BEST BOOKS OF 2018 (part two) — a fabulous, feisty, fun, frolic through a favored few findings (including fiction) ON SALE

Thanks to all who expressed appreciation for last week’s big Best of… list. We are truly grateful for your encouragement. Thanks even more to those who sent us orders. You all keep us going. (Although let’s not fool ourselves; this business can’t survive on accolades alone.) So, fight the social trends and resist the cultural tendencies: read, read, read! Buy books and give them away. Stack them around. Spend less on other stuff and invest in interesting books. Be curious. (Use your library!) As Karen Swallow Prior says, reveling in an older usage, read promiscuously. Move beyond the predictability of safe Christian book lists or popular best-seller fare. Be surprised; take risks; dare greatly in your book buying. Have fun subverting the spiffy ease of digital everything. Don’t you want to be the kind of person that does that, that kind of reader, that kind of book buyer?

We think we can help.

Here are some more titles we really enjoyed this Year of our Lord that deserve special acclaim. Add this to our previous list of favorites for 2018.

We suspect some of these titles we are about to celebrate are not for everyone, but after last week’s honoring of truly significant works, we wanted to highlight more. Some of these are doubtlessly deserving of highly significant honors, others we were itching to name because one of us was wowed by reading them or we got a kick out of telling folks about them. These are some that we have to name as we look back in our year in review. Congrats to one and all.

BEST BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS, READING, and WRITING

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos Press) $19.99 I certainly hope you didn’t miss the hullabaloo about this wonderful work this fall. We celebrated it because (a) we love Karen and her other work, such as Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and her biography called Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist and (b) because this book is about the value and virtues of reading classic and higher quality literature, and (b) because our good friend from Square Halo Books and World’s End Images, Ned Bustard, did artwork for each chapter. That this book got so much publicity on-line, in newspapers and podcasts and (yes!) here at the shop where we had a wonderful evening hosting her speaking about her passion for books and reading from On Reading Well, is just further indication that this is an important work that resonated with many. Blurbs on the back are from diverse authors such as Jonathan Merritt (who says “her book on books is her best yet… a love letter to literature.), Tish Harrison Warren (who says it is “an exploration of the formative power of stories and an excavation of the life well lived.”), and Russell Moore who says On Reading Well is for those who may at first think reading about reading is for them. He continues, “A significant and powerful work that will refocus discussion on the meaning of reading for spiritual formation.”

I enjoyed writing a long review of it at BookNotes and concur with Tish Warren, who writes,

This story-saturated engagement with the virtues is pragmatic enough to touch the nitty-gritty of our lives and imaginative enough to inspire.

We are not the only ones to determine to honor and celebrate Karen Swallow Prior and her book On Reading Well as one of the best books of 2018. It was happily on a number of critics and periodicals end of the year lists and has garnered a number of impressive awards. Now is gets a coveted — haha — Hearts & Minds Best Book award as well.  Cheers!

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life Anne Bogel (Baker Books) $14.99 Oh my, we wish we could just give these out to anyone and everyone — it is a book lover’s joy to see a handsome little book offering all kinds of insights about the lifestyle of being a serious reader. Yet, even though it (not unlike Prior, but perhaps with a bit more whimsy) understands and helps explains the significance and implications of the reading life, it also holds up the joy and quirky (charming and sometimes odd) habits that those of us who love books exhibit.

Anne Bogel, as we explained in our review earlier, is the creator of the popular blog Modern Mrs. Darcey and the podcast What Should I Read Next. I suppose this may be aimed at female readers, mostly, but I loved it. Beth and I (and our staff) so appreciate a little volume that declares to the world what we are about and is unashamed to admit that many of have this hobby that is more than a hobby but nearly a beautiful obsession. Anybody who loves reading and cares about their bookish habits will enjoy this and I know many have purchased it as a little gift for their book-loving friends. More importantly, perhaps, it might introduce the charms and benefits of reading to those yet to be seduced. Let us hope this good guide makes it way to many.

Book Girl: A Journey Through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life Sarah Clarkson (Tyndale Momentum) $15.99  There is no doubt this is one of my favorite books of 2018 and one we will continue to tell others about for a long time to come. In my too-brief review last fall I considered, but did not, use a Goldilocks analogue, but I shall now. If Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well is tooo tough and long and Anne Bogel’s I’d Rather Be Reading is tooo short and sweet, well, Book Girl is “just right!”  Indeed, Clarkson is as smart and charming and fun and practical and wise (and well-read!) as both of the above mentioned authors and their books combined. I adored this very, very thoughtful reminder of what books can do for us, the profound ways they shape our worldview, the way they can create empathy and help us navigate our world. It is a wonder no one has written a book quite like this (although, I must say, it is stuff I’ve said often in workshops and lectures.)

Not only did Book Girl make a convincing case about the value of the reading life and explain how books nurture both the life of the mind and the calibre of the heart, it also is loaded with book lists, recommended readings, annotated inventories of titles for this or that topic. Highly recommended.

Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William edited by Jack R. Baker & Jeffrey Bilbro (Front Porch Republic Books) $27.00 There are so many books that fall into the “literary criticism” and “books about books” category and we appreciate many. For instance, who wouldn’t find intriguing a 2018 book called Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith (by Richard Harris; SPCK; $27.00) or the fabulous new book from Plough Publishing called The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers (compiled by Carole Vanderhoof; $18.00.) One of the good ones that we actually sold a handful of was by the great Sarah Arthur called A Light So Lovely:The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle; Zondervan; $19.99.) There are so many books like this and we are glad.

But Baker & Bilbro have given us something truly remarkable and I am thrilled to tell you about it. Telling the Stories Right, as the subtitle suggests, is a collection of essays about the fictional world Wendell Berry has created, the legendary Port William of Kentucky.  Berry is known as an essayist and agrarian reformer. He is a farmer, a poet, an environmental activist, and is well known for essays about rural life, farmer — the good and the bad — and about being attentive to place, to land, to creation. For instance, 2017 saw a fabulous hardback collection of recent agrarian essays (The Art of Loading Brush) but 2018 saw the release of the first volume of the handsome Library of America ‘s (what will be) complete collection of Berry’s fiction, in (fictional) chronological order. In this volume, all of his novels and short stories are placed in the proper order (not when they were written, but when the story takes place) starting somewhat after the Civil War. The prestigious Library of America will do a second volume two collected fictional works maybe next year…

This Front Porch Republic book by Baker & Bilbro offers a look at many facets of Berry’s fiction, his rendering of the small Kentucky town and it’s fields and characters and ethos. There are twelve chapters here and as it says on the back, they “approach Berry’s fiction from a variety of perspectives — literary studies, journalism, theology, history, songwriting — to shed light on its remarkable ability to make a good life imaginable and compelling. This volume is not the first to study his fiction but it is the best, insisting that “any consideration of Berry’s work bust being with his stories.”

There are wonderful writers here, doing very interesting things. Kiara Jorgenson from St. Olaf College writes about affection and the sense of vocation in the stories. Eric Miller, a historian who teaches at Geneva College (and who lived for a spell in York, PA, near us) studies letters Wendell Berry received, about the novels, looking for clues to how readers respond to the stories. Bilbro’s own chapter is called “Andy Catlett’s Missing Hand: Making Do as Wounded Members.” Jake Meador of the Davenant Institute writes on Jayber Crow; singer-songwriter and founder of Rabbit Room Andrew Peterson has a lovely, short chapter paying tribute. A few other acquaintances are here: Michael Stevens (who wrote the first book that explored Berry from a Christian viewpoint, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life) has a brilliant chapter about marginal characters (and hedgerows.) Doug Sikkema writes for Comment and has a piece about the “narrative tradition” of Berry’s fiction, comparing him to Stegner, Stanford, and the Class of ’58. Yes, the women and men who offered chapters here know Berry’s work well and obviously enjoy writing about this fictional place that “makes goodness compelling.”

The next best thing to reading Berry is to read those who write about Berry’s writing. We should be extremely grateful that we now have this collection of wise investigations of Berry’s novels and short stories. These essays do what they were meant to do which is nothing less than celebrate Berry’s fertile imagination.” –Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Divinity and Law at Duke University

“”When I encounter readers, who share Wendell Berry’s concerns but are unfamiliar with his work, I urge them to begin with his fiction. One finds there, more fully arrayed than in his essays or poetry, the web of relationships connecting persons, place, and community. The weaving of that web, on the page and in the world, is the subject of the dozen studies in this book, a worthy guide to the storytelling art of an essential author.”   –Scott Sanders, author of Earth Works

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle Sarah Arthur (Zondervan) $19.99 I do not know if you will adore this book or not. If you like L’Engle you will be glad to learn of her impact and influence on others. You may know about some of her struggles, personal and otherwise (including the loud criticisms she got from some quarters. It seems she was to open-minded and literary for some conservative religious adherents and yet too Christian for some mainstream critics. Yep.) From Phil Yancey to Luci Shaw, she inspired and befriended many thoughtful Christian writers, and her soul friends are here. Fiction writers like Jeffrey Overstreet are interviewed as are other of L’Engle’s writing colleagues.

Her faith was profound and she had what might be called a sacramental view of reality. This book explores her view of her craft as a writer, her role as a thinker, cites her memoirs and essays and Bible studies as well as the Wrinkle in Time works.  It’s thoughtful, but not heavy, but not a simple biography. It really is does explore L’Engle’s “spiritual legacy.” I liked the little “French fold” covers that make it extra nicer, not to mention a foreword by Charlotte Jones Voiklis. And you thought you like Meg Murray and Calvin O’Keefe!  Thanks to Sarah Arthur for offering this lovely book.

BOOKS OF FAITH FORMATION (BUT NOT TYPICAL DEVOTIONAL/CHRISTIAN LIVING WRITING)

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $21.99  Even if I hadn’t cracked the cover of this compact, hand-sized hardback I’d have nominated for a “best cover” award, I think. I love Marilyn McEntyre, having read several of her volumes of poetry, devotion, Advent, books about grief, about dying, even one about St. Patrick. I’ve chatted with here and served on a panel once and she remains a literary hero. One of my favorite books in the last decade has become a chestnut for me, one I take everywhere and often press into people’s hands — it is called Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. These were lectures (The Stone Lectures at Princeton, actually) riffing on the theme of words as natural resources and offering “stewardship strategies” to steward them well lest they turn toxic and pollute our common life. More recently she did a lovely and thoughtful devotional playing with words, called Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice. And later this year, Eerdmans will release When Poets Pray.

Make a List is the one we are honoring now, though; at first blush it seems less overly spiritual than most of her others. And yet, this human practice — list making — can be stewarded well, as well, and can become a spiritual discipline. In her insightful hands, a book about list-making becomes a mature and generative work. Who knew?

We could give this an award, if we were being goofy, about Make a List being one of the hardest books to know where to shelf here in the shop. Is it a self-help book? A time management tool? A resource for the absentminded, helping one become productive in a “getting things done” section of the store? Or is it, as the subtitle audaciously says, a “practice” that can “open our hearts”? Maybe we should put it under spiritual formation? As Jamie Smith says, ‘the things we do, do things to us” so, surely, this is a book about formation.

The author is treasured by many. Authors and artists  and theologians such as Shauna Niequist and Michael Card and Samuel Wells all have accolades on the back of the book. Lauren Winner’s endorsement is on the front. Any new book of McEntyre’s, we think, is deserving of a very big shout out. I think I’ll make a list of all the things I like about this.  Number one is that it is just so nicely written, so charming and artful and good. Cheers.

Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People  Bob Goff (Nelson) $16.99 This is, obviously, one of the notable books of 2018. Bob is a funny, funny, guy, but behind the exuberance and whimsy and connecting everybody and encouraging others is a sly, whimsical, but sly strategy. Bob is inviting people to live a better story, a story connected to the big themes of the Kingdom of God, the joys (and sacrifices) of following Jesus. He knows the gospels and he has spent much of his life serving God, helping others, building a famously creative and adventurous family — not to mention an avocation of fighting sexual trafficking, starting orphanages in war zones, schools in rural Africa, and coming alongside folks as diverse as hipster cum business consultant Donald Miller to thoughtful global activist and history writer Jay Milbrandt or fun and fiery spiritual renewal leader Bianca Juarez Olthoff. He gets around and knows folks all over — just read the wonderful forward to, for instance, the brand new Salvaged: Leadership Lessons Pulled from the Junkyard by his childhood friend, Roy Goble or learn how he continues to serve folks in Somalia or Uganda. What his Dream Big video promos and pick up the wholesome, energetic, encouragement.

Anyway, like his much-loved Love Does this 2018 release is inspiring, funny, dramatic, well-told, audacious, and yet, oddly, down to Earth. Some have told us they think some of the stories are more powerful than Love Does. I think that may be the case….I couldn’t put it down, but what do you expect.

We carry the DVD, too.  Top notch, sure to please almost any teen or adult ed class or small group. Not terribly intense doctrinal study, but if you, like Bob, want to “love everyone, always” but being involved in “Bible doings” not just “Bible studies”, he’s your man.

If you want to “Dream Big” as he puts it, he’s really your man.

Here is how the publisher describes Everybody Always:

Driven by Bob’s trademark storytelling, Everybody, Always reveals the lessons Bob learned–often the hard way–about what it means to love without inhibition, insecurity, or restriction. From finding the right friends to discovering the upside of failure, Everybody, Always points the way to embodying love by doing the unexpected, the intimidating, the seemingly impossible. Whether losing his shoes while skydiving solo or befriending a Ugandan witch doctor, Bob steps into life with a no-limits embrace of others that is as infectious as it is extraordinarily ordinary. Everybody, Always reveals how we can do the same.

Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light Rachel Marie Stone (IVP) $16.00 This is a book that just took my breath away at times, very well written and very well thought out and very touching, tender, even. Rachel tells illuminating stories that hold her life up to the light — and allows us to join her and do the same — and see where fear and loss and pain has shaped her and how hope has broken through.  Amy Julia Becker (herself a very talented writer) says “Birthing Hope drew me in from the first page to the last…”

Two scenes early in the book are indicative: there’s a story about her fearing water as she her dad helps her learn to swim. It is so well told and so realistic that I felt it. More extraordinary, perhaps, was a riveting story about a risky procedure in a birthing clinic in a part of Africa plagued by HIV and AIDS.  Why are we sometimes brave, why do we take risks why do we sometimes not? Where is God amidst our human fears and foibles?

Rachel Marie Stone wrote a very good, basic, clear, theologically-wise book on food called Eat with Joy that is unparalleled as an accessible good study. As in that one, but more-so, Birthing Hope offers a robust, down-to-Earth creational theology, and, in this case, uses the good metaphor of birth as a way into the conversation (by way of writing about family and motherhood and physicality and anxiety and more) about birthing hope.

There are so many good endorsements of this book and since I am telling you why we name it as one of our favorite books of 2018, allow me to share what others have said, who say it more eloquently than I; do read this — they are eloquent and compelling.

“I love this book. You needn’t have given birth to love it. Maybe you don’t even have to be curious about God or life as a human being to love it―the prose is that strong and compelling that perhaps even the God-and-human-uncurious might love it. My copy is going on my read-once-a-year shelf, after Jane Smiley and before Robert Penn Warren.” (Lauren F. Winner, associate professor at Duke Divinity School, author of Wearing God)

“Ask me what this book is about and I will struggle to give you a simple answer. It is about pregnancy and birth, anxiety and despair, blood and water. It is memoir and history, poetry and theology. Ask me, though, why you should read this book, and my answer is very simple―because you are a person with a body in and through which you bear pain, fear, and failure. Read this book for its necessary wisdom. In our most desperate vulnerability, when all we can do is endure, God is there too.” (Ellen Painter Dollar, author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction)

Birthing Hope drew me in from the first page to the last. Rachel Marie Stone’s masterful interweaving of family story, theological truth, and personal reflection on birth, life, and loss puts her in the company of writers such as Rebecca Solnit and Eula Biss. I will return to this book for wisdom, beautiful writing, and encouragement that, even in the face of loss and sorrow, it is good to give ourselves to the light.” (Amy Julia Becker, author of Small Talk and A Good and Perfect Gift and White Picket Fences.)

“We all carry fear with us in our bodies. Some of us try to escape it, some excel at denying it, and others attempt to bully it into submission. Rachel Marie Stone’s shimmering writing instead invites readers to recognize the ways in which fear shapes us (and sometimes breaks us) as human beings. Birthing Hope reveals, with honesty and grace, the ways in which holy, embodied hope can re-form our response to fear.” (Michelle Van Loon, author of Moments & Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith)

“I’ve been waiting for a book like this one for years, and no one could have written it more beautifully and wisely than Rachel Marie Stone. With the skill of a poet and the patience of a doula, Stone invites the reader to look straight into the face of fear and find in it the spark of hope. There are words and phrases from these pages that I will go on pondering for years. Theologically rich and carefully researched, Birthing Hope is a book for everyone, but as a new mother it proved life changing―the kind of book that leaves you breathless.” (Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday and A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Inspired.)

“Profound theology, deep psychic insight, and the kind of wisdom that only emerges from immersion in life and the Scriptures―Rachel Marie Stone’s book is a treasure, unforgettable, entirely compelling.” (James Howell, author of Worshipful: Living Sunday Morning All Week)

“Why do so many movies and TV shows portray birth so laughably poorly? It’s as if we’ve all agreed the real thing―the most elemental human reality―is too raw and inelegant, too terrible and ecstatic, to be honest about. Rachel Marie Stone upends this conspiracy in this feisty, smart, theologically illuminating book. In her hands, birth is not only a sacrament of solidarity, a sign of hope amid the chaos of doubt and fright, but also a reminder that, for all our talk of immortal souls, we have and are bodies, fearfully and wonderfully so.” (Wesley Hill, author of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian)

Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing Jay Stringer (NavPress) $16.99  I thought of listing this in our last list of Best Books of 2018 but I felt like that list was getting long and a bit heavy. The topic of this is heavy, but I wanted to name it in this second list of perhaps more fun and fresh writing. This is not your typical study of lust and purity or closing the window on porn use. It is about finding God’s grace to be transformed, in slow and deep ways, that allow us to find healing from unwanted sins and hard temptations, and it is brutal to read in some ways. But yet, unlike any other book of this kind, it offers a remarkable approach. As String puts in in a slogan perfect for this age of hashtags: listen to your lust.

As we explained before this book came out, we knew of Stringer and his family decades ago, and I’ve come to respect him immensely as we studious and Biblically-informed scholar of psychiatric care. His most important qualification, in my book, besides his being a kind and faithful counselor who is attentive to the Word and attentive to the world, is that he studied with Dan Allender at the Seattle School of Theology.

Dan Allender does not write too many blurbs on too many books, but he says this of Unwanted:

“Without rival, the best book on broken sexuality I have ever read.”

Another key writer on books about sex addictions is Mark Laaser. Laaser wrote the foreword, which is a huge sign that this book is making an important contribution to this field. It is certainly deserving of the accolades and good reviews it has gotten.

Another thing that makes Unwanted a book worthy of acclaim is that it draws on what seems to be the largest survey yet of those who experience some kind of unwanted sexual behavior. And from this data comes a whole lot of anguish and a pattern that emerges: putting a “tourniquet” on these problems, just saying no, getting an accountability partner or safe software doesn’t work. A deeper evaluation is needed, and that is where this book comes in, inviting us to delve more deeply into the backstories of our lives, to reflect on our desires, to re-orient our loves, to seek a reformation of character by healing the hurts that have shaped our desires. He talks about “reenactment” indicating that our current brokenness may be re-playing some deeper hurts and unfulfilled longings.

This isn’t weird or even that unusual. A biblical view of the person affirms that our past plagues us and that we all are hooked into false realities — idols the Bible calls them — and until we let go of those bad stories and wrong idols and defective imaginations, we will never be fully free. Listening to what’s going on deep inside is good advise for anyone seeking spiritual growth and is common sense counsel from any advisor. In the hands of Jay Stringer it becomes a healing balm for many and Unwanted is one of the rare books in faith-based psychology that dares to speak this kind of grace-filled, hard truth. I suspect it is too deeply spiritual for some secular or humanistic counselors and I suspect it is too raw and real for some pious Christian counselors. Read it for yourself and I am sure you will see that it is certainly one of the more interesting books in many year. Kudos.

Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith Janice Peterson (NavPress) $14.99 Decades ago, Eugene Peterson and I stood in the hallway of a local church, and then slowly strolled out to the parking lot where we chatted a bit and dreamed about him doing a poetry reading at our store. (We had heard he sent out original poems as Christmas gifts to his mailing list of fiends and family, and I knew he might want to read for us some Gerard Manley Hopkins, say.  His own poetry volume came out many years later entitled Holy Luck.) Even then, before The Message, Peterson was famous and I was reluctant to invite such a serious thinker to our small bookshop. We couldn’t pay him and we didn’t know how to proceed — we were young and idealistic but didn’t want to be rude. He was hospitable with us, friendly and willing. It never worked out, but I stopped in, later, unannounced (making a delivery, if I recall) to the apartment he and his wife, Jan, shared in Pittsburgh for a year, having left Maryland and before the call to Regent in British Columbia. Gene wasn’t there but oh did I enjoy chatting with Jan. It was a short visit and (I’m not just saying this) she was as gracious and kind and warm as can be.  Years later we crossed paths a few other times and conferences or events, and what she writes about in this book (as you’d expect from anyone in this family) is born from a life lived well. She knows how to be friendly and show God’s hospitality and has done so, long before it became somewhat of a trendy theological trope.  Becoming Gertrude is about friendship and kindness, showing grace and attending to others being a servant, “pouring into” others, as a younger generation puts it nowadays. In Janice’s younger days, it was as simple as being asked up on the porch for a glass of lemonade by a woman named Gertrude.

Can we all become Gertrude’s to others? This small sized, handsome book of story and guidance is, for all it’s aw-shucks, elderly wisdom, this teaching is more radical and counter-cultural and full of subversive, Kingdom implications than the lovely homespun cover suggests. To say no to busy-ness and be open to interruptions, to say no to “investing” and pragmatics and be present and real, to offer friendships in earnest which opens us up not only to love but to be loved, is not the way of the world, or even the way of the church, too often, these days.

