Still stuck for a last minute gift idea? Maybe you are looking for a book that is just right. Or maybe one that is quirky, a surprise. Here are some amazing works that would be unforgettable gifts and some that might make just a little stocking stuffer or gift for that person you don’t want to give something tooo intimate or mundane; you know, not a piece of jewelry but not a pack of tube socks, either. Books make great gifts for nearly anyone.
ORDER NOW AND WE CAN GET THESE TO YOU (while supplies remain) BY FRIDAY. Just order at our secure order form page below. We’ll be back in touch to confirm everything.
Yep, Santa’s reindeer are working overtime and they swing by here regularly. It’s like Christmas magic.
And, don’t forget that you can give gifts for those classic twelve days of Christians. Why should our Jewish friends be the only ones who get to give a whole batch of gifts? At least you could surprise somebody with an Epiphany gift – and it doesn’t have to be frankincense of myrrh. Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, N.T Wright or Os Guinness might do quite nicely. Read on.
WE SHOW THE REGULAR RETAIL PRICE BUT WE’LL DEDUCT 20% OFF WHEN WE CALCULATE THE SALE. Enjoy.
FOR A PERSON WHO IS INTERESTED IN RURAL LIFE
God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church Brad Roth (Herald Press) $16.99 There are only a small handful of books about thinking Christianly about rural life and about doing ministry in a country church. This is fairly serious and well written, by a Mennonite pastor from middle-of-nowhere Kansas. There’s a forward by Leonard Sweet, so that’s nifty. I’ve written about it a bit before and think it is very wise and really interesting — the author is a very good writer. If you know anybody who might recognize those roads on the book cover, they’ve got to have this book. Written with “the poetic force of Kathleen Norris and the pastoral warmth of Eugene Peterson” there is nothing quite like it.
The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings Wendell Berry (Counterpoints) $26.00 This is a very new hardback book by one of our most esteemed writers. Berry, as you know, writes poetry, novels, short stories, and is a master of the dense, serious essay. He has numerous collections and although they often include stuff about his farming life in Western Kentucky, it has been a while since he has done a book exclusively about agrarianism. In some circles, this is what Berry is most known for, or what he most stands for. Even if the person you are giving this to isn’t a farmer, if they care about rural culture or if they like Berry, this new book is a treasure. Give it to someone who cares, and they will thank you for caring about such things, too. Tell ’em you made a decision to buy it from a place that has carried Berry for decades. It means a lot.
FOR A PERSON WHO WORKS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Reforming the Liberal Arts Ryan C. Mcilhenny (Falls City Press) $14.95 You may know not this but there is quite a cottage industry of books about college and university life – some that end up as best-sellers and culturally significant, actually. Christians have written wisely into that world, and this brand new little book is a perfect example of how people of faith can offer a unique perspective on the meaning of learning and the significance of a liberal arts education. Not only is this a good book for any teacher, dean, administrator, or resident hall director, I think any church near a college and certainly anyone working in campus ministry needs to be able to be familiar with this wise and compelling argument for what Bob Sweetman (of the Institute for Christian Studies) says on his front-cover blurb is “a venerable Christian educational project.”
Our friend the philosophy Esther Lightcap Meek says Reforming the Liberal Arts sounds all the major tones a book like this should but also:
augments it with zesty new notes: current research in brain studies, in the impact of technology, and in best educational practices. It is a chord anchored at the base in years of seasoned practice teaching and inspiring students.
McIllhenny has a PhD from the University of California, Irvine and now teaches at an overseas campus project of Geneva College in Shanghai, China. What a great author and what a great little book.
FOR SOMEONE WHO APPRECIATES ANCIENT PRAYER-BOOKS OR LATE MEDIEVAL ENGLISH LITERATURE
Four Birds of Noah’s Ark: A Prayer Book from the Time of Shakespeare Thomas Dekker, edited by Robert Hudson (Eerdmans) $17.99 We have so enjoyed selling this beautifully designed, somewhat updated nearly timeless prayer-book, a true literature classic that, in our lifetime, has become virtually unknown. This prayer book – written in the middle of the plague in London in the mid-1500s (yes, that’s the time of Shakespeare and the eve of the Protestant reformation) — was in print continuously from the 16th century until 1924 when it went out of print. A few years ago a modern Bible scholar (who works as an editor at Zondervan Academic) and poet, Robert Hudson, discovered it and put in to motion a plan to get it re-published.
And what a great job they did. Kudos to Hudson and the good folks at Eerdmans… there are French flaps and red ink and some lovely illustrations giving this a handsome, classy look. These beautifully crafted prayers of the English reformation are not to be missed, and this book will be treasured by any lover of the English language and anyone wanting helping in praying for a culture in crisis.
FOR A LOVER OF VIDEO GAMES
Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God edited by Craig Detweiler (WJK) $25.00
Many gamers are actually fairly philosophically oriented and this serious and fascinating theological study is perfect for anyone wanting to integrate a Christian perspective into their love for interactive digital games. There are a variety of authors and a few are pretty academic. It also include some fascinating behind-the-scenes interviews with those who worked on the legendary games Myst, Raven, and Halo. Wow.
Of Games & God: A Christians Exploration of Video Games Kevin Schut (Brazos Press) $22.00
If the collection, above, edited by Detweiler is a bit daunting, this one by a communications expert and enthusiastic gamer may be a bit more accessible to younger readers. It offers a lively, balanced and informed Christian perspective on video games and gamer culture. It’s our first-choice, go-to book on the subject. Somebody you know is going to love this — and, man, will they be surprised that there’s actually books about this, and that God cares. Merry Christmas.
