Thanks for the comments about and orders from the last two BookNotes, our celebratory set of reviews of our favorite books of 2021. It’s bittersweet doing our annual “Best of…” lists, as a book lover and bookseller, wanting to describe these titles that have in some cases become part of our common vocabulary here (at least among Beth and me, and sometimes other who are good friends on the same page literarily.) We love telling about these, feel bad about leaving some out, and yearn for more orders coming our way. For almost 40 years we’ve eked out a living doing this work, and we’re glad for those who help us spread the word and who support our ministry here. We do wish some of the titles we honor were as popular as, well… you know. Both in the general market world and in the religious publishing industry there are a lot of best sellers that are at best foolish distractions and sometimes down right harmful.
There is a scene in No Cure for Being Human where fearless (and theologically trained) Kate Bowler, in the hospital after her latest round of awful cancer treatment, shuffles, with oxygen tank being carted alongside her, into the hospital bookstore and insists that some of these religious titles ought not be sold there. They offer untruth, promises of faith healing and the like and she was outraged that such theologically erroneous and dishonest books would be sold in a hospital of all places, where people are sick and dying. The book buyer for that shop, we presume, is clueless, and just stocking the best sellers there in the Bible Belt without discernment or an apologetic.
We try to offer some curated listings of and arguments for a variety of really good books, and, yet, other stores that don’t care about these things get much more business than we do, and books that Bowler rages against are on the bestseller list. Go figure.
Which leads us to this time of year when we focus on this hard, complicated stuff. The smudges of Ash Wednesday, the opportunity to stare more honestly into the face of our sin and need, the classic notions of penance and remorse and lament, the intention to make space for God to confess and get more serious about spiritual practices that facilitate our self awareness and our journey towards Jesus and his suffering — all of this flies in the face of zippy American religion. These Lenten resources may not be on the bestseller list, but, once again, here we are.
We will briefly list some new Lenten titles for use this next month or so and a couple of seasonal favorites from other years.
And then I will briefly list some hand-picked recommendations for Lenten reading that could serve you well this time of year, even if they are not directly about Lent.
You can always browse our archived BookNotes archives at the Hearts & Minds website. I put in key words “Lent” and “Lenten” and found some previous year’s posts, for instance HERE HERE, HERE and HERE. Many of those old titles are still in print, although the prices may have changed. Don’t hesitate to shoot us an email or hop on our inquiry page to ask about any of these.
We’ll do an Easter related BookNotes later, including some kids books for their Easter baskets. But, first, let’s journey to Jerusalem during this tim. of Lent.
15 NEW (OR FAVORITE) BOOKS FOR LENT
Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $23.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19
Perhaps you know the very big selling devotional by Tripp called New Every Morning or his many shorter books, either on Biblical counseling, or gospel-centered guidance for coping faithfully with practical, daily issues. He knows our good-but-fallen human condition and he truly knows how Jesus can transform us; the church is not primarily called to scold people into living more morally, but announce the good news hidden in our troubled lives: we know we need to be rescued and the Bible announces that that rescuer is here. So, we rely on His amazing grace to get us through, day by day.
Do you really want to know how this works, in fairly vibrant and historically orthodox language? (When I say orthodox, I do not mean Russian or Greek Orthodoxy, but just what Lewis called “mere Christianity.” Nothing new or odd, just what the hymn-writer called “the old, old story.”
Crossway makes a nice hardback book, with colored end papers and a hint of two color ink throughout. Nice type font, even. I like the feel of this one.
Paul Tripp has once again led us past feel-good platitudes and into focused, Christward reflection. Through tension and tenderness, lament and thanksgiving, the Lenten season will transform us when it leads us to the cross of Christ. — Ruth Chou Simons, author, Beholding and Becoming and GraceLaced
Like so many others, I have benefited richly, and for years, from the ministry and writing of Paul Tripp. This latest work is no exception. Journey to the Cross is a precious reminder–one worth returning to again and again–of not only the rich benefits we receive through Christ’s humiliation, death, and burial, but also of his dignifying invitation to properly lament the wrong that is in the world and the wrong that is within us. The season of Lent is a special, forty-day season to enable and empower God’s people to do just that, and Tripp has provided us with a remarkable roadmap for the journey. I can’t recommend this wonderful resource highly enough. — Scott Sauls, Senior Pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tennessee; author, Jesus Outside the Lines and A Gentle Answer
Lent in Plain Sight : Devotions Through Ten Objects Jill J. Duffield (WJJK) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
We featured this last year and it was popular; we sold during December her little Advent in Plain Sight: Devotions Through Ten Objects. This is solid Biblical exploration, creatively opened up by way of ten objects in the time of the Bible or the life of Jesus. These almost commonplace physical items (Dust, Bread, Cross, Coins, Shoes, Oil, and the like) are nice doorways into deeper Scripture reflection, spiritual insights, prayer and reflection. There are questions to ponder and a prayer of the day.
There are six chapters for Lent, there for Holy Week, and one for Easter (“Stones.”) Short, thoughtful, interesting.
Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
Readers of BookNotes know of our appreciation for this liberal Jewish New Testament scholar who has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We have heard her, appreciate her feisty style, commend her books and DVDs full of insights about the nature of first century Judaism, the context in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement got started. I hope you know her book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week which is one of her most popular titles.
