I’ve done some lengthy reviews of some very important books lately. I hope you’ve enjoyed knowing about them; it means a lot to know of those who have shared the reviews, who have considered the authors and the books. As Chris Smith’s Reading for the Common Good so wonderful reminds us, books can make a difference in people lives, and in the visions of “social imaginaries” they help us adopt. What we long for, what we work for, how we come to perceive our lives is all informed and revised and clarified by (among other things) the books we read.
We do not take it for granted that you invite us into your own lives, allowing our bookselling ministry to shape you. We realize this is very important stuff, sacred ground, even.
Here I will offer descriptions of a handful of great books, 15, if you don’t count the ones I note in passing, that have come out lately. Sometimes just seeing new releases so inspire us we want to tell you about them even before we’ve read them. These all deserve to be known, I’m sure of it. We think you’ll like hearing about them.
All are on sale for our on-line friends; use the secure order form page by clicking on the link below. If you wander into the Dallastown shop and mention that you are a newsletter reader, of course we’ll do the discount, then, too.
Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $22.99 This will be, I assure you, one of the biggest selling religious books of the fall, but it will be popular in more general market bookstores, too. She has a way with words and is a poignant, moving storyteller. I hope you knew her lovely reflections, memoiristic ruminations about finding God in the ordinary of life – Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. Her Bread and Wine is truly a glorious, beautifully written, fabulous book about food, friends, fellowship (with recipes.) Her collection of pieces, taken mostly from other books, arranged as a handsome daily devotional is Savor. One can see this trajectory, and as a church worker and Christian speaker (and Bill Hybel’s daughter) she has developed a workaholic obsession, and this gut-wrenching and beautifully written manifesto is her big effort of saying no to some of the craziness this frantic way of life creates.
Beth just finished this and loved it, and I’m almost halfway through, deeply moved and grateful for her message. I need it – believe me, there are days… Still, I’m rolling my eyes just a little – in the preface she tells of meeting Brene Brown, who invited her into her home for a meal (I know) and she writes touchingly about falling apart as she tries so, so hard to keep up appearances with her friends and family, even as she is sitting with her feet in somebody’s backyard pool pulling icy drinks out of an cooler. She isn’t unaware of the privilege and unique way this problem manifests itself for somebody with her upper middle class sensibilities and a large extended family (of high achievers) and a lake cottage. Still, even for those of us with more pedestrian aches and pressures, Present Over Perfect is a gift.
Endorsements on the back are from Jennifer Hatmaker, Donald Miller, and Glennon Doyle Melton (who says it is “equal parts elegant and urgent.”) This book, they all seem to say, moves us to something better than merely keeping at it, shoulder to the wheel, toughing it out. It reminds us of our beloved-ness, that we belong, and it’s going to be all right.
A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve Mother Teresa; edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk (Image) $25.00 This handsome hardcover collects previously unreleased (and in some cases, previously unknown) writings of the woman who will be soon become the next officially canonize Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, it also coincides nicely with Pope Francis’ “Year of Mercy” as it guides readers to see how mercy and compassion can be shown in our day-to-day lives.
Father Brian was the postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause for sainthood and knew her well. Included are some testimonies of people close to Mother Teresa and prayers and suggestions for putting the reflections into practice.
By the way, the good folks at Paraclete Press recently released a small paperback version of the much discussed account of the saint of Calcutta and her good humor and her dark side. See I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta, a Secret Revealed by Paul Murray (Paraclete; $11.99.)
Poets & Saints: Eternal Insight, Extravagant Love, Ordinary People Jamie George (Cook) $16.99 Speaking of saints, one of my favorite books in recent years is Accidental Saints by emergent Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber in which she tells the stories of messed up and graced people in her rag-tag House of All Sinners & Saints faith community in Denver. Well, Jamie George isn’t quite as colorful, but he’s a fine writer. He founded Journey Church in Tennessee as a safe haven for the religiously wounded. (An acclaimed worship band, All Sons & Daughters, was birthed in that church.) As one of the singers of that band puts it “Jamie George is one of our generation’s most inspired storytellers… it was a privilege to read his words and be reminded that God has woven the past and present together in a remarkable and vibrant way.” Yep, here the exceptionally hip J. George tells of eleven historic Christ-followers, from Saint Therese, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis, to Calvin, Luther, Saint Francis – with a lovely interlude on the architecture of great cathedrals. Poets and Saints offers a cool and inviting reflection on these characters who can helps us “love like poets, live like saints.” Looks great!
