As promised, here’s some more Christmas pa rumpa pum pum, ideas for holiday gift giving, books for various readers. I won’t repeat how I am always struck by what a great opportunity this Christmas season is to give gifts to folks, books that can be transforming and helpful and fun and good. Skip the fruitcake (unless your special person really loves fruitcake.) Books are, as we say, great gifts.
And here we go, PART THREE of our fairly random list of fairly interesting ideas for all kinds of readers.
All of these are 10% off and we can ship promptly. We appreciate your support; use the order form below and well get back to you confirming everything.
FOR SOMEONE WHO WOULD APPRECIATE AN ARTFUL, INTENSE, BOOK COMBO
Silence Shusaku Endo (Picado) $16.00 This is the most important novel in contemporary Japan and may be one of the most important films in the storied career of filmmaker Martin Scorsese. As we described earlier at BookNotes, Scorsese bought the rights to this decades ago and has been waiting most of his professional career to do the film adaptation, which releases in the next few weeks. The story is intense, about the persecution of Christian priests and missionaries in 14th century Japan. Is God silent? This handsome new edition of the novel has a discussion guide and a new foreword by Scorsese.
SIlence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00 This stunning book (with a beautiful, award winning cover) is Mako’s own story as a modern artist who discovered the novel SIlence during a trip to Nagasaki, where the horrid tale is set. It figured into his conversation and, as he developed his worldview and aesthetic imagination and art work, he continued to ponder how art can be transformational, healing, profound in the face of suffering. This is in many ways Mako’s own rumination on the same themes explored by Endo and, also, a telling of his own experience with the novel, and his relationship with Mr. Scorsese as he served as a conversation partner with him as he was making the film. One of the best books of the year, coupled with the novel it would make a very poignant, relevant, artsy gift.
BOOK FOR A THINKER WANTING A BRIEF, THOUGHTFUL GUIDE TO CHRISTIAN LIVING
Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $10.00 The current Archbishop of Canterbury says “Here is quite the most beautiful writing on discipleship I know.” On faith, holiness, living in society, life in the spirit. Like so many before him, he starts with an essay on “faith, hope, and love.” Only 90 pages. Pair it with the equally succinct and equally eloquent Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans; $10.00) about which England’s Church Times writes, “A book of enormous substance… it is impossible to do it justice, so you must buy it and read it. And then read it again and again.”
FOR ONE WHO NEEDS A “STOCKING STUFFER” GIFT, A HOUSE-WARMING TOKEN, A SMALL BUT LOVELY ITEM TO SHARE
Gratitude Oliver Sacks (Knopf) $17.00 When the world famous and wildly innovative psychologist was dying he wrote this pleasing little essay, published in a small-sized hardback, classy and blessed.
“My predominant feeling is one of gratitude,” he writes. “I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
The last chapter tells of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing — his mother had seventeen brothers and sisters and her father even wore his yarmelke to bed. What a nice book this is.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN URBAN PLANNING AND CITY LIFE
Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs edited by Samuel Zipp & Nathan Storring (Random House) $28.00 For anyone wanting a gift about the wise and humane arrangements of our social lives in places, Jane Jacobs — author of the seminal Life and Death of Great American Cities — is essential. This brand new book is a gathering of career-spanning, previously uncollected writings and talks by the legendary author and activist. As the feisty James Howard Kunstler (Geography of Nowhere, Home from Nowhere and more) says, “It is one thing to bring important ideas to the world, quite another to do it with such wit and subtlety. This volume reminds us what a sheer, crackling great writer Jane Jacobs was.” Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, advises, “Don’t cheat yourself of the pleasure that lies between these covers.”
For what it is worth, we stock a number of books in this field, from the wonderful The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness, to the heady, important The Theology of the Built Environment (by T.I. Gorringe). We recommend as the best Christian reflection written for nonspecialists and highly recommended to everyone, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Build Environment (Baker Academic; $26.00) by Presbyterian pastor and new urbanist Eric O. Jacobsen, author also of Sidewalks of the Kingdom. I bet if you know somebody interested in this kind of stuff, they’d be tickled to get any of these good books.
FOR A THOUGHTFUL LEADER WANTING TO EXPLORE THE ARTS IN WORSHIP
Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church Lisa J. DeBoer (Eerdmans) $24.00 Published in cooperation with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the newest in their Liturgical Studies series, this brand new book — it released this week! — looks to be the best serious thing I’ve ever seen on this topic. Robin Jensen calls it “wise and insightful” and “an indispensable resource.” W. David Taylor, who edited the wonderful For the Beauty of the Church, says that too many books on this topic are muddled, but, “Thankfully, DeBoer is a careful scholar; her study of the visual arts in worship is both concrete and illuminating, and its points to a fruitful way forward.” I have read Nicholas Wolterstorff’s foreword and it suggests it is “groundbreaking” and “full of fascinating details and perceptive analyses. I am so glad Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church arrived in time to tell you about it. You are going to surprise someone and bless them significantly — if they are serious enough to read such a weighty, mature volume. Wow.
FOR ONE WANTING TO STUDY RACE RELATIONS
Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World Leroy Barber (IVP) $16.00 The walls between us may seem impenetrable, but Leroy is wise and faithful and experienced and gracious enough to push through, to guide us towards embracing others, even those with whom we may have great differences. We have been told that Hearts & Minds has one of the best selections of books about civil rights, racial justice, cross cultural relationships and multi ethnic ministry in any Christian bookstore. I don’t know about that but I do know that Leroy’s new book is one I will recommend time and again — it is delightful, basic, yet challenging. He is now the chaplain of Kilns College and director of the Voices Project. This is good for anyone, brief and so very interesting. Highly recommended.
Strength to Love Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fortress Press) $24.00 I’m told that Coretta Scott King used to say that this book was the one that Martin heard positive replies back about more than any — it consistently changes lives. She writes, “this book best explains the central element in Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence: his believe in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.” I love his Stride Toward Freedom and think Why We Can’t Wait is especially timely. Folks should have some good collection of his speeches and sermons. Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a great gift. But this has been released in a very handsome paperback with french folded covers and is a great gift for anyone.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $16.00 I said several years ago that this was one of the most moving books I have ever read in my entire life. I am glad it is out in paperback and eager to remind folks about this story of a great Christian man doing hard legal aid and life-saving law work for poor folks imprisoned unfairly. The most discussed, nearly definitive book on racist mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) is essential reading but a bit tedious; Just Mercy just sings, painfully but beautifully. It is a must read (endorsed by Ms Alexander!) by a elegant, brave leader that I predict will someday get the Nobel Peace Prize. Give this book now, and people will thank you for opening their eyes.
FOR ONE WHO NEEDS TO REST, TO LEARN TO RELAX
The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap John Koessler (IVP) $16.00 Who wouldn’t like a book with a pillow on the cover, eh? (Hey, you could give them this and a pillow.) But don’t be deceived, this is a serious, mature, thoughtful work, a good book that explores the idols of our soul and the pressures of our culture. This book is, as Alan Fadling (who wrote the exquisite and highly acclaimed book The Unhurried Life) “biblically rich, theologically well-rooted and thoughtful throughout… a good guide into God’s gracious and multifaceted gift of rest.” This is compelling and radical stuff, learning to resist “productivity” and trust God. It will help.
Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self Chuck DeGroat (Eerdmans) $15.00 I have written about this before and exclaimed often how I appreciate this very good writer and this very interesting thinker. Again, this isn’t simple or cheap, but it is really good to read — a fine writer can even bring us hard truths and explore tender stuff and it can be a delight. I admire DeGroat’s vision and appreciate his style. The cover’s nice, too, eh? A good gift for somebody who may need it badly.
Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit Whitney R. Simpson (Upper Room Books) $12.99 Okay, I know nothing about yoga, even though one of my favorite people in the world is a yoga instructor and she thinks the practice nearly saved her life. And I don’t even know if this is actually about yoga, as such. But it is about listening carefully to your body, your breath, and how the Spirit can help you listen to God. Several serious spiritual directors and Christian yoga instructors have been glad for this mature, nuanced book, full of exercises and 40 meditations. This is a cool combo of lectio divina, yoga, breath prayer, aromatherapy and imaginative reflection. Somebody you know is going to love this brand new book!
FOR SOMEONE WHO LOVES THE BIBLE BUT NEEDS A FRESH APPROACH
And the Word Became Color: Exploring the Bible with Paper, Pen, and Paint Debby Topliff (firefly life) $24.00 Debby Topliff is an art teacher who also received a MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a solid and thoughtful guide to Biblical study but here she invites us to not only study or learn about the Bible but to engage it with our senses. She shows how her own engagement with the Bible was transformed as she brought her art to it. Granted, some of us are better at painting and drawing than others but this book can help anyone. And if you know somebody that is artsy, it could be a lifeline, getting them into GOd’s World in powerful, potent ways. Here in this study guide she offers her own paintings as examples of how to see the texts anew — several from the gospels and others from other passages in the New Testament.
Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon Press) $16.99 I didn’t realize that earlier this year the publishers gave this a slightly new cover as the book has been somewhat revised and expanded. My long introduction still serves to set it up, and I am so honored — really! — to have my name on the cover. That’s not exactly why I mention it, though: Writing in the Margins really is a marvelously interesting book offering stories of those who interacted with God through underlining, writing symbols, question marks, and journal entries write in the holy pages. I love this book and you, too, can be led to renewed interactive spiritual expression as you pick up the pen and write as you read. A neat gift for those willing to respond in this way. Make sure they read the foreword — ha!
Frameworks: How To Navigate the New Testament: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary People Eric Larson (Frameworks) $27.00 This book has been picked up by a major Christian publisher but we have it in its first edition, ones we purchased from the author himself when it was first produced. This illustrates, I think, that we truly believed in this oversized book that makes the chronological and theological framework of the New Testament so much more approachable. Although this is a big book, handsomely produced, it has a “less is more” layout and helps us answer ten questions for each of the 27 books (answers about the book’s theme, purpose, outline, how it is organized, how it reads, what makes it unique and what is key to remember and more.) It has some helpful photographs and offers a teacherly assistance to anyone wanting to get more out of their Bible reading.
Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, and Hope Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast community (Books Before Breakfast) $14.00 Published in Toronto by this rag tag group of university students and others who gather early on Tuesday mornings for a creative liturgy, Bible study and weekly Eucharist, HBB explores the prophetic, earth-shattering, perplexing laments of the book of Habakkuk. As I explained in my hefty review when it came out this fall, this book is rare and, I think, very, very important. It shows how a living group, a fellowship, a communion, can engage the Bible honestly, with contemporary application, in the context of music, prayer, litany and worship. There is really very little like it.
They did release a year ago a similar, thicker book sharing their time spent in the gospel of John called Saint John Before Breakfast. We have a few of those, too; it’s pretty radical!
Each chapter has a pastoral letter written by the CRC chaplain, Brian Walsh, to the community prior to the service, setting the stage, so to speak, for the reading of the Word. That is followed by a section which shares a conversation about choosing relevant music (from Dylan to Springsteen to Taize to Celtic hymns) and then offers both the sermon of the week and the liturgical prayers and litanies. One can learn a lot about the Bible when listening in to a real group who struggled to break it open honestly, and one can learn a lot about small groups and innovative and relevant worship practices when joining in with a group like this. This is highly recommended, but — as Brian’s friend N.T. Wright says in his endorsement, Habakkuk Before Breakfast is “a book to shake us up and make us realize that God’s loving justice is the only firm ground on which anyone – or any society — can ever stand.” Don’t give this to anybody that wants simple answers, religious platitudes, or cheap readings of these powerful texts.
FOR A BIBLE SCHOLAR
Reading the Bible Missionally edited by Michael Goheen (Eerdmans) $35.00 Okay, Brian Walsh and his Wine Before Breakfast group aren’t in here, but they could be, as living examples of some of what this provocative and important volume proposes. Some of the very best Biblical thinkers of our time weigh in on how to read the Bible in such a way as to be captured by its wholistic, life-changing and world-redeeming message. Authors of this heavy, yet vital, volume include Craig Bartholomew, Richard Bauckham, Christopher Wright, Carol Mosma, Joel Green, George Hunsberger and more. “This book significantly widens and deepens the emerging conversation on missional hermeneutics…” Can mission and God’s cosmic redemption plan unleashed in the world in Christ be a helpful lens to help us understand the Bible properly and fruitfully. This book is amazing, smart, convicting…. somebody you know might need it!
The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $28.99 I was a little reluctant to list this under the heading “for a serious Bible scholar” as this isn’t Tom’s deepest most scholarly work. The fourth volume of his magisterial “Christian Origins and the Question of God” series, Paul and the Faithfulness of God was a two-volume set (weighing in at 1700 pages) and was supplemented by two other hefty collections of essays about Paul. The Day the Revolution Began is not that dense and is not that hard.
Yet, it is more challenging than, say, Following Jesus, How God Became King, The Case for Psalms, or Simply Christian. It is mid-level and, actually is considered a sequel to one of his most popular and influential volumes, Surprised by Hope. As I said in my long overview published at BookNotes when it first released in October, it explores nearly every New Testament text about the cross of Christ and interprets them in light of “the end of the story” — that is, new creation, the Kingdom coming, restoring all things. This, my friends, is very good scholarship but not needlessly arcane or aimed primarily for the academy. If you know anyone who loves and studies the Bible — certainly and priest, pastor, or preacher — this would be a very, very valuable gift to them. Highly recommended.
Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters Second Edition Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $48.00 This is a brand new second, expanded edition of a great, great (if serious) introduction to the Paul and his work. It is not a simple Sunday school guide but it is — despite its erudite style, offered in almost 700 pages! — a introduction to Paul. Mike, a friendly supporter of our work here in Dallastown, teaches at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute and is considered by many to be one of the top few NT scholars writing today. He knows about everybody in the field and brings together various theories and various Biblical truths. Doug Campbell of Duke Divinity School says that Mikes insights about being in Christ, suffering with Him, being agents of His redemption — called “participation” by some — “is one of the key features of the modern scholarly landscape. This new second edition of his balanced yet probing introduction to Paul’s thought is therefore profoundly welcome.” Wow.