Jan Peterson tells of the bonds of friendship that she has encountered and opens up her own storied life (yes, with some stuff about being married to Gene) but also examines five elements of relationships that can be appreciated and explored in the rhythms of ordinary life. She offers us insight about caring, acceptance, service, hospitality, and the ministry of encouragement. We ourselves can flourish as we offer these gifts to others.

Peterson offers a lot of good reminders about all this — we can get hurt, giving our lives to others with abandon; we should care about simple and good nutrition when sharing food with others, we have to accept our own selves as we practice accepting others.

She writes good words such as these:

When I offer hospitality, something amazing happens — so much more than I have anything to do with. An exchange takes place. Our guests bring who they are with them and enlarge our lives in their offerings. When we offer guests space, a lot of creative growth occurs.

When we announced this a BookNotes earlier in the fall we noted that it had reflection questions that would make Becoming Gertrude a very nice and useful book to read together with others. We honor it as a quiet little guide about friendships and mentoring and much, much more.

Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith byJanice Peterson released and was in her hands a few weeks before her beloved friend, husband, and partner in ministry died. I am sure Gene was very proud of her and I’m sure all were glad about this bittersweet moment when the book arrived. Now it is available in stores and for sale, and we hope it becomes well known. It might help you become Gertrude, and maybe even become Janice for others.

Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different Michael Frost (NavPress) $7.99 I should have named this in our last post, but was sort of afraid it might seem weird to celebrate an inexpensive, pocket-sized paperback as a major, enduring book of the year. But, hey-o, let’s keep it a little weird and list this goofball of a book as an award winning, super-important, major release.

For starters, it is not goofy. The “Keep Austin Weird” movement is catching and, like evangelical trend-spotters before him — Tom Sine, decades ago, and Leonard Sweet, just to name two — Frost is naming a cultural moment about which the church should be aware. Give the Aussie a medal, for God’s sake, because this is very, very observant stuff that no one else has named yet. Yep, this is a ground-breaking little bit of analysis, and he’s right on.

Secondly, anybody who has been in small group Bible studies for long has surely heard some joke about being a “peculiar people” as 1 Peter 2 puts it. But, again, this holy call to distinctiveness, is serious, and although we have fun with it (yeah, some of us are more peculiar than others. hahaha) the churches accommodation to the culture around us, the bland and normal and bureaucratic and conformed, that does not invite anyone to be very much surprised by our faith, is surely deeply sad. Why are we so normal?

That is the question Frost examines and it is prophetic and profound. In a short, short, read, he invites us to “go and do likewise” by following an upside-down King of an upside-down Kingdom. Not since Brian Walsh’s utterly profound collection of messages in Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time have we heard this kind of call to “resist the allure of acceptability.”

Frost has written some of the best missional church stuff and some of the best missional discipleship stuff in recent decades. If his name is on it, buy it. But this little volume — an important follow up to his small Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People — is cheap enough and simple enough, that you could pass ’em out like pancakes. It is fun, at times funny, but mostly quite serious as he explore how the cultural creatives in our culture are themselves celebrating the unusual, the eccentric, the artful, the subversive. We need to embrace some of peculiarity if we are to reach them, but that’s only the start. We shouldn’t embrace weird to merely reach those on the cutting edge. We should embrace weird because in doing so there is something very healthy and appropriate for those called to live “non-conformed to the ways of this world.” We should trust God in ways that lead us to be adventuresome, creative, risk-taking and such.

While food trucks and hipster coffee shops and co-working places are popping up all over, malls have become ghost-towns, he reminds us. Nobody wants a McMansion any more. “Millennials have discovered kitchens,” he writes;  what can we learn from the culture’s fascination with the artisanal? Who in church history can teach us about radical reformation? What keeps us from being weird? How do relate to the world that is changing, in some ways, perhaps, for the better? What sort of habits and practices and spirituality will bear the fruit of helping us “see things weirdly”? Michael Frost’s Keep Christianity Weird is asking hugely important questions and it is short enough to allow many to join the conversation. One of my favorite books of the year!

Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences Cary Nieuwhof (Waterbrook) $19.99 Although last week’s BookNotes honored some very serious books about theology and culture and spirituality and our public lives that I think are important and good, I wanted to add this to a Best of list, but wasn’t sure where to put it. It is partially an auto-biographical telling of this pastor’s own journey into burnout, somewhat of a pop-self-help book which, while valuable, aren’t always enduring or profound. Nieuwhof is one of these high achievers, known in the mega-church world (he founded a church with one of those edgy-cool names, Connexus) a creative designer of educational programs, leadership podcasts, children’s ministry conferences, and more. Often when authors travel in those high-octane worlds I tend to tune out — they may be considered thought-leaders but I would rather slow it down and invite them to think a bit more about what they are doing. I’m distrustful of the glitz and success, although can admire the organizational energy and communication skills of guys like this.

Alas, I have to admit I was a tad smug when I heard Nieuwhof, organizer, thought-leader, big shot, had a bout of burn-out. And, then, he wrote a book about itOf course he did. 

Well, I’m here to repent of my cynicism (most of it anyway) about this and rejoice that Mr. Nieuwhof wrote this vulnerable, telling, helpful, guide to thinking about this leadership challenge. Well, seven challenges, actually, and not just those faced by leaders but by most all of us, living and agin as we do in a fast-paced world or pressures. These concerns really are for any of us who care at all about the world, who are engaged in good work, who are busy and dedicated and may not attend to our interior lives, even though we’ve heard over and over that that is important for sustained integrity. What happens when this stuff starts going off the rails, when we fall prey to distractions and distortions?

I suppose I didn’t see it coming, either, and still am not sure if my periodic melancholy and anxiety is stress or depression or just lack of sleep. I’ve struggled with this hard stuff most of my adult life — workaholism, we used to call it, being addicted to one’s own adrenaline. Is it ego? Idolatry? Heath issues? Or do serious times demand serious sacrifices?  I don’t know, but I was glad to read this book, which I liked much more than I expected, as Neuwhof ruminate on his own being bogged down by distractions. It was reassuring and helpful as he offers guidance about seeing what might be coming around the bend.

There’s binoculars on the cover, after all. Nice.

Here are the seven topics he writes about with remarkable candor: Cynicism, Compromise, Disconnection, Irrelevance, Pride, Burnout, and Emptiness. I bet I’m not the only one who could benefit from this book, eh?

This isn’t a memoir about a major mental health crisis or a moral failure or a terrible crack-up. It just exposes this slow, gnawing, sense that something isn’t right, that we can’t just plow on through, that we have to be aware.

Listen to just a couple of the many fans of this book and of this author:

One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is staying the course. Experiences happening to us and around us every day try to derail us. In this book, Carey will help you identify some of the biggest distractions threatening to keep you from your God-given destiny and will provide you with tools to redirect your focus and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus so you can finish your race strong.”
—Christine Caine, best-selling author and founder of A21 and Propel Women

“If you don’t take the time to see what’s coming at you, you can’t see the One who’s coming for you. And that’s why you have to read this book, which hands you more than binoculars. Carey Nieuwhof offers you his own beckoning hand. And he is one uncommonly perceptive and generous guide whose fresh, luminous insights are a needed lens for all leaders to scout out more courage, more capacity, more Christ.”
—Ann Voskamp, author of New York Times bestsellers The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts

“Communication skills are only half the battle in leadership and life. If we’re honest, the real struggle happens inside our hearts and souls. Nieuwhof’s new book provides expert guidance in the life issues that make or break us as leaders and as people. He addresses each issue honestly and with an accuracy that pierces the heart.”
—Nancy Duarte, best-selling author and CEO of Duarte Inc.

“Carey Nieuwhof cares deeply about leaders and proves it with this challenging yet hopeful book. We all need a guide to help us know what’s around the corner in our leadership journey, and Carey provides helpful perspective for any leader at any level.”
—Brad Lomenick, author of H3 Leadership and The Catalyst Leader and former president of Catalyst

FAVORITE MEMOIRS & BIOGRAPHY

Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, A Coffin, and a Measure of Life David Giffels (Scribnerr) $16.00  I had not read a single review of this, but the title itself — gosh, even those first two words should be award winning for a great title! — and the beautiful, beautiful cover made me pick it up. I told groups about it when it first came out, people who like well-written memoir, good stories, fine writing about the meaning of life that isn’t pushy or propaganda. For readers who like those who press into the mysteries by telling a good story with eloquence and good humor.

Well, did I under-sell this. It is brilliantly written, doing all of the above in spades. Giffels is a great writer, turning phrase after phrase that made me catch my breath, even as he writes about boyhood plywood projects or going to a lumber yard with his aging father. How eloquent can a guy be talking about lumber, you ask? Pretty damn eloquent, I’d say. Giffels is a master of common-place prose and it made Furnishing Eternity a true delight. I can’t tell you enough how much I loved his writing Akron writing style.

Speaking of which, Giffels was raised by a book-loving mother — she owned the whole big set of OOD, which many a library doesn’t even own — and he teaches creative writing at University and has two other books under his belt, so he’s no novice. (He previously wrote a great volume we stock called The Hard Way: Dispatches from the Rust Belt and another memoir called All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House. He used to be on NPR and has written for, get this, MTV’s Beavis and Butthead. Like I said, not a novice.)

Besides the spectacular craft of his witty, blue-collar eloquence — is that a style? I disagreed with Publishers Weekly saying it was “a sweetly mordant” — the book is tender without being sentimental, raw without being morbid. He is, you understand, making his coffin with his wood-working father. Part of it is that Giffels is cheap and can’t abide paying the crazy-high prices for those big caskets with the fancy presidential names. Also, he loves to do these kinds of projects. As his mother is dying of cancer and his father falls ill, he is forced to consider his own mortality. Furnishing Eternity is literally about making a casket (called a coffin in most other English speaking countries) with his dad. Hence the trip to the lumber section of Home Depot and his rumination about more glorious wood choices at the local lumber yard that had just burned down.

With chapter titles like “Measure Twice, Cut Once” it really does have some stuff about wood-working, although most of the writing is the bigger backstory. I liked the line from one reviewer who called it “a saga of death and carpentry.” Kirkus Review put it simply, saying Furnishing Eternity is “a lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between a father and son.”

I so enjoyed this book and I enjoyed it on multiple levels. It is doubtlessly one of my favorite books of recent years and a Best Book of 2018.

Is it possible to write about the death of your mother, the death of your best friend, the coming death of your father and the inevitable death of yourself in a context that’s both honest and lighthearted? Only if you are David Giffels, and only if you also include some practical information about woodworking. This book is like a Randy Newman song.”
Chuck Klosterman, New York Times bestselling author of But What If We’re Wrong?

“Giffels does the rare emotional work of peering behind the curtain of the father-son relationship, and examining it under the press of mortality. He writes with honesty, humor but above all generosity. We could all learn something from these excellent pages.” Alexandra Fuller, author of Quiet Until the Thaw

“Obituary writers know our job is essentially reassessing life through the lens of death, searching for lessons. Giffels’ writing is clever, vivid, hilarious and touching without ever being maudlin. He writes with the humor, expertise, reflection and precision of Steve Martin, Jessica Mitford and Bob Vila sharing a drink at a wake. In the process, he and his family have constructed a story filled with lasting lessons for us all.” —Jim Sheeler, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of Final Salute and Obit

Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints Christiana Peterson (Herald Press) $16.99  We announced this at BookNotes with great delight and I noted that throughout this memoir the author has sidebars about various saints — Francis, Clare, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, who she has an uneasy relationship with, and more — including some letters written to them. This is wonderful stuff, great for those exploring these old saints for the first time.There is a very nice foreword by spiritual writer Jon Sweeney, a former fundamentalist who learned of the mystics, especially Francis, from Mennonites (which is appropriate since Peterson and her husband joined a Mennonite rural community.) The titles refers to these mystics, but what I loved most about it was less about the contemplative journey but as a well-told memoir about a young married couple trying to find a more simple lifestyle, leaving the bustle and high-power work of Washington DC to a farming community in the rural mid-West.

Even for those who haven’t experimented with intentional living or read much about utopian communities, the back-to-the-land movement of the 70s, or the newer contemporary monastic movements, this story of a fairly mainstream couple moving to share life in this Mennonite gathering (of separate homes and land) is captivating.

Plow Creek is the name of the intentional community Christiana and her husband discovered and with a bit of prayer and vetting — but not as much as one might think — off they went to take up their new lives as part of this faith-based community. And, wow, what a journey. What a story!  Peterson is an honest and good writer and I was hooked as she so beautifully told of the experiences at Plow Creek, the descriptions of the joys and hardships of farm labor, realizing the different sort of faith traditions and personalities in the community, the struggle with members, volunteers, interns, are all told with verve and clarity. Which is to say, I couldn’t put it down. Each night I’d read more — yes, appreciating the interludes with pieces on St. Francis or Dorothy Day, and, yes, appreciating Peterson’s own journey learning about Nouwen and Merton, deepening her faith as she experimented with spiritual writings of this classic sort and dabbled in contemplative prayer herself. (Again, the blurbs are by writers like Richard Rohr, who she nicely describes reading, by the way) but be aware, the book is more about the misfits than the mystics. And much more about loss and endurance than prayer and ecstasy. It is a memoir, not a guide to contemplation, but she does introduce us to many historical figures and her description is excellent. Even those familiar with these saints will learn something new!

Listen to these two reflections on the book:

“I cried healing tears as I read this book. Christiana N. Peterson’s breathtaking way with words, coupled with her rare perception–her ability to name unseen movement in the air around grief, family, and community, and the mysterious shifts in the soul–left me pared back and longing for the deeper, more honest things of faith. Anyone grappling for words to express the strange intermingling of joy and suffering needs to look no further. Peterson brings in the misfits (the saints and the readers both), looks us in the eyes, and makes room for us to embrace the only thing we can in the midst of this nuanced, beautiful, and painful life in the flesh. She makes room for us to embrace the mystical misfit within us all.”
–Amber Haines, author of Wild in the Hollow

“In Christiana N. Peterson’s beautifully told memoir, the reader comes to understand that our relationships with saints living and dead can take many forms but that at their heart, they are about the compassion that draws us into community. Peterson deftly sketches the optimism that drew her to an intentional Mennonite community as well as the difficulties of community and family life while carrying on conversations with her chosen groupings of Catholic saints. It’s an unexpected juxtaposition that works beautifully.”        –Kaya Oakes, author of Radical Reinvention

Both of those authors, by the way, Amber Haines, a former evangelical, and Kaya Oakes, a Catholic punk rocker, have done spiritual autobiographies that blew me away. I am glad to see Christiana Peterson’s Mennonite publisher drawing on these sorts of good writers to endorse this book. It is a good, good work and should be very widely read. I gladly name it as one of my favorite books of 2018.  You’ll have to get it yourself to see how the Plow Creek story unfolds and how Christiana and Matthew and their children fared in this experiment with community. You don’t want to miss it.

How To Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Rebecca Green (HMH) $20.00 Without a doubt, this is was one of the enjoyable and moving books I read this year. I was surprised, actually, by how much I liked it. The story is simple — Sy Montgomery is a serious animal lover and a scientist of sorts, and each chapter is a part of her life as told through the lens of her relationship with an animal. From her own dog (and pig!) to extraordinary journeys to a Southern Pacific cloud forest to study rare tree kangaroos to the opening piece on making eye contact with emus in the Australian Outback.

As I said in our earlier BookNotes review, this is an immediately attractive book for those that like creative and whimsical design, but don’t let the colorful, child-like look confuse you, let alone dissuade you, for considering this extraordinary, thoughtful, beautifully-written book. I forget how we first discovered this – maybe from the brilliant Brain Pickings blog by the genius Maria Popova. It’s that kind of book: about nature and science and human psychology and meaning; it is full of nuance and wit, the wonder of life and startling truth. And it is nicely illustrated. It is, as the subtitle suggests, a study of what it means to learn from a certain animal, with each chapter exploring a certain creature.

The first line of the just-jacket reads: “Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative.” Indeed. How to Be a Good Creature is a great read for anyone who loves animals, for those who sense they are connected well to other living things, or who exhibits great empathy. This collection of animal stories is for the curious and caring, what one reviewed called “a rare jewel” and what another described as “a superbly crafted memoir,” saying it “brims with wonder, empathy, and emotion.” Beth and I both loved this book (Beth has been reading many of the chapters twice for the sheer joy of it.) I will spare you the Biblical justification for caring about creation, as I trust you understand that. You will understand it more deeply by enjoying this set of interlocking narratives. One of the Best Books of 2018.

Why Religion: A Personal Story Elaine Pagels (Ecco) $27.99 Neither Beth nor I have read this fully, but we wanted to name it because people have told us it is extraordinary. The story is remarkable — one of the leading scholars of gnosticism who went forward at a Billy Graham rally as a teen, and hung out with Jerry Garcia. Her longing to be a dancer with Martha Graham, her being groped as a young academic in religious studies, her earning national awards for contributions to history and humanities.  One customer of our insisted with great passion that it was perhaps the best book of this sort she has ever read!  We heard Pagels on NPR and we were very moved, eager to sell the book, despite some misgivings about her own personal scholarship and views about topics such as the gnostic gospels or the nature of Satan or how one determines what is true about anything, actually.

Be that as it may, Pagels is one of the legendary scholars of religion in American and is in some ways emblematic of a certain sort of non-Christian scholar who is greatly respected in the field and as such, her story is important to read.  Still, I wondered how interesting her life could be, studying and writing about arcane stuff as she does, reading Coptic, writing books? But, boy, was I wrong: Pagels writes thoughtfully and beautifully, by all accounts (one important reviewer called it “luminous”) of the deepest things of life, including the tragic death of her son — he died in her arms at age 6 — and, a year later, the shocking loss of her husband (who fell to his death while hiking) and other immeasurable hardships and perplexities. Her life has been anything but dull and her writing is vivid. This is a serious study of culture by way of a very potent memoir of a fascinating life.

Here are some of the rave reviews Why Religion? A Personal Story has garnered; it is hard to avoid the consensus among the cultural gatekeepers that this book is a must-read and worthy of our consideration. I’m hoping to finish it soon, searing as it is.

“Pagels has done it again, but more personally. The scholar’s tale of loving, grieving, enduring, and searching will grab readers at the outset and never let them go. A memorable story unforgettably told.”– Madeleine Albright, author of Fascism: A Warning
“Elaine Pagels’ study of new gospels and revelations challenged our understanding of ancient Christianity. In this mesmerizing memoir, we see how she was also grappling with devastating loss and struggling within to find “the light that never fails,” even in deepest anger and guilt, grief and desolation. A must read.”– Karen L. King, Hollis Professor Divinity, Harvard University
“Elaine Pagels has written an extraordinary memoir of loss, spiritual struggle, illumination and insight–emotionally heartrending, intellectually exciting, a model of what a memoir should be.”–Joyce Carol Oates, bestselling author
“With characteristic intelligence and wisdom, Elaine Pagels lays bare her own life-shattering losses, offering up the possibility that suffering might afford each of us membership in a profoundly connected human–and cosmic–community. Why Religion? is a revelation and an immense consolation.”– Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States
“A magnificent, searing, soul-affirming memoir. Pagels shines the bright light of her brilliant mind on the most essential of human dilemmas: how do we go on in the face of immeasurable loss? I came away from this book transformed.”– Dani Shapiro
“In this compelling, honest, and learned memoir, Elaine Pagels, takes us inside her own life in a stirring and illuminating effort to explain religion’s enduring appeal. This is a powerful book about the most powerful of forces.”– Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America
“A wide-ranging work of cultural reflection and a brisk tour of the most exciting religion scholarship over the past 40 years. . . . Pagels is as fearless as she is candid.”– Washington Post

Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy Michael Perry (Harper) $25.99  Beth would say that the first coupla pages are so beautiful in their homespun way that it is worth buying to book for that joy alone. She and I both agree that this was one of the most fascinating, wonderful, interesting and funny books we read all year.

I have tried over and over to convince folks that the essays and memoirs of this blue-collar Wisconsin rural guy are worth reading, every single one. From memoir-ish storytelling in Population 485 Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time to Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace to Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg to Truck: A Love Story and his several collection of hilarious collections of short essays (we named Roughneck Grace: Farmer Yoga, Creeping Codgerism, Apple Golf, and Other Brief Essays from on and Off the Back Forty one of our favorite reads in 2016!) this is an author who has a way with words, an aww-shucks sort of self-deprecating humility, and an earnest demeanor. And man, can he spin a good tale.

I’d read anything he writes, but this is curious, perhaps his most serious. Perry may come across a bit like those up North guys standing in the cranberry bogs in those TV commercials, but he’s smart as heck. In Montaigne in Barn Boots he tells how he has discovered the 1700s French philosopher. Montaigne wrote about all manner of stuff — including sex and apparently quite a bit of adolescent humor, which makes him perfect for the shameless Mr. Perry. Yet, it gets serious, pondering God and marriage and justice and illness. Perry himself has been in more pain than I think I ever would have guessed and he is vulnerable here without being saccharine. He is exceptionally thoughtful without being dense. Between barnyard jokes and small town stories and not a little bit of personal back story, Perry invites us to join in the ongoing conversation about this world-famous figure.

Perry knows the secondary literature (and there is a lot.) He’s a good teacher. Between guffaws, you’ll learn a bit. But here is what I really loved: you’ll be introduced to how a guy comes to enjoy learning about important philosophical stuff. Even while being a forgetful and sloppy worker and an anxious writer and a less than fully successful breadwinner, he’s buying books and learning up and sharing this story about his love of learning. I bet you’ve never read anything like this. Believe it or not this is absolutely a Best Book of 2018. Beth and I both say it is very highly recommended.

All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way Patrice Gopo (Thomas Nelson) $16.99  I so enjoyed this and thought it so very interesting and well written that we exclaimed about it at BookNotes late last summer when it first came out.  Many of been reading more than ever on books by people of color, memoirs and reflections to help us understand our culture these days and learn to be more effective agents navigating various subcultures and to somehow be able to do the work of being agents of God’s reconciliation.  All the Colors We Will See is simply a lovely volume, and the author is remarkable, as a gifted writer and as one with a curious, interesting story. A great blurb on the back by award-winning writer Bret Lott is pretty special, too — such an endorsement assures us we are on firm ground naming this as one of the Best Books of 2018. He notes that Gopo’s “calm voice and winsome demeanor” allows her to speak hard truths… including “what it takes to continue in Christ’s love despite the fallen and falling world around us.”

