New books on Christian growth, faithful living, spiritual formation, and more — ALL ON SALE NOW

We sure have appreciated the fun notes from friends and customers about that last big BookNotes. For those that missed it, it included a dozen great books about the nature of reading, great titles on the demands and joys and benefits of the reading life. Books like the recent Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Age which I am astonished by. In this age of distraction, it is more important than ever to foster such dispositions and practices and renewed (or re-ordered) loves, and reading well can help us. Disciples of Jesus are, of course, called to be life-long learners in the way of Jesus and, these days, there is more than ever to learn. So, as the Spirit said to the restless ancient Saint Augustine, tolle lege.

One of the things we want to read about is other people. God’s Kingdom a-coming includes all of creation — art museums and baby-care stuff, earth and space sciences and politics, architecture and integrative medicine, and so much more — it all matters. But I suggested in that BookNotes that reading about how people understand and narrate their lives is a key resource for helping us understand we humans, sinners and saints that we are. Reading fiction and memoir is an usually enjoyable and often provocative way to come to understand our fellow creatures who are, obvious or not (or even if we like it or not) made in God’s image. I think it is a Christian discipline to read memoirs, opening ourselves to others, for love’s sake. I try to read one each week. (I just finished the plainspoken but deeply moving Devout: A Memoir of Doubt by Anna Gazmarian, which was, admittedly, about doubt and deconstruction, but mostly about her navigating her faith after being diagnosed with nearly untreatable bi-polar disorder. More on that later, I hope.)

We shared in last week’s BookNotes a link to about 75 annotated novels and I shared another link to nearly 75 memoirs. You can find all our old BookNotes archived at our website. Find that last one right here.

One person quipped that this gave them enough reading ideas to last a lifetime. Another said we hardly have to do another BookNotes for the rest of the summer. Ha.

And we omitted so much.

Beth thought for sure I would have listed Trust by Hernan Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel written as a book within-a-book, about big business, power, and oh so much more. I loved the amazing book about a mainline denominational pastor’s dysfunction in the great Jonathan Franzen novel, Crossroads. I can’t believe I neglected to list Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, a great novel for small-town clergy (and a favorite of our old Maryland friend, Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson.) I adored the memoir (which also won a Pulitzer) about coming of age in the 1980s-era college life of Berkley (mostly about rock music, friendship, ethnicity and race — what a deeply moving book) by Hua Hsu, Stay True and I might someday write pages about.

Alas, as much as we love the books we listed, they were limited to those two genres — memoir and fiction. (Well, I listed a few spectacular journalistic stories that read like novels, or in the style of memoirs as the author embeds themselves among folk to explore something we all need to know about. I love those creatively done works of nonfiction and shared a handful of them, too, must-reads in my view, like Beth Macy’s provocative Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis and Corbin Addison’s thrilling Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial.)  But, yeah, we focused on memoirs, biographies, and these journalistic reports, memoir-like, exposes of injustice. What a list, if I do say so myself.


So. Now we need to list a few other new books in a genre that we might describe as a basic sort of spiritual formation or about our lives as disciples. These are books to help us all grow in faith and discipleship – not theology, per se, not deep mysticism, but applied faith, “for the living of these days” as the great hymn puts it. Most are quite new and all are highly recommended. We hope you send us some orders for helpful, summer-reading.

The Gift of Thorns: : Jesus, the Flesh, and the War for Our Wants A.J. Swoboda (Zondervan) ) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I hope you know how much we appreciate the wisdom and perspective – not to mention the creative writing chops and his way with words – of this thoughtful, accessible writer. He has written some Lenten-like reflections, a tremendous book on Sabbath, another on the delights of caring for creation. He is recently known for an excellent book on doubt. He is a professor who knows young adults well, but, it seems to me, is appreciated by readers of all ages and stages. He’s an author we value and trust immensely.

This new book is not the easiest to sell. The pink cover does not indicate any gendered interest and the allusive title, while maybe a tad off-putting, should be embraced with open arms. Or at least somewhat open arms. Who wants thorns in their lives? I get it that it might seem (if you don’t know the author or the book’s profound approach) like a cheesy self help title telling you to accept whatever comes down the pike. You know, those sentimental and cheery books that Kate Bowler rails against. It isn’t that at all.