N.T. Wright says of it,
Michael Gorman enviably combines simplicity of presentation with profound originality. The present work, enhanced in this new edition, is simultaneously an accessible textbook and an exposition of challenging new ideas which all Pauline scholars must take seriously. A book to draw in the beginner and to compel the expert into fresh reflection.
FOR SOMEONE WANTING A GUIDE TO DEEPER, MORE COMPASSIONATE LIVING
Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus Frank Rogers (Upper Room) $9.99 Dr. Rogers is a professor of spiritual formation and codirector of the Center for Engaged Compassion at Clarmont School of Theology. I trust this gives you a clue — it is deeply ecumenical, somewhat interfaith, theologically progressive, and a bit deep. Brian McLaren says it has “a perfect mix of stories, exercises, insights and reflections on the life and teachings of Jesus… Rogers will help you become a genuine practitioner of compassion.” Recommended as a workbook by The Academy for Spiritual Formation of The Upper Room.
Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity Norman Wirzba (HarperOne) $25.99 Oh how I have recommended this brilliant book — do you recall my announcement of it at BookNotes earlier this year? Wirzba is a very highly respected scholar, mostly an environmentalist, a farmer, a friend and early collaborator with Wendell Berry, and author of books such as the heavy Theology of Food and the wonderfully written Living the Sabbath. Here he has given us an outstanding, rich, thoughtful study of the topic of love. Eugene Peterson raves, as he rarely does, insisting this is one of the best books he has seen on the subject. There is more going on here then merely talking about the role of love (as if that weren’t enough) but Wirzba is making an argument about theology and the core of faith, that is it, of course, not about intellectual assent or proper belief, but about living the way of Jesus, which is love. It is mature, thoughtful, careful and powerful.
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I like to remind people of this from time to time and now is perfect time to suggest it. You may recall that Goff is one of the funniest people I know and this book is one of the most enjoyable, entertaining, and compelling books you will ever read — his capers and joyful stories, his adventures to make a difference (whether in the life of a local shut in or in some of the most dangerous and exotic place on the planet) will stick with you for a long, long, time. Trust me, you can give this book to a teen, to a disgruntled middle ager, to an older person (as long as they don’t mind the crazy antics and fun storytelling.) Goff is a good, good man, a crazy soul and a fabulous lover of Jesus. Buy a few of these to have on hand to give away to, well, whoever… love does, after all. Do it!
FOR ONE WHO IS A CARE-GIVING OF AN AGING LOVED ONE
Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and The Alzheimer’s Journey Deborah Barr, Edward Shaw, and Gary Chapman (Northfield) $15.99 We have a number of very good books on Alzheimer’s and dementia, some that are more clinical and explanatory, others that are gospel-centered, offering a spirituality of the condition. This is a new one and it seems brilliant — easy to follow, co-written with the famous Gary Chapman, PhD, by practitioners (one with an MA in health education and the other an MD) who in this field. I would suppose you know the basic gist of Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” approach which offers five different ways people receive love; that is, we are wired differently and have different styles of “hearing” how those around us care for us. We have to learn how to “show” or “speak” or “act” love to those around us in ways that work for them. Well, how interesting is it that Chapman and his colleagues apply these five options to ways to relate to those with memory loss and dementia.
There is a good endorsement on the back of this brand new book by the one who wrote the “bible” for Alzheimer’s caregivers (Peter Rabins of The 36-Hour Day) who says of it,
Through stories that are moving and unflinching, Keeping Love Alive As Memories Fade shows how love can persist even as dementia gradually erodes memory and physical abilities. It offers powerful testimony to the lasting nature and immense power of human relationships.
We think this looks nearly brilliant and intend to read it as we walk down this road with my own mom; email us, though, if you want other suggestions and other titles for yourself.
FOR ONE WHO IS AGING BUT EAGER TO READ ABOUT IT
Aging Matters: Finding Your Calling For the Rest of Your Life R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $16.00 If anyone can write a good book on vocation and calling it is Paul Stevens; that he applies it so well to the older population, seeking vocational discernment in a new season of life, is an immense gift. That he calls aging itself a calling is brilliant and generative; game-changing, as they say. Lovely endorsements on the back are from Marilyn McEntyre and Eugene Peterson, who says this may be Steven’s “most important work… a brilliantly crafted, prayerfully shaped witness for living for the glory of God.”
Rich in Years: Finding peace and Purpose in A Long Life Johann Christoph Arnold (Plough Publishing) $12.00 This is a great little book, a glorious collection of chapters which invite older folks to examine their days and search for experiences of meaning and joy. This is simple yet profound, Christianly conceived but would be of interest to almost anyone. There’s an endorsement even from Pete Seeger on the back, Eugene Peterson, Alive von Hildebrand. There’s some great storytelling here, and the author brings other voices int the conversation — living well in light of eternity.
FOR ONE WHO LIKES NARRATIVE NON-FICTION
The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland Dan Barry (Harper) $26.99 I will tell you up front: this will be on our end of the year “Best Books of 2016” short list, one of the most moving and truly unforgettable books I’ve read in years. It is hard to capture the beauty, the pathos, the outrage, and the humanity of this very well reported story in a few sentences, but it is an exceptional book by an exceptional writer. (So taken was I by this author’s vision and craft as a writer that I found a previously published memoir, Pull Me Up, and devoured it for its sheer beauty. I hope to read his award winning book about the longest game of baseball every played called Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game.)
This book is at times painful as it is about the indentured servitude of a group of mentally challenged young men who, kept in a bunkhouse in Iowa as they worked at a dangerous poultry processing plant, grew old together for over 30 years, somehow without anyone doing anything about their captivity. As Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin writes of it, “Dan Barry gives dignity even to the darkest corners of the American experience. He is the closest thing we have to a contemporary Steinbeck.” Or maybe the closest to an Upton Sinclair.
I was a special ed major, and Beth and I met at a camp working with the severely disabled, so I have a special interest in the treatment of adults with intellectual disabilities and I realize that this story is not a simple one of abuse and horror. At the beginning, the one who found these jobs for these “boys in the bunkhouse” was awarded and acclaimed for his willingness to employ the “mentally retarded” as they were called in the days this story begins; it is a complex story and Barry treats the whole story with the awe and mystery (and sometimes outrage) it deserves. This is an outstanding example of investigative reporting turned into an epic tale, perhaps a morality tale, but a great read and a great and finally hopeful book.
Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve Tom Bissell (Pantheon) $28.95 This hefty, handsome hardback with deckled pages just feels like a great book. Glancing at the back you see rave, rave reviews of this authors other work, honoring his craft, saying what a fine writer he is, calling him “wildly talented” and “one of our most interesting and ambitious writers.”
I wasn’t sure if this should be listed under memoir (as he is telling his own tale of searching out the tombs of the Apostles of Jesus) or if it should be suggested to those who like travel literature; you can imagine the breadth and geography of these particular travels. This is entertaining and funny and learned and there is some drama — he heads to Spain, India, Kyrgyzstan, Greece, Rome, and is in the contested Middle East, Jerusalem, Turkey, and, well…
Mostly, though, this is what he learns as he walks around talking to folks, learning the legends, visiting the sepulchers, interviewing the old priests, figuring out the “mysterious and paradoxical lives” of those at the heart of the Christian story. “A book both for those of the faith and for others who seek to understand Christianity from the outside in.
