ON SALE: The 7 Best New Books for Faith Formation for the Summer of 2015

We’ve so enjoyed recent conversations with customers and doing our mail order shipments these last weeks, with so many good books to talk about, books about the arts, the history of alternative music, even on about living more authentically in a mass marketed culture by learning about bread, coffee, chocolate, and beer. We’ve promoted books about the renewal of culture and the reformation of society, titles to help as we forge a faithful presence in the world, for our neighbor’s good and for God’s glory, books about theologians like Abraham Kuyper and by activists like Bryan Stevenson, books on civic life by our Pittsburgh Summer Lecture speaker, Vincent Bacote, and – in a flurry of delicious book discussion last week – the debut of Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchman, which led to another list I made of interesting novels of similar tone and insight.  What joy to know that people still get excited about books, and what a privilege to be able to suggest resources for today’s readers.  We’re grateful for those who send orders our way or who forward our reviews around to their friends, church-members or family.

For this post I would like to list what I have concluded are the top 7 books on spiritual formation that have been released this season.  I’m stretching the phrase “this summer” just a bit, since a few of these released in the Spring, but they are each reaching their audience mostly here in the summer of 2015.  I review a lot of these kinds of books and there are some great ones that are about growing as a Christian that are easy and upbeat and motivational, but these – for those who are serious about allowing God’s grace to transform their souls – are the very best I’ve seen this season.

Divided- When the Head and Heart Don't Agree.jpgDivided: When the Head and Heart Don’t Agree Bill Delvaux (Refraction/Nelson) $14.99  I don’t always know what to do with books like this.  It is part of a series with whimsical covers that don’t capture their intensity or substantive wisdom.  Like many contemporary religious books these days they are casual, upbeat, but honest to the point of being raw. These kind of new religious books include lots of intense storytelling and honest advice for growing Christians. Many are written by people in congregations or parachurch organizations that are pressing hard after God, earnest and passionate, eager to see what it looks like to actually be formed in the ways of Christ, and follow Him into the struggles of the daily.  Some in more conventional congregations may be put off by the intense language about Christian growth, and those with a more flowery spirituality may not appreciate the messiness and vulnerability.  Anyway, there are a lot of these kinds of invitations to deeper Christian living that I like.  The ones in this series of books are all about discipleship, starting with a very solid guide to being a follower of Jesus (by Richard Parrot) called The Reluctant Journey and another by Ginny Owens (the blind Christian pop singer whose beautiful music you may know) entitled Transcending Mysteries: Who Is God and What Does He Want From Us?  A new one in this “Refraction” series just came out with the intriguing title Spent Matches: Igniting the Signal Fire for the Spiritually Dissatisfied by Roy Moran – it looks very dynamic and motivational, but realistic about those who are spiritually hurting.  (The next in the series will be called Slow to Judge: Sometimes It’s Okay to Listen.) 

The one I’m listing here, as a key book for being formed in deeper Christian discipleship this summer, is a captivating, honest look at what happens when we pretend, when we act like we’re more spiritual then we are.  Or, as the subtitle puts it, when our head and our heart don’t agree.  We have all heard the line about what a great distance there is between the head and the heart, reminding us of the near universal problem of saying we understand something, even as we fail to do it.  I know this is a huge problem for me, although I suspect most of us struggle, in small and big ways, with this whole application bit, doing what we know.   Failing to live in to and embody the wisdom we claim to know is a particular problem for those of us who read a lot, who teach or preach, who seem to be articulate about theology or casting vision for mission and service.  So this book will help us bridge the gap between what we say we know and what we really do.

Perhaps more profound than a call to just live what we believe, do what we claim to be right, this is a story about overcoming the split between our statements about God and our experience of God and is a book which reminds us to be honest about the complexities and anguish of all that.  Delvaux (who graduated from Duke, by the way, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) writes that “I saw clearly for the first time the deep divide in me. But what made it even more disturbing was this: I had no idea what to do about it.”  

