Short Reviews of a Big Bunch of Brand New Titles You’ll Want to Know About — almost all 20% OFF

Welcome, BookNotes readers. I’m going to actually put it in writing as a way to help remind me: this column is going to be (relatively) brief. [Addendum: it didn’t work. Sorry.] What I mean is that I’m not going to indulge my keen interest in telling you lots and lots about the following books. In order to trumpet a larger batch of new books, I’m going to have to keep it moving. I’m sorry, as I do have opinions about these, and hope in a quick sentence or two I can give off clues as to whether any of these are for you; most are very, very good. Read widely, we say, so here ya go.

It has been fun this past season sending out books that we announced way in advance – books that folks pre-ordered. Helping create a bit of an advanced buzz on a forthcoming book is fun, and we thank those who allowed us to send to the books like Jamie Smith’s On the Road With Saint Augustine, Diana Butler Bass’s Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship, Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson’s artsy prayer book, May It Be So: 40 Days with the Lord’s Prayer, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock and, of course, Os Guinness’s Carpe Diem Redeemed. These were our biggest selling books in the early fall, and we hope you know about them.

There are plenty of other good books we’ve received in the last month or so, and plenty good ones to come. Here are just a few highlights of our in-store selection.

History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology: The 2018 Gifford Lectures N.T. Wright (Baylor University Press) $34.95 ** no discount on this item The scholarly community respects the legendary Gifford Lectures (which often bring together the world’s finest minds on faith, science, natural theology and such.) They are always published and are often immediately esteemed. It is not surprising, but it is still remarkable, to see N.T. Wright now standing among this illustrious list of philosophers and scholars who have done a Gifford.

But I don’t know of many who start explaining the notion of these famous lectures to his elderly mother who says “I’m glad I don’t have to listen to those lectures.” We love Tom Wright.

Scholars from throughout the West are raving about this deep dive. John Cottingham of the UK says it is Wright’s “crowning achievement.” Frances Young says it is an “extraordinary reappraisal.” A theologian from St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary calls it a “tour de force.” Miroslav Volf says it is “Wright at his best – an exegete, theologian, churchman, and public intellectual.”

Friends of Hearts & Minds might appreciate this review by Brian Walsh (most recently co-author of Romans Disarmed) who has been a long time pal and colleague of Wright’s:

With a stunning breadth of research Wright takes his Gifford lectures as an occasion to deepen the paradigmatic shift in biblical studies that he has shaped over the last thirty years. Wright offers a model of historical exegesis that just might release us from our Platonic bondage. This book combines breathtakingly creative brilliance with a lovely eloquence. Since an ‘epistemology of love’ is at the heart of Wright’s natural theology, we wouldn’t have expected anything less. Read this book, then read it again. It takes its place in the esteemed tradition of Gifford lectures becoming classics.

DVD + study guide The New Testament You Never Knew: Exploring the Context, Purpose, and Meaning of the Story of God N.T. Wright & Michael F. Bird (Zondervan) $51.99 for book + study guide together. Our 20% off sale price = $41.59. This eight-session video curriculum is filmed on location in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Turkey, and captures not only the geography and places where the New Testament developed, but a brilliantly succinct overview of the bigger Story of God of which the New Testament is a part. There is solid teaching on the canon of the NT, great preaching about Jesus, about the early church and the apostles and Paul. Spectacular.

The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians N. T. Wright & Michael Bird (Zondervan Academic) $59.99. Our 20% off PRE-ORDER sale price = $47.99. This major text will be coming out mid-November. There will be a workbook one can buy to go with this selling regularly for $22.99; our pre-order sale price = $18.39. DVDs of the seminary level classroom lectures that go with the content of the book will also soon be available (regularly $47.99; our sale price = $38.39.) Wow; imagine: you can sit in on serious lectures of N.T. Wright and Michael Bird! Pre-order the book, the workbook, or the DVDs and we’ll send them out promptly.  (The more popular level, filmed on location DVDs called The New Testament You Never Knew listed above are available now.)

A Big Gospel in Small Places (Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters) Stephen Witmer (IVP/Praxis) $18.00 Our sale price = $14.40 This is one of those books that we need so badly – I can count on one hand a few good books on rural and small town church ministry – that I’m truly thrilled to be able to tell you about it here. In fact, I had heard so much about it from mutual friends who trust this author and his good work (Small Town Summits) that I was willing to announce it at a recent conference, trying to garner pre-orders, before I even laid eyes on it. I had heard enough to know that this author is evangelical and very thoughtful (he’s an adjunct professor of New Testament at Gordon Conwell) and that he was a beloved small church pastor in Massachusetts. He has a heart for what God is doing in small towns and rural places.  I was struck by the audacious claim by Echard J. Schnabel (of Gordon Conwell) who said about A Big Gospel in Small Places:

This is one of the more important books written about the gospel and missions in recent decades.

