If you missed last week’s BookNotes due to the long holiday weekend that some Americans enjoyed, we invite you to check it out here. Although I highlighted a few fairly recent books that are useful for living well as leaders and church workers, I reviewed two significant new books. One was called Metanoia: How God Radically Transforms People, Churches, and Organizations From the Inside Out (by the prolific missional author and Aussie gadfly Alan Hirsch.) The other one called The Scandal of Leadership (by JR Woodward) studies the question of nurturing wise and Christ-like leadership by taking on the principalities and powers (and domineering leadership styles) a theme not explored in any other leadership book I know.
The other day I talked to a pastor about these very books. He wondered if they were for him, heady and well-footnoted as they are. He seemed by his own account a bit lackluster, not burned out, but demoralized by all the things you can imagine might demoralize an otherwise Godly Christian worker.
Which got me thinking.
I figured in this BookNotes I’d just share a bunch of books that might bring refreshment and stimulation for pastors young or old, nothing too heavy. None of these are a silver bullet and none should be the only book a pastor reads for his or her professional development but I sincerely think these could be helpful to any tired leader. The list isn’t comprehensive and tilts towards mostly recent titles. (Although don’t miss the three classics at the end, one dating to 1974.) If you are a minister looking for a nice read, or wondering what book to use in a collegial book group, or if you want to gift your pastor with a book, maybe some of these might help.
All are, as always, available at the Hearts & Minds bookstore here in south central Pennsylvania, or you can easily order them at our website. The links below lead to where you can safely enter credit card digits (or just ask us for an invoice so you can pay later if you’d rather.) Scroll all the way down so you don’t miss anything and see the order link at the end. Thanks.
Again, for the record, some of these are written to and for pastors or other congregational leaders. I’m pitching this BookNotes to the pastors among us, even though I know most readers and customers are not clergy.
I do hope everybody realizes that most of these are, in fact, good for anyone wanting some nice reading and while I say these are “for a pastor” you can stretch that a bit with almost all of these. Also, maybe you know a pastor or two. Feel free to share. Thanks.
FOR A PASTOR WANTING TO BRUSH UP ON CREATIVE WAYS TO SPEAK ABOUT GOD
Speaking of God: An Essential Guide to Christian Thought Anthony G. Siegrist (Herald Press) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
The back cover asks “Do you ever think you’re forgetting how to talk about God?” Theology is, this author asserts, nothing more or less than speaking together about God. Still, “a lot of us don’t know where to start.”
Siegrist is a Canadian Mennonite who has written for Missio Alliance and reminds us of “common threads of thought and practice across traditions.” His missional vision is savvy, but at heart, he is thinking that the unfolding drama of Scripture — the “sweeping epic” as he calls it — is the “scaffold” for this accessible book. He’s upbeat and clever, and plumbs the depths of all manner of writers, thinkers, mystics, pastors. I like that the back cover blurbs are from a Lutheran (Dorothy Bass), a Wesleyan from West Virginia, and a Kierkegaard guy, the dean of theology at Westminster Theological Centre, an innovative British ministry that tilts a bit charismatic. Something for everyone!
God Turned Toward Us: The ABCs of Christian Faith Will Willimon (Abingdon Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
Okay, it ain’t Frederick Buechner who was known for several theological alphabet books. It is nearly an homage to him, a good, maybe better, theological handbook written in the form of a deceptively simple ABC book. Grant, Willimon is not an award winning novelist and memoirs, but he is a darn good storyteller (and has, for the record, written both a novel and a memoir.) He’s not Presbyterian, like Buechner was, nor was he quite as urbane, although he was the chaplain at Duke for a while. Down home Southern, Methodist, a Barth scholar and lover of God’s church, this really is an amazing book. A Central Texas Conference bishop said “Reading God Turned Toward Us is like walking through a diamond mine.” Nearly every page is worth the price of the book. As the back cover puts it, “The challenge of the Christian life is learning to talk Christian. Somebody has got to tell us, give us the words that open the door to the faith called Christian. Each of us is due the delight of discovery in submitting to God’s talk to us.”
The book is organized by “the words the church teaches us to use to talk about ordinary life apprehended by a God who is Jesus Christ.” These are short, meditative reflections upon key concepts that guide Christians, new or longstanding.
Kenneth Carder, himself a retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, notes:
This is no ordinary book about Christian belief and practices. Rather, it is a sometimes jarring, always interesting, consistently insightful and persistently provocative invitation to talk the talk and walk the walk of Christian discipleship.
The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of the Christian Faith Trevin Wax (IVP) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20
This medium sized hardback is itself a handsome book, and it is well worth having. No matter what theological persuasion you, dear reader, find yourself in, it’s an exceptionally erudite and energetic reminder of the core stuff, paradoxes and all. It invites us to a beautiful orthodoxy, to truth seen and experienced as a grand adventure — think Chesterton, or Lewis, maybe — and what Katie McCoy called “the consuming wonder.” It is, doubtlessly, a clarion call to the historic Christian faith, without being overly narrow.