The Dwelling Place of Wonder Harry
L. Serio (Resource Publications) $19.00 Harry is a legendary, now
retired UCC pastor in Berks County, PA, and the founder of the fabulous
(and famous) Berks Jazz Festival. It isn’t uncommon to see Facebook
pictures of this Pennsylvania Dutch-ish E&R pastor with some of the
hottest jazz stars playing today. It shouldn’t surprise us, though –
Harry has apparently always been a bit of a card, a colorful,
inquisitive, open-minded, big-hearted guy. He is a bit of a mystic,
interested in the research about consciousness (and after-death
experiences.) This collection of pieces is a lovely cross between a
memoir and a true autobiography, although it is episodic. He grew up in a
feisty, fascinating family outside of New York City, with charming –
and occasionally breathtaking – stories of early 20th century urban life. (For instance, they knew Betty Davis!)
As Maren Tirabassi writes:
Serio transports us to many places – a kitchen table in a cellar
surrounded by paint cans, the drawer a toddler escapes to see a star, an
old woman’s doorstep with a loaf of bread, a highway diner with a
French waitress in the middle of the night. But more than those, his
reflections on wondrous dwellings invites each reader to remember
personal holy moments, sacred streets, and occasions of spontaneous
have a little blurb on the back of this, too – it is a real treat to be
able to tell Harry’s many friends and fans about this nicely written,
interesting collection of reflections and memories.
Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks Dallas Willard (HarperOne) $24.99 This collection of some previously unpublished or published in obscure places makes this feel like a brand new book, and in a way, a greatest hits – so good! It has been called the “definitive collection” and it cannot be understated how important and transforming this all is. There are chapters here that appeared in other anthologies, papers presented at conferences, good interviews (like a fabulous one conducted by Luci Shaw for Radix magazine) and wonderfully-written pieces that were forwards or introductions to other people’s books. This was curated and edited by Gary Black of the Azusa Pacific University Honors College who co-wrote with Willard The Divine Conspiracy Continued, edited a collection of Willard’s stuff called Preparing for Heaven, and is the author of a book about Willard, as well as one about calling on Fortress Press.) I often tell people to begin their journey reading Willard by starting with Renovation of the Heart or Spirit of the Disciplines but this, this is wonderful. Highly recommended.
Closer Than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ Dave Hickman (NavPress) $14.99 As a Presbyterian, I learned a long time ago that one of John Calvin’s deepest teachings and a nearly constant motif was “union with Christ.” Of course, all of our best spiritual teachers, from the monks and mystics to those highlighting a lively encounter with the Holy Spirit have all talked about this key topic. It is a rich Biblical motif and there is much to gain from pondering it. For those who want to go a bit deeper into spirituality, without drifting away from solid Biblical approaches, this new work by a young and thoughtful church planter (founder of Charlotte One, a huge network of churches) could be very, very helpful. It is rooted in the gospel — we don’t have to conjure up, let alone earn intimacy with God. God takes up residence in us, inviting us to be a new creation in Christ. I need all the help I can get, and if the Dallas Willard (above) seems a bit daunting, this could be a similar sort of approach. Good reading as we move into the busy fall season! Nice study/reflection questions, too, making it useful.
By the way, in the acknowledgments, Hickman mentions the majesterial Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn (which draws on the early church fathers) and that’s a good sign. When he mentioned J. Todd Billings, I knew it would be good stuff — his book Union With Christ is brilliant. And then he notes he was listening to Bon Iver and Iron and Wine as he wrote, and, well, I was all in.