In this sense, Divided is a call to resist hypocrisy and to bravely be real about our foibles and fears, sans masks, and it reminds me of books like Abbas Child by Brennan Manning or some of the remarkable work on shame authored by Dan Allender.  Maybe it is a bit like the recent reflections on the search for the true self (think of Richard Rohr) or even some of what is so appreciated in the writing by John Eldridge.  Delvaux knows that God’s grace can set us free to be who were are, and to become who we are meant to be. Like Brennan Manning and the others, he’s a great storyteller, too, and seems to hold back little, being transparent about his own divided life.

The book is arranged in three parts. We start “Viewing the Divide” (where he fearlessly invites us to “survey the wreckage”) and then we start “Tackling the Divide” – the subtitle of that section includes “Three Terrains to Navigate.” (This part includes chapters on Surfacing, Listening, and Telling.) Thirdly comes “Closing the Divide: What the Journey Feels Like” in which he reports and warns us about The Descent and The Ascent.  

There are thought-provoking questions for spiritual conversation and reflection making this a good book to work through with a soul friend.  There are prayers offered for each stage of your spiritual journey (although be prepared, they are not eloquent stained glassed ones, but gritty and candid.)  He quotes lots of interesting sources, from Augustine, Dostoevsky, Tolkien and the like to Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson (author of a book about neurobiology called Anatomy of the Soul) and any number of fascinating movie quotes. Divided: When the Head and Heart Don’t Agree is not an entryway to contemplative monasticism nor does it speak in grandiose terms about the experience of spiritual bliss as one sits in solitude before God.  Rather, it is a candid bit of evangelical teaching, helping us see that God’s acceptance of us in Christ can be transforming, and that we can, in the words of Scotty Smith, “see and voice our own stories of disintegration and respond to the Father who pursues and welcomes, heals and liberates broken people just like me.” Smith continues about Delvaux and his book by saying “I am so grateful for my friend’s life and his insight into the ways of the heart and the riches of God’s grace.”  And that is where spiritual formation must begin: our own heart and God’s good grace.

Prayer- Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.jpgPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God Timothy
Keller (Dutton) $26.95  We announced this when it first came out last winter — admittedly, tt is not really a Summer release, but it seems it is just now hitting its stride, and not a few folks are just now asking about it. We
have been glad for such a serious-minded, clear-headed, Biblically-sound
study written by such a reliable and thoughtful Presbyterian voice. 
Keller is certainly one of the very few who could be compared to C.S.
Lewis today, with a prodigious output of well written books, books that
are informed by older classics and contemporary literature.  Keller, a
Manhattan pastor, is a bit of a social critic and an artful
communicator, using imagination and reason to persuade many that a
gospel-centered life is the only viable alternative to the secularist
quandaries.  So, it is good to see him writing about something as
intimate and awe-some as prayer.   The first two chapters are offered
under a section called “Desiring Prayer” (its necessity and greatness)
and the next several are on “Understanding Prayer” (what it is and what
it is not – encountering and conversing with God!) while the third
section is called “Learning Prayer.”   Part Four offers guidance on
“Deepening Prayer” and is very, very good, rich, almost mystical
spirituality.  Part Five includes four practical chapters: “Awe:
Praising His Glory”, “Intimacy: Finding His Grace”, “Struggle: Asking
for Help” and “Practice: Daily Prayer.”  There is a useful appendix and
an annotated reading list, heavy on the Puritans and other meaty
writers, and anyone building a library of books on prayer will find that
alone very, very valuable. 

Keller’s Prayer is a well-organized, intellectually
stimulating but ultimately practical book, full of very important
wisdom.  Agree or not with all of it, he is a master at presenting
solid, orthodox counsel about the most urgent matters, from reordering
our loves to knowing God’s character to opening ourselves to the
“unimaginable things God has for us.”   Prayer is, Keller reminds us
“the way we finally treat God as God.”  Wow.
  You should find some quiet time here in your summer schedule and work through this very valuable book.