He continues:

Stephen Witmer takes the gospel seriously: he is more interested in the good news than in church-planting strategies. He takes people seriously: he is more concerned for people than for programs. He understands success in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling rather than in terms of fame, in terms of the transformation of people’s lives rather than in terms of the numerical size of a congregation. Here writes an academic who wears his scholarship lightly, a pastor who challenges his audience to think deeply, a follower of Jesus who follows Jesus to all the places where people live. Witmer explains that strategic thinking about ministry must acknowledge one of the great truths about God who lavishes his grace on city people, on small-town people, and on village people alike. This book is a pleasure to read, indeed a must-read for professors, students, and pastors who think about gospel ministry in the twenty-first century.

Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher Jeffrey Munro (IVP) $18.00  Our sale price = $14.40  We have long been waiting for an authoritative, charming, wise and thoughtful guide to the many sorts of writing done by the imitable Frederick Buechner. I ran across some letters of correspondence with Buechner that a woman in my church had given to me before she died and was again struck – existentially, so – how important of a voice Buechner was, bridging the worlds of literary fiction and mainline Protestant thinking and the best of modern evangelicalism, whose institutions (such as Wheaton College or King University in Tennessee, say, or the famous Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing) honored him more than anyone. There is a lovely, powerful forward by visual artist and writer Makoto Fujimura and blurbs on the back of this book are from the well-known Marilyn McEntyre, Michael Card, John Wilson and Calvin University English prof and co-director of the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing Jennifer Holberg who commends it to both newcomers and longtime readers of Mr. Buechner. What a gift this brand new book is; I’ve paged through a bit and it nearly got choked up. I, like many of you, I’m sure, can’t wait to read it.

We hope we sell a bunch which, in turn, gets people reading Buechner again. It’s as easy as ABC. (And if you are mystified by that allusion, you really need this book!)

The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $19.99  Our sale price = $15.99  What a fabulous idea this is, a brilliant idea, really, taking so much that Lewis has written about reading and writing and putting it together in one small, very handsome hardback volume. Kudos to David Downing (co-director of the Wade Center) and Michael Maudlin (of HarperOne) for bringing this little treasure chest together. Anyone who loves Lewis, and anyone who loves reading, will be beyond thrilled.

The Reading Life follows on the heels of a few others where they’ve gleaned from Lewis’s large body of work (from essays and sermons to letters and speeches) and compiled his insights together topically. For instance, there is one called How to Pray and another compilation, How to Be a Christian. So these gathered collections showcasing a theme are great. And this gem just  appeared last week!

C.S. Lewis was, famously, a reader. A lover of books, of good writing, of the reading life. He was a literary critic and writer of nearly every genre. But he loved to read and advise othres on reading well. These pieces honor that aspect of his life, and invite us to the joys of literature, learning to follow in his footsteps in being a better student, a more vibrant lover of the printed page. This little hardback will inspire many, and would make a truly lovely gift for any book lover or Lewis fan you know. Cheers!

Tending Soul, Mind, and Body: The Art and Science of Spiritual Formation edited by Todd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand (IVP Academic) $25.00  Our sale price = $20.00  Here is another tremendous volume from the Center for Pastoral Theologians; their previous conferences yielded tremendous collections – such as the amazing Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World. This brand new one should be of interest to anyone who does spiritual direction, who is interested in the interface of psychology and spirituality, and who longs for a deeper, human, and integrated faith experience.

And, there’s a special Hearts & Minds connection: there is a chapter by a Presbyterian pastor friend, Rachel Stahle, who we knew as a neighbor girl who visited our shop decades ago. So nice to see her appropriating the old insights about the soul from Jonathan Edwards (about whom she has written her own book) and offering them in this thoughtful collection! Congrats, Rachel! Dallastown is proud of you!

The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying the Our Father Wesley Hill (Lexham Press) $15.99  Our sale price = $12.79  For starters, realize that this is the second in a series of handsome compact hardcovers, the first being the nuanced, compelling, and surprisingly popular volume The Apostles Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism by Ben Myers. The Lord’s Prayer is brand new in the “Christian Essentials” series. We so respect Wes Hill, who teaches Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and is exceptionally astute, eloquent, and very well-read. He is increasingly known in his field and is a gracious, good guy. With blurbs on the back of this small book from the likes of Marianne Meye Thompson and Matthew Levering, you can be assured that he is thoughtful and solid and that this book will bring some new passion for this old chestnut of a topic.  No lesser preacher and scholar than Fleming Rutledge commends it.

