We hope you enjoyed our last epic list of some random suggestions that might speak to a person for whom you want to give a little gift. Books are such fine presents (and they wrap very nicely.) What a curious thing in our post-Christian culture: a season where we can give gifts to almost anybody without any awkwardness. Book sales spike during this time of year for a reason; Christian folks certainly be a part of this trend and we should be eager to pass out interesting titles, sharing something of comfort and joy this time of year.
Who might you give a book to?
Here are some more suggestions, good ideas for your holly jolly generosity. And, hey, nobody said you can’t get these for yourself. Or read it first before you put it under a tree.
So, part two. Recommendations and descriptions for free — but ya gotta order through us, right? It’s only fair.
FOR A HENRI NOUWEN FAN — NEW LETTERS
Love, Henri: Letters the Spiritual Life Henri J. M. Nouwen (Convergent) $24.00 Fr. Nouwen was known for writing letters — he kept nearly all of the 16,000 letters he received and he responded to them all. Some of his replies, spanning two decades, are very revealing, some quite tender, some summarizing things he wrote in his many books. This very handsome hardback offers over 200 of his letters offering wit, condolence, insight, spiritual guidance. As Sue Mosteller writes in her epilogue, “I love this collection. It is for me, a spiritual autobiography. Henri’s letters reveal the ever-evolving, ever-deepening, ever-struggling heart of my strong yet vulnerable friend.”
FOR A C.S. LEWIS BUFF (OR THEOLOGY STUDENT)
Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis Donald T. Williams (Square Halo Books) $16.99 I can nearly guarantee you that no one you know has this book yet — I picked them up from the publisher a day ago, and we are most likely the only bookstore that has them now. There are so many good books about Lewis, of course, that one could be forgiven for thinking we simply don’t need any more. And then you would see this one and realize it fills a significant hole in the large Lewis literature; Deeper Magic literally offers a systematic theology informed by Lewis, compiling and collating and drawing up his prose, fiction, letters, prayers, poems, and essays to create the sort of theology Lewis would have written had he been a theologian. Such a comprehensive overview of even a professional theologians life-long body of work can be daunting (even the most precise theological professional changes her or his mind over time and may have contradictions within their own system of thought.) It is more daunting when the writing is so vast and allusive — children’s stories, epic poems, letters, sermons and more make up Lewis’s oeuvre.
Still, this is much more than a shoehorning of Lewis proof-texts into theological categories (the nature of truth, the character of God, the meaning of salvation, the person and work of Christ, the end times and more.) It is a fabulously rich, very studious, systematic study — with a degree of admitted speculation — of what Lewis really meant by “mere Christianity.” Agree or not, this is unlike any book about Lewis you’ve read and it is a must-own volume for anyone who is even somewhat serious about the great Oxford don.
Listen to Diana Pavlack Glyer, author of Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings
Williams has done the
impossible: he has written a highly readable overview of C. S. Lewis’s
theology. He draws from the deep well of a lifetime spent studying
literature and theology and Lewis. My understanding has been greatly
enriched; yours will be, too. This book is a marvel. I am happy to
By the way, big kudos to Square Halo Books in Lancaster, PA, for releasing this. They did this something like this a couple of years ago, publishing a book which filled a real gap in Lewisania. Their splendid C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands ($18.95) offered a dozen great essays by a variety of Lewis scholars, some who are themselves artists or cultural creatives. Why not wrap ’em both up together — a perfect gift to appeal to what Lewis called “reason and imagination.”
FOR A YOUNG SEEKER, NOT FULLY AWARE OF MUCH ABOUT
How’s Your Soul?: Why Everything That Matters Starts with the Inside You Judah Smith (Thomas Nelson) $22.99 This is a sweet and upbeat book, funny, honest, written as a guide to soul-care, attending to our inner lives, in a way that is inviting for those who are not mature in Christian faith (but it does come at things directly from a Biblical/evangelical perspective.) I like that this author speaks to his readers as if they are interested in hearing him out as a young pastor, but is aware that they may not have full buy-in to his assumptions about the Bible or church life. Judah is very popular among young adults for his previous best selling books Jesus Is ____ and Life Is____. This isn’t for serious skeptics, philosophy majors or cultural critics, but for pretty ordinary young adults who don’t know much about faith but are willing to consider it, this is a way into the conversation.
It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I love this young dude and his fast-talking, super honest, evangelical YouTube talks. (He went viral with his rant “Jesus > Religion” which became a good book and is, happily, an indication that he is a serious and thoughtful pastor, not a fad star.) In this fun and readable guide to Christian living he suggests we’ve gotten the story wrong. He invites folks to reconsider some standard Christian slogans and/or teachings which he tweaks, noting the what people often think about these things isn’t quite right; Christian discipleship isn’t even what you thought. This “not that, but this” approach is an ancient method of doing theology, and while it sounds sort of edgy, it’s just good solid explication. Blurbs on the back are from the popular Lysa TerKeurst and the always interesting Bob Goff, noting that Jefferson has “rattled by assumptions about Jesus.” Some of the chapter titles are “Your Story’s Not What You Think”, “People Are Not Who You Think” “You Aren’t Who You Think”, “Worship’s Not What You Think”, “The Kingdom’s Not What You Think” — there is even a nice chapter called “The Table’s Not What You Think” which has the subtitle, “It’s not just a meal, it’s a sacred space.”