Spirituality of Gratitude- The Unexpected Blessings of Thankfulness.jpgSpirituality of Gratitude: The Unexpected Blessings of Thankfulness Joshua Choonmin Kang (formation/IVP) $16.00  Besides having such a very lovely cover, and the author having written popular books extolled by Richard Foster (Deep-Rooted in Christ and Scripture by Heart) I wanted to read this book because I know I needed it.  I have skimmed a few books on this topic and know two or three things, at least: I am not as grateful as I ought to be, and the happy “stop and smell the roses” reminders don’t cut it. I feel desperate sometimes, about my own life and our business and the world in which we live, and can even stupidly resent those whose lives seem to be rosier then my own.  No superficial reminder to count one’s blessings will do.  In a fallen and broken world, with our own hurt and demands, how do we nurture the spiritual graces to be people of gratitude?  If it “springs up from within” as Kang says, how does that happen?   I need a book that is less a self-help manual or an upbeat call to positivity and more like classic spiritual formation.  Rev. Kang brings it, in a nice blend of Bible reflection, searingly honest ruminations from his own life, and, yes, a bit of upbeat reminders to stop and enjoy the little things.  Because he has written candidly about his own desperate times, and his own struggles, when he gets to the simple reminders about the simple stuff, he has earned the right to say such things, because he made it clear this isn’t simple or cliched or formulaic.

So, there it is, a feature that sets this book a part.  He wrote it during a very dark time in his life, and he starts with some very moving ruminations on some surprising sources of grace.  Part One, in fact, includes short reflections on the grace of endurance, descending, isolation, humility and even brokenness.  As a Korean pastor, he draws from time to time on ancient wisdom from Asian culture, and there is this very profound wisdom tradition going on in his illustrations: he talks about old trees and dying seeds and a Korean novel that shows that true beauty comes from an ache of the heart.  In each short chapter he draws on fascinating sources, including Asian folk takes or spiritual writers, but most are still Western — his Bible exegesis flows into discussions of Karl Menninger or Rollo May, underscored with a poem by Emily Dickinson or a reflection from Henri Nouwen or a scene from Pilgrim’s Progress. The chapters in Spirituality of Gratitude are essentially short readings or homilies helping us nurture the art of thankfulness.  “Gratitude heals us and holds us, tethering us to one another,” he writes.  Gratitude “offers us joy and strength.” 

This book includes 52 chapters which can be read in a weekly Sabbath or as a daily devotional. It really does emerge from the author’s own hard times, and his own realization that learning gratitude was something he needed to keep himself from sliding downward into bitterness.  

What is so very interesting (and helpful to me personally, as I said) is how some of the chapters are quite intense, and lay a profound foundation of what a life-with-God is like, especially in a world marred by pain and struggle.  He looks at how to be thankful even for hardships and although he is not glib, some of it is challenging, exhorting us to find the grace of gratitude.  I’ve meditated on some of his good lines, and I trust his wisdom.  But yet, some of this is just lovely, pleasant stuff — how to appreciate good books, to appreciate God’s glory seen in creation, thoughtful admonitions to slow down, to pay attention, to be glad for simple pleasures. He has a slight sense of humor.  I like  both his grit and the grace and appreciate his frank and at times common sense clarity about small things. Emilie Griffin says it is “a powerful invitation to wonder, beauty, and the mysterious grace of God.” 

The Cultivated Life- From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy.jpgThe Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy Susan S. Phillips (formation/IVP) $17.00  This is one of the lead titles from InterVarsity Press this season, and, as such, it deserves to be read. They offer consistently good books and their formation line includes some of the premier writers about formation these days – and this is one of the very best of their summer list.  Susan Phillips has a PhD from U.C. Berkeley in sociology, is a director of the wonderful New College of Berkeley (New College is an affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union) and is involved in First Presbyterian there. She has taught courses on spiritual formation at Regent College in Vancouver, at Fuller Theological Seminary and at San Francisco Theological Seminary, so she has much experience in helping others move deeper into a life of spiritual sanity. Philips has written a previous book on spiritual direction, published by Morehouse, called Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction which is excellent and often recommended. I am confident that this new one will be considered one of the best books of the year, certainly within the genre of books about spirituality. The Cultivated Life is excellent, mature, inspiring and very helpful.  It really deserves to be well known and widely read.