(We also stock her recent The Difficult Words of Jesus: A Beginners Guide to His Most Perplexing Teaching, her study of the parables (Short Stories Jesus Told) and Advent one and her “Beginners Guide”) to the Sermon on the Mount. She co-wrote a scholarly commentary on Luke with the United Methodist scholar Ben Witherington, and she has some kids books. Last week at BookNotes I celebrated the important hardback volume The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently.
Anyway, with AJ’s famous wit and vast knowledge of Scriptures in their historical context, she’s a helpful, enthusiastic teacher. In this new one, Witness at the Cross, she is studying the history, social context, and substantive views about the cross through the eyes of those who were present.
Here is how the publisher describes it:
Experience Holy Friday from the perspective of those who watched Jesus die: Mary his mother; the Beloved Disciple from the Gospel of John; Mary Magdalene and the other women from Galilee; the two men, usually identified as thieves, crucified with Jesus; the centurion and the soldiers; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Jews and Romans, friends and strangers, the powerful and the powerless, the hopeful and the despairing. In Witness at the Cross, Amy-Jill Levine shows how the people at the cross each have distinct roles to play in the Gospels. For each, Jesus has a particular meaning and message, and from each, we learn how those meanings and messages cross the centuries to any who would come to the cross today.
Additional components for a six-week study include a DVD featuring Dr. Levine and a comprehensive Leader Guide DVD Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon) $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
DVD A Journey Through Lent: Reflecting Christ’s Sacrifice for Us: A Seven-Part Sermon Series from Timothy Keller & David Bisgrove (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church) $24.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96
Here are seven good sermons about Lenten practices, inspired by the Psalms, preached a few years ago (each about 40 minutes long, with one being 33 minutes) at Redeemer in Manhattan by these two lively and intellectually stimulating PCA pastors.
Once we discovered these DVDs through friends there, we tracked them down and are excited to be able to offer them here.
A Journey Through Lent: Reflecting Christ’s Sacrifice for Us: A Seven-Session Study Guide by Redeemer Presbyterian Church Tim Keller & David Bisgrove (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church) $9.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.96
Again, this study guide is not widely known as it was an in-house curriculum piece the Manhattan church put together (with the help of a reputable publishing house) to go along with a Lenten series on the Psalms that Tim and other pastors did a few years back. Once we discovered it through friends there, we tracked it down and are able to offer it, here. We are so glad to have these for sale at our discounted price.
This is a leader’s guide on 7 Psalms for 7 weeks of Sunday school classes or small group or person study. One doesn’t have to have heard the sermons, but for those that want to watch them, the DVDs are available from us, as shown above, DVD called (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church
A Journey Through Lent: Reflecting Christ’s Sacrifice for Us: A 40 Day Devotional by Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church) $4.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $3.96
This small book is a great daily devotional created for congregants at Redeemer to use during Lent to supplement the Sunday sermons and small groups hosted using the above resources. Of course one can use it without having watched the sermons or without the great study guide. It’s very nice, inviting us to ponder how to make our hearts ready for the remembrance of Jesus’s death and the celebration of his resurrection
A Busy Parent’s Guide to a Meaningful Lent Maria C. Morrow (Our Sunday Visitor) $16.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56
If there are any Roman Catholic parents out there, this is a must-have resource for approaching what some see as a nearly overwhelming season, one that is supposed to be meaningful and about which we are to be diligent, but which, often, ends up being less than what we’d wish for ourselves and our kids.
There are some very uniquely Roman Catholic insights and applications here — suggestions about novenas and guidance about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yet, it is so rich and full of Bible teaching offered in a clear plan for daily, achievable reading with daily practices, that almost any Christian could adapt this for their own liturgical and theological inclinations.
I love that this is for “busy parents” and is fairly quick, starting the day off with Scripture, reflection, and prayer. This is not for families to use together, but for the parents of families. As one mom put it, Maria offers “contagious confidence.”
Bitter & Sweet: A Journey into Easter Tsh Oxenreider (Harvest House) $22.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39
During Advent we promoted her Shadow & Light which was very popular, especially with younger, thoughtful evangelicals who may know her from her social media presence. Like that one, Bitter & Sweet is made with nice paper, handsome calligraphy and two color ink with some nice extra design touches. As we said about the Advent one, it is nicely done, smart and contemporary. She is fresh without being odd, honest and creative but with a fairly conventional evangelical orientation.
But here is what also 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 her taste in contemporary worship music is very smart and indie. She recommends tunes by The Brilliance, All Sons & Daughters, Porter’s Gate, Liz Vice, Sandra McCraken, Aaron Strumpel, even the Welcome Wagon. To see a Billy Graham quote and a suggestion of a Nina Simone song on the same page just delighted me. As did a recommendation by a song by gospel singer Cici Winans. So that is an creative touch and real gift.
Also, Ms Oxenreider has suggested some art pieces to look up and ponder — from a few medieval and renaissance suggestions to Fritz Eichenberg, a woodcut artist from the mid-20th century (often used by Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker) to contemporary artist Scott Erickson. That’s pretty great, too.
To have a older evangelical publisher like Harvest House do a book with church calendar charts and a chart on the historic seven deadlines sins and cardinal virtues, with quotes from Catholic saints and mystics (alongside one by Jamie Smith) framing the basics of Lent by the liturgical year is very nice.
Bitter and Sweet has a lot going on in it, and a lot in its favor. Yet it is simple to use and the graphics are nice but plain. Nothing gets lost in the pizzaz, and it’s easy to use.
Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week Jason Porterfield (Herald Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I was very pleased to write a bit about this when I did a list of books about peacemaking and the questions of violence a few weeks back. (With the awful war waged by Russia, now, it is that much more relevant and complex, eh?) I noted that Fight Like Jesus was a very good new book, refreshing the arguments for Biblical pacifism and nonviolent resistance. The title should be appealing to all who are Jesus followers, right? We are in His way, after all, and should do whatever we can in appropriately Christ-like ways. And, man, does Jesus ratchet up what that looks like in his last days.
I will never as long as I live forget the moment I realized that Peter was an old man writing his first epistle in which he references Jesus’s nonviolence in the garden, saying that we were called to this and it is an example to follow and how much regret the apostle must have been holding, all these years later, writing about the lesson he learned when Jesus rebuked him at one of his worst moments.
For another example, many of us have preached — I hope you have heard it — about the implications of Jesus riding a donkey (not a warhorse or royal steed as they would expect) on Palm Sunday to fulfill the anti-war prophecy of Zechariah.
Well, those are just a few of the lessons of Holy Week and to have them and many others explore so forthrightly and tied together in one major book is a treasure. I’m very excited about this new book, glad for its lively readability and its good attentiveness to the Bible in its wholeness. (He has a degree from Fuller, by the way, and there is a forward to this by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight.)
So many well known authors talk and write about the high esteem they have for the Bible (and look askance at those who they think do not) but as far as I can tell, they have never done this kind of solid work on this Biblical material. We all have blinders and miss stuff, so I’m very eager to commend Jason Porterfield for connecting dots, speculating a bit about what it all means, and preaching a full gospel message for those offs wanting to dwell in Holy Week a bit this Lent. Start it now —it’s easy to read, but just over 200 pages. Highly recommended.
A Time to Grow: Lenten Lessons from the Garden to the Table Kara Eidson (WJK) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
Wow, this is really nice, a short bit of Lenten devotion reading picking up on ecological themes and creation care and food and sustainability — directly as spiritual practice. From Eden to Gethsemane, of course, to the garden where Jesus was buried and raised, “our story of faith wanders through much fertile soil.”
As the back cover puts it, “But in our current world of fast-food and to-go meals, we often do not make time to explore where our food comes from and how we break bread together.”
This little volume invites us to slow down, to think about sowing and seeds and nurturing and cultivating, about gardens and food and feasting and fasting.
From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, there are ten chapters (one for each week of Lent and a few extras, like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday) with thought-provoking reflection or conversation questions. There is also a section for worship leaders who want to integrate some of these “garden to the table” themes into worship services.
Kara Eidson has worked in campus ministry and now is a United Methodist pastor in rural Kansas where she and her husband love spending time tending to their garden with their ten chickens and two goats.
What Were You Arguing About Along the Way? Gospel Reflections for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter edited by Pat Bennett, introduced by Padraig O’Tuama (Canterbury Press) $27.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39
You may have seen this when we did a book list of books about peacemaking, civility, conflict and the like a few weeks back. This is an excellent, new resource for preaching, pastoral care and personal formation, I think, emerging as it does from the Spirituality of Conflict Project created by Padraig O’Tuama (who has written many of the reflections.) This is a lectionary resource with an introduction for the gospel of the day, a commentary and reflection, some suggestions of ways to respond to the text and teaching, and a closing prayer. Nice.
What is so very unique about this collection of dozens of entries is that they are Bible based but the authors all draw on the work in reconciliation in places like Corrymeela, Iona, Place for Hope, Coventry Cathedral, Holy Island and other local church and community contexts. They are both Catholic and Protestant. The royalties from the sales of the book will support Corrymeela’s Public Theology Project.
Pat Bennett, by the way, is a writer and liturgist with a background in science and theology and is a member of the Iona Community. Padraig O’Tuama, as I hope you know, is a poet, writer, speaker and broadcaster (who curates and presents “Poetry Unbound” podcast from the On Being studios. He has been a leader in the peacemaking community, Corrymeela in Northern Ireland.
Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection Christopher Rodkey, with illustrations by Jesse & Natalie Turri (Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
I am happy to list this among our Lenten favs even though I suppose it isn’t for everyone. Back at the start of the adult coloring book craze a few years ago, Rev Dr. Rodkey, a neighbor, friend, and Dallastown UCC pastor (and local candidate for PA State Congress) 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 it 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. Wow.
His subsequent Coloring Lent, which also is rooted in Rev. Rodkey’s deep awareness of ecumenical theology and global feast days and which follows the lectionary is equally great. (And then he did one that is equally provocative and interesting but not lectionary based, Coloring Women of the Bible.) As I’ve said before, these are both fascinating and fun. Coloring Lent An Adult Coloring Book was created right here in Dallastown and we are glad to list it here.
Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing 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 Lent columns (and, also, my recommendation of their All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings which has been out a few years, also.) We continue to enjoy them both. It is hard not to be in awe of the lovely writing and the very striking illustrations. It is just so darn nice, so moving, so evocative. Wild Hope is really good, a fresh way into this time of year.
Here’s how we described it once before at BookNotes:
Well, this sequel and companion volume to All Creation Waits is very similar — with great, great writing, fantastic artwork (again, engravings or woodcuts) and a book laden with goodness and grace. The most obvious theme of this powerful Lenten book — environmental activist and literature prof Bill McKibben calls it “overpowering” — is the beauty and sorrow of endangered species.