FOR SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO SING OR WHO IS INVOLVED IN CHURCH CHOIRS OR WORSHIP TEAMS
Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Keith & Kristyn Getty (B+H Publishing) $12.99 What a handsome little hardback book this is, compact and yet solid. And, my, my, the content is powerful. I suppose you have heard of the Getty’s, the Irish couple who have written modern hymns such as In Christ Alone. In this book they reflect not only on music and singing – although this would be great for a choir member or anyone a part of a praise team – but on the very heart of Christian worship. Alister Begg encourages many to buy it and says it will “revolutionize congregational singing.”
My friend Dean Weaver, a Presbyterian pastor, has an endorsement on the inside, saying,
As a follower of Jesus, husband, father, grandfather, and pastor, Sing! hits a sphere of our life that is not addressed enough: singing and our spiritual formation as people and especially in community. As a pastor, the latter is particularly meaningful and helpful to me.
I appreciate the way another respected and culturally-serious Christian leader, Os Guinness, puts it – listen to this:
Keith and Kristyn’s music has always inspired my worship and deepened my faith and the same time. In an era when much contemporary Christian music is vapid, shallow, and theologically flimsy, they are a two-person reformation team whose songs will stand the test of time.
FOR SOMEONE WANTING TO LEARN MORE ABOUT RACIAL DIVERSITY
Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming our Ethnic Journey Sarah Shin (IVP) $16.00 If you follow BookNotes you know we often offer lengthy lists and serious annotations of books about race and faith-based solutions to racial injustice; there are so many theologically sound, even evangelically-minded, robust books that get at this topic. This one is quite new and reminds us that (a) claiming to be “color-blind” isn’t helpful or theologically sound and (b) not all racial justice issues are those between blacks and whites. This has been called a “groundbreaking work” and a book which will – in the language of the popular missional speaker Jo Saxton – “prod your heart at times, but also serves to equip you…”
Ken Wytsma (who released an essential book on white privilege The Myth of Equality early this year) says of Beyond Colorblind:
Beautifully written and astute. Sarah Shin takes readers on a deep, honest, and spiritual journey through the complications of racial history…Whatever your background or level of experience in this conversation, Sarah’s voice and wisdom will add rich texture to your understanding. I can’t recommend Beyond Colorblind highly enough.
FOR AN ART LOVER
In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture David Lyle Jeffrey (Eerdmans) $49.00 This splendid book is surely one of the most significant books published this year and even more certainly one of the most significant books on art, faith, and aesthetics in many a year. It is hefty, although not quite a coffee table book. There are gorgeously reproduced full color art pieces on glossy paper but there is very, very extensive text. David Lyle Jeffrey, you should know, is one of our most brilliant literary critics – he teaches at Baylor and has written for top-notch journals such as First Things, Books & Culture, and Image. This is not only a lavishly illustrated book on faith and art but it is a major work by a major scholar.
One of the unique features made by this learned study is that it isn’t just another study of faith and the arts (although if Jeffrey did a generic book like that it would be essential reading) but it makes a contribution about “the beauty of holiness.” In a sense this is not just a book about architecture and art and such but it is about the place of beauty in our desire for holiness. That is, it is about spiritual formation and it is about philosophy and theology.
This is over 420 pages and spectacular.
Inspired by the Word: The Bible Through the Eyes of the Great Masters Dr. J. Sage Elwell (Museum of the Bible Books/Worthy) $24.99 If one doesn’t want a book quite as learned and quite as lavish as the expensive and glorious David Lyle Jeffrey one shown above, this is also a great choice – less costly, less academic, and a bit less weighty. The artwork here is not reproduced on heavy, glossy paper, but it is nonetheless a beauty to behold with lots and lots of color. It is only a slightly oversized hardback and makes a nice gift without being too intense or deep.
The great contribution of Inspired by the Word is that it truly does show how Biblical texts have influenced great painters and other artists and it shows paintings and art pieces that are directly influenced by Bible stories. This is not only fascinating and inspiring but it is useful for Sunday school educators and Bible teachers, too, if they need to supplement their classes with Biblical-inspired art.
Throughout history, the back cover reminds us:
…the great stories and heroes of the Bible have been depicted in art – drawn on walls, carved in stones, stitched into tapestries, or painted on canvases that decorated homes or churches. No other book has inspired and influenced such creativity and beauty.
This book shows a lot of artwork, from a beautifully carved forth century sarcophagus to a twentieth century painting by Salvador Dali. Great masters such as Rubens, Bernini, Botticelli, and Rembrandt are all here. This is a very nice volume at a very reasonable price making it a great value.
FOR A BOOK LOVER OR ONE WHO WANTS TO KNOW WHAT TO READ NEXT
A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99 This book is a “festschrift” honoring Beth and I and the work we do here at Hearts & Minds, so it’s a little embarrassing touting it. But it is amazing – almost 20 authors weighed in offering well-written chapters – inspired by my BookNotes, I’m told – surveying the best books in their own specialized field of study. What a great idea.
In A Book for Hearts & Minds you’ve got some famous people – N.T. Wright on New Testament studies and David Gushee on ethics and Aaron Belz on poetry and Karen Prior Swallow on literature and Andi Ashworth on cookbooks, and Calvin Seerveld and Denis Haack and Matthew Dickerson and Gregory Wolfe and Steve Garber and so many others. Each chapter has the author explaining their picks, doing nice book reviews of the ones on their lists and, on some occasions, telling a few little Hearts & Minds stories. Mostly it is a book about books, on topics from creation-care to history, sociology to Bible study, fantasy novels to film studies, cook books to science books, and more. If you have any hard-to-buy-for book lovers, this cool book about books has our little connection and I might humbly submit it would make a nice gift. Beth and I will even sign it if you think that’ll help. For what it’s worth, the editors transcribed an informal talk I gave once about the power of reading and the spiritual necessity of reading widely and that is the lead chapter. How ‘bout that?
