Travels with Hearts & Minds: 21 great books I described in a recent workshop — and a bunch more mentioned ALL ON SALE NOW

refo books at Mercersburg 17.jpgLuther books at Synod 17.jpgIf you follow us on social media you may have seen a few pictures we posted from our recent flurry of doing big off-site books displays. We enjoyed being with friends from the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA where naturally we had a lot of books about Luther and Lutheran theology and resources to help them observe the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Thanks to some local friends who volunteered to help us load in (on the beautiful campus of Messiah College) and to the many customers (pastors, church leaders, and lay delegates) who browsed our pop-up bookstore there. 

Mercersburg books 17.jpgThe very next day we ended up at Lancaster Theological Seminary who hosts an annual academic conference sponsored by the Mercersburg Society in the tradition of what is called Mercersburg Theology.  (This 19th century movement is curiously capturing the attention of many from various quarters these days; the founders, John W. Nevin and Philip Schaff, taught not far from us here in Mercersburg,  a small town near Gettysburg, PA, and then moved to Lancaster in the late 1800s.)

A theology student working on a PhD from Calvin Seminary gave a great paper, we heard from a leading Kierkegaard scholar (an African American woman influenced by Howard Thurman) and Dr. Bill Evans gave a keynote. (His book called Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology is a truly excellent doctrinal study with uniquely Mercersburg fingerprints all over it) I enjoyed meeting fellow PC(USA) theologian — I say “fellow” because I’m a Presbyterian, not because I’m a theologian — Douglas Ottati. The title of his remarkable Eerdmans book Theology for Liberal Protestants may be off putting to some (and I think it is a bit misleading) but he’s a writer to know. The theme of the Mercersburg Society gathering was somewhat related to the upcoming Reformation 500 commemorations so there was some serious study of the theme of grace. We had some serious books there, including introductions to Calvin and Luther and the other history-makers of the 1500s.  Perhaps we’ll do a BookNotes newsletter just about that later this summer.

No sooner did we pack up from this small but intense conference than we drove two Hearts & Minds vehicles to the Penn Central UCC Conference annual conference, an always interesting and enjoyable gathering among many of our Central Pennsylvania friends and local customers. The United Church of Christ is perhaps the most theologically and politically progressive but their clergy and certainly their membership are diverse, and we take books “right, left, and center” and, as we joke, with “something to offend everyone.”  It gets a laugh, but in this crowd there is respect, collegiality, and good conversation with everyone staying at the table (as they say) in Christ-centered unity. Penn Central tables.jpgpublic theology books at Penn Central.jpg

spirituality books at Penn Central.jpg

Most churches (although not all) of the mainline denominational variety are aging and shrinking.  Some are on the front lines of thinking about the nature of mission in the post-Christian, pluralizing culture, seeking creative ways to share buildings, re-tool their staff, seeking revitalization in fresh ways. (See the brand new Fresh Expressions: A New Kind of Methodist Church for People Not in Church for case studies of creative, missional communities that are serious about outreach and service and more.) Lutherans are of course more shaped by their more formal liturgy and polity. UCC folks of the Mercersburg heritage share a pretty serious interest in the “mystical presence” and skew a bit more liturgically rich than many Protestants.  Many UCC churches have a connection to New England congregationalism, though, so are less fancy in these matters.  Which is to say, our book displays serving both the Lutherans and the wide range of UCC congregations had many different sorts of books about ecclesiology, worship, and liturgy.  Worship is one of our keen interests and we are glad that mainline churches are often very thoughtful about these things.

But, to be honest, the heady theology and the missional church strategies and the sacramental theology and the books about leading worship well don’t sell that much.  

Most ordinary folks are looking for books that are upbeat and interesting, inspiring without being fundamentalist or simplistic. I’m a Max Lucado fan, for instance, and we always take some Go- Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith .jpgLucado books, and other accessible evangelical authors that aren’t too progressive or odd.  It makes us happy to sell books that are helpful in turning ordinary church goers into disciples of Jesus, titles like Think, Act Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ by Randy Frazee or Bible studies like Discipleship Essentials by Greg Ogden or the new God Has A Name by John Mark Comer, or Eugene Peterson’s Long Obedience in the Same Direction, a classic. I was very excited when a Lutheran Synod staff member asked if we had Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith, a NavPress book by Preston Sprenkle.  As a matter of fact we did.

ghosbusters.jpgThere is a scene in the first Ghostbusters movie when the wacky battle with the green slimy ghost is starting and Dr. Egon Spengler informs the team that whatever you do, do not cross the streams of their laser beams.  The character played by Bill Murray wisecracks, asking him to clarify.  He replies, famously, about the “total protonic reversal” that “it would be bad.”