Eugene Peterson has a glowing, glowing foreword which itself is quite substantial.  Peterson, as you may know, does not care for the frivolous or trendy, and relies on older sources, literary and spiritual classics, and affirms those who are profound thinkers, good writers, with down-to-Earth sensibilities as they invite people into Kingdom living. Peterson writes, “This is a book written specifically for those of us who are… developing an imagination for living the Christian faith with insight and skill in and for a society that is disconnected from the biblical revelation and the Jesus incarnation.”  He is setting up an introduction to her book by noting that she writes about the “circus” of our cultural landscape, and how our own lives must be cultivate in ways different then, counter to these crazy times.  Her introduction, drawing on T.S. Eliot, stories of the Dalit/untouchable class in India, and a study of what she calls circus culture is called “Leaving the Circus” and it is really, really good.  She contrasts the circus, by the way, with a “garden” which connotes lush abundance, joy, and rest; a very evocative metaphor, for sure. 

Her first chapter, then, is called The Way of Cultivation and she offers “holy mixed metaphors” as we learn “the way” of the spiritual life.  Although it is not academic or complex, she has a short Bible study to illuminate the way narratives inform us.  This is good stuff!  There are some nice reflection questions, too, making this a very useful resource.  

Here are the titles of the provocative, insightful, and well-written chapters:

Finding and Receiving Refreshments

Listening as a Way of Receiving Cultivation


Sabbath Keeping

Cultivating Attention

Praying with Scripture

Cultivating Attachment

Spiritual Direction

Rooted and Grounded by Friendship

Practicing Friendship

Bearing Fruit and Enriching the Soil

Living Toward Completion

Space and time does not allow me to explain the richness of all of this guidance found in this 250 page paperback  – I myself am reading it slowly, savoring and reflecting on it, so I’m not finished with it myself.  There is a good Appendix, too, by the way, offer “Guidelines” for many of the core practices (Contemplative Listening, Lectio Divina, Sabbath Living, finding a spiritual director, etc.) which is very helpful. The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy really is a rich, thoughtful resource.

Mark Labberton writes,

Susan Phillips can write this book because she lives it. For three decades and more, I have observed the choices she makes to cultivate life and this has been the hallmark of her story. This book is a deep and magnanimous invitation to live in such a way that the flourishing for which we are made can become our experience.

Phyllis Tickle- Essential Spiritual Writings.jpgPhyllis Tickle: Essential Spiritual Writings Selected with an Introduction by Jon M. Sweeny (Orbis) $22.00   Orbis Books, the storied publishing arm of the Maryknoll Fathers and Mothers, have a quite large series of books, bearing uniform covers, called their “Modern Spiritual Masters Series.”  We are glad to stock them all as they each offer excellent introductions to the author being celebrated and they curate some of the best writings of this person, arranging them with helpful comments along the way.  In most of them, and certainly in this brand new one inducting Phyllis Tickle into their series, they offer some of the quintessential pieces by the spiritual writers, but also some which are lesser known.  These readers offer excellent introductions to very important figures, excerpting primary source material, framing the essays or excerpts in teacherly ways.  Any that I’ve dipped in to have been very well arranged, informative, and rewarding. Although they tip towards the liberal/activist Catholic stream of faith, the series is surprisingly varied.  From the essential writings of Oscar Romero to Gustavo Gutierrez, from Daniel Berrigan to Joan Chittister, the liberationist concerns of the Maryknolls are evident.  But many of these anthologies are of writers who are less public in their social ethics and stand in the more contemplative tradition (from the solid Orthodox leader Metropolitan Anthony to Anthony de Mello to Evelyn Underhill, just for instance.)  This large series includes older, classic spiritual writers (St. Therese of Lisieux, Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths) and others who not known as monastics, but wrote lively mystical materials (Rufus Jones, Edith Stein, Howard Thurman.)  I could go on and on about the lovely volumes of spiritual writers such as Henri Nouwen, Clarence Jordon, Flannery O’Connor, Jean Vanier) and giants such as Chesterton and Tolstoy, and others such as Thoreau, Muir, Gandhi.