FOR A THEOLOGY STUDENT OR LOVER OF THEOLOGICAL WORKS
Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction Craig C. Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $40.00 It is interesting to me how many people these days know Kuyper – in part because of his famous preaching point about Christ reclaiming “every square inch” of creation. His views of “common grace” and “the antithesis” and “sphere sovereignty” have influenced us, here, and I’ve written about them often. I’ve recommended, often, Richard Mouw’s lovely little book Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Eerdmans; $16.00) and the magisterial, large biography Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist and Christian Democrat by James Bratt (Eerdmans; $32.00.) Besides being a newspaperman, the founder of a college, a philosopher and statesman and Prime Minister of Holland, he was, of course, a pastor and theologian. This studies not only Kuyper’s theology, as such, but explores the subsequent neo-Calvinist tradition, those who, in the line of Kuyper, have worked out a comprehensive Christian world and life view. This is a remarkably important volume and I hope many theologians grapple with it. It should be better known than it is, and it would make a great, great gift.
Theologygrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams Rich Wyld (IVP) $15.00 Okay, this is just about the funniest theology book I’ve seen and while it is way goofy and spoofy, it actually conveys some really good information. And some stuff written by this British dufus wanting to have fun making us smile while studying various doctrines and Biblical teachings.
There are Venn diagrams, info-graphic charts, bullet points and all kinds of diagrams in full color.
From “immortality vs. resurrection” to whimsical outline charts of Augustine, the Venerable Bede and “Karl Barth’s Dialectical Washline” you’ll learn some stuff and you’ll smile a bit. There’s a “just war checklist” and a bit on apophatic theology.
There’s quite a bit of helpful Bible charts, too, from “Jonah’s Mood-O-Meter” to a brilliant pie chart of Ecclesiastes. And don’t miss “If Jesus Used Charts Instead of Parables.” I think one of my favorites is the scribble of stunning stuff found in the “Simply Guide to the Book of James” although you’ve got to see the clever and pretty darn clear “What Happens During Communion” chart.”
For churchgoers there’s some pie charts and Venn diagrams about what we really do when we’re singing hymns and some outlines of what really happens during coffee hour. It’s kinda funny and kinda helpful and makes a great little gift for somebody who needs this kind of help, or maybe who ought to lighten up a bit.
If you want something really amazing for your lovable theology gift, ask us about our box o Theological Trading Cards. I’m not kidding; there’s a good, cool box with tons of info on each card. ($29.99.) There are photos of contemporary theologians and good drawings of the old guys. You’ll be amazed.
FOR SOMEONE WHO IS A COLLEGE SENIOR
After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00 We’ve touted this for a year, now, and there is hardly any book on the market like it. If it were just okay, it would be great, because we need to encourage our college seniors to transition well into the so-called real world. A resource to help them think about that as they enter their last semester of college is golden.
But this is more than okay, it is fantastic! We love this book. I’ve said before that we admire Erica very much. I trusted her so and wanted her to be a voice in my own book, so asked her to write a piece for my Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $14.99) which, by the way, you should buy for anyone graduating from college or grad school, since it is a collection of Christian graduation talks that I hand selected and edited.) After College is the best book we know of for college seniors or those who just graduated and it is fun, funny, insightful, wise, and practical. There’s good Biblical insight, challenging suggestions, great stories. What more can we say? Buy a bunch of these for any college seniors you know and share them now. After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships, and Faith by Erica Young Reitz is an important book for students to have this Spring, so it’s a fine time to wrap it up and put it under the tree or in the mail.
Let us know if you’d like us to help — we’ll gift-wrap it for them and send it with a note saying it is from you.
FOR ONE IN GRIEF (OR ONE WHO WORKS WITH THOSE IN GRIEF)
My Favorite Color Is Blue. Sometimes. A Journey Through Loss with Art and Color Roger Hutchison (Paraclete Press) $16.99 I know that giving a book about grief is a tricky matter. We have so many books – many very, very, very good – about loss and grief and suffering and it takes some discernment to find just the right book for someone who is suffering loss. We have curated a large selection in this part of our store – from Gerald Sittser’s classic A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss to the beautiful, moving, recent best-seller When Breath Becomes Air.
This new one, My Favorite Color Is Blue. Sometimes. is unique, though, and it is a thin book, making it a lovely little book to share. Drawing on the author’s own work as an artist and grief counselor (he was called in to lead a painting workshop with children who had witnesses the tragic shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary) and Christian formation pastor, this book “explores the many colors of bereavement.”
As Rev. David Peters (of the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship) says, “each brush stroke and each word is perfectly crafted to bring healing.”
Like his previous volume, The Painting Table: A Journal of Loss and Joy this new one is full of color, beautifully designed, and a great book inviting anyone who is suffering to reflect on how art can help them. They will enjoy this engaging book and, who knows, maybe will take up his advice and pick up a crayon, wooden pencils or a paintbrush to experiment with expressing their own feelings through their own creativity. It’s very nice, even rare, sort of book; I bet you know somebody who would appreciate it.
Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Zondervan) $19.99 I think if you asked people in the know who the finest Christian wordsmiths are these days, whose books have been the most well-crafted and sturdy and thoughtful and wise and beautiful, National Book Aware-winner Walt Wangerin’s name would be in the top few, alongside masters such as Frederick Buechner, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, Philip Yancey, Barbara Brown Taylor, and the like. Wangerin has written theology, Bible commentary, memoir, poetry, fiction, and children’s books. His book on marriage (As For Me and My House) remains a classic and his fantasy books continue to enchant. Anyway, this is his brand new one, poignantly pointing us to stories of grace, of God’s presence amidst both hard suffering and more daily sorts of wounds and disappointments. His storytelling is wonderful and these stories are encouraging.
It puts it nicely one the back cover as it describes this book of true stories about God’s work in ordinary folks.
With his distinctive writing style and spiritual insights, Wangerin invites us to hide under the pew with him as a child as he searches for God, finds Jesus in the stooped shoulders of a homeless woman, sees the divine light shine in the faces we see each day. Here is the grace in the unexpected events in our lives. Here is grace with answers and without.