We were brought up in a religious context where this was more or less the assumption and, in some years of our lives, the specific admonition.  Mainline denominational folks were considered too theologically mushy and lukewarm to be of trusted by us evangelicals.  Other evangelicals might detract from the truth we Reformed Christians held so tightly.  Catholics and Episcopalians and other higher church denominations looked down their liturgical noses at everyone else. And mainline folks just had nothing to do with the independents, the ones who called their churches “Bible believing.”  Everybody feared crossing the streams.

But you know what? We cross ’em all the time and nothing much awful happens.  There are some sparks sometimes, shooting off into our seemingly calm atmospheres, but no lightning bolts. We put Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Life a Free and Authentic Life, a new book on humility by liberal Benedictine nun Joan Chittister and the new posthumous collection of Marcus Borg (Days of Awe and Wonder: How to Be a Christian in the Twenty-first Century) right next to the lovely little pair Being Christian and Being Disciples by Anglican Rowan Williams, next to a few by PCA leader Tim Keller and even some writers who think N.T. Wright is too liberal. (I know.) We put C.S. Lewis there with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, two authors everybody has heard of but most haven’t yet read.  We show off old monastic spirituality and Puritan writers as well as modern contemplatives like Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr. Everybody gets along and we encourage reading widely, crossing the streams for God’s Kingdom’s sake.

Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal- Why the Church Should Be All Three.jpgWe even sold a copy or two of the new IVP Academic paperback Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three by the reasonable and calm Gordon Smith, even though most of our Lutheran and certainly most of our UCC friends would hardly claim to be any one of the three, let alone all at once.  Such a book reminds me of the wonderful Streams of Living Water: Essential Practices from the Six Great Traditions of Christian Faith by Richard Foster which tells of why we need each other’s strengths and sensibilities to have a balanced, Biblical sort of spirituality. 

So it goes, exhausting ourselves lugging boxes and setting up tables and squeezing books onto every square inch of display space we can muster. And crossing the streams, encouraging folks to read widely, and gladly being a part of the messy life of some of our mainline denominational church assemblies. 

* * *

At the UCC annual conference I was asked to do a workshop about books folks might enjoy.  I mixed it up with theology books and resources for church revitalization and memoir and titles Reading for the Common Good.jpgof social concern.  I first waxed about the value of reading, quoted the must-read book by Chris Smith Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. I told even laypeople they might enjoy Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga, a book any church-going book lover will cherish. I told a few stories of people whose lives were changed by reading, and how reading together can be transforming — I told about Wilberforce and Hannah More and Wedgewood and commended Eric Metaxas’ marvelous book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery which illustrates how cultural renewal and social justice movements are sustained by communities who read. I hoped to inspire reading widely, thinking well, and enjoying the koinonia that develops when big ideas are in the air because people are reading books together.

Caring for Words, better.jpgWord by Word.jpgOf course, I held up high (and read the alluring table of contents of) Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn McEntyre and her newer devotional about words called, nicely, Word By Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice. These are nearly necessities for us, these days. I hope you have them.

This is one vital part of the recovering of a civil and morally serious culture: we simply must care about words, recall our very identity as people made in the image of a God who speaks, and honor those who are gifted as writers, storytellers, wordsmiths. Readers become empathetic, caring, helpful.

Well, all that was prelude to a little show and tell seminar I did. Here are just some that I highlighted for this particular crowd.  I wish you could have heard my explanations, why I thought they’d be good reads, what to watch out for, what to appreciate, sense my passion about this. I even read a few excerpts out loud.  Time ran out, of course, and I felt like those ghostbusters after the battle with the big marshmallow, splattering their good stuff all over.  It was a mess and it was a blast.  Maybe you’ll find this list interesting.  Order from us today.