Bissell comes to realize that the story of men like Peter, Matthew, Thomas, John, is the story of early Christianity (including, he concludes, rather competing versions of the meaning of Jesus.) Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs… includes fascinating scholarship, fabulous travel writing, new insights about Biblical history, and a rich story of one man’s own search for truth and more.
FOR THOSE WHO LOVE MEMOIR
The Art of Memoir Mary Karr (Harper) $24.99 Renowned as the writer of the stunning The Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit, here Karr offers a bit of insight into the art of writing memoir, by way of telling more of her own story as a writer. You may know she is a recovering alcoholic, a person of deep faith, a poet and professor. If anyone you know is a serious writer, this book should impressive them. If they love memoir writing, they’ll surely enjoy this one by a master of the genre.
Midnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide Jamie Blaine (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 This book really captured me because it is so raw and real, funny and fun, heavy (as it is about those with psychiatric problems, drug and alcohol issues, folks who are often poor and troubled in a small, Southern town) without drifting into bathos or sentiment. The author is known in town as “the late-night psychiatric crisis guy” and, besides being a counselor/social worker is a heavy-metal loving, pin-ball playing, treatment center admissions counselor who is active in his Pentecostal church and, by the way, DJs at a local roller skating rink, about which he writes with great, touching beauty. This book is entertaining as Blaine ruminates on his life and work and edges towards some remarkably profound stuff about God and grace, without being the least bit preachy. Rock on late night dude. And thanks for telling your tale. I hope your writing another.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis J.D. Vance (Harper) $27.99 I can hardly recall the last time there has been so much discussion about a memoir — for a while, Vance’s story was used to explain “poor rural white” folk who intended to vote for Trump. Conservatives liked that this growing up poor in a dysfunctional family in rust-belt America town seemed to show that government welfare wasn’t decisive for him; he got out of his family mess through hard work, dedication, a realization about the importance of virtue and values, religion and such. Hillbilly Elegy does seem to have some sociological value — as most memoirs do — to illuminate stuff going on within these rural communities. Rod Dreher — no mean memoirist himself! — says it is “An American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class but also its strengths. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read…the most important book of 20156.”
I will comment more on Rod’s evaluation when I get around to publishing my own review that I wrote several months back. For now, just know this is a great read, fun, interesting, revealing, and a good window into the lives of many of our fellow citizens. If you haven’t heard, Vance’s people are from Kentucky, moved to Southern Ohio, his mom had a bunch of husbands, his colorful and often violent grandparents stood up for his honor, and he ended up, after a stint in the Marines, at Yale Law School. What a story.
Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope Against All Odds Craig Keener & Medine Moussounga Keener (Chosen) $15.9 The voice of this story is less like a memoir and more like a testimonial, or a faith-filled autobiography. That is, it is less literary and more a telling. But, wow, what a telling it is; the story is itself nearly epic. Allow me to explain — I know you could give this to some people as a gift and their lives will be enriched and they will be glad. It’s one of those books that is passed around, I think…
Craig Keener, you may know, is a preeminent New Testament scholar and author of several commentaries and Bible resources — I’ve met him a time or two and he is a good scholar, a good teacher, a bit shy, or at least that is how he is presented in the start of this book. The short version is that he met Medine, who would become his wife, while she was an African PhD student who was studying at Duke when they first met — and then eded up in the middle of the civil war in the Congo. When she first went back to Africa she faced terror, disease, and devastating hardship and Craig didn’t know if she was even alive.
Here is what it says on the back: “Separated by continents, cultures, and the ravages of war, Craig and Medine never stopped believing that faith, hope, and love can surmount even the most overwhelming obstacles. Part romance, part thrilling adventure, their story is an unforgettable, miracle-filled journey of impossible love. You will be amazed by the God whose own great love for each of us will always overcome.”
Rolland and Heidi Baker are authors themselves who have heard, read, and written countless missionary stories. Some really are moving, stimulating, informative, inspiring. They say of Impossible Love “This story gripped our hearts as few books have and lifted us higher in Jesus than ever. Read it!” R.T. Kendall, the famous preacher from London says, ” was not prepared for how compelling this book is. It has all the ingredients of a thriller that will keep you turning the pages.” Another reviewers says it is “A real=-life story more incredible than any work of fiction.” Nabeel Qureshi says “reading it kindled a flame in my heart to be a greater part of God’s story.”
Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science Mike McHargue (Convergence) $24.00 This has been on my own short list of books to read, soon, especially since I am drawn to books that share the interior lives of writers, their faith journeys, their ups and downs, struggles, fears and doubts. That this author is a science guy — literally, he has a very popular podcast under the moniker of “Science Mike” which has attracted church folks, former evangelicals, atheists, the spiritual but not religious, seekers of alls sorts. He writes for the Storyline blog of Donald Miller and has appeared in Relevant and Sojourners and The Liturgists Podcast. He is a Christian turned atheist turned follower of Jesus who uses his own story to help people come to believe in and know God in an age of science. This is his story and yes, there’s some science. But it is mostly a memoir, quite entertaining, interesting, well told.
Here is what Matthew Vines says of it:
Mike McHargue s life has straddled two diametrically opposed worldviews: conservative Christianity and secular humanism. His fearless search for the truth led him out of the strict confines of his Southern Baptist upbringing, but his persistent experience of God wouldn’t let him remain an atheist. In Finding God in the Waves, McHargue offers a vulnerable, relentlessly logical account of the deconstruction and reconstruction of his faith that’s sure to challenge skeptics and believers alike. His story will resonate with anyone who’s ever doubted, been the odd one out, or struggled to make sense of their faith. And by giving readers this intimate window into his own journey, he will both help doubters grow in their respect for faith and help believers grow in their respect for science.
Or, listen to this from Peter Enns, whose own somewhat similar book The Sin of Certainty is very, very good:
This is the most honest, challenging, and insightful book on reclaiming a lost faith that I’ve ever read — utterly unique and unexpected. I had one ah ha moment after another as Science Mike cast my faith and my doubts in a more hopeful and encouraging light. I couldn’t put it down.
Or importantly, hear Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday, a memoir that I found deeply moving:
Extraordinary. It s so rare to find a book that is both this important and this much fun to read. Funny, intelligent, and disarmingly honest, Finding God in the Waves gives voice to a generation of faithful skeptics and masterfully navigates the tricky terrain of faith, science, belief, and experience in a way that honors the humanity of atheist and believer alike. It s the kind of book that forever changes how you see the world and yet reads like a comfortable conversation with an old friend. With this work, Mike McHargue has established himself as one of the most thoughtful and necessary Christian voices of our time.
FOR ONE WHO LOVES WORDS, GOOD WRITING, LITERATURE
Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $17.99 I so appreciate this poet, writer, and professor of literature (Ms McEntyre teaches “medical humanities” at UC Berkeley, helping docs and medical caregivers learn to be better by reading literature.) Here she offers a devotional book around words, not so much Bible verses, but phrases from the English language. She invites us to “dwell with and savor” fifteen specific words — listen, receive, enjoy and a dozen more. Each word can be pondered for a week, with seven daily exercises to help meditate on the meanings and implications of the week’s marvelous word. I hope you know her Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, which is a very, very important set of guides to steward well the resource of language. Word by Word will be greatly loved and passed around among word lovers, I am sure.
