You know sometimes when awards shows on TV get long, and they have to shorten some of the speeches? It feels a bit distracting, counting down how much time is left, and yet you know there’s some great (even important) awards to celebrate. And some good comments, maybe some surprise fun.
Welcome to the third installment of the Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2022. I’m going to try to keep it brief so we can get this thing wrapped. I’ve noted before my ambivalence about declaring my own personal favs “the best” but there it is. We invite you to consider these titles, knowing how I value them. Please take in my short acceptance speeches on their behalf (since, well, the authors and publishers can’t be with us – they don’t even know about this.) I get to say why they matter to me and hopefully why they might matter to you.
Scroll through to the end in order to see them all — you’ll find the order button at the very bottom. That takes you to our secure Hearts & Minds order form page which you can easily fill out. Be sure to notice the section asking how you want them sent.
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In the meantime, know that you are the best, reading as you do. Kudos to authors, publishers, sales reps, delivery guys, our hard working team here at the shop, and — perhaps most importantly — you, the readers, the heroes of the story.
20 MORE OF MY VERY FAVORITE BEST BOOKS OF 2022. Part Three.
Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
My advanced copy of the manuscript is marked up and I knew, even as I was enthralled last summer, that it would be on my list of favorite reads and most important books. It is readable, breezy, in a way, but deadly serious. It’s hard to explain how a book about such unpleasant stuff — the sexual abuse perpetrated by Ravi Zacharias, say, or the loony wealth of some hip, young, megachurch stars, or the shenanigans of some popular authors and their ghost writers — can be mostly enjoyable and very exciting. But it is and I seriously recommend it.
Publishers Weekly gave it a coveted “starred review” and said it is “required reading for all who love the church.”
It is not a book filled with gossip or mocking the obviously mockable. Such an approach would perhaps stand in the tradition of the prophets, maybe event use harsh satire, to expose the foolishness that passes within the Christian community today. But this is not that, just so you know.
Celebrities for Jesus is a study of how, as the subtitle suggests, too-often profit-driven creation of celebrity has afflicted the contemporary church. She does some history, some asset observations about the notions of celebrity, and makes extraordinary analysis of what Joni Mitchell once called the “star making machinery.”
I’ve said more about this here and many have complimented Katelyn on her honest, and even vulnerable, expose. Fame and power and maybe even wealth are not necessarily bad, but many — especially within the evangelical subculture — have a fixation on celebrity. She worries about the consequences of such social power without proximity (and sounds like a modern-day Eugene Peterson at times.) The lust for fame and the promotion of platforms has really gone awry in many ways, and this brave book calls us to faithful spirituality, mature theologically grappling with our postures towards culture. Her stuff on the book publisher world was, for this book lover, eye opening and yet utterly familiar. As one who works in Christian publishing she brings the details about what many have had hunches for years.
Stupendously convicting and well-researched. Celebrities for Jesus provides a timely, sober reflection on the toxic culture that often arises when piety and popularity mix. — Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism
Beaty brings knowledge and insights that will help anyone wanting to disentangle their faith from celebrity culture. But, even more than this, she offers an honest, humble self-examination that is a model many of us in the church need to follow. — Karen Swallow Prior, professor, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books
Unruly Saints: Dorthy Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Times D.L. Mayfield (Broadleaf Books) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
Speaking of celebrities, here is a book about one who was, at her height of fame, incredibly well known in the Roman Catholic community, at least, and a radical inspiration for a rising generation of socially engaged young evangelicals, from Jim Wallis to Shane Claiborne. But, having committed to voluntary poverty and living, often, with the homeless and guests at her houses of hospitality, she mostly avoided the allure of fame and leveraged her influence for the sake of the poor. She was, as the title of this splendid biography puts it, unruly.
This book is somewhat of a memoir by the excellent writer and honest thinker D.L Mayfield, who wrote a previous memoir-like account of her work with refugees. She cares about people, wants to serve the outcasts, and desires, deeply to be found faithful by Jesus. Like Day, Mayfield is confounded that many don’t take Jesus all that seriously when He gives direct command to care for the poor and work for peace. Day was an unruly saint, indeed, in part because of her love for God and her following the ways of Jesus.
This may be my favorite biography of Day. Or at least my favorite short one.(For the record, for a longer one, Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century is doubtlessly the best.) Unduly Saint, though, is fiery, fun, interesting, telling of the evangelical Mayfield’s own discovery of Dorothy. She tells Day’s story with energy and seriousness, inviting us all to take her life and message seriously. Dorothy’s old friend and former managing editor of the Catholic Worker, Robert Ellsberg, has a nice forward.