All Things New- Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel.pngAll Things New: Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel Hugh Whelchel (Institute of Faith, Work, Economics) $6.99 This six-week Bible study explains the full story the Bible presents, cover to cover – the goodness of the blessed creation, the ruination of the sin-wracked creation, the decisive victory over death in Christ’s atonement, and the full-orbed promise of the restoration of creation. The next two studies invite conversations about how the gospel is best expressed in this full four-chapter story (and not the truncated middle two parts) and why this matters.  Liberal or conservative, progressive or old school evangelical, nobody gets this quite right and I think this little Bible study resource would be revolutionary, rocking your group with fresh insights and new resolve to live out a hopeful faith in all areas of life.  Not too many people bought it – maybe mainline churches don’t have many small group Bible studies going on.  We’ve got plenty and hope you order it soon.

REINTEGRATE - book cover mockup 1-23-17.JPGReintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission Bob Robinson (Good Place Publishing) $12.00  This is also a small group Bible study resource, a great book for those who want to have both a book to read and lots of Bible verses to look up and discuss. It has just a bit of content each week, sidebars and good quotes, and excellent discussion questions.  This, like Whelchel’s more concise booklet above, covers this four-chapter plot of the Bible and then goes to wonderful measures to show us just why this matters, especially for our vocational lives, relating worship and work, Sunday and Monday, so to speak.  There is simply no small group resource like this in print and we highly recommend it.  Full disclosure: Bob is a dear friend, he kindly re-publishes many of my Facebook posts, tweets, and BookNotes columns, and I have a rave endorsement on the back of this little book.  

The Very Good Gospel.jpgThe Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook) $19.99  This is a book that came out about a year ago and we take it everywhere we go. Lisa is a friend, a hero in many ways to Beth and me, and we enjoy explaining this book. It is rich, full of big ideas, but yet intimate and even tender at times, as Lisa shares about this question haunting her: does the gospel as it is typically explained come across as truly good news, especially to those who are hurting, who have been oppressed or marginalized. She is a strong African American woman with some Native American blood and she re-imagines the gospel story using the same sort of “unfolding drama” of four chapters that Whelchel and Robinson commend above, showing how the promised restoration brings a promise of shalom.  Indeed, her description of the Bible story uses really helpful language, telling how God gave us blessed shalom, our sin brought alienation, and Christ’s redemption brings reconciliation.  Isn’t that a great way to understand things? The second half of the book explores the implications of gospel-reconciliation for race relations, creation care, injustices between men and women, even international tensions.  God’s good news is a very good gospel, indeed, and her call to be agents of reconciliation in all aspects of life is really, really worth reading.  If I were the head of the UCC, I’d have everybody reading this together. It is good for evangelicals who need stretching a bit into a more wholistic and socially engaged gospel and it is good for progessive activists to root them clearly in the Biblical story. And it is good for all of us, who need a truly good, good gospel.  Highly recommended.

uncommon decency.jpgUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00 As you may know, I really, really like this book and recommend it often. I thought that just showing it would cause it to fly off our shelves — we had a bunch.  I expected a bit more lament and expressions of frustration with the quality and tone of our current statecraft — we did sell a few of the brand new Preaching in an Age of Trump by (Chalice Press) — and although it is true that many of us feel we must speak clearly against immorality, narcissism, dishonesty, and bad policy in high places, as Christians we must always be gracious and fair.  Anyway, this is a book we take everywhere we go and it is shown off with hope that folks will read it and take it to heart.  

the Call.jpgThe Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Word) $17.99  I often highlight newer books in these little book workshops but sometimes I pull out an old chestnut like this and get all verklempt telling why it means so much to me.  This, truly, is one of my top five books ever, and it is so eloquent, wise, insightful, rich, and important that I take it almost everywhere we go. I am sad that many in mainline churches don’t know his big body of work – we had his newest Impossible People about being steadfast and faithful, Renaissance about being hopeful God will bring God’s own renewal to us in Christ’s own way, and that exceptionally thoughtful Fool’s Talk although, truth be told, nobody bought any.  I did convince a few to try The Call, perhaps because they liked the idea of reading a book by a relative of the Guinness beer family or just because I insisted it was one of my own favorites.  One chapter is called “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything”  and captures the dynamic of the social revolution of the Reformation that liberated the laity to use the language of calling and empowered all of us to serve God, for His glory alone, in all that we do, everywhere. The discussion questions in the back are exceptional, making this a book I recommend most heartily.