Praying for Your Pastor: How Your Prayer Support Is Their Life Support Eddie Byun (IVP) $15.00 Byun is a pastor of a church in Seoul, South Korea and wrote a book on how his church has been involved in fighting sexual trafficking (Justice Awakening) which was very good. Here, he writes a book that we’ve needed for a long time – serious, but not overbearing, deeply spiritual, but not weird or off-putting, handy, but not simplistic. I’m very excited about this, looking for its guidance in helping us pray for our pastors, and pray for them wisely. It has good and informative chapters about 7 key areas for which we might pray — from rest to strong families to “a yielded heart” and the like. It is a good glimpse into the lives of ministry about which some of us don’t know much. In fact, I might suspect that some clergy don’t think deeply about some of these things…
I wonder what would happen if a handful of people in every church had this book? Somebody in your church?
Us Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community Andrew Marin (NavPress) $14.99 I have been touting this wherever I can as it offers tremendously fascinating – groundbreaking and historic, I’d even say – research into the religious beliefs and attitudes of the GLTBQ community in the US. Andrew Marin (who wrote the excellent Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community) has a huge heart and a serious passion to repair breeches between the religious community and GLTBQ folks. He commissioned a scientifically serious (the largest ever done) research project on this topic, and got some of the best statisticians and sociologists to crunch the data. What they discovered is breathtaking, indicating that (by far) LGBT persons report to be more interested in religion than any other subculture in America. Surprisingly, 86 percent of LGBT people spent their childhood in church. More than half left their religious communities as adults. And 3 out of 4 would be happy to return. I couldn’t put this down.
As my friend Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist for the Religious News Service (and author of Jesus is Better Than You Imagined) says of Us Versus Us:
No conversation in the church is more explosive than the sexuality debate, and no voice in this conversation is more effective than Andrew Marin’s… A page-turning collision of stats and stories with the power to revolutionize the modern debate.
A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution says this “richly textured book will shatter stereotypes and help us all think better. And love better, too.”
Brian McLaren in Focus: A New Kind of Apologetics Scott R. Burson (Abilene Christian University Press) $22.99 This book deserves a very careful review and I hope it is widely read – what a great bit of research where the author does a gracious, critical read of Brian’s roots, writing, trajectory, based not only on his many books, but on lengthy conversations and interviews (some of which are included in the book.) Brian was remarkably important to the postmodern and postcolonial movements that influenced what was called for a while the emergent village and the emergent church movement. (Phyllis Tickle was one of the many who documented this trend in books such as Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters.)
Brian has increasingly become known in mainline denominational circles that are less averse to progressive theology but remains a widely read and influential activist, blogger, author. Even if he is not the trailblazer he once was, he is a genuinely good guy and a very interesting writer, somebody to know and understand. This critique is a balanced appraisal, attempting to move beyond seeing him as either a “villain or hero.” As Jerry Walls of Houston Baptist University says of Brian McLaren in Focus “this probing analysis is both critical and charitable. Burson pulls no punches in assessing McLaren’s theology from the standpoint of classical orthodoxy, even as he recognizes that there are valuable lessons to be learned from his work.” Part of Burson’s interest is Brian’s early days as a Calvinist (he listened to hundreds, if not thousands of hours of tapes by R.C. Sproul and Francis Schaeffer) and his eventual rejection of the basics of Reformed theology. (Burson himself is not a Calvinist so the Reformed vs Armenian debate comes up a lot.) This is all really interesting and it a good example of the shifts in theological discourse in these days. The very nice, and very informative forward, by the way, is by none other than Brian McLaren himself, who likes the book a lot.
Brian McLaren’s next book is due out September 20, 2016 and are taking pre-orders. I haven’t seen it yet. It will be called The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent Books; $21.00.)
Check out these advanced blurbs:
McLaren continues to have his finger on the pulse of a new kind of Christianity that challenges familiar and limiting structures of faith. A prophetic and winsome invitation for all to the join the work of the Spirit in spiritual, theological, and missional transformation.
Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our Correct Beliefs
Brian McLaren is a leading thinker in articulating the disenchantment so many of us feel regarding Americanized Christianity and the hope we have that there is, as McLaren says, “a better way to be Christian.” The Great Spiritual Migration calls us, not to wander aimlessly in the wilderness of pseudo-spirituality, but to follow Jesus forward into the promised land of a more authentic Christian faith. I applaud this important and encouraging book!
Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell To Mars
Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divide World Leroy Barber (IVP) $16.00 I read anything this good brother writes. This is co-sponsored by the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) and is under the Missio Alliance imprint. Barber, who once directed the urban “Mission Year” project, and now is the chaplain of Kilns College and director of the Voices Project, has written passionately about racial diversity, about urban ministry, and about how all of us can develop a missional vision of daily, whole-life discipleship. (I highly recommend his Everyday Mission book as a great read or small group study.)
We hear much about the Christian practice of hospitality, and how we ought to be more inclusive within our faith communities. But how to we get to true peace and unity? How can we embrace one another when the walls seem impenetrable? Jo Anne Lyon (General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church) asks “Could Embrace be a groundbreaker for the racial healing that is so desperately needed and that our Lord desires to accomplish? An unequivocal yes!”
The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD (NavPress) $14.99 I am always on the lookout for faith-based books that are nuanced, wise, thoughtful, inviting us to think critical about our accommodating to the fast-paced, hot-wired, digital world. Almost all of us struggle to figure out a more sane use of our energy and time, to pray, to be attentive, to “be still and know that God is God.” We have our idols, our bad habits, and these are not made easier by our on-line habits. But shutting down and going off the grid isn’t necessarily helpful for most of us. What we need is a critical but also appreciative analysis of technologies. I like what Quinten Schultz years ago called in his book “habits of the high-tech heart.” This new book written by a very fine writer of contemplative prayer practices (The Soul at Rest and Sacred Chaos) looks to be like one of the very best I’ve seen. Gary Moon says it is “a beautifully written book for digital immigrants, digital natives, and second- generation net-surfers.” The Wired Soul uses the language of “slow reading” and “receptive reading” and offers guidance for meditative spirituality for those shaped by digital cultures.
Next Door As It Is In Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood Lance Ford and Brad Brisco (NavPress) $14.99 Wow, is this wonderful and I am very, very excited about it. It is not the first book this year that has explored a sense of place (see, for instance, the fabulous Staying Is the New Going by Alan Briggs or Leonce Crump’s Renovate,) but yet it brings more insight and more energy for this down to earth, missional vision; it is not redundant. In the early chapters he cites classics like Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place) and James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere) so he had me there. Soon enough they are exploring the important work of Peter Block – are we the only Christian bookstore that carries that stuff?
I’m sure this is not just one more re-hash of the incarnational, “the good news is more than words” call to love our neighbors, although that is obviously the heart of it. Like these other localistisa books, they are linking this to a study of place, a critique of placelessness, and inviting us to consider how to be citizens in a place who have learned the art of neighboring well. Next Door As It Is… uses phrases like “common grace” and has a robust theology of the Kingdom of God. Yay. I’m excited, and hope you’d consider it, sharing it with your own church or fellowship. The retro cover is fun, but was a design risk, I think. I hope it isn’t dismissed or not taken seriously because it really, really is good.
Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well Glenn R. Paauw (IVP) $18.00 I mentioned this earlier in the season and I felt like somehow it may have gotten lost in the shuffle of other books by better known authors. Paauw is vice president of global engagement at Biblica, which used to have connection to the American Bible Society. Anyway, he loves the Scriptures, is very interested in how people are reading and using the Scriptures, and offers here 7 “kinds” or sorts of ways we think of the Bible, and counters each with a more faithful sort. (For instance, in contrast to our presumption that the Bible is essentially “complicated” he unveils the “elegant Bible.” Instead of a “snacking” Bible he invites us to “savor the feasting Bible.” He says we need saved from “my private Bible” and speaks of “sharing our synagogue Bible.” Of course, instead of “our otherworldly Bible” he says we are to be “grounded in the Earthly Bible.” On great problem, “our de-dramatized Bible” takes two sections to refute. He shows how we can “rediscover the stroiented Bible” and then shows how we must “preform the stroiented Bible.” There’s more and it is rich, solid, creative, helpful stuff. Blurbs on the back and long and rich themselves, by Walter Brueggemann and Mark Noll, who both commend it earnestly. Yes!