If you don’t know much about Dorothy Day and her dramatic life, you owe it to yourself to discover her and this is a great way to read a bit about her. A prefect choice, actually. If you do know Day, then you’ll love this. Lisa Sharon Harper calls it “a gift to the world.” Right on.
Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World And How to Repair It All Lisa Sharon Harper (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
How can I not list this — it was one of the most memorable books I’ve read in years and a powerful example of a personal memoir with a social vision. There are tender moments, passionate stories, historical details with the constant backdrop of the barbarism of enslavement hovering. But yet, angering as it is to read about the mistreatment of real families of real people we care about (like Lisa, an author we admire and true friend) Fortune isn’t morose. It’s a fascinating and engaging read and we name it as one of the very best books of 2022.
You may recall a week or so ago I announced the “award” we gave to Amina Perry for her South to America. That was a massive work that I couldn’t put down but throughout I kept wondering if she knew Lisa’s book. I’m sure Lisa knows hers.
Jamar Tisby is right that this is “nothing less than an epic and true story of race, religion, history, and identity.” She is what Ruby Sales calls “a masterful storyteller” and we were thrilled to read about her own generational research, the DNA research, the documents she found, the oral histories. Ending with a solid vision of restoration and repair, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World and How to Repair It All is a great, great book.
Plain: A Memoir of a Mennonite Girlhood Mary Alice Hostetter (University of Wisconsin Press) $26.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.56
I have pondered this, wondering why I was so very drawn, reading it non-stop one long Sunday afternoon. I wanted to just dip in a bit and found myself deeply captivated by this story of a Lancaster County farm girl in a fundamentalist family near a town we know well. There are farm chores and animals and a mostly loving, large family and there are revivalist preachers and end times scares. She is embarrassed by her plain style (and there is a chilling scene in which a public school teacher mocked the pacifism of Mennonite and Amish fathers who did not fight in World War II.) It is a gentle story, told fairly simply, and I kept turning the pages.
There are scenes central Pennsylvanians will understand well. She worked at Plain and Fancy for a while and talks easily about the Lincoln Highway, and there are scenes that only some will understand — the feelings she experienced in her first foot washing service was exquisitely told.
I turned the pages in part because I knew what was coming; Plain is part of a series by this publisher offering the stories of LGTBQ writers and while Hostetter’s sexual longings are not explored very much at all, it is a fabulous story of a person’s religious identity, belonging and not, of difference, and how her extended family coped with several families members moving away from the closed-knit community.
Actually most of the story is more generally about Mary Alice’s faith and lifestyle choices — she attends a Presbyterian church for a while (gasp!) and wears fashionable outfits as she teaches school and develops friendships in the upscale Philadelphia main line. She returns to the family farm often (and at least once a year to receive communion at the small country church) so this is not a story of family animosity or religious exclusion. But she is not a rigorous Anabaptist (and perhaps not a rigorous Christian at all; it is unexplored.) She leaves teaching, moves to Appalachia and helps restore an impoverished small town in a classic West Virginia holler.
When near the end of the book she writes to her strict, religious father — in his 95th year and by now in a Mennonite nursing home, having long lost the beloved farm — to share about her lesbian partner, he pondered it a bit and came to conclude that it shouldn’t tear apart a family. If only all such memoirs ended that well. I had tears in my eyes as I finished it, quiet as it was, and then wanted more. Some say that is the sign of a truly great read.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind – with a New Preface & Afterword. Mark A. Noll (Eerdmans) $28.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19
This anniversary edition, a reprinted volume with a new long preface and a solid afterword, is, as was the 1994 original, nothing short of brilliant. I devoured the new introduction and that afterward, wondering how Noll would frame this re-issue of the “prescient, perennially relevant, award-winning” book.
He has to revisit the question about whether or not we’ve had much progress away from the scandal of evangelical anti-intellectualism. He has to ask if his project — as historian and uniquely Christian scholar — is still urgent. Oh my, yes, yes, it is.
Of course he laments the way in which the very word “evangelical” has come to mean something somewhat other than it once did. With MAGA idolatry and alt-right ideology, for some, evangelicalism is a far cry from the robust, wholistic, Christ-centered, Christian worldview it once was. He struggles with that and his brief introduction is well worth the price of the book.
I trust you know the importance of this major work, one that I’d list as a key title showing some of why Hearts & Minds was started and what we are trying to be and accomplish. It means a lot to me, and I’d say it is one that is every bit as timely now as before. I was glad that, unlike many books we promote, this was, in the 1990s, reviewed in The New York Times and Commonweal and taken seriously in many places. CT named it their Book of the Year and Os Guinness said evangelicals should “finish it on their knees.”
Here are some others who have shared their story of why the new edition is so important.