liturgy of the ordinary.jpgLiturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $16.00  I’ve raved about this book before, often, having been one of the first to review it late last December when we got it in.  (You can revisit that BookNotes column, here.) Her wonderful book shows how she finds God in the ordinary stuff of a daily day of her life, mostly by drawing on worship practices and stuff we “rehearse” in church.  What a beautiful telling of why worship matters and how Sunday spills into all of life as we discover God’s presence through the whole live-long day.  I think this was one of our best-selling books in this latest stretch of shows, admittedly because I told anyone I could about it. I wish we had sold more!  If you haven’t read it yet, get on board. It is wonderfully fun to read and may be life-changing.  Andy Crouch, by the way, has a really nice foreword, and Jamie Smith’s brilliant You Are What You Love shows up a bit.

moveable feast tt.jpgMoveable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days Terry Timm (Imagination Press) $12.99  One of the brilliant features of the above mentioned Liturgy of the Ordinary is how Tish Warren relates worship practices to daily life, mostly a day in her life as a homemaking mom.  Here, Rev. Terry Timm, pastor of a great church in Pittsburgh, reflects on the “front end” of this equation – how to worship well, how to plan worship, and how to frame church as a formative center which shapes us for our vocational callings in all of life the rest of the week.  I do not know of any other book that does this so nicely, so thoughtfully, so accessibly.  Every pastor and worship leader should be thinking like this, and I believe it could be helpful to anyone who plans, leads, or attends worship.  Yep.  We’re happy to tell folks of any faith tradition about this gem.  For some more comments about it, see my BookNotes review here…. just scroll down to the bottom of the list.)

Break Open the Sky- Saving Our Faith from the Culture of Fear.jpgBreak Open the Sky: Saving Our Faith from a Culture of Fear Stephan Bauman (Multnomah) $15.99  Do you recall my naming this in that big review I did of the Goudzwaard & Bartholomew Beyond the Modern Age just two weeks ago?  I was listing books that offer a bit of cultural discernment, naming where we’ve been and what’s going on.  Bauman is not heavy-handed and the book is a delight to read, inviting us (by way of moving stories and solid Bible exposition) into a spacious world where fear need not bind us so. I really loved this wise book, found it enjoyable and challenging, and I can’t say enough about it.  It would make a great book club title, pushing us to be aware of the pressures of our world and allowing faith to give us fresh insight, courage, resolve, and love.  Yes, love. I told all about it during this workshop, but I’m not sure I did a great job so I’m commending it to you here, now. Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll be touched by it. 

The Myth of Equality.jpg Ken Wytsma (IVP) $18.00  I hope you know this author – Wytsma is important; he’s an excellent thinker and a fine writer.  His significant book Pursuing Justice came out of the annual Justice Conference that he developed a few years back, and his deeper book about faith, The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith, actually, is amazingly splendid. He did a great little book on creativity (Create vs. Copy) and now, this, on what has become known in the conversations about race as “white privilege.”

Listen to these three thoughtful endorsements of this brand new, very enlightening book:

It is impossible to deny that Christ is moving his church today toward racial reconciliation. It is likewise impossible to deny that many white Christians like me are not as comfortable with that movement as we say we are. In The Myth of Equality, Ken engages a visceral topic with clarity, compassion, and inspiring conviction. He prompts us to engage the deep and bitter roots of racial bias and privilege in American faith. A must-read resource for those beginning to feel that ‘the way things are’ is not okay. A readable, well-reasoned push toward Christ’s justice.  

Paul J. Pastor, author of The Face of the Deep

The Myth of Equality is written so skillfully that it’s easy to miss how much it accomplishes. The first part brings to light, with unflinching honesty, how deeply racism and white privilege are embedded within the founding documents and practices of the United States. The second part masterfully shows that this inequality violates the call of the gospel to justice and unity. And the third part offers some wise suggestions to those of us who are white Christians about how we can ‘lay down’ our white privilege. I have no doubt that some readers will be angered by the claim that they participate in and benefit from structures of racism and white privilege, well supported though that claim is. I predict that there will be more who are convinced and inspired by the patient, passionate, and nondefensive way in which Wytsma makes his case. It’s a book that someone had to write.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University, senior research fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

Ken Wytsma is a white evangelical man from a conservative white evangelical world, and he is doing his homework on race. I’ve witnessed Ken’s journey toward deeper understanding of the construct of race, its impact on individuals and communities of color, and what redemption requires. I’ve witnessed the wrestling and the transformation as aha moments have moved him into deeper love, more solid commitment, and earnest work toward the healing of our world. Through The Myth of Equality, Wytsma offers a peek at his homework. But this is no cheat sheet. It’s a journal of discoveries shared with humility, grace, and unrelenting commitment to truth. 