Another reviewer said it was written with “eloquence born of pain and longing.”

Patrice Gopo grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, the child of Jamaican immigrants who had little experience being black in America. How’s that for an opening salvo, an intriguing invitation to lean in and say, “tell me more”?

That she lived in Pittsburgh for a while makes it that much more enjoyable for some of us who love that city. Importantly, she navigates the shift in cultures, telling about living in the deep south, reflecting on immigration questions, turning her voice (as it says nicely on the back cover) “to themes such as marriage and divorce, the societal beauty standards we hold, and the intricacies of living out our faith.”

There is a simple eloquence here, and it is clear that this poetic writer has born pain and can teach us much about resilience, about longing, about differences and race and justice. So much in one story, eh?  You should get this for your next book club and you’ll have much to discuss, I promise.

Everything Happens for a Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved  Kate Bowler (Random House) $26.00  I hesitated to list this as I’m sure most BookNotes readers would know that it has won many awards and was much discussed earlier this year. It is what I called in BookNotes earlier this year “achingly beautiful.” Ms Bowler has garnered so much buzz and has been reviewed so well, it is nearly a publishing phenomenon, riding the best-seller list for much of the year and ending on lots of year’s end Best Books lists. Perhaps in league with the stunning When Breath Becomes Air or Being Mortal it is a book about ultimate things that is exceptionally insightful, beautifully written, raw and wise (and irreverent and funny, too, believe it or not.) With advanced rave reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, Bowler’s reflection on dying has become a touchstone for many conversations these days.

Bowler was somewhat known for an Oxford University Press book called Blessed which studied the prosperity preachersShe became a professor at Duke Divinity School. She became a young mom and then got the terrible news about her Stage IV colon cancer. She tells her story bringing us in to a colorful cast of characters with almost unbelievable candor and courage. And what a writer she is!

Her gifts and guts have made Bowler’s Everything Happens…and Other Lies… one of the most respected and truly great books of 2018.

As Glennon Doyle writes:

I fell hard and fast for Kate Bowler. Her writing is naked, elegant, and gripping – she’s like a Christian Joan Didion. I left Kate’s story feeling more present, more grateful and a hell of a lot less alone. And what else is art for? Everything Happens for a Reason is art in its highest form, and Kate Bowler a true artist – with the pen, and with her life.

Given Up For You: A Memoir of Love, Belonging, and Belief Erin O. White (University of Wisconsin Press) $26.95 There are certain books that are so captivating to me, the reading of them such a full-bodied experience, that I recall where I sat, how the light fell on the page, how I felt, wiping away tears from my cheek with the back of my hand, and reading portions out lout to my own beloved spouse. Such memories are dear to me, and this was one of the most precious books for me this year. Yet, I know that some will not be as affection toward it as I would hope. It is a love story, a love story between a lesbian couple. And it was very, very well written, very moving, very enlightening for those of us who are not much experienced in such things.

The story, of course, is complicated, but I must say that as a narrative it is compelling and beautiful and humane. The writer is herself a writing instructor and has been published in good outlets such as the wonderful Portland Magazine and The New York Times. Her craft is part of the story, I suppose, as any book about an academic and writer would be.

Ms. White is a serious seeker after God, a sophisticated intellectual who through yearning and pondering concluded she wanted to go to Catholic confirmation class, learning the ancient ways of Christian belief and practice. She was drawn in by good leaders and stimulated by good theology. In the late 1990s she spent Saturday nights with her girlfriend and Sunday mornings in church. Eventually, of course, she is not permitted to join the church and much of the writing here laments “the faith denied.”

This is not an uncommon story, and I’ve read other moving memoirs of LGBTQ Christians, including those from evangelical backgrounds. From Jeffrey’s Chu’s excellent Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America to Justin Lee’s Torn to the must-read, riveting Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family (one of the most moving books I read this year, but it came out in 2017) there are many, many poignant memoirs and stories where gay persons of faith offer a glimpse into their lives. This testimonies are gifts to those of us who might not have gay friends who have shared the struggles of their interior lives. I ought not need to say this, but as a reminder, it might be wise to always recall that we enjoy and benefit from the genre of memoir not to firstly ask if we like or agree with a person’s story, but to understand. Looking over the shoulder, seeing how people narrate and make sense of their lives is always instructive and brings the “human face” to theological or policy debates, whether about the controversies of immigrants or soldiers or people of other races or other religions or those with same-sex attractions.

And so, as memoir, Give Up for You, is masterful. The title itself echoes with multiple, multiple meanings as this queer woman was turned away by her church, unable to be received because of her commitment to her lover. (Further, her lover, who Erin eventually marries, is herself not a believer.) On so many levels this is a complex, human drama, a well-told story of love and hurt, exclusion and embrace, hurt and desire. Some of it made me very sad.

It includes some exceptionally lovely writing about married life, decision making about the mundane things, balancing home and work and life and differences. Her telling of babies and raising an infant and how motherhood changes things was wonderful.

There is much to admire about Erin White’s integrity, her struggle to reconcile, as one reviewer put it, “the rival claims of queer desire and Catholic faith.” It is of course an anguishing question — what will I give up for God? What does God expect? And, naturally, what will I give up for my beloved? What does it mean to be true to oneself? How do any of us navigate disagreements — even deep, deep, disagreements — between us and our families and loved ones? This story is captivating and painful and gloriously written and I am sure I will never forget it.

I do not want to spoil too much but there is a small side plot, after Erin realizes she cannot be a good Catholic, when she and Greta attend an open and affirming mainline Protestant church with less rigorous theology and liturgy, but that is fully accepting of them. It is a fascinating telling of that season, in that church and pastor, which finally proves unfulfilling for them. Allow me to say that I have friends that could have written this portion of the book, and that the spiritual matters in Given Up for You sounded remarkable familiar, even if the causes of the fracture between congregant and church (between believer and God?) were different.

Here are some blurbs that endorse it, suggesting how many found it wondrous. I do not know anything about these writers (except one) but find their words helpful in understanding this religious love story and how and why it resonates so.

“Reckoning with the rival claims of queer desire and Catholic faith, Erin O. White has written that rare and wonderful thing: an intimately personal page-turner that raises complex questions about the wider world and our future in it.”
–Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
“A testament to the struggle to reconcile desire and belief, and a poignant reminder of what’s lost when a church refuses to open its doors wide. In beautiful prose, White shares her grief and longing for a faith denied, and in that telling claims a wholeness that was hers all along.”
–Sarah Sentilles, author of Breaking Up with God
“A wonderful book about the blessings–and burdens–of love, both spiritual and carnal. In White’s heart, there may be no act more subversive than surrender, no prayer more devout than desire itself. Joyful, erotic, and contemplative. A miracle!”
–Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She’s Not There
“With grace, wit, humor, and raw honesty, White gives us a story that wounds, entices, makes the reader want to say, Oh, yes, me too. This is a book for everyone who has been on a journey of love and longing. An important work.”–Rilla Askew, author of Most American
“In this tender, unsentimental and powerfully honest story, Erin O. White writes of a real life shaped by longing for God. Her prose shines, and her devotion burns: she reveals, in an utterly contemporary context, what Gregory of Nyssa saw in the fourth century: God creates life; life beholds beauty; beauty begets love; love is the life of God. A wonderful book.”–Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion and City of God

MORE AWARD WINNING MEMOIRS and BIOGRAPHY

I cannot stop naming these books that so moved me this past year. As you can see, Beth and I both read a lot of memoirs, and so many were almost stunning, we were entralled and pulled into their stories. It is hard to award one without thinking of others that so moved us this year. From Tara Westhover’s much-discussed Educated: A Memoir (Random House; $28.00) to Courtney Hargrave’s satisfying Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South (Convergent; $26.00) to the incredible The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by former (wrongly imprisoned) client of Bryan Stevenson, Anthony Ray Hinton (St. Martin’s Press; $26.99) these all must be touted this year.  Each of these books provided hours of entertainment, educating us and inspiring us. I reviewed all three in a bigger column last fall, and you may want to revisit my long explanations if you don’t recall. These are surely among the best books of 2018.

Please read about them here.

TWO MUSICAL BIOGRAPHIES

I have already written much about one of these, but want to keep the reputation of Hearts & Minds for always listing some books about rock and rollers. I hope you recall my reviews in past years of Testimony by Robbie Robertson of The Band, Rumours of Glory by Bruce Cockburn, or Steve Turner’s wonderful Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year and other interesting books about rock stars.

Here are two more for 2018.

Paul Simon: The Life Robert Hillburn (Simon & Schuster) $30.00 There has yet to be a really good biography of the legendary singer-songwriter and this one finally is the one, the one some of us have been waiting for. (Simon cooperated with it, which explains only part of its brilliance.) It’s been called “a straight-shooting tour de force” by USA Today and “epic” by Rolling Stone. It comes with raves by the poet Billy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Paul Muldoon, even early RS writer, Cameron Crowe, who knows a thing or two about all this. Hillburn is renowned as a rock critic and biographer and is the man for the job; the magazine No Depression says, Paul Simon: The Life “flows smoothly along on the river of his liquid prose.”

 

Listen to what Bono says:

There are two great storytellers colliding here. There’s no tougher a mind, no more tender a voice than Paul Simon, and there’s no better man than Robert Hilburn to decipher the hardwiring of this hyperintellect. From the prologue I was sucked in, suckered into a sense that I too might discover the genetic code of some of the greatest songs of any century. By the epilogue, you realize the great songs can never be fully explained, but the great man on his way to find those songs surely can.

Why Should the Devil Have All the God Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock Gregory Alan Thornbury (Convergent) $26.00  Yes! Thank you Greg Thornbury for writing this book that cried out to be written, surely one of the best books of 2018.

As I said in a major BookNotes review of it last March when it first came out, this is a fabulously interesting book and, like the best rock and roll biographies, it includes lots of stuff about music and song lyrics and production of albums and rock tour stories, but also fair amount of fun celebrity gossip and, thank goodness, some social and cultural and religious commentary. How can one reflect on an artist who hung out with The Jefferson Airplane and opened for Jimi Hendrix and chatted with Paul McCartney and sang about racism and poverty and against the rootlessness of a materialistic generation not explain a bit about the ethos of the 1960s? Norman came of age, and gave voice to Christian faith amidst the California counter-culture; his art was a loud and often-controversial critique of bad religion and boring church and it stood (at least in the early days) as part of the broader zeitgeist which critiqued the bankrupt values of the American dream and the sins of the American empire.

I said, then, and still believe, that Why Should the Devil… gives us the very best study yet of the odd Christian folkie-rocker and One Way leader and it is nothing short of a must-read for anyone interested in rock music of the 60s & 70s and onward, how the Jesus Movement emerged from the hippy counter-culture, and how this gave rise, oddly – yep, this is true — to the rise of the Christian right in the 1980s and 90s.

Please visit here to read the entire review, showing why I want to celebrate Mr. Thornbury’s book as one of the Best of 2018 and a personal fav. (Notice, though, that the free offer is now expired.)

FAVORITE NOVELS

A Gentleman in Moscow Amor Towles (Viking) $27.00  Just a few days ago a customer new to our store was gabbing and in the middle of deep conversation let out a yelp, a delightful cry of discovery, as she picked up A Gentleman in Moscow from our fiction shelves and exclaimed how much she loved it. I think she was also expressing a little surprise that a so-called Christian bookstore would carry a secular best-seller. And, I am sure, a bit of a “you to?” question — that question we have when we so love a book and wonder if others share our joy. Beth would certainly say that this was her favorite book of 2018. I’ve heard plenty about it, from customers and from her, and intend to read it myself, soon. 

Here is the bare-boned description from the publisher: “When, in 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, he’s sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery…”

Many of enjoyed this sprawling, witty, surprising novel, and it is on many people’s Best Books lists. It has been called winning, stylish, perfect, elegant, and irresistible. Don’t you want to order one today?

Here is what the prestigious Kirkus Review says:

In all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight.this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles’ stylish debut, Rules of Civility.” 

While speaking of Beth’s most memorable novels this year, she reports that some of the favs that she read in 2018, had come out previously.

 

 

 

For instance,  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (VIntage; $16.00), the much-discussed Little Fires Everywhere (Viking; $27.00) and  Everything I Never Told You (Penguin; $16.00), both by Celeste Ng. 

 

 

 

 

The Edge of Over There Shawn Smucker (Revell) $17.99  Okay, this is another fictional gem that I didn’t read but that Beth adored. It’s YA fantasy, and that’s not my genre, but, whew, even though Beth rarely reads fantastical stuff like this, she was hooked by the first one, The Day the Angels Fell.

You know a book is captivating when a reader can’t wait for a sequel, and she thought The Edge of Over There was well written, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Really. This sequel is engrossing and when we met the author for the first time, the first thing Beth wanted to know is what is going to happen to 16 year-old Abra and her search for the next Tree of Life.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis Pattie Callahan (Thomas Nelson) $25.99 Not a few C.S. Lewis fans have hoped for a book like this for decades. It is a beautifully-told, well-realized, fictional telling of what Joy Davidman might have gone through as she married the famous Oxford don. It came out in the tail end of 2018 and became an immediate best seller.

Here are some of the good endorsements that show why this is deserving of being on the Best of 2018 list.

;”I thought I knew Joy Davidman, the oft mentioned but little examined wife of C. S. Lewis, but in Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan breathes life into this fascinating woman whose hunger for knowledge leads her to buck tradition at every turn. In a beautifully crafted account, Patti unveils Joy as a passionate and courageous–yet very human–seeker of answers to the meaning of life and the depths of faith. Becoming Mrs. Lewis is an unlikely love story that will touch heart, mind, and soul.” –Diane Chamberlain bestselling author of The Dream Daughter

“Patti Callahan has written my favorite book of the year. Becoming Mrs. Lewis deftly explores the life and work of Joy Davidman, a bold and brilliant woman who is long overdue her time in the spotlight. Carefully researched. Beautifully written. Deeply romantic. Fiercely intelligent. It is both a meditation on marriage and a whopping grand adventure. Touching, tender, and triumphant, this is a love story for the ages.” –Ariel Lawhon, author of I Was Anastasia

“Patti Callahan took a character on the periphery, one who has historically taken a back seat to her male counterpart, and given her a fierce, passionate voice. For those fans of Lewis curious about the woman who inspired A Grief Observed this book offers a convincing, fascinating glimpse into the private lives of two very remarkable individuals.” —New York Journal of Books

Hey, this last one doesn’t hurt either: those of us who have met C.S. Lewis’s step son, Douglas Gresham, know that he’s a straight shooter. Here’s what he says:

“It’s not supposed to be a technical biography of my mother. It’s novel. And it’s a very good one. . . extraordinarily accurate. . . more accurate than most biographical essays that have been written about my mother.”  Douglas Gresham, son of Joy Davidman

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel Cheryl Anne Tuggle (Paraclete Press) $17.99  This recent novel, set in Western Pennsylvania, North of Pittsburgh (with mentions of New Wilmington and the Beaver River and more), is beautifully rendered; it is offers gorgeous literary prose, and certain deserves accolades galore.

As I said in BookNotes when we announced a number of good novels, the story is written by an Orthodox writer and is set on a farm, and is about farming. (Move over Wendell Berry I can hear some saying!) Young Jess Hazel, the main character in the story, inherits his parents farm when he loses them in an accident.  As it says on the back cover, “Unable to shake the memory of a strange light he has seen hovering the mountain peak above his valley home, he embarks on a pilgrimage — a halting inner odyssey riddled with fits and false starts.”

This story picks up speed as it goes but even from the prelude readers know this is a very artful, intelligent writer, and it will be savored slowly as good literary fiction often is. She has a poetic voice and the story is, as one reviewer put it, “as deep and rich as the ancient ground beneath the character’s feet.”

Paraclete Press does mature spiritual books, ecumenical and contemplative resources, mostly non-fiction that is always very well done. They have a few books about aesthetics and the arts, too, so they truly have a vision for making a distinctive contribution to the publishing world. When they do novels, they are certainly well worth owning. Lights on the Mountain is surprising, eloquent, entertaining, and spiritually enriching art. Kudos.

Unsheltered: A Novel Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $29.99  This is a novel Beth and I (and one of our daughters) read late this fall and we are still pondering it. It may be my pick for favorite fiction this year. Beth, too (after The Gentleman in Moscow, maybe.) I hope you know Kingsolver’s early works (Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, and her essays which I love, like High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder.) Too many only know her for Poisonwood Bible. So, read this one, one of the most discussed books of 2018!

Here is some of what we wrote in BookNotes this fall:

This is profound and complicated but the short version is this: every other chapter tells of the lives of two families that reside in the same house in Vineland, New Jersey, one in the late 1800s and one in contemporary times. The house is falling apart which becomes an obvious metaphor for their struggles as families and for the town itself. Did you know that Vineland was an early planned community (founded by a guy named Landis who later moved to Central Pennsylvania?) Much of the plot of the story of the first family, set in the 1800s, is about a science teacher and, without spoiling too much, a character who is corresponding with Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, and a renegade newspaperman who is telling the truth about some of Landis’s injustices. The contemporary story — in that same house — is about an adjunct college prof and his wife, who is taking care of a brand new grand-baby (whose mother, their daughter in law, committed suicide shortly after childbirth.)

There’s a lot of politics in this as you’d expect from the ecologically-minded, lefty Kingsolver (one of the daughters of the contemporary couple just got back from living in Cuba for a while and disapproves of her brother’s work in the financial sector.) The New York Times review said

This is fiction rich in empathy, wit, and science… Kingsolver’s gifts are ‘fierce and wondrous’ with ‘colors moving around like fire.’

There is some vulgar language here but, still, Unsheltered is a novel which, as the Washington Post Book World review put it, “is on familiar terms with the eternal.” I don’t know about that, but it sounds right. This novel is richer and more interesting the further in goes and has stuck with me for months. It is seeking a better world, asking big questions about meaning and life and death and love and goodness and the idols of our times. I admire the talents and vision of the author and I enjoyed this complex book immensely. Maybe only because of Darwin’s role in the plot, it reminded me a bit of one of my all time favorite novels, the extraordinary, unforgettable The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Kudos to Kingsolver for her craft, her cares, and her famous support for independent bookstores. It’s an honor to get to sell literature like this.

Anatomy of a Miracle: A Novel Jonathan Miles (Hogarth/Random House) $16.00  We all know about ties, close calls, draws. I suppose I want to honor the above-named Kingsolver Unshelterd as my favorite novel of 2018, but, to be honest, this one was one I tore through, turning the pages and wondering what was going to happen next. It, too, is a bit vulgar, but is nonetheless a story that is about God and faith and the meaning of things. I adored Anatomy of a Miracle, now out in paperback. As I said in a previous BookNotes review this summer, the author, Jonathan Miles, is theologically aware (quoting C.S. Lewis and others about the theodicy question) and portrays different sorts of skeptics, seekers, believers, and charlatans, all really, really well. In this story, a handicapped Afghanistan war vet one day just gets up out of his wheelchair while heading to the local convenience store to buy some smokes. (You could see this alluded to on the hardback book cover.)

The parking lot of Biz-E-Bee, right there in post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi, becomes a pilgrimage site as others seeking healing flock there. In the meantime both a serious theologian from the Vatican — you learn why as the story unfolds — and the doctor of the now-walking/healed vet are trying to determine what in the world happened. For the secularist scientist, there simply cannot be such a thing as a miracle, so she has to run bunches of neurological and psychological tests to figure how the inexplicable happened. (Maybe he never was really a paraplegic? Maybe he’s a nut job, or a fraud?) When the reality TV show people come in with tinsel town promises (what a way to help others, they say!) all hell breaks loose.

And all of this, even from the preface, is reported as if it is all true.

Anatomy of a Miracle is a fun and fascinating story, by a writer who has been called “gripping and memorable” and “a rare original” and “raucously ambitions.” With blurbs from the likes of Dave Eggers and Joshua Ferris and Elizabeth Gilbert and Richard Russo, you should be aware of this. I thought it one of the best I read this year and it’s just out in paperback.

STUNNING NARRATIVE NON-FICTION

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America Eliza Griswold (MacMillan) $27.00  This was one of my personal favorites and one of the Best Books of 2018. What a story. I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting my review from BookNotes as we honor the amazing work this writer did in telling this story. Few readers outside of the greater Pittsburgh area will catch the reference of the title of the stunning new book, Amity and Prosperity, not realizing that they are names of two neighboring towns near Washington, PA. Locals know that these small towns are classic examples of the post-industrial geography of Western Pennsylvania. If Hillbilly Elegy famously portrayed the rustbelt ethos of Appalachian transplants into southern Ohio, Amity and Prosperity tells with vivid detail the contours of daily life in Washington and Green counties, the northern edge of Appalachia that is no longer sustained by coal fields or steel mills and that less than a decade ago faced an “energy gold rush” with an influx of workers and money and drugs, drilling for natural gas.

The subtitle: One Family and the Fracturing of America is a significant play on words as well as this riveting book is very much about the contested practice of industrial fracking and how its deadly side effects – poisoned air and water – disrupted these congenial small towns and the larger social fabric around Washington. From Cannonsburg to Eighty-four to Cecil Township, from Lower Ten Mile Presbyterian Church to the Subway restaurant at the Lone Pine truck stop, to Southpointe, the Range Resources headquarters near the corporate hub of the oil and gas boom, the specificity of the description is spot on, clearly recognizable for anyone who lives near or has visited south-central Washington County. Although the story is a page-turner exposing corporate injustices, dishonesty, and public malfeasance – one can hardly believe how bad it gets as one family fights back against the cover-ups of the poisoning of their water – it is still appealing to read about places one knows. (How I smiled when the author describes the strikingly odd anti-environmentalist billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.) The book is being talked about throughout the county, but it really is a book about Yinzer territory.

But I can’t stress enough how universal all this is, how this tale is a story of everywhere.

