Can you believe it is early November already, the time of turning back the calendar, and feeling that annoyance (okay, only some of are annoyed) when we see Christmas decorations and think it’s too soon. I’m not a fan of pushing the season too soon.
And yet, for those of you are need some time to ponder and plan, it is not at all too early to order Advent resources. We love Advent as a season in part because it resists that jumping to Christmas cheer too soon. Traditionally rooted in Old Testament promises of God’s second coming, we await — actively, passionately, sometimes through tears —for the renewal of all things. It’s a time to think about exile and those not-so-minor prophets who had a Godly imagination that allowed them to predict new things, new hope. I won’t preach as I sometimes do in this column about the importance of songs like “O Come, O Come Immanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” that are distinctively about longing for hope, yearning, repenting before that great shaking that we hear about, more often in Messiah than directly from Malachi.
We are glad for those who have asked for some recommendations about Advent resources and we apologize if we just couldn’t manage to say all this back in October, with their colors of orange and black rather than Advent’s purple and blue.
It is unfortunate, I think, that publishers have not done many new books that would serve as four-week or five (or six, if you stretch to Epiphany as you should) curriculum for adult Christian classes, Sunday school sessions or small home groups who want to do an Advent study. There just isn’t too much out there (although we have in recent years recommended several by Adam Hamilton, books that stand alone as well as DVDs — The Journey, Not a Silent Night, Faithful, The Incarnation.)
We’d like to suggest a few more below that are most suitable for small groups or classes.
Then I’ll list some that are good for families or intergenerational groups.
And thirdly, I’ll announce some new daily devotionals for ordinary daily use, followed by a short list of older favorites. There are a lot of those from a variety of perspectives and we are glad for these rich resources. I’d get a couple if I were you! Enjoy this early glimpse of Advent.
ALSO: WE WOULD LOVE IT if you’d skim over some previously recommended from our yearly Advent recommendations in previous BookNotes. Even with Covid breathing hard down our necks last year, we did a pretty good one HERE. The year before that was great, HERE. I enjoyed browsing though these HERE and HERE, too. Most of the titles listed are still in print and if any seem suitable, let us know asap. We can probably get them in soon if we don’t have them in stock and we will give you the 20% off discount, too. Let us know how we can help.
We will be doing a fun list of children’s books about the season soon (including a brand new Tomie dePaola on Christina Rossetti and the great new book on Saint Nicholas by Ned Bustard.) Hold on, kids! In the meantime this week, maybe this HERE or HERE will inspire you a bit. Thanks for your patience.
ADVENT STUDIES FOR SMALL GROUPS OR THAT CAN BE READ TOGETHER IN FOUR WEEKS
Great News of Great Joy: Advent Reflections on the Songs of Luke Max O. Vincent (Upper Room Books) $13.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19
This is actually a daily devotional but it is written with one theme each week and there is a leader’s guide for using it in a four-week group discussion. The book looks at Mary’s Song (The Magnificat), Zechariah’s Song (The Benedictus), The Angels’ Song (The Gloria in Excelsis), and Simeon’s Song (The Nice Dimittis.) The author is a United Methodist pastor in Atlanta, George. We liked the book he did with his wife, too, Another Bead, Another Prayer: Devotions to Use with Protestant Prayer Beads.
Advent in Plain Sight: A Devotion Through Ten Objects Jill J. Duffield (Westminister/John Knox) $14.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20
We premiered last spring a similar one by this author, Lent in Plain Sigh and had so much good feedback on the Lenten one we were glad to see an Advent one as well. It has great possibilities for for a study group or book club. What an interesting way into the story, focusing on eight objects (and a bonus ninth, the water of Jesus’s baptism) — gates, tears, belts, trees, cloth, light, hearts, gold, water. There are discussion questions and a prayer after each chapter. You could do two chapters each week for four weeks and there would be plenty to ponder. Short, interesting, fresh.
All the Good: A Wesleyan Way of Christmas Laceye Warner, Amy Valdez Barker, Jung Choi, Sangoo Kim (Abingdon Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
DVD = $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
This compact sized paperback has four chapters making it an ideal study for a small group —whether you are Wesleyan or not! This gathering of multi-ethnic men and women are all respected scholars working at theological schools such as Duke and Candler, all committed to Wesleyan formation and engagement. The four sessions each explore one of Wesley’s famous “means of grace” as they might be practiced during Advent. There is a DVD that we can order easily for you. They did a separate devotional guide, All the Good Devotions ($11.99) and there is a Leader’s Guide ($14.99.)
The titles of the four sessions are:
- Practicing Advent: Preparing the Way
- Praying in Advent:
- Practices of Mercy: Embodying God’s Love for Others
- Christmas is Only the Beginning: God Sends the Church to the Word
Walking Backwards to Christmas Stephen Cottrell (Abingdon) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
This was a popular study among one small group a few years ago and thought I might suggest it again. It is insightful, of course, but it is also rather clever: it literally starts with one of the last episodes in the Christmas narrative (Simeon and Anna being presented with Jesus at the temple) and works backwards to the well-loved Christmas stories and then backwards to see where it all began. Yes!
As the publisher writes:
Congregations are often confused or uninspired by the emphasis on Old Testament themes during Advent and too “over” Christmas by December 26 to pay much attention to the gospel stories that follow Jesus’ birth. Walking Backwards to Christmas starts at the end of the story, with Jesus’ presentation to Anna and Simeon at the temple, and moves backwards through Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, the wise men’s visit, Jesus’ birth in a stable, Mary’s pregnancy, and finally to the much-earlier hopes and dreams of Isaiah and Moses.
It has been done by others, but teaching about the Christmas story through the eyes of both famous figures like King Herod and imagined characters like the innkeeper’s wife is fun and offers deeper attention to the harder themes (as one reviewer wrote, “…sorrow and anger and uncertainty, as well as hope and faith”) and ancient figures in the unfolding story.
