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What a whirlwind month it’s been here: my aging mom has moved to an assisted living place, we’ve battled repeatedly with a despised insurance company, we’ve not made a dent in unpacking book boxes from the huge Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, and I just returned from a fabulous trip to speak (about faith and books and reading) at the National Student Leadership Conference at Taylor University in the alluringly flat state of Indiana. I have shed more than a few tears these past weeks, but the glory of Jubilee and the NSLC have been gifts to me. I am glad about things, even as many of us ponder what it the world is happening in our civic life with the awful state of political discourse.
At Taylor U. I met some very sharp students, some very admirable faculty, a few author acquaintances who it was nice to see again, and several authors I can now call new friends. It is so encouraging to know that there are strong, careful, Christian voices and young followers of Christ who want to express good faith in the public square. How good it was that Taylor brought in such fine authors and speakers. Maybe you saw my twitter pictures of Daniel White Hodge (The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology), Mandy Smith (The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry), Lisa McMinn (To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming and Community), Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies), J.R. Briggs (Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure), Helen Lee (The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World), Chris Smith (Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus), and others. This small evangelical college in middle Indiana is nurturing students to think deeply about life and culture, how to take up their callings in the world with faithfulness and courage, and to serve church and society in the name of Jesus. Like the CCO’s Jubilee, Taylor’s NSLC has been going on for decades and has hosted some of the most renowned religious leaders of our time. What an honor to get to play a small part in these things God is doing among rising generations.
It strikes me over and over, but especially at these big events, that books connect us, that we have some mutually shared vocabulary as we read together, as we listen well to each other’s influences, and to the way nonfiction authors as well as poets and novelists, some of them nearly prophetic in their wise analysis of faith and life, have left their fingerprints upon us, coloring in big or small ways how we think about life and how we talk about things that matter.
Thank you for joining this far-flung reading community, being a part of the on-going conversations, even of breaking down old walls (oh, between, just for instance) mainline denominational church folks and para-church ministries, between liturgical traditions and more free-spirited charismatics, between progressives and missionals and evangelicals. Jubilee and the Taylor University events both bore witness to ethnic, racial diversity, with women and men from a variety of faith traditions pointing us towards a generous orthodoxy and inviting lived practices that are informed by Biblical and theological reflection and not civil religion or old school dogma. (Above picture taken at Jubilee 2016 by Andrew Rush.)
These folks are embodying the adage “readers become leaders” and are leading the way towards helpful, fruitful ways to live our faith and create signposts of God’s coming Kingdom. It’s a great story and project to be a part of and we think our bookstore is maybe playing a little role in it all. And that means you are too, whenever you order books from us or pass on our reviews and BookNotes columns.
We hope you keep in mind this big, good story of God’s redemptive work in the world as you order and read and enjoy books, allowing them to work their magic, seeing them as tools for transformation, facilitating growth in wise and faithful living.
GOOD FAITH LIVING
First I will describe Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme, a fine new book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, two friends that help us continue this journey towards a public faith that is Biblically faithful and lived out with healthy relevance. Then, I’ll name some other books that strike me as very important these days, illustrating how robust faith can inform significant conversations about embodying faith in our current social situation. Perhaps these (a few brand new, a few older) would help you follow up the broad framework and practical ideas offered in Good Faith and the Q Ideas events where it was recently launched.
Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons (Baker Books) $19.99
Perhaps you know of the very popular, excellent, classy events called Q (a national gathering) and the localized Q Commons events, each masterminded by the good folks at Q Ideas. (Their tag line is Stay Curious. Think Well. Advance Good.) We have stocked DVD presentations of older national Q gatherings (I described them here and here) and have promoted books by their founder Gabe Lyons. Q Ideas is a remarkable example of a contextualized, thoughtful, generous, evangelical, movement that invites dialogue about public theology and living well in our times. Exploring their website is always time well spent and their TED talk-like presentations they share there are fantastic. You can see Gabe’s short talk from Friday night at Jubilee here, too, where he introduced this brand new book to the world. His co-author, the Barna Group President David Kinnaman, also presented at Jubilee and the CCO will post his good talk at the Jubilee website soon. David quipped that “spread sheets are my love language.” He knows his stuff and his passion to share research and data and trends in up-to-date info-graphics inspired him to curate the popular Frames booklets. We’ve promoted them often and commend them as useful little tools about topics people are known to care about.