Marilyn writes in the introduction:
I invite you to discover, as I have, to my lasting delight, how words may become little fountains of grace. How a single word may, if you hold it for a while, become a prayer.
A GREAT, ARTFUL, COFFEE TABLE/ART BOOK
Revealed: A Bible Story Book for Grown Ups edited, curated, compiled by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $36.99 I almost called this category “For Those Who Wanted To Give This as a Gift Last Year But Were Afraid To.” Or, maybe, for those who just haven’t heard of this but will jump at the chance once they do.
This is a handsome, nicely created, oversized (almost 10 x 9) paperback full of black and white reproductions of mostly classic linographs and woodcuts which illustrate Bible stories, from Genesis to Revelation. With each facing page the Bible text the artwork illustrates or evokes is printed out, and there is an annotation, explaining either the art or the text or both. This is, truly, like a child’s picture storybook Bible — for adults. Which is to say there is a particular emphasis (although not an obsession) with the gory, the troubling, the sexual, or what maybe W.C. Field’s called “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The artwork is a blend of classic and contemporary, much commissioned for this project. It isn’t for everyone but many have found it to be nearly genius. Whether you “like” all the artwork or not, the idea of this – the book itself as a finished product — is extraordinary. Nothing like it. Somebody you know (with the necessary trigger warnings and reminder that this, like the Bible itself, sometimes R-rated) will find this to be a provocative, and greatly appreciated, perhaps even wondrous gift. We are glad to promote it, happy to be one of the few places that has reviewed it. Who might you gift it to?
FOR ONE WHO WOULD ENJOY A CLASSIC COOKBOOK
More-With-Less: A World Community Cookbook Doris Longacre, with a new foreword by Rachel Stone (Herald Press) $22.95 We have stocked this marvelous Mennonite cookbook since the day we opened and Beth and I have given quite a few away over the years — it remains a wonderful, wonderful gift, a great cookbook to use (even for those who aren’t advanced or skilled) made all the better in this very handsome, very new, 40th anniversary edition. Earlier editions have sold over 1 million copies! We enjoy all three in the “World Community Cookbook” series — More-With-Less, Simply in Season, and Extending the Table, but More-with-Less remains the classic.
Just read some of these review quotes:
It’s easy to assume eating ethically, with a clean conscience, means spending more than we can afford on the dinner table. This cookbook gratefully and cheerfully proves that assumption wrong, with its simple, hearty, and conscious-driven recipes. I’m grateful for this tool as our family pursues eating well–both in our bellies and in our compassion for others.”–Tsh Oxenreider, author of At Home in the World and Notes from a Blue Bike
More-with-Less has possibly educated more people around the world about Mennonite values and beliefs than any book of history or theology. Longacre’s culinary politics were at the forefront of a food sustainability revolution that is even more relevant today.”–Marlene Epp, professor of history and peace and conflict studies, Conrad Grebel University
Besides being a book to cook with, More-with-Less is a book to live with. Not only will you find recipes to savor food, but you will discover new ways to savor community and celebrate the world’s diversity of peoples and places. This book is an invitation to receive and share God’s gift of life. –Norman Wirzba, author of Food and Faith
My well-worn copy of “More-with-Less” has not only been my go-to cookbook, but also a call to care for the earth and seek fair food for all. This beautiful edition continues to inspire and invite us all to take action, in our kitchens and around the world. –Stefan Epp-Koop, acting executive director, Food Matters Manitoba
More-With-Less has been a go-to resource for forty years because it’s classic — reliable ingredients, timeless recipes, and practical advice for practical cooks. Like a favorite pair of jeans, you’ll find yourself returning to this cookbook over and over again. The best text for being a good steward of God’s creation while making memories around the table! –Nancy Sleeth, author of Almost Amish and director of Blessed Earth
We are connected to our food–cultivating it, preserving it, and preparing it. We are nurturers instead of consumers. This shift affects our relationship to the Giver of our daily bread. We become co-creators with God and stewards of God’s garden. More-with-Less Cookbook invites us to recognize and remember this connection. –Mary Beth Lind, coauthor of Simply in Season
More-with-Less Cookbook is more than a collection of recipes. When I was a young adult, it helped shape my worldview. The tips and suggestions taught me how to buy food and cook responsibly. It helped me realize that for Christians even the simple act of cooking a meal can be a testimony of faithfulness. –Marlene Harder Bogard, executive director, Mennonite Women USA
More-with-Less still speaks the truth today. It’s comforting to know that the same simple advice can hold true in an ever more complex food environment. Food tastes best when shared with others and better still when you know you aren’t taking it away from someone who needs it more. –Leanne Brown, author of Good and Cheap
More-with-Less reminds us that what we eat and how we eat impacts those for whom food may not be readily available. These delicious, healthy recipes are designed to simplify what can be a stressful and often wasteful process. This book recaptures our imagination and empowers us to enjoy the fullness of God’s wonderful creation through food and community. –Jenny Yang, Vice President of advocacy and policy, World Relief
This beautiful anniversary edition of More-with-Less honors Doris Longacre’s vision to help people eat more compassionately, more mindfully, and better. Conscientious eaters will appreciate the wise resourcefulness found within. –Lisa Graham McMinn, author of To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community
FOR ONE WHO NEEDS AN UPLIFTING GUIDE TO BASIC CHRISTIAN LIVING
Ridiculous Faith: Experience the Power of an Absurdly, Unbelievably Good God Shelene Bryan (Nelson Books) $16.99 This author is vibrant, maybe absurdly and unbelievably, ridiculously so, because she is caught up in the passion of God’s great goodness. And, man, the energy she draws from that. You may know her book Love, Skip, Jump or her ministry providing clean water to children around the world. Endorsements on the back range from Lisa Chan to Karen Kingsbury toe the former President of Catalyst, Brad Lomenick (and when he says somebody is “one of my favorite people on the planet” you should take notice.) This is asking why we have profound moments of faith but they often vanish quickly. This is about abundance — not in a crass materialistic sense, but in a way that resonates with the promises of God and the invitation to a creative, life-changing trust in God.
Deeply Rooted: Knowing Self, Growing in God Christopher Maricle (Upper Room) $14.99 Less excitable than Shelen Bryan and her “ridiculous” book, above, Maricle’s quiet guidance will be appreciated by those who want to ponder a bit, slow down, ponder a bit, and realize that spiritual growth is much like a tree — roots and branches, as we say. Dirt, seeds, water, support the roots and this book is a gentle exploration of the life cycle of a tree-like faith. This book shows the stages many souls follow as they develop — starting with self knowledge and knowledge of God, grounded in the “soil of humility, growing strong roots of love and compassion” and expanding and deepening into virtue. Finally, “we discern what actions our soul should take and we bear fruit.”
This is a nice study of the lifetime work of practice, understanding how to prune and care for the tree which is our interior life. Nice.
Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s TImeline Marlo Schalesky (Abingdon) $16.99 This would make a wonderful gift to anyone — I suppose mostly a woman — who is in a season of waiting, wondering, perhaps why it seems that God is waiting. This lovely book offers a unique, contemplative journey to reveal the wonder that is often missed in life by walking through the life of the biblical character Sarah, one who knows what it means to wait.
As it says on the back cover: “Embark on a journey through disappointment, doubt, and detours to discover God in the ‘not yet’ places of life.” Schalesky is an award-winning author of many other books, including Wrestling with Wonder: A Transformational Journey Through the Life of Mary.
FOR A COLLEGE SENIOR
After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00 One of the highlights of our book-selling year was to host a little “book launch” party, celebrating Erica’s brand new book, releasing it into the world with a prayer and some autographs. Erica is a dear friend, a very sharp campus minister (working for the CCO out of Calvary Church in State College PA) and now, increasingly, a nationally known speaker and author. She gets almost everything just right, pitch perfect, with a beautiful prose style that guides college seniors into prepping for that big transition out of college and into their young adult years.
I hope you saw my longer review of this at BookNotes last July or perhaps some of the other good reviews that have been publishers. Maybe you’ve hear from others just how pleasant and wise and useful this good book is. There is very little on the market like this, and the advise and counsel she shares comes from years of working with students transitioning out of school and into the rest of their lives. Erica cares and it is palpable; she wants young friends to flourish, she wants them to take God seriously, she wants them to work well with a sense of calling and visions of vocation. This would make a great gift certainly for any Christian student who is a college senior and for anyone who has graduated in the last year or so, wanting to navigate successfully through the unique obstacles during this time, attending to their faith, their job search, their living, their lives. Highly recommended.
Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99 I hope you don’t mind me reminding you of my own little book. We’ve got great responses from it — the author’s who allowed me to edit their graduation speeches and collect them here with reflection questions and some cute graphics are to be commended. The book is great because, well, who wouldn’t want to hear a great message and eloquent inspiration from Richard Mouw, John Perkins, Amy Sherman, Steve Garber, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Claudia Beversluis? My own talk which makes up one of the chapters has been complimented and I’m glad; I’m proud of the introductory chapter too. And — get this! — Erica Young Reitz had her publishing debut in the great little epilogue she wrote, offering some good stories and some sage advice that ends this nifty little book.
If you know anyone who wants some of the most astute, culturally engaged Christian thinkers today offering motivation for a life well lived, living out faith in the marketplace and work-world, Serious Dreams makes a great little gift.
If you know college seniors or recent grads, why not give them both — After College and Serious Dreams. One is more extensive and practical and detailed, one is motivational and inspiring (as graduation speeches at their best can be.) It would be great pairing.
FOR A PHILOSOPHER
Kierkegaard: A Single Life Stephan Backhouse (Zondervan) $24.99 I mentioned something you could give to a philosophy-type in my last list but forgot to name this; and how could I? This is perhaps the most significant recent biography of the great Dane and one which examines not only his life and his faith, but the influence he has had on our greatest cultural icons, from Kafka to Orwell, Barth to Bonhoeffer, from Camus to Martin Luther King, Jr. (who studied him carefully.) If you don’t believe me that this would make a great gift (for a student, a scholar, or an one interested in intellectual leaders) just know that many great writers have given enthusiastic endorsement for this fine book.
When somebody like Richard Beck says “I’ve waited by whole life for this book” you must pay attention.
Stephen Backhouse’s Kierkegaard: A Single Life is an extremely useful book that makes Kierkegaard accessible to those just beginning to know him. Backhouse’s account of Kierkegaard’s life is exemplary but particularly useful is his summary of Kierkegaard’s works. — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Emeritus Professor of Divinity and Law, Duke University
Stephen Backhouse has given us a wonderfully lively and sympathetic portrait of one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century, sparing us nothing of Kierkegaard’s abrasive, contrarian personality, but also illuminating the extraordinary courage and spiritual depth of the man. We have waited a long time for such an accessible introduction, growing out of deep study of the abundant original sources and bringing them alive with a light and sure touch. — Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury
Drawing on the wealth of new biographical material that has become available in the last twenty years, Backhouse’s life of Kierkegaard sets the Danish thinker in his time and place and does so with confidence and verve. Few books about this most subtle and elusive of figures could be described as page-turners, but Backhouse combines a fast-moving style with a strong grasp of the big issues that makes this a compelling read. For those who have not yet read Kierkegaard himself, this will leave them wanting to do so – which must be the best outcome for any work of this kind. — George Pattison, Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow
This is an extraordinarily likable book about a not-very-likable, though fascinating, figure. This is not hagiography; Backhouse gives the full measure of Kierkegaard, and loves him in all his weirdness. Backhouse is a great storyteller—witty, imaginative, and with an eye for irony and humor. This book fills a need for an introduction for the educated nonspecialist to Kierkegaard’s life and thought, which are inseparable. How lucky we are that this need has been filled with such flair. — Dr. William T. Cavanaugh, Director, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University
Almost every road in modern Christianity leads back, at some point, to Kierkegaard. Yet few appreciate this fact because we’ve lacked a knowledgeable and accessible guide. Finally, we have one in Stephen Backhouse. I’ve waited my whole life for this book. And so has the church. — Dr. Richard Beck, Associate Professor of Psychology, Abilene Christian University
Starting with the astonishing scenes at Kierkegaard’s funeral, Stephen Backhouse traces the life and impact of this extraordinary, elusive, passionate critic of passionless Christianity. Backhouse’s book is both learned and accessible, so that the issues that Kierkegaard wrestled with walk off the page to challenge us again today, while the man himself haunts us, calling us and hiding from us, as he did his contemporaries. — Dr. Jane Williams, Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology, St Mellitus College
FOR AN ADAM HAMILTON FAN – BRAND NEW
Creed: What Christians Believe and Why: Exploring the Apostles Creed Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $19.99 Brand new, we have all the ancillary product, too, for those that want to use it in church this Lent; there’s a DVD, leaders guide, youth edition, and more. For now, the book would make a great gift.
I haven’t looked at this yet (it is brand new!) but I’m sure it is lively, interesting, moderate and friendly in tone, and reliable in perspective. He’s a moderate United Methodist, popular, engaging and, I think, pretty balanced. Should generate good and helpful conversations.
FOR AN OS GUINNESS FAN – VERY RECENT
Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00 I hope you read my long review in BookNotes last summer of this important hardback book. Os Guinness is a wonderful writer, a renowned leader in the evangelical world, a sociologist and apologist and cultural critic (and I count him as a friend and somewhat of a mentor, through his books and words of encouragement.) Some of us will read anything he writes, and know how rewarding his good books are.
Here, as in some of his other hard-hitting works, he brings critique to those who accommodate themselves to the pressures and attitudes and values and practices of late modernity, essentially allowing the world (as warned against in Romans 12) to “squeeze us into its mold.” What does it mean to have renewed minds, to counter that pressure, as Romans says? What does it look like to be a peculiar people, to stand firm against the drift in culture (and, too often, in the church) away from first things, truth and goodness, virtue and gospel-centered clarity and conviction? How can we resist the principalities and powers? We need robust, orthodox theology and a sure sense that there is a battle to be fought — we can’t just hope for better days. Yes, we must serve God’s work in God’s ways, relying on God Himself — the was the theme of trusting God and being positive about which he wrote so nicely in 2014s Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times which was the precursor to this recent one. Impossible People sounds the alarm, reminding us of the cost of discipleship, the response to the good news proclaimed in Renaissance.