FOR ONE NEEDING CONFIDENCE ABOUT CHRISTIAN TRUTH
Today’s Moment of Truth: Devotions to Deepen Your Faith in Christ Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $19.99 This is a devotional made with heavy glossy paper and a colorful padded cover and ribbon marker making it a very nice gift. It offers 180 insightful devotions “that will give you daily infusions of spiritual truth while deepening your knowledge of the evidence for Christianity.” I hope you know Strobel and Mittelberg who are fun guys who are great communicators, known for compelling workshops and books about apologetics (the defense of traditional Christian truth claims) and evangelism (inviting non-churched folks to consider the free gift of salvation offered in Christ.) They know their stuff and here offer nice, solid, inspiring short pieces about various truths. I think this book is ideal for those that may not want to read a heady theology book or even a sustained argument about Christian evidences but who wants something a bit more intellectually stimulating than a simple inspirational devotional. In Today’s Moment of Truth the authors offer a reflection upon either a scientific, historical or biblical fact, equipping readers to stand confident in those reasonable truths. Nicely done.
FOR A SKEPTIC — SERIOUS AND THOUGHTFUL, LOGICAL and LEFT BRAINED
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00 This recent book, published in hardback by a prominent New York publishing house, is one of the very best books to give to somebody who has an allergy to religion, who isn’t sure they want to even consider the plausibility of Christian truth claims, and want a literate, intelligent, astute argument. Keller’s early book of this kind — emerging from his innovative church-planting among smart, cosmopolitan New Yorkers — was called Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Penguin Books; $17.00.) Making Sense of God is in many ways a prequel to that, for those perhaps not even ready to read the case for Christianity’s truth and reasonableness but who are willing to explore if the notion of God is sensible. This book is very, very good and I highly recommend it.
FOR A SKEPTIC — SERIOUS AND THOUGHTFUL, ROMANTIC and RIGHT BRAINED
Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious David Dark (IVP) $20.00 David Dark is one of our most energetic and curious writers — part Bob Dylan, part Dylan Thomas (okay, I just said that because it sounded cool, which is all I was going for. Maybe I should have said for those who like Sufjan Stevens and Michael Chabon; Daniel Berrigan and Beck, U2 and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.) David is a pop culture savant, a Southern literature buff, a righteous social activist an interesting teacher, and a heckuva storyteller. He wrote this fascinating book — part memoir, part literary rumination, part reflection on the nature of our worldviews — to friends who may call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”
I did a much longer review when it first came out, and think it could be a great gift for somebody you may know so wanted to mention it again. David invites us to admit we all live by story, that there are social imaginations and some profound stuff behind and underneath and in the things we care most about, the stories and values and episodes that have shaped us. Call this stuff religion or call it something else, it is evident that we all are in this together, guided by ultimate concerns and deep commitments that come from somewhere. David interestingly calls these “attention collections” and invites readers to be self-aware of what has shaped our deepest attentions, our loves. Maybe all of this very entertaining, smart writing can help us see what we’re most about, and how this might be some signal of transcendence, pointing us to the good, the beautiful, maybe even the true. As it says in big block letters on the back “Religious is a complicated word.” If you know some literary, thoughtful person who mistrusts the word, give them this.
Sara Zarr, a contemporary award winning novelist says: “Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious is a bracing manifesto for modern people and an optimism-infused love song to humanity.”
FOR A PERSON WHO WOULD APPRECIATE WELL RENDERED STORIES OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE EMBRACED THE MYSTERY OF LIVING WELL — BUT NOT NECESSARILY AS CHRISTIANS.
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living Krista Tippett (Penguin Press) $28.00 This is wonderfully written, a spectacular book by the well known and deeply appreciated NPR interviewer who, on her show “On Being” interviews all sorts of interesting folks, spiritual leaders, scientists, political activists, church folk and others who can tell their story of living a good and creative life. For those who don’t necessarily need an overtly Christian book but would warm up to something eloquent and mysterious and healthy and good, this book would be wonderful. Tippett has interviewed some of the most interesting, courageous, and insightful people on the planet and here she tells of things she learned from these many years of talking to these wise and thoughtful humans. Endorsements on the back are rave, of course, from Elizabeth Gilbert, Parker Palmer, Karen Armstrong, Brene Brown and others. Andrew Solomon says she has “ecumenical generosity” with a “lovely wisdom” and secularist Adam Gopnik opines that “Krista Tippett is one of America’s ablest listeners…” President Obama gave Tippett the coveted National Humanities Medal not long ago and praised her for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.” Nice stuff and a good conversation starter for those who want to invite deeper conversations, perhaps, finally, about Jesus and His Kingdom. Highly recommended.
FOR ONE WANTING CLASSY HELP FIGURING OUT THEIR LIFE’S GOALS
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life Bill Burnett & Dave Evans (Knopf) $24.95 This is a very handsome, sturdy hardback designed nicely to help people — get this — use design principles to, well, design their life. These are remarkably thoughtful teachers and a course they teach at Stanford is among the most popular courses at that prestigious school. Burnett is the executive director of the Stanford Design PRogram and, with Evans, is cofounder of the Life Design Lab.