Cottrell truly ‘gets inside’ the characters, including their sorrow and anger and uncertainty as well as their hope and faith. You’ll want to read this book again each Christmas (and other times of the year) as an insightful and moving portrayal of the familiar story. — Paul Stroble, author of Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament
LifeGuide Bible Study: Advent of the Savior Cindy Bunch (IVP) $10.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.00
We sell a lot of LifeGuide Bible studies and they have them on nearly every book of the Bible and dozens and dozens of themes or topics, all offering nice discussion questions and some inductive explorations and some sort of application oriented reflections.
Easy to use and reliable, this one has 6 Bible studies from key texts (Isaiah’s Prophecy of Isaiah 9; Zechariah and the Angel from Luke 1; Mary and the Angel from Luke 1; Joseph and the Angel from Matthew 1; Jesus’s Birth from Luke 2; and the Magi story from Matthew 2.) We don’t know of any other small group Bible study as succinct the direct as this so it is highly recommended for anyone wanting to study together these key passages.
LifeGuide Bible Study: The Messiah: The Texts Behind Handel’s Masterpiece Douglas Connelly (IVP) $10.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.00
Here is another great small group Bible study (although you could do it on your own if you like inductive studies, looking up verses and pondering them.) Of course, you’re going to want to have a good copy of Handel’s Messiah available since this ingenious study offers 8 sessions-worth of key Scriptures that are the basis of the famous libretto. What a fun time a home group could have with this, or a homeschooling family. It might be a nifty little gift to a classical music buff or someone who wanted to sing or play it this year but couldn’t because of Covid. Buy a couple!
Come Peasant, King: An Advent Devotional Olivia Metcalf (Foundry Publishing) $11.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59
I really like Foundry Publishing, the recent re-branding of the Nazarene Publishing House. Their resources are visually sharp, theologically substantive, often with a fairly radical, missional vibe. How amazing is this very title, a line, of course, from the popular carol We Three Kings. A peasant King? Wow. Think about that.
Ms. Metcalf offers here a daily devotional but it is arranged in four parts, seemingly with the notion that groups would use it together.
I suppose you know the rest of the phrase from the carol… “Come peasant King, to own us.” Perhaps you’ve read (or intend to read) the highly regarded new book by Alan Noble You Are Not Your Own. Maybe you have been thinking about true surrender. In Come Peasant, King Olivia Metcalf reminds us that, as we prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ, we also engage in a willingness to fully surrender to the call of God on our lives, “…wherever that may lead us.” At the very least, one of the first readings suggests, Christ’s light call us to struggle with hope in a dark and broken world. That may be an audacious act of brave faith for some, but this peasant King can give it to us. Maybe this book will help.
Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox) $13.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40
If you take our advise (above) and scroll back through the archived BookNotes from previous Advent lists you will see this a few times. It is Brueggemann holding forth in rich essays about the four names of the son who has been given to us as described in Isaiah 9:6. There is in the back a four-week study guide and discussion guide for group conversation complete with a closing prayer. This tackles some tough historical questions too — what would the Jews in exile have thought about this oracle from the prophet? Did Jesus fulfill this hopes; naturally, Christians believe Jesus was the royal Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.
(By the way, if you want a daily devotional of 25 readings by the always impressive Walt B, for you personal reading and pondering, his Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent [WJK; $13.00] is a great small choice for December.)
Making Room: Sharing the Love of Christmas Ed Robb (Abingdon Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
This four-chapter group study offers solid Bible teaching, standard sorts of Christmas insights (and some new ones), inspired conversational questions, and, yep, throughout reminds us of the very important theme of how we show hospitality in a way that God shows hospitality to us. What a huge question, eh? This really is about being a better neighbor, about offering gracious hospitality, welcoming strangers and how we need each other. (Isn’t this urgent in a time of coronavirus and civic polarization?) Robb really invites us to show kindness to others unlike ourselves, even those (as we’ve often heard about the shepherds) the outcasts and marginalized.
(And, he notes, that we are all outcasts in a way, due to our sin, and God’s good grace that doesn’t leave us alone.)
Here is how the publisher described Making Room:
Often our Advent preparations have an inward focus as we prepare for the significance of God breaking into our world through the birth of the Christ child. But in a closer examination of the Advent story, we quickly learn that the focus of the coming of the newborn king is outward.
In this book and Advent study, Dr. Ed Robb explores the warmth of welcome at Christmas following interactions with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi. Just as Jesus made room in God’s kingdom for a host of people that society wanted to leave on the margins, beginning with the appearance of the shepherds, we too should be asking ourselves who we can make room for this Christmas.
Perhaps it is to the people in your community, or the newly immigrated family in town that doesn’t speak your language. Or maybe it’s the next-door neighbor who just settled in from yet another corporate move? The story of Christ’s birth encourages us to widen our borders and increase our sense of community–and make room for others.
Light of the World: A Beginner’s Guide to Advent Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
DVD $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
Leader’s Guide $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
I hope you know the popular Professor Levine (New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School.) She has brought her Jewish faith and her academic scholarship of first century Judaism to the study of Jesus and the gospel in books like The Misunderstood Jew, Short Stories by Jesus, The Annotated Jewish New Testament and Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week. Just last summer Abingdon Press released a book, leader’s guide and DVD entitled The Difficult Words of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to His Most Perplexing Teachings which makes for a great study. About a year ago HarperOne released her significant hardback (co-authored with another Jewish scholar) The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently. And, to supplement her Holy Week study, Abingdon will release her forthcoming adult study on Good Friday. Oh my…
Anyway, this one by Amy-Jill Levine was a big seller as many are intrigued with her look at the history of the birth of Christ, tracing the Christmas narrative through the stories of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and other standard seasonal texts. Of course, everyone knows these gospel stories have obvious and profound connections to Old Testament texts so a Jewish scholar just might come in handy as we plumb their depths; certainly someone who knows a bit about first century Judaism and culture would be helpful. As one Lutheran scholar put it, “There’s no one I’d rather have guide me through Advent and the first chapters of Matthew and Luke than Amy-Jill Levine.” There are four good chapters to the book, four lively sessions in the DVD. The four-week Leader’s Guide includes session plans, activities, and discussion questions, as well as multiple format options. Not for everyone, I suppose, but she is a lively speaker and writer and for those who want this fresh look, it could be a deeper realization of God’s promised comfort and joy.
Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ Timothy Keller (Penguin) $15.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00
I don’t know if many of our customers picked this up when it was out in hardback a few years ago but now that it is a fine, trim-sized paperback (and at our sale price) it is hard to beat. (Keller’s larger hardback that came out last spring, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter was so, so good, btw.)
Keller is known for thoughtful apologetics that are reasonable and relevant, compelling for many young adult skeptics and seekers or anyone who needs to hear a culturally aware, sophisticated pastor from Manhattan. (That he hales from Pennsylvania, though, is pretty cool.) I respect Tim a lot and this really is what one called “a profoundly moving and intellectually provocative” examination of the nativity story. That some of his fellow PCA brethren (and others of odd ideologies) have given spurious criticism of him, of all people, for speaking out (moderately) against injustice and racism suggests to me that he is on the right track, linking, as he often has, generous justice concerns with solid, historic doctrines about the core teachings of the gospel.
The goal of Hidden Christmas is to encourage us to engage the texts well, understand the context (Biblically and historically) of the reliable New Testament testimonies about the nativity and to grapple with this message of hope and salvation. As others have said, we cannot conjure up profound life, truth, joy, or hope on our own; God, the incarnate babe, indeed can and does. I really recommend this thoughtful book.
There are 8 relatively short chapters so an adult group or class could discuss two chapters a week for a month, with a week or two to spare.
All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God’s Creation at Advent Katie Z. Dawson (Abingdon Press) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
This is another we’ve reviewed before and it is ideal for a five-week study groups or Sunday school classes. As we gladly noted when I wrote about it before, it really does remind us that “heaven and nature sing” and other such lines from our popular carols are really, really true. This shows that the whole created world waits for and hopes for the coming of Christ. (Think of the simple profundity of Sally Lloyd Jones’s beloved children’s Christmas picture book Song of the Stars.) I would wax exuberantly about this, but here’s how the publisher explains the details:
All Earth Is Waiting invites readers to explore the familiar Advent themes of hope, preparation, joy, and peace with the heavens and earth in mind. Through her powerful and personal reflections, author Katie Z. Dawson calls us to consider how all creation longs for the coming of Christ, taking seriously the notion that the good news of Christ is good news for all the world. Anticipating in Christ’s birth the reconciliation of the heavens and the earth, Dawson highlights our responsibility to care for this earth in preparation for Christ’s return.
This thematic Bible study is designed to be used by individuals and small groups during Advent. Each chapter offers questions for reflection and discussion, a brief prayer, and a focus for the week that will encourage readers to engage a specific act of creation care that will help them apply the week’s lesson. Also included are Advent candle lighting liturgies, a Call to Worship, a Prayer of Confession that can be used throughout Advent, and hymn suggestions for each chapter. These can be used for small group worship opportunities or in corporate worship. The book’s chapters include: The Source of Hope, Clear the Way, Discovering Joy, The Peace of the World, and God Moves Into the Neighborhood.
Hey: with the whole world watching what happens at the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Scotland (COP26) and with teens on a hunger fast in front of the Capitol, it doesn’t hurt us to take steps towards relating our deepest convictions about the gospel to our groaning creation. This isn’t a heavy eco-theology treatise but it is a nice Advent study that points us in the right direction to see our faith’s implications for this current crisis.
A FEW FAMILY ADVENT DEVOTIONALS
Wonders of His Love: Finding Jesus in Isaiah Family Advent Devotional Champ Thornton, illustrated by Jeremy Slagle (New Growth Press) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
The cover may not fully communicate it but this is a very full color, lively, contemporary looking for kids, creatively done thin hardback (with nice, glossy paper) full of gospel-centered good news about God’s grace and Christ’s fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises. Sweet, good stuff, theologically solid and yet playful asides, cookie recipes, conversations starters and some family fun ideas. The book’s four weeks of daily readings explore four images from Isaiah’s prophecies — the Light, the Branch, the Shepherd, and the Savior.
Endorsements are from pastor and children’s ministry expert Marty Machowski (author of WonderFull, The Ology, Long Story Short and many other stellar kid’s theology books) and Barbara Reaoch, author of A Better Than Anything Christmas.
O Come, Emmanuel: Advent Reflections on the Jesse Tree for Families Kendra Tierney (Emmaus Road Publishing) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96
Kendra Tieren is a Roman Catholic mother of ten who writes an award-winning blog Catholic All Year. She has spoken widely at ministry events, Eucharistic Congresses and other events, highlighting Catholic teaching a spirituality for families, especially. These family devotions have large type and colorful artwork fo reach entry, making it a handsome, solid volume.
You may know that the rich Jesse Tree tradition offers specific symbols (for Jesse Tree decorations) for people and events and themes in the Old Testament that point to the coming of Jesus Christ. In O Come, Emmanuel you get a reading from Scripture, a family-friendly reflection, and a short prayer. I like that the back cover invites us to “experience the unfolding of God’s plan from Creation to the Patriarchs to the Prophets and beyond…”
I can’t think of a better way to prepare children—and their parents—for the birth of Our Lord. —Scott Hahn, Founder and President, St. Paul Center
…A simple and beautiful way to live more fully the season of Advent so that we might receive Our Lord anew at Christmas. —Noelle Mering, Author of Theology of Home
Advent is a season of ‘too much’ for many of us, but these reflections offer a gentle antidote with a focus on Scripture and family prayer. —Danielle Bean, Manager of CatholicMom.com
The Way to the Manger: A Family Advent Devotional Jeff and Abbey Land (B+H) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
B+H is a publishing house owned by the Southern Baptists, affiliated with LifeWay publishing which should give you a sense of the centrist sort of conservative evangelical piety expressed in this helpful, lovely book. I am a fan of the tone and love the artwork — paper collages and other watercolor art is interesting and engaging.
There is plenty of content in 25 upbeat and child-friendly reflections and activities and crafts organized around the conventional hope, love, joy, and peace of the Advent wreath. (And, yep, there is a wreath guide.) Of course there is a short closing prayer. Also, they have what they call “memory maker” family journal spaces to fill with holiday memories. This really is a great looking book with lots of options for family use. Yay.