I note all this to show that this collection of works by Phyllis Tickle is one that is not a minor tribute or a one-off volume, but a well-deserved and major addition to an esteemed series.  Sweeney did an extraordinary job editing all this, collecting it, introducing the pieces; his astute insights about her life, her faith journey, and her body of work, is just what is needed to help us understand the significance of this splendid, feisty, enjoyable, and thought-provoking contemporary writer.  He knows her stuff so well that he can even weigh in on the meaning of this poem or that, or introduce a long out-of-print essay by explaining its original poignancy.  He highlights a number of Phyllis’s older pieces (making this simply a must-have volume for her recent fans) and lifts good excerpts from both her lesser-known volumes and her most popular books, including her books on prayer and her recent studies of the emergent movement.  I really like Phyllis as a person, and I enjoy and value her as a writer.  Anyone who appreciates the diversity of religious publishing houses and curious writing projects that developed in the last decades of the last century and into the new millennium owes much to her for her efforts (most notably within Publisher’s Weekly as the first religious editor/reviewer in that important organ of the industry.) She has been kind to us, and we have been stimulated by her work. We have promoted the book released a year or so ago in her honor, Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future published by Paraclete Press.  She’s a fine wordsmith, an provocative thinker, and a deeply spiritual woman.

This new paperback anthology, Phyllis Tickle: Essential Spiritual Writings will help keep you thinking, bring joy to your heart as you see how she has ruminated on her own life, from a farm in Tennessee to the world’s most prestigious locations, from broad-minded interfaith discussions to her current involvement in an evangelical “Acts 29” congregation, and you will learn about essential practices such as silence, prayer, ecumenicity, generosity, curiosity, and more.

I enjoy Barbara Brown Taylor’s tribute to her found on the back of the books.  And I agree.  

Phyllis Tickle brings so many gifts to the table that it is sometimes hard to believe there is only one heartbeat behind them all. She is a seer, a scholar, a spiritual guide, a literary and cultural savant, a walking encyclopedia, and a mentor to more people than there are seconds in the day. Above all, she is a faithful lover of God and all to whom that love relates her. Reading her is second best to knowing her, but read her you must.

Sacred Sense- Discovering the Wonder of God's Word and World.jpgSacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World William Brown (Eerdmans) $22.00  I wasn’t sure if I should list this on a book about Christian formation, since many customers seem to want books about prayer, quiet time, solitude, spiritual disciplines and the like, at least on a list about inner spiritual growth.  Surely, this is a list mostly about resources for our interior lives, so I appreciate the emphasis.  Yet, it is true that Christian spirituality is always at its best rooted in the Bible, and our formation in the ways of Christ are shaped by our knowledge of God’s ways revealed to us in the Scriptures.  This book, then, is a fabulous guide for just such a project, although, again, it may not seem so at first. It is not about lectio divina or exercises about “praying the Scriptures.”  It is, rather, a handful of long and at times demanding Bible studies about the topic of awe. About wonder. Dr. Brown is a renowned Old Testament scholar who has written several very important books on the wisdom literature, and, even the relationship of the wisdom literature in the Bible and modern science. (See his impressive Oxford University Press hardback, Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder.)    