As spiritual writer Christine Valters Paintner (founder of Abbey of the Arts) says:
Full of power and poignancy, love, and lament. Gayle Boss invites her readers to groan together with all creation in grief at the profound loss of species. Lament is a cry of truth-telling, and in her portraits of these exquisite creatures, we hear the necessary and devastating truth of what we are losing.
Carl Safina, ecologist, author of Beyond Words and Becoming Wild; MacArthur Fellow and founder of The Safina Center, writes:
Wild Hope is the only book whose table of contents alone gave me chills. Here’s the deal: the living world, life on planet Earth, is sacred. Author Gayle Boss yearns to show us that we live in a miracle. And she succeeds in showing us that we are not alone on this holy planet. This is a beautifully elegant, deeply excellent book, pursued by grace on every page, in every stunning illustration.
And listen to this endorsement from a first-class poet and Christian writer:
At first I wondered how a connection could be made between the Christian season of Lent and the human ravaging of Earth’s creatures in the wild. But Gayle Boss’s detailed, vivid accounts of an ark-full of wild lives in danger, as our climate changes, convinced and challenged me. In the stories, and with powerful woodcut images, the beauty of living wild beings is revealed to readers as designed and beloved of the Creator. – Luci Shaw, author, The Thumbprint in the Clay and Eye of the Beholder, Writer in Residence, Regent College
The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sister Wendy Beckett (IVP; $17.00OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
The Art of Holy Week: Meditations on the Person and Resurrection of Jesus Sister Wendy Beckett (IVP) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
Certainly one of our best selling Lenten devotions from the past has been The Art of Lent and we are thrilled that there is a somewhat shorter companion volume for Holy Week and Easter.
The thoughtful selections of classic paintings (some you will recognize, some you may not) coupled with a few contemporary ones by modern artists, brimming with Sister Wendy Beckett’s irrepressible wisdom and enthusiasm, these are just fabulous resources for your faith development and devotional life. They are small, almost square sized (6.2″ x 5.4”) so easy to carry and not too expensive.
As one reviewer noted about the Holy Week, one, “This little book explores the spiritual riches to be found in some of the world’s greatest paintings of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. Including thirty full-color masterpieces of Western art, this devotional will help you appreciate all that these paintings convey to the discerning eye.
Praying the Stations of the Cross: Finding Hope in a Weary Land Margaret Adams Parker & Katherine Sonderegger (Eerdmans) $21.99 OUR SALE PRICE $17.59
It isn’t every day that a major, world class seminary professors and theologians like Dr. Sonderegger does a daily devotional of this sort. (Her first two hefty theological volumes in a multi-book series on Systematics are excellent.) Here she offers deep and thoughtful guidance about this ancient practice that can “strengthen our awareness of God’s healing presence.”
Margaret Adams Parker is also a theological educator and she is also a visual artist and here offers excellent writing and remarkable woodcuts. (She has an afterword about the painstaking process of creating these pieces, some that first started as charcoal sketches.) They are powerfully striking. The process of these two well informed Protestant theologians collaborating (and some work previously done on their own) is itself a fascinating story. Their introductory chapter on visual art representations of Christ’s crucifixion is great and their history of the practices of “doing” the Stations of the Cross is very interesting, even inspiring. I’ve mentioned this one before, but felt like I should highlight it again. Highly recommended. As Bishop Michael Curry notes, “Here, the weary will indeed find refreshment, and those in need of spiritual nourishment will be amply satisfied.”
A profound and spiritual moving book. The practice of the Stations is opened up and made newly accessible in a fully ecumenical way. The pervading spirit of the Stations is removed from self-absorbed penitential practices and wonderfully enlarged by the mercy of Christ toward the sins and sorrows of the world. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the result is generous orthodoxy in action. — George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing) $24.00 This is a perennial title from Plough and matches nice their popular Advent collection, Watch for the Light
Here is what I wrote a while back at BookNotes:
This handsome hardback has brief readings from some of the world’s leading literary and spiritual writers, offering just enough meaty and aesthetically-rich writing to please and challenge anyone who wants to dip in to a more mature sourcebook. Bread and Wine (like its companion Advent volume, Watch for the Light) draws wonder-full excerpts from the likes of C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Philip Yancey, Jane Kenyon; from Frederick Buechner, Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry, Watchman Nee and Dorthy Sayers. How many books have such thoughtful excerpts of Tolstoy and Updike and Christina Rossetti, Fleming Rutledge, Martin Luther and Barbara Brown Taylor, Oswald Chambers and Alister McGrath. As you can see, this is really diverse, delightful, thoughtful; a publishing triumph pulling together such writers and thinkers, poets, mystics, evangelists. With each several-page excerpt linked to a brief Biblical text, Bread and Wine is a wonderful devotional that you will use for a lifetime.
12 GOOD BOOKS FOR REFLECTIVE READING THIS SEASON
Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Practices for the Broken, Ashamed, Anxious, & Afraid Kellye Fabian (NavPress) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I won’t say much about this here since I reviewed it at BookNotes note too long ago, then named it as a Best Book of 2021 (in our post last week) and, by the way, highlighted it at the 2021 Jubilee online bookstore that we did for that collegiate conference. It just seems so right to highlight a book that is honest about our hard human condition, and invites those who are broken or ashamed into this practice of being vulnerable before God. It seems a good time — Lent — to get real about all this in our own lives. I think Holy Vulnerability might just be what some of our readers might need most.