The Adventures of Christmas: A Journey Through Advent for the Whole Family Ed Drew, illustrated by Alex Webb-Peploe (The Good Book Co.) $12.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.36
I like this little paperback book a lot — one of the great distinctives of this gospel-based devotional is that is has questions to ask broken down for different ages groups— 3s and 4s, 5-7s, questions for those over 7 and a question or so for teens. There’s a little drawn Advent calendar in the front (whose symbols re-appear on the appropriate day’s reading), a chart of key verses and some “here’s the point and where we’re going” for parents each time. In other words, it is really useful. Further, there are kid-friendly drawings in black and white in a style that strikes me like you might see in some graphic novels or cartoon episodes…
Webb-Peploe is obviously quite talented but the touch is light and upbeat. They say the point is to help us recapture (and share with our kids) a sense of the adventure and astonishing drama of this first Christmas, help us find our own way into the adventure. The author is the Director of a para-church ministry called Faith in Kids in London.
The Expected One: Anticipating All of the Jesus in the Advent Scott James (B+H) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
With a foreword by David Platt you might guess that this is a radical call to evangelical discipleship, to glorifying God in all things, and to be attentive to the way Jesus is central to all Christian faith and discipleship. It may seem hardly necessary to say Advent is about Jesus but there is a sense in which we sometimes don’t have a historically rooted redemptive view of the unfolding gospel in Scripture and the point of it all.
What is nice about this (a revised and updated version of an older work) is that the text is graphically designed with gold ink and some nice touches, but it is very brief. But it’s lay-out is really simple-to-use: there is a Bible text and then a “trace the thread” section, inviting us to ponder connections between the Testaments and the “thread” of connection. There is a “connect with kids” section, some “further reflections” and “prayer points.” That is, it is brief, practical, useful, and altogether gospel-centered. (By the way, this is a companion volume to The Risen One: Experience All of Jesus in Easter.)
A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives.
May you know Barbara Reaoch’s book from 2020, (which we recommended last year) A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better; I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says of that previous book “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!” Well, A Jesus Christmas is her previous one and is arranged very similarly and is a great companion to it. Who doesn’t want to make their Advent and holiday season more of a “Jesus Christmas”? This will help.
It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel. There is a helpful question and even a space for journalling and occasionally an invitation to draw something. (Unless you have a huge family, each member can share this space, which could be fun.)
SOME NEW ADULT ADVENT DEVOTIONALS
God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming Drew Jackson (IVP) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
I’ve been waiting a while to introduce this, itching, itching, as it is so very good. And so unique. We praise the Lord for IVP’s willingness to release something like this and applaud Rev. Drew Jackson (pastor of Hope East Village in lower Manhattan) for crafting remarkable poetry that reads so well out loud, all about, as he says, “God’s Unexpected Coming” in human form.
Here is what is going on here: Draw Jackson explores the first eight chapters of Luke’s gospel in what the publisher calls “a new poetic register.”
These are declarative poems, faithfully proclaiming the gospel story in all its liberative power. Here the gospel is “the fresh words / that speak of / things impossible.”
From the Magnificat (“That girl can sing! . . . She has a voice / That can shatter shackles”) to the baptism of Christ (“I stepped in / Committing insurrection”), this collection helps us hear the hum of deliverance — against all hope — that’s been in the gospel all along.
Okay, so it isn’t exactly or exclusively an Advent devotional, although some of the poems are directly from the early chapters of Luke so include the standard narratives of Advent, Christmas, etc. But it isn’t just a seasonal collection. But you can use it now, for sure. Okay?
Our friends at Christians for Social Action interviewed Jackson and shared this short reading of one of the poems which will give you a sense of this poignant poetry that speaks of justice and race and public theology and Bible. Enjoy!
Jackson’s own mother, by the way, was a Christian woman in the black church, a poet with a prophetic voice, and he was raised in North Philly.
God Speaks Through Wombs is an amazing book, also, because (it is fun to point out) it carries a powerfully poetic forward by late night talk show band leader, the incredible Jon Batiste of Stay Human.
If poetry is the art of the indirect, the undefended doorway into deeper consciousness, then Drew Jackson is a wonderful new teacher on the scene! Seldom have I read such direct insight into spiritual moments and spiritual matters . . . . I am already eager to see and hear more! — Richard Rohr
With undeniable depth and brilliant creativity, Drew Jackson offers a powerful poetic tour through the Gospel of Luke. Drew joins poignant cultural analysis with biblical faithfulness, and does so in a way that kept me captivated throughout. This book is a gift, offering us a fresh vision of the gospel story with profound flow. — Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship and author of The Deeply Formed Life
Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Malcolm Guite (Canterbury) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
Okay, this isn’t new, but I’m on a roll here, and since I enthused about the hip hop spoken word poetry of Drew Jackson (above) I thought I should note this, too, even though it isn’t new. There are many classic Christmas poems and lovely collections of holiday verse. This, though, is by an British poet — who looks like a Hobbit, some say — who has written many books, from high literary criticism (like his book Mariner which is a study of Coleridge’s Rhyme of…) to the spectacular new Square Halo Books release Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God which I will eagerly be telling you more about soon. Oh yes, I will!
Waiting on the Word is a devotional for the season as Guite has a daily reading about the wonder and insights of the poem of the day. From Edmund Spenser to Luci Shaw, from Keats to Cairns, these poems and reflections are just lovely, thoughtful, seasonally attuned. He has his beloved Blake in there, and a few of his own for good measure. This is a standard seller for us (as are his other books, including the similar one for Lent, Word in the Wilderness, and, of course his most recent poem collection, David’s Crown which is a poetic companion to the Psalms.) Anyway, Waiting on the Word is a fine, classic collection.
