I have read both of these forthcoming books in advanced review copies, and am grateful to the publishers for allowing us this privilege. More, I am grateful to authors like my friends Lisa Sharon Harper and Shane Claiborne who are writing about heavy, complicated issues with great grace, utilizing the Biblically mandated method of speaking truth in love; indeed, hard truth with much love. Both of these soon to be released books are hard-hitting and informative even as they are captivating and deeply moving. Most of all, we here at the bookstore are grateful to God that there are such good titles coming out these days, and that there seems to be a renewed interest in reading important books, talking about big ideas, learning and growing in ways that enable us to more faithfully embody the ways of Christ’s Kingdom.
And so, we are particularly eager to promote these now, to give you a chance to PRE-ORDER them at an EXTRA DISCOUNT – early birds get the extra deal which won’t last long – and to think now about the possibility of using them in classes or book clubs or study groups this summer or fall. Both authors will be out and about in big ways speaking about their new releases so you may hear more about them. (Lisa is one of the keynote speakers at the famous national gathering called The Justice Conference. Wow!)
We are proud to announce that Lisa Sharon Harper, in fact, will be the speaker for the Fifth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture on Tuesday, July 26th (at Robert Morris University) so you should know we are excited to get her work more widely known. More on that, later.
Beth and I feel warmly connected to both of these authors and both of these books, and hope many Hearts & Minds fans will give them a try. I will write more about both later — they are both so full of righteous zeal and jaw-dropping stories and good Scripture and provocative cultural analysis that they deserve longer reviews to facilitate your careful attention and discerning conversations. But, really, you should pre-order them now and we will get ’em out to you at the extra sale prices before their release day of June 7th. You can pre-pay using our secure order form page (see the link below) or we can just send along an invoice so you can pay later, as we say at the order form page. Just click below and tell us how you want us to serve you.
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook) $19.99 PRE-ORDER PRICE = $14.99
We were thrilled to invite Lisa to be our lecturer for our annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture even before I read her book; we respect and trust her as an evangelical Christian leader, as a spokesperson for faith-based social justice activism, and as a writer and student of the Bible. We’ve worked with Sharon before (most notably, she did one of the powerful main stage presentations at the CCO’s Jubilee conference a few years ago, where students loved her!) We’ve reviewed at BookNotes each of the books she has co-authored in the past, and we are now delighted that Lisa has her own solo release coming soon. And what a book it is!
Those of us who are increasingly using the language of the Biblical story — with chapters or “acts” of the unfolding drama described as creation-fall-redemption-restoration — find that subsequent use of phrases like God’s reign or gospel or grace or hope are given texture and shape and content by placing them within this historical-redemptive Biblical context. That is, the realities and implications of salvation and the scope and nature of the impact of the Kingdom of God is seen not merely as personal forgiveness assuring us of eternal life but down-to-earth redemption that concretely touches every area of life, starting now. Christ as resurrected and ascended Lord claims “every square inch” of the good but now distorted creation the old Dutch Statesman Abraham Kuyper once preached, and this wholistic vision of the good but fallen creation being restored to (new) creation reality is generating tons of fresh expression of faith these days, lots of missional energy for relevant outreach, and churches that are teaching this sort of Biblical theology are discovering new ways to connect Sunday and Monday, worship and work, piety and politics. This worldview-ish vision has long been on our lips here and has been the story that has animated our own work here at the bookstore. If God is restoring all of life, bringing true hope to a broken world, then everything matters. We stock books on art and work and science and business and education and film and farming and sex and politics and engineering and history all because it all matters to God as God is redeeming all of life. That is the flow of the Biblical story from a garden to a city, and churches of all sorts or increasingly framing their theological vision and mission in light of these categories.
Well, Lisa Sharon Harper has drunk deeply from this big picture of the Bible, what Newbigin called “the true story of the whole world.”
She is convinced that the key – or at least one key, one good way to tell this story – is how God’s good shalom was seen in the beginning, in the creation pronounced very good. Ms Harper is fabulous doing good Bible study on the notion of shalom
and how it is a blessed way into understanding God’s gifts and intents
in the beginning. She is informed by the best recent scholarship, but
is lively and inspiring in her Bible teaching. She is very helpful in explaining the Genesis 3 story and how many sorts of alienation set in as God’s shalom was broken (“vandalized” is how Cornelius Plantinga put it in his splendid Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be.) But her major point is that the story does not stop there, nor is it redirected to a heavenly realm. In Christ’s Kingdom, the gift of shalom is restored. This is very, very good news, the curse reversed and shalom restored.