The first two chapters are about “absence” — our need, our unhelpful coping mechanisms, our fears. The next six are great spiritual practices, stuff to do, to live into, and prayers and suggestions for how to do this good stuff. The discussion questions are really good — robust, multi-layered, mostly safe but some poignant poking, too. They are themselves worth the price of the book and cheaper than going to a therapist. If you know we’re not okay, then consider this an invitation to a “deeper kind of wholeness.”
From Burnout to Beloved: Soul Care for the Wounded Healers Bethany Dearborn Hiser (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
If the Kelly Fabian book, above, strikes you as valuable, this, too, might be useful to use this time of year. This author is another woman who knows a thing or two about pain and hurt, about burnout and depression, and who longs for a better world, despite all. As we said in a lengthy review at BookNotes, this is a book about burnout from caring, written by a social worker who, as a woman of faith, cast her lot with the marginalized, the hurting, the poor and oppressed. My goodness, she has done good work befriending the outcaste and the needy. And, yet, through it all, she wonders — how much more can I do, how much more can I stand? Like a workaholic for the kingdom of God, she ended up exhausted, even plagued with what psychologists call ‘secondary trauma.’
The good, highly engaging book explores in wonderfully helpful ways how Bethany found spiritual renewal (along with some self-aware self-discovery) based on knowing, deeply, truly, that she was a beloved daughter of God.
Whatever your ministry area, leadership responsibilities or areas of service, I bet you know some of her struggles, and I am pretty sure you would benefit from a season of reflecting on what is going on, and how you, too, can recover an awareness of God’s great love. Wounded healer? Caregiver or just one who cares? You will be empowered by this book How about a Lenten practice of intentional soul care, perhaps aided by reading this so you might move “from burnout to beloved.”
Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Broadleaf Books) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I have raved before about this fascinating book by a Hearts & Minds friend, a world leader within the global church and a very thoughtful and entertaining writer. As Wes explains in this fascinating, captivating book, he was nurtured in (and continues within) a Reformed theological church tradition that tends to overstate our intellectual responsibilities to understand proper doctrine, to described in often head-spinning detail the systematic ways that theologians have explain the character of God, the nature of saving faith, the precepts of the Kingdom. Alas, as he has aged and experienced robust faith on every continent, he has become less enamored with the “head knowledge” (as important as it may be) and has searched for a faith of the heart, of the soul. One of the ways he has experienced this is by going on pilgrimages, including the famous El Camino trail in Spain.
Without Oars has stories and theology, Bible and more stories. It is mostly a memoir of his journey and in 10 chapters (about 160 pages) he invites us to step into a spiritual pilgrimage. Blurbs on the back are from the likes of the Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, red-letter activist Shane Claiborne, Franciscan Richard Rohr, and evangelical activist for Middle East peace, Mae Elise Cannon. What an array of good folks inviting us all to follow Wes on this leg of his colorful spiritual journey towards the Spirit’s mysterious work.
Even Silence Is Praise Rick Hamlin (Word/Thomas Nelson) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
I just started this and have found it to be remarkably clear-headed, nicely written, a fine introduction to the spiritual practices of solitude and silence. Meditation, if you will, Christian mindfulness, that stuff that comes from the ancients, like The Cloud of the Unknowing or many recent authors (George Keating or Basil Pennington, for instance, or Melvin Laird.) The phrase which is the title, “Even silence is praise” comes from Psalm 65:1.
Why are so many contemporaries carrying their yoga mats to their studios on Sunday morning? Why do so many have Zen apps on their phones, take mindfulness workshops, even at work? There are a lot of reasons for all of these cultural trends and Rick Hamlin (who has written several good and interesting books on prayer) does not despise or mock them. But he does wonder why we in the church haven’t done a better job helping our own people (not to mention the Zen and yoga crowd) to know about the hidden treasures of Christian meditation.
I love books like Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Silence and Solitude (and the deep, rich, trilogy by Martin Laird from Oxford, Into the Silent Land, A Sunlit Presence, and An Ocean of Light.) But this is not just an explanation of the mystery of it all but is nearly a guidebook. There are exercises and meditations, reflections and “moments” at the end of each chapter to process the content.
Hamlin is a longtime editor at Guideposts magazine and has had guest op-eds in the New York Times. I say that to suggest he is not a monk or a madman — hardly even a mystic. He’s a man who loves God, follows Jesus, and wants to help us “realize a new joy, contentment, and hope” even as we learn to practice the prayers sales of centering prayer and contemplative Christian meditation. Where even silence is praise.
Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $25.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00
We have celebrated this at our BookNotes newsletter and in recorded video book announcements, recently, for the CCO Jubilee conference. It is in Comer’s cool and breezy style, similar to his other popular books like The Ruthless Elimination ofHurry and God Has a Name and Garden City. Man, I like this guy a lot, his fun and hip style, the easy to read shorter paragraphs, and, yes, his Kingdom vision of a culturally engaged faith where we are serving God in the real world.
And this is his most meaty, his most challenging, and one that I really was captivated by. It is perfect for Lent, even though I do not recall him using the word. It is about, to use an older theological language you don’t hear much any more, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
(A little aside that a few of our readers might care to know: I was impressed that he spent a page or two trying to clarify the tension of Paul’s language of “spiritual warfare” with the nonviolent teachings of Jesus. I don’t know if Comer is a principled pacifist, but he clearly is paying attention to how Jesus denounces violence, and so to write about spiritual warfare, even as a metaphor, he had to take a few pages to ponder that, to make sure readers don’t misunderstand. I liked how he struggled with this, actually, and applaud his efforts to come up with a satisfactory approach using the Biblical language without being glib or cavalier. Good for him!)