An Advent Book of Days: Meeting the Characters of Christmas Gregory Kenneth Cameron (Paraclete Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I mentioned above in comments about another book that studying the characters of Christmas isn’t uncommon and there are several good ones like that. (I have recommended other years my friend David Darling’s The Characters of Christmas, not to mention, while we are at it, his The Characters of Easter, both nicely published by Moody Press.) This brand new one from the good folk at Paraclete is just tremendous. Gregory Cameron is the Anglican Bishop of St. Asaph in Wales and brings an Anglican sensibility, a deeper sort of reflective spirituality, to his book of the colorful characters of the Biblical narratives for this season. As it says on the back, it is “a Book of Days to nurture and inspire your soul this Advent.” So that’s it, it is a spiritual formation resource that hopes to enrich your spirit.
And here is what is so curious about this well made little paperback. The author is a bit of an artist and he adapted famous paintings into his own works, and offers them as a “visio divine” inspired by, in part, the medical tradition of the illuminated book of hours.
As the back cover says:
Rich reflections draw upon Scriptures, history, and send about the character of the day — Gabriel, the Virgin Mary, the Star, the magi, and, of course, the Christ child, paired with gorgeous illustrations from the author, adapted from famous works of art.
I like this little book a lot. Bishop Cameron draws a lot from European paintings — frescos by Fra Angelico, paintings from Florence, and by Renaissance favorite, Giotto. Which is to say, although he paints Joseph as rugged and Middle Eastern and his picture of David has his long dark hair flowing, there are two black characters (one, St. Lucy, is spectacular.) Too many have this yellow glow, golden hair, fair skin, highlighted by the yellow frame. Just a bit more diversity in the art might have made this that much better of a book. As it stands now, nonetheless, I’m very eager to use it. I hope it finds it’s way into the hands of many discerning and discriminating readers and viewers.
Adore: A Guided Advent Journal for Pay and Meditation Fr. John Burns, illustrated by Valeri Delgado (Ave Maria Press) $10.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.76
Speaking of art that captures a more realistic portray of a darker skinner Mary and Jospeh, this lovely book has a few full color art renderings and they are very nice. The large font on pull quotes, the two color ink, the spacious journaling sections, some with lines, make this like a devotional and journal and meditation book and Bible study all in one. With pictures!
Sister Miriam James Heidland, writes:
“Through these uniquely beautiful reflections from Fr. John Burns, you will encounter the quiet, safety, and rest of the hearts of Mary and Joseph, joining in their preparation for the birth of our Savior. You are warmly invited on the journey.”
Read these lovely endorsements and see if they don’t resonate with you, Protestant or Catholic:
Like many others, I often have big spiritual goals and plans for Advent that are all too easily overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Fr. John Burns has given us a wonderful remedy–a real gift to help us daily refocus our gaze upon Christ. Rich in reflection and beautifully illustrated, this book will be of immense help in making Advent the time of spiritual renewal we so desperately desire it to be! — Sarah Swafford, author of Emotional Virtue
While many people celebrate Christmas each year, the busyness of the season tends to distract us from where our attention really ought to be: the mystery of the Incarnation. This collection of daily Advent meditations, journal questions, and prayers will help you not only find the focus you need to prepare for the coming solemnity, but also see and worship the living God who is present in our midst. — Fr. Casey Cole, O.F.M., creator and host of Breaking In The Habit on YouTube
The Dawn of Redeeming Grace: Daily Devotions for Advent Sinclair B. Ferguson (The Good Book Company) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
I have not studied all of this yet, but I read the first two entries (including the one on the genealogies!) and I am eager to read more. Many, many readers love the good prose and sharp mind and Scottish brogue of the great, Reformed scholar and preacher, Sinclair Ferguson. (He is a Ligonier Teaching Fellow and Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.) We’ve read a number of his books — academic ones and devotional ones — and stock many, but in this, he draws us with lines like this: “As dawn broke on that first Christmas morning, the sun rose on a new era: God’s King had come to earth to bring about his Kingdom.” As the publisher invites us, “This December, enjoy living in the light of the dawn of redeeming grace.”
The Dawn of… is a study of the first two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, accompanied by hymns and prayers. These are short readings, but rooted in classic, rich theology. Blurbs on the back include lovely endorsements by Nancy Guthrie and Alistair Begg and Ray Ortlund.
Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 25 Devotions Leading to Christmas Mark M. Yarbrough (Lexham/Kirkdale Press) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
Yarbrough is a Southern preacher (and proves it with a Cracker Barrel joke, references to his farmhouse boyhood, and, at the end of one of his Advent readings, says, “And all God’s children say ‘Amen!’”) He is the President of Dallas Theological Seminary. Yarbrough’s book is very nice to read with some laughter along with the learning. (And when you take his “Christmas Exam” you may laugh, or not.) Anyway, this is upbeat, he can tell great stories, he preaches it up really well.
Dennis and Barbara Rainey says it is a “5-star-rated resource!” Andy Stanley says you will “marvel…” And he also says, “Need to bust out of the bah humbug blues of Christmas? Then take a journey with my friend Mark Yarbrough as he leads you through the greatest story ever told. Tidings of Comfort and Joy provides what it says.”
A Surprising God: Advent Devotions for an Uncertain Time Thomas Long & Donyelle McCray (Westminister/John Knox) $14.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20
Anyone who reads books by mainline denominations knows the name of Tom Long who is an Emeritus professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology. He’s written a bunch of books writes fo The Christian Century, and did a very important book on funerals with the poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch. So he’s a reliable, important voice for the gospel. Endorsements on the back are from Luke Power (Dean of Duke University Chapel) andHeidi Haverkamp (who wrote Advent in Narnia.)
Scott Black Johnston, Senior Pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York writes,
Again and again, I dabbed tears from my eyes as Long and McCray brought this messed-up world into conversation with God’s story of immeasurable hope. This book is a gift.
As this lovely little put puts in it the back: “The world that is emerging from the shadow of global emergency raises old questions with new urgency. Where do we find whose when it seems in such short supply? Where are the signs of God’s peace in this divided world? Where do we find a deeper sense of joy? These are the questions of Advent.
I like how they succinctly but eloquently explore what it means to wait, to take hope in “the small and insignificant.” The prayers at the end of each reading are beautiful, too.