What The Gift of Thorns is, at least, is a serious study of the questions of desire. I alluded to our “disordered” or “reordered” loves in my little intro above – do we really want to be the people of empathy and substance that deep readers can become? Do we want to be wise and informed and insightful? As James K.A. Smith notes in his exceptional You Are What You Love, much of life happens “under the hood.” We can’t merely think our way to new ways of being. We need a community that offers an ethos of health and growth for those who have just had heart transplants. A good way to see spiritual growth and Kingdom formation, eh? We’re given new hearts and then, with God’s help, we must nurture our new status and our new direction in life with suitable new virtues.

Swaboda has just given us a master-class in discerning the state of our new hearts and inviting us, in the spirit of Smith, I’d say, to take up a time of self-reflection and rehabilitation. We have to know what we love and why we love it; we have to dig deep to ponder our own motives and longings. We need to learn what to do with our wants. The Gift of Thorns: Jesus, the Flesh, and the War for Our Wants is an excellent book of naming and reforming (through the power of the Spirit) our very desires. If you liked Jamie Smith’s work, you’ll value this. If you were among the many blown away by John Mark Comer’s Live No Lies, you might find this a helpful follow up. Highly recommended.

Fully Alive Tending to the Soul in Turbulent Times Elizabeth Oldfield (Baker) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is a very new book that I believe is going to be talked about in months to come. Oldfield is a popular podcaster and here (surprise!) she uses the seven deadly sins as a framework to explore the classic questions of every disciple, of every seeker, nearly of every human. Okay, maybe not everybody asks “how do I move from sloth to attention?” but it is a profound question, classically discussed under the rubric of acedia. Again, not everyone wants to move from gluttony to awe, but her framing of this question (about numbing) is remarkably profound and will attract many who are in recovery (or maybe ought to be.) She shows how we have this human propensity to mess things up and a judgy, negative approach just digs us further into the vices that plague us.

There are a lot of good books on the seven deadly sins and several we like on holiness and virtue. This may soon be on the top of many people’s lists of favorite books along these lines.

Here is the table of contents; I’m sure you’ll agree this looks absolutely fascinating.  When authors as diverse as Francis Spufford and Krista Tippett and David Zahl all rave, you know  you have a winner on your hands. The popular historian Tom Holland calls it “luminous.”

  1. The Human Propensity to F— Things Up
  2.  Wrath . . . From Polarisation to Peace-making
  3.  Avarice . . . From Stuffocation to Gratitude and Generosity
  4.  Acedia . . . F rom Distraction to Attention
  5.  Envy . . . From Status Anxiety to Belovedness
  6.  Gluttony . . . From Numbing to Ecstasy
  7.  Lust . . . From Objectification to Sexual Humanism
  8.  Pride . . . From Individualism to Community
  9.  The G Bomb

The Understory: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor Lore Ferguson Wilbert (Brazos Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Oh my, this is the very best book I’ve read in months! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days. It isn’t that long and the writing is spectacular. The story is clear, although she covers a lot of territory. Literal territory, which becomes the backdrop and stage for the inner dilemmas and spiritual struggles she faces in her interior life. Sure, it is, as many good Christian books are, a resource for your growth, a wise guide pointing the way, a nice bit of spiritual rumination to help in your own (ailing?) formation. But, believe me, it includes more than standard fare cliches or simple Biblical truths. She invites us to walk in the woods with her, and what stories she has to tell. New Testament scholar Nijay Gupta calls it “a breathtaking combination of personal vulnerability, biblical wisdom, and pastoral hope.”

The Understory is written as memoir, and it is laden with fabulous first-hand nature writing. That is, she explains what she sees, poetically and creatively, and it is mostly down-to-Earth. She gazes at the stars in a pitch-black, midnight, kayak expedition (until some beavers are aroused and become a bit territorial.) But most of the creation-care she attests to, the beauty of the Earth she reports on, is, in fact, not skyward, but the very soil. She adores plants and trees and “the understory” is somewhat of a play on the popular theme these days of the “overstory.” (Perhaps you read the great novel by Richard Powers which Beth and I regret leaving off our big list of novels in the last BookNotes. Wilbert cites it, too — hooray!) From the canopy of the highest forest to the very floor and roots of old-growth majesties, she helps us appreciate these creatures of God.