We were so pleased to promote this new Good Faith book early on that we invited Hearts & Minds customers to pre-order it from us; my earlier brief review was based on the advanced manuscript we were honored to get. Now that it is officially out – it’s so nice to hold the real hardback book with that strong black and gold cover — we wanted to remind readers of its importance.
David and Gabe (who had collaborated several years ago responding to research about what young adults tended to think about the Christian faith and American church life, a useful book called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters) told me that they poured several years of their lives into this, doing formal research through Barna and reading widely, conversing with many, and developing a specific response to the specific data they’ve discerned. In a way, this is a manifesto for responding to the anxieties (in the church and the world) of our post-Christian culture.
I am sure many of us are more than tired of being lumped in with the worst sort of extremists and practitioners of bad religion. From elite intellectuals saying that all religion is poisonous to the local media misunderstanding the nuances of differences between various strains of Christian faith, from hostile court rulings about religious liberty to pop culture jokes about toxic spirituality, it is clear that many in our world are suspicious at best and sometimes even hostile to even benign expressions of religious faith. (And, there are those who are properly multi-cultural and eager to make room for most world religions, excepting Christianity.) One only needs to read the letters to the editor column of any local newspaper or look at the bulletin board postings in any public university student union and one will see high-octane denunciations of religion. How we can graciously and faithfully and effectively navigate these trying times is the project taken up in Good Faith.
And take it up they do.
First, they have four chapters under the heading “Understanding Our Times” in which they show that many find Christian faith irrelevant and/or extreme and how we experience this tension, a tension many of us feel deeply in our bones. They observe that even when many of us who regret the bad witness of the more extreme and uncivil voices and try to disassociate ourselves from them, living out a good faith, the watching world misunderstands. Nearly any faith is seen as bad faith.
Part II of Good Faith includes twelve chapters on “Living Good Faith.” This is must-read stuff, very important, and helpful, especially for those who haven’t kept up on recent conversations about how the world sees Christian faith or how those committed to Biblical values have tried to winsomely explain those views to a skeptical culture. Some of their analysis and some of their proposed responses, again, comes from social research done by Kinnaman and the Barna Group, and some comes from Gabe’s growing experience hosting even interfaith dialogues through Q. Each chapter asserts that “Good Faith Christians will…” and they offer a principle or strategy or practice. It makes for a helpful organizing format and feels right, giving us actionable practices based on appropriate postures or virtues. And they tell lots of stories, giving lively and often moving examples of folks doing the stuff they describe or their own efforts, blunders and successes.
Chapter 5 is called “Love, Believe, Live” and they spell out what it means to be “a counterculture for the common good.” It is followed by a chapter nicely inviting us to ask “The Right Questions.” Many of us will find this fairly pedestrian – there’s a very nice chapter called “assimilate or accommodate” and we could recite this message in our sleep – but for others, it will be novel, a life-giving, near-brilliant, faith-saving framework. I’m grateful that they invite us to live faithfully and well, in but not of the surrounding culture and give us examples of what that might look like. Political philosophers or public theologians such as Nicholas Wolterstorff or Miroslov Volf or Oliver O’Donovan or Stanley Hauerwas have explored these themes in the academy, but David and Gabe bring in home for ordinary folks.
Chapter 7 offers a very helpful, brief, principled study of pluralism and tolerance. “Good faith Christians,” they say, “make space for people who disagree.” Gabe’s opening story about a meeting on religious liberty in the White House is humorous and brings to the fore just how important this is. (They offer a chart with some data about how different sorts of folks perceive public policy pertaining to religious freedom and that itself is fascinating. As with unChristian, Good Faith offers ways to respond well to the perceptions of our neighbors, fellow-citizens, and, often, family members and loved ones.) Again, this summarizes much serious thought about these kinds of matters, and suggests nicely, but with some urgency, just how we might fruitfully proceed.