Here is how the publisher explains the message of this thrilling, sobering, astute, and finally inspiring book; whether you agree with every idea and appreciate every paragraph (who does with any serious book?) Impossible People demands to be read and considered. I hope many give it away and many read it.
The church in the West is at a critical moment. While the gospel is exploding throughout the global south, Western civilization faces militant assaults from aggressive secularism and radical Islam. Will the church resist the seductive shaping power of advanced modernity? More than ever, Christians must resist the negative cultural forces of our day with fortitude and winsomeness. What is needed is followers of Christ who are willing to face reality without flinching and respond with a faithfulness that is unwavering. Os Guinness describes these Christians as “impossible people,” those who have “hearts that can melt with compassion, but with faces like flint and backbones of steel who are unmanipulable, unbribable, undeterrable and unclubbable, without ever losing the gentleness, the mercy, the grace and the compassion of our Lord.” Few accounts of the challenge of today are more realistic, and few calls to Christian courage are more timely, resolute and hopeful. Guinness argues that we must engage secularism and atheism in new ways, confronting competing ideas with discernment and fresh articulation of the faith. Christians are called to be impossible people, full of courage and mercy in challenging times.
FOR A WALTER BRUEGGEMANN FAN – RECENT, NEW AND BRAND NEW
Names for the Messiah Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $13.00 I reviewed this previously as an Advent study and know it might be a little late for some, now, but you could tuck this into someone’s Christmas stocking and they could read it on Christmas Sunday. Four talks or lessons, one the four names for God in Isaiah 9:6. Just came out this fall. Very nicely done.
Social Criticism and Social Vision in Ancient Israel Walter Brueggemann (Cascade) $20.00 This is the newest collection of fairly scholarly essays by the unstoppable Brueggemann. Edited and compiled by K.C. Hanson, these pieces look at social critique in Deuteronomy, in a chapter comparing “a poem of summons” in Isaiah 55 with a “narrative of resistance” in Daniel 1, a “counter to conventional social reality” as seen in Psalms 9 and 10, and more. He picks up themes from his classic Prophetic Imagination (linking it to “social flourishing”) and does lots of exegetical teaching, offered with great interpretive gusto. There’s one chapter on the tearing of the curtain in Matthew 27 and a update of the literature on Isaiah (“Five strong readings.”) These pieces mostly were done earlier in his career and yet seem mostly as relevant today as ever.
For what it is worth, Walt has a major new scholarly book published by Baylor University Press called God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fragility and the Command for Common Good ($24.95.) It has been out of stock at the publisher, and they hope to have more to us soon.
One writer says:
Brueggemann God, Neighbor, Empire is a stirring account of the various ways in which the Old Testament is offered as an alternative to the imperial narrative that dominates ordinary imagination both in ancient times and in the present.As always, one does not need to agree with every Brueggemann reading of the biblical text in order to find him a stimulating and helpful contributor to our understanding of some important themes of biblical theology overall, and of the ways that this theology should shape our imagination, our desire, and our practice, rather than merely reflect them.
Walter himself says, evocatively,:
Justice, mercy, and the public good all find meaning in relationship a relationship dependent upon fidelity, but endlessly open to the betrayals of infidelity. This paradox defines the story of God and Israel in the Old Testament. Yet the arc of this story reaches ever forward, and its trajectory confers meaning upon human relationships and communities in the present. The Old Testament still speaks.
If you want it before Christmas, let’s talk — I can keep you posted. We can hope.
FOR A BETH MOORE FAN – HER NEW NOVEL
The Undoing of Saint Silvanus Beth Moore (Tyndale) $24.99 Beth Moore is very popular as a women’s Bible teacher, with videos and conferences books and curriculum — and we can be glad that someone so popular is neither heretical, narrowly fundamentalist, or too simplistic. She’s a fine Bible teacher, solid, compelling, charming. I am not sure she is cut out to be a novelist but there are those who adore her insights, follow her ministry, and would love to know that she has tried her hand at fiction. This book is set mostly in post-Katrina New Orleans (the titular Saint Silvanus is a old church that is now an apartment complex, a setting for some of the mystery and drama) and it seems pretty cool. I think some would love it — Christian fiction well told with a strong message of goodness and grace and redemption.
Here is what the important LIbrary Journal gave as their verdict:
Making her fiction debut, best-selling inspirational author Moore ( Audacious; Breaking Free) delivers an absorbing, suspenseful read. Readers who prefer a story focused on finding faith through adversity will savor this beautifully written novel.
FOR ONE WHO WOULD APPRECIATE A CREATIVE, MOVING STUDY OF THE TRINITY
Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience Peter Leithart (Brazos Press) $20.00
There are more than a dozen books about the Trinity that we have here in the shop, from the most heavy and historical to the experiential and pleasant. Most are sturdy, reliable, useful. For the former, see, for instance, The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity by Stephen Holmes (IVP Academic), The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders (Crossway) or the recent heady collection of essays One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinctions of Persons, Implications for Life edited by Bruce Ware & John Stark (Crossway.) On the less scholarly side, we like Trinity: The God We Don’t Know by Jason Byassee (Abingdon) and Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson (Regent College Press) or the short devotional Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God (Crossway.) A thoughtful middle ground level — serious but not too hard — may be Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (IVP Academic.)
But this recent Peter Leithart one is unlike any of the above and, although utterly, carefully Biblical and orthodox, is a bit ‘outside the box’ and truly fascinating. It will delight and surprise and stimulate anyone who wants to stretch a bit. Jack Levison of Southern Methodist has endorsed it and listen to this from RTS scholar John Frame:
This is the most delightful book I have read in a long time. One of its delights is its clear, gracefully written prose, which easily engages the reader. The book presents a cogent case for a highly significant point: the whole created world images the divine Trinity. Leithart argues this thesis comprehensively, demonstrating that the divine perichoresis — the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Trinity–is reflected in every area of human life, including perception, thought, language, sex, time, space, music, and imagination. Leithart’s argument has the potential, therefore, to bring major change to our study of all these areas of reality, and thus to all the ways we live in the world.
Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell (Whitaker House) $23.99 One of the most discussed books of the year, it has been celebrated and denounced. Rohr is one of the most popular religious writers in recent years, a liberal Franciscan who beautifully brings together contemplative spirituality and radical social action in the world. I wrote a pretty major review at BookNotes, affirming much of what this good Brother does and yet suggesting that I thought the dancing bit was just a bit obtuse at times. I thing he gets some things wrong — like the difference between the creation and the Creator, which is no small thing.
Yet his is an interesting book and while he’s wrong that nobody has talked about the Trinity much throughout church history, it is such an endlessly mysterious topic, it is useful to read varying perspectives. I read a review lately that was very critical, and I thought the critic was almost fully right until he said that recommending this book disqualifies one from giving advice. That’s just silly, and implies that if one doesn’t agree with an author one dare not read him. Or that if you disagree with his evaluations you ought not be listened to about anything. I say to be discerning, but read widely, and be generous in conversation with others.