FOR SOMEONE WHO LIKES CONVERSION STORIES AND TESTIMONIES
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity Nabeel Qureshi (Zondervan) $17.99 When brother Nabeel died not long ago the outpouring of concern and of those who shared how much his books meant to him was nothing short of remarkable. A famous apologist named Ravi Zacharias preached at his funeral and it has been widely shared and has touched many. There is no doubt that this book about this Muslim’s journey to intelligent Christian faith (and this second edition has some bonus content) is respected and beloved. It has been a New York Times bestseller and earned a number of Christian Book Awards last year. For anyone who likes this kind of story, it is a great choice.
His latest, by the way, is No God But One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity (Zondervan; $17.99.) We’ve got that, too, and many others like it.
FOR SOMEONE WHO LIKES A WILDER, CREATIVELY TOLD MEMOIR OF FAITH
Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith Lily Burana (Nelson) $22.99 I am fond of these rough-around-the-edges kind of memoirs where brave writers tell what it is like walking in their wounded skin, celebrating their messy lives and sharing how, though it all, God is there and somehow meaningful for them. I don’t read some of my favorite writers such as Anne Lamott or Sara Miles or Nadia Bolz-Weber as systematic theology, as they are writers of narrative, story, memoir. Having said that, there is such insight and raw honesty in this story that I cheered (and occasionally wiped a tear) while reading this rowdy story. Burana has struggled with depression, is an activist for inclusive faith, and has taken more than a few walks on the wild side. I loved this writing, I loved the personality that shone through, and I appreciate her instincts about grace and standing up for the marginalized, including LGTBQ friends. What a book. It will blow somebody away with joy — I’m not alone! — if you give it to just the right person.
FOR A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER, SERIOUS THINKER, FOR WHOM YOU NEED A SUBSTANTIVE GIFT
The Cultural Liturgies Boxed Set James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $66.99 If you’ve read BookNotes the last few years you know I’ve exclaimed how important there vital, interesting, but weighty books are. Smith teaches philosophy at Calvin College in Michigan and edits Comment journal – the organ of the Canadian think-tank Cardus which promotes “public theology for the common good.” His PhD is in postmodern studies and he has written widely on Augustine, radical orthodoxy, secularization, education, hermeneutics, epistemology and other heady philosophical topics (we stock all his books) so he might point out that this trilogy of books isn’t precisely philosophy. They are fairly dense, and the footnotes draw on philosophy, theology, history, and cultural criticism, even if they aren’t philosophical studies as such.
They are, nonetheless, some of the most generative, talked-about, important Christian writing of our time. I cannot overstate their value.
This three volume boxed set includes Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation ($22.99) Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works ($22.99), and the brand new third volume, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology ($22.99.) Of course, we sell them all individually but you save a little getting the set and you get the colorful slipcase.
All Things Hold Together in Christ: A Conversation on Faith, Science and Virtue – The Colossian Forum Reader edited by James K.A. Smith and Michael L. Gulker (Baker Academic) $29.99 This just came yesterday so is brand, brand new, and can best be described as a reader to equip deep thinking about what it means that we are in God’s world, who we are as people, what Christian virtue means and looks like, and the implications of that for the practice of science. The Colossians Forum is a think tank bringing together serious Bible, theological, and philosophical voices to help equip scientists to think well about their research. (And, I suppose, the converse is too as well, the Colossians Forum invites Christians in the sciences to share their worldview and processes of doing their work with theologians and Christian thinkers so their work could be informed by scientists.) This anthology offers a convergence of many authors of worldwide renown – from Alasdair MacIntyre to Robert Barron to Stanley Hauerwas to N.T. Wright.
As Deborah Haarsma (President of BioLogos) writes,
The Colossian Forum is renewing the conversation on science in the church today. It’s the kind of conversation we need–starting with worship of the Creator, practicing humble dialogue within Christian communities, and remembering the limits of science as well as its importance in a Christian worldview. This volume presents the writings of leading philosophers, theologians, and historians on the role of Christian practice in forming virtues, the role of virtues in forming intellectual discourse, and the role of Christology in forming our understanding of science and creation.
I like the endorsement from a Senior Fellow of The Colossian Forum (from nearby Messiah College), Jenell Paris. She says:
A valuable collection of writings for those wishing to go deeper into the theoretical underpinnings of The Colossian Forum. Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s work, various scholars develop insights for a virtue-centered approach to discipleship. Focused on religion and science, the implications extend more broadly to dialogue and debate over divisive issues, always looking for ways that faith can shape us to better engage challenges not as a threat but as a context in which faith may deepen.
FOR SOMEONE WHO WOULD ENJOY A BOOK ON MARRIAGE OR HOME-LIFE
Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start With You Dorothy Littell Greco (David C. Cook) $22.99 This publisher has done some very good books lately, and this is a beautiful example – ha! Yes, it is beautiful because it is beautifully written and beautifully conceived and because I think there is nothing quite like this. There are bunches of books about marriage renewal, helping ordinary folks deepen their relationships and make their families more pleasing. Here, Dorothy (with some help from her husband Greg) tells of how a Christ-centered marriage can be full of trust and joy and honesty. (And this book is very honest!) It shows how to acknowledge our own hurts and failures and holds that up as not just necessary “conflict resolution” but as a deeply good thing – our human foibles and God’s grace collide and we become agents of healing and witnesses to another way. Showing how to sacrifice and endure is beautifully, finally, and this book points to a good and healthy way to think about our marriages.