Eliza Griswold is a talented and award-winning non-fiction writer, a reporter known for The Tenth Parallel, a book about inter-religious conflict mostly in the Middle East. In Amity and Prosperity she nearly embeds herself with several families and walks with them through their years of illness, losing their home, and their desperate sleuthing, investigating the poisons in their air and water. (Their own testing done with the help of local doctors proved that Range, the fracking company, was fudging the data and not being forthcoming about the chemical spills and toxic leaks from several of their fracking wells and storage ponds.) The book opens at the beloved Washington County Fair and the young people who show pigs and goats, their friendships nurtured through years in 4-H. As one teen’s animals get sick and mysteriously die, as does her neighbors prize winning horse, the reader is drawn in, knowing this portends great trouble that may not end well.

Griswold is an energetic writer and the characters she about which she tells are themselves colorful and raw and dogged, making this a great read. Their suffering seems relentless, their fears and foibles understandable, and we learn about all sorts of chronic illness, family struggles, and the consequences that bad environmental health has on their lives and community. (The social stress of speaking out among neighbors who might disapprove of their anti-fracking concerns and the differences of opinion about the vast amount of money the frackers offer, is portrayed realistically; some scenes are painfully awkward as long-time friends try not to fall out over their differences about selling out to Range.)

The plot unfolds as we see the impact this has on the teen-aged children, their extended families, their church friends, the local Fire Hall and such. Their hopes for vindication (and money for safe water service) are dashed over and over as the state DEP and the national EPA drop the ball, even on fairly obvious matters. The complicity of the DEP with the fracking industries and their refusal to press charges when environmental safeguards are disregarded are breathtaking.

Eventually a heroic lawyer couple, John and Kendra Smith, take on lawsuits against Range Resources, starting in the Washington Court of Common Pleas and eventually suing the State of Pennsylvania contesting pro-fracking policies of the Corbett administration in a case that went to the State Supreme Court.  With simultaneous legal battles from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, Amity and Prosperity becomes not only a glimpse into post-industrial small towns and the environmental consequences of fracking but also a legal thriller, worthy of any novel by Grisham. One observer called the lawyers “Mr. and Mrs. Atticus Finch.”

Do you know the movie Erin Brockovitch? This story makes that look like kid’s stuff. And it’s just as much of a ride. I hope some BookNotes readers order it.

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America tells of small town life with richly textured tales of the Izaak Walton League and the county fair and the local Bible study. It also tells about earthy folk who try to stick together, sharing a community fabric that unravels when outsiders bring huge upheavals and loads of money, all in the name of progress. It also expertly shows the big picture of state and national policy, of how laws and various administrative agencies enhance or diminish the social architecture of small towns and rural areas, of the human consequences of the red and blue ideologies vying for influence. Mostly it tells of some Western Pennsylvania families, some sick kids, some corrupt businesses, and the drama of speaking truth to power, learning to be a whistle blower, and finding the faith and courage to move on, despite all.

Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America Vegas Tenold (Nation Books) $27.00  Again, this was one I stayed up late turning the pages, not wanting to miss a bit, and, months later, still recall the powerful feelings I had immersed in this remarkable reading experience. And, man, I can’t believe what some authors do to get a story told. Give this guy a medal. And a Hearts & Minds Best Book Award, at least.

I really enjoyed writing some of these lines in my BookNotes review and hope you enjoy my telling about this wild book.

I started this new book the weekend of the anniversary of the awful alt-right uprising in Charlottesville VA a few weeks ago. I guess I wanted a way to commemorate the weekend and understand this growing nationalist impulse in American culture; I wanted to learn more and somehow spend time pondering this cancer in the culture.

Alas, it was only a few weeks later when our area in York County had its own outburst of racist nonsense, with KKK and neo-Nazi propaganda showing up under the windshields of cars at a local mall.

The very night I was inviting local evangelical and mainline pastors to sign on to an inter-faith statement unequivocally condemning white supremacy of this sort (kudos to those few courageous leaders who signed it; I’ll bit my tongue about those who did not) I realized that the group whose out of state address was on this evil propaganda is one of the several groups that this brave author tells us about. All of a sudden I realized anew just how very important and relevant this riveting story is.

And, again, just how important quality narrative nonfiction can be.

I don’t need to tell you much about this other than saying it is new journalism, if you will; but not gonzo, even though there are some pretty wacky moments. Mr. Tenold is brave to embed himself in various neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and KKK chapters. It is remarkable how he earns their trust as a fair reporter; it seemed somehow even more courageous of him when we realize that many of the members of these (usually small) groups actually overlap and all are, naturally, suspicious of him.

He doesn’t say as much about it as I wish, but this kind of stuff can get you killed.

Some of these groups, like the viciously jack-booted Hammerskin Nation skinheads (whose propaganda has been seen in our fair town not too many years back) are not to be messed with. Sure they mostly listen to white power hard rock and drink a lot of bad beer and make a fetish out of their various tattoos and levels and badges, but they will stomp your face bloody if you don’t like their vile racial rants or their anti-LGTBQ shtick or their gross anti-Semitism. Think of the harrowing scenes in movies about the Mafia or books about the Hell’s Angels or the last seasons of Breaking Bad; Vegas was in with some of these sorts, it seems, even if they are motivated by grievance and fear and ideology rather than money and drugs, but the vibe is there. He’s in with ‘em all and the book had moments of pretty high drama.

It obviously wasn’t easy for Mr. Tenold to earn the trust (let alone cooperation) of these dangerous yahoos, but learning how tricky it was is almost at times humorous. Tenold develops trust with one guy in one group only to find that he is considered not radical enough, or maybe too radical, to be trusted by other far-right groups. This nationalist group doesn’t like that white supremacist crew and none like that small Nazi gang who are jealous of that Aryan club. Should they fly the Confederate flag or the KKK colors?  Even within the alt-right nationalist network there is backbiting and competition. Who knew nationalist populism was so hard?

The in-house squabbles are sometimes just personality issues among larger-than-life characters — big, weird fish in small fascist ponds, but sometimes the differences range from how brutal and severe their evil attitudes are; that is how hard-core their hate may be. Other differences were about their nearly delusional views of what strategy they might develop to change American culture. (Most, frankly, are not that interested in politics, but nearly all agree that the Trump campaign was good for their cause and most told Tenold that Trump and his movement emboldened them.)

Much of this reminded me of the debates, both ideological and strategic, among the far left. (If I never hear another argument about Trotsky vs. Marx ever again I will be happy.) And (let’s be honest, here) among church folks, too. Yep, I guess it’s true that many who care deeply about their convictions – righteous or unrighteous — end up in partnerships with others, and there the sparks can fly. According to Tenold, when the sparks fly with these guys, it might include dynamite. Seriously.

Still, while a few of the alt-right white guys this intrepid reporter meets are truly unhinged, some are somewhat intelligent and seem, at times, almost reasonable and somewhat likable. Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party, is one of the major characters that Tenold comes to know. He is a person that a good friend of mine crossed paths with years ago. (Episodes of him starting white pride student clubs at places like Towson State University are described. I recall talking with Christian groups on campus a few years ago about how to respond to this stuff and as I was reading Everything You Love Will Burn I got this sinking feeling in my gut – oh, God, it’s that guy that my friends used to debate, trying to call him to repentance and sanity. Little did we know how ideologically dangerous he’d become, how prominent…)

Matthew, (who was raised in a church) was trying, oddly, to unite skinheads and the KKK and other fiery racists (the “boots”) with the intellectual architectures of the alt-right like Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon (who they called “the suits.”) He goes from backwoods meetings with Aryan nationalists in the deep South and National Socialists (aka Nazis) in the rustbelt mid-West to speaking to Republican congresspeople in the esteemed GOP Capitol Club across from the Capitol. This stuff is riveting and nearly unbelievable.

Many of the folks in these far-right gangs are poor and pathetic, and I found myself feeling empathy, at least, for some of the sad sacks with their ragged KKK outfits and stupidly silly, secret traditions, costumes, and half-baked rituals.There is a scene of a KKK funeral and another of a KKK wedding and both were so fascinatingly, humanly, told that I almost forgot my revulsion of such horrid stuff. That this left-wing, seemingly secular writer doing this brave expose could conjure any sympathy for these devious characters with their evil ideas is itself a good indication of the quality of this moving narrative; in fact, at one point he himself worries about his own “Stockholm Syndrome” as he learned to care for some of these damaged folks. I appreciate that, as it would be easier to merely demonize them in one-dimensional dismissal. Geesh, I almost felt bad for the one dude who got his huge swastika tattoo inked on himself backward.

And so, as I’m reading several chapters at a time, late one night I turn to a new chapter and it is called “Harrisburg.” Whoa! There isn’t that much local color in this chapter, actually, as it features mostly a story about a failed attempt at a unifying rally with several different groups with conflicting styles and views. They do go to the local Dicks Sporting Goods store, where I’ve been, to buy some pepper spray and have a funny debate about which kind works best. The organizer, who hoped for a more moderate, united front, was frustrated at the vile public speeches given – apparently some of the other leaders didn’t get the memo that they were to turn down the hateful rhetoric to soften their image and improve their public appeal in our state’s capitol. More likely, they were privy and just weren’t about to back-peddle their white supremacy spiel for the sake of some reasonable alt-right movement. The Harrisburg event, shall we say, didn’t go well.

In Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of… you not only get a glimpse of all kinds of far right hate groups but you learn about their history, their leaders, and some of their odd secrets. You follow Matthew as he becomes increasingly radicalized; month by month by month as the book itself unfolds. One can see where it is leading, now in retrospect, even as the author could not at the time. He almost didn’t attend the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville as he was drawing the book to a close. Matthew convinced him it might be bigger and more important than many of the other nearly silly rallies and marches to which Tenold followed him; little did either of them know how it would end.

There is some talk of religion in this book, but even more hate. There is some tenderness, but even more violence. There are some good words, but much more profanity. And there is some outrageous neo-Nazi street fighting and KKK cross burning and dramatic, evil, high-jinx, but there’s much more that is more mundane— conversations over pancakes at the local diner, lectures at the local college campus, long car rides here and there, dumb conventions and meetings and endless white supremacy confabs with the same gang of poor white folks and delusional “leaders” who are often nearly comical in their lack of common sense and social skills. This book is high octane at times, obviously, but it isn’t all ball-of-fire drama; The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fightin’ Man” would be a soundtrack for only a small part of it.

But, again, despite Vegas Tenold’s admirable willingness to write honestly about the humanity of these marginalized white folk and his honest reporting of their antics, let us be clear. This movement is hateful, dangerous, and real. It is growing. Perhaps it is best to ignore them when they come to your town, but, at least, we should know about them. Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America by Vegas Tenold s a must-read for those who want an inside glimpse into this rising movement. It is also a good read for anyone that wants some nearly gonzo journalism, a daring reporter from the far left who has become friends with the guys in the far, far right. What a story! What a read!

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America Beth Macy (Little Brown) $28.00 This. This is one of the most amazing books of 2018 and many, many observers have insisted it is a masterpiece of groundbreaking reporting. I love this writer and trust her writing and you will be amazed at what you learn (outraged, too) by taking up even a few chapters of Dopesick.

Beth Macy, you may recall, is the author of Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – And Helped Save an American Town a book we’ve touted often – it is such a thrilling read of narrative nonfiction, delving deep into small town intrigue and heroic, reformist sorts of business-world efforts as a furniture manufacturer tries to keep his plant open and his workers employed. Macy is a talented storyteller and excellent journalist, reporting well after doing months and months (if not years and years) of tenacious research. After Factory Man she released, in 2016, TrueVine, a brilliant true crime expose, laden with sorrow and racism and also delight and complexity and goodness. I suspect neither gets as much attention as they deserved.

Since then, she has embedded herself in the world of opiate addictions, although as one reviewer reminds us, Dopesick is “not about the drugs. It’s a book about kids and moms and neighbors and the people who try to save them. It’s about shame and stigma and desperation.” Yes, but also, it’s about bad policy, greed, and corruption.

Tony Horwitz (of Confederates in the Attic) calls it “a harrowing journey through the history and contemporary hellscape of drug addiction.” It has been compared to the most important book of this sort in recent years, Sam Quinones Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. (Dreamland, you should know, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.) Beth Macey’s Dopesick is equally acclaimed, winning a number of important awards. And our little shout out here.

Still, Dopesick also allows us to see the biggest picture, including the knowing corporate greed, naming both big pharma companies and notable regulatory failure. She shows the evolution of the epidemic, starting largely, as she shows it did, in the Virginia coalfields in the westernmost corner of the state to three culturally distinct communities. The story moves “from OxyContin in 1996 to other painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet to heroin, the pills’ illicit twin, and, later, even stronger synthetic analogs.”

“Heroin landed in the suburbs and cookie-cutter subdivisions near my home,” she writes, “in Roanoke in the mid-2000s. But it wasn’t widely acknowledged until a prominent jeweler and civic leader drove her addicted son to the federal prison where he would spend the next five years, for his role in a former classmate’s overdose death.”

As she covered that story she saw the overdose deaths spread north along I-81 from Roanoke. “It infected pristine farm pastures and small northern Shenandoah Valley towns, as more users, and increasingly vigilant medical and criminal justice systems, propelled the addicted onto the urban corridor from Baltimore to New York….”

BEST BOOKS ABOUT FAITH & THE ARTS

Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life Jennifer Allen Craft (IVP Academic) $30.00  This is yet another in the exceptional, thoughtful, scholarly series called Studies in Theology & the Arts and we are very, very glad to honor this latest release in this series. I think when we first reported about this in BookNotes I quipped something to the affect that “just when you thought there was little else to say about the interface of faith and the arts…” Yes, indeed, this very idea deserves an award and it is beautifully, artfully, if seriously, explored.

It is, as you can tell from the title, a study of place. I can do no better than to allow the publisher to explain this complex and yet sensible idea:

We are, each one of us, situated in a particular place. As embodied creatures, as members of local communities and churches, as people who live in a specific location in the world, we all experience the importance of place. But what role does place play in the Christian life and how might our theology of place be cultivated? In this Studies in Theology and the Arts volume, Jennifer Allen Craft argues that the arts are a significant form of placemaking in the Christian life. The arts, she contends, place us in time, space, and community in ways that encourage us to be fully and imaginatively present in a variety of contexts: the natural world, our homes, our worshiping communities, and society. In so doing, the arts call us to pay attention to the world around us and invite us to engage in responsible practices in those places. Through this practical theology of the arts, Craft shows how the arts can help us by cultivating our theological imagination, giving shape to the Christian life, and forming us more and more into the image of Christ.

To accomplish this, Craft explores the relationship of art and the natural world, of course. There’s a good section on homemaking and hospitality. Thirdly, she has a chapter on the churches role in placemaking, and using the arts to help deepen our experience of mission and place. The fourth major chapter is about society more generally. What good stuff this is, exploring the placed consequences of a robust vision of the arts.

Redeeming Transcendence in the Arts: Bearing Witness to the Triune God      Jeremy Begbie (Eerdmans) $18.00

A Peculiar Orthodoxy: Reflections on Theology and the Arts                            Jeremy Begbie (Baker Academic) $32.00

Is there a dual award for an author who puts out two remarkable, substantive books on the same field, and both seem to be utterly righteous and commendable? A lesser author might rehash previous stuff, or have one be a less academic version of another, but both of these 2018 releases are splendid, serious, major contributions towards a Christian view of aesthetics and the arts. Redeeming Transcendence is perhaps (I’m stretching here) about the arts from a theological perspective while A Peculiar Orthodoxy is perhaps more about theology, viewed through the contributions of music and the arts.

The former, published by Eerdmans in paperback, is asking if transcendence is something that we should properly speak of when talking about our experience of art. It is a live questions, with lots of implications. He uses a “Trinitarian imagination” and says yes. The endorsing blurbs include rave reviews by N.T. Wright (himself a composer), poet Christian Wiman, the justly famous abstract artist Mako Fujimura, and visual artist, collector, art historian and leader of CIVA, Sandra Bowen.

Just listen to these comments:

“Begbie’s argument here, both learned and lucid, is that only when we allow for a more explicitly biblical and Trinitarian vision of God will the vague claims for transcendence in the arts begin to make sense. This book will challenge and illuminate the whole field.”             –N.T. Wright

“This book is a revelation. Jeremy Begbie has distilled much of modern theological aesthetics–and has done so with a sensitivity that is alert to the realities of a practicing artist. I feel both chastened and emboldened by his thoughts.”  –Christian Wiman

“Jeremy Begbie has consistently been an essential guide for me as an artist who thinks theologically. Redeeming Transcendence in the Arts finds Jeremy at his best — full of theological wisdom and aspiration, with abundant artistic inspiration. A stellar guidebook for our complex journey of art, faith, and theology.”  –Makoto Fujimura

“This book is a must-read for those at the intersection of art and theology.” –Sandra Bowden

The second one mentioned, A Peculiar Orthodoxy: Reflections on Theology and the Arts, published in hardback by Baker Academic, has a related but different concern; the endorsing blurbs do not include artists as such, but theologians, mostly — granted, exceptional ones, such as Matthew Milliner, Trevor Hart, Judith Wolfe, and Alan Jacobs.

Listen to Nicholas Wolterstorff on A Peculiar Orthodoxy:

Orthodoxy, yes, but not at all peculiar–unless it is peculiar for a person so steeped in orthodox trinitarian theology to be so richly acquainted with the arts, or peculiar for a person so richly acquainted with the arts to be so steeped in orthodox trinitarian theology. Only a person as learned and immersed as Begbie in both of these areas of human endeavor could spy the wide range of connections that he brings to light between theology and the arts, especially music, many of them connections I had never noticed, connections that I will want to think about for quite some time. Extraordinarily perceptive. And the range of reading brought into the discussion, with never-failing generosity of spirit, is amazing. This is state of the art!”

The Art of Edward Knippers: Prints and Drawings edited by James Romaine (Square Halo Books) $19.99 This latest release in the small but vital “The Art of…” series by the Lancaster-based boutique arts publisher, Square Halo, is a sight to behold, and a valuable historical artifact by one of the most important Christian painters of the last 40 years.

Mr. Knippers is a conservative evangelical and masterful painter, known for, among other things, vivid, lurid, violent, stunning paintings — often very large — of Biblical characters. He famously does many of them nude, mostly to show that these people are real, raw, grounded in history and creation. These are no fairy tales or myths. He resists the ethereal spirituality of Gnosticism and its related pieties with all his painterly might. There is nothing sexual about them, of course, but on occasion he is protested and his works have been damaged and defaced by fundamentalist censors who somehow find the penis of David or Jesus to be offensive. Touche, Knippers.

This book is visually striking with dozens and dozens of small pieces but, like the others in this series, includes good commentary and informed Christian criticism. This book offers a small collection of essays about the important late 20th century/21st century painter and they are excellent — even if you are unfamiliar with Mr. Knippers and his work. There is a foreword by Bruce Herman (and it is always a joy to read anything by him, retired now from teaching at Gordon College) and the major introduction by historian James Romaine. There are other pieces — “Faith and Form” is the central essay, by Chat Barlett, who studied at MICA, although the striking Steve Prince — now at Wayne State in Detroit teaching drawing and printmaking — has a fabulous short essay explaining Knippers as a printmaker and, curiously, happily, Danika Bigley (who holds a degree in Dance Performance from the Purchase Dance Conservatory in New York) has a essay entitled. To quote Romaine, “Bigley’s essay frames Knippers’ narrative treatment of the nude figure in terms of a dancer’s understanding of the body in motion.”(He continues, “She also touches on issues of sexual slavery and the freedom of marriage as seen in his art and in the Bible.) There is a closing conversation with Ed Knippers, interviewed by James Romaine as they strolled through the National Gallery of Art not long before the book came out. Overhearing part of that interview, transcribed nicely for us by Margaret Bustard, is a great privilege.

Of course, through it all we have the smaller works of Ed Knippers (not reproductions of his large paintings) and the diversity of styles and subjects makes this a sheer delight, a great little book of art. This includes many black and white drawings and etchings, prints, and one section of preliminary sketches. There is helpful explanation of these; despite the excellent, substantive text, this is still mostly a book featuring the artwork itself. It makes a fabulously interesting, inexpensive coffee table book. Kudos to Square Halo for this labor of love, adding The Art of Edward Knippers to their previously published wild paperback The Art of Guy Chase and the lavish, priceless hardback, The Art of Sandra Bowden.

God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes From the Life of Alexander Hamilton & The Broadway Musical He Inspired Kevin Cloud (Deep River Books) $15.99 Can we at least agree to give this book a “got there first award? It had to happen, and we couldn’t be happier to know that this book will take its place alongside many, many other studies of God in popular culture. My old housemate Bill Romanowski wrote one of the defining books on a methodology for discerning themes of faith — good or bad faith, that is — in popular entertainment and his Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture remains a standard in the field. (Look for his forthcoming book on film in late May 2019, by the way, to be entitled Cinematic Faith: A Christian Perspective on Movies and Meaning, published by Baker Academic; $22.99 for those that want to PRE-ORDER it.) But I digress…

We are here to close up our list of (at least some of) our favorite books of 2018 and want to affirm this fine study of theological themes and enduring insights from the smash Broadway hit. It’s fun to see very thoughtful writers endorsing this — from the justice activist Phileena Heuertz to film scholar (and now President of the Seattle School of Theology) Craig Detwiler and glorious memoirists like Katie Savage (we love her book Grace in the Maybe that alerts us to seeing signs of life in daily stuff.) And there are signs of life in Hamilton and Cloud helps us explore them.

I have not see the play and am less familiar with the soundtrack than, well, 3/4 of the people I know. But when I see this evangelical leader thanking Lin-Manuel Miranda so earnestly, and read cast members offering affirmations for this thoughtful book, when solid missional pastors and thinkers I respect rave, I know this is worth celebrating.

Who knows, maybe there will be more studious and enduring books on a Christian evaluation of the Broadway phenom. There will be ongoing engagement with Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, on which the play was based, and which Cloud refers to nicely. I’m sure there will be more to this on-going conversation.