There is a lot of emotive talk these days about finding one’s passion, and following some vague call to do great things, dare greatly, make a difference, to be and do and go. These authors ratchet things down a bit and invite readers to design a life you can love. They are all about “prototyping some potential lives” and guide readers how to get away from dysfunctional believes and find a better framework and process for moving forward. It shows how to get advisers, mentors, and a supportive community to help with life design, which (like a design, they teach us) is a “team sport.” Here’s the skinny: designers don’t think their way forward, they build stuff. Burnett & Evans help us figure out life options in the real world. It’s a great tool, a fine, helpful book.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN POPULAR CULTURE
The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew Kevin C. Neece (Cascade Books) $24.00 I enjoyed writing about this before and wanted to give it another shout out here, now. It’s really, really good, for anyone who loves Star Trek and for anyone who wants a fairly serious, deeply Christian analysis. As Christian philosopher (and pop culture enthusiast) David Naugle says about it “You hold in your hands a treasure!” Yes.
Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue Kutter Callaway with Dean Batali (Baker Academic) $27.99 In the few weeks this book has been out it has generated a number of fascinating reviews and even debates on the internet, wondering about their perspective, framework, analysis. (The authors take some exception to some of the important work of James K.A. Smith, and, so, there’s that.) I mentioned that to persuade you that this is serious stuff, a tremendous read, and what one has called “a crucial conversation…that is essential” and what another says is “a brilliant and timely analysis.” Callaway is a professional theologian, by the way, and Batali is a TV writer with over twenty years of experience, even as head writer for several popular shows. The first portion of the book offers a high quality discussion of TV scholarship, how shows are made, how it all works, and then moves towards more intentionally theological concerns — can we discern God’s common grace in all things? Do late modern consumerist ideologies deform even how we consume the popular arts?
David O. Taylor of Fuller Theological Seminary offers a keen endorsement and reminds us:
While it may be called the small screen, television has an influence that is oversized. Every five years, it seems, a new collection of TV shows frame “the new normal” in a way that enables an entire society to re imagine itself. For that reason, we need judicious, charitable guides to help us navigate what is arguably the dominant storytelling medium of early twenty-first century culture.
The Day Alternative Music Died Adam Caress (New Troy Books) $16.99 I did a very big review of this when it first came out, raving about Adam’s extraordinary knowledge of the history of rock music and how he tells the great story of the rise of rock, fold rock, alt rock, indie rock, and more, as the story of the struggle between commerce and art. That is, he sees grunge and alternative rock (not to mention, punk, obviously) as a large reaction to vapid hair bands and glam rock. Alas, once the Seattle sound became popular, the record labels put out dozens of wannabe grunge bands and the co-option of an artful sound happened once again. The pendulum swings between art and innovation and record deals and profiteering business, and the next chapter of the music of our lives evolves. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book and how I recommend it for anyone half-way interested in pop culture, rock and roll, popular music, entertainment, or the music industry. Adam is a really good guy — he teaches in the Music Business Program at Montreat College in North Carolina — and for those that know this book, he is considered a genius.
As the wonderful writer and cultural critic Sven Birkerts (yes, Sven Birkerts of The Gutenberg Elegies) writes about it,
A patient (and fascinating) itemization of the stages whereby corporate logistics sought to monetize a hip-shake and a sneer and everything that followed from it. The history is fascinating — much fresh lore here — and the cultural and economic analysis is chillingly persuasive.
FOR ONE WANTING TO DO SOME SELF REFLECTION
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile (IVP) $24.00 This is without a doubt the most fun book you will ever read on the Enneagram and, with wit and jokes and stories and advice, The Road Back becomes a pleasant guide to understanding oneself and others. Cron and Stabile do some mild spiritual direction stuff but this isn’t a heavy theological study nor primarily about one’s spirituality, it is more general and foundational, just providing a tool to understand your deepest wounds, your particular sins and the certain graces to claim if you’ve got typical foibles matched with the Enneagram “types.” This is much more fun than the Meyers-Briggs, say, and the stories and honesty in this book make it truly captivating. The numbers (and wings and other pieces of the system) can be a bit mystifying but these authors make it clear and useful. There is a wook-book, too, that is good for processing the material, even good for small groups. That sells for $8.00.
FOR ONE WANTING TO CELEBRATE THE 500th ANNIVERSARY OF LUTHER’S THESES
October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World Marty Marty (Paraclete) $19.99 This is a compact sized hardback, small, thin, and very handsome, an exquisite little book by one of our great Lutheran thinkers, writers, leaders. He explains what led up to that big day almost 500 years ago, and how Luther’s protest movement shapes us yet today. The forward, by the way, is by a Catholic writer James Martin, which is pretty nifty. I love this little book and think it would make a great gift.
Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther Andrew Wilson (Brazos Press) $17.99 I’ve highlighted this well-written book a couple of times before groups, just reading a couple of sentences… I was hooked by reading the first paragraph of the introduction, and then, again, by the first page. What a fun and interesting book; the author and his wife, working on PhDs on church history at Princeton, decide they will reenact Luther’s famous journey across Europe to Rome. So this is part hiking memoir, travelogue, church history pilgrimage, and, finally, a biography of this epic season of Martin’s life. The title — of course! — is a hilarious play on words of Luther’s most famous words, “Here I Stand.” This new boo by Andrew Wilson is a great, great read!
By the way, send me a note if you want other biographies of Luther or studies of the Reformation. We have a little list compiled we’d love to share…
FOR A HISTORY BUFF
God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours Jonathan Sandy’s & Wallace Henley (Tyndale) $15.99 This fall I talked to who has hundreds of books about Churchill in his own library; he said that this book is a good corrective to those that miss Churchill’s faith and that it includes some material that is simply not found in any other place. Which is to say it would be a great gift to a Churchill fan. Publishers Weekly says it is “an excellent read” and Os Guinness calls is “fascinating and well-argued book.”
Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion Louis P. Masur (Oxford University Press) $24.95 Do you know the distinguished history professor from Rutgers, Dr. Louis Masur, author of several respected books about the civil war and about Lincoln? This one came out just a year ago and it explores the last speech President Lincoln gave — on the evening of April 11th, 1865. One can only weep thinking of what had happened and what was to come, not only regarding Lincoln’s death but in the way in which subsequent administrations shaped the tumultuous decade that followed. What was the great President’s frame of mind at the end of the civil war? What was his best vision for reunion and reconstruction? How were the rights of blacks beginning to be discussed? Eminent Gettysburg professor Dr. Allen Guelzo says: “Louis Masur presents us with the clearest view by far of the torturous beginnings of the Reconstruction era… Lincoln’s Last Speech is, in fact, the best introduction to the opening phases of Reconstruction we have, and one that moves to first place in any Reconstruction reading list.”
The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of LIberal Belief George M. Marsden (Basic Books) $26.99 I am not sure why I think this, but it seems like this book is needed now even more than when it was published a couple of years ago. Marsden is one of the true deans of contemporary Christian scholarship and as a historian he is highly, highly regarded. Here is is examining, in a way that seems utterly germane this season, how religious faith did or didn’t play in the mid-20th century and, more, how faith in the liberal values of American democracy came undone. What he means by “liberal” is technically precise and his thesis is rather specific, but, nonetheless, this is a rip-roaring ride through an era that some of us need to know more about.
Mark Noll says Marsden in Twilight… offers penetrating insights “on civic authority, modern anxiety, and failed liberal expectations” and makes a “persuasive appeal for a culture of genuinely inconclusive pluralism that the leading thinkers of that era sought but could not deliver.” Duke’s Grant Wacker calls it “another masterpiece” and Robert Wuthnow of Princeton says it helps us understand contemporary gridlock. Barry Hankins of Baylor says “Anyone seeking to understand American culture and weigh in on the conversation should read this book.”
If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty Eric Metaxas (Viking) $26.00 I gave this a qualified thumbs up when I did a long review this summer, telling about how surprised I was at how deeply moved I was by this telling of the genius of the American revolution and the founding of the republic. Few countries are, it should be said, are founded by such interesting scholars and philosophers with such innovative ideas. We ought not tire of learning about our earliest days and Mr. Metaxas — colorful writer that he is — tells it really well, and gets the grand themes and most of the small details right. Some professional historians have quibbled about a few small errors and many (myself included) disapprove of much of Metaxas’s political persona. Still, as he did with his riveting books about WIlberforce and Bonhoeffer and his two collections of short biographies (Seven Men and Seven Women) he makes complex history accessible and inspiring. If You Can Keep It isn’t the only book one should read about the Founding Fathers, but it is ideal for some. We’re happy to suggest it.
Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers Daniel L. Dreisbach (Oxford University Press) $34.95 I recommended this in a list I did recently for the Center for Public Justice, a Christian citizen’s organization and I insisted it was nothing short of brilliant and highly regarded. Blurbs on the back are by Mark Noll and John Witte, Jr. and Thomas Kidd, some of the most esteemed Christians writing in the field of history. They say things about it that are truly inspiring (Witte says “it can be read in an evening but mined for a lifetime.”) For anyone interested in how the Bible was read, understood and used in the colonial era, this is the most significant book yet.
FOR SOMEONE WHO IS DISCOURAGED, BUT NEEDS TO BE HONEST ABOUT IT
The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $22.99 Oh my, this would make just a perfect gift for so many sorts of people — it has a beautiful cover, it is written with passion and a stylized sort of prose that is artful and touching. I suppose it may be most appreciated by women, but men read her too — One Thousand Gifts has been a perennial best seller and has inspired other resources, studies, devotionals and more. I hope you know her splendid Advent resource, also working on that Thousand Gifts theme about gratitude called The Greatest Gift and the beautiful coffee table family gift book called Unwrapping the Great Gift.
And yet, in God’s upside down Kingdom and in Ann Voskamp’s hard-won experience, things are not as they seem and those that are too happy are, well, you know what Jesus said about them. The last will be first and blessed are they, He weirdly said, who mourn. It is this theme that Voskamp develops in this gorgeously written, wise work about the “daring” path. That would be the path of suffering. Philip Yancey — who has thought about these things perhaps more than any evangelical author in our lifetime — says the book is “Rich. Gritty. Intimately vulnerable.” Eugene Peterson, an author and pastor and friend we trust, says it is “Convincing…. Stunningly fresh.”
“What do you do with your unspoken broken?” she asks. Voskamp may romanticize is just a bit at times but she invites us to be honest and to be open to the transformative power of this way that beckons us. “Dare to take up the broken way — to abundance.”
Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption… edited by Cara Sexton (IVP) $16.00 We’ve been telling people about this since it first came out and think it is brave, interesting, raw, even. It is a great collection of short pieces, testimonials of how God was present in the lives of those going through various sorts of hard times. From some very talented young women writers (and a few men, too) who have struggled with pain, loneliness, depression, addiction, abuse. There are real wounds in our lives and nearly anyone can relate to honest stories of vulnerability. These young writers — most with a pretty cool style — are authentic and artful, realizing God offers grace and community not to cover our our hurts but to embrace God’s goodness and be given hope. This is poignant and painful, even, but a great book of good news. A portion of the sales of this book goes to HELPONENOW. It makes a great gift of encouragement and solidarity.