More than a quarter century ago, Mark Noll issued a scathing indictment of the evangelical mind. The fact that the scandal has only intensified since then is a testament both to the depth of the problem Noll identified and the urgent need to revisit its causes and reconsider its remedies at this critical juncture of evangelical history. — Kristin Kobes du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne
This book changed my life. Like countless others who grew up in the thick of the scandal, I found Noll’s ‘cry de coeur on behalf of the intellectual life’ at once revelatory and convicting. In this new edition Noll tackles the post-2016 landscape head on, considering whether ‘the evangelical mind’ is in fact an oxymoron — and ensuring in the process that this book will remain a must-read for decades to come. — Heath Carter, coeditor Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism
The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
I honor this one of a kind book even as it is designed to honor the Kingdom work of PCA pastor and cultural thought leader, Tim Keller. Agree or not with all of Keller’s theology or analysis or, now, global church-planting networks, there is little doubt that he is one of the finest evangelical public intellectuals of our time, fluent in philosophy and cultural studies, the arts, and political discourse. He’s a gentleman scholar, not an activist, and, in that, it seems he has been faulted a bit by those in the academy (he’s not a professional scholar) and by those who are in the streets, doing gritty work of visiting prisoners and protesting injustice.
He has been a fabulously interesting church planter in an era when there were few seriously evangelical churches in Manhattan and his emphasis on thoughtful messages, cultural engagement, and foregrounding the call to think Christianly about work, has all been a distinctive mark of his presence in New York. Many have modeled their own common good ministries for their cities after his own teachings about nurturing a sense of place and a passion for the public square.
There is an eagerly awaited major biography coming soon (Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation by Collin Hansen, to be published next month by Zondervan; $26.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59) and we are taking pre-orders for it. I am very eager to see it, and hope to review it before long. For now, though, I seriously hold up this excellent 2022 resource as perhaps the best book we have seen — perhaps that we will ever see — about the character, pastoring, faith, and service of Tim Keller.
As I said in my first review at BookNotes earlier this year, The City for God is a collection of nearly 20 essays by friends, co-workers, colleagues and writers who admire Keller’s life and work. There is theology, spiritual formation, testimony, Biblical study, and lots of great stories. Even if you know little about this Reformed advocate for culturally-astute ministry and even if you don’t know the names in this collection, nearly every one is fabulous. You can read them in nearly any order and I am confident that you will be blessed, challenged, informed, and inspired. It is one of the Best Books of 2022 and a great example of how to write in the vein of, on the shoulders of, and alongside the work of Keller and Redeemer. Kudos, all.
Eighth-Day Discipleship: New Visions for Faith, Work, and Economics Richard H. Bliese (Fortress) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
I do not want to have our honoring of this good book sound like insider-baseball, as they say, suggesting it is only for those already involved in the wide-spread faith and work conversation. Sure, there is a movement these days, networks of ministries, equipping centers, podcasts and support groups and study materials. We have one of the larger collection of books on sale on this topic, anywhere, so I’m a bit skeptical when there appears yet another book on serving God in the work-a-day world, on living into and out of our visions of vocation. I’m glad, but not burning to read one more.
And then I decided I really should pick up Eighth-Day Discipleship and I was hooked. He is a solid Lutheran leader who has served the church in many creative ways He does, indeed, bring a fresh perspective and it is alway good when mainline denominational presses release books about discipleship. But this is not just a rehash of the importance of congregants taking their faith into their careers and callings, not just another study of marketplace mission. I was enthralled by Bliese’s integration of such a wide array of sources. I was glad that he not only cites some well-known Reformed insights (yep, he cites Abraham Kuyper) but also on elements of Luther’s Catechism.
We are glad for a book which has so many interesting folks endorsing it from a wide spectrum of church settings. I like that it not only invites personal faith that is applied to Monday work contexts but also looks at economics and the principalities and powers that deform our systemic and structural social lives. I like that he isn’t pessimistic about that, but does call for a moral framework for thinking about big, economic questions. I appreciate his creedal perspective and his bit about an “eight sided church” is great. I like his faith, his hope, his love.
Lutherans really need this, but, to be honest, maybe those less familiar with the nuances of Lutheran catechism might like it even more.
Blood From a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead Adam McHugh (IVP) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
When I announced this at BookNotes earlier this fall I was hurrying, I’m sure. We had just got a stack of these in, maybe a bit early, and I wanted to shout about it. I looked at the table of contents, saw the rave reviews on the back, got a sense that it was clever and a good, redemptive story, and highlighted it. We sold a few and I was glad.