For now, this is a fabulous little resource and we are happy to honor it, thanking those who are helping us think faithfully with “eyes wide open” seeing the “trailing clouds of glory” even in a hip hop musical about a long dead politician. Hip, hip hooray!

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BEST BOOKS OF 2018 – Hearts & Minds Bookstore’s Behemothic, Belatedly-listed, Best, Beloved, Books of the Bygone Year PART ONE – ON SALE

January has flown by and I have felt terrible that I’ve not yet given any of our customary Best of the Year Awards. With several demanding out of town book set ups and my elderly mom being in the hospital (and now back in her assisted living place) and some stupid stuff here (snow shoveling, for instance; engaging in draining social and civic responsibilities as we try to bear witness against these hard days, feeling at times “derailed and desperate” as singer Bruce Cockburn sings) I just haven’t been able to find the energy to create my typical big list of stellar titles.

I can’t not do this, though — thanks to those who told me they were waiting for my celebrations, as I was thinking of just skipping it this year. 2018 was a great year for Beth and me if measured in terms of the wonderful joys of reading good books, fiction and non-fiction. Here, then, is my report from the field, titles we loved, books we found lovely or challenging, authors that impressed us, stuff we liked having the opportunity to review and even sell.

This is less a “Best of 2018” list and more a summary of books that we liked or want to highlight as commendable. I’ll start out here with a big list of important releases. I don’t have the stamina to review them all with the care they surely deserve. Maybe you don’t have the stamina to read hefty reviews and I tried to explain why there are significant and deserving of your attention. I hope you have the wherewithal to order a few. Consider it a small price to pay for hearing about this stuff from us. Send us some orders, soon, please.

  • THIS IS PART ONE OF A LISTING OF ONLY SOME OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS THIS YEAR. WATCH SOON FOR ANOTHER LIST (PART TWO) WHICH WILL INCLUDE MEMOIRS, FICTION, BOOKS ON THE ARTS AND POPULAR CULTURE, AND PERHAPS SOME OF OUR MOST DELIGHTFUL CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF 2018.
  • WATCH ALSO FOR A SPECIAL BOOKNOTES  COLUMN (PART THREE) NAMING A FEW OF THE YEAR’S BEST BOOKS ON RACIAL JUSTICE, MUTI-CULTURAL MINISTRY, AND OTHER TITLES TO ADVANCE ETHNIC AND RACIAL RECONCILIATION.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite books in the categories of Christian cultural engagement, Biblical studies, spiritual formation, discipleship, church life, current affairs, and the like, in the Year of our Lord, 2018.

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis  Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press) $25.95  I hope you recall how we announced this earlier, insisting that the idea of it — not to mention the research — was brilliant. Jacobs is a great writer, a remarkably adroit thinker, and here he tells of five major Christian thinkers who, after World War II, published major works questioning the idols of Western culture and wondering how a renewal of a Christian-like humanism might help us survive the coming technocracy. Jacobs explores Christian intellectuals Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, who “sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.”  This is one of the most learned and vital and valuable books of many a year.

Alan Jacob’s prose wears immense learning lightly, with great grace and to great effect. To think alongside these writers, under Jacobs’s stage direction, to hear them across a gap of three-quarters of a century think with gravity and sincerity, pondering the nature of the human soul, palpably straining toward the ideal of the common good, feeling the pull of their religion’s perennial pitfalls, in a situation and language different from and yet not wholly unlike our own, is riveting, challenging, and life-giving. –Lori Branch, author of Rituals of Spontaneity

Alan Jacobs has written an elegant and deeply learned book on Christian humanism in the critical years of the Second World War. He opens a window into some of the most luminous and profound thinking about the nature and possibilities of civilization during those troubled years. By doing so, has opened a window for thinking about our own troubled times. –James Davidson Hunter, author of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future edited by Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher Devers (IVP Academic) $28.00  This is one of those books that deserves a very thorough study, a review that explains each and every chapter and celebrates the good work of each and every contributor. The work is good and the contributors fascinating — Mark Noll, Lauren Winner, James K.A. Smith, Jo Anne Lyon, Timothy Larson, Mark Gallie, and more. If you are a serious fan of Hearts & Minds you will know why we honor this book as one of the most important of 2018 and you’ll want to have it on your own bookshelf. Heck, you might want to order it and then throw a party. It is not only a good, good book on its own merit, but it stands for something, signifies a renaissance of thoughtful Christian publishing and intentionally deepening of the evangelical mind, even a renewal of faith-based higher education, and a revival of the Christian presence in the arts, a project in which some observers have said we have played a small part. (Okay, only a very small part, but we all need stuff to celebrate, so keep that party going!)

This shift towards better Christian publishing and evangelical perspectives being heard in  literature, journalism, science, culture and education, say, is a part of our story and part of the renewal happening with evangelical and church-related colleges, and part of the cause for the remarkable rise of publishers like Baker Academic, Brazos, Crossway, and InterVarsity Academic, all who have brought — like Eerdmans before them — a historic evangelical take on the arts and sciences, culture and creation. That many younger evangelicals have been shaped in recent decades by brilliant scholars and serious writers and the rise of organizations in the arts, marketplaces, and professions taking up the high calling of integrating faith and work, nurturing the habits of the mind, deepening the virtues of the intellectual life, is not to be taken for granted.

This historic renewal of concern for Christian worldviews and a Biblical mindset and strengthening of institutions of higher education and  the necessary periodicals and organizations and publishing agendas and institutional networks developed for a reason, and in God’s timing, part of that impetus was the publication of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by historian and critic Mark Noll in 1994. The State of the Evangelical Mind emerged from a conference held (at Wheaton College, naturally) to ask the question of how we’ve faired since that hard hitting critique of the lack of a historic, evangelical engagement in scholarship and culture.

This new book, inspired by Noll, and with a major contribution by him, is dedicated to John and Wendy Wilson. John was the erstwhile and colorful editor of one of the most brilliant journals in America, the deeply Christian Books & Culture. That it arose inspired, in part, by Noll’s mid-90s cri de coeur and yet collapsed in the 2015 is a tragedy that should sober any upbeat reading of The State of the Evangelical Mind. Different scholars who contributed to this book have differing takes on what has happened in recent decades, but few can deny there has been a great publishing renaissance since the days when Zondervan published books about John DeLoreans car and Revell made a mint on Marabel Morgan’s Saran Wrap when there were hardly any books on art or science or ecology or film or gender or economics or political theory from a thoughtful Christian viewpoint. My heard starts pounding when I think of how one author, a big name in Christian Bookselling Association circles, threatened to sue us because we said her goofy accusations about Richard Foster being pagan and Ron Sider being a communist was hogwash. Those were the days when a customer of ours circulated a petition against us in part because we carried bookmarks that had rainbows on them, a secret sign of a conspiracy towards One World Government, doncha know?

So, we’ve come a long way. But not far enough along, so that a journal like Books & Culture could survive. This recent book offers a variety of voices on that story, where we’ve been, what’s going on now, and what might be to come. If you know anybody in higher education, any young Christians in graduate school, anyone who does campus ministry and works in higher learning, if you know anybody who is an engaged professional, if you know anybody who reads literary fiction or science journals or The Paris Review or First Things or Tin House or Foreign Affairs, then this book is for them.

Harry Stout, the legendary Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale says the chapters here are “judiciously rendered thought pieces… uniformly astute, well written, and in short, ruthlessly truthful. The result is a stunning achievement.”

Wilfred McClay of the University of Oklahoma, writes, “If the richness and maturity of a tradition can be judged by the quality of the debate and the healthy self-criticism it generates, then the evangelical intellectual tradition shows itself to be alive and cackling in this stimulating and thought-provoking book.”

Linda A. Livingstone, president of Baylor University, says:

From Mark Noll’s influential Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994 to the thoughtful essays included in The State of the Evangelical Mind, we are reminded — and indeed challenged — to continue cultivating leaders who devote their training and God-given talents to generating solutions and shaping ideas at the highest level of the academy and society.

I am very glad for this book and we award it as one of the Best of the Year.

It is sweet and significant that in the foreword by Rich Mouw he starts with a story from an old acquitance of ours, a Mennonite who was, until his untimely death, the President of near-by Messiah College. (Not too many college Presidents have visited our Dallastown store.) Mouw writes about an observation Rod Sawatsky was fond of making about evangelical higher education. “We give much attention, he would say, about the relationship between faith and learning, but we hear almost nothing about the relationship of hope and love to learning.”  Mouw continues, “The explorations in this book make good headway in addressing Rod’s complaint.”  Thanks be to God. Tolle lege.

Whole & Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World Al Tizon (Baker Academic) $22.99 At a bit over 200 pages this book covers so much good stuff it deserves multiple awards — best book on the nature of the gospel, best book of missiology, best book as a foundation for peace and justice work, best book on the Biblical narrative. I suppose I’d celebrate it as one of the best books by a friend who has picked up books from us here at Hearts & Minds. (Runner up to Believe Me author Professor John Fea.) I think it has one of the stronger cover designs, too — what a photo, and what a title.

So, I am very fond of Al Tizon and have stocked his other books (such as his Judson Press volume Missional Preaching: Engage Embrace Transform.) Al used to work for Evangelicals for Social Action and taught with Campolo and Ron Sider at Eastern University and Palmer Seminary, so it was natural that he helped compile and edit a feschgrift in honor of Sider that was called Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider (a former Best Book of the Year award winner from here at Hearts & Minds!) Al Tizon, now executive minister of Serve Globally, the international ministries arm of the Evangelical Covenant Church, is also an affiliate professor at North Park Theological Seminary.He is a man we admire and appreciate.

In a way, it seems that Whole & Reconciled is one of those books a scholar works on his or her whole life, a magnum opus. Yet, Al is no where near the end of his important career and may have even more books in him. But this, this truly is a major contribution, and mighty, multi-disciplinary work, visionary and solid. Whole & Reconciled is doubtlessly one of my favorite books of 2018 and clearly one of the most important books to be released this year.

Some readers will recall that several decades ago there was much conversation about how best to define mission work — words or deeds? evangelism or social action? church planting or development? — and the best thinkers bravely went against the tide of their respective traditions that routinely, often loudly, insisted it was one or the other and said that it must be both. Holistic, intregal, Kingdom advancing ministry was proposed as a Biblically-required and theologically-sound alternative to the typical voices of the fundamentalists and the liberals, both who, in their respective mission agencies and declarations, privileged one approach over and against the other.

Well, years of debate and crisis on the ground caused brilliant work to be done within the evangelical camp — the World Council of Churches and other such groups were more reluctant to revise their social gospel only approach, or so it seems — and an entire body of literature evolved over decades (including statements such as those that came out of Lausanne) that offered a deep and faithful understanding of how Christ is Lord of all of life and therefore redemptive work must be culturally relevant, spiritually and theologically sound, and of solid service to those whom we are called to serve (not least, the poor, sick, and marginalized.) I am confident that some of the very best work done in the last fifty years in global development and majority world contextualized social reform has been led by evangelicals with a deep passion to integrate word and deed, good news and good works. In fact, even the “both/and” approach has been criticized for even assuming there are two aspects of Biblical witness that have to be somehow brought together. Kingdom living is multi-dimensional as all of creation is being healed by Christ so a fully robust missiology has to be more than merely “bringing together” words and deeds.

Well, there hasn’t been a book that has approached this subject so thoroughly in decades and the time is ripe for not only a reminder of the nature of wholistic mission but an updating and even revamping of some of the key themes of this wonderful vision. Whole & Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World is just the right book at the right time and Al Tizon, himself a Filipino American with much global experience, is just the right author for the job. One of the grandfathers of this move towards wholistic evangelical missiology is Samuel Escobar raves, as does Christopher Wright of Langham Partnership (doubtlessly one of the most important Biblical scholars writing on missional themes in the Scriptures.) Always edgy and poetic Ruth Padilla DeBorst (daughter of another pillar in the movement, Rene Padilla) writes a powerful Foreword and Ron Sider has a very impressive Afterword. In other words, Whole & Reconciled really is considered by many to be a major release and an exceptional new resource for God’s people who care about the world.

The book is arranged in four units, with a couple of great chapters in each. The four parts are Whole World, Whole Gospel, Whole Church, and Whole Mission. Every one of these sections are worth the price of the whole book and Tizon is to be thanked for packing so very much good content in such readable, lively prose. It is for anyone who ponders the implications of the gospel of reconciliation, the transforming power of a Kingdom vision, the adventure that awaits when the whole people of God care about the whole gospel for the whole world. What a book!

Mae Elise Cannon, director of Churches for Middle East Peace and author of Just Spirituality, The Social Justice Handbook, and A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land writes:

Whole & Reconciled speaks of the entirety of the gospel without discarding the uncomfortable truths and demands of biblical justice, peacemaking, and reconciliation. Tizon explains how the gospel necessitates the type of reconciliation that penetrates the deepest aspects of individual and community relationships with truth, love, and vulnerability. Read this important book to learn to be challenged to embrace what it means to be truly whole and reconciled.

Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Fortress Press ) $18.99  Well. Speaking of discussion about the nature of mission and hearing voices from the global church, of wanting to work for the unity of the Body of Christ — for the sake of the needy world and creation itself, this is an author who has been on the front lines for decades and is a voice you should know, whose books you should read. Wes Granberg-Michaelson has spent his adult life pondering and working on these very things. This is surely, surely, one of the most important books of 2018 — and I think really helpful for anyone involved in church life. The great and interesting foreword by Soong-Chan Rah says it wonderfully, assuring us that this is an excellent tool for local church folks.

I suppose you might recall me writing about Granberg-Michaelson’s other books. Years ago he worked for a hero of mine, Senator Mark Hatfield (an anti-war Republican who gave a fantastic keynote talk at one of the early Jubilee conferences in Pittsburgh — that Wes wrote.) He moved over to Sojourners for a while and eventually became a leader in his own denomination, the Reformed Church in America.  He has written about leadership and about creation care and has published dozens if not hundreds of articles all over the world. As he describes in his wonderful biography, Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity he tells of how an evangelical kid from the mid-West ended up living in Geneva working for the World Council of Churches. His travels among the global church put him in the upper circle of key scholars of global Christianity (in league with Andrew Walls and Philip Jenkins and the recently passed Lamin Sanneh) but he writes more tellingly, with vivid storytelling and obvious investment in church life. His 2013 book From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church is more important now than it was 10 years ago.

And so, as we’ve said at BookNotes more than once, Future Faith takes all this stuff about social trends and globalization and multi-ethnicity and the shifts in world Christianity and tells how it effect the ordinary local congregation. It offers us key trends we have to be a part of, one way or another; he pitches them as challenges, but it could just as easily have been written as opportunities. Whether you are a mainline Presbyterian or high-brown Episcopalian or a community church that is non-denominational, a Gosepl Coalition Reformed Baptist or a progressive emergent community or a typical Roman Catholic or Lutheran this book will help you. Some of you will intuitively grasp more than others, some will need more help than others, some churches may be doing well with one challenge but maybe less so on another, but Future Faith is a needed guide. It is vital for all to frame your own ministry and congregational integrity for the next decade.

Not everyone will agree that each of these 10 challenges are as pressing as Wes may say. That’s okay. Even if he’s partially right, there is so much good stuff here to ponder and so many theologically-driven, culturally-savvy imperatives that it is sure to be an aid to your growth in deeper faithfulness. As Soong-Chan Rah says in the foreword, this book will start (or deepen) a conversation, and that’s what is key.  It’s why we celebrate Future Faith as one of the most important books of 2018.

Few guides to the future of faith are as trustworthy as Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. This book is filled with wisdom drawn from a lifetime of experience and a heart of passion for the love and justice proclaimed by Jesus.  Diana Butler Bass, author Gratitude: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks

This is an inspiring and encouraging book, with wise insights into what we can and must do to remain faithful to God’s work of renewal in the world. Future Faith disturbed me as it informed me. But, thank God, it also gave me hope.  Richard Mouw, President emeritus Fuller Seminary

The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology Michael Goheen (Baker Academic) $22.99  This came out late in the fall and although I can’t say I’ve read every page, I can say that it deserves to be named an an exceptionally notable work. There has been (especially just a couple of years ago) a huge discovery (or rediscovery) of the wonderful work of Lesslie Newbigin. From his many volumes written out of his time in India (where he lived and ministered for most of his adult life) and then his ground-breaking work about how to use contextualization principles (that cross cultural missionaries routinely use) in the post-Christian, secularizing West. In books like Foolishness to the Greeks and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society Newbigin set the stage for what has become the missional church movement. There are bunches of fantastic missional church resources, some quite lively, all indebted to Newbigin.

Many of the best missional church resources not only attempt to analyze the culture, wondering how the Kingdom of God can break through into that distorted creation that God so loves, but ask what kind of local church do we need to proclaim a missional model, and all-of-life-redeemed Kingdom expression in the world as it is?  (For what it’s worth, this is the exact question David Fitch asked in his very impressive IVP book, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission which was then summarized last year in the pocket-sized Seven Practices for the Church on Mission.)

So, there has been a renewed interest in Newbigin, in his understanding of culture and the missional project, and in his view of Scriptures that yielded such a robust missiology. Many of these books are great, and many of the more popular misisonal books are in discussion with them. Through it all, though, no one figure (in my opinion, at least) has as much insight into Newbigin and his relevance today as Michael Goheen. Those that follow Lesslie Newbigin studies know him well. Interestingly, some of the Dutch neo-Calvniists who talk about worldview and draw on Al Wolter’s often-cited Creation Regained might notice that it was Goheen who did a final chapter in the second edition, and an afterward about how Newbigin’s project of missional church stuff aligned with Al’s Kuyperian worldview and call for distinctively Christian philosophy to fund proper social engagement. Goheen, that is, is an important figure in several different traditions and communities.

Which is a very long way of saying why this book is a must-read, why it should be widely known, and why we want to honor it as a truly vital voice, a major release about a very important topic.  What kind of churches do we need to do all this good stuff? I know a book on a South Indian missionary that has eccelisology in the subtitle doesn’t sound like a best-seller, but let us pray that many read it, take up its challenge, and carefully use Newbigin’s good ideas, filtered through Goheen’s good framework, for pushing for congregational renewal that bears fruit fo the Kingdom of God. Out of concern for God’s church we must cry out and push for serious work on parish life. This book will help.

Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey Barbara Melosh (Westminster John Knox Press) $18.00  We stock so many books for congregational leaders — everything from Abingdon and Alban and the like — but occasionally a book comes along that stands out for it’s literary quality and it’s charm and quiet insight. In the last few years I keep raving about the epistolary novel, Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church by Winn Collier (which Eugene Peterson just raved about.) I’ve been on the look-out for something to recommend like that.

Loving and Leaving a Church is not fiction, but a memoir of a new Lutheran pastor, a second-career woman, in her first pastorate. She was “brimming with enthusiasm and high hopes.” It was a blue-collar congregation and they’ve had a glorious past but, like many mainline congregations, an uncertain future. Barbara Melosh (formerly a college prof at George Mason) tells her story of trying her best and, finally, realizing the relationship was not a good fit. None of her fresh energy and church growth plans and outreach programs worked; she could not, as she puts it, drag them into a future they did not want.

I get choked up reading even the back cover which says,

Yet while the congregation failed to change itself, Melosh notes, it succeeded in changing her. Simply put, it made her a pastor.

I know pastors whose ministries seem not to bear much earth-shaking fruit, but they love their flock. I know some who captain large and effective institutions, but have little affection for their place or their people. It seems to me — and this good story captures it — that learning to love and serve real people in a real congregation in a real place is most of what a pastor does. Sure, there are programs and worship services and classes and meetings, and it all matters. But this vocation of mediating God’s presence through affectionate solidarity with those God gives to you, being a pastor, is what congregations most need. It is touching, human work, which is why this book, even though some of it is out and out hilarious, is heartbreaking as well.

Richard Lischer (who wrote his own remarkable memoir of this sort, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery) says Melosh offers “an unflinchingly honest account of how one little group of Saints and Sinners transformed a novice into a pastor.”

It is, Lischer insists:

“Pastoral writing at its best.”

By the way, those of us who are not pastors will enjoy this as well. As Dorothy Bass of the Valparaiso Project says, “…parishioners will see with fresh eyes their own strong role in embodying God’s presence in the particular places where God’s people gather and serve.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching & Worship – Year C Vol 1      Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching & Worship – Year C Vol 2 edited by Joel Green, Thomas Long, Luke Powery, Cynthia Rigby (Westminster John Knox Press) $45.00 each

What a grand, lectionary-based set of resources for preaching and worship! In a way, this is the next generation of Feasting on the Word and represents the best thinking on Biblical exegesis, homiletics, personal and social application, all offered with preaching commentary and worship planning ideas for each lectionary reading of the given season.  The contributions are wide and broad, with dozens of writers from bunches of denominations, from Evangelical Free and the Christian Reformed Church to the more standard Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran, UCC, and Episcopalian. There are African American exegetes and Latina preachers and Baptist liturgists. What a fun and helpful array of prayerful ideas from stimulating voices.

When we first introduced Volume 1 (Advent through the season of Epiphany to Transfiguration Sunday) we explained more, but allow me to just say this: it is called Connections in part to capture two things: the various contributors working on the lections each week try to show the connections of that Biblical portion to the whole of Scripture, hearing connections between this text and others in Holy Scripture. And, it attempts to offer ideas for making connections between this ancient Word and the world of today. So when it says “connections” it means it — connection the lectionary text to the bigger story of the Bible and connection the worship to real life.  Surely one of the best worship aids and liturgical resources in many a year, to be celebrated as a publishing win in 2018. Cheers!