The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation edited by Craig Ott (Baker Academic) $22.99 Wow, is this every useful, with great, great discourse around one of the most urgent questions of our time (or of any time, I suppose, but particularly urgent now.) It is asking what is the very nature of the church, and, therefore, what is the fundamental mission or task or calling of the local church. Few would disagree that there needs to be an outreach and service component to the church; but if it is only a side bit, then it ain’t really ‘missional.’ So, what are people saying about this debate? Are we to be mostly externally or internally focused? About building community or doing mission? how does formation happen? What are the roles of worship and sacraments? Can we agree on this or that or what? This is stimulating stuff as five major “camps” or views are presented. The second half of the book is a “response” chapter by each author, offering his or her evaluations and replies and feedback. Kudos to Baker and to Craig Ott for pulling together such a one-of-a-kind, urgent resource!
Here are the five perspectives and the scholars:
1. A Prophetic Dialogue Approach – Stephen B. Bevans, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar
2. A Multicultural and Translational Approach – Darrell L. Guder, a Presbyterian professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary
3. An Integral Transformation Approach – Ruth Padilla DeBorst, a Latin American evangelical leader, activist, scholar
4. A Sacramental Vision Approach – Edward Rommen, a Rector of an Orthodox church and professor at Duke Divinity School
5. An Evangelical Kingdom Community Approach – Ed Stetzer, the Director of Lifeway Research and author of many books
Listen to what Christopher Wright of the Langham Partnership and author of The Mission of God and The Mission of God’s People writes: of The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation:
I know that I shall read this book again and often. The contributors provide both a breadth of perspectives and a depth of historical background that are illuminating, instructive, and challenging. The book has increased my understanding of and respect for divergent confessional views on Christian mission, while compelling me to re-examine and clarify my own. Like the Bereans, I am motivated afresh to search the Scriptures to see if these things are true–and such an effect is surely the mark of a truly stimulating and worthwhile book.
Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports David King & Margot Starbuck (Herald Press) $15.99 We’ve recommended this before, telling about it when it first came out this Spring. What a great book, and what a great idea to combine the clever, upbeat – dare I say energetic – writing of the playful Margot Starbuck and the sporting expertise of David King who is the Director of Athletics at Eastern Mennonite University. For years, we’ve stocked a book or two from Dordt College Press (such as Christianity & Leisure: Issues in a Pluralistic Society) that were collections of academic papers presented by Christian scholars who work in physical education, sports, coaching, and leisure studies in order to nurture the Christian mind to reform our practices about faith and athletics and playfulness. Most of those pieces were fairly academic, and wonderfully important work such as Paul Heintzman’s Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives seemed to be more for sociologists and others who wanted scholarly reflections. We’ve needed a book that was thoughtful, but practical, for ordinary families, seeking to figure out this whole big deal. This is it! Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide is informed by a healthy appreciation of sport, but is brave enough to be critical of the ways in which we’ve come to embrace athletic culture; again, it is designed for ordinary families (although I could see church groups reading it together.) Three cheers for Overplayed. Mom and dad, you need this. Pastors, children’s ministry professionals, youth workers, coaches, sports fans – you need this.
The very fun journalist Scott Dannemiller says “every page of this book screams common sense.” The beautiful writer Caryn Rivadeneira (author or Broke) says “this is the book for parents of any kids involved in the abundance of activities our culture offers (demands of!) our kids. Overplayed offers biblical and developmental wisdom to help our children grow appropriately into the people God mad them to be.” I think you’ll enjoy it, it will help many, and it will, finally, help us learn not only about setting boundaries regarding overdoing sports, but helping gets obtain more healthy sources for their identities.
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