Traveling with Our Ancestors: An Advent Devotional Sandy Rani Jha (Chalice Press) $3.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $3.19
For the last several years, Chalice Press — the progressive publishing arm of the Disciples of Christ denomination — have done inexpensive Advent booklets that we have stocked. A few years ago there was the nice I Am Mary: Advent Devotional by Carol Howard Merritt and last year they released Imagining a New World by Terri Hard Owens.
Anyway, these short, plainly written devotionals in this years edition are about our ancestors in faith, and that includes Bible folks, justice advocates (Caesar Chavez, Dorothy Day) global missionaries, and courageous church leaders or care for the outcasts, etc. Traveling with our Ancestors is not long-winded or luminous. But she brings important voices into our consciousness and at the end of each reflection, invites us to consider how to live it out, embodying the lessons learned this Advent season.
Due to Covid pandemic issues last year this handsome hardback — with nice paper, calligraphy and two color ink and some nice design touches — the publisher ran out of these even before Advent began. We found one through a distributor and that’s it. Now we have a few to re-introduce it this year. It is very nicely done, smart and contemporary. She is fresh without being odd, honest but as a fairly conventional evangelical.
But here is what makes Shadow & Light stand out as a very interesting devotional tool this season: she has a song to listen to (presumably that can easily be downloaded from the internet) and a recommended art piece to look up and gaze upon. She doesn’t reproduce it in the book, which is already a bit lavish, but the name of the art and artist can easily be located and used. Isn’t that cool?
Her musical tastes are a bit eclectic with some indie stylings and the occasional gospel or classic piece is suggested. I loved that she used “In Labor All Creation Groans” written by Benedictine Delores Dufner (sung on a Bi-Frost recording called Lamentations, btw.) Matching that haunting song she suggests the famous 1950 Catholic Worker woodcut, “The Christ of the Breadlines” by Fritz Eichenberg. She has songs like “Mother of God” by David Gungor and art like the popular “Mary and Eve” by Sister Mary Remington as well as more famous works by Van Gogh, say.
To have a legacy evangelical publisher like Harvest House do a book with church calendar charts and calendars framing the basics of Advent by the liturgical year is very nice. After this helpful overview (and listing of helpful resources) he four weeks (which she calls “The Journey”) are themed by Expectations, Preparation, Anticipation, and Gratitude. There’s a third section, too, with some alternative Scripture readings, a bit on Saint Nicholas Day and (yay) Saint Lucia Day and the 12 Days of Christmas. This really is a very nice volume. Kudos.
By the way, several years ago we reviewed her memoir The Blue Bike and have recommended her travelogue At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe. She’s a very fine writer and thinker and we’re glad she has loyal fans and readers.
Get ready: you can preorder the companion volume to Shadow and Light called Bitter and Sweet: A Journey to Easter.(Harvest House; $22.99) coming in February 2022. 20% off, too. It will have the same lavish look, slightly oversized, with thoughtful insights and resources.
Honest Advent: Awaking to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now – 25 Readings for Advent and Christmas Scott Erickson (Zondervan) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
This is another book that, like Shadow and Light, was new last year, had an advanced buzz and lots of interested readers, but the publisher ran out early, unable to make more in time for most folks to find it last December. We’re friends with Scott and have promoted his two co-authored books done with Justin McRoberts (Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer.) As with other books he’s illustrated, there is a very hip and edgy tone to the poster-like graphic art pieces (akin to silkscreens in my mind) brilliantly offered in often stark and striking gold and black ink.
As I mentioned in my 2020 review, Honest Advent is honest, raw, even. It is sometimes upbeat — Scott is a passionate artist but a funny guy, and it shows. He has little patience for false sentimentality or simple piety, but probes and pushes us to see how this Kingdom of God stuff really works. I think the subtitle — “Awakening the Wonder” is good, but it is indeed the “God-with-Us” impact (“here and now”) that is so compelling.
I wouldn’t pigeon-hole Erickson’s theology as progressive or emergent or deconstructive, but he is attuned to the edges of creative culture, knows well the “bittersweet season of complicated family dynamics, a predictable brand masking insatiable consumerism, or simply a sacred story that feels to far removed from our current chaotic world.” He has staked his life on the Jesus way and offers here provocative writing to help us deepen our own faith journey.
God, the Christmas story shows us, shows up in the hardest parts of our humanity and is still showing up in those hard places today.
There are his powerful images to ponder, contemplative questions that invite us to reflection, and honest, really honest, prayers. I hope you saw my review last year, and hope you know we have plenty of these now. You may want to get a few to share especially with artful young adults you know who might appreciate his blend of memoir, Biblical reflection and visual aesthetics that speak to their deepest experiences.
I’m a fan of this unusual Advent book. It might even work for skeptics or the unchurches or artsy teens you know. Give it a try.
By the way, while were at it, I’d be remiss not to invite you to pre-order Mr. Erickson’s forthcoming book, releasing in mid-to-late January of 2022. That will be called Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream. (Zondervan; $25.99; OUR PRE-ORDER SALE PRICE = $20.79.) Or, as Scott sometimes put it, “A Liturgy on Not Giving Up On Yourself.” He’s pretty amazing and this will be a really interesting book, for sure.
A FEW HEARTS & MINDS CLASSICS
I mentioned above that you can always go back and scroll through our many archived Advent or Christmas lists from previous years. If you go to the website and click on the BookNotes tab you then can use the search engine by putting key words into the box. Here are a few to look for that we very highly recommend and that I reviewed more thoroughly in older BookNotes. They deserve special mention again, here.
Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $30.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00
I suppose I needn’t gush about this or insist you consider getting it. I’ve said it for several years now at BookNotes that this collection of pre-Advent and Advent sermons is one of my favorite such books and some of these sermons are nothing short of transformation. Just understanding this shift in the thinking of many, coming to understand that Advent is not primarily a count-down until Christmas Day, but a season of repentance and longing for the second coming, is revolutionary.
I’ve got stories about how I’ve used this book, what we’ve heard from others, how moved (and proud I was) when our oldest daughter led an adult ed class at our church discussing selected sermons. But I don’t want to distract you from ordering this, asap. Just do it.