FOR A SPORTS FAN
After the Cheering Stops: An NFL Wife’s Story of Concussions, Loss, and the Faith That Saw Her Through Cyndy Feasel (Thomas Nelson) $24.99 This brand new book is both an inspiring sports biography but also a disturbing story of injury, concussion, cover-up and anguish. Feasel offers her story as the wife of Seattle Seahawks center Grant Feasel who died in 2012 at age 52. Blurbs on the back are from Jeff Kemp (Facing the Blitz) and Dave Krieg, both former Seahawks quarterbacks that new Grant well. All-Pro NFL Safety Vann McElroy calls Cyndy Feasel’s husband “a gentle giant” and says her brave story “needs to be part of the discussion.” This is heart-wrenching, but vital, even urgent; Julie Carobini says “Cyndy Feasel is destined to become the Erin Brockovich of CTE for sounding the alarm about what concussions can do to a family.”
FOR AN OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST
Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping Dan White (Henry Holt) $28.00 This is a major study, a wonderfully written, big social history, a book that fabulously explores how we search for ourselves in the wild. There’s a lot here — one reviewer mentions the “oddball characters, scenic vistas, leaky pup tents, and scofflaw marmots…” (And who wouldn’t want a book about scofflaw marmots?)
Elizabeth McKenzie says
I have never before had so interesting, hearty, and manly a companion. I fairly feel in love with him.” Yes, this is what John Muir said about Theodore Roosevelt, but I’m saying it now about Dan White after reading Under the Stars — an informative and lyrically written travel memoir about the American wilderness experience that’s also very funny and full of surprises.
The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks Terry Tempest Williams (FSG) $27.00 What a sturdy, thoughtful, serious, luminous writer Ms Williams is, a national treasure, a nature writer and environmental activist respected for her craft as writer and for her clear-eyed vision for ecological sanity within a endearing and enduring sense of place. (“Language and landscape are my inspiration” she says in the first line.) Here she writes about the great National Parks she as us to consider how we are “slowly learning what it means to offer our reverence and respect to the closet things we have to sacred lands.”
Williams writes in The Hour of Land of Grant Teton National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), Acadia, Gettysburg, Effigy Mounds National Monument (in Iowa), Big Bend (Texas), and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska.
Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature Francine Rivers with Karin Stock Buursma (Tyndale) $16.99 This is a lush and beautiful gift book full of vivid nature photography and lovely calligraphy and nicely type set quotes from popular Christian novelist Francine Rivers. Rivers is known for very moving writing that sometimes set Bible stories in more contemporary times and although not high-brow, she is considered a master of the genre. Who knew she so loved the outdoors, appreciated the beauty of creation, reveled in the delightful joy of nature? This really is a devotional with solid BIble teaching and stories from around the world (and her own backyard.) The quotes are from a variety of sources, mostly older Christian classics — Brother Lawrence, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Dorothy Sayers, and a few modern writers, Joni Eareckson Tada, Charles Stanley. She draws on everyday stuff — turtles, trees, birds, and of course uses the praise songs of the Psalms. Very, very nice.
Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas Leslie Leyland Fields (NavPrss) $15.99 What a grand and surprising book this is — one you could happily give to any number of folks. Fields is a remarkable writer, very talented and very wise. (I adored the collected she edited The Spirit of Food and really appreciate her excellent book on the myths of parents and many have been helped by her Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers.) She is, by vocation, not only a writer, but a fisher-person doing her work with her family on a remote island off the coast of the mainland in Alaska. This book includes some vivid telling of her wild experiences — dramatically wet and wild, scary, even — fishing in the dangerously cold seas of the Pacific Northwest. But here’s the thing: besides being a woman’s wilderness memoir and story of life in Alaska, it is also a study of faith. And, quite literally, a study of fishing in the Bible.
Early in the unfolding of this great book, Leyland Fields makes a trek, nearly a pilgrimage, to the Middle East, to fish in the sea of Galilee. And there it gets really interesting, offering what the publisher says is “the wettest, stormiest, wildest trip through the gospels you’ve ever taken.”
Do you recall the classic little book, so loved by so many decades ago, called A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm (by Philip Keller, which is still in print, by the way>) In a way, this is a look at the disciples — fisherman that they were — by a woman well aquatinted with nets and salt water and storms and fish on the beach. I think Crossing the Waters is a tremendous book, what reviewer Mark Galli calls “a rare gift.”
He continues, “It pulses with story and theology, with lived suffering and quiet joy, with vast mysteries and a strong Savior.”
FOR A WORSHIP LEADER
Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders Greg Scheer (Baker) $19.99 One of the finest congregations that have been nurtured in thoughtful, somewhat liturgical, yet somewhat contemporary worship styles is Church of the Servant, a CRC congregation in Grand Rapids MI. Greg Scheer is their legendary worship director, a writer of liturgy, a song-writer, one who guides adults and children into lovely and moving rituals of strong worship. This, his second book, explains a theology of worship and worship leading. Rave reviews come from Sandra McCracken, Glenn Packiam (“This is the book we’ve been waiting for.”)
John Witvliet of the respected Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, says,
Greg Scheer is a theologically and pastorally sensitive reflective practitioner — and ideal teacher for a new generation of worship leaders.