Here, though, he is not doing super-scholarly exegesis, but more playful and wide-ranging meditations, essays on wonder in various Biblical texts.  Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World is a collection of Bible reflections, by a seminary prof and Old Testament scholar, coupled with meditations on the glory of being alive, and how God is present in it all.

Frances Taylor Gench of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia says,

Scripture, for Bill Brown, is a living word and source of transforming wonder. In this breathtaking volume he guides readers through an expansive biblical landscape ranging from creation to new creation and evoking a sense of wonder about God, the world, and our humanity. This is one of those rare books that gladden the heart, mind, and imagination.

Other rave reviews come from Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School (“eye-opening and occasionally jaw-dropping”) and Walter Brueggemann, and even the memoirist and nature writer, Terry Tempest Williams. 

But listen to what Steven Bouma-Prediger of Hope College says,

Erudite and down-to-earth, serious and funny, full of deep insights written in sparkling prose, William Brown’s Sacred Sense is a timely exploration of wonder in the Bible and in the world. Indeed, these insightful meditations on seventeen biblical texts – from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 – cultivate an appetite for wonder. May this excellent book find a multitude of readers.

You see why I list this as a great resource for transformational Christian formation, even for developing one’s personal spirituality? As Bouma-Prediger puts it, this book can “cultivate an appetite for wonder.”  If this book can help you be more mature in Biblical interpretation, helping you develop an eye for God’s great work and how that can lead us to wonder, and if that Biblical worldview helps you see wonder all around, well… yes!

Joy in the Journey- Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death.jpgJoy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death Steve & Sharol Hayner (IVP) $16.00  Where to begin to explain the significance of this handsome, small hardback, and why it matters?  How does the memoir of a dying saint, one known for signing his emails “joyfully” help us all?  I admit I’ve met the late Steve Hayner a time or two and care deeply about some of the organizations he has served (including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and, in the last years of his life, Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, where he served as President.) But whether you had the great privilege of knowing this extraordinary, joyful Christian leader or not, and whether you are particularly interested in a memoir of death and dying or not, let me tell you: this is a book about faith formation, about daily discipleship, about learning to live well as a Christ-follower in families, organizations, among friends scattered; it is about faith and hope and trust and goodness. and, yes, joy in the journey.

As a nationally known evangelical para-church leader who later served as an administrator at a Christian university, became an ordained pastor (serving for a while a mostly black church) who surprisingly became a professor at a mainline denominational seminary, where he eventually became President, the story of Hayner’s life and ministry is itself a noteworthy one.  (I wish I knew more about his move to Columbia, where he became colleagues with the likes of Elizabeth Johnson, Marcia Riggs, or Walt Brueggemann.) As Mark Labberton writes in his must-read, exceptionally moving introduction, Hayner mentored many individuals over the years, staying in close touch, involved in life-giving friendships with many, even as he served in demanding positions on the Boards of Fuller Theological Seminary, World Vision, and the anti-trafficking organization, the International Justice Mission.  His wholistic view of faith – embracing growth in theology, spirituality, multi-ethnic ministry, social concerns and public justice work, was exemplary, and he helped other live into that vision.  “He wanted,” in just one of the beautiful phrases in Labberton’s piece, drawn from The Message paraphrase of Psalm 31:8, “others…to have the room to breathe fully human lives, made in the image of God.”

To be clear, this book is made up mostly of personal reports and spiritual journaling from a public diary Steve and his wife Sharol kept on the CaringBridge website, chronicling their faith journey as Steve was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over Easter weekend of 2014 until his death, in his mid-60s, on January 31, 2015.  There is included of a bit of contextual medical background, offered before most entries, and a handful of sidebars by other folks, letters they wrote to Steve or Sharol, or observations offers along the way.  The entries unfold like a fast-moving tragedy, but yet — and this is why this is such a very good book to read — Steve and Sharol both have an ability to ruminate on their lives in ways that reveal their spiritual disciplines and dispositions, framing their hardships by the very things they believed most deeply; they share their own reflections upon Bible verses or passage or Psalms that helped them, and they are honest about their prayers and hopes and struggles.