Trevin Wax shows that traditional orthodox Christianity might not be as glossy and glamorous as Christianity gone worldly, but it is ancient, majestic, global, and glorious. It is a tried and tested alternative to the faddish and fragmentary fakes that masquerade as Christianity in some places. Trevin is not pushing dry doctrine but passing on fresh fire that is thousands of years old. –Michael F. Bird, academic dean and lecturer in New Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia
The Love That Is God: An Invitation to the Christian Faith Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt (Eerdmans) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
When we reviewed this a year or so ago a number of thoughtful customers just raved. They really liked it and one person ordered more. I figured that it was ideal for those interested in Christian theology but not wanting a tome or a text. This small book is poetic and glorious, even if rooted in profoundly serious, ecumenical Christian theology. The author is a renowned Catholic professor at Loyola University in Maryland and a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, assigned to the Cathedral. I have never met him.
Stanley Hauerwas, no slouch himself, says “I cannot help but believe that this book is destined to become a classic.” Wesley Hill says “This book made we want to become a Christian all over again.” For the right kind of reader, this reflection breathing new life into the ancient claim that God is Love can bring new ideas and deep renewal, I’m sure of it.
Sarah Coakley wrote the foreword and she insists that:
This is a book that takes us back to the raw basics of our faith and restores hope in the cruciform God of Love of whom it speaks so eloquently.
FOR A PASTOR WANTING TO BE RE-INSPIRED BY THE BIBLE
Re-Enchanting the Text: Discovering the Bible as Sacred, Dangerous, and Mysterious Cheryl Bridges Johns (Brazos Press) $22.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39
Okay, this, too, maybe isn’t as simple as I’d wish for this list, but it’s a marvelous, new study and I’m convinced it is going to provoke fresh thinking about the Scriptures. Here’s the straightforward thesis of this serious book: “In an age when the Bible has been stripped of its sacredness and mystery and functional biblical illiteracy reigns, this book makes the case that we must work to re-enchant the text in order to return the Bible to its rightful place in the lives of Christians.”
Dr. Johns got her PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary even though she, herself, is Pentecostal. The scholarly Pentecostal icon Amos Yong raves. A professor from Duke eagerly says it provides “a way forward.” Holy smokes, even Walter Brueggemann exclaims, “One can only voice a vigorous ‘yes’ to this wise and welcome book.” Lisa Bowens (of Princeton Theological Seminary says it is “powerful and compelling.” Okay, then. I think it may be just what you need.
This book amounts to a bold Pentecostal intervention in current discussions about the theological interpretation of Scripture. Johns’s vision for a Pentecostal ontology of Scripture is not just for Pentecostals–it is a gift to the church catholic, born at Pentecost.– James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; author of How (Not) to Be Secular, Thinking in Tongues, and You Are What You Love
Sacred Belonging: A 40-Day Devotional on the Liberating Heart of Scripture Kat Armas (Brazos Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
Oh my, this brand new book deserves a bigger review, but just know that it is arranged as a set of short readings, but they are unlike nearly any you’ve read before. They are a tad quirky, passionately engaged, deeply transformative, loyal to Christ and His Kingdom, which is to say, written with an out to the outcast and outsider.
You may know her great book Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength. This new one, Sacred Belonging, is, in the words of Arielle Astoria (a poet, author, and spoken word artist) “an invitation into a deep, expansive, and healing way of encountering Scripture.” Looks amazing!
Being God’s Image: Why Creation Still Matters Carmen Joy Imes (IVP Academic) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
One of my favorite books this year, and one of the great new friends of Beth and me this year, Being God’s Image by Biblical scholar Carmen Joy Imes is a delight, a provocation, a reminder, a stimulation, a great study of what the founding creation narratives have to say to us today. What does it mean to be human? How does our gender matter? What is our relationship to the Earth itself? Importantly, how does the Bible shape our understanding of our life and times?
The cofounder of the well-loved and widely respected Bible Project, Tim Mackie, calls it “an accessible and profound exploration of this most important Biblical theme.” There is a remarkable forward by J. Richard Middleton, and if he thinks it’s important, you should read it. Hooray.
Harvest of Hope: A Contemplative Approach to Holy Scriptures Mark McIntosh & Frank Griswold (Eerdmans) $22.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39
I have discussed this in previous BookNotes suggesting it is a great addition to the growing number of books which invite us to a contemplative, prayerful engagement with the Scriptures, a lovely and holy experience by two elder statements (McIntosh died in 2021) within the Episcopalian church. It’s a very special book. See, also, by the way, the lovely companion volume that they did together, Seeds of Faith: Theology and Spirituality at the Heart of Christian Belief (Eerdmans; $24.99.)
FOR ANYONE NEEDING TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUNGER VOICES OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
Hear Us Out: Six Questions on Belonging and Belief Sue Pizor Yoder and Co.Lab.Inq (Fortress Press) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20
I’ve mentioned this before and it is so very interesting, I just have to tell you again. Anyone interested in unchurched young adults will want to hear these narratives describing the bunches of conversations this team had, mostly with folks in the Lehigh Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania. The team found both the nones and the dones (that is, those that have no religious affiliation — as in “none of the above” on the religious survey and those that once did but are “done with that.”)