Lisa Sharon Harper, chief church engagement officer, Sojourners, author of The Very Good Gospel

The Tech-Wise Family.jpgThe Tech Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in It’s Proper Place Andy Crouch (Baker) $13.99  I simply held this up and said that anybody who cares about family life should have this, and anybody who works with children or youth should have this and anybody who has grand-kids should have this and, well, anybody who uses the internet at all really should consider this as well.  Yep, I want to say that this is the best brief book on the role of screens and digital devices in our technological world and it is a wise guide into this brave new world of ours.  I so enjoyed this, found it richer and more interesting than I expected (and you know I esteem Andy Crouch very, very much, always pushing his books Culture Making, Playing God, and the more recent Strong and Weak.)  Read any of his good books, I implored my friends in the workshop, but this one is a must for most of us.

The First Love Story.jpgThe First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us Bruce Feiler (Penguin Press) $28.00 What fun having this New York Times bestseller on our display at these kinds of church events. Feiler is known in many circles for his breakout hit book and PBS documentary series Walking the Bible. We’ve carried all his books since even before that one, as we love his “creative nonfiction” journalism where he travels around and describes what he sees, searching for meaning and clues and signals that point us towards a good life. Yep, this starts near the Tigris and Euprates Rivers searching for the mythical Garden of Eden.  He is on the ground in some exciting territory — should he be wearing a flak jacket when he goes into ISIS war zones? — and he covers scholarly, historical, religious, emotional, fruit of the sacred texts that talk about Adam and Eve.  These really are our founding stories, we Jewish and Christian believers, at least, and Feiler playfully but wisely explores the implications for love and sexuality and family of this grounding narrative. 

The many great, great blurbs endorsing The First Love Story are from smart writers and thought leaders such as Andrew Solomon and Jon Meacham and Rabbi David Wolpe and the Jesuit James Martin.  Even the Muslim Jesus scholar Reza Aslan chimes in saying it is “eye-opening look at one of the most famous stories of all time…” He suggests is forces us to “rethink our understanding of sacredness and profanity.”  It’s compelling, written with plenty of his characteristic wit and earnest grace.

The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea- Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition.jpgGreat Wall of China and the Salton Sea: Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition Russell Rathbun (Eerdmans) $21.99  I mused about this a bit, citing the lovely and insightful foreword by Nadia Bolz-Weber (who they most likely know, if only from her great Krista Tippett “On Being” interview, and her spicy memoir Pastrix.) I explained it is a memoir, but also a travelogue, as our intrepid writer moseys around these two massive monuments to ambition and hubris.  From a rumination on the Tower of Babel to a reflection on why we like to look at pictures of ruins, from his own family’s connections to the massive failure that created the Salton Sea to his visits to China, Rathbun gives us an entertaining, quirky, and very moving book that is creative in its conception, creative in its writing, and very serious in its message for those that may have the ears to hear.  What a great book. If you’d like to see another short review I did of it, find it here among others in this big BookNotes list.)


Hallelujah Anyway- Rediscovery Mercy.jpgHallelujah Anyway:  Rediscovering Mercy Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $20.00  We hardly had to introduce Annie to anyone in this crowd. She is the sort of religious writer many appreciate – honest, colorful, culturally liberal, but very serious about expressing the love and grace she discovered from Jesus.  Few writers are as expansive in their big hearts and few are as honest about their own sins and foibles and fears and stupidity. She owns it, and I think that may be why many relate to her.  This book is about mercy.  It was one of  our biggest sellers at these events.

great spiritual migration.jpgThe Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian Brian McLaren (Convergent) $21.00  I think those who tilt conservative and traditional theologically should read this because he is naming what is, in fact, a bit of a shift in the American religious landscape.  I don’t know if it is as widespread as Brian suggests – otherwise the UCC might be growing in more lively ways – but I do think he is documenting a huge conversation that has been going on in recent years.  I suggested to my UCC friends in the workshop that although I might wish they would also read more conventional evangelical formulations, this former evangelical pastor understands their own DNA and describes their theological tradition’s strengths. They would do well to study this and see if it gives a coherent voice to their own “God is still speaking” ways.