If you loved Braiding Sweetgrass – that beautiful blend of wonderful command of the language and natural history and indigenous insight by Robin Wall Kimmerer – you will appreciate Wilbert. If you liked (or even heard about) those batch of books about the language of trees and how they communicate (like The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben or The Language of Trees by Katie Holten) you’ll love her take on all of that.

However, even though this memoir is about Wilbert and her husband’s caring for some land in upstate New York (with the occasional digression to climb or canoe) and her focus is on flora and fauna, especially trees, the story under the understory is her growing up in faith, leaving a toxic sort of fundamentalism behind, coming to see her loyalty and allegiance (and therefore identity) as less to a denomination or church tradition but to the person of Jesus. Years of strict dogma and complex theology are sifted – I hate to use the word deconstructed, as that isn’t exactly it – as she resettles in this place, with her small-town neighbors.

I highly, highly recommend this for anyone who likes beautiful writing about God’s world – think of Annie Dillard, say, or the moral vision of nature writers like Terry Tempest Williams or Kathleen Dean Moore. Geesh, she wisely quotes Thoreau and Muir. This is a rare and delightful bit of Christian writing.

I also recommend it for anyone who has felt the strain of tested relationships if you came out in favor of masking during the pandemic or wanted to stand with Black Lives Matter or couldn’t imagine Christians happily supporting the MAGA agenda. She seems like such a lovely person – she wrote an award-winning book on Broadman-Holman on the need and ministry of human touch, and another which we promoted( on Brazos Press) called A Curious Faith. She is thoughtful, reasonable, and yet deeply hurt by how some folks ghosted her or doubted her faith when she didn’t follow their extremist ideologies. Man, I feel for her and I know many will want to see her reflections on how she handled this season of our American life.

It becomes clear in the course of the story – the joys of it and the scars she describes – that appreciation of and caring about creation has been healing for her. Her sense of rootedness, like the trees in her beloved Adirondacks, have enabled her to bend but not break.

“Part Wendell Berry, Eugene Peterson, and Madeleine L’Engle. The result is sheer magic.” – A.J. Swoboda, After Doubt

Practicing the Way: Be with Jesus, Become like him, Do as he did John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

This one is not brand new — it came out mid January and we sent out pre-orders way back then. Thanks for those who ordered it back when we first announced it in a previous BookNotes column a half a year ago. However, it is just so good, so germane, and still fairly recent that I wanted you to indulge me as I list it again.

Our own church is using the free video curriculum based on the book and it is so incredibly impressive, well done, professional and engaging. The “Practicing the Way” website has a downloadable workbook (that is very good) and the whole video presentation is excellent. The discussion questions are pointed and helpful. If you’ve got a small group Practicing the Way is a great read and the online classes would be great to watch together.

Comer insists that we are all being formed, all the time. A complex ecology of habits and stories and relationships and our environment play upon us, of time. Only intentionally practicing new “counter habits” can re-form us, pushing back against the malformation we’ve had from the forces of the culture. It’s not easy swimming upstream but new habits and practices can allow us, in the power of the Spirit, to go with the flow of the stream, as we become one with our Rabbi, becoming more like Him, for the sake of His Kingdom coming. It is no surprise that the likes of James Houston and, of course, Dallas Willard are cited. Ken Shigematsu (God In My Everything) and Tish Warren (Liturgy of the Ordinary) are in the videos, too. Some of the best teaching on spiritual formation I’ve seen, informed by all the standard best writers, from Ron Rolheiser to Ruth Haley Barton to Janet Hamburg to Kallistos Ware to David Banner and a great array of poets, thinkers, mystics, and theologians. Solid stuff.