Now that I’ve read almost all of it I can say it is truly one of the most enjoyable and enthralling books I’ve read all year. I’m so excited about this and without giving too much away, I’ll say just a few quick things to try to convince you to join me in celebrating this amazing book, which was, I gather, a long time in coming. What a story!
McHugh was a college pastor, then a PCUSA clergyman, and then a hospice chaplain. He lost that job and then was re-hired, on the graveyard shift. For a rather melancholy guy (who also wrote the remarkable Introverts in the Church) with some major ill-content (and a marriage on the rocks) working with the dying in the middle of the night, night after night, was not, as they say, a good fit. He was literally dying inside.
And, seriously, he writes about this morose stuff with a fabulous vocabulary, a fine sense of humor, amazing wit, and, well, a little bit of mouthy attitude. I’m not sure I’ve seen this sort of, uh, colorful language in an IVP book before but I have to admit it tickled me. His writing was so moving about his near-despair that I nearly got weepy, and then he had me laughing right out loud. Or rolling my eyes when a joke was a bit much or just didn’t land right. But mostly, the writing is just wonderful, a gift, a generous gift. It is a really entertain read — just about the most fun I’ve had reading all year, which maybe says something about me, I suppose.
And then “the corkscrewing tale of how I got to Santa Ynez” — where he now works as a wine tour guide — begins in earnest. He goes on a fabulous trip to the wine country of Southern France and one learns not only about vines and terroir, and castles and medieval religious conflicts and religious orders, but also Van Gogh and soil and place and love and hope. It’s a great couple of chapters and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying the ride, even as you learn so much about the French countryside and the wine it produces.
After France he ends up back in California and learns more about the good gift of wine, about friendship, about place. There’s so much interesting here as his story unfolds, as he teaches from the Bible and from wine history, even as his own vocation is being clarified. (His reflections on the emotional constraints of a pastor, and the joys and hardships of working with the dying are honest and fantastic!) He has to say no to, and has to grieve the loss of, some old identities and welcome some new stuff, which he gets off his chest even in the writing; it is so palatable.
Blood From a Stone is a marvelous book, about wine history, about McHugh’s life, about faith and doubt and struggle and new possibilities. He drinks a lot, knows a lot, shares a lot. Almost always with a lot of wit and a lot of verve, even some of the book is about loss. I loved this book and may write more about it if the spirit moves. Cheers!
Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children edited by Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard, and Thea Rosenburg (Square Halo Books) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
I raved and raved about this, so glad about it and wanting to have parents and grandparents of all ages appreciate the many chapters where various authors ruminate on why books matter in the lives of children. As I said in my BookNotes review, this is much more than a listing of titles (although there are bibliographic suggestions after every chapter that are handy when you head to the library or are making out your Hearts & Minds order.) Rather, it is a collection of thoughtful, often passionate and often poetic, pieces that show how to think about certain genres of children’s literature.
The contributors to this big volume are not famous (although Mitali Perkins is very highly regarded in YA work) but several are published authors. I love Margie Haack and Andy Ashworth and Katy Bowser Hutson, for instance and it is terrific to see them here. Matthew Dickerson has a great chapter on “Sorrow and Grace in Tolkien’s Works.” All, though, worked hard to create excellent chapters on their assigned topics, ranging from “Middle Grade Fiction’ to “Latino Literature”, from “Classic Picture Books” to “Family Reads.” There are chapters about books for toddlers, chapters about books for high schoolers. There is a piece on graphic novels and there is a good chapter on poetry. From books about suffering to books about art appreciation to a good chapter on reading about those who are differently abled, this collection just doesn’t stop. There’s so much. A few are aesthetically oriented, thoughtful about representation or rhyme; others are eminently practical. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky is the best book I’ve seen to remind us all why books for children matter. Hooray.
For any parents or grandparent, any aunt or uncle, this generous guide for “what to read next” to your beloveds is a heartwarming, mind-enlarging appetizing pathfinder to the wide range of available kid-lit. — Luci Shaw
The Wonders of Creation: Learning Stewardship from Narnia and Middle-Earth Kristen Page, with contributions from Christina Bieber Lake, Noah Toly, and Emily Hunger McGowan (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
Whenever a book is done in conjunction with the prestigious and important Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, we take notice. It is the premium location collection C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien artifacts, papers, and forming a community of contemporary like-minded dreamers, writers, thinkers, artists. The Wonders of Creation came about in what are called the Hansen Lectureship Series which offers “accessible and insightful reflections by Wheaton College faculty members on the transformative work of the Wade Center authors.”
This one is a real winner, truly one of the most fun and interesting books of the year.
Here’s the question: “When an author of fiction employs their imagination and sets characters in a new location, they are in a sense creating a world. Might such fictional worlds give us a deeper appreciation for our own?”