Not that the art in this redeems it fully, but the inside cover shows a close up of the famous Rublev icon, making this an especially nice volume to hold; opening that first page and seeing that is itself pretty nice. Consider this a justice-seeking, quite lively, somewhat process-oriented, postmodern version of what the Desert Fathers and Mothers termed perichoresis.
Read some of the reviews from responsible critics for evaluations — that’s always a good practice. But many thoughtful folks, especially in the mainline denominational world and among progressive thinkers, love this. It’s worth sharing, and then talking about.
FOR SOMEONE HEARTBROKEN ABOUT THE GENOCIDE AND SORROW IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time Jeremy Courtney (Howard) $15.0 I know that this story can impact lives, and that it would really be appreciated by anyone burdened by the horror in Aleppo, Syria, or anyone wondering about a Christ-like response to ISIS. This book was written before the current crisis, but Jeremy here tells of his networking efforts to save the lives of Iraqi kids. He interacts with Muslim clerics, Arab folk leaders, Al Qaeda operatives, working to save the lives of children suffering heart disease — a crisis there — by uniting Kurds and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians, Muslims and Christians around this ministry of health and healing pediatric heart surgery. Part medical missionary, part Christian peacemaker, this adventurous character from Texas tells an unforgettable story that is sure to bring some hope and clarity. Highly recommended.
FOR THOSE WHO’D LIKE A YOUNG ADULT FANTASY STORY
The Gifted: The Daegmon War: Book 1 Matthew Dickerson (Living Ink Books)$14.99
The Betrayed: The Daegmon War Book 2 Matthew Dickerson (Archway Publishing) $21.99
Here is what you need to know about these very nicely done, very impressive fantasy stories for kids or adults: Matthew Dickerson is certainly one of our leading scholars of J.R.R. Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) and has immersed himself in the grandest and best fantasy literature since he was a lad (working in his Dad’s Logos Bookstore.) Dickerson teaches at Middlebury College and has had the opportunity to be friends with some of the best American writers (the day I met him, recently, he had hosted the poet Billy Collins the day before.) His splendid book Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy (Brazos Press; $24.00) is a must-read for anyone who enjoys fantasy or thinking about epic stories through the lens of thoughtful Christina faith.
(To remind you of how smart this guy is, he has two academic press books looking at environmental concerns in Lewis’s Narnia and in Middle Earth, Narnia and the Fields of Arbol ($35.00) and Ents, Elves and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien ($25.00.) Both are great!) So, these fantasy novels are classic, full of adventure and virtue and drama and faith (which is to say they are modeled after a writing style more inspired by Tolkien than, say, Game of Thrones or some of the other overly violent and nearly occult fantasy these days.) These are fine, fine stories, not well known, and it would be a great blessing to support this guy, buy these books, and help promote novels done with great care and joy.
FOR ONE WITH A LOVE OF POETRY
Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $39.00 This is a very attractively made paperback with a fabulous foreword by Gregory Wolfe. If anyone is interested in contemporary poets who are also very spiritual — Cairns is an Orthodox Christian, and has written several books about monastic and mystical faith — this is a poet that they simply must know. This spans three decades of work and is a wonderful, thick volume.
A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $25.00 We don’t sell much poetry, truth be told, but among our biggest sellers is, naturally, the famous essayist, farmer, novelists and poet, Kentuckian Wendell Berry. You may know that he writes what he calls “Sabbath Poems” as he walked and wandered (and wondered?) around his familiar territory, seeking intimacy with land and self and God. Some of these have been published over the years and this is his newest volume, released just this summer in a colorful, striking, slim hardback. Very nicely done and wonderfully accessible poems by one of our most popular authors.
The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle Madeleine L’Engle (Shaw Books) $20.99 This is not new — dear Madeleine has been in heaven for several years, now — but I haven’t mentioned it in a while. The cover is so striking, the poems so good, even the foreword by Lutheran pastor and writer Walter Wangerin is very, very nice. I hope you know her children’s fantasy, her Bible reflections, her must-read book on the arts (Walking on Water) and her quartet of memoirs. But surely you ought not skip her poetry. A few of Beth’s all time favorite lines come from this woman’s pen and her writing is to be cherished. Give this to anyone that is a true lover of poetry or to one that maybe has her of L’Engle, likes literature, and may be willing to try a book like this. It’s very, very nice.
FOR SOMEONE SEARCHING FOR MEANING, TRYING TO DISCOVER WHAT THEY BELIEVE ABOUT LIFE AND FAITH — AND WOULD WATCH DVDs.
DVD What Matters: The Search for Meaning with Os Guinness Os Guinness (Discovery House) $13.99 This is a beautifully filmed documentary in which the eloquent thinker takes a step-by-step approach in search of answers to questions like “Who Am I?” and “Why Am I Here?”
Set in the beautiful, lush setting of Oxford University, he starts off reminding us that we all need “meaning” and “belonging.” He explains how the modern world influences us in our we think and why people make the choices that they do.
“It’s only if you really understand the meaning of life that other things, like success, careers, and so on, really make any sense,” says Guinness. And this DVD, with intellectual rigor but much heart and passion, too, offers a helping hand, honestly walking with individuals as they consider life’s deepest questions.
He offers four stages to consider, inviting viewers to a journey which includes “a time for questions, a time for answers, a time for evidences, and a time for commitments.” He compares how various belief systems — including atheism, Eastern worldviews, and theism — answers the question about ultimate purpose.
You may know that one of my all time favorite books is Guinness’s The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (W Publishing Group; $17.99) which is about calling and vocation and deeper discipleship in all of life. This DVD presentation touches on some of that and if you appreciated that, you will love this.
However, I think it tends to draw even more on Guinness’s wonderful The Long Journey Home: A Guide To Your Search for the Meaning in Life (Waterbrook; $18.99.) That was a brilliant guide to helping people discern if various worldviews held up to the deepest questions of life (such as the question of suffering.) Ideas have consequences and differences in view make a difference. These resources are for those who are willing to ponder. The DVD is a treat, listening to Os candidly and sincerely invite people to think things through for themselves is a great grace and a beautiful model of honest exploration.
DVD The Reason for God: Conversations on Faith and Life Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $36.99 (price includes a DVD and participant’s workbook.) This is a six session curriculum but many folks have watched it on their own or just with a friend or two. Keller is a thoughtful, good thinker and fine communicator who invites viewers to “doubt their doubts” and be honest about their presuppositions. In these well-produced sessions Keller gathers together thoughtful participants (mostly young adults) who do not share his faith or his evangelical convictions. These skeptics and seekers entertain his good comments and he fields their good questions. It ends up being quite a fascinating conversation, live and honest, showing how to explore Christian faith in such a open setting.
Here are the six session titles in the Reason for God DVD:
1. Isn’t the Bible a Myth?
2. How Can You Say There Is Only One Way to God?
3. What Gives You the Right to Tell Me How to Live My Life?
4. Why Does God Allow Suffering?
5. Why Is the Church Responsible for So Much Injustice
- 6. How Can God Be Full of Love and Wrath at the Same Time?
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