Brown Faces, White Spaces: Confronting Systemic Racism to Bring Healing and Restoration Latasha Morrison (Waterbrook) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Latasha Morrison is an extraordinary, evangelical leader, a vivid spokesperson, caring educator, Godly mentor. Her first book, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation was a break-out best-seller in that too-quick season when books about race and racism and black culture were all over the best-sellers list throughout the land. We pushed it alongside the other popular titles – some Christian, some not – and she became a rock star. We rejoice in the influence she has had and are glad that it remains a steady seller (insofar as any books on race sell well these days, which they don’t.) We appreciated her Be the Bridge because it used the language of church folk, it was thoroughly rooted in a fairly conventional take on Biblical teachings and spiritual formation. She helped countless evangelicals wake up and was a popular author for many others as well.

This, ladies and gentleman, is her long-awaited sequel. Wowza! Three big cheers! You should order this book — and her previous one, if you don’t have it.

Brown Faces, White Spaces shows her own deepening of her analysis of race and racism and offers fresh insights about what we should do next, where we go from here. Many churches bravely tackled race and racism (and too many pastors were criticized for doing so) and many were quite intentional about exposing the evils of white supremacy (no matter how subtle) with a solid Biblical orientation. I suppose some opted only for secular authors and trendy book clubs but most rooted their analysis and their hopes in the good news of the gospel and offered a Biblical basis for our anti-racism work. Latasha Morrison showed “God’s heart for racial reconciliation” and now shows where that will lead.

And, yes, it will lead to bolder, even more faithful activism and Godly empowerment to confront systemic problems, all with the goal of bringing God’s shalom – healing and restoration. Brown Faces White Spaces is an ideal primer on these things, deeply rooted in the best of our faith traditions, clear-headed and inspirational, and a necessary gift for most of us.

She calls on us to pattern our preparation and study towards dedication and liberation. She explores nine aspects of American life where systemic racism still sadly flourishes. (She explores racial injustice in health care, the justice system, education, and more (including, yes, the church.) Through its call – like, for instance, say, Jamar Tisby – she insists that we know a bit about history and “the color of compromise.” She is honest and she is hope-filled. You will appreciate that, I’m sure.

The small group discussion questions will help you facilitate an adult book club or Sunday school class or summer ministry program.

The forward to this solid book is by Eugene Cho, the current executive director of Bread for the World, the renowned anti-hunger citizens lobbying group and the thrilling, upbeat afterword is by Dr. Anita Philips, a black church leader and important trauma therapist.

The Age of Grievance Frank Bruni (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Although not an overtly, or even subtly, Christian book, this mainstream journalist has offered one of the most meaningful, thoughtful, interesting, and I believe, helpful studies I’ve read in a while. Although a serious bit of cultural and political analysis, it is, also, a call to a sort of prudent decency that sounds to me like a fruit of the Spirit, like a call to virtue that comes from attention to our own spiritual formation. So I’m putting this book here on this list about discipleship and formation rather than on a later list on political stuff. It’s that good. You should read it prayerfully, to see how it might (a) help you understand our world and, perhaps (b) uncover some of your own habits of heart that have shaped your own instincts about current affairs or the lives of our neighbors.

Bruni is a long-standing, well-respected New York Times op-ed guy and a heck of an energetic writer. What fine phrases he can turn, with balance, nuance, and even humor. It’s a book I very highly recommend for anyone wanting to — as the famed “sons of Iscahaar” in Chronicles were known for — “understand the times.” He is a serious critic of the corrupt and maddening ways of Donald Trump and even more alarmed by the increasingly violent machinations of power not only on the far, alt-right, but from many bullying Republican leaders. His insistence (through lots of documentation) that the cultural dangers now are much, much, worse from the conservative side of the culture wars are compelling and in my estimation exactly right.

However, here he is also notably nuanced and exceptionally balanced, knowing that our “age of grievance” is pre-partisan and effects the air we breathe, at home, at work, at church, and in the public square. For many, seeing life (and blaming others) through the lens of grievance is core to their identity and a part of the architecture of their very worldview. He shows how acting out of grievance and insisting that everyone tow the line on every jot and tittle of a new regime of political correctness, for instance, is (especially on the left and in higher education and media) increasingly dangerous. And dumb — like some college standards that say we dare not use the word brave as a compliment, or “hip, hip, hooray” because it has roots in Nazi ideology.