“Here is a resource that puts hundreds and hundreds of focused scholars in the preacher’s study, ready to help shovel the diamonds of Scripture for the Sunday sermon. Every congregation in the country should buy their pastor a complete set, both for their own good and the good of the world.” —Barbara Brown Taylor

Given the deep crisis we face in church and in society, the recovery of the biblical text in all its glorious truth-telling is an urgent task for us preachers. For much too long the text has been neglected through complacency, timidity, and embarrassment. Now is the time of recovery of the text. There are few resources as useful for such a recovery as Connections. It is interpretive work done by our best interpreters, skilled in our best methods, grounded in deep faith, and linked to lived reality. This resource is an immense treasure that invites boldness and imagination in our shared work of proclamation.” —Walter Brueggemann

“In this day when potential listeners are biblically and theologically untutored, distracted and disconnected, Connections is just what the doctor ordered for contemporary preaching. Connections is well named, for it equips preachers to preach sermons that connect with both Scripture and contemporary life, sermons that are both faithful to their biblical contexts and fitting to the contexts of their congregations in the world. Connections provides an antidote to biblical lectures with little acquaintance with contemporary life as well as to strings of stories that lack biblical grounding. We owe the publisher, editors, and authors of this series a debt of gratitude for the gift of this resource for preaching.” —Alyce M. McKenzie Professor of Preaching and Worship,  Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin Lauren F. Winner (Yale University Press) $28.00 This is certainly one of the most thoughtful and grand books of 2018 and it is one I am reading so carefully that I am not yet finished! It deserves savoring and pondering. Lauren is a gracious, at times luminous writer and those that love her memoirs will recognize her voice in some of these lovely and poignant stories. Yet, this is a different sort of book (it is on Yale University Press, after all.) More scholarly, more philosophical, she goes to great lengths to be clear about her argument.

The first chapter is not quite tedious but it is meticulous.  It is exceptionally helpful as she explains what “characteristic” damage is; that is, sins and distortions that are unique to and consonant with and intrinsic to a certain good thing. She gives lots of examples of what she means and what she doesn’t mean, but the upshot is an insightful reminder that some things, even good things, carry with them immense possibility to cause damage, damage unique to their very goodness.

And therein is the genius and profundity of this book, a book unlike any other I know. Many these recent decades are talking about not only inner disciplines but distinctively Christian practices. (Her Mudhouse Sabbath — oh, please tell me you know it! — helped popularize this very language and orientation.) But, to be blunt, can these very practices harm people? Can the joys and healing of, say, receiving communion or saying prayers backfire, so to speak? As one reviewer asks, “Does the church ever hurt those it means to help?”

Here is how Alan Jacobs puts it:

Thoughtful Christians often commend a return to ancient practices of faith as a means of healing spiritual disorders. But what if those practices are themselves damaged? This is the discomfiting question Lauren Winner raises in this curious and remarkable book — a literary and historical meditation on damaged gifts that remain, nevertheless, gifts.

Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality Gerald McDermott (BakerAcademic) $22.99 We have written from time to time about what I call “the spirituality of the ordinary,”  When we set up book displays we usually have a dozen titles tucked in among the spiritual disciplines and contemplative guides and mystics that extol finding God in the mundane. Well, this does that, I suppose, but it is more of a theology of the spirituality of the ordinary. It is warm and inviting but meaty. McDermott is a splendid writer, the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson (at Samford University) and here he sees — not unlike Jonathan Edwards who he has studied deeply and draws upon here — in the ordinary stuff of daily life signs and signals of the Trinune God.

Peter Leithart wrote a year or so ago a book that trod similar holy ground in Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience and I think I enjoyed Everyday Glory even more. He offers  what one reviewer (Matthew Olver of Nashotah House) a “beauty-saturated theology of creation.” It is designed to help us reject the disenchantment of modernity (which is where the book starts) — why we have failed to experience a robust revelation of God in creation. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in Edwards’s sort of natural theology, this book will help you pay attention to life — all of life, from science to history, sex to sports — through the lens of the glory of God who is revealed in creation. It’s a great book and highly recommended.

Serving the Church, Reaching the World: Essays in Honour of Don Carson edited by Richard Cunningham (IVP-UK) $15.00  I know his friends call him Don, but most evangelical book buyers who know his vast, important body of work call him D.A. We sold books with him once and didn’t know how to address him, so I called him “Dr. Carson.” As you can see from the funny spelling of “Honour” this is a British book. Technically, it came out in England in late 2017 but it was 2018 until we discovered it here in the States. It is a collection of essays offered in appreciation (a festschrift) for D.A. Carson and brings together a select group of theologians, Bible scholars, mission leaders, seminary thinkers, and those who do apologetics and preaching to offer good pieces. It isn’t a well-known book which is why I want to give a special shout out here as it is a great collection of articles and essays that you won’t find anywhere else.

I don’t agree with everything this brilliant man writes and his Gospel Coalition tribe isn’t exactly our own, but anybody who cares about thoughtful, culturally-relevant, Biblically-faithful, solid stuff should pay attention to those who have stood beside him or on his shoulders.  Here are some who have contributed to Serving the Church, Reaching the World — William Edgar, Kirsten Birkett, Timothy Keller, J.I. Packer, John Piper, and the editor, Richard Cunningham, who is an ordained Anglican ministry (in the Church of England) and is the Director of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF.)

Topics include (among others) “Winning Hearts and Minds in a Secular Age”, Tim Keller on “University Missions Today” and Packer on “Preacher and Theologian: The Ideal Christian Communicator.” Piper has a powerful essay about service and suffering and there’s several potent chapters on truth, apologetics, ecumenical cooperation. Jazz-man and WTS prof Bill Edgar has a strong essay called “The Silence of God.”  This is a fascinating, little known anthology and we want to celebrate it, even as it celebrates an author of over 50 books, D.A. Carson. Kudos.

Kingdom Collaborators: Eight Signature Practices of Leaders Who Turn the World Upside Down Reggie McNeal (IVP) $16.00  This is another great book that comes from IVP’s Praxis imprint and we are thrilled to say we stock them all, including a big stack of this one. We have long appreciated Reggie’s upbeat, stimulating (but exceptionally well-informed and thoughtful) approach to missional church and Kingdom living.  We want to honor this as one of the books we were excited about this year, in part because it is practical and useful for church and ministry leaders — not “running over the same old ground” as Pink Flloyd puts it in “Wish You Were Here” — but also because, well, did you see what I did there? This is a book for church and parish leaders but it is not mostly or exclusively about the local church but about the reign of God in the world God loves. That is, it is about the culture, about the Kingdom coming in all of life, about entrepreneurial visions and world-changing efforts to make a difference. Do you want to be that kind of a church leader, equipping your people to serve their city, to care for their neighborhoods, to represent God’s grace in various institutions of your locality?

This book works on a number of levels. It is energizing and visionary, of course. And in a way it is a sequel to his Kingdom Come which is passionate and upbeat about the reality of the Kingdom of God.  But it is also about leadership and it is about collaboration, a matter to which we don’t pay enough attention, I think. And it is about a certain sort of audacious collaboration — not just with other leaders in your church, not even with other churches, but other community leaders, and other community institutions. This isn’t new for most mainline folks, but for more evangelical folk, it may be a stretch. I think he makes a great case for this and invites us to new forms of worldly holiness and healthy collaboration.

Just for instance, listen to this testimonial by Lee Clamp, a Baptist woman who was part of a McNeal-inspired consultation:  “Do you long to see broken lives restored? New life is the drive of Kingdom Collaborators. Reggie’s passion for people is felt on every page, and he lives what he writes. He has helped us to birth a statewide coalition focused on awakening the faith-based community to bring hope to every child through serving our local schools. Be warned―reading Kingdom Collaborators may be hazardous to your comfortable life. It will change your status quo, muddy your hands, and free you from a predictable life!”

As Susan Hewitt of UpWorks in St. Paul Minnesota writes,

The transformation of a community begins with the transformation of an individual. Whether one is a leader, collaborator, or follower, Reggie provides kingdom thinking to help unlearn traditions that are hindering our witness and work and relearn biblical principles that will unleash God’s people. I believe this inspired book will help Christians join with God in his kingdom agenda, accelerating improvement on societal issues that is so desperately needed.

Here is how another United Methodist leader puts it:

Perhaps, for such a time as this, Jesus is changing our minds as it relates to understanding the call of all people. Perhaps now is the time that God is calling kingdom leaders to agitate for the kingdom, knowing that the agitation and advancement of God’s kingdom is done with collective force and efforts. Kingdom Collaborators is the book to arrest your heart, expand your understanding, and prod you to move into God’s calling no matter if you are clergy or congregant! — Aleze M. Fulbright, director of leadership development, Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church

A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today Bonnie Kristian (FaithWords) $14.99 This has been a book that I’ve talked about when we’ve been out at events but it is tricky to explain. It is charming, wonderfully written, upbeat and fun and yet I’d suggest it is deadly serious. It is about the stream of Christian orthodoxy which is “wide and deep but most Christians only swim in their own little pool.” There is more than one viable option to unbelief and to understand this is absolutely critical. It is important as we learn to get along with the body of Christ and it is important as we invite seekers and the disillusioned to sustainable faith when they’ve left the one sort of faith expression they thought was normative.

A Flexible Faith might be found somewhere in the middle, then, between Richard Foster’s must-read Streams of Living Water and Brian McLaren’s clever and feisty A Generous Orthodoxy.

Kristian says she has written for the convinced and the confused alike. I”d agree —  if you know what you belief and why you belief it, it doesn’t hurt to learn about others who see things differently and if you are confused this will not only say “welcome to the club” but will lay out some options and offer resources for finding some resolution to questions of faith and practice.

Here is how it works. I will be brief, but I could write a long time about various stuff she writes here.  There are two things Kristian does: first, she does a survey of various views of several topics. (That is, for instance, she’ll show both sides of an issue saying some Christian believe this and other Christians belief that. She tips her hand and says why.  In this regard, this is a nice handbook to what the primary views are of everything from God’s providence to Christian involvement in war; from what the Lord’s Supper means to the ethics of LGTBQ sexual relationships. In every other chapter she shows that some Christians think one way but others another way about this or that theological, church, and discipleship question. If all she did was offer this fair-minded survey we’d have much to be thankful for.But the other concern of this book isn’t just to struggle with abstract doctrines and social issues, laying out this and that viewpoint and comparing those that hold to this Bible text to those that emphasize that Bible text.  No, this is about really appreciating each other, so she has these rather wild and interesting interviews with all kinds of unique Christian folks.

What do I mean? Here’s you’ll find fascinating conversations with a member of a Benedictine monastery; you’ll learn about Quakerism. There’s an interview with a member of the Bruderhof (who published Plough) and you’ll meet a Messianic Jew. From Randy Woodley (a Native American follower of Jesus) to a Q& A with Dr. Simon Chan, a Pentecostal intellectual to a gent from the Coptic Orthodox Church, you’ll be enchanted to hear about so many different expressions of faith. From those who hold a common purse to the Amish to a Seventh Adventist to one who is part of a Latin American base community, you’ll discover so many different ways to be faithful. You will have to re-think, at least for a bit, what it means to follow Jesus today. Perhaps you will become more generous towards others. Perhaps you will become a bit more flexible. Who knows, perhaps it will be a life-line for somebody you know. It’s a fun read and would be great to work through with a book club.

Come Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity edited by George Kalantzis and Marc Cortez (IVP Academic) $26.00  This is one of the books I was most happy to see this year and sad that I haven’t found time to study it much. It is one of the annual books IVP Academic releases — thanks be to God for their publishing savvy and integrity! — that comes from an annual theology conference at Wheaton College. This book nicely offers the papers and panels and keynotes and sermons from the previous years event on unity within the Body of Christ, especially around our differing view of sacraments. (By the way: last year’s Wheaton conference was on Marilyn Robinson, so the forthcoming volume that IVP will release will be among the most eagerly anticipated books of 2019!)

Come Let us Eat Together is not as fun and funny and curiously charming as the above mentioned invitation to flexible faith, and it may not be a big seller, which is all the more reason we want to honor it here, now. We dare not be glib about the brokenness of Christ’s church and perhaps studying these chapters by classic Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox theologians, who consider what it means to proclaim the unity of the body of Christ in light of the sacraments, will help.

These essays offer unflinching honest, surprising humor, keen insight, and possible ways forward as they wrestle with hard questions about why Christian are and remain divided over what should unite us: the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper .                                                                              James R Payton, Redeemer University College

Reframing the Soul: How Words Transform Our Faith Gregory Spencer (Leafwood) $15.99  This is one of the great, notable books of 2018 and because it is on a smaller publishing house my fear is that it may not be widely known. I did a long review of it last summer at BookNotes and explained it my admiration for the author and detailed the nature of the book.

Here is one small part of that review:

On the back cover of Reframing the Soul we get a glimpse of what Spencer is up to when he tells of “four essentials of the soul.”

 

  • Remembering the past with gratitude
  • Anticipating the future with hope
  • Dwelling within ourselves in peace
  • Engaging with others in love

There are the four main units of this book. After several opening chapters he gets to these four chief tasks (remembering, anticipating, dwelling, engaging) but the opening four chapters are worth the price of the book. And they are memorable – “Every Word a Window,” “There Is No Immaculate Perception,” “Order, Order, Everywhere,” and “When You Frame Your Life, What’s in the Picture?”

Then Spencer opens up the discussions about how new words can reframe and set us free from less than life-giving, less-than-adequate perceptions. Please note, this is not some technique like “neuro-linguistic programming” nor some name-it-and-claim it nonsense about positive confession. It is wise and nuanced council about reframing our stories based on how we choose to tell those stories, inspired, as we can be, by Biblical truths and spiritual discernment.

I know some of our customers rightly adore the book To Be Told: God Invites You to Co-Author Your Future by Dan Allender, who also reminds us to reframe our past and present to get to a renewed future. This new Reframing the Soul book by Gregory Spencer is worth having and highly recommended for those wanting a very impressive read about “navigating reality with grace and truth.” And hope.

Sacred Questions: 365 Days of Responding to God Kellye Fabian (NavPress) $22.99 Every year there are very nice devotionals and some years there are extraordinary ones released. Certainly 2018 was a banner year, with a small one from the late Eugene Peterson on key Old Testament texts (Every Step an Arrival: A 90-Day Devotional for Exploring God’s Word; Waterbrook Press; $14.99)  and, of course, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Tim and Kathy Keller (Viking; $20.00) which many folks used all year long, just like they used their wonderful book devotional on Psalms the year before.

I liked Kellye Fabian’s in part because it was arranged with so many good questions, inviting a pondering about the text and its application. It isn’t quite lectio but it does invite readers into this practice of a close reading and attending to questions that arise from the text. I think this stimulates the mind and enlarges the heart as readers “learn how to partner with God and live the full, free, and other-centered life Jesus offers.”  Ms. Fabian holds a certificate of spiritual formation through Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Center and has studied with Scot McNight at Northern Seminary. This is a handsome hardback, just shy of 500 pages.

Honey From the Rock: Daily Devotions from Young Kuyper Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press) $39.99  I very much want to honor this remarkable new release — sweet devotional meditations from the brilliant and legendary Dutch theologian cum social reformer cum statesman that, as far as I know, have never before been translated into English. Like the other big, hefty, well-crafted and helpfully annotated volumes coming out in the Kuyper Translation Project, it should be considered a publishing event to have this content released to the English-speaking world. And what a treasure this is, revealing again a side of himself that may not be as obvious in his theological work or his cultural analysis. (The Kuyper Translation Project, capably overseen by Melvin Flikkema & Jordan Ballor, has released oversized hardbacks of Kuyper’s work on public theology, common grace, politics, Islam, and has volumes coming out on topics such as education, economics, and justice.) Still, Kuyper religiously wrote weekly meditations, even in his most harried days as Prime Minister. He continued this practice up until his death in 1920. These newly released reflections, freshly translated by James De Jong, arose from the 1870s or so. (They were originally published and beloved a century ago in two volumes in Dutch.)

Honey From the Rock is to be celebrated because of its warm piety (think of his wonderful collection of meditations Near Unto God) but this release is of historical value, too, because, as the widely-read Albert Mohler puts it, “Imagine opening a collection of meditations by the  young Augustine, a young Martin Luther, or John Calvin… Here are the devotional thoughts of one of the most significant Protestant thinkers of the last 150 years from the most formative period of his life. This treasure is both timeless and timely.”

Of course, Richard Mouw has a blurb on the back, saying:

I have been reading Kuyper’s Near Unto God collection of meditations for decades — so much so that I wore out my first copy. He is my favorite devotional writer. And now this wonderful collection of 200 more. I hope all who have come to appreciate Kuyper’s writings on politics and culture in recent years will now taste the spiritual sweetness of Honey from the Rock.

One word of protest: this book should not have been published as an oversized, expensive hardback (although it is very nice.) Who wants to hold an immense volume the size of a dictionary in their morning or evening devotions? Who can shell out this kind of cash for a devotional? I suppose Lexham or the Translation Society wanted this to handsomely fit on a shelf with the other oversized Kuyper hardbacks, but this is a foolish mistake. Can we award it next year as the best paperback re-issue with a handsome, inexpensive cover? This lovely book is worth marketing widely and it is bad stewardship to not make it affordable and widely distributed. For those who already see themselves as Kuyperians, though, Honey from the Rock is a worthy, wonderful investment and I hope and pray that it sells well.

Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness Michael Card (IVP) $16.00 . Mike is a good, good guy, a thoughtful poet, and good writer, a fabulous singer-songwriter, recording artist, and serious scholar of the Scriptures. This book came out the last weeks of December and we wondered if anyone would notice it amidst the best-sellers and holiday glitz. A number of our local friends picked it up and more than one person raved about it within days! It is nice study of God’s identity, beyond what we can imagine, let alone express in human words. But, as Card explains, “Scripture uses one particular word to describe the distinctiveness of God’s character: the Hebrew word hesed.”

This is part semi-academic study, part devotional, part memoir of how this author came to be so deeply moved by this deep, multi-dimensional meaning of hesed and of the great God who reflects such loving fidelity. Of course, he helpfully reminds us that the fullness of hesed is embodied in the incarnation of Jesus, the God of hesed made flesh.

Can we be transformed as we ourselves become marked by compassion, mercy, faithfulness?  This book will help. Inexpressible is a beautiful, powerful read. Kudos.

An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation Martin Laird (Oxford University Press) $18.95  I have not read this yet but many people I deeply trust have commended Laird’s first two, Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence. These mixed metaphors and allusive titles should be a clue that these rich and deep. The handsome covers makes you want to hold these small hardbacks and take in their beauty. Blurbs on this much anticipated work are by Sarah Caokley, Carol Zaleski, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who commends it for resisting “verbiage, mystification and sentimentality”) and who says it is “both intensely challenging and enriching.”

Rowan Williams continues:

His writing on this subject is simply in a different league of seriousness from most other books on ‘spiritual’ practice.

The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us From Drowning Aaron Niequist (Waterbrook) $19.99  Books on contemplative practices and monastic spiritual disciplines and a more centered sort of spirituality keep coming out and our shelves in that category are bulging. There’s a lot of good stuff on various kinds of spiritual practices and many are wonderful. Some are more Christ-centered and Biblically-oriented then others, but many, many help people focus on their interior lives and find God’s presence in the midst of their daily lives.  However, every now and then one comes along that seems truly fresh, different, passionate, and which resonates with me. This is one of those.

I think this is one of the most interesting books I read all year, and one I grew increasingly enamored with. You can read my previous comments an at older BookNotes, but I’ll just note that he uses the “river” motif, and it is a healing River, “ushering in the healing and restoration of all things.” Jesus called this river “The Kingdom of God” and invited us to enter it. Niequist says that Jesus’s call to “follow me” could be interpreted as an invitation to learn to swim in this Eternal Current.  The invitation is participation.

That is what he means by a “practice-based faith” which is more than merely proper belief. We must be swept into God’s redemptive work in our lives and in the world. “We can move from the dry riverbed of static faith into the gushing Current of a practice-based faith.” So, yes, this engaging and creatively written book offers a vision and a set of practices for deeper discipleship, lived, experienced faith, spiritual formation that goes beyond some tribal sort of certainty and into the bigger mystery of belonging to Christ and being involved in His work.

I like this trans-rational (not-irrational, of course) view, that faith is more than intellectual ideas or cognitive assent. And, I am glad that Niequist always remind us that the River is for the sake of the world. HIs notion that church is a gymnasium (chapters 4 and 5) that affirms and trains us as we gather (and so, chapter 6 is called “Sunday is Not the Main Event”) is worth the price of the book. I’m fond of any book that has a chapter on ecumenism (“We Need Everybody”) and community (“We Can’t Do It Alone.”) His showing these important insights in this creative a language that moves increasingly outward towards mission is right on. His reminder of the role of imagination as we “reintegrate everything” is a beautiful benediction of a provocative and energizing book. I hope you, too, find it one of the more stimulating titles you’ve read in quite a while.

Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World A.J. Swoboda (Brazos Press) $19.99 This is another one that I hope you saw our long review at BookNotes. Even as I was describing it back then, I knew it was a contender for one of the very Best Books of 2018. It is comprehensive, interesting, theological, Biblical, and practical. It offers insight about keeping Sabbath, of course, but also offers broader guidance about the necessity of (our our reluctance to) rest. Importantly, it moves to how such nay-saying to busyness — “ceasing” is a word Marva Dawn used in her late ’80s, seminal Keeping the Sabbath Wholly — is, as the title says and he really means, subversive. There are idols and bad habits and dysfunctions in the world and our health and our very lives (not to mention our Kingdom loyalties) depends on resisting them. There is great power in saying no and keeping Sabbath and living within its rhythms can undo the grip of consumerism and workaholism and pride and violent.

This is a topic that is urgent, a book that is exceptional, and if you don’t have time to read it, you know you need it. We think that Subversive Sabbath is is one of our favorite books of the year, one we are happy to commend and that we hope is enduring among the other good books on the topic.  Thanks to A.J. for doing so much work on this and for being so artful and inspiring as a writer. Good job.

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age Alan Noble (IVP) $16.00  In just a few weeks we will finally get to meet Alan Noble, a professor of English and editor of the very cool Christ and Pop Culture online journal, who will be speaking at the CCO’s annual Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. I will applaud him personally for writing one of the best books of 2018 and thank him for creating a book that became one of store’s best sellers. It’s the kind of thoughtful but readable book we are so glad to sell. He has written for the Atlantic, Vox, Buzzfeed, Christianity Today, First Things and The Gospel Coalition. We’ve been facebook friends for years, and he really gets around. I say this not only to assure you he’s a good good guy, but to suggest that even though this is a critique of our hot-wired, fast-paced, digital lives that yield distraction and worse, he is no “Benedict Option” advocate, not one who has escaped the world of media and popular culture. He is trying hard to that noble view of being in-but-not-of as Jesus said.