The book includes a lovely bit of description of the desires and hope and methodologies of the team (made up mostly of pastors) did the research and it tells, often with great eloquence, their own surprise in the things the interviewees told them. The ideas that emerge from the research are generous, and, in a way, points mostly to the need for us all to share our stories, to listen well to “co-create a more just world, and take seriously the call to Love.” Brian McLaren wrote a fabulous foreword and we learn much important stuff for congregations that want to (as he puts it) “learn to welcome emerging generations into their midst.”
FOR A PASTOR WHO IS TIRED AND NEEDING TO DEVELOP SPIRITUAL RHYTHMS
The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout: A Journey from Exhaustion to Wholeness Sean Nemecek (Zondervan) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
There is a virtual cottage industry these days releasing often very good books on clergy burnout. There are books about the physical ill-health of many pastors, books about stress and tension and unbearable expectations. From time management to dealing with faith-based conflict, being a Christian leader is hard work. Many of the books are wise and thoughtful.
I highlight this one because it is readable, fairly concise, and really wise. To respond to this epidemic of burnout, Nemecek gives us not only a helpful diagnosis but a guide to recovery (or, better, prevention.) His wife is the acclaimed published poet Amy Nemecek (The Language of Birds) so that’s nice, too. He is a regional director in Western Michigan for “Pastor-in-Residence Ministries, which coaches pastors into recovery from ministerial stress.
Sacred Strides: The Journey to Belovedness in Work and Rest Justin McRoberts (Thomas Nelson) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
Okay, first this: I’ve raved about this before, encouraging Hearts & Minds friends of all sorts to buy it. I admitted, though, that it is casual and upbeat with lots of stories, including some very funny ones. Justin is a dear friend, a mentor to many, nearly a spiritual director to artists and leaders and others who are culture-makers maybe a bit off the beaten path. He’s a singer-songwriter, pretty hip, and refreshingly honest about his own journey, his own soul, the stuff he’s learned the hard way. Serious as all this may be, he’s not just an upbeat writer, he is hilarious.
Sacred Strides nicely uses the image of walking, one foot, the next foot, the stride. That is, it is not about an arbitrary “balance” between work and rest. It truly is about rhythms and practices, about the joy of work and the necessity of rest, over together, as we learn to lean on God. All of it moves us to a space where we can know we are beloved, truly so. Unless you like your religious books to be necessarily stodgy or arcane, this book is a must. Love it.
The Spacious Path: Practicing the Restful Way of Jesus in a Fragmented World Tamara Hill Murphy (Herald Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
This is another book that will surely be on our “best of 2023” list later this year, and is both a simple invitation (“into a life ordered by restful rhythms of listening and love” and a call to develop some sort of a Rule of Life. This is not arcane or weird or overly monastic; she makes a fine case, beautifully, for the ancient Benedictine wisdom becoming a lively and fruitful part of our modern lifestyle.
It could be an uphill climb since some of that language of “rules” is foreign to us, or maybe has been hurtful, if you’ve been a part of an overly zealous rules-based religious background. Trust me, A Spacious Path is just that, spacious, inviting us to the journey, a way, a path. It is a restful and healing journal, a helpful guidebook, a beckoning.
Clergy will hopefully know a bit of this language but the book is beautifully written, mixing personal narrative and solid teaching and ancient sources. There are guided prayers and meaningful reflections. It’s a great tool, a lovely resource to lean into. Highly recommended.
Tamara is a person we respect, a writer whose works have shown up in fabulous places like Plough and Englewood Review of Books (she quotes Joan Chittister and Dorothy Day and Annie Dillard and other top flight writers) and is a trainer of spiritual directors. She is a lay leader in the Anglican Church of North America and a mature, lovely writer.
FOR A PASTOR WANTING TO REFRESH HIS OR HER SPIRITUALITY
The Language of the Soul: Meeting God in the Longings of Our Hearts Jeff Crosby (Broadleaf Books) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
I have raved about this before so consider this your reminder that, yes, you really did intend to get this but never got around to it yet. Pastors will love the storytelling stuff that will inspire sermons and the deepest truths that so eloquently open up reflection and spiritual pondering. Of course the book isn’t just for ministers, not at all, but I highlight it here as an easy read that could be truly refreshing for those needing some organization to their teaching, longing, hoping. It’s a great, great book.
There is some stuff, too, about discerning one’s call, about the theme of finding “home” and about learning the language that most deeply resonates with the deepest longings. He famously cites lots of music (of all sorts) since sometimes, ya just need the lyrics of a good ballad, rock songs, or the tones of a jazz piece to capture these sublime things. Again, The Language of the Soul is a treasure, highly recommended for leaders who need to learn, well, this peculiar insight about our heart’s deepest longings. You will find it an invaluable help, I am sure.
Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality David Bender (IVP /formatio) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
There are so many good, rich, thoughtful, transformative books on spiritual disciplines and practices one hardly knows where to begin. I often, for meaty readers, suggest Ruth Haley Barton and Richard Foster. This, those, is short and powerful, reminding us beautifully that “Only God deserves absolute surrender because only God can offer absolutely dependable love.” There is a tender forward by M. Basil Pennington, and a nice set of reflection questions.
Unteachable Lessons: Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught (and Why That’s Okay) Carl McColman (Eerdmans) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I nearly devoured this book, realizing I needed to slow down and ponder its delightful truths, its powerfully honest stories, its Biblical hints and its call to silence, to trust. McColman is the author of many books on classic church spirituality, contemplative practices, and discovering encounters with God through the mystical tradition. (See, for instance, his Big Book of Christian Mysticism,) Here, as a Lay Cistercian, he tells of discovering a way of knowing God that is beyond dogma, not constrained by perfect doctrine or certainty about stuff, just embracing a God who meets us at every step. (Hey, preacher and teacher — let the provocative title of this book sink in just a bit. Ha!) Unteachable Lessons is lovely, a bit edgy, but what the extraordinary mystical writer Martin Laird calls “sure-footed.” It is also what Marilyn McIntyre calls “deft and funny.” Did I mention I really, really liked it? Surprisingly so.
James Martin, the funny and prolific Jesuit (who has a brand new big one, by the way, called Come Forth: The Promise of Jesus’s Greatest Miracle) says of Unteachable…
Riveting, inspiring, and beautifully written, a moving account of finding God admits both the laughter and tears in life.
Bearing God: Living a Christ-Formed Life in Uncharted Water Marlena Graves (NavPress) $10.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.79
A brand new one, written by the author of the award-winning The Way Up Is Down, this little book is slim, and creatively written, offering “stories and teaching about discerning God’s will and discerning a sense of call in the midst of life’s storms.” It’s an extended and playful riff on Mark 4. I’ve just started it and it’s so good.
Graves makes the point that as believers “we are all little vessels carrying Jesus.” Our lives, the boats in which we carry Christ and his gospel, will venture out to sea… How do we respond when the storms come? How imaginative is that?
This book is, one reviewer said, “brimming with keen theological insight and personal stories speaking with a voice for the marginalized.” Drawing on diverse quotes from St. Ireneus and the Desert Fathers and Mothers right up to the likes of Fight Club and Tattoos of the Heart, it is a neat little book. Short and sweet and an ideal little read to refresh you in your task.
FOR A PASTOR NEEDING SOME REASSURANCE AND SELF-CARE
Now I Become Myself: How Deep Grace Heals Our Shame and Restores Our True Self Ken Shigematsu (Zondervan) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
Okay, I’d refer you back to my previous rave review of this potent and beautiful self-help book that invites us to grapple with our “true self” and to let go of shame and dysfunction. It does this, though, in the most faithful and spiritually mature way — by inviting us to understand the God who loves us, breath in the gospel itself, and develop intentional practices of contemplative spirituality that can create space for God to do God’s work.
Super-busy pastor John Mark Comer — who wrote the hip and fabulously interesting The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry — says:
Utterly wonderful. Emotionally attuned, self-aware, thoroughly researched, well written, seamlessly blending theology, spirituality, psychology, rooted in ancient practices and yet culturally engaged: there’s so many good things I could say about this book, but the main thing is: read it.
I could say this for most of the books on this list, but I feel like I should underscore it here: shame-based fears and hurts seem nearly ubiquitous and, pastors, you may want to have a few of these around to share with folks you talk with. Right?
FOR A PASTOR WANTING TO BE REMINDED TO KEEP ON THEIR TOES
Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different Michael Frost (NavPress) $7.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39
I said I wanted to keep my suggestions on this list fairly quick reads, mostly easy stuff. This one is quite short, pocket-sized, and backs an oversized wallop. And it’s a hoot. You know that phrase “Keep Austin Weird”? It seems some other cities have adopted that kooky vision, not making their place just a tourist trap like every other place, but affirming their eccentricities, their edge, not being afraid to let their freak flag fly. So it may be with the best local churches.n Can we, too, “keep Christianity weird?” The back cover puts it allusively, but you’ll get it:
“Jesus Is Different. Go and do likewise.” I know, right?
We are to be off-center, unique, not “of” this world. So let’s resist the allure of acceptability, and “get back to the unsafe roots of our faith.” You’ll be challenged and chagrined. Smile away and get serious.
Why the Gospel? Living the Good News of King Jesus with Purpose Matthew W. Bates (Eerdmans) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
In an adult Sunday School class in our church last week I was going on about the truest understanding of the gospel. We showed the spectacular, brief, Bible Project video called “What is the Gospel?” and underscored the Biblical teaching that the regime change that has happened in the resurrected Jesus, the creation-redeeming vision inaugurated by Jesus known as the Kingdom of God, is what the very good gospel really is all about. In contrast to more sentimental liberal views or more dogmatic fundamentalist views, this Kingdom vision really helps us frame the “God with Us” new-creation promises of the Scriptures.