Also in this section they tackle major issues of our time and give us chapters on disability rights, race and prejudice, what some call bioethics and “the life issues.” These are each powerful, clear, and generally helpful chapters.
Some may wish they’d speak out with more zeal, others may think they should have offered more gentle nuance. That many will find fault is not necessarily a bad thing – I myself found some portions wanting – but it also is to their credit that they are not trying to tow some culture wars line, and are trying at least a little to bring fresh insights to polarizing topics. Nor are they advocating a boring, slushy middle ground, but they do try to (as one reviewer put it) “turn down the temperature and offer leaders a box of cultural engagement tools.” This is a strength of the book; it doesn’t necessarily bring new ideas to the table, but it does bring new, calm, faithful, generous, strategies and tools for evangelical public engagement.
Of course, many of the most thorny and controversial issues facing Biblically-informed faith groups these days have to do with the GLTBQ community, and how Christian faith does or doesn’t relate well to persons who are gay or lesbian or trans, both in our own churches and in our advocacy in the public square. I appreciate that Gabe and David frame their intrepid efforts to speak into these painful and complex matters by framing some of our situation by studying the overall cultural trends about sexuality in a chapter called “After the Revolution.” They cite very interesting books like Jenell Williams’ The End of Sexual Identity and the eloquent and thoughtful Wesley Hill, including his wonderful book Spiritual Friendship. They offer a chapter on “Marriage, Family and Friendship” with the principle assertion that “Good faith Christians allow their marriages, families, and hospitality to benefit others.” Some of the stories they share about families who take in hurting kids or offer gracious hospitality to others are truly inspiring.
Some strident culture warriors might find them a bit “soft” on speaking about what they see as a non-negotiable Biblical teaching favoring only heterosexual marriage; they seem confident that this conventional view is correct, but they are eager to live it out with grace and care in a pluralistic society. They describe nice episodes such as when Gabe shared a stage with Bishop Gene Robinson (who is gay) and enjoyed his company, or the beautiful story of Gabe apologizing to someone to whom he came across as insensitive on this issue. On the other hand, many will find their approach of kindness and civility “too little, too late” and wonder why they don’t seem to grapple with contemporary, inclusive, Biblical interpretations or the implications of a framework of public justice that might honor all citizens desire to be wed. While we should all admire their good faith efforts, these chapters are going to leave many unsatisfied. I assume they know this, and I admire their efforts to bear witness to traditional sexual ethics in our complex social setting in a way that makes sense and is seen as healthy and good, not repressive or bigoted. I suspect this well-intended chapter – written in a manner which writer Ann Voskamp says is “compelling in its humility” – will still not help many get beyond the culture wars divisions on this question. In fact, there are moments in the book that I wonder if they themselves have adequately broken out of the alarmist, culture wars approach that they are trying so hard to avoid.
The last chapter in this middle section is really helpful, and perhaps nearly worth the price of the whole book. They describe five ways to be faithful, or, better put, five stages or levels of public faith. Yes, “good faith Christians thoughtfully engage the most divisive issues of our time” but there is a wise and appropriate way to do this. (For what it is worth, Ron Sider’s Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement has several detailed chapters offering a vigorous methodology for moving from a broad Biblical worldview to a Christian social philosophy to specific Scriptural texts, adding in sophisticated modern analysis, right on through to humble and provisional policy advocacy.) Kinnaman and Lyons are pitching this in a less detailed manner, so their five kinds or sorts of assertions or appeals are basic but very, very helpful. Think of them as “five lenses to help Christians more clearly see opportunities to live in good faith.”
In this section (which they even summarize in a fantastic little chart) they explore how to think well and make determinations and speak in ways that are influenced by our commitments to the five lenses: theology, ministry, relationships, politics, and action in the public square. As they say, “while this framework won’t ease the burden of believing something vastly different than the dominant culture, we believe it clarifies the issues and gives good faith Christians a way forward.”
The final Part III of Good Faith is called “The Church and Our Future” and it offers three very good chapters. Listen well to the titles of these three pieces:
- “Firm Center, Soft Edges” (where “good faith Christian are grounded in Scripture and practice the art of seeing people.”)