Yet, he’s astute — more than most — about the pressures of modernity and the temptations of the modern age (and he shares candidly about this in the book in ways that will make you nod your head.) In this he has learned from Charles Taylor and the first half of this book “The Distracted, Secular Age” draws on Taylor and adds his own unique concerns about the barriers of endless distraction and the confusions of our identity (and what Charles Taylor calls “the buffered self.”) He says we are all seeking better visions of fullness, and to this complicated world we must bear a disruptive witness.  Part Two shows us how to do that.

There are habits to disrupt the distraction that we must learn and practice and these must be embodied in our own lives, encouraged in our churches, and that should shape our cultural participation (our tone and texture and style and attitude, not just what content we do or don’t promote.)  In many ways, McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” is a truism we must grapple with and Noble helps us think that through and equips us to “disrupt our society’s deep-rooted assumptions and point beyond them to the transcendent grace and beauty of Jesus.”

This is a book well worth reading carefully and slowly and talking about with others. I hope you can find a few good and honest friends to work through the distractions in our lives and how to disrupt them. This isn’t a cheap “just say no” to technology or busyness or secularism or a scolding to be more bold for Christ. It is a deep level study of the forces and ethos and practices of our technological age and a good, healthy, redemptive framework for standing a chance at not be done in by it all. At the end of the day (although I am a bit reluctant to sell short a nearly 200 page book with a quick summary) this invites us to slow down and pay attention and ponder and consider things. As we learn to attend to the world around us and read and pray and think, we can see that transcendence is more plausible than the secular age admits, more available than our fast-paced lives seem to permit. So settle down, folks, resist the disruption. Along with Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath practices [see above], and armed with this insightful cultural analysis, we really can speak truth in a a distracted age.

Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99  I regularly promote books from denominational perspectives and faith traditions and experiences that are not my own.  Obviously — what bookseller only promotes the books that fully reflects their own denomination and life?  We here at Hearts & Minds, are, in fact, deeply grateful for the opportunity to read widely, taking in books and insights and strengths from others with whom we may disagree.  I don’t know why I write this, now, leading in to our celebration of Diana’s good book because there is very little I disagree with here. It’s just that she is situated as a nationally-known critic of establishment religion, hard on conservative denominations, and always prophetic even in challenging her own progressive Episcopalian faith communities. She pushes churches to embrace new ways of thinking about faith that are sensible to the growing “spiritual but not religious” crowd and insists that an inclusive, generous faith is not only most reflective of the God who is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth but also most effective in resonating with the post-Christian milieu of our days. I don’t always see it like that, but I read anything she rights and am grateful for her work, her words, her friendship.

Which is where I’m going with this: I am deeply grateful for this book, Grateful, and am glad to honor it as one of the Best Books of 2018. I certainly was one I enjoy immensely, even if it tweaked me in hard ways, in painful places. How can we be grateful in these awful days of political divisiveness and social injustice and a President I cannot be grateful for. When black men are gunned down by white policeman, when otherwise good Christian people stimulate hateful attitudes towards refugees and the homeless, when the planet groans so loudly even as we cut funding for agencies designed to steward our natural resources, when marriages fail and cancer strikes, how in the hell are we supposed to be grateful?  I resist glib bromides of counting your blessings and Hallmark sentiments about serenity. I know it is extraordinarily radical, but I find John Piper’s Lewis-esque call to joy somehow amiss, unless accompanied (as it often is in Piper) by tears of lament.

And so, I am grateful for Grateful as it is one of the few authors who I would trust to walk us through this joy-producing, generous, beautiful spiritual discipline.  Diana starts the book noting that she wrote this in part as a way to cope with her own frantic worry over the election of Donald Trump and her horror at the casual way some accept his jokes about sexual assault, off-handed racism, and celebration of greed and glitz. As a historian, she was well equipped to get us beyond “cheap gratitude” (a brilliant line she offers in the prologue.) As one skilled in the social sciences, she uses as another point of departure two seemingly contradictory recent surveys of the mood of Americans and I appreciate her blend of personal anecdotes, historical insight, and up-to-date social analysis. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks has become my favorite book on the subject in part because of this big picture lens and how she moves us towards the civic implications of a conscientious commitment to thankfulness.

We are not alone in honoring this interesting and helpful book.  There is a lovely blurb on the back by Shauna Niequist, a thoughtful evangelical, James Martin, the best-selling and widely respected Jesuit, “Science Mike” McHargue (who calls it “a calming voice in raging cultural seas.”) Her friend Brian McLaren loves it, as does the non-Christian writer Marianne Williamson (who says, alluding to Julian, “her words are a gentle but fierce reminder that on some eternal level , all is well.”

Listen to Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, co-author of The Pentecost Paradigm and senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York:

Grateful will soften the lens through which you look at the people in your life, and the whirling world around us all. It’s a spoonful of honey to help us transform the ‘hard’ in our lives into wisdom, compassion, and even resistance.

Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much Ashley Hales IVP) $16.00 Anyone who has heard any of the conversations about James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love (a nice one-volume summary of his bigger “cultural liturgy” trilogy) or the wonderful book by Tish Warren (Liturgy of the Ordinary) you will immediately resonate with a book that says, in bold type on the back, “Places Form Our Loves.” That is, the ordinary, daily stuff of our material lives, our comings and goings, form in us habits and consequently values and dispositions, which reinforce a certain kind of living, a lifestyle. For better or worse, we are what we love and our loves, our desires, our imaginations of the good life, the stories we’ve been conscripted into, inform and shape our daily life. And our view of discipleship and service and church and God. All this stuff — our views of faith and life — are what the scholars call pre-theoretical. Our hearts, informed by stories and actual landscapes, shape our minds. We don’t “think” our way to holiness, as I’ve heard Smith say.

So. Given all this — Smith tells how the world’s values shape our desires by the cultural liturgies we imbibe and Warren shows how worship liturgies in her church help her find God in the ordinary stuff of daily life — how does Ashely Hales fit in? Why recall all this wordy backstory?

Well, Hales herself rehearses just a bit of this and one can see that she’s done good homework in thinking deeply about the sociology of our times, how hearts and habits work, how somehow the places we find ourselves shape us. She is wiser than most and careful about her consideration of her themes. As one reviewer put it, her writing is fierce, but has another put it, she writes with “poignant clarity.”

And she has a sense of wit about it since she did a few promo videos about this book from inside her Southern California min-van. Ha.

What do tract homes, strip malls, commuter culture and what Joni Mitchell called “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” have to do with our desire for God’s holiness in our lives? How do we see God’s ways — including solidarity with the poor and being agents of a multi-ethnic Kingdom — when one lives in the suburbs?  How does this space —  literally, the built environment, the culture of habits and lifestyles — effect our interior lives and our public discipleship? Hales helps us explore all of this and more. And did I say she does it with grace and wit?

She is a mother of four and a pastor’s wife. She has a PhD in English ffrom Edinburgh, so she’s no simple armchair critic. It is pretty easy for cynical hipsters or old-time hippies or Wendell Berry-esque back to the landers or even what David Brooks calls BOBOs (“bourgeois bohemians”) to criticize the bland if busy suburbs. Tons of films righteously mock the alleged emptiness of the ‘burbs. I love the hyper-critical James Howard Kunstler (you have to read The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere) but I’m glad to see an evangelical author writing about holiness start with the headline, “A Story To Find Home in the Geography of Nowhere.”

Can we do that, find true home in this odd sort of placeless place?  And if so, what does holiness and healthy spirituality look like in this “land of too much”?

(And might it connect to the really heavy themes presented in one of my favorite books Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger which explores how some people, even of those of great means, may have houses but not homes.)

Ashely Hales is a fine guide into these questions and any book that gets us thinking in these ways is deserving of a ‘burg-sized award. Her chapter titles are exceptionally interesting. Her footnotes are extraordinary — she quotes Scott Russel Saunders’ Staying Put and Marlena Graves’ A Beautiful Disaster and that great book by Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger called The Year of Small Things and Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak and Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place. She deserves another award just for that. She has a fine eye for detail in a well told story and she obviously knows some of the best Christian writers with whom she is in dialogue. The result is a feast of a book, helpful, wise, challenging, inspiring. It is one of my favorite books fo 2018.

Hales isn’t the first to write from a Christian perspective about this incarnational sense of place in the ‘burbs. Over ten years ago Dave Goeetz (who has a lovely blurb on the back) wrote Death By Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul and Albert Hsu wrote the very good The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty. They are both valuable and we recommend them, but this new one by Hales is by far the best evangelical book yet about this world of SUVs and soccer moms, of back decks and cul-de-sacs, of granite countertops and gated communities. And through it all she invites us to reflect on our own brokenness, to find healing and hope wherever we find ourselves, to seek God’s holiness and serve Christ’s kingdom of justice and reconciliation. As Seth Haines put it, “Ashley is the rare sort of writer, imaginative yet concrete, prophetic yet gentle. She only cuts where she can bring healing.”  This is a very interesting little book.

For a Better World: Abraham Kuyper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Discipleship for the Common Good Brant Micah Himes (Pickwick Publications) $28.00  I just grinned when I saw this, got so excited, because many folks know Bonhoeffer but fewer know the Dutch theologian, journalist, politician, educator who lead a revival in late 1800s Holland under the banner of the Lordship of Christ over all of life and creating a pluralistic culture where all worldviews are treated fairly. His piety and justice and structural (“archetectonic” some say) drove this giant of a man, and yet few know him. We can be glad for Brant Himes (a Humanities prof at Azusa Pacific and a managing editor for the theological journal Resonance) for pulling of this judicious study. Ken Wytsma (of the Justice Conferences) says For a Better Worldliness “is one of the most intriguing books I’ve run across in a long time.”

Rich Mouw wrote a lovely introduction reminding us that the very word “discipleship” means different things to different folks (and Kuyper didn’t use the word much, as such) so Hime’s helps us all learn a bit more about what the word might entail and what disciple may mean — along the way we all learn about following Jesus, about public life, about the common good. Kuyper served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Bonhoeffer famously inhabited a dank prison cell, so they led very different lives, on different sides of the experience of power and prestige. (Both visited America, by the way: Kuyper was hosted a the White House and then travelled among Dutch immigrant communities after lecturing at Princeton and Bonhoeffer studied in New York but worshiped in a black church in Harlem, which was pivotal for him.)

For anyone interested in how devout faith, learned theology, and a robust understanding of public life can effect our discipleship, this rare is well worth working through.  For those of us who are fans of either Kuyper on Bonhoeffer, it is a must.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, And Loving the Bible Again RachelHeld Evans (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I loved this book for a bunch of reasons and knew that I’d want to recommend it to those who want a good read about a woman coping with the difficulties in the Bible, the violence and genocide and brutality and confusion. She was raised as a super-duper evangelical, was a leader in her youth ministry, a witness in her high school, and happily enjoyed the Bible that was such a big part of her families life. As she grew into different phases of how she used the Bible, things slowly eroded until in her twenties she became disillusioned and frustrated. She has told some of this story elsewhere and she tells it well. For anyone interested in faith development (or re-development) her stories about leaving fundamentalism, about coping with the Bibles teachings about women, about finding a church more suited to her longings, her several books will provide insight and solace. And they are interesting and funny.

But we must ask — she her self asks — where is this all heading? What do we do with the Bible even if we try to read it in a less legalistic manner, if we become friends with helpful critics (such as, say, Pete Enns, whose own works have influenced Rachel a bit.) What if we love the stories and still want to hear God’s voice through them? 

She is haunted by God, loves the Bible, can’t get away from her sense that it is deeply true and has a claim on her. How do you fall in love with the Bible after you’ve deconstructed and maybe discarded some of it?

Inspired is the inspired story of her journey back to loving the Bible again. She has some clever and creative paraphrases of a few sections of Scripture that some will love. She shares plenty of memoir-ish narrations, stories about her own ups and downs and those of us who like that kind of reflective auto-biographical writing will love it. And then there is the heart of the book — nicely and honestly written, weaving between Biblical exegesis, Biblical storytelling and memoir — where Evans explores various themes within the Holy Book. These have chapter headings such as Origin Stories, Deliverance Stories, War Stories, Wisdom Stories, Resistance Stories, Gospel Stories, Fish Stories, and Church Stories.  There are all very, very interesting and really helpful, especially for those needing some handles on how to properly appreciate what is going on in the text — no, what is really going on. 

You can decide if it is adequately faithful, if her comments bear good fruit. She does not disguise her anguish about some of the awful stuff, and for that we should all be glad — this is, finally, I think, respectful to God’s Word, taking it seriously. If one is not troubled by some of the stuff we see in the Bible, there is something wrong with us, she says, and I think she is on to something. But, agree or not with every comment, snarky or earnest, pained or joyful, critical or grateful, there is a lot here for anyone who loves the Scriptures and loves to hear how other people understand them. This was one of my favorite books of the year. 

The Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to Wisdom in Israel Tremper Longman III (BakerAcademic) $32.99 Tremper Longman is one of those scholars who can write popular level guides like How to Read Proverbs and partner with his psychologist pal Dan Allender offering sturdy Biblical content for titles like God Loves Sex. And then he does these books that, for another scholar, might be an admirable life’s work. That Longman has other such major works is remarkable and this one, surely, deserves accolades for one of the best books in the field of Old Testament studies published this past year.

This book is comprehensive, readable, smart and faithful. He examines both cultural and canonical evidence to show wisdom’s enduring theological significance. In our postmodern time, he observes, this is particularly valuable and it is an urgent task to recover a sense of Biblical wisdom as a theological category. My deeper interest was piqued in the preface when he suggests that he (unlike authors I appreciate like William Brown, for instance) doesn’t think it is helpful to designate a certain genre of OT writings as “wisdom” literature as such. Wow. It is, to put in more simply than I should, less a literary genre and more of a theological virtue. Which is to say you find wisdom in places other than Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

Others rave, too, so I think I’m on solid ground award this; scholars like Carol Kaminski say it is written with “masterful elegance” and John Goldingay says Longman’s book is “balanced and informative.” This demands to be placed on your bookshelf next to Old Testament Wisdom Literature the grand book by Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd. Highly recommended.

Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture Alastair Roberts & Andrew Wilson (Crossway) $17.99  I am always on the look-out for books that are rooted in serious scholarship but are not aimed at the academic guild. I am always on the look-out for books that help Bible readers, Sunday school classes, Bible study groups, preachers and teachers see the inter-connection between Old and New Testaments, using what some call the “historical redemptive” method of capturing not just the echoes and allusions between texts but in themes and motifs as the Biblical drama unfolds in a series of promises and fulfillments. This little book, by authors with PhDs from prestigious places, who are hip podcasters and clever writers, offers a serious-minded, warm-hearted exploration of how the exodus story not only stands as a pivotal event in the Old Testament but as a rich source for talking about redemption throughout the whole Bible. As such, it is one of the best books of its kind this year.

Here is how it says it on the back cover:

Using music as a metaphor, the authors point us to the recurring theme of the exodus throughout the entire symphony of Scripture, shedding light on the Bible’s unified message of salvation and restoration that is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.

Besides this big picture of the nature of the liberation God is bringing and how there are “echoes of exodus” all over the place in the Bible, there are “review questions” and “thought questions” after each chapter, making this a great little study for small groups. I like the blurb by Matthew Harmon, a New Testament prof at Grace College and Theological Seminary who says:

The blend of rich biblical theology and beautiful writing will stir the affections of all who long for the Promised Land of the new heaven and new earth.

Faith Among the Faithless: Learning from Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad Mike Cosper (Thomas Nelson) $16.99  Again, we wrote about this previously at BookNotes and raved about it for being so very interesting and applicable, a fascinating study of Christian cultural engagement based on this one provocative Bible story.  I want to honor this because I like Cosper’s writing (his Rhythms of Grace is a great book on worship; Stories We Tell is a great study of movies and TV, and Recapturing the Wonder is a brilliant study of disenchantment, secularization, and the joy of curiosity as we wonder in awe at the God-drenched universe.) So when this guy directs us to a new model of faithful cultural engagement, I want to list. And wow, what a thesis: he gently pokes are often-used story of Daniel in Babylon as a model and, for reasons you will learn as you read Faith Among the Faithless, he suggests that Esther is perhaps a more fruitful model of faith in a secular age. Of course we all want to live without compromise in an increasingly hostile society. Some o f us have already given in to that society’s vision and values. Sound familiar? Of course, it’s all there in that book of the Bible that does not mention God’s name, that story of sex, ego, revenge.  Agree or not with all of his views or his adaptation of the story for today, but this deserves to be known as an award-winning study for its creative and intentional application. Even in dark times God may be hidden but, Cosper assures, us, God is never absent.

Kyle Idleman says “Esther has the guts and grit that we all need to bend the times to Christ.” Karen Swallow Prior says, “It’s been a long time since I have been so informed, inspired, and encouraged.” Yep. Faith Among the Faithless is one of my favorite books of 2018.

A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus: An Introduction to the Man from Nazareth for Believers and Skeptics John Dickson (Zondervan) $16.99  This compact sized paperback came out early last year and took it’s place beside The Doubter’s Guide to the Bible and the Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments.  Something a bit more than the famous Oxford University Press “Very Short Introductions” but still concise enough for one who doesn’t want to wade through hundreds of pages of footnotes, these Doubter’s Guides are exception introductions to the topics they approach.  And this one stands out as simply stellar. The quote on the front by Tim Keller gives a clue who exclaims, “I can’t recommend this book enough.” Another good friend and customer of ours, one who buys a lot of books and reads a lot of books, similarly couldn’t stop talking about it and recommending it to those at his church. Which inspired me to not just recommend it but to consider placing it on our Best of 2018 list.

Dickson is fluent in the life of Jesus and the way that Christ places Himself at the center of the Hebrew redemptive narrative; as a scholar he knows all kinds of pertinent books and shares them nicely. It is almost worth getting this little gem to see the sidebars and boxes with recommend book lists in them. It is warm and thoughtful and interesting. Three cheers!

Paul: A Biography N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $29.99 Oh my, I hope you recall our big announcement of this when it came out earlier this year. It is, yes, by one of the great New Testament scholars of our time, whose two volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God weighs in at over 1700 pages! The guy who then wrote another hefty book about all the various scholars on Paul these days called Paul and His Recent Interpreters and then quickly did a clarifying book for those that wanted key questions answered about his views on a handful of key interpretive quandaries in Pauline research — named, naturally, The Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle. And this is just his recent work on Paul.

Well, through it all, Tom has been pondering and praying and reading and discussing (not to mention going to the very places Paul went throughout the Mediterranean) and has now gifted us with this, a novel-esque, wonderfully engaging introduction to Paul’s thought by way of telling of his life. This is a captivating, thick, fabulously informative and well-written bio, the intro to Paul we’ve been waiting for. Kudos to Wright for getting this right. As Ben Witherington (who himself has written bunches of significant, big books on Paul) says, it is “written with the usual Wright combination of erudition, intuition, and mature wit and wisdom.” As world-class Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, it is “an enthralling journey into the mind of Paul by one of the great theologians of our time.”

I hope you agree this should be in every church library, circulated widely, read and discussed, and enjoyed, if not out and out celebrated. We are honoring it as one of the very best books of the year!

Tenacious Solidary: Biblical Provocations on Race, Religion, Climate, and the Economy Walter Brueggemann; edited and introduced by Davis Hankins (Fortress Press) $29.00  This is the most hefty and substantial book by Walt Brueggemann in quite a few years; his recent output has been rich and prolific, but has included a short  Lenten devotional, an even shorter Advent devotional, an succinct (if powerful) adult resource on speaking up, a small book about the conflict in the Holy Land, that brief, potent book on sabbath, and a few shorter collections of academic pieces. Gospel of Hope is a splendid small hardback collection of short excerpts, sayings, quotations, gathering Brueggemann’s wisdom on topics ranging from anxiety and abundance to partisanship and the role of faith in public life, best used to dip into and ponder or when one needs a good quote or short reading.

(And, by the way, he has a potent new book that was just released, perhaps a bit surprising, about hymns called A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing. I’ll be telling you more about that soon, for sure.)

But this big, new volume (over 450 pages) is a major collection of daring sermons, powerful talks, important lectures, Bibles studies and articles that have appeared in recent years — I said he was prolific — all about how the Bible might authorize us to be prophetic and critical about how things are in our world, inviting us to think, as he sometimes puts, it “otherwise.” As Jim Wallis says, “Tenacious Solidarity is a godsend.” This is the sort of creative and thick and serious Bible awareness we need to fund a new imagination that will enable us to face these pressing demands of our time as God would wish.

Here Brueggemann offers an ethic for Biblical people informed by generosity, justice, mercy, and trust in the untamed God of mysterious abundance. He is, as always, remarkably well-read, tossing off citations from the social sciences and great literature and historians and activists and old theologians alongside the most promiscuous use of the Bible you can image. This guy know his Scriptures and draws connections and interconnections as if it were his native tongue — which, after all these it, it is. No wonder he is so raw and insistent and seemingly strange and deeply relevant at the same time. Tenacious Solidarity is one of the great books of the year. It includes 20 strong pieces, a great and informative introduction and a few appendices.

Christine Yoder of Columbia Theological Seminary writes that this book illustrates Walt’s “characteristic skill and wisdom” and demonstrates “the generative and transformative potentials of biblical texts to name and confront urgent challenges of our time.” Amen.

Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught About Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place John Ortberg (Tyndale) $17.99  I like John Ortberg; he is well informed, thoughtful, but a masterful communicator. Whether he is sharing what he’s learned from Dallas Willard or summing up complicated arguments from N.T. Wright or, as in The Life You Always Wanted explaining what we mean by spiritual disciplines, he popularizes the best stuff in compelling, entertaining, and helpful ways. This is basic Christian growth material made clear and practical and inspiring. Many loved his last book, another on the interior life inspired by Willard called Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You and the one before that was a fabulous, fabulous introduction to why everybody should study Jesus (Who Is This Man?) He is a vital pastor, and great teacher, and this new one deserves special acclaim. Its a favorite of ours this year.

