Friends and customers often tell us that they are intrigued by how we set up large book displays at so many different events, curating a selection of books that might help participants from each group in relating deep faith and interesting reading with their particular vocations and contexts.

From pastors and congregants at a retreat for small churches to a sophisticated arts event, from a jam-packed conference for mostly conservative Christian lawyers to an academic conference of mostly UCC pastors studying Mercersburg theology, from our regular involvement in the solid CCO campus ministry training to a “cookie walk” at a local Lutheran church, Beth and I and our staff try to find just the right resources for just the right crowd. Trying to get it right (not to mention sneaking in books we believe in that we think would be good for them) really keeps us on our toes.

For each group we take classic theology, maybe some stuff that pushes them outside of their comfort zone, books about spirituality and books about social concerns from racial justice to environmental care to global poverty. There are a few authors whose books we take nearly everywhere and there are specialty titles (some may say weird) that we trot out once a year for this or that annual gig, just to impress that particular tribe.

Once we were doing two concurrent events and I took books for the death and dying event to a gathering where we were mostly selling children’s books. And (yep, you can see where this is going) some of the cheery kids books ended up at the hospice event. Sometimes we really have to scramble…


We just got back from a conference for Episcopal clergy who serve in mostly urban and suburban parishes in the greater Philadelphia area. It’s a pretty standard mainline denominational crew, it seems, with some pastors pretty far to the left on the theological spectrum, and others more moderate. Some are nearly Anglo-Catholic in their highly liturgical style while a few are experiencing some renewal in ways that are nearly charismatic; there are radical social activists, a church that keeps bees as part of their environmental stewardship calling, a few that are predominantly made up of ethnic and racial minorities. What joy to meet priests from the Church of South India who tell me of their friendship with their old bishop, Lesslie Newbigin.

Of course each of these diverse clergy’s own understandings of faith, formation, and ministry are deeply influenced by their own theological history (and the seminaries from which they came are all over the map) and their emphasis on sacramental worship. We enjoy learning about their life as (somewhat conflicted) members of the broader, worldwide Anglican communion and their top-heavy ecclesiology. Their recent Bishop is a good man and it is a privilege to serve them.

We’re still not clear on all their ecclesiastical nomenclature — Canons and Vergers and Ordinaries – but we know enough to bring a ton of their own denominational publishing houses (Church Publishing, which consolidates storied publishing ministries such as Morehouse and Seabury) and Forward Movement and the like.

If we were with Lutherans, we’d be heavier on Augsburg and Fortress; when we serve UCC folks we take more Pilgrim Press titles; the PCUSA publishing house is called Westminster/John Knox and the official United Methodist one is Abingdon, although Upper Room is one of their affiliated spiritual formation imprints that is delightfully ecumenical.) Serious religious book lovers should know these names, even if you are drawn to more independent, evangelical publishing imprints like Zondervan, Tyndale or Crossway. Of course we always take a mix of all sorts of publishers – heavy on the ecumenically evangelical, always thoughtful, Eerdmans, IVP, and Baker/Brazos – including Herald Press which is Mennonite and a whole cavalcade of Catholic and even Orthodox publishing houses. Not to mention books by quality indie and boutique publishers like Square Halo Books or Urban Loft or Kalos Press or Falls City Press or so many more.

And of course, we carry many scholarly titles from academic presses and tons of books by mainstream, general market trade publishers that do so many worthwhile books by secular authors and by Christians of all sorts. From the brand new Barking at the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle (Simon & Schuster; $26.00) to the much-discussed best-seller The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Penguin Group; $25.00) to The Book of Joy co-authored by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama (Avery Publishing Group; $26.00) and the large backlist of authors such as Kathleen Norris, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Timothy Keller, Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamotte, Madeline L’Engle, Wendell Berry, Richard Foster, and so many of the older spiritual classics, the so-called “secular” publishers offer rich, rich, religious titles and we are happy to promote them.

No wonder we need so many tables when we do these events!


If you want to order any of these books (and we hope you do) please send us an order using our handy and secure order form page at our Hearts & Minds website. You can easily get there by clicking the “order” link shown below. Just tell us what you want.  Thanks.

ALSO: I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but here is a little etiquette lesson: if you learn about a book here at BookNotes, or are convinced to read it by my descriptions, it is tacky (at best) to then purchase it elsewhere. We offer these reviews to you at considerable cost to our own time and energy and trust that if you see something that you want to purchase, you’ll have the courtesy of sending the order our way. We are grateful for customers world-wide who want to see our bookstore flourish. We thank you sincerely for your support.

Of course we featured and sold books in dozens of categories – from social justice to spirituality, from Biblical studies to memoir and novels, from theology and doctrine to culture and the arts – but here are some that might be of most interest to those who work in mainline church settings, mostly about church life. All on sale, too; we’ll deduct 20% off the regular, shown price.

Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on Love and Longing Frank T. Griswold (Church Publishing) $18.00 We were thrilled that Church Publishing arranged it for us to have this brand new book immediately after it was in their warehouse, making our gathering a launch party for its release. We were the very first place to have it.