And, if yes, the question is what we might learn from the beloved fictional landscapes of Narnia and Middle-Earth about caring for real-life landscapes, becoming better care-takers of God’s good creation.
Yep, this is a delightful set of lectures — with responses from Wheaton faculty — about the interface of fiction and climate change, fantasy and reality, Tolkien and Lewis, on one hand, and the concerns of creation-care and ecological ethics today. Wow.
For anyone who grew up mentally wandering the forests of Narnia or Middle-earth, this book will be a joy and a revelation–you’ll be reminded just how deep those images went into your heart. I’m pretty sure the best place to read it is with your back against a tree trunk on a sunny day–but if it’s cold and snowy out, these pages will summon that summer in your soul. — Bill McKibben, author of the Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon
The Wonders of Creation is a creative, insightful, and well-written book. It is, furthermore, a timely tome that shows how fictional landscapes, such as those created by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, can inspire us to care for the damaged landscapes of our world today. Drawing on careful readings of Lewis and Tolkien, ecologist Kristen Page weaves a tapestry of reflections on ecological literacy, lament, and wonder…The thoughtful writing in The Wonders of Creation will foster our care of our home places. —Steven Bouma-Prediger, Hope College, author of For the Beauty of the Earth and Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic
The Completion of C.S. Lewis: From War to Joy (1945- 1963) Harry Lee Poe (Crossway Books) $34.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99
At last, the remarkably good and highly regarded Poe trilogy on C.S. Lewis has been complete and this is surely a landmark in Lewis studies. The first two are Becoming C. S. Lewis (1898-1918): A Biography of Young Jack Lewis and The Making of C. S. Lewis: From Atheist to Apologist (1918-1945.) Now we celebrate and honor volume three, The Completion of C.S. Lewis that just came out this fall.
Many Lewis fans have their favorite biography (such as the wonderfully written The Narnian by the great Alan Jacobs or perhaps Alister McGrath’s thoughtful C.S. Lewis: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet or, for a short read, Not a Tame Lion: The Life, Teachings, and Legacy of C.S. Lewis, one you should have on hand.)
Anyone serious about Lewis’s life and times simply must know of these Poe volumes, though. They are handsomely made, exquisite, almost, and exceptional in clarity and drama, well-researched and wonderfully told. These are, as Lewis genius James Como (founder of the New York C.S. Lewis Society and author of the popular Oxford University Press “Very Short Introduction” to Lewis) says, “require reading (including the notes!)” As he puts it, it shows “the ironies, tribulations, joys, and triumphs of a major figure of twentieth-century world literature.”
Others agree that this third volume is truly deserving of much applause.
Harry Lee Poe covers an extraordinary continuity of unfolding events and realities — moving from the effects of Lewis’s coming of age to outstanding maturity. — Colin Duriez, author of C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Friends and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship
To read this book is to walk side-by-side with Lewis through day-to-day life as well as through the life-changing events of his latter decades. — Carol Zaleski, Professor of World Religions, author of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams.
Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women Alissa Wilkinson (Broadleaf Books) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79
The long opening introduction to Salty offers just such luscious writing, fun and energetic, eloquent, colorful, tasty, even. It invites us to a table —and from the sounds of it, it’s going to be quite a bash. The classic question of who you would invite to your quintessential meal with anyone hovers around the book, obviously and Wilkinson earnestly invites readers to ponder that themselves. She is learned and knows her way around foodie stuff, but the opening story about an open air market was so engaging, I was really jazzed.
Then the tone changed a bit, I think, and this is fine. I’m not sure I could handle that breathy style for almost 200 pages. The book is indeed about “eating and drinking” but it is also very much about the women who show up to this fictional party. As she guesses, some of them you may know. (Hannah Arendt and Maya Angelou? Octavia Butler and Alice B. Toklas? Holy smokes!)
Yes, this invites us to “gather around the table with a group of extraordinary women to explore how eating and drinking can ground us, sustain us, and connect us.” There is a Capon quote early on.
I think part of what made this so enjoyable for me, so unique, so award-winning, was less the dinner party itself, but the histories of the women. Salty, creatively written by a film critic and creative writer, and somewhat edited by the master Lauren Winner, does have extraordinary structure. But it also has tons of good stories about these nine women. (Not to mention clever drawings and a great bibliography after each chapter.)
The back cover said they are “sharp, empowered, and often subversive women” As Lauren herself comments in a blurb, “it is Alissa Wilkinson herself — the host of this dinner party and the author of this book — who turns out to be the most vivacious presence. It’s not nine companions this book offers; crucially, it offers ten”
Agreed. This whole thing — the dinner party, the recipes, the cocktails, the foodie writing, the women, the lessons learned from them, and Alissa’s own strong (and at times vulnerable) voice that makes this a major release — in one you should know. It’s one of my favorite books of 2022. It’s perfect for a book club, too, by the way. Join the feast!