I think when I announced this before I quoted Rich Villados, who really knows good books:
John Mark Comer is a gift to the church. He writes with adept cultural nuance, theological savvy, and refreshing spiritual depth. In Live No Lies, he’s taken on a multilayered, ancient topic and brilliantly rearticulated it for our generation. This is a gem. — Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship and author of The Deeply Formed Life
In a time where deception seems to have settled upon the land like a dense fog, Live No Lies offers us a clearing to see how we have been deceived, to learn how we deceive ourselves, and to flee from the one who deceives. An essential guide for discernment in our contested age. — Mark Sayers, leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia, and author of a number of books including Disappearing Church and Reappearing Church
J Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life Paul Miller (Crossway) $22.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39
I know that many aren’t used to reading applied theology, deeper teaching about how dying with Christ and rising with Christ really effects us. But, I’m telling you, Lent might be the perfect time to embrace some intentional study, slowly working through this material for a month. Some serious churches have teaching sermons and workshops and lectures on this sort of thing, but most do not. So I applaud this fine work for forging into some deeper waters, trying to see how some fairly complex theological truths play out in the real world.
Miller is a fine writer, a man we’ve heard and appreciate. He has a spectacular book on prayer, a good book on loving like Jesus did, and a really good little study on the book of Ruth. This is his most thorough book and he is utterly gospel gobsmacked, fascinating with how the salvation offered by Christ is not just a “once and done” ticket to heaven but also — in the lingo of the old timers, “sanctificaiton.” That is, as Luther put it, we “preach the gospel to ourselves” and thereby remind us of God’s love, Christ’s empowering righteousness given to us, etc. etc.
This, though, is a bit more than even that, a formulation for how the transforming truths of God’s atonement help change us from the inside out. No, this goes in a Lenten direction, it seems to me, of us joining Christ in his death. The Bible says that over and over (and some of our more liturgical churches recite it as creed.) Paul calls it the J curve.
We go down, (the left downward swoop of the J and then, in that good ascending bar on the right, we move upward with Him.) Our oneness with Christ is not just a nice and pleasant union, because we are unity with a Lord who died. Which is to say, the J Curve is about suffering.
As Miller says, though: “the J-curve roots our hope, centers our love, and tethers our faith to Christ.” Wow.
Here is a striking recommendation by Joni Eareckson Tada, one who has suffered much and who knows Jesus well:
Never have I read a more practical work on how a Christian can flourish through deep affliction. This book will revolutionize the way you look at your sufferings and your relationship with Christ.
Christ the Life: A Gospel Psalm Thomas K. Martin (Paraclete) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
Thomas Martin is described as a literary artist. I might say that means he is a good writer, an artful author, maybe poetic, even if he is doing prose. And this seems right for this scholar of Renaissance literature (and chair of the English Department of Wheaton College.) Wheaton’s English department has a certain reputation for entertain in solidarity many classy Christian writers — I think of their friendship Frederick Buencher and Madeleine L’Engle and, of course, they did a major symposium (and published a book) out of their time with Pulitzer Prize winner, Marilynn Robinson. In any case, Martin is a word artist.
And here, he writes remarkably poetic ruminations of the life of Christ. Each page offers a Biblical text at the top, and he runs with it, writing artfully a prose-poem, meditative, sermonette to paraphrase the passage with beauty and grace.
Christ the Life isn’t exactly a full on biography of Jesus and it isn’t really a paraphrase of the gospels. It is almost like a set of poems directly inspired by the Biblical text, but I do not think the author or publisher intends to call these poems.
Here is how some other literary scholars with good eyes and ears describe it. They do it much better than I ever could:
Christ the Life is replete with rough-hewn fragments, like the quick notes of a man entranced by a vision and needing to get it all down, gradually, echo by echo and image by image. These rise into the full music of wonder and praise. –Thomas Gardner, author of John in the Company of Poets
It is an intellectual and spiritual joy to read Martin’s poems, but ‘The Life’amazes by the way it incarnates timeless complexity into realist simplicity, subtle nuances tensed to surprise the reader. Among its principal strengths are the embedded allusions providing a parallel contextual bridge between the Old and New Testaments, just as Christ does in the Gospels. Incarnational words crystallize a connection between past and present (the simultaneous, paradoxical present of Jesus and the reader) and a future union. Whatever audience it receives here, I’m reminded of what Gerard Manley Hopkins said about Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode: that there is a greater appreciative audience in heaven… —Steve Blakemore, Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Florida Atlantic University
Some commentaries on the life of Christ drown in jargon even as they attempt to be relevant, or obscure in historical arcana as they pursue some new theological speculation. Tom Martin’s subtle and stirring The Life recreates the story of Jesus for readers as its meditative, literary language puts them back in first-century Palestine. What might be long familiar scenes come to life in fresh language that delivers the original’s power, poignance, and pathos. The images are unforgettable and the spiritual insight invigorating. Somewhere, George Herbert is smiling. — Duke Pesta, Associate Professor of English Literature, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope Amy Julia Becker (Herald Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is a brand new book and I intend to spend more time with it myself — do you ever have one of those moments in a bookstore or library and you think, “This book is calling out to me.” This could be one of those moments. I’m sure I’m not alone in needing to ponder some deeper truths (in an upbeat and well-written way) about what healing is and isn’t, what health and wholeness looks like in these hard days, what it means to be well. (The day this book arrived I was listening to an old Mark Heard song where he sings the passionate plea, “I just want to be well.” The song is “I Just Want to Get Warm” from his poignant folk-rock album Second Hand. I wondered if it was a sign.)