The (Retired) Bishop Griswold was the speaker for this retreat and to have his new collection of reflections was a privilege – none of us had read the book yet, of course, but his presentations were precious, mature, thoughtful, kind, full of stories about ministry, about his own interior life, and way prayer and Scripture and self-awareness can help us live lives of fidelity to the gospel. Drawing much from the new book, he shared provocative wisdom and I was impressed. He quoted poetry and Thomas Merton and pointed us to deeper mystery in ways that were interesting and, I think, very helpful. I know some of our readers are suspicious of anything good coming from mainline denominations but if they spent an hour with this esteemed leader I think they’d come away with a different attitude.

The good Bishop wrote a small, lovely book of ruminations and reflections years ago called Going Home: Reflections on Jubilee and a hand-sized prayer book Praying Our Days that we have carried for years. Both are very nice. It was nice to sit under his teaching a bit.

There are rave reviews enhancing this lovely new book, from Frederick Buechner to Ellen Davis, from Peter Hawkins (Professor of Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School) to poet Luci Shaw. We think it would make a lovely gift for your pastor, or for anyone wanting to live into a greater sense of the great, mysterious, love of God. Order the brand new Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on Love and Longing by Frank Griswold today.

Feasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship edited by David Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (WJK) $25.00 Everyone in this crowd knew well the respected, vulti-volume Feasting on the World preaching resources, the set of four-volume commentaries on the lectionary readings for preachers. (That’s four volumes for each liturgical year, making the whole series a 12 volume sets.) They also know the two-volume Feasting on the Word Worship Companion set that is available for each liturgical year that draws on the insights and perspectives of the Feasting preaching aids that help craft lectionary-based, theologically mature but somewhat creative worship services. The Feasting preaching commentaries and the Feasting Worship Companions are standard fare at any clergy event, and are almost always well received.

For this season, though, this tool is really helpful to have on hand — the Advent Companion (like the similar Lenten Companion) offers preaching and worship ideas (including hymns) for the weeks of the season, from the first Sunday in Advent through Epiphany, with extra ideas for mid-week services and Christmas eve services and the like. It’s really, really useful, and helpful for almost anyone putting together classic, lectionary-based services.

Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Resource Year B Part 1 and Year B Part 2 William Willimon (Abingdon Press) $24.99 each If you’ve been part of mainline church life for very long you know the name of Will Willimon. (And, for any CCO campus ministry folks reading over my shoulder here, you may want to smile a bit recalling how Messiah College’s Doug Bradbury – now teaching radical youth ministry at Geneva College – was the playfully boisterous emcee at our collegiate Jubilee Conference a few decades ago and when he brought Willimon to the main stage and got everybody singing in Rasta-reggae style Will-eee, Will-eee Will-eee-mon. I think the dapper Methodist clergyman didn’t quite know what to do.)

Everybody, though, should know that Willimon is a master craftsman when it comes to weaving words into moving sentences, a powerful, moving storyteller, a Christian gentleman from the South who is not afraid to speak out bluntly about racism and poverty, a terse bluntness he maybe learned from his friend and sometimes writing partners, the blue-collar, no-nonsense theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Willimon is known as a preacher’s preacher – at least within mainline sanctuaries – and has written bunches of books about homiletics, about preaching the texts, about using theology in the pulpit (he’s not quite Reformed but is partial to the Reformed giant Karl Barth) and even (in his last, powerful read, Who Lynched Willie Earle? he examines an old Southern sermon about an infamous lynching, asking what we can learn about being direct about racial injustices in the Sunday pulpit.) I could go on and on extolling Willimon’s credentials as a professor of homiletics and as an eloquent preacher (even from his prestigious years as the Dean of the Chapel at Duke University.) But here is what you most need to know: here we have Willimon’s own insights that have over many years been published in his journal Pulpit Resource, offering insights on the weekly, Sunday Lectionary texts, sharing good Bible observations for preachers as they develop a theme, and then actually telling this gospel story and preaching these Biblical texts.

These sermons are not, of course, to be stolen and used directly. Professor and (retired) Bishop Willimon says in the introduction how this is more like gathering over coffee with a trusted fellow-preacher or mentor and asking “So, what are you going to preach about this week?” It is a way to start your own thinking, get the sermon going, informed by the diligent work he has done with the texts, the commentaries and the like. Preachers must do their own work, of course, but this guide is a companion. I enjoy dipping into it myself, so for those who just like collections of interesting Christian messages, these sermons are themselves a great resource. Thanks, Willeee Will-eee-mon.

Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99 If there was one book that I wished I had even more time to talk about – although they give me a three very generous time slots to announce books — it very well could be this one. I felt like I didn’t need to say much as the premise is pretty straight-forward: it’s a novel comprised of fictional letters by a down-to-Earth, no-nonsense, very caring and very eloquent pastor to his small-town, a bit cranky and certainly eccentric Presbyterian church. With the blurb on the front from Eugene Peterson (in which he calls it a “tour de force” and says “an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read”) and my assurance that it is captivating, funny, and brilliantly written, I figured I didn’t need to say much more. When I described it here in BookNotes a month ago, again, I didn’t feel like I needed to explain much else. What’s not to love? If it is one of the best books about church life or the life of a pastor Peterson has ever read, you should buy it immediately, no? If I say it’s one of my favorite books of the year – and I have said that often – why not order a handful and start a book group?