I have noted scores of great paragraphs making the point about how those harboring legitimate concerns about real injustices have those concerns washed out by those demanding reparations for every little slight, blending truly historic wrongs that endure and smaller and less obviously hurtful matters. He argues this case very, very carefully — if colorfully — and makes what I think to be a thoughtful, civic-minded appeal not only for common ground and nuanced choices, but a return to former standards of decency and respect and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. The work of re-formation of our language and policy is slow, but serious.

Bruni has great insight into the overly picayune enforcement of speech codes in higher education (and he now teaches at Duke and knows something about the postmodern moods on campuses.) Anybody in higher ed should get this book. He also studies the fraught field of anti-racism training; hint: he’s not a fan of Beverly Diangelo and her White Fragility bestseller, but, again, anybody interested in helpful anti-racist efforts should consider his views. He is fair and persuasive in his assessment of the possible overreach of the #MeToo movement, as creepy lunch dates are lamented as loudly as and may be seen as similar to rape. Yet unlike some conservative work I’ve read blasting away at political correctness by exposing the oddest examples for ridicule, Bruni seems sympathetic, even if a given tendency has gone off the rails a bit.

He is rightfully aware of the need to listen well, and while he may not be quite as winsome as is John Inazu in his tremendous Learning to Disagree, he seems to be pointing towards the sort of principled pluralism to enhance civility that Inazu has written about previously. Bruni may be a political liberal, helpfully warning us of the ugly grievance ideologues of the right these days, but he quotes conservative writers like Yuval Levin and draws on the creative work of the likes of John McWhorter which is a nice surprise, again offering nuance and balance. It is an interesting author who can mock Molly Hemingway and the odd-ball Trumpians at The Federalist and the gross, nutty stuff from the likes of Tucker Carlson who minimized the blood on the floor of the Capitol as election deniers rampaged on January 6th, who yet affirms much of the thoughtful insight of some of our best conservative thinkers. I like Bruni a lot for that, making this a really energizing, even surprising book. That he cites a piece from Comment magazine or mentions David French is a remarkable sign these days.

As a gay man, he knows something about repression and marginalization, actually, but, again, he worries about how presenting some causes with such vigor and working to right some historic wrongs with such zeal may end up creating a counter-force of push-back, grievances against named grievances. That is pretty much the driving force of Fox News and the MAGA movement, now, he thinks, and shows (with vicious quote after quote, from Trump and his minions) how vile language and dangerous rhetoric is now common in pushing back against the liberals and their grievances. When conservative leaders like Mitt Romney fear for their lives from their formerly staid Republican backers in a place like Utah, you know there is danger in these times.

Is there hope? Indeed. He points the way.  The last two chapters are thrilling suggestions (okay, not overly sexy or dramatic, but wise insights about gerrymandering and election reform and ways to defuse continual battles and grudges.) Are there courageously moderate heros? Indeed; he highlights a few — celebrating a few key governors who are either Democrats in largely red states or Republicans who won and are supported in largely blue states.

His closing riffon humility is wonderful and even moving (and he cites a text in Philippians.) This book will help you be a wiser follower of Jesus in the public square. Perhaps in league with Shirley Mullen’s Claiming the Courageous Middle (a Baker Academic release we reviewed a month ago) we can learn to be nuanced advocates for a way that rises above the weary right vs left grievance wars.  We can become better neighbors, resisting our “descent into a society of metastasizing grievance” which turns everything into a battleground — in part because we don’t really know our political opponents as people. He knows “it’s complicated” but he invites us to a whole batch of do-able moves near the end. Hip, hip, hooray.

Get The Age of Grievance on your reading list asap, please. I might hold a grudge against you if you don’t.

From Weary to Wholehearted: A Restorative Resource for Overcoming Clergy Burnout Callie E. Swanlund (Church Publishing) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

Okay, this is certainly for our readers who are clergy or church leaders, or to be purchased by those who care about their ministers, pastors, or other professional church staff. Franky, as a non-ordained lay person, I found this extraordinary, but it is written to and for our congregational staff. There are others about this that I’ve written about before and this one, now, is a major contribution and a must-read for anyone tasked with caring for clergy (such as judicatories, say, or even Boards or Councils or Sessions.) It’s really, really, good. If you care about pastors, you should know this as a good resource.