So, yes, don’t we all wanna get well. And don’t we need a gentle guide, a thoughtful writer, one attuned to various issues and aspects of our hurts and unwellness. A decade ago Becker wrote a very good book on having a child with disabilities called A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny and more recently, a wise and tremendously written work called White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege. She is the calibre of thinker and so good at her craft of writing that she ended up in the top-drawn anthology (one of our Best Books of 2021) Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year (co-edited by Comment magazine’s Anne Snyder and Plough’s Susannah Black. I say all this to establish her credentials in our view, as a thinker, lay theologian, and excellent writer. She has a bi-vocational license to pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church
There are at least three things I am excited about in To Be Made Well. First is her solid understanding of Scripture; as an evangelical who studied at Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary she has done her homework; she knows her way around Bible and theology. I’m eager to see how she approaches healing narratives and explores “restoration” (a word she uses in several chapters.)
Secondly, I am eager to see how she exposes what the chapter titles suggest are “barriers” — barriers of distraction, shame, anxiety, and status. Wow.
In this Lent, I’m interested in how she weaves together four final chapters on healing of body, spirit, community and society. I only know one serious book on healing that has a section on “social healing” and I’m very glad to see this wholistic and multidimensional perspective.
As the back cover nicely says, “For anyone facing pain of loss, for anyone concerned about the things that divide us, this book goes beyond wellness and beyond miraculous physical transformations to explore how we can — personally and collectively — be made well.” And, as she notes, how, in so doing, we can ourselves become agents of healing.
Timely, practical, and full of hope, To Be Made Well is a beautiful offering for our weary, splintered, and hurting world. — Vivian Mabuni, author, Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God
A Wilderness Zone Walter Brueggemann (Cascade) $21.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80
This isn’t a conventional daily devotional — a bit more meat than that, I’d say —but a bit less demanding than some of the hefty collection of Brueggemann essays. Each of 20 chapters offers a Biblical reflection applied to a contemporary social issue. Or, maybe, a contemporary social concern explored in light of Biblical teaching, as Brueggey sees it, at least. This will be generative and thought-provoking, get you into serious Bible reflection, with a heart of the brokenness of our hurting world.
I’ll skip the many accolades and recommendations from a wide cast of predictable suspects, and let Walt tell you what he’s doing here:
In these several pieces I have worked to trace out possible interfaces between specific scripture references and matters at the forefront of our common social life. It is my hunch that, almost without fail, such an interface creates a very different angle of vision for any element of our common social life, because it situates such a topic in the context of the biblical narrative that is occupied by the holy agency of God. Such an alternative angle of vision helps to defamiliarize us from our usual discernment according to the master narrative of democratic capitalism that is most widely shared across the spectrum of conservatives and progressives. Because our common angle of vision shared by progressives and conservatives has a very low ceiling of human ultimacy, we (all of us!) easily come to think that our particular reading of social reality is absolute and beyond question, even if dominated by a tacit ideology. It is my bet that an interface with biblical testimony can and will deabsolutize our excessive certitude and permit us to look again at the social “facts” that are in front of us. I do not think and do not suggest that such interfaces with scripture are inevitable; they are rather suggestive, impressionistic, and fleeting, the kind of linkage that is available in the matrix of faith that is not fixed on certitude.
Hey, will you, dear reader, do me a favor? Read that again. Or at least those last two sentences, where he says:
It is my bet that an interface with biblical testimony can and will deabsolutize our excessive certitude and permit us to look again at the social “facts” that are in front of us. I do not think and do not suggest that such interfaces with scripture are inevitable; they are rather suggestive, impressionistic, and fleeting, the kind of linkage that is available in the matrix of faith that is not fixed on certitude.
He is suggestive, yes, but I’m pretty sure he’s fairly sure about a lot of this. He’s got that prophetic imagination, ya know. This is a great new book and I commend it for your reflection.
White Lies: Nine Ways to Expose and Resist the Racial Systems That Divide Us Daniel Hill (Zondervan) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79
Isn’t it odd that just a few years people were in the streets, usually peacefully, raising awareness about consistent, routine police brutality, seemingly, often, due to race, and other systemic matters of racism in our land and world, and now, many have moved on. Many white Christians have moved to good activism and ongoing education, and we’re grateful to see allies in the ongoing struggle. Older folks and newer ones brought things to the table from a variety of perspectives and cultures and theological traditions. Good, good, books keep on coming [more on that in a future BookNotes] despite some pretty reactionary foolish ones.
Maybe this Lent we should refocus our waning attention on what many committed themselves to a year and a half ago: reading, learning, deepening empathy and awareness. Maybe this Lent some of us (myself, certainly) might “give up” the notion that we know enough about all this racism stuff.