Practice of the Presence of God: A Revolutionary Translation Brother Lawrence, translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Broadleaf Books) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79
This is such a fabulous book, a smallish, compact hardback with a colorful cover, that just feels like a delight to hold, perfect for the book experience you will have when you take it up. It is, as I am sure you understand, a new translation by a fresh, vivid, deeply mystical writer herself, of this old, old classic. As I said in my BookNotes review, I loved the story of Lawrence learning to pray while doing the dishes, the idea of practicing being attentive to God’s daily presence. The actual old book, well, it’s one of those one is supposed to read, but most don’t. Or if they do, like me, it just wasn’t that captivating. I got the gist.
Now! Now we have a wonderful new translation — hot, I think I’d call it, or maybe it’s cool. It’s a cool package of a hot translation, fresh and lively and informed and contemplative. Butcher is a fine writer— we have other books of hers, daily devotionals and other translations of spiritual classics. Putting a fresh coat of paint on such a lasting classic must have been daunting for her but she shows no trepidation. She is sure of her holy calling, and this strong rendering is a great example of how a new translation can bring an old classic up to date, so to speak. It is a major literary contribution, a lovely gift of 2022 that will endure for a long, long time.
Mirabi Starr captures much of what’s so great about this book. Let’s let her say it:
What a bold, vibrant, and potent translation of this mystical masterpiece! As she did with the perennial wisdom jewel Cloud of Unknowing, Carmen Acevedo Butcher once again breaks open the stilted and patriarchal language that encrusts our most life-giving spiritual treasures and makes The Practice of the Presence of God easy to grasp and impossible to resist. Its author, the humble seventeenth-century sage Brother Lawrence, reminds us that every task, no matter how ordinary, is a fresh opportunity for drawing near to the Friend. And that the more we take refuge in this intimacy, frequently repeating such phrases as ‘My God, I am all yours, ‘ or ‘God of love, I love you with all my heart, ‘ or ‘Love, create in me a new heart,’ the more often we find ourselves simply resting in the presence of Love Itself. — Mirabai Starr, translator of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich; author of God of Love and Wild Mercy
Earth Filled with Heaven: Finding Life in Liturgy, Sacraments, and Other Ancient Practices of the Church Aaron Damiani (Moody Press) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
This is a book I really enjoyed and truly valued and want to hold up as worthy of our best books list. I say this carefully and sincerely — it fills a real need and his writing style is such that it reaches a certain sort of audience. And this deserves a lot of holy hullabaloo, if you ask me. Although that’s not the way this Anglican mystic would put it.
Here’s the deal. Damiani was a former evangelical. Maybe charismatic. He was narrow in his Biblical interpretation (and still may be) and solid in his theological bone fides (which he certainly still is.) And then he discovered — as many have in recent decades — what was once called “The Canterbury Trail.” He didn’t convert to Episcopalianism, though, or Orthodoxy, but to the new version of evangelical Anglicanism that is growing everywhere these days. He is currently an Anglican priest in the ACNA.
I lament the splits within the Anglican communion but it is, as they say, what it is. And this book shows how a younger generation is rising to lead vibrant sacramental worship, teaching many about spiritual formation, about eucharist, about liturgy, about ordered worship and fixed hour prayer. There are ancient habits of faith that have shaped more liturgical churches for thousands of years and the most vibrant voices for that tradition, these days, it seems, are former evangelicals, newly embracing a deeper, more ancient sort of discipleship and congregational life. That this deep and wise book quoting church fathers and Orthodox monks and sacramental scholars passed muster of Moody Press speaks volumes. That they dressed it up so nicely with colored pages and nice ink and handsome pull quotes makes it that much more attractive.
There are other more scholarly Anglican works, there are serious Lutheran and Catholic theologians writing about the mysteries of the liturgy. We have bunches. But this is reaching out to new folks who may not be prepared to read Alexander Schmemann or Gordon Lathrop, let alone Fagerberg’s Liturgical Dogmatics, etc. Earth Filled With Heaven is a great entry to good things.
Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
I mentioned Matali Perkins above, noting that she contributed a chapter to the lovely and broad book Wild Things and Castles in the Sky. She has written some children’s picture books and she has won prestigious YA awards for crafting some of the most memorable and important juvenile fiction in recent years.
We were ecstatic to see that she has published this lovely book, a call to take kids books seriously and to learn from their nuances, wisdom, and artful storytelling. For those who love books, some of this is common and familiar – the power of story, the glory of language, the religious importance of fiction. Yes, yes, and yes!