Of course, part of the shalom and blessedness of the good creation in the Genesis narratives include the essential stuff about humans (men and women together) being created in the very image of God. As dignified image bearers of the Creator, humans are given the earthy tasks of what some call the cultural mandate, the high calling to work, under the rubric of developing the creation. Thank goodness for Harper’s good description of Hebrew words reminding us of the positive implications of the mandate to “take dominion” over creation as stewards, words that have been woefully misunderstood. Her Biblical study has catapulted her into deep interest in ecology and this part of the book alone is worth knowing well, offering Scriptural foundation for creation care and wise stewardship.
Well, you can see where this is going, I hope. If multi-faceted, blessed shalom was God’s plan for women and men working in God’s unfolding creation, then the answer to sin’s consequences, the wreckage (as Harper powerfully calls it) of broken shalom is – get this – reconciliation. In Christ, the planet is being healed and reconciled, and those who are touched by God’s mercy and made new in Christ are now ambassadors of this creation-wide reconciliation project. Lisa’s Bible study and teaching on these themes throughout Scripture is solid and helpful. Walter Brueggemann, who wrote a fabulous foreword honoring her work, calls The Very Good Gospel “a bracing, generative exposition of the elemental narrative of gospel faith…” Who doesn’t need a little bracing exposition of gospel faith these days, eh?
I will describe this in greater detail later, but allow me a quick summary and an important observation.
The summary is this: this book explores not only the big picture of a very good gospel – very good because it is God’s gracious good news that is better than many might imagine that includes all of creation and all of life – but moves towards a pretty radical application of reconciliation theology to various areas of society. How do we live out a vision of creation regained, shalom restored, reconciling that which is alienated or broken or painfully distorted? Lisa Sharon Harper has good chapters in The Very Good Gospel that we so need, allowing the Biblical trajectory of Christ-centered reconciliation to guide us to peacemaking and justice-doing in several spheres of life. Specifically, she explores what reconciliation looks like as we are restored in proper relationship to God, to self, between genders, with creation, within broken families, among races, and even between nations. What does it mean to bear witness to God’s own peace in each side of life? How do we begin to repair what is torn? She is really good in these chapters, offering both robust and theologically informed proposals but always with a tone of evangelical hope and practical application. This is not an arcane or complicated tome, it is an accessible handbook for living as new creations in almost every side of life. I suppose you can see why we are so enthused and commend it so confidently.
An observation? The book – as you can see from the last paragraph – does not fall into a tendency of overstating the public and political at the expense of exploring more personal matters. Sharon tells some very, very tender stories about her own hurt and shame, how guilt and grace show up in one’s own heart, in wounded emotions, hurt families, broken friendships. Tears may flow as you grapple with how God’s Spirit can bring healing to some painful places in your own soul. Her vision of shalom with God is earnest and evangelical, even as she knows that if we are going to be peacemakers and activists in the world, we have to first know God deeply and be healed by a personal encounter with Jesus. Such an encounter may be for you as it was for her, not only offering forgiveness, but eventually a transforming realization of how you are wanted and beloved.
How beautiful to have an author rebuke the evangelical church for stupid sexism and hurtful complicity in racial injustice and apathy about climate change and other such issues- even as she writes about healing prayer, offering wise spiritual insights applied to personal conversion and sanctification and telling intimate stories of her own journey of faith and trust in God. She is a black woman with a strong evangelical background so this should not come as a surprise. I trust it will convince many to know she is a trusted voice, an ally to those of us who long for a Biblically-based, radical witness for the things of Christ.
On the back cover The Very Good Gospel is described as offering “wholeness for a fragmented world and peace for a hurting soul.” This is very good news, indeed, and we hope you order the book from us and spread the word.
Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) $17.99 PRE-ORDER PRICE = $13.50
I suppose I don’t have to tell you much about this, and I can offer more details later. A few things that might invite you to realize now how important this is, though, might be useful. We really, really, hope this book is noticed by our friends and customers and that you send us orders for it soon.
Shane is a feisty, funny, kind, and hopeful speaker — I love listening to his stories and watching him in action — and his upbeat writing captures much of this humble tone. I say humble as he is self-deprecating and honest about how he has come to his own positions of Biblical nonviolence and solidarity with the poor after years as a pretty right-wing, “my country right or wrong” cheerleader for God and guts and guns. Who knew that some time with Tony Campolo and Mother Teresa would lead a self-described red-neck Tennessee fundamentalist to a lifestyle akin to Saint Francis or the late Daniel Berrigan? How he and his conservative evangelical pals discovered A.J. Muste and Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero is a story told elsewhere, and I’m glad his first book, Irresistible Revolution, is out in a new edition, expanded and updated. Most of us are not called to this downwardly mobile journey to live with the outcasts and the urban poor, but his faith journey is instructive and inspiring for even the most middle class among us.