Anyway, this small book is as keen on this stuff as any I’ve read, and a quick, but provocative read. It is a book not just asking what the gospel is but why it is so needed. It is a bold reminder that Jesus is King. I wish every pastor and church teacher would wrestle with it.
FOR A PASTOR NEEDING TO PRAY
Morning and Evening Prayers Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $20.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.79
This hand-sized hardback remains a treasure for those wanting a sets of small prayers, each “expressing some essential Christian longing on behalf of self and others — for faith, hope, love, wisdom, gratitude, peace — and which yet also makes space for any state of heart of mind by rejoicing with all who rejoice and weeping with all who weep.”
Plantinga is a gracious and thoughtful writer, the president emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary. Very, very nice.
Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers Gary Neal Hansen (IVP) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20
I wanted to recommend books on this list that were short and accessible, really useful for busy pastors. This one is meaty and lengthy, so, sorry. Yet, I happily mention it here because it is simply the best book I know of for clergy wanting to deepen their prayer lives. (Or to teach others the same.) The chapters are really interesting, there is some great information about various Christian leaders — from early church folks to medieval saints to Calvin and Luther, up to a few contemporary voices. From each one learns a certain sort of practice — that anonymous Russian monk prayed The Jesus Prayer; Puritans wrote their prayers, Andrew Murray has much to teach about intercession.
I like that more than once the author invites us not just to study this stuff, but to do it. He’s an excellent, gracious teacher — he was a much-loved seminary prof for years — and knows the hearts and lives of pastors well. Highly recommended.
FOR A PASTOR WANTING TO THINK ABOUT HIS OR HER LITURGICAL WORK
A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship W. David O. Taylor (Baker Academic) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
This is a bit scholarly but is invigorating. There is nothing like it in print — nothing! So this, dear brothers and sisters, is a must. It is exactly about what the subtitle says. And everybody who does anything in worship — from planners, leaders, liturgists, preachers, or in-the-pew worshippers — needs to ponder all of this.
I like this for a bunch of reasons, in part because it explores the body in such a sound and interesting way, offering a foundation not just for understanding worship, but so much of our life in the world. In a sense it is one of those handful of essential studies on what it means to be human and how Christ’s own bodily resurrection might impute righteousness (and, sometimes, healing) to our own. Taylor shows well that all of this is not (as Joel Scandrett of Trinity School for Ministry) puts it, “merely about having a body, but being embodied.”
The endorsements are by remarkable thinkers and practitioners, from Rowan Williams to Constance Cherry, from Singapore lecturer and scholar Simon Chan to Northern Seminary’s Beth Felker Jones.
As I’ve indicated, I think this is important for anyone, anytime, but for pastors “wrestling with the long-term impact of the pandemic on our worship practices” it is, as Rowan Williams insists, “an indispensable resource.”
Earth Filled with Heaven: Finding Life in Liturgy, Sacraments, and other Ancient Practices of the Church Aaron Damiani (Mood Press) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
This is a lovely little book, easy to read, handsome to hold, fabulous in style, quick and clarifying. Here’s the thing: Damiani serves as the lead pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chaco. Which is to say, he didn’t used to be an Anglican, so is a recent convert to all things liturgical. (I’m thinking, like, what Anglican or Episcopalian church has a “lead pastor” and not a rector, huh?) So he’s speaking as a newbie, sort of, which makes it ideal for those of us not deeply familiar with or rooted in the sacramental tradition. He raises up the centrality with a lovely zeal and clarity that some books on liturgics seem to miss. He is, after all, a nearly charismatic evangelical.
Soooo, with pastoral warmth, Father Damiani offers “an engaging glimpse into the ancient practices of the historic church — into rhythms that quietly nourish us with the life of Jesus.”
There is stuff in here on the eucharist and baptism, liturgical prayer, and the church calendar, There’s lots of insight about living the Christian life once shaped by profound worship — for instance, how to see the “fallen broken world crammed with the beauty and glory of God.”
I suppose Earth Filled with Heaven isn’t mostly about worship skills, so to speak, but for worship leaders, this “sacramental” worldview may help you take seriously the formative work you do as a liturgist, no matter how informal or contemporary your worship style may be. Nice.
Living Under Water: Baptism as a Way of Life Kevin Adams (Eerdmans) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I did a lengthy review of this months ago and it strikes me that it would be nice to list it here, again. It is one of the great books from the “Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies “ series (edited by the great John D. Witvliet.) There’s a foreword by Cornelius Plantinga, and, if that doesn’t inspire you, you might know that Adams has written other lively and clever books (The Gospel in a Handshake: Framing Worship for Mission, for instance) and this, now, is as interesting as any book I’ve read on the subject. Hooray.