Alas, there is so much in this little story that calls forth deep questions and good discussions that I wish I had time to review it in detail. Letter by letter I grew to like Jonas McAnn more and more. As the (not too complex) plot thickens and different folks in the church come out with this or that concern, I felt like it was a mirror to many, many churches of which I am familiar. Granby Presbyterian is a hoot of a place and it rings true to life. These letters are eloquent and moving and fun and will generate lots of stuff to consider, to ponder, to pray about. Love Big Be Well is a great little book, and I very highly recommend it.

A Word to Live By: Church’s Teachings for a Changing World Volume 7 Lauren Winner (Church Publishing) $12.00 I have often said, in workshops on reading as a spiritual discipline, to find an author and stick with her through thick and thin. I name a few authors I have committed myself to read and ponder whatever they write. Lauren is one such writer and I have not yet tired of her good writing, her fascinating stories, her insightful teaching. This very small book is in an ongoing series about key teachings of the Episcopal Church, but it is good for anyone. A Word to Live By is a short introduction to the role of the Scriptures in our lives (and, particularly in the worship and life of Episcopalians) and I commend it heartily.

Winner here reminds us less of a doctrine of Scripture (an important enough task) but rather points us to how to “engage the Word of God with curiosity and confidence.” It is a glorious little book that will make you think whether you are a seasoned Bible teacher or a newbie to the life of Christian Bible reading.

Listen to this endorsement from the Executive Director of Forward Movement:

Scripture engagement is one of the most important catalysts for spiritual growth. Lauren Winner offers ways for all of us, newcomers and lifelong Bible-readers alike, to engage and be transformed by scripture.

Here’s a little word to the wise: the two-page conclusion (“Abundant, Inexhaustible”) based on a poem by George Herbert is worth the price of the book. Her little exegesis of that poem which tells us about Jesus Christ, and how the Bible is always pointing us to Him, is fabulously generative. You can use it in your own teaching and preaching, I’m sure.

The Jesus Heist: Recovering the Gospel From the Church C. Andrew Doyle (Church Publishing) $18.00 This book promises to “flip the script” on Bible stories, “allowing us to hear Jesus’s call to change as one that is directed at us rather than as one we should direct at others.” Fair enough. But this book is more than that, what Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms (and herself a priest) says “is an ecclesiastical breath of fresh air.” As she continues, naming how this book will help those who are bored with church or stuck in their faith:

We can let go of useless structures that don’t lead us to love the world with eyes wide open. We can live again as the motley crew of Jesus who are present in the world, love their neighbors! This book will free you to reimagine how you spend your time, talent, and treasures for the coming Kingdom.

Listen to this blurb from United Methodist leader and retired Bishop, Will Willimon:

Once again Bishop Andy Doyle has put his great, first-hand knowledge of the church in service to the rest of us.  Andy has seen the church at our worst and best and still, out of love for Christ, comes through with a strong call to love and serve the church, not for what the church is (which, as Andy notes, is often a mess) but the church as it can be.  For all of us who love Christ and keep trying to love Christ’s body, this book is a welcomed word and a practical guide for how to help the church keep up with the movements of its living Christ.

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community John Pavlovitz (WJK) $16.00 Pavlovitz is known among younger mainline clergy folks mostly due to his engaging blog “Stuff That Needs to Be Said.” This carries forward the energetic call to be prophetic, full of love and grace, pushing boundaries in ways the prophets, Jesus, and the anti-Empire Paul might if they were around today. It offers “very wise reflections of a pastor with a heart like Jesus” says David Gushee. Pavlovitz calls us to four “marks of the bigger table” which are radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free community.” Not everyone will agree with all of this, I suppose, although the Episcopal group didn’t mind that I named the “Church Must Be Queer” chapter, which is a chapter that draws, among other things, on a brilliant Homer Simpson admission in an old The Simpson’s episode, and the fact that in the early church, the word Christian was first a name of derision.

This already is a book that is being discussed widely, especially, of course, in more progressive or mainline settings. As he puts in in his blog, there are some things that just “have to be said.”  Agree or not, this is important stuff to get out there, to think about, to take up prayerfully. Check it out.  Or, as the ad slogan for it goes, “Pull up a chair.”

Preaching Adverbially F. Russell Mitman (Eerdmans) $30.00 This book was stacked up in the shop the day we got back from the Episcopal retreat so I didn’t get to announce it there but if it had arrived in time, I would have, for sure. Mitman is a remarkable church leader – of fairly high-church German Reformed heritage, a former Conference Minister in the Penn Southeast Conference of the UCC. He has written several books of liturgical resources (years and years ago he had an creative, faithful one published by Harper and, in recent years, two or three from Pilgrim Press, with endorsements from the likes of his friend Marva Dawn.) So he’s been at this a while, guiding churches to more rich and robust, creative and faithful, forms or worship.