By the way, there are some pre-Advent messages, some for The Feast of Saint Michael and, of course, a few for the last Sunday of the church year, Christ Our King Sunday, immediately prior to the start of Advent. There’s a Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent, too. And some essays and writings as well. (The long introduction, 33 pages, is itself worth the full price of the volume.) What a book!
Brian Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Wipf & Stock) $12.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60
I say this every year but these are four of my favorite Bible scholars and serious Christians; they wrote these four weeks of Biblical meditations originally for a Canadian peace and justice organization and they bring to it their years not only of advocacy for public justice, but of years of digging deep into the Biblical texts. (Richard, by the way, just released his breathtaking book The Silence of Abraham about which I’ll be writing soon.) I hope you have noticed my earnest explanations of this book in years past and recall that it leads us into Advent by digging well into the socio-political complications during the time of Isaiah and how knowing all that about wrong political goals and alliances and the anguish of exile and promises of home-coming. I think that if you like the Biblical writings and insight of Walter Brueggemann (or, for that matter, the New Testament work of N.T. Wright) you will value this one-of-a-kind Advent devotional.
I sometimes say that this is one of the most rigorous Biblical books for the holiday season and it will help you understand the Bible’s trajectory and flow towards the transforming Kingdom of Christ better than any such little book.The Advent of Justice is, I think, a must-have resource which is why we commend it every year.
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas edited by Charles Moore (Plough Publishing) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20
Perhaps you were one of those who saw the Facebook live event I did interviewing Charles Moore about his recent Plough Publishing collection Following the Call which brings together excerpts of writings about the Sermon on the Mount, from across the broad spectrum of thinkers throughout the church from various times and places.
Pastor Moore’s name isn’t on this Advent classic but he did compile and edit this collection of readings just like he did with Following the Call and Living in Community (and, I might add, the Lenten favorite, a companion to Watch for the Light, entitled Bread and Wine.) Moore has a gift to find just the right reading and this is incomparable. We say something good about it every Advent and we hear back from customers who want to give it as a gift. The array of thoughtful, important writers is remarkable and we’re so glad to get to sell such a wonderful (and sturdy) hardback. Highly recommended.
David Bannon – with forward by Philip Yancey (Paraclete Press) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
Moving, classic art reproductions by painters who experienced suffering and the author’s own tales of sorrow, loss, remorse. He discovers how Advent can help use lament and find new hope through a deeper relationship with the (wounded) God who is with us.
When it first came out we recommended it, of course, but the Christian Century review by Elizabeth Palmer captured it best; she wrote:
God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas: Reader’s Edition edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
If you’ve read BookNotes for years (as some stalwart friends have) you may recall my rave reviews of this masterpiece of a book, truly one of the great Advent book releases of the last 30 years! It was firstly released as a hardcover with full color art but (as we’ve explained the last few years) the copyright for the art ran out and the little publisher had little choice but to re-issue the book without most of the artwork and lavish design.) It is now available as a very handsome paperback with classy French folded covers, but not as much artwork. There are a few plates and some nice design touches making this “reader’s edition” a truly magnificent paperback. The first edition hardbacks are out of print and unavailable.
God With Us includes an ecumenical array of thoughtful writers – Eugene Peterson, Beth Bevis, Emilie Griffin, Richard Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris and poets Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw. There are eloquent, rich, moving insights here about the incarnation and the deeper meaning of the season. This book is a treasure.
Rejoice! Advent in All of Scriptures Chris Wright & John Stott (IVP-UK) $12.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60
Here is another many of our customers have enjoyed and found useful over the last two years. I wanted to re-post my own comments from two years ago:
What a gem of a little book. I hope you know John Stott, one of the leading evangelical voices in the entire world in the last decades years of the 20th century and into the early 2000s. He was kind and rigorous, orthodox and justice-minded, thoughtful and wise, missional before the phrase was used. Some of my favorite writers to this day see Stott as a mentor and his books as among their most sturdy influences.
In Rejoice!, Old Testament scholar and International Ministry Director of Langham Partnership (one of the global organizations Stott founded) Chris Wright offers a Biblical meditation jump-started by a quote or quip or excerpt from a John Stott book. There are 25 Advent readings, drawn from throughout the Bible, each linked to a Stott quote or story. This is more than just a tribute to John Stott, more than a Christ Wright devotional (although either would make the price of the book a good investment for your study) but the synergy here is notable, good, inspired. Do you see your life somehow part of the big Biblical story? This book will help you see the big picture of the drama of Scripture as it unfolds and it will help you understand Christmas in its full-orbed Kingdom context, and it will remind you (or introduce you) to the wit and wisdom of the late John Stott, the sort of leader that gave evangelicalism a good name.
Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher Rodkey, with illustrations by Jesse & Natalie Turri (Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press) $12.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60
I am happy to list this among our favs and best-sellers even though I suppose it isn’t for everyone. Back at the start of the adult coloring book craze. Rev Dr.. Rodkey, a neighbor, friend, and Dallastown UCC pastor, came into the shop wondering about adult ed options for December at his small, creative church. He had a hunch folks were burned out, tense, in need of some serenity. He thought about just doing an arts and craft thing for adults, a contemplative coloring time. It went over well and he set himself to the task of collaborating with some Pennsylvania illustrators and created this Coloring Advent, based on lectionary readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. There is nothing like that and his brief comments about the Biblical text — yes there are footnotes in a coloring book! — are beyond intriguing with his penchant for including lesser known feast days from the world Christian traditions, from Orthodoxy and Catholicism’s liturgical calendar. A thoughtfully arranged, annotated, ecumenical coloring book that follows the lectionary. His subsequent Coloring Lent and Coloring Women of the Bible are equally as fascinating and fun. Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book was created here in Dallastown and we are glad to list it here.
Chris Rodkey, by the way, just announced that he is running for Pennsylvania State Representative which would surely bring a unique (and competent) visionary voice to Harrisburg. You heard it here first.
Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas Jan L. Richardson (Wanton Gospeller Press) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
I have reviewed this artful seven-week book of meditations in the past, but perhaps not as often as I might. It had been first published by the United Church Press/Pilgrim Press and later the artist/writer Jan Richardson picked it up to re-issue out of her own studio. We are thrilled, always, to think of her, and we are happy to carry her other books (including the stunning grief narrative Sparrow and her artful and meditative poetry volume Cure for Sorrow and her evocative Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons.)