Indeed, listen to what Rev. Fleming Rutledge says:

Most Christians say the Lord’s Prayer with great frequency and familiarity, so that we scarcely know what we are saying. In this treasure of a book, Hill opens up the prayer with great freshness for the ordinary reader, so that we seem to hear Jesus himself speaking to us, showing us how to pray to his Father in the same spirit that he himself does. This little volume will enrich a reader’s life immeasurably. — Fleming Rutledge, author of The Crucifixion and  Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God Sarah Bessey (Howard Books) $26.00  Our sale price = $20.80 This should be one of the most talked about books (at least in some circles) this season. It may help to know that Sarah launched this book at the “Evolving Faith” event put together each year (this year in Denver, just a week or so ago) by Nadia Bolz-Weber and the late Rachel Held Evans. Bessey’s earlier books were very well written and I liked them a lot, including Jesus Feminist and the reassuring Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.

I assumed this eagerly anticipated one is a bit of a follow up, but one of the important things to know is that Sarah was in a serious car wreck the damaged her body, and shook her faith; chronic pain can do that, you know. Realizing this back-story makes me want to read it all the more…

The blurbs on the back are truly notable and, we think, inspiring:

“Sarah Bessey is a writer of remarkable gifts. Beyond her ability to make a breath-taking sentence, and to tell the truth about the dying and rising of faith, she can tell a story as if she is whispering it straight into your heart. She is, by her own definition, a dangerous woman, with wisdom to spare about learning to love the broken miracles God offers us once we’re honest about where it hurts.”–Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark and Holy Envy

“Sarah Bessey’s Miracles and Other Reasonable Things is immediately one of my favorite books. I can’t think of a single other work that brings together such raw, vulnerable pain with such a real sense of enchantment. Sarah is not too pious to tell us the truth about suffering, but not too cool to tell us the truth about the magic, either. In this trail-blazing, bush-burning book, anything can happen: the Pope shows up, and God does too . . . except of course, when God doesn’t.”–Jonathan Martin, author of How to Survive a Shipwreck and Prototype

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things will surprise and delight you. Sarah’s writing is so breathtaking, sometimes you think you are reading poetry. The story is so thrilling, sometimes you think you are devouring a novel. And the Spirit she describes is so compelling, you’ll swear you experienced a revival. You won’t put it down once until you close the last page. We are so lucky to be readers in the era of Sarah Bessey.”–Jen Hatmaker, author of For the Love and Of Mess of Moxie and 7 Days of Christmas

“Sarah Bessey, the self-described introvert, has given us all a witty and intimate personal reflection on faith and life that borders on liturgy. She walks the walk of an evolving faith, with power and vulnerability, guiding us through the common experience of listening to God’s nudge (and painful jolt) so we can relearn God again and again, and in so doing witness our own process of unbecoming and re-becoming people of faith. Thank you, Sarah, for putting yourself out there!”–Pete Enns, author of How the Bible Actually Works

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery Mark Charles & Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $17.00  Our sale price = $13.60 This is a big, serious, and very (very) important work that, despite its heavy, hard-hitting content, is readable, informative, and well written. It has been very highly anticipated and long awaited, offering, as it does, a distinctively Christian critique of the old European “Doctrine of Discovery” with the blunt assertion that “you cannot discover lands already inhabited.” Healing from the trauma of colonization, slavery, genocide, and dehumanization, they suggest, may take something akin to a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission as we so famously heard about in South Africa and, more recently in Canada. I hope to tell you more about this eventually, but for now know that we think it fills a real void and will be a gift for readers willing to take it up. Endorsers include a wide array of Christian leaders, including John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship and Gene Green, a NT scholar at Wheaton, and activist Kathy Khang. The back includes Native theologian Randy Woodley (who says it is a “righteous and integral narrative” and from Andrea Smith (who serves on the board of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies.”

Historian Mark Noll writes, wisely, I think (as one who doesn’t agree with all of the book), the following important recommendation:

Why should I endorse a book when I do not agree with some of its historical judgments? Answer: for the same reason you should read it. Charles and Rah attack a pernicious principle (the Doctrine of Discovery), review an evil history (the United States’ treatment of Native peoples), challenge a persistent stereotype (American exceptionalism), and psychoanalyze white America (in denial about the nation’s history). The entire book, even when you think things could be evaluated differently, will make you think, and think hard, about crucially important questions of Christian doctrine, American history, and God’s standards of justice.