It is at once a theology of baptism, and a story about his own liturgical and worship and congregational practices, a delight to read for anyone who cares about church life and mission outreach. Also, it is a wise and generative rumination on the implications of “living under water” once the baptized comes to know what the heck it is all about. It is pastorally wise, exciting, and ecumenical in the best sense. Covering all sorts of stuff, it is, as counselor Chuck DeGroat says of it, “a happily grounded book.”
I adored Living Under Water, learning of his casual church planting efforts, his sensible gospel appeal to seekers, his discussion of baptism in the setting of the messy, local church, and its great implications for us all. No matter what sort of baptismal practices you and your church promote, this book is really interesting.
What Language Shall I Borrow? The Bible and Christian Worship Ronald Byers (Eerdmans) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
This book now sells for considerably more, but we have some at the earlier price and since it was one of the first in the aforementioned “Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s Liturgical Studies” series, I wanted to name it here. Byars is, shall we say, a fairly conventional, Presbyterian Church guy (professor emeritus of preaching and worship at Union in Richmond) who worked on the wording of the beautiful, PCUSA Book of Common Worship and, decades ago, wrote wisely, if a bit firmly, about the likelihood of an erosion of reverent worship practice with the rise of contemporary and seeker-driven services. With many of our biggest evangelical church worship programs arranged with a bunch of songs from a stage of performers and a cool talk, he is, doubtlessly right.
Many need this book that came out 15 years ago more than ever, I’d say. It is an important conversation to have. He is asking how worship “soaked in the deep wells of Scripture” can be nourishing to believers and he asks what sorts of communal speech most honors God and communicates wisely to the gathered community.
As it asks on the back, “What language is most appropriate for worship? Should it lean toward the colloquial, perhaps targeting those attending a worship service for the first time? Or should it be a language with deeper roots, the language of a community that, for the most part, already loves the God to whom worship is offered?”
And, I might add, what do we do when many long-time members, who indeed love God passionately, don’t know the Bible, the Biblical language, the lingo and theological meanings of words, stories, phrases?
This is a remarkable study asking important questions but, on its own, is nearly a (scholarly) devotional, with pages of word studies and Bible reflections. It is instructive, eloquent, and a guide to building bridges between ancient words that communicate today. Leanne Van Dyk of Western Theological Seminary says it is “an indispensable encouragement for pastors and worship leaders.”
By the way, if you don’t know the rich, famously exquiste, very old hymn from which this book takes it’s title, maybe you really should consider it. Ya dig where I’m comin’ from?
FOR A PASTOR INTERESTED IN SHARPENING HIS OR HER PREACHING
Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us Mark Yaconelli (Broadleaf Books) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
Okay, this amazingly moving book isn’t about preaching. It’s not a homiletics text. This really is about the amazing gift of storytelling, and reports how Yaconelli has gotten people into rooms to listen to, to receive one another’s deepest stories. He uses this openness to other’s hearts in hard places, actually, even in war-torn militarized zones, and the writing here is exceedingly powerful.
I think I suggest it here because it affirms the power of words, the influence of language, the significance of our human communication. For Yaconelli, himself theologically trained (he was a Presbyterian pastor for a long while) this is holy ground. He gives some advice and tells some stories. It might remind some preachers that, yes, this stuff can really make a difference. What a book.
Preachers Dare: Speaking for God Will Willimon (Abingdon Press) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I know, I know, not every preacher is going to want to read a homiletics text. As much as I’m geeky enough to enjoy any number of them — some are fantastic! — I realize that, oddly, as important as preaching is for most preachers, they generally don’t read up much on the art of preaching. Some want to just trust God, some feel they are too busy writing the darn thing each week and have no time to read about it. And some just trust their own human charm and communication skills to carry them through. I get it.
Preachers Dare is a fascinating book and highly recommended (taking its title, we are told, from a hint by Karl Barth who said “Christian preachers dare to talk about God.” Yup. And with God’s help!
This book is a dissent against homiletics as an exclusively human endeavor (call it, rhetoric) or homiletics as a taxonomy of effective sermon forms and sales (poetics.) Willimon says “The only good reason to bother people with a sermon, the sole rationale for investing a life in this vocation, is theological.
Blurbs on the back of Preachers Dare are really strong. Joni Sancken says it is “a splash of cold water, waking preachers up to the generative power of God’s own triune speech.” The great Paul Scott Wilson says it is written with “sparking wit and deep spiritual insight.” The clever Jason Mitchell makes you want to read it, unless, maybe you’re scared to. You might be “haunted by the truth that the only good reason for someone to show up for your sermon is, that, in it, there will be a word from the Living God.” Wow.
If you are bold enough to have this conversation with your people, you may want to order from us a copy or two of the companion volume by Willimon called Listeners Dare: Hearing God in the Sermon. It’s $16.00; OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59.)
FOR ONE CONCERNED ABOUT THE LOCAL CHURCH
The Church: God’s Word for Today John Stott (IVP) $14.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20
You want short and sweet and solid and stimulating? This is, as award-winning historian Mark Noll says, “a book to a new generation of readers.” This is vintage Stott, drawn from his large book The Contemporary Christian, which has now been broken down into sensible small volumes. This is the center of that big book, less than 100 pages on the value of the church. I think it is more spot on than it was decades ago.