The three big shifts McLaren describes are:

  • The Spiritual Migration: From a System of Beliefs to a Way of Life
  • The Theological Migration: From a Violent God of Domination to a Nonviolent God of Liberation
  • The Missional Migration: From Organized Religion to Organizing Religion

Here is just one of the many rave views this has gotten by thoughtful thinkers, pastors, seekers:

Brian McLaren is a leading thinker in articulating the disenchantment so many of us feel regarding Americanized Christianity and the hope we have that there is, as McLaren says, “a better way to be Christian.” The Great Spiritual Migration calls us, not to wander aimlessly in the wilderness of pseudo-spirituality, but to follow Jesus forward into the promised land of a more authentic Christian faith. I applaud this important and encouraging book                                           Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell To Mars

Love Let Go- Radical Generosity for the Real World .jpgLove Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World Laura Truax & Amalya Campbell (Eerdmans) $21.99  I’ll admit we don’t quite know what to do this with exceptionally interesting, really fun and fascinating memoir, a creative telling of a church that was given a boatload of money and basically said “we don’t want it.”  That part of the story is interesting enough, and makes for a provocative read, but that’s just the very beginning of this enchanting and radical tale. Church leadership decides to take the money and give $500 to every parishioner with the instruction to “do something good” with it.  Wow, this is paying it forward, writ large! Love Let Go is the well-told story of what folks did, how it affected them, and the lessons learned about generosity, greed, philanthropy, development, and more. It is a great story, but could be valuable for anyone involved in thinking about entrepreneurship, church-based mission, and congregational vitality through generous stewardship.

The Road Back to You-  An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery.jpgThe Road Back to You:  An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile (IVP) $24.00, hardback //$8.00, workbook  Many who explore contemplative spirituality know Richard Rohr’s (or others) works on the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient, spiritual sort of personality assessment tool, sort of like an older, deeper version of the Meyers Briggs personality tests, which mainline Christian folks also know well.  So to tell people that this is the best (and most fun, by far) book on the topic is easy.  I will put it to you like I did in my workshop: if you know the Enneagram, you will love this upbeat and fun and very helpful study of it (and you’ll want to get the workbook, too.)  And if you are new to the Enneagram, you’ll want to start here.  I’m not even sure what I think about all this, but the book is a bundle of stories and wisdom and a little bit of Bible and spirituality and faith formation and psychology and relationship advice, with some famous-people gossip – speculating about what number various celebrities are, just for fun.  It is interesting to me the buzz on this book; almost everywhere we go somebody asks about it. The authors have great podcasts that will make you want to buy the book.  Even at one of these events last week a customer rushed up to the book table wondering if we had this (of course) because he had heard about it at a writer’s conference he attended at Princeton.  It really is a fascinating book.

When Kingfishers Catch Fire- A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of Go.jpgAs Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God Eugene Peterson (Tyndale) $24.99  As a former PC(USA) pastor, Eugene Peterson is respected within most mainline denominations and is claimed by many evangelicals.  After his long stint as a pastor and a decade teaching spiritual theology at Regent in British Columbia (taking a professorship alongside the likes of James Houston and J.I. Packer and adjunct teacher Marva Dawn) he has earned the right to be considered one of the most respected and appreciated religious writers of the last 50 years. This is a new book of sermons that were preached in the late 60s and early 70s at the church start-up he did in those years, Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air Maryland. There are a few new essays where Peterson puts these old sermons in context. This is worth having and savoring.  (Do you know the poem from which the title is drawn?)

The Soul of Shame- Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves.jpgThe Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Tell About Ourselves Curt Thompson (IVP) $22.00 We named this one of the Hearts & Minds very “best books of the year” a few years back and continue to feature this almost everywhere we go. I think some who browse are not sure if they want to pick it up – it could be a bit intense to grapple with such heart level stuff – but we are earnest in describing how well it is written, how deeply Biblical it is, and how insightful Curt is (he is a psychiatrist and knows quite a bit about neuro-science.) It is a marvelous book – very highly recommended, as is his previous one, The Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices Than Can Transform Your Life and Relationship. We have raved about this before, and any number of customers have told us how much this book means to them. It is an enduring, deeply and profoundly Christian resource that we continue to promote. Whether you carry deep shame or not, this is very highly recommended.