Acts of the Almighty: Meditations on the Story of God for Every Day of the Year: A 365-Day Devotional Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Zondervan) $18.99  Our sale price = $15.19  I hardly have to say anything, I trust, about this famous writer, a Lutheran pastor, fantasy writer, poet, Bible teacher, and recipient of the National Book Award (and a New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year Award.) I’m sure he’s gotten a few Hearts & Minds Best Books of the Year Awards over the years, too… and this one looks as good as any of his many marvelous books. It is, as it says on the back, “God’s grand story. Told in Single Moments.”

Oh my, this looks just splendid, creative, insightful, reading “the Bible’s expansive and arresting story in a brand-new way.” Beautiful cover, too.

Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith through a Volcanic Future Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $17.99 Our sale price = $14.39  It is almost impossible to adequately review a Len Sweet book – they have to be experienced first-hand! – and it is even harder to do so briefly. He uses images and metaphors in ways that are unlike any writer I know and he is entertaining, thought-provoking, (and sometimes, maddening.) He plays with words, interprets data in fresh ways, and cites more scholarly (and poetic) literature than anybody you’ll read, always with a preacherly bit of exhortation. It is a robust reading experience, to say the least. The footnotes are a major part of the book, too, and not to be missed; Sweet is a polymath and it is a delight to just soak in his vast knowledge. In this creative wake up call to the nature of our times and the coming future, Sweet invites us to a sweeping study of what’s a-coming in the 21st century. (And he makes a good joke about brooms in admitting how sweeping his observations may be.) Many who are born these days, he reminds us, will live to see the 21st century, (think about that) and the church simply has to be better prepared to not just cope but to offer fiery leadership in this era of volcanic eruptions in economics, communications, technology, bioethics and such. And he describes here in special chapters in Rings of Fire, a lot of cultural hotspots.

I will have to do a longer review after I’ve read more of this. I’ve read the first two chapters twice and studied the footnotes — which is another reason this latest BookNotes has been delayed.

For those that follow Sweet, I might say that with this book, he’s back in full. Big time. For the last several years he has offered a valuable stream of fine, smaller books, each lovely and exceptional and marked with that sweet wit and big picture insight. All of these books in the last decade have been potent and unique in the marketplace of religious titles, such as the short biography of his mom, Mother Tongue, and the compact book about community, From Tablet to Table, and his clever Bible study about the “bad” stuff Jesus did or the one about relationships or The Well Played Life, a theme he has often memorably taught about. (One doesn’t “work” at the violin, after all, but “plays” it, so he recoils about “working” at one’s marriage or life…) But they have all been fairly brief and somewhat conventional, super-smart and above average with his trademark connecting-the-dots style, but accessible and limited in focus. But none would be called magisterial. (Except maybe Giving Blood, which was about preaching, with that limited, specific audience in mind.)

With Rings of Fire, though, Len has given us a major work, akin to his previous, award-winning, meta-mega-monumental manuscripts, Faithquakes (1994), the unforgettable and still relevant Soul Tsunami (1999), and 2001’s Carpe Manana (we still promote this – he suggests that if we “seize the day” we’re already too late; we must seize tomorrow, which will be, by the way, multi-ethnic in a way many of us still haven’t realized. You should order one while supplies last! And then follow up that one with his very clever Soul Salsa, using the metaphor of the dance, not the condiment, although he writes about that, too.) Rings of Fire is hot, on fire offering what he is most known for, semiotics and future-studies, quantum faith engaging with the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink, for instance. We might need to get Earth-shaking verses like Nahum 1:5 in view as we join this master futurologist into this volcanic, seismic age. He wryly notes:

Rumbling, erupting, and exploding volcanoes signal the time for volcanic drive and cyclonic energy among us, to carve anew some breath-giving vistas of the future. Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin” may have worked for the twentieth century, but the soundtrack for the twenty-first century may be Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Or, if classical music in not your thing, try Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose Rebekah Lyons (Zondervan) $24.99  Our sale price = $19.99  We have long enjoyed the speaking and writing of Rebekah (who is also part of the team that runs the gloriously interesting and important Q gatherings, with her husband Gabe Lyons.) We’ve promoted her other books that are so honest about her own panic attacks, anxieties, and the complexities of raising four children, two with Down syndrome. Her first book was Freefall to Fly and her next was You Are Free.  

It seems that this new Rhythms of Renewal is very practical, offering colorful, fun, essays of advice arranged in four sections, describing four kinds of rhythms, what she calls “Rest Rhythms”, “Restore Rhythms”, “Connect Rhythms”, and “Create Rhythms.”

New York pastor and author Jon Tyson writes,

Rebekah Lyons has given us a great gift. Rarely does a book combine a compelling vision, theological insights, and a vision of practical faith so well. This books touches a deep longing we all have for a more beautiful and sustainable life one lived to the depth and height of what God actually offers. You will find rest for your soul and strength for your heart in here.