There are four succinct chapters and no pastor will be unmoved by this clear-headed thinking. They are, firstly, the secular challenges to the church, then a section on evangelism through the local church, and then an excellent chapter on dimensions of church renewal, and finally a good piece about the church’s pastors. Kudos to Tim Chester for editing this, bringing it just a bit more up to date. The original preface to the big remains, a wise rumination on time, and living in the middle of the “now but not yet.” A great little resource.
Delighted: What Teenagers Are Teaching the Church About Joy Kenda Creasy Dean, Wesley W. Ellis, Justin Forbes, Abigail Visco Rusert (Eerdmans) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
In the eyes of many, certainly in the eyes of many young people, the word “joy” is not one that is associated with the local church. But, of course, it should be.
What if youth ministry (and discipleship for all ages) is somehow connected to God’s joyful delight in us, which — curiously — as this book shows, is something young people seem to know. Kara Powell, popular young ministry writer from Fuller Youth Institute, says “After reading Delighted, you’ll love young people differently and you’ll certainly view yourself differently, too.
I suppose this book, written by veteran youth works and theologians of and for youth ministry, is not designed to give hope to struggling congregations, but it sure can’t hurt. It is energetic and smart, exploring the difference between happiness and joy. If we can teach our kids that, it just might rub off on the rest of us.
Youthfront leader Mike King notes that we are in the midst of an “emotionally stressful culture of contempt.”Can “Joy” make a difference? Can we find some faithful way to allow our exuberance to sustain us, even through dull or hard times? This is a book about youth ministry, but I think any congregational leader (or parent) would appreciate it immensely.
When Church Stops Working: A Future for Your Congregation Beyond More Money, Programs, and Innovation Andrew Root and Blaire D. Bertrand (Brazos Press) $21.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59
I’ve highlighted this before but it’s so good, I wanted to bring it to your attention again. Short, accessible, practical, it draws deeply on the previous, profound (and fairly academic) works of Andrew Root, such as Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age and The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life and The Church After Innovation: Questioning Our Obsession with Work, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship.
(The brand new one in this big and important series is due out in the next few weeks from Brazos and you can PRE-ORDER it from us now: The Church in an Age of Secular Mysticisms: Why Spiritualities Without God Fail to Transform Us; $28.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19.)
Anyway, When the Church Stops Working is not merely a watered-down summary of those bigger volumes, although that would be one easy way to describe it. It has new content, lots of ideas for faithful, adaptable, ministry. If the bigger volumes analyze the problems of church and culture, this offers guidance for what to do about it, in reasonable, if radically Christian ways. As you might expect he says to put away our gimmicks and strategies and programs and learn what it means to wait on the Lord. Beautiful, human, real. You should get this one, for sure!
The Great Dechurching: Whose Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take To Bring Them Back Jim David & Michael Graham, with Ryan Burge (Zondervan) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
This is already a much talked about resource which offers lots of great and useful data, research you need to know about, exploring what some might say is one of the largest and fastest religious shifts in US history.
One person notes that this shift is bigger than the impact of the First and Second Great Awakenings combined, but “in the opposite direction.” Tens of millions of regular Christian worshippers have decided to stop attending church, leaving, too often, little explanation as to why.
Unlike more academic treatises that are strong on data but not so passionate about real answers for local congregations, or somewhat simplistic evaluations, The Great Dechurching offers sober thinking and practical advice.
The book is based on what is said to be the largest and most comprehensive study of dechurching in America, conducted by trusted sociologists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe.
Becoming the Church: God’s People in Purpose and Power Claude R. Alexander, Jr. (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
I hoe you know Bishop Claude Alexander, a senior pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina He severs on any number of boards of important, internationally known para-church groups but is most beloved in his large, multi-ethic church. He’s a great black preacher and his writing is clear-headed, moving, and solid. You may recall his lovely little book Necessary Christianity which we highlighted last year.
He starts this book –which is informed considerably by the book of Acts — admitting that people today have given up on the church. Those within and those who are outsiders disregard the local institution. Yet, God has not given up on it, he insists, and he shows here how we have sometimes forgotten what we are to be about. By looking at how Jesus’s first followers served him and how the Holy Spirit shaped their life together, he hold out the possibility of a renewed 21st century church. This is an imaginative study of the early church with a view of how it help us “become the church.”
There are 15 chapters, upbeat and inspirational, some creative side-bars and a power epilogue. You should check it out. There’s a great study guide in the back, too. Yes!
FOR A LEADER WANTING TO UNDERSTAND THE ALT-RIGHT AND CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM
American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church Andrew Whitehead (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
I’ve highlighted this before but want to simply say that it seems to me to be a must-read for all of us, and certainly for church leaders who have any right-wing members of their church who are involved in this stuff. Which is to say, most congregations.
Granted, it isn’t an uplifting quick read like many on this list. One reviewer did note that it is “crisply written and utterly compelling.” So there’s that.