These entries are excruciatingly intimate at times, and exceptionally admirable. They are not idealized or over-spiritualized, but they are grounded so well in a well-lived faith. I know — and the diary entries reveal — that they are ordinary people, in many ways like any of us. (Steve himself wrote how grumpy and petty he was with his grandchildren during what he knew would be their last Christmas together, a mundane admission that nearly brought me to tears with the disappointing ordinariness of it.)  Still, I have never read anything so wonderful about approaching death with joy and trust.  As Steve signs off near the very end, noting that he is under hospice care, then, he still looks forward to living into joy.  

After Steve’s death there was, of course, a large outpouring of support, and the memorial service was a tribute to the resurrection power only Christ can bring. The entries in this epilogue are from his family, mostly, and remind us all of the beauty of a life well lived, of the quiet habits of a man committed to God’s reign, who served the church and the world, and who had mature and lovely relationships with family and friends.  Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I cannot commend it to you enough.

As good as these diary-type entries are, listening in to the real-time reflections of a couple struggling with tragic illness, the evils of cancer, the quandaries of medical care, their professional obligations and their extended family, their marriage, their prayer lives, and eventually Steve’s death, I want to also note that the two introductions that open the volume are themselves worth the price of the book. 

Mark Labberton was influenced profoundly by Hayner as an undergrad as Steve was his campus minister.  Their lives unfolded similarly, and Steve continue to be a mentor and friend to Labberton (even as Mark, arguably, became more famous as an author and the President of Fuller, one of the worlds largest and most diverse seminaries.) They remained life-long friends, so much so that Mark could report about Steve’s deepest desires – and how he understood that joy was deeply connected to “that wide place of God’s grace.”  Labberton honors Steve well in this reflection and it is nothing short of stunning. Oh, how I wish for all of us to have friends, friends like Labberton was to Steve, able to tell about his strengths, his gifts, his faithfulness.  From Mark’s tribute you can see how well he knew Steve and Sharol, and his testimony is inspiring. But – ahh, here it is – Labberton could only report all this stuff about Steve because Steve was that kind of friend to him.  To realize the power and blessing of life-long friendship seen in that preface is a gentle but clear reminder to us all: who do have in this life that shares our faith journey and knows us so well?

Another person that was one of Steve’s best friends was the African American leader Alex Gee.  It was Gee who invited Steve to become his associate pastor, in part, because he wanted Steve to understand the emotional toll of being a minority leader, not only so he could more experientially understand cross cultural ministry, but so that Steve could more deeply understand what his friend Alex – a black man who often spoke and ministered in largely white settings – goes through in such complicated situations. Steve said yes to this surprising arrangement, which illustrates much about Steve’s adventuresome faithfulness, but also how loyal he was to his friends and co-workers in gospel ministry. This and a few other anecdotes from Gee really are helpful in helping us care about Hayner and his wife, before we even start the first page of their diaries.

Again, this short foreword by Gee, about Steve, is exceptionally inspiring, and I think it makes this book an even greater resource for your own spiritual formation.  Don’t you want to be the kind of person about which these things could be said of you? Don’t we often make fresh commitments to new sorts of spiritual practices or goals or hopes for ourselves as we look at others whom we admire? (“Follow my example as I follow Christ,” the apostle Paul said more than once!) So, in this book, Hayner’s own diary tells the story, but these two introductory pieces serving as brief tributes, the testimonials offered by Labberton and Gee, will inspire you to want serve well, living with authenticity and joy. 

As Gee writes, wisely – putting into words exactly why I am listing this as one of the best books to read this for faith formation,

After walking with Steve in his final months, I am considering where his life challenges mine. Where is God calling me to invest my time and energy? I’m asking what and who I need in life in order to face death with hope, joy, and confidence.  What changes do I need to make today in order to finish well? As you journey with Steve and Sharol in the following pages, how will you answer these questions?



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