For what it is worth, we have a DVD curriculum with Rebekah sharing this same content that would make a great small group learning experience or could be used in an adult Sunday school class.

Reframation: Seeing God, People, and Mission Through Reenchanted Frames Alan Hirsch & Mark Nelson (100Movements Publishing) $18.99  Our sale price = $15.19  Oh, man, I’m telling you, this is one of the most significant, rousing, interesting, re-framing books that have appeared in recent years within the genre of books about the missional/incarnational church. Alan Hirsch, as you may know, is a seminal voice in the missional church movement and is a vibrant and award-winning author of books on movements, organizations, congregations, leadership; his co-author Mark Nelson is lead pastor of a faith community called Crossings, in Knoxville. (He is involved with the Forge movement as well, serving their Knoxville Hub and on their American board.) Their playful messing with the word “reformation” and calling us for a new sort of reformation, that creates a full-orbed re-framing and an imaginative enchantment of our worldview is remarkable, if maybe a bit blustery at times and full of lingo like “paradigmatic” and “catalytic” and “movement practitioners.” It is fascinating with lots of intellectually stimulating excursions and lots of stories from the authors. It is, if anything, a full gospel manifesto. Much, much more needs to be said, but we encourage you to order this a start a conversation about it in your church circles.

Anybody who is anybody in this movement has offered wildly supportive blurbs for this new work. For instance, there are raves by hip activist writers such as Christiana Rice, Hugh Halter, JR Woodward, David Fitch, Danielle Strickland, Linda Bergquist, John Mark Comer, Mark Sayers, and, of course, Hirsch’s occasional co-author, Michael Frost (who wrote a glowing afterword to Reframation.) Others have weighed in, from Walter Brueggemann to Bill Hull to Christine Sine to Bishop Graham Cray.

There is so much going on in this book calling on us to re-frame and re-enchant our understanding of God’s work in the world (and, consequently, but not only, our understanding of the structure and mission of the church.) To “re-frame” is a hugely audacious response to the work of the Spirit, and this book offers a visionary, complicated, big-picture, ride through our post-modern/secular/mystical culture to find ways to re-frame how we think of God and God’s role in our lives and world.

I happened to an endorsement of these authors in the book, and here’s is what is printed next to a lot of much more significant figures:

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so audacious, so sprawling, so visionary, so learned, so fascinating, that one almost wonders what wild prophets could come up with such a work? Hirsch and Nelson have been at this ministry, playing in these fields of the Lord, for a long time, and they offer us a deep and wise manifesto of how we might reframe our view of God, God’s work, our human vocation, our hope, and yes, the church’s mission — so we might be faithful and full and fruitful in these times. Uber-contemporary reports such as Hirsch’s taking in The Burning Man festival and Nelson’s moving account of hiking the El Camino trail, to scholarly engagement with extraordinary thinkers like Von Balthasar, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Taylor, will add to the urgent conversations of our day about the quest for meaning, the proper understanding of gospel-centered faith, the nature and scope of redemption, the joy of beauty, and the goodness of longing for a better world. Serious scholarship is illuminated by the transcendental vibe of Blake’s poetry and awesome exegesis of Biblical praise songs, by tender stories and great quips and quotes.  In a hurting, searching, God-haunted world, Reframation is itself a signal of transcendence.

Semper reframation!

What Does Your Soul Love? Eight Questions That Reveal God’s Work in You Gem and Alan Fadling (IVP/formatio) $22.00  Our sale price = $17.60  I hope you know that we carry all the books in the remarkable “formatio” line. They without fail offer solid insights about spiritual formation, our interior lives, the way in which God can transform us from the inside out to be of great service in our broken world. Many are about prayer and solitude and the contemplative life, but some are more general, as this one seems to be. You may know Alan Fading from his wonderful (and wonderfully convicting, I suspect) Unhurried Life and The Unhurried Leader.

This book deserves greater explanation, but a quick look at the Table of Contents shows us it offers nuanced and evocative reflections on desire, resistance, vulnerability, pain, fear, control, joy, and other key emotions. The invitation to “change from the center” seems clear and the last piece (before some great appendices) offers us guidance about “staying on the path of change.” This has good “process stuff and invites us to be honest about what is getting in the way, what we are hiding, what we cling to, and how we might find something more real and healthy.

Retreat leader Will Hernandez writes of What Does Your Soul Love?: 

Books on the subject of transformation abound. What makes this book stand out is that Gem and Alan crystallize for us what real change looks like through their very down-to-earth, living examples–concrete and relatable. One comes away after reading their accounts–peppered with story after story–convinced that authentic growth in God is indeed possible when our souls are focused in the right direction. Not only inspiring but downright practical!