Be Still- Departure From Our Collective Madness .jpgBe Still: Departure From Our Collective Madness  Gordon Stewart (Wipf & Stock) $21.00  Oh, how I wish I had had time to read some of these short pieces out loud during my “show and tell” workshops about books these days. They were all written by a Presbyterian pastor – his brother is a UCC pastor, and I flubbed a joke about God calling one of them to a better denomination – but were crafted to be spoken out loud on “All Things Considered” and an NPR feature on Minnesota public radio.  Can you imagine someone trained in the best tradition of mainline Protestant seminaries, reading the likes of Augustine and Aquinas,  Luther and Calvin, Barth and Niebuhr, spicing up their radio op ed ruminations with contemporary writers and poets like Buechner and Updike, Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry?  Stewart is nearly what one might call a public intellectual (if only he were better known.) In these well-crafted short pieces, designed for a public listenership, he draws connections from the things that matter most to the things most on our mind these days.  He writes about racial injustice experienced by urban youth, and hospital ministry with the dying.  He writes about fear and doubt and goodness and hope.  The title might make you think it is mostly about politics — it was written before the resist Trump movement, I might add — and there is plenty of public theology for the common good in here. But these thought-provoking pieces are more than just a sane rant again the “collective madness” of our contentious discourse these days. It may be more like Thoreau, short reflection on what he sees, what he deeply knows, and what we can do as we ponder together ways to make our lives more sane.  I’ve appreciated these calm reflections a lot and have been taken to re-reading a few for the sheer joy of spending time with a well-crafted essay.  Nicely done.

Leave it to Walt Brueggemann to come up with a really nice blurb, and then the prayer-maker poet J. Barrie Shepherd:

This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and
value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes
from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many
words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive
imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh
discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended
opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring
witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.
–Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

‘Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet
still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost
simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent
issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless,
eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart
looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul
Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the
town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be
taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!
–J. Barrie Shepherd, author of Between Mirage and Miracle

Rebuilding-the-Foundations.jpgRebuilding the Foundations: Social Relationships in Ancient Scripture and Contemporary Culture John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $20.00  A certain generation of UCC leaders knew Brueggemann well.  His father was an E & R pastor (before they merged into the UCC in the 50s) and Walt himself held membership in the denomination of his youth.  He publishes a lot, but this is fascinating.  As I described in our BookNotes when I first announced it, Rebuilding the Foundations is co-written with his son, the Department Chair and Professor of Sociology at Skidmore College.  He is a scholar about inequalities and has a book called, curiously, Rich, Free, and Miserable: The Failure of Success in America.  Here, Walt and son John explore what Rabbi Michael Lerner in Tikkun called “a startlingly insight and important book” which “addresses some of the most important issues facing the human race today.”  Okay, so there’s that.

And, who wouldn’t find it interesting to combine a sociologist and a Bible scholar, exploring together how these ancient texts in the Bible might help guide us to re-construe our own social problem?

Mark Mulder, professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Calvin College writes:

Rebuilding the Foundations offers a clear-lucid, and compelling discussion of current social issues with insights from the intersection of biblical interpretation and sociology. A profound syntheses of the sociological and prophetic imagination. 

Revelation- A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World .jpgRevelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World Dennis Covington (Little Brown) $26.00  Covington is one of my favorite writers, classy, thoughtful,  yet intense and vivid. His searing books such as Salvation on Sand Mountain are on many people’s list of all time favorites. My copy has post-it notes stuck throughout as I dreamed about reading moving excerpts in my little workshop. Of course I ran out of time and rather in-eloquently shouted out that it is about this guy who travels around the world to some of the most violent spots, wondering how, oddly, religion is a cause of some of the world’s worst stuff, and, yet, seems also to be the only real answer to averting the awful violence we humans commit. In high-octane, energetic prose, Covington takes us to drug cartels and ISIS camps and sneaks across borders in places the State Department would not have permitted him to go. This report back is part travelogue, part war-on-terror journalism, part seekers heart cry, trying to figure out the meaning of faith in a troubled world. Highly recommended. 

Well, there were others.  But you get a sense of the various sorts of interesting titles we like to promote for this particular sort of tribe. Please know we are smiling and energetic, standing ready to recommend many kinds of books for all sorts of readers.  We’re at your service.



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