Night Visions, though, is where it started and is her most lavish and handsomely designed book which includes full color collage art and graphic touches, pull quotes and sidebars, all arranged on the glossy paper making this both classy and cool. And yet, as a “devotional guide for pilgrims” it is written to “usher quiet moments of introspection.”
As the back cover puts it, Night Visions “leads spiritual travelers on a journey through the Christmas season — from the horizons of Advent to the presence of Christ on Epiphany.” Do you need encouragement to sit, linger, tarry, ponder, wait, behold? This will help. Because, as Jan says, “something is on the horizon.”
All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Gayle Boss, with illustrations by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
I do hope you’ve seen our description of this in past Advent columns (and, also, my recommendation of their Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing.) Just yesterday Beth read a bit of this out loud and we were again in awe of the lovely writing and the very striking illustrations. It is just so darn nice, so moving, so evocative. This is really good, a fresh way into this time of year.
Here’s the thing: it isn’t about the Bible or the nativity, even. At first glance it isn’t very Christmasy at all (until the December 25th reading, unashamedly about Jesus the Christ.) We regularly list lots of books that are explicitly Christ-centered, Biblically-based, and gospel-oriented titles. This is more subtle, more common, but yet a grace.
Each reading is about an animal and how it prepares for hibernation or changes in temperatures as winter draws neigh. Yep, this is a reflection of natural history, a wonderful resource for families whose children like animals or for anyone who enjoys quasi-spiritual explorations of the natural world.
Boss explains it in the introduction clearly enough and it makes sense: this helps us understand the rhythms of God’s good creation and somehow offers a hint of — as the wonderful subtitle puts it — “The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.”
Before anybody posts some criticism of Hearts & Minds saying we’ve lost our moorings, allow me to remind you that the Bible says that the very creation speaks to us (Psalm 19:1-4.) It commands us in Job 12:7-8 to listen to the animals, the creatures (even the fish, so Biblical legalists really ought to read the entry on page 69 about Lake Trout.) Just saying, you know.
This is a wonderful and handsome book and it just might bring some quiet joy to somebody you know.
TWO SHORT ONES FOR SKEPTICS
I have often thought that the Christmas season is often a time to talk about the meaning of faith and the adventure of Christian discipleship. People gather, chat over holiday cheer, some even attend church in a once-a-year with extended families. I know at least one person who made a commitment to Christ during an eye-opening Christmas service that was unpacking the unfolding drama of Scripture and the meaning of the transforming power of the Kingdom of God. Maybe you can think of somebody to whom it would be appropriate to share one or two of the above books. They are hearing Christmas songs on the radio, after all — it’s the only time in the year where Christian truths are at least in air.
I am aware that foisting a book on somebody isn’t always appropriate. And I truly know that for many, disinterest in faith and discipleship is driven less by intellectual disagreements or even hard questions but just, well, apathy towards spiritual things. Some are understandably frustrated with church life (yet another topic) and some just need a renewal of imagination that Christianity matters and that God cares. They need a vision of meaningful discipleship and a warm welcome to be part of a community to which they can belong and friends with whom they can discover what Christ’s abundant life looks like. They need a better story to live.
Still, there are those few who have questions about the fundamental truthfulness of the Christian gospel. They, too, need a better story and a fresh imagination about the meaningfulness of living for Christ, but, first, they need to resolve some questions about if it is true.
Here are two great little books you can afford to give away to seekers and skeptics who need some intellectual answers showing that the too-often skeptical pablum of the History Channel can be answered with solid, reliable, answers.
Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Should Ask about the World’s Most Famous Story Rebecca McLaughlin (The Good Book Co.) $3.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $3.19
Perhaps you know McLaughlin (who holds a PhD from Cambridge) from her good book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion and her recent The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. She is sharp and clever and a fine writer. She gets the big issues that many fret about and she understands the skeptics concerns about whether there is historical evidence for the events that are so central to the gospel. Although it is not primarily a defensive book, but an invitation, she does discuss briefly the views of the likes of Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins and Steven Hawking, bringing in recent scholars such as Yuval Noah Harai (Sapiens.)
Happily she’s a fun writer, dropping insights from NASA scientists, Doctor Who, episodes of House and Broadchurch and Harry Potter…
The four questions McLaughlin succinctly explores in these small 60-some pages are:
- Was Jesus even a real person?
- Can we take the Bible seriously
- How can you believe in a virgin birth?
- Why does it even matter?
As Timothy Keller puts it, Is Christmas Unbelievable is “a highly accessible and crystal clear case for the historicity both of the written gospels and of Jesus Himself.”
The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger Lee Strobel (Zondervan) $2.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $2.39
I am sure you’ve heard of The Case for Christ, the breakout book edited by former journalist Lee Stobel who told of his own atheistic skepticism and what he learned while doing a major story for the Chicago Tribune ostensibly to prove that there wasn’t reliable evidence for Christian faith. After his rather dramatic conversion based on the evidence that he discovered he went on to compile other popular works of apologetics, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for Grace, The Case for Miracles and, most recently, his brand new The Case for Hope. We’ve got teen versions and kid’s versions and DVDs of most of these as well. With a Master’s Degree (in the study of law) from Yale, we can be glad that Lee is not only honest, curious, fun-loving, but super smart and a very clear writer.
The Case for Christmas is a nice mass market sized paperback about 100 pages long — ideal for anyone who wants a quick read offering a study based on archeology, messianic prophecies and more. It is excerpted from the larger (and quite detailed) The Case for Christ. He applies it to Christmas and is asking if it is plausible that the baby born matches what the ancient prophecies predicted. He talks about what he calls Eyewitness Evidence, Scientific Evidence, Profile Evidence, and Fingerprint Evidence. It’s logical, but nicely written with touches of warmth and evangelistic welcome.
His opening story about the faith of a very poor family in urban Chicago and the mother’s generosity and charity and trust and how it effected him is worth the price of the book; in a way, that love and trust and goodness, found most often among the marginalized, is a final apologetic.
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