urban monk, sucked mud in a sweat lodge and snuck into Yom Kippur with a fake grandpa in tow.
As A.J. Jacobs writes “whatever your beliefs or lack thereof… you should read this moving, funny, thoughtful book.” Another gentle writer says it is “an audacious rampage through religious sensibility” and yet another says it is “beautifully written, exceedingly funny and refreshingly honest.” You know you are curious, eh?
Rising Strong: The Reckoning, the Ruble, the Revolution Brene Brown (Spiegel & Grau) $27.00 One of the biggest best-sellers of the last few years was the astounding Dare Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Parent and Lead by the social psychologist, research professor and TED talk guru. (Brown’s 2010 Tedx Houston talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the top five most-watched Ted talks worldwide!) As with many TED talkers, Brene Brown has a remarkable ability to combine science and storyteller, her scholarship offered in truly interesting, motivational presentations. She is also the CEO of The Daring Way, an organization that brings her work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness to organizations, schools, business, communities, families. Her study of this topic helped lead her back to Christian faith, which makes her even more interesting as a renowned public intellectual. Rising Strong is the eagerly-anticipated follow up to Daring Greatly which, in turn, developed from her work such as The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me.
I love the R words in the subtitle — The Recovery, The Rumble, The Revolution — but this line explains better just what she means: “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.”
Brown continues, in large, lovely type on the back cover,
The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences including the falls.
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