Daniel Hill wrote in 2017 a very good, honest, insightful book called White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White. I liked it in part because he is such an earnest, thoughtful, even fairly woke white evangelical; not a beginner, but admitting there is a lot to learn about white privilege. Dan explained how he eventually realized that he, despite his good intentions, needed to settle down and learn more cross-cultural stuff — heart and soul, mind and skills — if he was going to be successful in his efforts to be a multi-ethnic ministry leader. And that included considering some of what we call privilege. White Awake was a very nice introduction to all that.
Then, he did White Lies and my sense is that it was not used as much, not as well-received. That it was issued in a more costly hardback was part of it, that it had a more assertive, in-your-face title maybe didn’t help. And there was Covid. We were so derailed that we hardly mentioned it at BookNotes, and I’ve felt bad for a year.
It now strikes us that this is a great Lenten read, even a good book club study for a time such as this. It isn’t an utter downer, not laden with guilt or regret. The subtitle gives it the upbeat, feisty feel it has — these are nine things to do, to work on. Ways to “expose and resist” these diabolic institutional forces that hurt us. Daniel Hill is a saint, here, honorable and helpful, and he invites us white folk along with him on this next step of the journey. Maybe this could be your next step, too.
Aside from the meticulous research and copious real-world examples, what makes White Lies so compelling is that its author speaks with integrity. Hill is doing the work of confronting the temptation to believe ‘White lies’ in his own life and in his ministry as the pastor of a justice-oriented, racially diverse church. If you’re ready to take the next step in the journey of racial justice, then you must read White Lies.— Jemar Tisby, author, The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism.
This book has given me biblical language and spiritual strategy for the dismantling of White supremacy in my life and also in the world around me. As a Christian, I walked away from this book full of hope that heaven is in this with us and we have been given enough grace through Jesus Christ to engage, learn, and listen. Daniel Hill has written a book that reminds me at every turn of the page that what feels impossible for us to overcome is possible with God. — Kristene DiMarco, worship leader and Christian recording artist
Daniel Hill has done it again. In White Lies, he offers perceptive analysis, a pastoral heart, and an ability to mark a path forward… I believe this book will serve as an important catalyst to reframe the work of justice and reconciliation and to move us to be the kind of people God calls us to be in the world.– Rich Villodas, lead pastor, New Life Fellowship, and author of The Deeply Formed Life
You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World Alan Noble (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
I needn’t say much more about this book and its wonder — so well written, so thoughtful, a bit challenging, provocative, and certainly a terrific balanced book that brings the joys of spiritual insight and cultural criticism. This rich work draws on ancient creeds and texts that remind us that we are not our own, that we belong to God. But — ahhh, here is where it gets tricky. The social imaginaries and worldviews of our time (conservative or liberal) all seem to assume some sort of individualism. For some it is more blunt and rugged, for others it is more genteel as we exercise our freedom to be whatever we want, do our thing, But either way, this assumption of that we are the captain of our ship, as the old warhorse poem put it (or, that “You’re not the boss of me” as the TV show put it) just doesn’t carry carry adequate weight. We cannot bear it. No man is an island, as Donne said, and that’s just the start. We are in this together, and God is in charge.
I don’t know if that radical deconstruction of the Western creed works for you, but it is one of the truest things that can be said and one of the most urgent in the early years of our century. Alan Noble is saying what needs to be said and we all need to learn it well. Lent is a time of reconsideration and repentance and now might be the time to take this up. Read it.
Tish Harrison Warren, and good thinker and writer says it is eloquent and perceptive; Karen Swallow Prior says it is “astonishing in its breadth” (“and even more remarkable for its compassionate and practical wisdom.”)
Duke Kwon writes:
Using one of the most beautifully articulated truths in creedal history as its guide, You Are Not Your Own examines one of the great sicknesses of our age –the soul-crushing malady of self-belonging. With the learnedness of a professor, the meticulousness of a tutor, and the empathy of a friend, Noble guides the reader through crucial questions around personhood, identity, and meaning. And he does so in a manner that is at once exposing and healing for those exhausted (and seduced) by modern life. Importantly, this book offers more than cultural insight and a Christian anthropology; it offers much needed hope, not by commending religious techniques that only add to the burdens of self-optimization, but by commending Christ —t he one to whom alone we must belong. Here is a book that is penetrating, accessible, convicting, and in the end, hopeful.
Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the EarthDebra Rienstra (Fortress Press) $23.99OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19
The creation groans, as it says in the mostly hopeful, beautifully resurrectionary Romans 8. But groan it does, and groan we all do, each in our own way. Some of us more than others, perhaps.
We have a recent book, edited by an acquaintance of my daughter, called Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church by Hannah Malcolm (SCM Press; $25.99) and that, too, might be a collection of stories and readings to tide you through these groaning days. There is much to lament.
But, to be honest, this Refugia Faith, that we highlighted a few weeks ago, is *the* book to read and recommend, a beautifully written, deeply wise, caring, Biblically faithful reflection on places of refuge, of the “ordinary wonders” of this good Earth, of what the healing of the planet might look like. As we noted at BookNotes, Rienstra is a writer and English professor (at Calvin University) and has worked hard to have her own imagination and views of her work shaped by Scripture and her Reformed faith.
We have sold a number of these and more than one satisfied customer went out of their way to write to say it is one of the best books they’ve ever read. It is tragic but hopeful, sad but gorgeous, gentle and radical. There are stories and reflections and nature writing and plenty of good words to help you process the groaning of all things as we anxiously await rebirth. Not exactly a Lent book, but, hmmmm: maybe it really is.
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