For what it is worth – and I think it is worth a lot – a number of our favorite female writers endorse this book and it seems that Ms Greco is in some writing groups with some really sharp women. Literary figures and great writers like Karen Swallow Prior and Sarah Arthur, Marlena Graves and Jen Pollock Michel, Leslie Leyland Fields and Carolyn Custis James and others are one voice saying how much this book means to them and how them commend it to others. Before I even started it we were impressed by these fine writers endorsing it. We also realized she draws on some of our own favorite marriage books (like Mike Mason’s eloquent The Mystery of Marriage.) So, this is rare, good, and beautiful. It would make a very nice gift.
Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home Jen Pollock Michel (IVP) $17.00 Oh my, do you recall our long review of this in a previous BookNotes? We talked about how very much we liked it and how rare it was – not just a book about being better parents or creating a healthier home life, but about the very meaning of home. What does it mean to care for a place, to be homemakers, to long for a place? It invites us to think of God as a home-maker and it draws on rich literary and theological stuff to help us come to a better sense of place and to dig deeper roots into our own neighborhoods and homes.
Pollock is a really fine writer and the structure of this book is that of a memoir. She drives around the country visiting the homes she once lived in (sometimes with her mother driving with her) and so there’s a bit of family stuff, some touching reflection, some road trip adventure. Through it all she come back to this longing we have for a home and the obligations we have as Christians to offer hospitality in our homes. The super heavy, extraordinary big book on all of this is – as we often say – Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh (Eerdmans; $29.00) but Keeping Place is sweet and shorter and yet so full of substance we will surely name it as one of the Best Books of 2017. You should give it as a gift, now, and you can assure the one your giving it to that it is “award winning.” Yes!
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place Andy Crouch (Baker) $13.99 Andy is one of our favorite speakers, authors, thinkers, and a wise voice in so many areas. Here he analysis new insights from research done by Barna – research that is similar to other work done by the likes of Jean Twenge that has been discussed everywhere from The Atlantic to NPR. Most everyone is alarmed by the sheer hours young people spend on their phones and devices and how the hot-wired and fast-paced nature of the “easy everywhere” culture of computers has effected our views of life. What habits might we embrace if we as parents are going to help our kids navigate this 24/7 digital culture? In a book that is profound and serious but simple and practical, Crouch offers 10 key principles for putting technology in a proper place.
This is not just about limiting screen time or resisting pornography and the more violent video games. It is about embracing a creative way of life, insisting on real relationships and habits of diligence and effort and embodied practices. I wish every church would have a study group exploring this wise little gem. At the very least, why not share it with somebody you know?
FOR SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T VIEW THEMSELVES AS RELIGIOUS BUT LIKES MODERN WRITERS THAT REFLECT ON CULTURE AND VALUES
Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious David Dark (IVP) $17.00 Just out in paperback, this would be a great gift for somewhat contemporary thinkers and writers — you know, folks that like Infinite Jest, say, or David Eggers, or Okay Computer and have great passions about pop culture. David Dark, in fact, has written one of the enduring, good book on pop culture (called Everyday Apocalypse) and has also written wisely about the haunted culture of America, and another about the virtues of questioning things. Here, he is questioning this assumption that some folks aren’t religious. Nope, he says we are all driven by deep things, we believe in stuff, we are inspired by things. As humans, we tell stories, and in this provocative, very creatively written work, he invites readers to think about their own stories, their childhoods, their artistic sensibilities, their politics, and the signals of transcendence that emerge from the movements for social justice and a better world. David can make you laugh, can elicit tears and, on occasion, make you scratch your head in wonderment. This book was written to an rather sophisticated and hip young adult you told him she wasn’t religious, and, well, a book later, he’s offered a manifest for good living, deep thinking, and a willingness to admit we all have deep convictions that come from somewhere. Dare we admit that? Can we talk about it? What, really, is it all about? This wild and artful book isn’t for everyone, but for those that like stories and philosophizing a bit, who like pop culture and are willing to host some vital considerations, who appreciate honest doubts and lots of nuance, Life’s Too Short could be a life line.
FOR SOMEONE WANTING TO READ A BIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER IN THIS 500th ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World Eric Metaxas (Viking) $30.00 I really hope you saw our BookNotes post listing all manner of books – some scholarly, some not – on Luther and the forces and implications of the Protestant reformation. We still have a table right in the middle of our shop displaying maybe 50 titles relating to this historic yearlong celebration of Luther and the reformations that follow. So there’s a lot.
If I were giving a gift of just one book about Luther – if one wants a big hefty read – this would be it. I know that for some (myself included) Metaxas has written and said some dumb stuff about all manner of things in his daily talk show. I disagree with him often. But that doesn’t keep me from saying how very much I enjoyed this remarkable book. it is – like I would say about his Bonhoeffer book and his Wilberforce book – the best mainstream biography you can get, and certainly the mostly lively and well-written. I gave other suggestions of different calibers in that previous long post. But this is a great book, years in the making, and not only very informative and inspiring, but a joy to read. Metaxas is an energetic and good writer and while some Luther specialists may quibble about a page or two, it is, over all, the best book I’ve read on the great German reformer. One (Anglican) reviewer says it is “a breathtaking achievement and a gripping read.” The Catholic scholar Peter Kreeft – himself an energetic writer – says of the formidable nature of this book that “Metaxas is to religious biographers what Pixar is to cartoons.”
FOR SOMEONE WANTING TO GROW IN FAITH BUT NOT FROM A CONVENTIONAL “CHRISTIAN LIVING” BOOK
Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith Karen Wright Marsh with a foreword by Lauren Winner (IVP) $20.00 My goodness, this is a splendid book, handsome and cool looking and full of great writing about stuff that matters. I wish these sorts of books – stories of older saints and serious Christians – would sell more, but it hasn’t been our experience. But yet, I’m sure that nearly anyone wanting to grow in his or her faith, or be inspired, or learn something about church history, would love this book. It’s so well written, as the author – herself a person who does Christian ministry at UVa – tells of discovering these old saints. It is, as Diana Butler Bass puts it, “a gracious book full of charming prose and profound truths with just the right complexity of spiritual insight for everyday life.”