And there is her own wisdom as a guide for us all. Significantly, she warns about cultural blindspots in old tales, stuff we should be aware of, even offended by, but, with grace and discernment, never throws the baby out with the bathwater. She offers a robust and visionary capacity to love good stories, even when there is weirdness in them. Even when we have to push back.
As it declares on the back cover, “the stores we read as children shape us for the rest of our lives.” As do the stories we read to our children and grandchildren, loved ones and neighbors. This book is beautifully crafted and vital, lovely and important. One of the Best Books of 2022.
Mitali Perkins’s winsome way with words seeps through every page of this useful guide that’s so much more than a guide. Her love of classic writing, even with all its flaws, serves as a compass for us to navigate the ins and outs of timeless stories so that they do more than entertain our modern craving for amusement. –Tsh Oxenreider, author of At Home in the World and Shadow and Light
Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious – Reframed & Expanded David Dark (Broadleaf) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
This is an awards show, ladies and gents, and time is running short. I should write pages on this provocative book (and, in fact, I have, when I reviewed the first fabulous 2016 IVP hardback edition.) David has always been a storyteller, a good writer, and an observant reporter on the human condition and I admire him so much.
(One earlier book was called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything which itself hints something about his way.)
This new edition of Life’s Too Short to Pretend… is notably reframed. It’s an important word for him, I think. In a long afterword he talks about repenting, even. He’s not just tweaking things a bit, he is offering regrets for how he was perhaps dismissive or argumentative. This really is remarkable, actually, the example of a good person who is willing to change his mind and revisit previous books.
It is complicated to try to paraphrase quickly the exceptionally complex oration found in those closing pages; even more to explain the dense new opening. Agree or not (heck, understand fully or not) it is worth it to savor every sentence, some which come strong, others that have a smiling wit. It is a reading experience like none other and at the very least I want to honor this extraordinary book for its candor, breathtaking sentences, moral seriousness, and yet good humor. It’s not everybody who can be so full of zeal and so kind, so honest to say what he thinks and yet willing to say he must repent of some of his rhetoric and intellectual formulations. This is one heck of a read, a book I think I will ponder for a long time.
Hear these two women who say why they value Life’s Too Short…
For those of us who claim to be religious and those of us who religiously deny such labels, Dark grants us the gift and burden to think deeply about the imagination, scaffolding, and consequences of our religiosity. In reading his journey and cautions, my sense of personal accountability and religious identity were expanded. Such is a book that reads the reader and if we stick with it we gain insight into self and neighbor. — Christina Edmondson, scholar activist, author of Faithful Antiracism and host of Truth’s Table podcast
David Dark is one of our most astute and necessary cultural critics. His work gracefully opens new doors of understanding and breaks down barriers between secular and non-, and it puts a lot of old mythology out to pasture with a daring affirmation at the heart of his radical critique. Life’s Too Short refreshingly ropes everyone in, insisting that we’re all in it together. — Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy Jamie Raskin (Harper) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
I like some books that are ponderous, weighty, provocative, nuanced. Others grab me immediately, make me rage and weep and I want to tell everyone about them. Last summer I read six big books about the crazy “Stop the Steal” movement and the latter-day MAGA lies leading to the storming of the Capitol on January 6th. Book after book I read on, late into the night, and I wrote a long BookNotes review hoping to interest readers in joining this deep dive into what happened just a few years ago. And then I read Jamie Raskin’s stunning book, now out in paperback, and I knew it was the best of them all, a book I would gladly list as one of the most important books of recent years, a lively memoir of a public servant stuck in the revolt of the alt-right, and duty-bound to speak out and stand with integrity.
But what really grabbed me was the backstory (or is it the lead story?) — the unthinkable loss of Mr. Raskin’s when his adult son who committed suicide on December 31st 2020. The brave telling of this vulnerable tale makes Unthinkable a political/current events book unlike any you’ve ever read. (And Raskin’s moment-by-moment description of January 6th and the brave, urgent work in the weeks following, always entangled with the family heartbreak of the loss of their son, makes this a family grief memoir unlike any you’ve ever read.)
The accolades for this marvelous read have poured in (even as the hate mail and death threats have as well.) Laurence Tribe of Harvard calls it “a masterpiece” Vogue called it “extraordinary.” I call it one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Unthinkable is not a work of emotional austerity; rather, it is an unburdening, a howl, a devotional. The grief is nightmarish, but the love that suffuses the text is even more powerful — the love for family and a lost child, as well as a love for a fragile democracy. It takes its greatest inspiration from the idealism of Raskin’s son. — David Remnick, The New Yorker
Voices of Lament: Reflections on Brokenness and Hope in a World Longing for Justice edited by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (Fleming Revell) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
The editor of this classy volume, Natasha Robinson, is a memoirist who wrote a great story of her own very interesting life (A Sojourner’s Truth) and a fine book on discipling others called Mentor for Life. Here she has pulled together a remarkable array of black women to reflect — almost like a daily devotional — line by line on Psalm 37. Do you know it?