I know this won’t mean much to most readers, but I have to say that Mitman’s well-read sermons have often ministered to me personally, not only because, but somewhat because he reminds me of one of my heroes, Dr. Calvin Seerveld, author of Rainbow for the Fallen World and devotionals such as Take Hold of God and Pull and Being Human: Imaging God. I think I once sold Cal’s very good Voicing God’s Psalms to Rev. Mitman at some UCC conference or worship event.

This brand new book is on the short list of our “Best Books of 2017” in the category of homiletics and/or worship renewal. I’m curious when Mitman says:

Christian preaching obviously entails the sermon, but it reality it involves much more. Preaching happens when the entire worshiping congregations gathers to speak and sing, pray and listen, eat and drink, bless and baptize. Preaching is at root is a dynamic event best capture not in adjectives but in adverbs.

In Preaching Adverbially Mitman uses a handful of adverbs to identify what essentially happens in preaching. After a good foreword by his friend Gordon Lathrop and a short introductory chapter, Mitman dives right in. The chapter titles are Preaching… Biblically, Liturgically, Sacramentally, Evangelically, Contextually, Invitationally, Metaphorically, Multisensorially, Engagingly, Doxologically, Eschatologically.

Is that awesome, or what?

There are some really lovely endorsements on the back that verify how good this is; highly recommended.

Strategic Leadership, Planning, and Management for Christians Peter M. Danilchick (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press) $26.00 Okay, maybe I’m just showing off, or trying extra hard to show that we are ecumenically-minded. St Vlad’s is a very classy, somewhat academic publishing house from the legendary Russian Orthodox Press. They are known for doing handsome trim-sized paperbacks of many of the church fathers. (And, in that same series, some not-so-ancient; they just published a set of previously unpublished pieces by Alexander Schmemann called The Liturgy of Death.)

This new book, Strategic Leadership, Planning, and Management is written by an Orthodox protodeacon who is also a retired corporate executive. It is commonplace these days to hear our best congregational leaders saying that we ought not merely borrow the management theories and practices of the world and adopt them in the church. Whether worldly Wall Street business theories are adequate even for Christians in business is itself a good question, but whether any of that is appropriate for congregational leadership and strategic church planning is equally burning. This author, of course, says mostly no. We must draw on church history, or theology, or spirituality, and the wisdom of the Orthodox faith to frame how we think about parish management and congregational leadership, thinking faithfully about HR management, fundraising, running meetings and such. Not every book on parish life relates – on the back cover in large type, to less! – “the hesychastic fathers” and “compliance with tax regulations.” I haven’t read this yet, and don’t know if Deacon Danilchick is adept at integrating faith and thinking well about this topic. But his angle of vision and his interest in pre-modern ways would give him a leg up on this stuff. I thought the Episcopal pastors would dig this, but maybe they didn’t realize its utter uniqueness in the genre.

Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving Faithfully Sondra Wheeler (Baker Academic) $21.99  It isn’t uncommon to have pastors, or those who supervise pastors, ask for books about what we sometimes call the “human” side of ministry — avoiding burnout, dealing with clergy stress, managing time and demands, holding up under the “fish-bowl” life in a parsonage, and the like.  Maybe one way to get at that is to ask about sustainability; how can one serve the church in a “long obedience in the same direction”? This book is a new one in this genre, and it looks very, very good. One reviewer says it is “a must-read for everyone in ministry.” Hauerwas says it has “unusual good sense and insight.” Pastoral theology is vital to recapture and Professor Wheeler (who teaches at Wesley in DC) has learned much wisdom about what makes for healthy ministry over the long haul. Are there moral dangers to being a shepherd, pastor, preacher? Of course, and she names them. Are tehre pitfalls unique to this calling? Of course.  Wheeler is very astute about much of this stuff — and has a companion volume out, too, which I hope to write about later (called The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership.) Both books bring mature and thoughtful, balanced guidance.

Recovering From Un-Natural Disasters Lauri Kraus, David Holyan, and Bruce Wismer (WJK) $20.00 I have named this here at BookNotes before but needed to highlight it for the gathered clergy and church leaders last week. It is a wise and thoughtful guide for congregations wanting to be prepared for the next tragic mass shooting or arson or outbreak of gun violence or sexual abuse or public suicides and other human-caused disasters. This is a handbook that says what to do, what not to do, how to mobilize public lament, how to offer services and help and more. There are some recommended worship planning guides, song suggestions and such, even a bit about what to do at a one-year anniversary of a man-made tragedy. It’s sad to say, but I think every congregation needs to be doing some advanced planning on how to respond when something awful happens in your community.