I hope all kinds of folks read this. I agree with Sandra McCracken who say it is “a good springboard for conversation and growth for both worship leaders and congregations.” One of the best books of this sort in years.
The Worship Pastor Zac Hicks (Zondervan) $17.99 Hicks is Canon for Worship and Liturgy at Cathedral Church of the Advent (in Birmingham AL.) It is a truly interesting book with each chapter unpacking a different metaphor for worship, exploring how this particular image relates to Biblical teaching and liturgical practice. Hicks is concerned that many contemporary worship leaders have inherited a model of leadership that equates leading worship with being a rock star. Of course, worship isn’t about performance; it’s firstly about God and it is about shaping souls and making disciples; every worship leader is, in that sense, a pastor. This is a clear guide to leading worship, what Glenn Packiam says is “a masterpiece that is equal parts manuel and manifesto.” Can we re-envision what worship leading is all about? Can we inspire worship leaders with solid and helpful guidance about their role in congregational worship? Even if your church doesn’t have “worship pastors” I think this book should be widely read. A great gift.
Worship in the Joy of the Lord: Selections from Chip Stam’s Worship Quote of the Week Calvin INstitute of Christian Worship (Calvin College Press) $23.99 This is a very handsome paperback, a slightly oversized gift type book loaded with great quotes about worship. Don’t let the “Chip Stam” thing throw you — Stam was apparently a gifted leader who sent out these quotes (from famous authors, church leaders, books, poems) to folks; this book collects over 300 quotations of them from him about public worship. They are arranged in 12 categories, from times and seasons to using the Psalms to singing and hymns to stuff about suffering and death. One chapter is called “Life is Worship” and another reflects on “The God We Worship.” These quotes are from across time and church history and include some very contemporary writers, too. Almost like a devotional, with endorsements from Constance Cheery, Bob Kauflin, Marva Dawn, RIchard Mouw and others, this is a rare and wonderful treat. A great gift idea.
FOR CHRISTIANS IN THE ARTS OR THOSE INTERESTED IN CREATIVITY
The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts Cameron J. Anderson (IVP Academic) $26.00 Don’t let the word “evangelicalism” throw you – this will be inspiring and exceptionally informative for anyone of any faith tradition wanting to explore how religion informs the arts. Cam is one of our most thoughtful and articulate interpreters of this body of work and I am not only glad he added his voice to the big body of literature about faith and the arts but I am astonished how very much good stuff there is here. What a great, significant, important volume this is.
Cam has worked in ministry with artists and art professors and is now the director of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) and is respected widely. Vibrant blurbs on the back of this recent book are from Makoto Fujimura, Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Luci Shaw, and others.
Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts: Revised and Expanded Steve Turner (IVP) $16.00 Turner is himself a poet but is mostly known as a writer and rock critic. (His brand new book called Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year is a must-read for any fans and his 2013 book Popcultured is an excellent Christian entry into the worlds of rock music, digital media, advertising, film, fashion, video games, and such.) Imagine has often been one of our go-to introductory books about faith and the arts, especially for those who are young and somewhat confused by the shunning of modern art forms among conservative Christians. It makes a beautiful, captivating Biblical argument for being culturally engaged, “in but not of” the world, and aware of the good gift art plays within an all-of-life-being-redeemed worldview. This brand new edition is updated and expanded and includes study questions for individual reflection or small group discussion.
By the way, although the new one looks tremendous, we have some of the very fine first version still in stock, which we could sell at 40% off, while supplies last. If you want to grace some young art students with this at the sale price, let us know.
Thumbprints in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace Luci Shaw (IVP) $17.00 Do you recall our rave announcement about this when it came out. In so many ways, for so many reasons, this is a wonderful example of the generative and beautiful sort of religious literature that is available these days. Dear Luci Shaw is an experienced poet, a widely published author, and so respected for her many travels, lectures, workshops, and presentations and the book will be appreciated by anyone who is a writer, a visual artist, or anyone wanting to be reminded that God’s very creation shouts about God’s beauty and creative goodness.
Bret Lott, himself a respected novelist, says “This book is wise beyond measure, the writing beautiful beyond compare, and its’s heart a reflect of the one true God… A Beautiful, ruminative, and necessary book.” Other lovely endorsements on the back of this lovely little book are from Leslie Leyland Fields and Richard Rohr.
FOR ONE CALLED TO PEACEMAKING
Roots of Violence: Creating Peace Through Spiritual Reconciliation Krister Stendahl (Paraclete) $16.99 This slim book is nearly historic, years in the making, and an important contribution to mainline denominational folks wanting to think about the radical implications of gospel-based reconciliation. Stendahl was the dean of Harvard and the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and was respected globally as a person involved in interfaith conversations, eager for profound dialogue with others, and of his desire for global peacemaking. This book emerged after his death from notes he used in talks given all over the world — always adjusting them, adding on, editing; it is said he worked on this in the hospital room the day he died. What is so fascinating about this is the contributions of Imam Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Brandeis Professor Marc Brettle who add modern perspectives on concepts of salvation within Islam and Judaism.
James Carroll (who wrote one of my all time favorite memoirs, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us) wrote the very informative introduction. He apparently knew Stendahl well and is pleased to bring this potent little book to a wider audience.
Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World Dennis Covington (Little Brown) $26.00 Just the other day I got another email note from a friend who recalls that I sold him Covington’s high octane memoir of hanging out with snake handling Pentecostals called Salvation on Sand Mountain perhaps the most unforgettable book I’ve ever written. This is Covington’s most recent and if you are interested you can find my longer review at BookNotes this past summer. I couldn’t put this well written book down as Covington travels throughout the Middle East (and a few other places) in search of how religion fuels violence and terrorism and genocide and — ironically, perhaps, foolishness to some — how religion is the answer to war and violence. Can faith fuel healing and hope? (He “goes to unimaginable lengths” one review raved, “to answer a defining question of our time.”) Can he find healing and hope? This is tender and explosive, quiet and dramatic, adventurous and reflective. Kim Barnes, herself a brilliant writer and memoirist, says “From the first sentence on, you understand that Dennis Covington brings to the page is something raw, terrifying, brilliant, and necessary.” What a story, by one of our most insightful storytellers.
Almighty: Courage, Resistance and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age Dan Zak (Blue Rider Press) $27.00 I will just tell you now: this will be on my short list of the best books I’ve read this year, certainly one that I simply couldn’t put down. The author is a gifted storyteller, a very fine reporter, and one who brings both big historic trends and local, specific detail, all in colorful prose. I suppose the bigger project of this gut-wrenching and yet fascinating book is the dangers of the nuclear arms race and a government run amok with Pentagon projects making more and more bombs that can destroy the world. Most of us know the dramatic story of the Manhattan Project and the dangerous tests of atomic bombs in the deserts near Los Alamos New Mexico. But few know the back story of the Atomic Energy Commissions created-out-of-nothing town of Oak Ridge Tennessee and the unique feel of that secretive city made to help America build radioactive bombs. Zak tells of this mid-twentieth century history in really interesting ways, but he keeps jump ahead to the main device he uses to help us appreciate this complex history: three Christian protestors who did non-violent civil disobedience to protest the immorality of making these kinds of massive weapons (that simply cannot be used justly as they necessarily kill so many civilians) and to bear public witness that Christ, the Prince of Peace, disapproved of these plants making these devices that, if used, could incinerate hundreds of thousands of people.
I believe they are right that these weapons are categorically evil and that it is a sin to make them, and I believe they are righteous to be willing to spend the rest of their lives in jail to take actions to expose the manufactured apocalypse these secretive nuclear weapons plants represent. However, agree or not with their theology or their tactics, in Dan Zak’s reportage, the story becomes hard to put down; you will want to know what happens next, how these folks are led, how the trials ended up, and what difference the military and the civilian folks at the plant and in the town reacted.
Activists Michael Walli, Sister Megan Rice (upon who a character in the early seasons of Orange is the New Black is loosely based), and Greg Boertje-Obed were charged with intending to endanger the national defense after breaking into this nuclear weapons site in 2012. Almighty gets it’s name, I presume, because so often these Christian protestors insist that nuclear weapons are not only bad devices, but enslave us because they are idols. This book is about them, about why the did it, and what is at stake. At over 350 pages, I didn’t want it to end. I hope somebody out there is as inspired as I was and as grateful for the witness of these unusual people and of this talented investigative writer.
By the way, as you look at that cover, you’ll notice some small dark spots at the foot of the bomb cloud. Just to get a sense of the size and gravity of this radiation cloud, realize that hhose are huge battleships.
FOR SOMEONE THINKING ABOUT URBAN MINISTRY OR MISSIONAL SERVICE
Divine Merger: What Happens When Jesus Collides with Your Community Mark Strong (IVP) $16.00 I love this book — it isn’t too lengthy or technical but is really good, about how this church learned to bring God’s Kingdom message into the community. Strong is the pastor of a multi-ethnic inner city church in Portland. Solid stuff, upbeat and visionary, this guys been through a lot and the book is honest about the pains of this kind of work.
God Is In the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation Shawn Casselberry (Mission Year) $17.00 We’ve been thrilled to stock this rare book, published by the urban activists and young adult missionaries at Mission Year. Shawn Casselberry is a good advocate for God’s justice and encourages folks to love the poor, to offer solidarity with those who are broken, and to celebrate redemptive moments in even hard situations. This is a rare book and ought to be better known. John Perkins rights in the foreword “I urge you to read this book. You will be inspired and transformed by what you encounter.” The storyteller of good stuff happening will bring inspiration and encouragement to anyone involved in the center city life and will surely bring insight to anyone who is even vaguely interested in what God might be doing on hard city streets which are, believe it or not, becoming streets of joy and havens of hope. This is a great book.
Write to us if you want more about the missional church (we’ve got dozens of titles here) or urban ministry or community development. We’ve got a lot.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN GLOBAL JUSTICE
Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian Gary A. Haugen (IVP) $16.00 I am so glad that this book is finally out in a good looking paperback — it has been out in hardback for years but a little expensive but remains one of the best books on Christian living I’ve ever read. This is a great collection of talks and sermons and chapters by one of the most important leaders on the planet, the founder and CEO of the anti-trafficking organization the International Justice Mission (IJM.) This is stimulating, dramatic, Biblical, balanced, thoughtful, invigorating, not too dense, good for anyone who wants motivated to care more and live more robustly in responsible ways. If you want to care more about those who suffer of if you want to understand a Biblically-informed vision of working for structural change, this book is a wonderful gift; Haugen is a blessed guide, a clear teacher and fantastic ally on the journey towards justice and courage. Highly recommended for anyone, a must for those who want to be more involved in the world.