Callie is herself an Episcopal priest and beloved in her own Diocese (here in Pennsylvania, I might add.) She’s a youthful voice and energetic leader within mainline denominations  and knows the ins and outs of standard church ministry. She is esteemed among her colleagues and knows a lot about the bigger picture of the contemporary state of clergy health and well-being. She will tell you – upbeat and delightful as she is – that it is not a pretty picture.

I suspect the seeds of this have been in her heart for a while as she obviously cares about the integrity of her vocation and her associates with the same sort of calling. But I also suspect that the uptick in church struggles – think Covid; think Trump; think BLM, think sexual abuse coverups; think about the stress on clergy about finances and innovation and more – has driven her to write what she knows. Clergy burnout is, as everyone knows, nearly epidemic. Clergy (and lay ministry professionals who serve the church) are often exhausted. At best.

You know the painful statistics. From stress over declining congregations (and declining financial support) to collegial loneliness, and even the high rates of illness and early deaths among clergy, church leaders are reporting, consistently, these days, less health and more stress.

As the publisher puts it, “From Weary to Wholehearted isn’t a quick fix, but a much-needed companion to remind faith leaders that they are not alone, support them through sustainable tools for finding joy and rest, and re-ground them in spiritual nourishment.”

As these books (like Glen Packiam’s The Resilient Pastor: Leading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World or Carol Howard’s Wounded Pastors: Navigating Burnout, Finding Healing, and Discerning the Future of Your Ministry) tend to do, there is plenty of data and she is informed by recent surveys, good sociology, and incorporates important research findings. But it is more (much more) than a lament, even more than a cri de couer. It really is a guide to help clergy figure out some things, take some steps towards fresh starts and helpful practices. She asks them to “show up with their whole heart, vulnerably and courageously” and then walks them through the sorts of topics and guidance that is sure to be appreciated.

Callie is a retreat leader and spiritual guide. She is certified as a ministry coach. Most deeply, it seems, she wants to be a pastor to pastors; that is, to remind them of their own belovedness, offering encouragement and empowerment. As one reader (himself not a clergy-person) put it, From Weary to Wholehearted “helped me center and calm the chaos around me.” (She is, also, a Certified Daring Way Facilitator, if there are any Brene Brown fans who would appreciate that about her.)

The Emmanuel Promise: Discovering the Security of a Life Held By God Summer Joy Gross (Baker Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This may seem like a standard-fare book on knowing God, trusting God and coming to realize God is for you. That “life held by God” line is nice. But what this extraordinary book does – while accomplishing a great reminder of those vital and classic truths – is to do so by way of the author’s expertise in attachment theory. Yup.

Knowing that the book is about that, you can see the layers of meaning in the title: the promise of  Emmanuel, God-with-Us. God is the One who holds us best, even when (maybe especially when) our frail human parents failed to hold us, in large or small ways. Do you have a human parent full of foibles (or outright sins)? This book is for you.

Attachment theory is a complex, developmental, neurological approach, to oversimplify it, what happens when we are not held well as infants and children. When we fail to develop the normative bond between trusted parents and children. For a complex array of reasons – some obvious, others less so – some kids cannot attach with a loving parent figure. In these saddest of cases, kids grow up not knowing how to trust others, can’t bond, find it difficult to have reliable relationships. Attachment theory provides some needed diagnosis – what went wrong – and some guides to what we might do to heal our alienation, As many note, the Bible describes our primordial condition of being alienated from the Earth, from others, from our own very selves. All, of course, because of a fractured relationship with God.

Summer Joy Gross seems to be a really fabulous counselor, a very sharp practitioner, and a vulnerable storyteller of those with painful insecurities and those who have found healing and hope. The Emmanuel Promise helps us all learn to rely on God, to realize God can hold us well.  She draws on the likes of Curt Thompson, whose work is excellent and eloquent. She is an Anglican priest who works with Healing Care Ministry, a very well-respected counseling and spirituality center in Ohio, led by Terry Wardle (whose books you should know.) The brand new The Emmanuel Promise looks really, really impressive, a must for anyone interested in the interplay of deep psychology and spirituality. I think it is one we could all benefit from, and we highly recommend it.