Saving Images: The Presence of the Bible in Christian Liturgy Gordon W. Lathrop (Fortress Press) $34.00 This is a handsome, solid hardback with Lathrop’s customary passion for both high quality, well-executed liturgical worship and the generative, leading role of the Holy Scriptures. He has done workshops and classes on this for years, and this book is one that I am sure many will say, as Walter Brueggemann did, it is “a wise and remarkable book from which I have learned a great deal.” Lathrop explores seriously how Scripture and liturgy converge and how gathered assemblies of Christians should be shaped by this dynamism. Notre Dame theologian Robin Jensen notes that this new work “urges the faithful to comprehend the Scriptures in multisensuous ways.

Jensen continues:

The Bible is a text we read and hear, but also one we enact, experience, engage, and envision in the actions of communal worship. Lathrop invites us to see and take delight with our eyes as well as our minds, and prompts us to notice and relish the sacred images in our written texts as well as those on walls and windows.

Lutherans and Episcopalians get this (remember the little book I reviewed above by Lauren Winner about the significant role of the Bible even in the Episcopal liturgy and prayer book?) The best Roman Catholics do, too, naturally, but I think this book will help any in those rather liturgical/sacramental traditions to realize more keenly what is strong about their own worship practices and worship spaces. Perhaps more urgently, this will help those in less sacramental traditions, those freer churches (from UCC to PCA, from Wesleyan to Baptist, and, also, most charismatic and historic minority churches) the Bible should be central to their worship.

I heard Lathrop once very kindly critique the fairly standard African American worship experience, a highly liturgical mainline Lutheran telling black pastors that they needed to be more intentional and thoughtful about using the Bible more in their worship services, and it was stunning how the black pastors conceded that he was right: fire and zeal and piety and song and personal testimony may supplant the actual reading of the Bible itself.

This dense book is a rich discussion, worth working through, no matter your worship style or liturgical tradition. And – as a BookNotes aside – if you’ve followed James K.A. Smith’s work (especially the second volume in his esteemed three-part “Cultural Liturgies” trilogy called Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works) you will want to be familiar with Lathrop’s books. This new one, Saving Images, is a great place to start.

Four Views on the Church’s Mission Jonathan Leeman, Christopher J.H. Wright, John R. Franke, Peter J. Leithart (Zondervan) $16.99 I think nearly every church I know is in some kind of conversations – often filled with anxiety and sometimes leading to acts of desperation — about what the church should be about. From the edgiest new church plant to the staunchest old cathedral (and all the quite ordinary congregations in between) there are intuitions that we are not to be keepers of the status quo, and that our task is to somehow equip saints for ministry. Almost no one says we should keep to ourselves, doing the same-old, same old.

But what should we be doing? How does our understanding of our primary calling effect everything else? Are we mostly about worship, about education, about cultural renewal, about social change? Here are four very thoughtful advocates of four classic views. They described themselves as Soteriological mission, participatory mission, contextual mission, and sacramental mission.

Perhaps these can be better understood by hearing the explanatory sub-titles of each chapter: Jonathan Leeman says we should be “focusing on the mission of redemption.” Wright insists that we embrace “the mission of God’s people revealed in the whole Bible story.”

Franke’s contextual approach is framed by the process of “bearing witness to the ends of the Earth” while Peter Leithart argues for an “ecumenical and political missiology.” None of these authors are shallow, each are evangelically-minded, Biblically-grounded. They each respond to the same key questions about how their own Biblical interpretations and theological convictions guide their framework for mission. Of course there are huge, looming questions here about the nature of the church, the work of God, the redemption of the world. What is the gospel, after all, and what is the Kingdom of God?

As with the many other books in this popular series each of the scholars responds with brief rejoinders to the main chapter of their conversation partners, so you get not only the major presentation, but the critique made by the others as well. There is a nice closing piece by Jason Sexton entitled “Recalibrating a Church for Mission” which brings a lot together.

I hope that our mainline friends will trust us that this Zondervan title is one which they could use profitably for re-thinking and recalibrating their own views, and helping their own congregations grapple with one of the biggest questions facing the church today. I think we should admit to our dis-ease and lack of clarity about this, and pursue it forthwith. This book will help.  It’s urgent. Order some today!

Church in Ordinary Time: A Wisdom Ecclesiology Amy Plantinga Pauw (Eerdmans) $20.00 I loved highlighting this to those who are so steeped in the church calendar, who would appreciate how Professor Pauw brings together Biblical wisdom literature with church. congregational stuff. Trying to offer a “Trinitarian ecclesiology that is properly attuned to the church’s life and the realities of today’s world” is daunting; doing it in light of wisdom and the ordinariness of daily life is, well, extraordinary. Rave reviews from Willie James Jennings of Yale Divinity School and worship prof Don Saliers of Candler remind us that this is rich, ecumenical, respected. Amy Plantinga Pauw is a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, has written on Jonathan Edwards, and is the author of a theological commentary on Proverbs as well. This is a thought-provoking book with some genuinely new insights.

Women’s Voices and the Practice of Preaching Nancy Lammers Gross (Eerdmans) $20.00 We are always glad when we are in communities of faith where many of the leaders and pastors and priests are women. Yet we are infuriated when we hear, even in so-called progressive denominations, of the hardships woman have faced as they have risen to their calling to serve the church. I know of one woman whose Episcopal bishop disapproved of her and when he laid hands on her head to ordain her whispered into her ear “you are going to feel this” and pressed down so hard as to cause a serious disc injury. One just wants to cry out against such cruelty in the church!