No Avatars Allowed: Theological Reflections on Video Games Joshua Wise (Church Publishing) $18.95  Our sale price = $15.16  We have a big section in our store about faith-based reflections on popular culture, books offering Christian (and other) thoughtful perspectives on advertising, film, Super-heroes, hip hop, and more. We have books like Brent Laytham’s Ipod, Youtube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment next to Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue edited by Kutter Callaway and Dean Batali. All framed by the best of the bunch, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William Romanowski. 

It’s a fun section in the shop with lots to browse through, but, to be honest, there are not many serious and thoughtful (and fun) Christian books about video games that are worthwhile. Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games is our go-to, and the author, Kevin Schut Professor Media and Communications at Trinity Western University, happily, has a good blurb on the back of the brand new No Avatars Allowed.

Schut writes:

No Avatars Allowed is a valuable contribution to discussions Christians are having about video games. Joshua Wise writes in clear and accessible language about important topics surround theology, philosophy, and gaming. He raises insightful points that will hopefully spur discussions around a part of culture that the Christian Church still struggles to come to terms with.

Another fun connection with Wise’s book is that it is dedicated to (among others) our young friend and customer, Father Benjamin Gildas, who has graced the book with a very nice and informative foreword. Fr. Ben helped Wise start a lively podcast about gaming and God (also called No Avatars Allowed) and has been at the center of conversations about theology and technology and pop culture for years. Both serve Holy Sacrament Church in Drexel Hill, Philadelphia, and Wise also is an adjunct professor of systematic theology at Villanova. He is, curiously, drawing on some of the Patristic Fathers here, and early on cites Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria. He offers a measure of George MacDonald, it seems, too, all in a study about very contemporary gaming. What a book!

Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers Shea Tuttle (Eerdmans) $23.99  Our sale price = $19.19  Oh my, just having this book face out in the store brings a certain calm and joy and pleasure. It looks so very good; we respect Ms Tuttle for her important work as co-editor in the “Lived Theology” project called Can I Get a Witness: Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice that came out from Eerdmans earlier this year. I raved about it at BookNotes earlier this summer, and I’m glad that she has taken up this project. I’m sure she brings a kindness but also a certain suitable gravitas to the study, although with a light touch.

As it says in the publisher promo:

In Exactly as You Are, Tuttle looks at Fred Roger’s life, the people and places that made him who he was, and his work through Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. She pays particular attention to his faith – because Fred Rogers was a deeply spiritual person, ordained by his church with a one-of-a-kind charge: to minister to children and families through television.

I trust you know the fabulous, hefty Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (now out in paperback) and I really hope you know the remarkable Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Central Pennsylvania religion professor Michael Long. Both are indispensable. But this brand new one, lovingly researched and wonderfully written, may now be considered one of the very best books on this amazing, amazing, Presbyterian Christian and media icon.

My Heart Cries Out: Gospel Meditations for Everyday Life Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $24.99  Our sale price = $19.99  Paul Tripp is a conservative, Reformed Christian/Biblical counselor who draws on the gospel truths of the Scriptures in everything he does and writes. He is very widely respected and appreciated for being raw and real and always rooted in the great news of the transforming power of the cross of Christ. The over-used phrase “gospel centered” can properly be applied to his approach and his many books illustrate these no-nonsense commitments to keeping first things first, even as he loves living in the real world and helps others cope with their hurts and foibles, sins and struggles.

So it is no surprise that contemporary, theologically rich, hymnodists Keith & Kristyn Getty have an endorsement on the back of this book of devotions, saying:

Tripp has the great ability to grasp the vast riches of biblical truth and distill it for us in creative, compelling, and wonderfully-practical ways.

It may be a bit more surprising to see hip hop recording artist and writer Lecrae write:

As an artist who uses words as expressions, I found joy in reading My Heart Cries Out. This work connects with the human condition in a unique and awesome way.

You see, these artists appreciate this book because, unlike Tripp’s other books, this is poetry. (And there are other endorsements from women and men who are artists, singers, hip hop guys.) Yes, it is offered as “gospel meditations” and it is somewhat of a daily devotional. But the form is sheer poetry. Written, as one observer notes, by a “sage with scars.”

By the way, kudos to Crossway for the nice design. the book is a bit larger than usual, with French fold covers, and some full color photography in side. It’s a beautiful paperback.

