Some weeks we find it hard to keep up with new book boxes stacked all over. It’s been one of those hot ones here and it makes me smile for a bunch of reasons. It will annoy and confuse some of you, I know, but I just love that we got a brand new book by Timothy Keller and one by Brian McLaren the same day. Religious publishing these days is refreshingly interesting and endlessly fascinating; for those with discernment and Biblically-shaped wisdom, many of the best books can be remarkably helpful.
We don’t carry just any old thing, that’s for sure. But we do have a bigger berth here than many book shops. Not just the ones expected to sell (as in the big secular chains) or the one’s that toe the conservative line at the evangelical chains. We are rather intentional about curating a wide selection here and this weeks new ones just illustrate some of the diversity of topics and perspectives that can help you ponder faith’s mysteries and implications. Just for fun, here’s what came into the shop int he last 48 hours or so.
For our BookNotes fans, they are all one sale, 10% off. Use the order form link below, and we’ll deduct the discount and confirm everything. By the way, the PRE ORDER price for the forthcoming Bruce Springsteen autobiography is 25% off. See below.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00 This extraordinary book deserves to be carefully studied, it deserves to be reviewed well, and it is certainly adequate to send to friends who are deeply agnostic, seriously skeptical or who think that the Christian faith is so odd and untrue that it needn’t even be explored. I can only announce it here, but I do so with great pride: to get to promote such beautiful, thoughtful, informed and honest books, sturdy in more than design, is a great privilege and great joy. Regardless of what you think of Keller’s broad-ranging cultural engagement based on a fairly conventional, gospel-centered sort of thoughtful Calvinism, his apologetics — based on years of real face to face conversations with serious and often sophisticated urbane secularists — is not only admirable, it is worth engaging. Read this book, work on it carefully if you have to. It is rich and deep and interesting and good. By the way, if you know his excellent Reason for God, this is a bit more philosophical, a bit headier, perhaps; it is what might want to call a prequel. Here’s how Tim puts it:
While that book has been helpful to many, it does not begin far back enough for many people Some will no t even begin the journey of exploration, because, frankly, Christianity does not seem relevant enough to be worth their while…. this volume begins by addressing those objections.
The Reason for God does not address many of the background beliefs that our culture presses on us about Christianity, which makes it seem so implausible. These assumptions are not presented to us explicitly by argument. Rather, they are absorbed thought the stories and themes of entertainment and social media. They are assumed to be simply “the way things are” They are so strong that even many Christian believers perhaps secretly at first, find their faith becoming less and less real in their minds and hearts. Much or most of what we believe at this level is, therefore, invisible to us as belief….
If you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then this book is written for you. If you have any friends or family who feel this
way (and who in our society doesn’t?) this book should be full of interest for you and them as well.
This book is nearly 300 pages with good footnotes. It is, in Keller’s style, accessible for educated readers, informed by contemporary philosophers (Charles Taylor), cultural critics (Robert Bellah, of course) films, classic literature and a bit of standard evangelical thoughtfulness from the likes of Lewis, Tolkien and, in a lovely afterward that I’ve already read, Langdon Gilkey from the moving Shantung Compound.
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life Bill Burnett & Dave Evans (Knopf) $24.95 Speaking of lovely, sturdy books this fine work was just released by Knopf — surely one of he more prestigious mainstream publishers. Evans had some connection with Tim Keller, as a matter of fact, making it a rather serendipitous occasion for this book to come out this week, too. It can be explained rather simply: it looks at design thinking and offers very specific guidance for how to take those artful principles and apply them to your own search for a life and career and calling of purpose and meaning and happiness. David Kelly (founder of IDEO) says it is “the career book for the next decade…the ‘go-to’ book that is read as a rite of passage whenever someone is ready to create a life he or she loves.” Wow.
The book is arranged around a set of dysfunctional beliefs and shows how to reframe this sort of thinking towards a “design solution.” It shared practices to do, quit specific exercises and longer-term habits to embody these new ways of seeing. The back covers says a well-designed life will offers “a rich portfolio of experiences, adventures, and failures that teach us important lessons.” But how do we become the sorts of people who are open to learn, adjust, apply to insights from our previous failures? How to we reframe new questions from older questions, moving deeper (or upward)? Designing Your Life promises to help. This is a creatively designed work, a very handsome book, and, I think, will prove very helpful for folks looking (as one of the chapters puts it) for “how not to get a job.”
Networked Theology: Negotiating the Faith in Digital Culture Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner (Baker Academic) $22.99 I hope you know this “engaging culture” series from Baker Academic. We stock each and everyone and they are thrilling. I don’t know why they aren’t more discussed and more widely used in churches. (Maybe they are in some places.) These are thoughtful, serious, but not systematic theology texts; they are applied theology, each taking up aspects of contemporary culture and thinking about it and within it from a Biblical vantage point. (The last one was magisterial and a lot of fun to read — Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives by Paul Heintzman.) Kudos to William Dyrness and Robert Johnston for editing this astute series.
Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner are apparently up for making a new contribution to this important series — she has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is associate professor of communication at Texas A&M; he has a PhD from University of Auckland and is the head of school in the School of Theology at Laidlaw College there. Both have written widely and speak often on technology, faith, and new media.
I know this may sound tedious, but read this blurb by Fuller Theological prof Amos Young — read it carefully and it will surely help you see how serious this work is:
Networked Theology is robustly theological in (1) addressing the nature of being human (theological anthropology) in an era of network individualism, (2) analyzing the nature of human social relations (ecclesiology and theology of society) in a time of connectivity commodification, and (3) revisioning the form of Christian faithfulness (theology of culture and mission theology) in our digitally mediated world. Amid the emerging literature at the intersection of theology and technology, Campbell and Garner give us the first sustained assessment of contextual and public theology for living in and against Web 3.0.
With his background in computer technologies and hers in communication it makes a great pairing to help us all figure out where we are in this new world that grows more digital every month. If you are at all interested in the intersection of faith and digital life, of networks and mass media and being mediated, this thoughtful book will be really, really useful. One chapter is about how faith is lived out in a networked society. Another asked “who is my neighbor in the digital culture?” and yet another ask about “developing a faith-based community response to new media.” You can see, this is vital, urgent stuff! An endorsing blurb from Quentin Schultze (author of the must-read Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media) makes me glad, too. Must be good!
Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature Francine Rivers with Karin Stock Buursma (Tyndale) $16.99 Do you know the beloved, often moving, spiritual novels of Francine Rivers? She has a major, dedicated following for those who read Christian fiction — Redeeming Love is a Western re-telling of Hosea, for instance. Here the talented inspirational writer does a very different sort of book — a weekly devotional based on the beauties of creation. We have a major section in the store of what some called nature writing and we have books for the outdoorsy types, finding God in the wind and rain and such. Some are luminous, poetic, some nearly pantheistic, I fear. This, though, is utterly orthodox as she takes us to the joys of beholding a persistent woodpecker, the majestic redwoods, a glorious sunrise. This is sweet and dear stuff — finding God’s goodness in good things, realizing God’s presence and nearness, God’s attention and joy and love. Happily, there is stunning full color nature photography enhancing every reading making this not only a moving book to hold but a glorious one, too. There are glossy pages, a ribbon marker, and a truly beautiful cover. The Lord offers us “countless blessings” it says in handsome calligraphy. This book is one of them.
Spiritual Leadership: Why Leaders Lead and Who Seekers Follow Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon Press) $19.99 We got quite a shipment from Abingdon this week – we’ve ordered almost every single book they’ve published this season, it seems. There are some standard authors they release and Bandy is one of them. (Bill Easum, too — we got his new one in this week as well. More on that, called Execute Your Vision, later.) In keeping with my theme of the variety of good books that show up, week by week, this is surely one we’ll want to read and explore and stock as we do book displays on the road this fall. The back cover has bunches of raves reviews — from a Protopresbyter in the Greek Orthodox Church to Lovett Weems, Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, to Cory Sparks who is the Director of the LANO Institute for Nonprofit Excellence.
Sparks says this is “big data meets theology” and he explains that Bandy’s book helps us consider how broad trends and lifestyle segmentation — think of The Big Sort, maybe — might effect how we perceive leaders, even spiritual leaders. As one reviewer puts it, it “unravels the enigma of why some pastors and their flocks resonate with one another and other clergy and congregations live in a state of constant conflict.” Yes, he’s using detailed analysis and a bit of what can only be called typologies. (He has major sections on leaders he calls “organic” “constant” and “extreme.” He explores how leaders within and between types — including how things transition and blend. At the end, Bandy offers a leadership inventory (of course he does. It’s that kind of book.) Spiritual Leadership: Why Leaders Lead… looks like a fascinating bit of analysis and we’re glad to have it here.
The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian Brian D. McLaren (Convergent) $21.00 I have read about half of this and am eager to continue on as I find time this crazy week. I think Brian is always worth reading and agree or not with every emphasis and every new insight there is little doubt that he offers kind and pastoral wisdom about many things. He is balanced and fair and eager to bear witness to the truths of Christ as he sees them. Just last night I was addressing a mainline denomination known for it’s more liberal styles and views. I encouraged them to read this as it ends up being a bit close to what they could be, but with a zeal and passion that is characteristic of a evangelical. This is not a lazy or sloppy drift towards liberal, ambiguous (non)theology, it is a robust and passionate call to faith that is creative and liberating and full of love and grace. Granted, I may wish Brian had a tiny bit of Keller in him, and I may wish Keller had a bit more Brian. I hope I”m not alone in enjoying them both and seeing a place for both.
Listen to what some of Brian’s fans say:
This is Brian McLaren’s finest book: a beautiful exploration of a hopeful, joyful, mystical, and just faith that invites Christians to move from fear to love. On every page, he calls out to longing readers, Don’t give up. A better world, a better way of belief is possible. And he is right.
Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded: Finding God in the World A Spiritual Revolution
Anything written by Brian McLaren is always filled with insight, courage, and creative
theology, refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time. Read this and surely enjoy it, for it will assure you that you are not crazy making in what you are seeing and suffering today.
Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation
A refreshingly honest, totally committed, enriching and profound analysis of the Spiritual Moment that is changing all our lives. If you are concerned and at the same time excited by what is going in churches these days, read this book. Both hope and a path to it await you here.
Joan Chittister, author of Between the Dark and the Daylight
I have such respect for Brian McLaren; I would follow him anywhere, and so should you. Follow him out of fruitless dualities and false polarities. Follow him on a restless journey, a quest, a spiritual migration from an apathetic facade of a faith to a joyfully questioning, boundary crossing, ethical spectacle of a faith. This well-conceived, intelligent, warm, truthful book is our guide to a space where a life of faith is defined by love-in-action.
Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister, Middle Collegiate Church
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 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
Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science Mike McHargue (Convergence) $24.00 Wow, what a book. I am not sure what to make of this — haven’t read it yet. But I’ve seen the very attractive trailers done on line and am eager to check it out. Rob Bell, not surprisingly, wrote the forward — Rob has long been interested in quantum physics and string theory and the like, and it seems that this “science guy” had a weird rediscovery of his faith by studying the intricacies of what Barbara Brown Taylor has called (in her collection of beautiful pieces about faith and science) “the luminous web.” This guy was an atheist and science — cosmology and neuro-biology, actually – lead him to faith in the Risen Christ. He says you can meet Jesus even if you don’t understand it all. Well, yeah. He’s very, very smart, really, really funny, and full of faith and doubt and courage and heart. I’m excited by this. With blurbs on the back from Pete Holmes (of a HBO comedy show) and Tanya Luhrmann (a prof at Stanford) and Franciscan Richard Rohr and Donald Miller, well, this has something for everyone.
Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama Kenneth L. Woodward (Convergent) $30.00 No offense to the edgy, cool, thoughtfully progressive Christian Convergent publishing, but I thought this would have been on Random House or Knopf or one of the prestigious New York houses. I suspect it will appear prominently on the New York Times bestseller list and be taken serious on the Sunday morning talk shows. Woodward, you know, was the religion editor for over 40 years for Newsweek. As news stories and trends emerged and evolved in the last half of the last century, he was there. He says this and it doesn’t seem prideful, just a matter of fact. This is his eye witness account, in many instances, of history makers from Martin Luther King to the Dali Lama, from Dorothy Day to an aging Billy Graham, from Abraham Heschel to Sun Myung Moon. He knows about liberation theology and EST, PET and Roe v Wade, TM and the Jesus People, consciousness raising and compassionate conservatism. He tells about being in Nicaragua with Ernesto Cardenel and tells of Wheaton College grad Michael Gerson tutoring George W. Bush on Catholic social thinking with concepts like “subsidiarity” and “the common good.” This is living history par excellence.
Of course his lively writing and his extraordinary bearing witness to the volatile (a word he uses) shifts of religion in our culture these last 50 years doesn’t mean he’s right about how he interprets and assesses the relative import of various movements. I’ve not read enough to have an opinion, but it is a vivid, big book — almost 450 pages. He wasn’t a strong fan of the Berrigan brothers, just for instance — he wrote a very critical review of Dan’s book To Dwell in Peace in the New York Times in those years and I recall thinking it mostly right, despite my own acquaintance with brother Phil — but he does place a lot of weight on the Catholic left. His stuff on John Paul is maybe more important. He has a major section on feminism in the culture and religious studies. He writes a lot about Eastern faiths. He is struck by how some religious expressions became ascendant in the 70s. Some religion we all get from our parents, but increasingly, that isn’t the case — now, we want experience, not dogma.
Anyway, this is a major work, a big book, and should appeal to those who are interested in history, culture, faith in its varying forms, and the way religion has shaped American culture and, consequently, American politics.
Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker says Getting Religion is “brilliant.” James Martin, who says that Woodward has “the inability to write a dull sentence” predicts that “You may open the book for the historical tour but you’ll stay with it because of your brilliant guide.”
John L. Allen of Crux writes
No American journalist has patrolled the borders of that often-troubled relationship between faith and culture longer or better than Kenneth Woodward. He s a reporter of the old school, taking the time both to get the story right and to be artful about how he crafts his prose. As Woodward says himself, being there matters, and in this book, you ll find the wisdom of someone who s just flat-out been there. This is a superb book.
Born to Run Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster) $32.50 STREET DATE SEPTEMBER 27, 2016
Okay, we can’t sell this before Tuesday, although for those who pre-order it, we can ship it for you to receive on Tuesday. OUR PRE-ORDER PRICE IS 25% OFF — $24.37.
All I can say about this long-awaited big bio at this point is that Bruuuuuce’s story will appeal to fans, maybe even those who aren’t hard-core fans. It deal with his family, his dad especially, and a bit about his own faith; there is plenty in the lyrics, pretty overtly, of course. It’s a big one, too — 528 pages! It’s like that story about how The River was first a regular single album but they just knew it needed more, so they wrote and wrote and practiced and played and obsessively recorded and turned in a large double album set. I guess The Boss just couldn’t stop writing. It is, shall we say, colorful, to say the least.
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