Now and Not Yet: Pressing In When You’re Not Waiting, Wanting, and Restless for More Ruth Chou Simons (Thomas Nelson) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

You may know, if you’ve followed Hearts & Minds for a while, that we love this phrase — the now and the not yet, or, similarly, the already and not yet — and have used it often. At its most basic, of course, it is a statement about the true state of things: God’s Kingdom is here, but not fully here. We live in the “now” of a world being redeemed by a loving creator who, in the person of Jesus Christ, inaugurated His reign and promises to “make all things (re)new(ed)” but we now long for what is yet to be. In Advent, especially, the church focuses our collective attention to this deep paradox of the Christian life. I love this as a way to explain the reign of God and the Kingdom that is already even if obviously not fully yet.

Ruth Chou Simons is not a person I think of when I think about this historically-redemptive vision of cosmic hope — that is, creation-regained and all-of-life-redeemed. She writes beautifully (and often illustrated her work with remarkable water-color art) and her graphics and cards and gift books are truly lovely. Her writing is warm, personal, spiritual, deep in the way good evangelical piety can be.

Any new book of hers is a big deal in the religious publishing world, I’d say, and this will be a balm for many. It is (perhaps in a way unlike her previous books such as Beholding and Becoming and When Strivings Cease or her popular Gracelaced) for those with mental health frustrations or deep disillusionments; those just hanging on. She hints in the title that it is for those who are restless. It seems to me it is even for those who are experiencing difficult aspects or seasons of their lives and who are “feeling trapped.” In this sense, some of her analysis and insights are deeply psychological. Yet, if you know her work, she is decidedly gospel-centered and committed to foundations of informed Christian living.

Personal and tender as she is, Simons knows that we need fresh habits and that this includes time and space with God, learning to trust and move towards His ways. Further – get this – she knows these capacities to “flip the script” can be enhanced by guided liturgies. In Now and Not Yet she poetically and almost liturgically holds up our anxieties to God, helping us come to realize that our “right now matters.” We can live faithfully in the tension between what is and what is not yet.

Prayers for the Pilgrimage: A Book of Collects for All of Life W. David O. Taylor with paintings by Phaedra Taylor (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I will not say much about this other than to say it is a surprise release, added into the great IVP late Spring / early Summer list and it happily just arrived. It is a handsome, thoughtful, well-written collection of prayers, cased in a fine hardback. It looks like a winner, a great little gift item or for your own prayer life. Even casually slip it to your favorite worship leader or pastor as it surely will be a useful resource for those planning worship, prayer events, or for the opening of church meetings of all sorts.

And here’s the thing: Taylor is known for heady theology and sharp thinking about forging creative and faithfully thick worship in the contemporary age. His last book, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship was a Hearts & Minds favorite for 2023 which explored various aspects of how and why our human bodies come to play in faithful Christian worship. We are embodied people, so our very bodies (including our sense of aesthetics, our emotions, our physical maladies and more) are both the way we experience and engage in weekly worship and, naturally, are influenced by our experience of said worship. Right?

As one-hundred percent true as this is always, everywhere, (even if we are participating in worship on-line, which is still embodied if not “in person”) it is notable how very little writing there is on this. His footnotes are amazing, but A Body of Praise is the first major release of a book on this topic.

Anyway, perhaps it was during the time of writing that book that this Prayers for the Pilgrimage came out. It is lovely, rich, thoughtful. The tone is an interesting blend of informal and formal, not quite as high-church in liturgical / rhetorical style as the Episcopalian/Anglican Book of Common Prayer or ad classy like Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie but not quite as informal and creative as, say, Ted Loder (Guerrillas of Grace)r or Malcolm Boyd (Are You Running With Me Jesus?) or the many lively ones by the eloquent Walter Brueggemann. It tilts a bit formal, but the topics are (like so many others these days) very much about daily, ordinary life. There is a collect for changing a diaper, prayers for school, for when one is caught in a grumpy mood, for “the little things.” There are momentous prayers and quiet prayers, one for “the proper numbering of our days” and some for healing and wholeness. There are prayers for virtues and vices as well. What a rich and lovely volume this is.

Prayers for the Pilgrimage: A Book of Collects for All of Life is a great prayer book and the gentle watercolors, earth tones and blues showing some connections between the heavens and the earth, done by his very talented wife, are alluring and a lovely, earthy adornment.