The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times George Weigel (Ignatius Press) $24.95  Our sale price = $19.96  Agree or not with the conservative Roman doctrine or the culturally traditionalist commitments of this remarkable thinker, his work is significant. (A blurb on the back by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon calls him “a steady voice of reason.”) He writes mostly around the intersection of faith and culture, societal concerns, public justice, social ethics. In this heady collection he draws us to the questions of how to keep order when the very notions that sustain order are eroded. (For a recent, evangelical, Protestant book that follows similar grooves, at least in political matters, think of Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide or Last Call for Liberty.)

Agree or not with his particular take on history and evaluation of the times and his conservative religious loyalties, you surely will be intrigued with a book by an author who garners a blurb like this:

Mary Eberstadt, Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute), says:

Every page in this book shines with moral clarity, literary pyrotechnics, and the illumination of history. The Fragility of Order proves once more that George Weigel is our Virgil through the dark woods of modernity.

Consumed By Hate, Redeemed By Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation Thomas A. Tarrants (Nelson Books) $24.99 Our sale price = $19.99  Our lives have been too busy, and I have felt badly that I have not reviewed for you this major release, truly one of the most amazing, God-glorifying stories I’ve ever heard. We are friends with the author, the President Emeritus of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington, DC. Tom is a good, good man, redeemed and made new by Jesus Christ, and when we first heard that he had been in jail for attempted murder in a violent KKK incident, I was stunned, breathless, sick to my stomach. Beth and I so admired Tom’s quiet and peaceful demeanor and his sharp, well-read mind. We had no idea of his background and found it hard to belief. We didn’t know much, then, but realized he was the guy who had once written a book about his racial hatreds with African American faith leader, John Perkins. It wasn’t terribly well known, but maybe you’ve seen it. It was called He’s My Brother and it only told part of this dramatic, wild, redemptive story. Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love tells the whole backstory in all it’s scary ugliness and amazing, amazing grace.

I surely will have to review this more carefully and thoroughly later, but, for now, know that this autobiography tells of Tom’s past, his anti-Semitism and racism, how he had engaged in what we now might call alt-right militia type activities. He was involved in shoot-outs with law enforcement and went to prison for an attempted bombing of a Jewish synagogue.

This bombing, an awful chapter in the US civil rights struggle, was something novelist John Grisham heard about as a kid growing up in Mississippi, and he later used it as a backdrop for his novel The Chamber. As the Southern Baptist Grisham writes, “Now, one of the bombers, Thomas Tarrants, tells the real story in this remarkable memoir.”

Grisham continues,

It is riveting, inspiring, at times hard to believe but utterly true, and it gives some measure of home in these rancorous times.

You will have to read his own well told story to learn how he got keep into this mess, and how, in prison, he found a personal relationship with Christ which transformed his identity and his racial prejudices. The governor of the state granted him clemency and he ended up working in a multi-racial church in urban Washington DC.  There is a lot more to this story, but we wanted to introduce it here, now. Listen to Russell Moore, who says Consumed by Hate, Redeemed… is a “riveting narrative…  the path from burning crosses to the cross of Christ himself, from raging hate to amazing grace.”

This astonishing portrait of captivity to a corrupt ideology and eventual authentic conversion is well worth reading. As journalist (and convert from a rigorous atheism, himself) Lee Strobel says:

Put on your seat belt and prepare to enter into one of the most extraordinary true stories you’ll ever encounter.

Not Home Yet: How the Renewal of the Earth Fits Into God’s Plan for the World Ian K. Smith (Crossway) $15.99  Our sale price = $12.79  Increasingly there are books which – praise the Lord! – show that the ultimate plan for the created order is re-creation and renewal. We are not going to be raptured to some ethereal heavenly plane but the Bible teaches that God returns to fulfill his promises, to heal the creation; the good news is one of restoration, not destruction. A few books and movements with this vision of “all of life redeemed” and “every square inch” reclaimed by Christ link it to what ought to be obvious: environmental concerns; but some do not. This little volume of Biblical studies is not primarily about stewardship of the environment, as such, but it frames our ecological concerns in light of this wonderfully robust, solidly Biblical vision of God’s faithfulness in the past and future to the work of His hands.

This has something to do with, and will be of great interest to those who have come to understand the descriptor “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” as the best over-view of the Bible’s story and the history of the plan of redemption. (Not Home Yet also looks at themes in the Old Testament about exile and homecoming and the temple being destroyed and restored.) Those four “chapters” of the Biblical story influence much, but few accessible Bible scholars have done good work on the hope of a restored planet. (The very, very best study of this, although a bit academic and lengthy for some, is the classic A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology by J. Richard Middleton.)