One of my own pastors is a woman and she is a great preacher. I don’t know much about how she feels when she’s in the pulpit and although most in our church adore her, there are female preachers who have spoken about how complicated it is being in the pulpit; even when beloved, it’s complicated. Sometimes this is caused by unsupportive members, although it may be that sometimes fear and self-doubt is just inherited from the culture.

“Many women preachers and worship leaders have trouble speaking,” says Nancy Gross. “They struggle to fully use their physical voices.”

Here is what it says on the back cover:

Maintaining that there is often a disconnect between a woman’s self-understanding as a preacher and her own body, Nancy Lammers Gross presents not only techniques but also a theologically empowering paradigm shift to help women embody their God-given preaching vocations.

Women’s Voices and the Practice of Preaching starts off with a study of Miriam, reminds us how instrumental woman have been in the work of God, and tells stories (including her own) of women’s loss of connection to their bodies and physical voices.

Jana Childers, who has written on this topic herself, says this is “Stunningly helpful. Stunningly powerful. Stunningly beautiful.”

Please believe me that I am not just trying to sell more books when I say that I think this one could be useful to men as well as women. Particularly in this season when many of us (men) are trying harder to l listen to women and to understand their hard stories, many of us should take up this book about women’s experience. Further, I suspect some men have a hard time finding their true voice and this constructive resolution (which includes exercises to develop a full-bodied voice) could be useful for many preachers, teachers, and other leaders.

The Art of Transformation: Three Things Churches Do That Change Everything Paul Fromberg (Church Publishing) $18.00 I hope you know the wonderful, energetic, artful memoirist author Sara Miles who came to Christian faith by receiving communion at a church she knew nothing about, the extraordinary St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. Miles has written Take This Bread and Jesus Freak and City of God and they are each among my favorite reads in this genre of spiritual autobiography. She doesn’t cuss as much as her pal Nadia Bolz-Weber, but her passion for an inclusive church, serious worship with creative liturgy, and radical social service in the community is somewhat similar.

Well. If you know Mile’s story, not only of her conversion to Christ but her work starting a food pantry in the worship space at St. Gregory of Nyssa’s, you have already heard much about this creative congregation. (Or maybe you saw the fascinating documentary about them, show-casing their uniquely crafted, multi-ethnic, participatory liturgy) Fr. Fromberg is the eccentric and energetic pastor and rector (who also teaches at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific) behind this wild and holy place. From hip events like Wild Goose and Greenbelt, he’s addressed seekers and artists and church innovators all over the world; he has worked hard at gracious outreach and helping the church offer inviting, radical hospitality (including St. Gregory’s famously open Eucharist.) St. Gregory’s colorfully communicated but classic and often ancient liturgy over which Paul presides is well worth studying, but only makes sense as part of the larger ethos of the community and the spirituality of the parish.

At the Episcopal event last week I pushed them to get this book as it has the ability to challenge and invite transformation for those who may be a bit too conventional, maybe feeling stuck. It is a beautifully written book in many ways, “full of compassion and humanity” as one reviewer put it. The Art of Transformation is animated by community, it is serious about theology and liturgy, but it really does call us to be a part of the life God has for us; it is anything but formulaic, despite the “three things” in the subtitle.

And here’s the funny thing: the cover and subtitle promises an exploration of three things. There are seven, actually, with a chapter dedicated to each. The book tells vivid stories and calls us to explore – with patient self-reflection, in relationship with others, and in a spirit of experimentation with new practices discerning what works – these seven discoveries that bubbled up from their work at St. Gregory’s. Maybe they will inspire you, too.

I realize that most BookNotes readers are not where Farmer is theologically or culturally; I know I am not. Your church can’t start dancing with Ethiopian prayer umbrellas or commission holy icons of your local social activists. And you most likely don’t have Sara Miles as your best friend and church associate. But, still, The Art of Transformation can prod and evoke God’s Spirit among you, then it will be worth every penny.

Incarnational Ministry: Being With the Church Samuel Wells (Eerdmans) $22.00 I was thrilled to get to announce to this group a few new Samuel Wells books (one is called How Then Shall We Live? Christian Engagement with Contemporary Issues where Wells weighs in on two and a half dozen social issues with this characteristic theological acumen and agile mind) but we wanted especially to highlight this new one. I love this “being with” approach and agree with Elaine Heath (of Duke Divinity School) who says it is a beautiful volume, laying out “a path for us to become more fully present to God, self, others, and creation.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says it is a “must read” which I neglected to point out to these gathered Episcopalians. As I’ve said in a previous BookNotes, Incarnational Ministry offers the concept of “being with” in eight different dimensions: presence, attention, mystery, delight, partition, partnership, enjoyment, and glory. It is excellent.