And so it isn’t surprising to know that in this age of mass incarceration and gun violence – and Shane knows a lot about this, living as he does in one of the most violent parts of a very violent and racially charged city – that his systemic work for social change would lead him to care about prisoners, about restorative justice, and, eventually, to confront the inequalities and injustices of what is called capitol punishment. I have chatted recently with Shane about his learning curve as he researched this book, and how painful it has been in recent years as he has gotten to know crime victims, prisoners, people on death row, prison workers, lawyers, police, and political activists on both sides of the issue. He has talked to lots and lots of people, read extensively, listened to a variety of viewpoints. It has been an intense season of study and learning and we should respect the work he’s put into this.
Not a few well informed reviewers have even suggested this could be the best book yet done by a person of faith on this topic.
After meeting even a few prisoners on death row and reading even a few sermons from the early church about this, it isn’t hard to come to a position of great concern about state executions. (Even some stalwart conservatives like Chuck Colson came to oppose the death penalty, in practice, at least, if not in principle, as they realized the incongruities and errors in the criminal justice system.)
Add to this theological research and his first hand encounters with extreme injustice – re-read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson if you need reminded – some honest conversations with the families of those victimized by violent crime and their own ambivalence about the vengeance of the criminal justice system, and it becomes clear – really, really clear – that Shane’s position in this book is persuasive and sensible and just.
Do you know the statistics on how many people on death row are being exonerated as innocent? How many have been killed by judicial error? Do you know how many of those who have maintained their innocence seem to have had racially charged trials, found guilty under suspect circumstances rife with racism? My, my, if Job or other just judges of the Hebrew Scriptures were around today they would rent their garments in loud protest. One can quibble about interpretations of the data in Michele Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, say, but the overall indictment of the brokenness of this racially-unjust system is hardly beyond doubt. To insist that the government take a life in this setting is palpably askew.
Do you know the statistics of how many loved ones of the victims of violent crime find the death penalty unhelpful, perhaps even repulsive? The way crime victims and the families of the murdered are treated by the state’s prosecution is one of the new revelations I learned in Executing Grace and is yet another outrageous aspect of this whole sordid business of governmental executions. Shane tells the stories here of victims who were pressured by the state (sometimes violently so) to cooperate with death sentences; these sad stories offer little hope and no final closure to the tragedies and injustices that befell them. It most likely isn’t the story you’ve heard, and it may be counterintuitive, but Executing Grace documents it well: many, if not most, of the victims of violent crime oppose the death penalty. Although it is longer story then I can tell quickly here, it becomes clear that only forgiveness and mercy can bring any real measure of healing, for victims and offenders alike. That Shane is at heart an evangelical and an evangelist is clear in this – although the book is essentially a call to work to abolish the death penalty, his heart is about restoration and healing and hope and reconciliation and grace, indeed, the truth of the very good gospel itself. No one is beyond redemption and no situation is so ruined as to be immune to the graces of gospel-based reconciliation. In this sense, this book about a complex issues is inspiring and wonderful, offering light in the darkest of places.
And so, this moving, moving book is a handbook for activists (yes) but it is also an invitation to look at situations and people from which most of us turn away, in the light of Scripture and Christian tradition. As Shane “weaves together a tapestry of reflections from scripture and church history as well as testimonies from victims, prisoners, and modern day executioners” he reminds us of God’s grace and our call to be citizens who care about the common good, about justice in the courts and mercy in the streets. His stories make this lively and urgent and his tone, while passionate, is never strident. As always, Claiborne is inviting us to care, to understand, to pray and perhaps to re-consider. And, yes, to broaden our agenda of causes and concerns to include this project to abolish the death penalty, to get involved, to act.
Shane says, interestingly, “this book chose me.”
I suspect you, too, might feel that way; you may not want to chose this book. Many of us are mildly aware but not particularly vocal about justice for the accused and mercy for the criminal. We have not been beacons of true hope for the victims or advocates of lasting transformation not only of the prisons and the courts but of the streets. Yet, those who have gone before us have been abolitionists and reformers and caregivers. People today are involved in remarkably inspiring ways. Beth and I have met some of these folks, and we are so very grateful that Shane and his Simple Way community are taking up the cause. And we are glad for this book, Executing Grace that might inform and inspire many to join the conversation.
There’s a train a-comin, the old gospel song goes. This book might help us get on board, sooner rather than later. Order it today.
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