We need this book, though. As I showed in the last review, it’s really solid, well known, expertly researched but deeply rooted in the faith community.
And many recommend it.
We need this book. Now. With skill and grace, Whitehead explains the dangerous ideologies undergirding Christian nationalism, traces how it has infected the church, and provides practical guidance for those of us fighting it in our own communities. This is a book you should give to your friends, your family, and your pastor. — Beth Allison Barr, professor, Baylor University; author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth
Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim Its Prophetic Voice Randall Balmer (Fortress Press) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
I said I wanted to keep most of these short and sweet. Balmer’s new Saving Faith is small sized, thin hardback; at under 100 pages it shows how we can reckon with the heritage of complicity in racism and, through stories and analysis and Biblical teaching, invite us to get real and get going. As Rob Wilson-Black puts it, it may seem like “a stinging indictment” but for some of us it will read like a blessing, a “long-awaited healing treatment.”
More can and must be said, but any church leader wondering how to weave this stuff of concern into his or her parish ministry will want to have this on hand.
There is, by the way, an appendix of the tremendous and justly famous 1973 “Chicago Declaration of Social Concern” written by the likes of Hearts & Minds friends and mentors, Ron Sider, John Perkins, Richard Mouw, and Jim Wallis. It was nice to see that reproduced. Right on!
FOR A PASTOR WANTING TO THINK THROUGH HOW TO DISCIPLE OTHERS
Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith Preston Sprinkle (NavPress) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
I don’t know about you but I’ve often been squeamish about recommending books on disciple-making. We don’t need an overly organized strategic plan and we don’t need formulas since mentoring and life-on-life care-giving should emerge organically from relationships and context. Still this is one I highly recommend as it gives some basic data (compiled by Barna) on what ordinary church folks think the word discipleship means, and how, then to begin to mentor others into a more robust, lived-out faith.
There is some indictment here, but also really great stories and tons of ideas to show how we can do what Jesus did with his earliest followers. We need this fun little book.
Discipleship with Monday in Mind: How Churches Across the Country Are Helping Helping THeir People Connect Faith and Work Skye Jethanie & Luke Bobo (Made to Flourish) $8.50 OUR SALE PRICE = $6.80
Maybe you should do something to help adults think through the implications of their faith for their jobs and careers? Maybe you aren’t ready for a full-blown dive into the faith and work movement, but, geesh, there really are a lot of neat things people are doing. This small book is short but potent, loaded with ideas, showing how real pastors have helped their churches connect faith and work.
This little gem is concise and practical and rare. We are really proud to recommend it.
Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Giving and Receiving Direction Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $15.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00
Again, this little book is potent, if succinct. As always, Smith has a way of writing profoundly — with not a bit of fluff — and always to the point, with grace. This short book reminds leaders that they are to be companions on the spiritual journey with others. Perhaps you need a spiritual director (this book will help you discern if that is the case and what one might do for you) and how to be one yourself, in a general, pastoral manner which doesn’t entail going to a monastery and being a full time mystic.
This is about the spiritual journey, about how we need not be alone in our questions, and how pastors can help make sense of the spiritual growth of others, with them, offering encouragement and discernment, insight about prayer and the process of hearing the Spirit speak into our lives. This really is an excellent, concise guide to being a spiritual guide or friend, especially for pastors, but truly for anyone.
Color-Courageous Discipleship: Follow Jesus, Dismantle Racism, and Build Beloved Community Michelle T. Sanchez (Waterbrook) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
This is a great resource that asks what race has to do with discipleship, and then proceeds to offer a program in mentoring others in faith formation with an eye to forming Christians who see anti-racism work (and multi-cultural sensitivities) as integral to their discipleship in Christ.
I like the solid, evangelically-minded work on being Biblically and proactively involved in racial inequity but I really like how they link it to the gospel, to faith formation in the local church, and the process of forming disciples to become the beloved community. It isn’t super short, but it is accessible and an easy read. Kudos!
FOR A PASTOR WHO HAS YET TO READ THESE SMALL CLASSICS
In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership Henri Nouwen (Crossroad) $14.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.96
Short but remarkably lasting, this is Nouwen’s deeply personal exploration of the three temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. You will come back to this time and again, despite the awfully bland cover. It’s a gem and a classic. Extraordinary.
Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life Henri Nouwen (Image) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
Written in the mid 1970s and one of the enduring Christian books of the last 50 years, this small but potent read invites us to hospitality and more. There are three sections, about the journey inward to the needy self, outward towards others, and upward to God, under the rubric “from illusion to prayer.” A must-read, lovely and moving.
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
This was the first of the four great books in Peterson’s “Vocational Holiness” series, and looks at just three essential aspects of ministry: praying, reading the Bible, and offering spiritual guidance. (Well, one preceded it but was added into the quartet later.) This isn’t super-short, but it’s so refreshing and sensible that it just might transform your paradigm for ministry.
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Sadly, as of August 2023 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is bad; worse than it was two years ago, even. It’s important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good as those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.
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