Here’s a little heads-up, too: sometimes people don’t want to give a book to their pastor that suggests they aren’t doing something properly, or that seems too much like a work manual or professional handbook that isn’t delightful enough to be a really nice gift. I get that. There are many great books for clergy but I wouldn’t think you’d want to give them as an Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany gift. But this –this would work wonderfully as a pastor appreciation gift because of the allusive, beautiful, reflective approach. It’s really nice, a nearly perfect gift.

Stayed tuned next year when Eerdmans is releasing the sequel, Incarnational Mission: Being With the World.

Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community (Second Edition) Diana Butler Bass (Church Publishing) $22.00 I was happy to tell about this book up front at the Episcopal clergy gathering because, of course, they all knew Diana. (She is Episcopalian, had been one of their retreat leaders a few years back, and most modern clergy know her important books on congregational life and new visions of spirituality in works like Christianity for the Rest of Us, Christianity After Religion and Grounded.)

Strength for the Journey was a book I raved about at BookNotes when it came out over 15 years ago. (The manuscript, importantly, in retrospect, she tells us in a new introduction, was turned in September 10, 2001.) I have not yet read this new, edited and expanded version, but can tell you two significant things that I hope inspire you to order it from us.

Firstly, it is a one of a kind book.

No less an observer of the religious landscape than the late-great Phyllis Tickle (an early supporter of Diana’s work) noted that there is hardly a book on the market like this. Strength for the Journey is in the now exceptionally popular genre of religious autobiography or what some call spiritual memoir. But here’s the thing: Butler Bass narrates her own journey chapter by chapter, stage by stage of her own faith development, in light of and in the contexts of the various congregations of which she was a part. From her first taste of liturgical worship at All Saints in Pasadena in 1996 to her concluding chapter set at Christ Church in Alexandria in 2001, she offers insights about faith, about her own story, about life and times as a church person in our times, and about the ways local congregations do or don’t live out vibrant, helpful faith in their own locales. It is her story, but it is hopefully true of all of us, that our faith has been shaped decisively by the congregations of which we have been a part. This book is a wonderful mash-up of the sociology of religion, congregational studies, and personal memoir. Still, years after it came out, there is hardly anything like it in print.

Secondly, you should know this: Bass says in her new introduction two revealing things about why she did an expanded, second edition. She notes that there was nothing in the first edition of the book, turned in before 9-11, about the subsequent pain of the years following the attack, the rage in patriotism, the Gulf Wars, the rise of racism and such that characterized much of those years. She has written about painful encounters within congregations around those issues (for instance in her raw Broken We Kneel) but in revisiting these earlier pieces about her previous church experiences she now sees stuff about those earlier congregations that perhaps she missed before. So there is in this new, updated edition, some sober re-assessment of those years, inspired, I suppose, by that old adage about better vision in the rear view mirror.

In fact, Diana says it even more boldly. She suggests that, in fact, she was too young to have written that grand book when she did, offering glimpses of congregational life as she experienced it, naming the good and bad of these varied churches. She says that she actually knows more now about some of the dynamics in those very churches and she needs now to update her evaluation of what was going on. Her big picture of God’s goodness, of a missional vision, of her appreciation for good liturgy, has only deepened in these subsequent years, but she is more savvy about congregational ill health, about pastoral dysfunction, about idolatrous ideologies, about the interactions of faith and culture. The brand new edition does not, I gather, wallow in negativity – it isn’t that different from the original – but it does bring a seasoned eye and a more mature, mid-life retrospective to these well told tales.

I love what she says in this introduction to the new 2017 edition:

If, when one is forty, one tempers hard news in favor of good, then when one nears sixty, saying what is true is all that matters. I have not become a curmudgeon, thinking that the church’s best days are behind. No, I have become far more realistic and hopeful about faith. My fellow writer and friend, Marcus Borg, used to remind me that faith was about “seeing widely.” The eyes of faith do not fixate on what is immediately in front of us but learn to see softly, to include the periphery of the Spirit, to sense a wise field of grace and God’s intention that surround us all.

This is not, Diana insists, an act of nostalgia, but neither is it a tell-all expose. This is one sister’s journey, one seeker’s pilgrimage, through many congregations of varying sorts and levels of health. It is, in that sense, the story of many of us, an exploration of all of our lives and our churches. As she says, “I hope that in telling my story, I might have told a bit of yours.”

Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church James Calvin Davis (Eerdmans) $25.00 I have tried making jokes about this book when showing it off – you know, saying that your church doesn’t need this, but other pathetic congregations might. But you know what? That’s dumb of me, for two reasons. First, church conflict is nothing to joke about (and is often quite painful for folks who are deeply invested in their local congregations) and the need to find Christian unity is one of the great, great tasks of any time. It is Jesus’s last great wish and the “final apologetic.” We must learn to get along. And, secondly, this really is a useful book, not just a screed against disunity or a call to be one. It is a mature and thoughtful and a bit creative rumination on this old fashioned word, forbearance.

“Bear with one another” the Bible says. What does that mean? What does it look like? What happens when we aren’t in it for the long haul with one another? What does patience bearing with lead to?