There are seven main portions — strophes, we are told — and these are sort of like units or chapters. Within each of these seven sections there are four (although one section has more) devotional contributions, starting with a poem, making this great for a 30-day read.
Here is how the publisher puts it:
Inspired by Psalm 37 and inviting empathy and healing, Christian Women of Color who have faced deep suffering and injustice hold their lament in holy tension with hope and love through this unique collection of reflections, poetry, and prayer.
Even if the content wasn’t excellent and accessible and wise; even if the topic wasn’t so sadly urgent; even if the authors weren’t so very interesting (some of them rather well known, at least in our circles) I think the very idea of this — a collaborative project on one Psalm of lament — is nothing short of brilliant. Kudos to Fleming Revell for a nice design, for the amazing pencil drawings of women of color, for making this book a classy and useful resource. And thanks to the many women who shared their souls, grappled with faith and the Scriptures, and offers “voices of lament.” The essays, prayers, poems, songs, and liturgies are powerful for us all.
Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility, and Co-Development B. Hunter Farrell with S. Balajiedlang Khyllep (IVP Academic) $26.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80
What a joy to have followed a bit of this book before it came out; to have met the authors and to believe in their strong work. This is a book that stands out — we have a large missions section and there are fascinating books highlighting God’s work all over the globe — and we want to honor it now.
The topic is not unknown these days although, as you will see, the need to articulate a serious theology of collaboration and humility is as urgent as ever. Nobody likes the old image of the imposing colonial missionary and many are at least sensitive to how our translation of the gospel needs to be contextualized and gracious. But few have gotten below the surface of this audacious shift in missiology and not only explain it theologically, but made a programmatic argument of what it looks like. Hunter Ferrell, who has lived and served all over the world, it seems, and his brilliant colleague at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Bala Khyllep, are done an exceptional job. This is not only a magisterial work but a very important contribution.
Virtues of companionship and cultural humility are the starting points for a missional vision which affirms co-development. It is as simple and as endlessly complex as that. That may be why it takes well over 250 pages showing how — get this — the local church community is that place “well-positioned to build a spreading circle of relationships centered in Jesus Christ” that can direct resources in truly faithful and life-giving ways.
As one reviewer put it, Freeing Congregational Mission is “a vision, a road-map, and a vehicle for parishes to revitalize their mission to the world.” Huzzah.
Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture Christopher Watkin (Zondervan Academic) $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
I list this last although I might have listed it first. It is a book of breathtaking depth, readable, and energetic. It covers philosophy and culture, visits current ideological debates and explores how we got into some of the entanglements within our culture that we now have, at least within the Western world. This is a magisterial volume — just shy of 650 pages — and it deserves many an award just for doing such a capable job of exploring cultural analysis in light of the Scriptures. In a conversational and often chatty way. It’s heavy stuff, granted, but it is not a dry tome.
Watkin is doing a lot here, and has read incredibly widely. I smiled when I realized he was drawing on Dutch reformational philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd and delighted to see a reference or two from N.T. Wright; he offers surprising insights from everybody from Chesterton to Paul Ricoeur, from Oliver O’Donovan to Charles Taylor. Naturally he draws on James K.A. Smith (and on Augustine — in a way, this is a 21st century City of God, or so it sort of seems.) I was delighted how he handled the brilliant Esther Meek and her insights about knowing (a la Polanyi.) It’s not everybody who interacts so flawlessly with Bavinck and Bonhoeffer and Brueggemann.
I have not finished this yet. I have hardly stopped pondering the many rave reviews, from Natasha Moor (at the Centre for Public Christianity) to Richard Cunningham of Bruce Riley Ashford of the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology. In some circles this book is being taken very seriously, and we want to add our voices to the choir, tipping our hat and suggesting it to you.
Can we make Biblical sense of what’s going on around us these very days? Can the grand story of the Bible itself somehow subvert some of our modern ways? Can we take seriously the latest in philosophy and “read” the times in light of the Scriptural story? With a forward by Timothy Keller, this offers evangelical faith and a Biblical vision aimed at understanding the times, and perhaps helping to heal them. I am not fully convinced of all of his direction thus far, but I am fully convinced that it is one of the great books of 2022, and one of the most momentous of its kind in many a year. Serious thinkers should have it.
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