I like that Jamie Smith says of it,
In this wise, humble, passionate book, Karen Marsh invites you to meet the ancient friends who have nourished her faith. It’s a joyful, honest journey that will make you want to join this pilgrimage for yourself.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God Eugene Peterson (Tyndale) $24.99 This handsome, solid hardback is a treasure trove of sermons once preached by Presbyterian pastor, spiritual director and Bible translator (known for the paraphrase The Message.) In the mid-to-late 1960s Peterson planted a church in a suburb of Baltimore and it was there he forged his distinctive approach to “a long obedience in the same direction” and learned to teach notions of prayer, holiness, whole-life discipleship, radical Sabbath-keeping and more. He is considered one of the great Christian thinkers and leaders of our time and here you can listen in to his early sermons, lessons, and talks. There is some recent content with some new headings and summary sections, but mostly these are older messages of the famous pastor Pete. These never-before-published teachings are for anyone who hungers for a richer, truer sort of spirituality. It would make a lovely gift\ for many BookNotes friends, I’m sure; it isn’t too academic or dense but it isn’t simple or clichéd, either. Very nicely done.
FOR A PASTOR
Preaching Adverbially F. Russell Mitman (Eerdmans) $30.00 I wrote about this nicely a few weeks ago and raved about the idea. Mitman is an admired UCC pastor (and former Conference Minister, which called him to supervisor and train pastors.) He is a bit more highly liturgical than some mainline Protestants (and the thoughtful, colorful, Lutheran worship scholar Gordon Lathrop wrote the foreword.) I love the adverbs he uses to describe Christian worship and the role of preaching within worship.
Walter Brueggemann calls it “winsome and compelling.”
And I like that the professor of homiletics Paul Scott Wilson (of the University of Toronto) says it is “a delight to read.” Further, Wilson says of Mitman and his varied styles and roles in this volume:
At times he is the wise storytelling pastoral theologian, or the sensitive presider conducting liturgy, or the preacher-poet rendering God’s Word.
Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving Faithfully Sondra Wheeler (Baker Academic) $21.99 I am not sure I understand all the training that most pastors get these days – evangelical seminaries are very studious in detailed theology and Bible; more mainline ones, I gather, learn radical theologies and eccentric stuff along with pastoral care and liturgies. I’m not sure most seminaries do a great job equipping pastors to, well, be pastors. Of course, I certainly was glad last year for books that called pastors to be theologians, even public ones, serving us all by using their Christian minds well. For instance, we highly recommend the highly touted collection of papers from a Wheaton theology conference edited by Todd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand called Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (IVP Academic; $25.00) or the remarkable The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin Vanhoozer & Owen Strachan (Baker Academic; $21.99) or the excellent The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Todd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand (Zondervan; $18.99.)
But then we also have to ask how we can help pastors sustain more commonplace ministry, deepening their awareness of sustainable practices to keep them at the hard work of being a pastor. Which is why you could confidently give this book to nearly anyone in ministry. Wheeler has a PhD from Yale and is a professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. The book has been highly regarded by many reviewers including Barbara Blodgett (who has done considerable research and publishing into sustainable practices and how pastors can earn trust in their work.) Kathryn Greene-Mcreight (who wrote the stunning Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness) says
Wheeler points beyond a rules-based model to the necessity of practicing the deeply rooted Christian spiritual disciplines that form emotional and moral health. Sustaining Ministry, along with Wheeler’s earlier The Minister as a Moral Theologian, is a must-read for everyone in ministry, from Bishops to lay pastors.
From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership Scott Sauls (David C. Cook) $22.99 I love Scott Sauls and his previous books. He is a PCA pastor and known for books like Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides and Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolations, and Fear. His goal of witnessing to God’s grace by moving beyond “culture wars” and “us versus them” sorts of attitudes resonates with many, and he’s preaching a gospel-centered way.
This new one is good for any leader (whether within the church, the para-church, or outside of the church.) It is one of those few rare books that invite leaders to embrace their own vulnerabilities – and, like the apostle Paul, find that God’s strength can be revealed in our own weaknesses. Even the best leaders copes with their own human limitations, their own sins and struggles, foibles and fears. Pastor Sauls nicely explores stuff like ambition and envy and restlessness. I think almost any pastor or other leaders would appreciate this honest look at how to be authentic, real, and wise in growing into fruitful leadership.
FOR SOMEONE WHO APPRECIATES AMERICAN LITERATURE
A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth Michael Mears Bruner (IVP Academic) $30.00 This is the fourth volume in the increasingly known and seriously respected series of “Studies in Theology and the Arts” and the first in the series to deal with literary culture. (The others were more on the contemporary visual arts.) Like the others, this is top-class scholarship, engagingly written, about the inter-face of faith and the arts and creative culture.
As I hope all BookNotes readers know, Flannery O’Connor was one of the most esteemed and widely celebrated writes of the 20th century. She was a Southern woman, a conservative Catholic, herself handicapped, and perhaps beyond eccentric. Her short stories and novels are famously dark. Her work is legendary and captured well by William Dyrness who mentions her “strange wonder.”
There have been many books about O’Connor, her books about faith and writing, and, of course, about her own fiction. From what I can tell, this book is among the best, the author a serious expert in the field and a fine writer himself. Bruner comes up with lines that could have been from O’Connor herself such as “she is performing surgery on the soul, without anesthesia.” Bruner has a PhD from Fuller and is a professor of practical theology at Azusa Pacific University.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN SPIRITUALITY AND SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World Kyle David Bennett (Brazos Press) $17.99 I have written about this widely and talked about it nearly everywhere I’ve gone this fall. Kyle is a scholar to watch, a recently minted PhD and now writer about spiritual formation and one’s interior life. But there is something pretty unique going on here, and it deserves to be read widely. I’d think anyone involved in contemplative practices or inner disciplines of faith formation will find this generative, worth pondering, and a book with which they will spend time pondering.