As this vital book powerfully asks: “What happens when we approach disagreements in our churches not as problems to be solved but as opportunities to practice Christian virtue?” Davis is a serious, respected author, a good theologian and experienced church leader. We’ve needed a book of this depth and thoughtfulness for quite some time.  Cheers!

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers Christopher Hall (IVP) $24.00 Chris Hall is the director of Renovare Institute of Christian Formation and is the Associate Editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. He has taught, and been an academic leader at Eastern University and has been a member of a diocesan church there in Philadelphia, so these pastors should know Chris.

We carry his many books, including others in this really interesting, approachable series, such as Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and Worshipping with the Church Fathers. I must admit I’m not always as interested in the ancient-part of the “ancient-future” slogan, but, in this season of commemorating the reformation, we should recall that 16th century watchword, ad fontes. That is, we should go back to the sources!

In this new little volume, Hall helps us recall that the first centuries of Christianity may seem like a far-away time, maybe a far country.

But listen to this:

But despite the foreignness, they hold a treasure of wisdom for living. They, too, struggled and flourished in a culture that was in love with empire and military power, infatuated with sex and entertainment, tolerant of all gods but hostile to the One. From this crucible of discipleship they extracted lessons of virtue, faithfulness, and joy in Christ.

Recording artist and spiritual thinker Carolyn Arends notes that:

In a winsome style that makes the patristics accessible without ever domesticating them, Chris Hall takes readers deep into another engaging conversation with the church fathers… Part manifesto and part training manual, Living Wisely with the Church Fathers compels us – and then teaches us – to do just what the title suggests.

Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation John Stott (Eerdmans) $12.00 I so wish that folks all over the broad Body of Christ would read John Stott. Father John was a clear, faithful, serious, writer without artificial pizzazz, consistently giving good, balanced, solid, Bible teaching. Many of his books are considered classics and are read within the more thoughtful evangelical community and among many mainline denominational folk who want a reasonable, respectable, moderate theological voice. Stott is evangelically minded, committed to what Lewis called “mere Christianity” and what he termed, in one of his popular small works, “basic Christianity.” His major works on Christ, on the cross, on missions, and the newly re-issued Between Two Worlds (on preaching) are excellent and highly recommended. The work he did near the end of his life on gospel-centered creation-care, railing against consumerism and materialism and calling for renewed interest in social outreach, were powerful.

And so I was surprised to learn that Stott had a book with which I was unfamiliar; I hadn’t even heard of it! This is back in print for the first time in many years and it seemed appropriate to feature at the clergy gathering.

The first part of this small book is about the Biblical teaching about privately confessing one’s sins one to another; that is, in ordinary, day-to-day life. Are there any of us who do this well? I hope to read and try to apply these early chapters and invite you to consider them also.

The second half of this book is about what we might call the liturgical aspect. It explores the ways in which our confession of sin could be done better within our public worship.

The third portion of this is about what some now call the Rite of Reconciliation, or confession of sins to a priest. He explores the priest’s authority and the penitent’s need. Few congregations do this really well, and I suspect Stott’s clear-headed, Biblically-based insights – framed by his own Anglican tradition – will be a true gift, assisting those who need help in enacting this practice.

Indeed, evangelical leader Ray Ortlund (of Immanuel Church in Nashville) says, “If the wisdom so ably offered in Confess Your Sins is heeded in our churches, the power of true reconciliation will feel like heaven on earth!”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God Eugene Peterson (Waterbrook) $24.99 As folks browse our book display – almost everywhere we go, including last week at the Episcopalian gig – people tell us that their faith was decisively influenced by the early books of Eugene Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is often cited, as are his “vocational holiness” ones about being a pastor. Of course, many love The Message (even if they don’t know it was Peterson that did that, and that he is a very able translator of Hebrew and Greek.) It’s always fun to promote his books, of which there are many.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of his earliest sermons, preached at his 1960s church plant (called Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland.) There is some new material – mostly Peterson framing these chapters with some contemporary reflections – but it really is an anthology of great sermons and Bible lessons preached or taught in the church at Bel Air.

“Sixty years ago I found myself distracted,” Peterson writes. “A chasm had developed between the way I was preaching from the pulpit and my deepest convictions on what it meant to be a pastor.”

As the copy on the back cover explains:

And so began Peterson’s journey to live and teach a life of congruence – congruence between preaching and living, between what we do and the way we do it, between what is written in Scripture and how we live out that truth.

Peterson is known for rich, beautifully written prose, Biblically based, often accented with lines from good poetry and literature. In some of these teachings you’ll find reflections, took on racial injustice that was prevalent even then in nearby Baltimore and a reference to the first moon landing. As never-before-published messages, you’ll think some were preached just this season. Whether you are looking for book to read together with a book club or growth group or whether you are a pastor seeking fresh ways to think about how to preach and teach, or whether you just need a more substantive set of messages to supplement your own study and devotional time, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is certainly one of the best resources released this year. Thanks be to God for how Peterson helps us live out the good news, based always on his insistences of “the Word made flesh.” Amen!


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