- “Church in a New World” (where “good faith churches make disciples who bless the world.”)
- “Faithful in Exile” (where “good faith Christians love their neighbors, believe in God’s power at work in his people, and live into God’s call to be agents of reconciliation.”)
Much more could be said about these three provocative, insightful, vital chapters, but each one will keep you and your book club or action group busy thinking and praying and talking together — this is useful, good, stuff. There is work to do. As they say in the last line of the book: “Led by love, grounded in biblical belief, and ready to live as a counterculture for the common good, we trust that our good faith will be used by God to renew the world.”
I appreciate what the serious Orthodox writer and social critic Rod Dreher writes of Kinnaman and Lyons when he calls them “trustworthy guides through the emerging post-Christian order.” Dreher writes,
What stands out about Good Faith is its unflinching realism, a quality that challenges the false but emotionally satisfying narratives of happy-clappy optimists and sky-is-falling pessimists. This prophetic book inspired me to rethink my own assumptions about how to live faithfully in our American exile.
TEN MORE TO FOLLOW UP GOOD FAITH
The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World Gabe Lyons (Multnomah Books) $15.99 The first third of this explores the demise of the end of American civil religion and Christendom, and offers a four-chapter-Biblical story that is more helpful then the typical dualistic fare, and the last two thirds offers seven key areas where the rising generations of Christians are leading the way to fresh practices across various spheres of life. I really, really like it and recommend it often.
Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good Miroslav Volf (Baker) $18.99 I am honored to have a blurb on the back of this, exclaiming how much I appreciated it. It is about more than politics as such, and argues for a robust commitment to the common good. Very thoughtful, very impressive. But don’t take just my word for it. Listen to what Nicholas Wolterstorff says about it:
Why should Christians use the resources of their faith to speak to and
to serve the common good rather than reducing the faith to a message
that soothes individuals or energizes them to pursue success? And how
can they do that without coercing those who are not Christians? Miroslav
Volf sets for himself the daunting task of addressing these two deep
and urgent questions in a way that is both widely accessible and that
takes account of the scholarly literature. He succeeds on all counts.
Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00 I am not alone in suggesting this is one of my all-time favorite books. It is nicely written, very thoughtful, and helps us be honest about any number of quandaries and challenges in showing “convicted civility.” I know you know it is one of the most needed topics these days. Please, please, please, help us get this book into the hands of those who most need it, which, these days, is just about all of us. That last thing we need now is a loud-mouthed and rude critique of the loud-mouthed and rude. Mouw can help.
The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life Vincent Bacote (Zondervan) $11.99 You may recall that we hosted Dr. Bacote at a lectureship we sponsor in Pittsburgh each summer, and we promoted this little book with great joy. It is part of a four-book series of “ordinary theology” and is maybe the best, most balanced, short book on public theology. Bacote has served on the Board of the sophisticated Center for Public Justice in their efforts to offer a non-partisan framework for political life (drawing, among other things, the serious social philosophy of Abraham Kuyper.) Bacote gives us very accessible intro to public theology and Christian views of civic life.
Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World Miroslav Volf (Yale University Press) $28.00 This is a major, new, academic volume, making a case that religion is important, even in the modern, global world. Volf is an important author; as he wrote with such acute insight in Exclusion and Embrace, his own experiences in the violent context of the Serbo-Croatian war has given him great sensitivity to God’s call to be a peacemaker amidst inter-faith conflict. This is going to be a very important contribution, especially in a globalized culture where many are increasingly wary that religion can do much good, and often brings much harm. In a way, this project is taking up with scholarly rigor a similar challenge as Kinnaman and Lyons as they worry about living out faith when others think it extreme or irrelevant.
Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice (IVP) $17.00 This is the first book in a wonderful multi-volume series from the Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation, published in partnership with InterVarsity Press. It is a fabulous, refreshing, inspiring book co-written by a global scholar and a US activist. Oh my, if only we would embrace this big vision of God’s reconciling work in all creation and see ourselves as agents of that restoration mission. Their tone and insight and passion would have been a nice addition to the good faith project of Gabe & David. This book (and the others in the set) are remarkable and important. This one, at least, should be on your shelf and in your conversations.
The Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity Norman Wirzba (HarperOne) $25.99 This is brand new and I am very pleased to announce it. I’m eager to see how Wirzba writes about this chief Christian virtue and how he applies it to our strained cultural situation. I trust you know his name – we awarded his most previous Baker Academic Press book, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World, as one of our Best Books of 2015. He is a a scholar of Christian environmentalism, has written widely about agrarian themes (even with and about his friend Wendell Berry) and did a lovely, lovely book in the aforementioned Duke Reconciliation series called Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation which is about food, farming, and eating. He has written other good stuff on food and faith, most rather scholarly.
This brand new book asks if Christianity is failing and if so, what we might do about it. Blurbs on the back are from Diana Butler Bass (who calls it “a gift”) and David Gushee (who says it is “winsome and accessible”) and Eugene Peterson who offers a very lovely paragraph about it, noting that “Wirzba wants to rescue this essential word [love] from the dustbin of everyday and restore it to usefulness. Connecting love and the hope of heaven, he provides a most satisfying and convincing conclusion.”
I like what Tony Jones says about it,
Wirzba reminds us that the Christian faith should be training us to love. But he also inspires, cajoles, and provokes us to live this out. If you want to love better – and who doesn’t? – this book is for you.
Scars Across Humanity: Understanding Violence Against Women Elaine Storkey (Cascade) $16.00 When I think of good faith Christian leaders who have done some of what Kinnaman and Lyons call us to — living radically and yet winsomely in the public square — I think of the UK scholar, activist, writer, Elaine Storkey (and, while we are at it, her thoughtful husband, Alan, author of Jesus and Politics.) I admire the broad and sophisticated work of many British evangelicals who seem to have avoided the polarizing rhetoric of the US Christian right and seem to be taken seriously even by secular authorities and agencies. (Elaine directed the Tear Fund for more than a decade and garnered international respect.) In this book, Elaine offers a very detailed, sophisticated and rather rare study of the crisis of how women are mistreated — as it is manifested throughout the world. From domestic violence in the so-called developed world to global concerns such as female genital mutilation or honor killings in the sub-continent or enforced under-age marriage, she brings a Biblically-informed Christian social theory and faith-based feminism to bear, exposing and offering proposals to reform complex patterns of injustice and abuse.
As it says on the back cover, “combining rigorous research and compelling personal testimonies, Elaine Storkey investigates the different forms of violence experience by women across the globe today… She considers the role that religion can play – for good or ill – in the struggle against this universal evil.” Elaine and Alan have both spoken at our Pittsburgh Jubilee conference in years gone by, raising big questions about structural injustice and God’s passion for thinking Christianly about public action. It’s the sort of good faith efforts we really need, and this latest project is powerful and important. I can hardly think of a scholar or activist who is more poised to do this urgent work.
Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope After Domestic Violence Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan) $16.99 We have
just received this new release, what looks to be a very disturbing narrative of missionary scholar and former
seminary professor, Dr. Ruth A. Tucker, telling of her own abuse at the hands of
her pastor husband in her allegedly Christian home. This is going to be hard to read, but a story that needs to be known. This will expose the lack of goodness lurking behind the scenes in too many Christian missions and churches and homes and offer a way to think about gender justice, and how to bring hope to those who are going through very, very painful times.
Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00 I know I have promoted this before and told our readers how much we value it. Andy spoke at this year’s Q this past week, and his new book is simply one of the most insightful, interesting, rewarding and I think important volumes you will read all year. It certainly is a good example of the kind of thinking that will fund our good faith efforts in the public spheres. Kudos to Andy for doing this good work, and kudos to Gabe Lyons and his team at Q for hosting him speaking about this aspect of faithful culture-making and servant leadership in a world of power gone amuck (or, sometimes, ignored by those not wanting to take the necessary risks of vulnerability to exercise appropriate influence.) His more lengthy rumination on power, Playing God, is a must-read (I hope you have not tired of us saying this) although you can read Strong and Weak without having read it. It’s one of the best books of the year.
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