In a nutshell, Practices of Love is about the relationship of faith formation disciplines – think of things like fasting and meditation and journaling, say – and ordinary life. Bennett is literally asking what good our spiritual habits have for the life of the world.
Since we are called to love our neighbors, to seek the welfare of the city in which God has sent us, if we are to advance God’s Kingdom, then we must ask how our spiritual practices show that kind of love. With a foreword by James K.A. Smith, this book shows how deep prayer and Biblical reflection and historic disciplines like worship and fasting and solitude simply must – and can! – touch the broken world of need and conflict. This is a fascinating, important little book and would make a great book to give.
FOR A YOUNG ADULT WOMAN WANTING AN HONEST LOOK AT FAITH
You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are Rebekah Lyons (with a foreword by Ann Voskamp) $19.99 We have written about this before and although it isn’t new, I think it should be much more popular. Rebekah is the wife of Q Ideas found Gabe Lyons and her first book was so very good as she talked about her life as a young mother moving to New York to be involved in Gabe’s big culture-forming, life-changing projects. This one is also memoiristic with lots of self-revelation, lots of stories, beautiful examples of her own Christian growth. But it isn’t just a set of stories, it is a coherent and wise call for women to grow into their own, to be true to their own callings, and to find a freedom in that visionary sense of call.
I like Gabe and Rebekah and have read all their books and this one would make a very special gift to any young woman – from ages 20 to 40 or beyond, for that matter. Perhaps you know a woman who is exhausted or “needs to find permission to grieve past disappointments and find strength in their journey toward healing.” I think You Are Free could help someone discover courage to begin anew if necessary, or to regain old strength. Maybe they can move beyond the expectations others have and live in real freedom as a beloved daughter of God. As Jeff and Alyssa Bethke say, “This book is an anthem for healing, freedom, and hope in your life.”
Ann Voskamp – known for her colorful, evocative, precious writing, puts it beautifully as only she could:
Hold these pages like a burning flame in the palm of your hand, like a bit of glowing sun that will grow into freedom soaring on wind.
How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships and Learning to Be Myself Amena Brown (Zondervan) $16.99 What a cool paperback this is, written by a fabulous, edgy, spoken-word/poetry slam performer and hip-hop woman (with a very cool husband DJ named Opdiggy.) I hope you know her work, maybe her previous book (which we loved!) or her role in the excellent Zondervan DVDs 12 Women of the Bible and 12 More Women of the Bible. She is a performing artist, poet, dancer, and a great public speaker. We’ve been with her several times and really respect her.
This brand new book asks, “what does the soundtrack in your head sound like?” This new book allows Amena to tell stories of her life as a black woman, to testify about her faith, her work, her marriage and more. Mostly, it seems, this creatively written collection will help readers find God’s truth (rather than negative self-talk or succumbing to cultural pressures.) As she reminds us,
When God heals that broken record of your soul, you’ll be ready to step into your calling, speak up for what’s right, and dance your own story of God’s grace.
FOR SOMEONE WHO WOULD LIKE A HANDSOME GIFTY BOOK WITH LOVELY PICTURES
Love Heals Becca Stevens (Nelson) $15.99 I hope you recall the longer review I did of this telling about Stevens’ work with marginalized women, former prostitutes and those who are addicted. She runs a marvelous community and job-training ministry called Thistle Farms that is deeply routed in faith and the grand traditions of working in solidarity for betterment and social justice. She is an Episcopal priest and philanthropist and this devotional beautifully renders spiritual messages that form the heart of their Thistle Farms work – love heals. Love is the answer. Love wins.
This is a beautiful hardback with nice, full-color photos of nature – flowers, sunsets and such. It isn’t maudlin or cheesy, though, just a very nice, handsomely designed book that would be a delight to give to almost anyone. Highly recommended.
Be The Gift: Let Your Broken Be Turned into Abundance Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $16.99 This is an amazingly cool gift book, with very warm and inviting photographs on every other page. It is an amazing, very handsome hardback book, sort of standing between her upbeat One Thousand Gifts and the more serious The Broken Way. This new one, in short, moving, poetic essays coupled with amazingly pleasing pictures, reminds us that we, even in our broken and messy ways, get to be the gift to others. Yes, there are thousands of gifts in God’s glorious world of wonder. And we are among them. This book will touch others, I’m sure, and invite them to lives of caring, of service, yes, being the gift.
We really like Be the Gift and hope you wrap one up to put under some loved one’s tree. Or allow us to send one – we’ll gift wrap it up really well, and send it with a note. Just let us know how we can help.
FOR SOMEONE WHO LOVES THE BIBLE — OR SOMEONE WHO OUGHT TO LOVE THEIR BIBLE
The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (Faith Alive) $15.99 This is my favorite, basic, one-volume overview of the whole Bible and is lively, thoughtful, and really helpful. It is an abridged and somewhat more youthful version of the very important Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic; $22.99.) Anyone wanting a road map to better understanding the flow of the Biblical plotline from Genesis to Revelation – and how it informs our own story and worldview – will enjoy this wonderful, slim, book.
A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99 When this came out a few years ago it got rave reviews and we reviewed it extensively. It is a serious read, showing how the promised restoration of creation, the cosmic renewal of all things, is a key to understanding the whole structure of the Bible. Middleton’s high regard for the Bible and his passion to teach it well (and to explode some common mis-readings) makes this a very useful book. That is may be the definitive book on the topic of new creation makes it a must for anyone who is a serious Bible student.
James K.A. Smith says of it,
Richard Middleton has been one of my most important teachers… If read as widely as I hope, this book would transform North American Christianity.