What is the nature of our “future home?” How might a high regard for God’s covenant and promises for the Earth influence our living, now? (Think of the good insights about these very matters in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope.) Not Home Yet explores this all quite nicely. He insists that what we do now has value, because God values the Earth. This beautiful place is not “second best” as if we’re going “somewhere better.” This is, as Smith shows, exactly what the Bible teaches.

I love it that pious Scottish Presbyterians like Sinclair Ferguson endorse this little book. A highly regarded and fabulous Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman endorses Not Home Yet, by saying:

I have never seen such a clear articulation of the theme of creation and re-creation anywhere.

Choosing Community: Action, Faith, and Joy in the Works of Dorothy Sayers Christine A. Colon (IVP Academic) $16.00 Our sale price = $12.80  I said I want to keep these announcements short. But oh my, there’s so much to say about Dorothy Sayers, her friendship with C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, her work as a Dante scholar, as a mystery writer (do you know the detective fiction featuring Lord Peter Whimsey?), her contributions as a playwright, her legendary letter writing, and her rise as a extraordinary and somewhat surprising example of a respected Christian scholar. One of her famous books was called, of course, The Mind of the Maker and many in the contemporary faith and work movement draw on her seminal essay about the essential dignity of human labor, called “Work Matters.” She is a figure we should know more about.

And so, I’ve wished for years for a book like this. And here it is. (If only I had time to dive in, which I surely will, soon.)  Choosing Community… as you might be able to tell, isn’t just a dry overview of the famous Dorothy Sayers and her many books. It presses us to grapple with Sayers’ life and work and learn from it how to thrive in our particular day and age, troubled as it may be.

Listen to these endorsements.

Christine Colón has written an original and thoroughly fascinating book on Dorothy L. Sayers and community. Sayers enthusiasts will appreciate her meticulous research, but even the general reader who doesn’t know Sayers will learn something about how people can live together in harmony despite the traumas of this world.” (Suzanne Bray, professor of English, Lille Catholic University)

“Colón wends her way through Sayers’s detective novels and religious plays in the context of her life and times to help us see what Sayers wanted us to learn about community and the work that God has given each of us to do with joy for the health of our communities ― especially the church. Sayers comes through as one who passionately grounded these insights in essential Christian doctrines, such as God’s triune existence and the atonement, during times of war and societal decay. At a time when we seem to be sinking into tribalism in a contentious world, there are lessons to be gleaned from Sayers thanks to Colón’s guidance. And this study might just prompt one to hurry to the bookshelf and read or reread a Sayers piece, seeing in it what otherwise would have been missed.” (Dennis Okholm, professor of theology, Azusa Pacific University, author of Learning Theology Through the Church’s Worship)

Near the Exit: Travels with the No-So-Grim Reaper Lori Erickson (WJK) $17.00  Our sale price = $13.60  Before I ran out of time, I had a plan: I was going to do a longer review of this in time for the Mexican Day of the Dead ceremonies (now oddly celebrated all over the world) which mostly coincide with Halloween and, yes, All Saints Day. Near the Exit is a very vividly written, entertaining travelogue book where the author (known for bringing religious sensibilities to expert travel memoirs, like in her popular Holy Rover) explores how people all over the world dispatch their dead. It isn’t gloomy, but some readers might find it a bit creepy. On the very first page she is embedded in a Day of the Dead event in Chicago. Whoah.

When a world-renowned doctor who has specialized for a lifetime writing about care for the dying such as Ira Byock (Dying Well) writes that a book is “informative, insightful and thoroughly entertaining” it’s worth checking out. When an author is as witty and irreverent and yet deeply tender as Erickson is, she is, for my tastes, worth reading. This is one fascinating book.

She is honest about some of her immediate motives: her brother dies rather suddenly and her mother is in a dementia-care unit. (Some of the writing around that was very, very moving for me, having lost my mother recently.) Erickson moves from curious strolls through church graveyards to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings to Mayan Temples to a Colorado cremation pyre to writing about her own care for her own dying mother. Erickson is an Episcopal deacon so stands firmly within the broad Christian tradition, although some with traditional orthodox theology will find her cavalier writing about what happens after death a bit wanting. Still, if one can get past that this isn’t a theological treatise or Bible-based sermon, but a colorful travelogue (did I mention she has won writing awards in the Travel Books category) by a person who respects global faiths and diverse cultural customs – more an anthropologist than a theologian – it could be a real enjoyable read for you. And, who knows, in exploring how others including Erickson herself) process the mysteries of death and dying, maybe you will glean a bit more empathy for others and a bit more willingness to explore what you believe and why. After all, as she notes in the preface, to be human is to be mortal. We all, whether we enjoy it or not, have reason to be interested.  Near the Exit is one entertaining way into that big question…

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