A Short Guide to Spiritual Formation: Finding Life in Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Community Alex Sosler (Baker Academic) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I hope you know Alex Sosler’s name – he is a friend and a fan of our work, and we obviously care deeply about his scholarship and ministry. Besides being an author, he’s a professor at Montreat College and an assistant Priest in Redeemer Anglican Church in Asheville NC. He’s also a bit of a pop culture aficionado, having done scholarly work on The Avett Brothers. We love this dude.

About a year ago I raved about a book he wrote for incoming first year students at Christian colleges (although methinks it would be useful for any student if they can translate it to their own setting) called Learning to Love: Christian Higher Education as Pilgrimage which draws on everybody from Wendell Berry to Esther Whitecap Meek to Steve Garber. He’s a thoughtful theological voice but his heart’s desire is to serve the church. In A Short Guide… he does the good work of retrieval, searching for classic ways to help ordinary Christians create habits and practices that shape our longings and desires. He knows the old literature, but writes very accessibly, for contemporary readers. How can we “inwardly digest” these disciplines that allow for us to know God more deeply and grow into holiness and wholeness? (And what does it look like to do that in the context of the local church? Is there a relationship between liturgy and life?)

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have a spiritual director or wondered how to take next steps towards the deeper spiritual life, this potent guide may be just what you’re looking for. We highly recommend it.

As Russell Moore puts it in the foreword:

You will not leave this short book burdened down with a sense of all the things you can’t ever seem to do. You’ll instead start to see the possibility of how you, in your own life, can seek holiness and formation.

Singing Church History: Introducing the Christian Story Through Hymn Texts Paul Rorem (Fortress Press) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

I hope that all of our Hearts & Minds readers – even those who don’t necessarily see themselves as members of churches or followers of Jesus – know something about church history. History is so important and we regularly recommend, for starters, our friend John Fea’s book, newly updated and expanded, Why Study History, and, then, something like Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past by Robert Rea. These vital and enjoyable reads will give the argument for and an overview of why people of faith should know something about these things of our communal past.

One way into this fascinating field of church history – and we have our favorites which I suppose should be a whole other BookNotes post – is to pick up this brand new, fairly academic, serious study of the details of church history by way of a close reading of the history of hymns. What a great idea, a fresh, new angle!

We all know that hymns have assisted the church in good times and bad and have both sustained and shaped the faith of believers — for both good and for ill. Did “Onward Christian Soldiers” enhance our propensity to what another hymn-writer called “our warring madness”? Did Reformation emphasis on the glory and majesty of God get wired into the Protestant worldview? How did the medieval monks come to write enduring lyrics that are still sung today?

This book invites us to consider what we might learn about shifts in theology – just say, the rise of Pentecostal renewal of personal holiness and the rise of the social gospel movement, both in the early parts of the 20th century – by closely examining the hymns that emerged from those movements.

Professor Rorem (a retired professor of Ecclesiastical History from Princeton) brings together fabulous stories and insights from well-known hymns and he offers theological analysis of what was going on in the social and religious context which gave rise to the lyrics of various hymns. He draws on music familiar to Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, historically black and other faith communities from around the world. That is, I’m guessing there will be some chapters here where the music might not be familiar. But, those very chapters might prove most enlightening for you as they explore streams of church history that have brought us to where we are today. We are “singing church history” every Sunday, as he notes, and this book will help us understand our long history.  It is about 230 pages, solid, even hefty, full of the tunes of our great cloud of witnesses. Alleluia for Singing Church History.

A brilliant idea brilliantly done. There is no book we can hold in our hand that contains as much history as a hymnal. The story of each hymn in its particularity can teach us moments in church history that, together, give us the entire sweep of the past from Miriam to Lina Sandell. A great treasure and resource for congregations. – Gracia Grindal, professor emerita of rhetoric, Luther Seminary




It is helpful if you tell us how you want us to ship your orders. And if you are doing a pre-order, tell us if you want us to hold other books until the pre-order comes, or send some now, and others later… we’re eager to serve you in a way that you prefer. Let us know your hopes.

The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.70, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.50. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Thanks.


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Sadly, as of June 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

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