Exile: A Conversations with N.T. Wright edited by James M. Scott (IVP Academic) $40.00 . If you have any Biblical scholars on your list, this is a book I am sure they would love. It’s a little pricey and a bit detailed, so it may be the sort of book some wouldn’t want to get with their own limited budget. But it would be a perfect give as they’d love to own it. Here’s the short version: N.T. Wright has an influential and somewhat contested theory about the First Century Jews believing they were still in exile. He thinks this is very important for how to few the Jewish understanding of the work of the Messiah and therefore how we, too, should interpret Jesus’s words and work. There is a chapter about this that sets the stage for the debate in this book and then a very good piece by Wright himself summarizing his generative thesis.
The rest of the book has Old Testament scholars, historians of the first century Judaism culture, New Testament scholars, and theologians weighing in on this. There are about a dozen major chapters. At the end, Wright has a great chapter responding to his conversation partners. Scholars include well known names such as Brueggemann, Scot McKnight, Hans Boersma, Ephraim Radner, and some men and women who are best known within their own speciality field. This is an amazing book and at our sale price, could make a great gift for someone you know. Or maybe you should just get it for yourself!
FOR SOMEONE WHO WOULD LOVE A THOUGHTFUL, BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN, MATURE CHRISTIAN BOOK ABOUT LIFE IN THE WORLD
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steve Garber (IVP) $17.00 A few customers of ours have occasionally said that they want us to just send whatever I think would serve them well. Or they ask for my own favorite book of recent years. This extraordinary book almost always is on my short-list of the best books I’ve read in the last decade. I love Steve deeply and I have a very profound appreciation for his learning, his passion, his gentle style, his focus on things that matter most. He helps people through what he sometimes calls “conversations of consequence” and believes that in sharing our stories we can see our roles within and obligations for God’s Kingdom more clearly. Using literature, movies, stories and real-life examples, Steve shows how we can move beyond cynicism to care deeply about the world – as God does – and work for human flourishing and Godly, normative principles, even in a world of hurt and pain.
The secret of being human, Czech playwright Vaclav Havel once said, is our responsibility. I know of no writer who helps us explore this more profoundly than Steve. This would be a very special gift for a special reader and we’d love to send some out to you. Give Visions of Vocation a try today and we assure you that thoughtful readers will be blessed.
FOR A YOUNG FARMER
Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture (Princeton Architectural Press) $19.95 This is a great looking, very solid paperback with nice fold-over sleeves, with short chapters by almost 30 influential and seasoned farmers or food activists. We have other books on faith and farming and on Christian views of land, food, and such, but this is really something. It includes insightful, impassioned essays (and letters) to an upcoming generation of farmers by the likes of Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben and Alice Waters, Dan Barber and Wes Jackson, Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan. There are all sorts of farmers and food workers and it is inspiring to hear their stories. This is a great book. As Neil Young (of Farm Aid) says on the back “New young farmers are on the front lines of the struggle for survival, the future of our children and theirs.” Three cheers!
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN THOUGHTFUL, GENEROUS INSIGHTS ABOUT CHRISTIAN CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT
Good Posture: Engaging Current Culture with Ancient Faith Tom Becker (Square Halo Books) $16.99 This book came out just a few days ago and unless one is a supporter of Tom and his Row House Forums in Lancaster, PA, it is most likely you’ve never seen this. We are, I am told, the only store that has it at this point. Soooo, it’s a great gift idea for anyone who likes the idea of reflecting about cultural issues, nurturing better postures for healthy engagement, how to be less critical and more eager to listen, and how to be faithful in hosting conversations about how to make a difference in this messy world God so loves. If you know anybody who likes this kind of thing, this book is a Godsend and it is brand spanking new.
Tom Becker has been shaped – as I say in my blurb on the inside – by Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis, by the Beatles and by foreign art films and other creative influences. The closest thing to his Row House ministry might be Denis and Margie Haack’s Ransom Fellowship (and Critique journal.) Denis, in fact, has a lovely blurb on the back of this, as do other great leaders in faithful in-but-not-of-the-world cultural discerners. This little book tells of Tom’s good efforts, his ups and downs in learning to be a voice of reasonable, gracious faith in his own city of Lancaster and how he’s offered “civility, hospitality, humanity, and creativity” in the conversations about and in the public square. It offers, as he says, “a modicum of uncommon sense on how to be a faithful presence in our communities.” You’ll be hearing more about this earnest proposal, but for now, grab it and give it to anyone you know who longs for better postures among evangelical Christians and looks for example of how to move forward. It’s a gem, and we’re honored to make it available just days after it has been released.
FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS A THOUGHTFUL, USEFUL DAILY DEVOTIONAL
God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life Timothy & Kathy Keller (Viking) $20.00 This is arranged and looks very much like last year’s wonderful The Songs of Jesus (which they did on the Psalms.) This handsome, compact hardback is a year’s worth of readings on the wisdom of the Proverbs. Interestingly, it doesn’t just wade through them, chapter by chapter, but groups them thematically, making their wisdom more understandable and attainable. Although Keller is a serious scholar, this is warm and clear. He brings good insight to bear – he’s done lots of homework on the background of the Hebrew culture and the genre of Proverbs, and so forth. But it really is a lovely, thoughtful, daily devotional. It’s less than a month old, now, so it’s still new and would make a great little gift. Highly recommended.
Unshakeable: 365 Devotions for Finding Unwavering Strength in God’s Word Christine Caine (Zondervan) $19.99 This is a really classy gift, and somewhat hefty hardback, handsome and well designed, with readings from the dynamic speaker and anti-slavery activist. Her books have motivated hundreds of thousands to be more faithful, undaunted, in their faith, and to realize that God is bigger than our own small stories. As she puts it, God’s work allows us to be who we were meant to me. Christ’s story is:
…bigger than fear or shame or that voice in your head that whispers that you are not enough, too broken, or too flawed. Join Him in a closer relationship—one rooted in truth and Unshakeable.
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