The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance Bethany Hanke Joang and Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) $19.99 Again, this is a book I reviewed at greater length at BookNotes and it is one we celebrated and will continue to promote; it is, I am convinced, one of the best books of the year. To put it simply it is about how passion and perseverance meet, and it offers a compelling Biblical overview about the theme of justice and God’s faithfulness to help us gather passion and perseverance. Which is to say, I suppose, it is not just a book about global concerns or activism or transformation but it is a book about hope. Dan Allender calls it “glorious.” Gary Haugen says about it that it is a boo we should all “dig into and carry close at hand.”
Return to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience Soong-Chan Rah & Gary Vanderpol (Brazos Press) $19.99 I hope you recall my rave review of this earlier in the year — I mention it again because it might be just the ticket to give as a gift to someone who cares about the world and wants a big picture of how social concern for public justice has increasingly been talked about as central to faith in the last decade or so. In a way this is a contemporary church history, exploring how these issues pressed upon many younger evangelicals and how organizations and movements were developed in recent years. For that alone it is wonderful, interesting, helpful, good for anybody to read.
Further, though, it is about those issues, six key concerns that have increasingly become urgent to address and how evangelicals, especially have stepped up. Truly one of the most important books of the year, I hope you know somebody who is growing into a concern for Biblically-based social justice ministry for whom this book would be a fabulous gift.
Or, perhaps you know somebody who is skeptical of this and wonders where all this recent talk and passion has come from. This might be a great gift to help open the hearts to some who are less convinced that all this is important for distinctive Christian witness. It is both carefully researched and it is inspiring. As Scot McKnight says, this resurgence of concern for justice “emerges from deep wells in the evangelical tradition and the story needs to be told.” Highly recommended.
FOR ONE WHO KEEPS UP ON EVANGELICAL VISIONS OF CULTURE MAKING
Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture William Edgar (IVP Academic) $24.00 Bill has been a friend of our store and his care for others, for the arts, for Biblical fidelity even as we move into complicated areas, has been an encouragement and model for many. I agree so much with Tim Keller who says:
Anything from the pen of Bill Edgar is profitable to read, but this subject is Bill’s wheelhouse. An important book on a topic that, for Western Christians, has never been so crucial.
And so, this brand new book — it arrived yesterday! — will be incredibly appreciated by many people who read BookNotes, and I’m hoping a bunch get ordered this week. What joy to be able to offer such substantial resources for key leaders who are, as Keller says, involved in this critical conversation.
I’m sure he will reflect on the views of Abraham Kuyper, T.S. Eliot, Richard Niebuhr, Francis Schaeffer, maybe C.S. Lewis, maybe Jacques Ellul, even, and will engage the work of contemporaries such as Tom Wright, Rod Dreher, Os Guinness, and other important voices.
I have only glanced at it, but am struck by the back blurb by K. Scott Oliphint who says “I can count on one hand the people who are qualified to write such a work and Bill Edgar is on the top of the list. This should be the first volume one reads when questions of Christianity and culture are broached.”
Except that culture isn’t something that is “broached” as a “topic.” It is our life. As Calvin Seerveld once quipped, “culture is not optional.” Which is to say, the topic of this book is — as Steve Garber says of vocation — integral not incidental to the missio dei.
Okay friends, my fingers are sore from typing and your eyes are red from reading. maybe your budget it almost shot as you want to buy a number of these for someone you know. I hope you find it helpful.
There’s more, coming very soon.
I can’t promise more mistletoe and chestnuts roasting, but if you’ve got gift-giving concerns, we’re hear to help. Stay tuned — I’ll finish this gift giving guide in a day or so. As always, you can use our link (shown below) to our order form page which is secure so you can leave credit card digits safely. Or just give us a call. We don’t have elves, but we are eager to help get some gifts in the mail to you soon. Thanks.
Next, maybe I’ll mention books for these kinds of folks:
FOR A PERSON WHO NEEDS SOMETHING LIGHT, FUN, BUT STILL CHALLENGING
FOR ONE WHO WOULD ENJOY A CLASSIC COOKBOOK
FOR ONE WHO LOVES THE BIBLE BUT WANTS SOMETHING FRESH
FOR A SERIOUS BIBLE SCHOLAR
FOR A PERSON WANTING TO READ ABOUT RACE RELATIONS
FOR ONE WHO READS ABOUT SPIRITUALITY
FOR THOSE WHO LOVE MEMOIR
FOR SOMEBODY WITH A QUIRKY SENSE OF HUMOR
FOR A COLLEGE SENIOR
FOR AN ADAM HAMILTON FAN – BRAND NEW
FOR AN OS GUINNESS FAN – VERY RECENT
FOR A WALTER BRUEGGEMANN FAN – BRAND NEW
FOR AN N.T. WRIGHT FAN – HIS MOST RECENT
FOR A BETH MOORE FAN – HER NEW NOVEL
FOR ONE WHO WOULD APPRECIATE A CREATIVE, PROGRESSIVE STUDY OF THE TRINITY
FOR ONE WHO WOULD APPRECIATE A STURDY, CONVENTIONAL STUDY OF THE TRINITY
FOR ONE WHO WOULD LIKE A NEW NOVEL
FOR THOSE WHO’D LIKE A YOUNG ADULT FANTASY STORY
FOR A LOVE OF POETRY
AND A FEW OTHER SURPRISES…
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