It is current in that he is studying heaven (the opening page has a spoiler about “The Good Place” TV show) and reminds us that our view of the afterlife is important, but only part of what the gospel is about. In fact, if we understand the theme of the Kingdom of God — the heart of Jesus’s teachings and proclamation, after all —  we’ll understand that “Eternity Is Now in Session.”

Yes, yes, yes.  I love this easy to read book and think his telling about bringing “up there” “down here” is just so useful for most church folks. What if we stopped thinking about eternal life as something we experience after we die, if we stopped think about getting into heaven but about heaven getting into us, we’d change the calibre of our faith and the tone of our churches. And perhaps we’d become more astute about being Kingdom ambassadors in all of life. We’d become people who are alive in our knowledge of God and our piety would spill out in healthy and exciting ways.

Truly, this is “a radical rediscovery of the Christian concept of salvation.” And let me tell you — this is fun and interesting, but the Langston Hughe’s story he tells near the beginning will not quickly be forgotten. And his little illustration about dancing in the last few pages will inspire you to move, to let God’s grace spill over you and allow you to dance with the Lord of the Dance! What a book!

As we’ve said before, there is a DVD curriculum to go with this as well which we also have. Give us a call if you’re interested.

to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context Trevin K. Wax (B&H Academic) $29.99  I used to play off of the Awards Show schtick and offer specific awards for some books. If I were doing this I’d put this as a contender for, at least, the trophy for the most intriguing theological book title. Oh, there’s some wacky ones out there and theological textbooks can enter the realm of the arcane pretty quickly. But this; it makes sense. There are, you may know, reputable scholars who find apocalyptic themes in most of the Kingdom language of Jesus and insist He is revealing a new order in the middle of real life, an upside down Kingdom that will soon be consummated. When will all things be made new? Well, that’s the eschatological question, isn’t it?  And so, without any weird rapture charts or end-times scenarios, Wax here is saying that, at least, we are to live now as if we are in rehearsal for eternity. “People get ready,” the old Curtis Mayfield song sang. As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “Wax convincingly sets out the biblical basis for ‘eschatological discipleship’, which means the importance of waking up (and staying awake) to the reality that our citizenship in heaven begins now.

In a way, this is a much more scholarly and meaty treatment of the basic teaching Ortberg makes in his lovely Eternity Is Now in Session [see above.]Wax calls it eschatological discipleship, we live now as if the future that we anticipate is breaking in now, already but not yet. Get it?

His first chapter shows that he is conversant in some of the best stuff on worldview formation and thinking Christianly about whole-life, fully human sorts of public discipleship. He quotes Al Wolters and Sander Griffion, he cites journal articles by serious thinkers in this tradition of worlldviewish discipleship from across the theological spectrum, from Nancy Pearcey to Brian Walsh to N.T. Wright, not to mention philosophers such as Charles Taylor cultural critics like James Smith and Skye Janthani.

Here is how one of my favorite missional worldview scholars, Michael Goheen, puts it:

It is not a matter of whether eschatology will shape the church’s life but only a matter of which one. Discipleship, a burning need in the syncretistic American church, surely needs to be re-envisioned in terms of equipping God’s people to more and more live out of a biblical eschatology of the kingdom. In this book Trevin Wax takes up this challenge and encounters the two most powerful rival eschatologies of our day–the Enlightenment notion of progress and Consumerism. I pray that God will use this book to enable the American church to reimagine discipleship in its missionary setting.

I think maybe we should have an award for the book that inspires the most insightful endorsing blurbs.  Many passionate memoirs and novels certainly generate over the top, gripping, eloquent raves. But for a non-fiction book that needs nicely summarized, this quote by Mike Goheen is itself worth pondering. Read that quote again and tell me this doesn’t seem like a vital, urgent book.

Eschatological Discipleship is perhaps a bit more academic sequel to, or maybe a theological foundation for Wax’s 2017 book This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel  (B&H; $16.99.) Agree or not with all of his cultural criticism, this is a great example of trying to be faithfully “in but not of” the world around us, living well into what Niebuhr called “Christian transforming culture.”  Check it out.

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $30.00  This book is nothing short of extraordinary and was perhaps our favorite book to sell this past year. And it was one of our best sellers — thank you, Amazon, for running out, and thank you, dear Fleming, for saying such nice things about us on line. It certainly deserved to be a Hearts & Minds bestseller and deserves to be widely read; there is no other book like it. Who, these days, doesn’t at least try to attend to the spiritual disciplines and theological tone of the season of Advent, inviting us, as it does, to wait, to anticipate, to long for the final restoration of creation when Christ comes the second time?

Advent: The Once and Future Coming… is nearly a life-time’s worth of Advent sermons preached by the thoughtful and eloquent Episcopal pastor-theologian/preacher extraordinaire who is eloquent about the hard tensions of living “between the times”of the Kingdom come and the Kingdom consummated. Episcopalians do Advent better than most of us and Rev. Rutledge’s sermons — like “Advent Begins in the Dark” — explore the theme with remarkable insight and many lovely illustrations and anecdotes. (She is the author, recall, of another collection of sermons called The Gospel and the New York Times.) I often say that her thick volume The Undoing of Death is my favorite book to read from during Lent. This new Advent work is without a doubt is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life. Highly recommended as one of the most significant religious publishing releases of 2018.

By the way, we’ve announced it previously but you should know that her handsome, compact sized hardback, Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday (Eerdmans; $18.00) is now here. I have intentionally not dipped in yet, but am eager to read these sermons in due time. You should, too.

Hostility to Hospitality: Spirituality and Professional Socialization Within Medicine Michael J. Balboni & Tracy A. Balboni (Oxford University Press) $35.95 As you know, we here at Hearts & Minds are passionate about providing books about relating faith and deeply Christian principles and values to various work spheres. If any job done before God and for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom can be a holy calling, if we all need what Steve Garber calls “visions of vocation” then we also need to ask the tough question: what does it mean to think and act faithfully, appropriately, Christianly, consonant with how God made the world and how Christ is redeeming it, in my specific job.  There are a lot of books these days about a Christian view of work, about how all followers of Christ have a missional calling to carry their faith into the marketplace, to be artists or scientists or home-makers or teachers for the common good, loving God and neighbor in the very way we practice those careers and calling. Got it?  Sure you do.

But yet, there still isn’t enough fresh, thoughtful stuff coming out on various careers, thinking well and studying various jobs and callings. So, we want to honor this book and all that it signifies as a keen example of a major Christian project, scholarly and applicable, for those in health care, published on a mainstream academic press. That is, this is a major contribution to the field of medicine and it is asking, for the profession, what role spiritual things play in the practice of medicine,  This is a book of practical Christian thinking about health and healing about medicine and health care, about doctoring and nursing and teaching medicine and, well, about being sick and being a patient, too. It is asking — with a heavy bit of research backing up their quest, and serious finding which they share — if there is a way in which American medicine distances itself form religion and spirituality. The “secular-sacred divide” that they write about “unleashes depersonalizing social forces through the market, technology, and legal-bureaucratic powers that reduce clinicians to tiny cogs in an unstoppable machine.”  Wow.

As it says right on the back cover, “the authors argue for structural pluralism as the missing piece to changing hostility to  hospitality.” Again, wow. This is an award winning thesis if I ever saw one and want to celebrate that somebody is thinking like this, doing this kind of work, putting together such a substantive collection of essays and binding them together within a world-famous publishing house. Let those with ears, hear.  Kudos to Michael and Tracy Balboni.

Michael J. Balboni, PhD is on faculty at Harvard University and a theologian-in-residence in the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Boston. His social science research has centered on the intersection of spirituality and medicine. He serves as a congregational minister at Park Street Church and the Longwood Christian Community.Tracy A. Balboni, MD is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and serves as the Clinical Director of the Supportive and Palliative Radiation Oncology Service at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. She is an internationally recognized leader and researcher at the intersection of spirituality, palliative care, and oncology.

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free Linda Kay Klein (Touchstone) $26.00  A few years ago we had a category in our end of the year awards for books “I loved to hate” which were, obviously, really bad books. Then I’d sometimes give an award for a work I “hated to love.” This would be one of those, a book with which I have grave concerns, strong disagreements, and yet really, really loved. Although “loved” is not quite the right word. It was moving, fascinating, insightful, provocative, entertaining, horrific, important, sad, and, occasionally funny.

First, I don’t like the title — a whole “generation” of women were not shamed by the purity thing, and the alarmist nature of the subtitle  — “breaking free” — makes the author’s journey out of conservative evangelicalism sound more sensational than it is. Her journey is poignant and painful but she wasn’t in a cult and her parents were not like, say, Tara Westover’s.

Still, apparently, a whole, whole lot of young people, especially young women, were shamed and worse by the evangelical purity movement and it is regrettable. This moving book —  part memoir and part oral history and sociology — wants those to who have been through this sub-culture to know they are not alone.

It further insists that we who remain in the evangelical sub-culture re-think our attitudes, theologies, and educational practices around sex ed. Like the brand new, controversial Nadia Bolz-Weber book, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, this book, like it or not, reminds us that even well-intended efforts at teaching holiness can become deeply harmful. (See Lauren Winner’s book on “characteristic” sin, The Dangers of Christian Practice, mentioned above.)

Many of those who so loudly encouraged sexual purity made a fetish of it (I have used this exact phrase about this for years) and as an evangelical bookstore in the middle of that movement a few decades ago we were not particularly impressed with it all. We did not stock the rings and didn’t push the books. We were put off by the rather weird daddy-daughter ceremonies and the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” courtship nonsense and the standard overstatement of the harms of pre-marital sex (not to mention the way some evangelicals acted — and still act if your talking about LGBTQ sex, at least — as if sexual sin is way worse than other sins, forgetting that economic injustice is decried much more often in the Bible than is non-married sexual activity.) I don’t think our church pulled any of the gross stunts described in this book to dramatize the loss of virginity and the youth ministry stuff we promoted most seemed to be balanced and thoughtful and mostly pretty wise.

I think Brian McLaren’s comment on the back cover is very insightful, saying, “When ‘Just say no’ was their only message, and when the language of purity was their main ethical category, deep and lasting personal damage were inevitable.”

Much of this book sounded very, very familiar and the hurts and violence done to some of the women whose stories Linda Kay Klein uncovers in her research should not be that surprising. The assumptions about gender roles in many churches have too often been unjust and we and our staff here have often pulled books because they were sexist, or, just plain dumb. We knew this deeply gendered and overstated emphasis about sexual purity had consequences but, whew, some of the stuff some of the women carry from their years of coming of age in fundamentalist youth groups a decade or so ago is tragic. These churches and ministries often did not serve their young people well and the women in Pure who testify about demeaning lessons, shaming customs, cruddy attitudes, and worse, are brave to allow their stories to be told.  That Linda Klein tells her own story (which includes a sub-plot of her own struggle with chronic pain and severe illness) makes this a very engaging read.

A few of the women in Pure (including the author) have made some peace with their past and may still see themselves as Christians, some of them vibrantly so. The story (told in many other books these days) of young adults maintaining (or not) relationships with their parents and former mentors and friends when leaving a strict fundamentalism is poignant and arresting. Many of those in this book have left the faith and are deeply wounded and understandably bitter about how they were treated in youth groups and church camps and congregations all over this land.

In a very provocative endorsement on the back, best-selling author Glennon Doyle, in reminding us of this moment in history (“as women come to the collective understanding that the institutions we spend our lives serving are not created to serve us”) says, interestingly:

Women are canaries in religious coal mines —  and Pure emboldens us to escape toxic misogyny and experience a fresh breath of freedom.

If this causes you to recoil a bit, I’d advise reading Pure and at least hear the downside stories of women who were shamed and offered weirdly unhelpful views of their bodies, their sexuality, their future marriages, and see if somehow something is awry.

One does not have to — and I do not — agree with Ms. Klein’s proposals and answers to this crisis of shame to appreciate her important book. (I don’t find Nadia Bolz-Weber’s theology of sex in Shameless, adequate, either, but I wept through some of it and found it to be a very important read, spicy as it is.) To be honest, Klein isn’t strong on proposals other than exposing the dangers of fundamentalism and a cry to “lose the shame” which I suppose is a weakness of the book; she isn’t a conservative evangelical anymore so it isn’t trying to offer a profoundly theological position for the traditional church. For those with a robust and orthodox Christian worldview, one would need to supplement this book with a better perspective on sex and sexuality, gender, self-awareness, body positivity, virginity, marriage, Biblically-informed ethics, and such. But first, we have to admit we’ve got stuff wrong, that many Christian bookstores and evangelical para-church organizations and Christian camps and youth ministries and curriculum developers and radio shows have played a part in perpetrating a movement with an ethos that wasn’t helpful or faithful, and we need to hear and host the hurt still carried by victims of misconduct of this sort.

More and more young adults are speaking openly about the harm done to them by churches that treated sex as if it were an illicit drug. When ‘Just say no’ was their only message, and when the language of purity was their main ethical category, deep and lasting personal damage were inevitable. That’s why Linda Kay Klein’s new book is so important. It pulls back the covers on ‘purity culture’ and the harm it has done…. An important book from an important new voice. –Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity Daniel Darling (The Good Book Company) $16.99 Forty some years ago we were somewhat involved in an organization that tried to bear witness amongst the anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons movement that concern for pre-born humans should also be a part of their agenda. Peaceniks often marched under the banner of the famous verse from Deuteronomy “Choose Life.” Similarly, we’d attend Right to Life events and try to convince our anti-abortion friends that targeting millions of civilians, including children, as our nuclear weapons strategy does, is not very pro-life. I suppose it doesn’t need explained that we were physically removed from at least one anti-war gig and verbally assaulted plenty from the anti-abortion events. Nobody wanted to be very consistently pro-life; most didn’t even want to talk to each other.

Except, that is, a few radical Catholics and Mennonites and friends at ESA and Sojo who developed a consistent life ethic and who stood up for the poor, those trafficked and enslaved, the prisoners, who opposed the death penalty and abortion, who were anti-war and pro-environment. These consistent life folks decried racism and affirmed the dignity of the unborn and the aged, advocated for the rights of the disabled, thought about immigrants and sex abuse and pollution and war and the sexism that plagues us all, all in the same ethical category, asking: what does it mean to be consistently pro-life?

This new book by Daniel Darling, Vice President for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is not quite like that — he’s no Mennonite pacifist nor a Daniel Berrigan and he’s not part of “Feminists for Life.”  But, nonetheless, this is one of the closest books we’ve seen in decades to so very deeply remind us that the theological notion of human dignity — we are all made in the image of God and have God-given dignity! — should loom large over all our social and ethical quandaries. It is, as Albert Mohler puts it, “a compelling and careful articulation” of human dignity.

Or, Ann Voskamp says, “This may be one of the most important books of our time.”

Speaking of the dignity of the disabled, one of our finest writers and sharpest minds within evangelical Christianity these past decades has been Joni Eareckson Tada, living with paraplegia, who types stuff like this with her specially adapted equipment: “The definition of “human being” is being altered, and the impact is creeping into hospitals, schools, and businesses. This is a must-read for every Christian.”  Yep, from deep questions of bio-ethics (which Joni has studied and written about) to new discussions about the “trans-human” we simply have to recover a classic, theologically robust vision of the human person. So much depends upon it, and this book invites to a “dignity revolution” which could impact how we treat others (in the grocery store line or on-line) and how we think about abortion, euthanasia, capitol punishment, the poor, the sick, the refugee, race relations, and more.

Indeed, this is a book to consider, to debate, to ponder what implications it might have. As Michael Ware, formerly of the Obama White House, who described his own principles about a consistent sort of life ethic in his book Reclaiming Hope challenges:

“Consider this book carefully, and then act to implement its vision in your life.”

As the legendary White Album puts it:  “You say you want a revolution?” This is it!

Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat Os Guinness (IVP) $27.00  Any time this excellent speaker and writer, social critic, and Christian leader writes, we would do well to pay attention. This is one of Dr. Guinness’s major works, and it isn’t simple or trite. It is — from his point of view as an Englishman living in the DC area — a love letter to America, and a caring chastisement, we might say, to those of us who take our liberties for granted. He is stern, here, about how most Americans (not to mention our civic and religious leaders) simply don’t know what we should about the profundity and genius of the American experiment (not to mention profound Judeo-Christian influences such as notions of covenant) and the gravity and urgency of the threats poised against these revolutionary ideas. He is not (although in some ears could be heard to be) an advocate of the “Christian America” thesis nor is he an advocate of a glib sort of civilc faith that extols civil religion dressed up with a MAGA hat. He is a serious, nonpartisan, deeply Christian observer, alarmed at the drift of our way of life and not optimistic about lessening the erosion of our civility, nor our mutual commitments to uniquely American ideals and principles.

Yet, as an evangelical and deeply devoted Christian, rooted in Reformation thought and the piety and practices of Anglican spirituality, he is one with great hope. (Read his book from just a few years ago, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times, for a good dose of Christian hope that isn’t rooted in naive optimism, and is Guinness at his biblical best.) In order to be faithful and hopeful, he offers us this guide. Last Call for Liberty  — intentionally designed with a tattered flag on the sober cover — formulates 10 key questions that each American must answer. These questions are profound for all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or how much or how little we ourselves experience the tension with the times. It is my sense that these questions should be asked/discussed communally, too — as families and churches and organizations and non-profits and civic groups and colleges, we must all grapple with our understanding of these 10 big questions.

Guinness says that the American republic is suffering “its gravest crisis since the Civil War.” I don’t know if this is so, but we all feel the awfulness of these days, ache for greater civility and common ground, and many of us are deeply dismayed. Perhaps those with more conservative leanings are more deeply aware of how our judiciary and institutions that are crucial to freedom are failing; we need more than better manners to restore the structures for pluralism and e pluribus unam. It isn’t necessary to harp on how conflicted we are as our divisions about the current President are merely a symptom of as deeper malaise. I do not think Guiness’s big 10 questions are the only way to get at the root of our crisis, and there other obviously other questions about other matters, but we should know that the crisis is deeper than we know. As Guinness makes very clear, it is not primarily about Trump.

Part of the genius of Last Call for Liberty is how Guinness repeatedly, consistently, raises the question of what view of freedom we have, what assumptions about freedom and liberty we hold. The big question for him is if we are guided and indebted to the ideals and ethos and values and convictions of those who proposed the revolution of 1776 or to the one known as the French Revolution of 1789.  He might have been a bit more explanatory for those who don’t immediately know the difference but as he walks us through this 300 page treatise it becomes a liturgy, clarifying and shaping our deepest desires: 1776 or 1789? 1776 or 1789?

As always, Guinness is literate, historically informed, eloquent and passionate. He feels this stuff deeply; of course, mostly because of his study and convictions but also because, as a child, he witnessed first hand the climax of the brutal Chinese revolution in 1949 where he lost loved ones (his parents were medical missionaries there) and was eventually expelled by the draconian powers there in 1951. He has seen repression, even as he has travelled all over the world, realizing deeply the depth of injustice and the consequences of ideas. (See his powerful book about the challenge of evil in the world called Unspeakable, which shows his profound social conscience and awareness of God’s deep care for the poor and oppressed.) The new Last Call book is chock full of quotes and epigrams from writers and thinkers as diverse as G.K. Chesterton and Leo Tolstoy, Berthold Brecht and Ambrose Bierce, his beloved Winston Churchill and Thucydides and Abigail Adams and Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He is profoundly indebted in Abraham Lincoln, and partial to Yuval Noah Harari and Abraham Joshua Heschel and, naturally, Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke, whose insight about the French revolution is indispensable.

The women and men Dr. Guinness thanks in his lovely, sincere, acknowledgements are notable and yet, he is, in this field at least, one of the most widely-read gentleman I have ever met. Don’t miss this book. Last Call for Liberty (whether you agree with its assessment or not) is a treasure to read; urgent for anyone concerned about the constitutional republic and restoring our “better angels” to our current state of affairs.

As he says more than once, and solemnly in the last paragraph,

America, America, freedom is at stake. Act worthy of yourselves, your great experiment in freedom, your unfinished story, and the challenge of the hour and of humanity. God, history, and the watching world await your answer.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump John Fea (Eerdmans) $24.99  I have written at great length — in our local newspaper, in BookNotes, and on my social media space — that the unqualified conservative Christian support for President Trump is inexplicable. For a dozen reasons that are nearly incontrovertible, it is clear that the President is a bad man and a bad leader. By no reasonable metrics can we be glad for his temperament, his antics, or his odd-ball style of governance. Good people of good faith can disagree with the “lesser of two evils” sorts of complicated choices we have when voting and can line up on different sides of the isles as we watch the sausage getting made. But all serious Christians must, at least, have some sort of Biblically-informed, Christianly conceived, spiritual-driven, public theology. We must have “the mind of Christ” and allow the Scriptural worldview to illumine our views of contemporary issues and the nature of law and politics and citizenship. Evangelicals, who love Jesus, insist on conversion and holiness, and Christ’s Kingship over all of life and regard the Bible with a for-all-of-life authority. We dare not say, as Jerry Falwell Jr. recently did, “I don’t look to Jesus for my politics.” Evangelicals worthy of the name may disagree about many implications that flow from a Christian political vision, but we dare not say that.

And so, it is essential to try to figure out the coherence, if there is any, of the so-called Christian right. Those that know me know that this has been huge priority for me for decades and decades and I have invested much personal energy of my life time to help create conversations around the meaning of the Lordship of Christian for our citizenship and public lives. Sometimes I find it necessary to challenge the right and the left and I often try to graciously insist that we should have no fundamental loyalties to the conservatives or the liberals. For whatever reason, these days, I find a much greater interest in the Bible and Jesus from the progressive side than from most on the side of the Christian right, and that is different than it was a generation ago, and feels exceptionally ironic.

Still, as black evangelist Tony Evans once said, when Jesus comes back he will not be riding a donkey or an elephant. Or, more seriously, as David Koyzis writes, we must get at the deep philosophical influences of the Enlightenment and French Revolutions to understand our current political divides. (See his brilliant, deep Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies for a sophisticated explication of this rejection of the right and the left as we seek for a uniquely Christian third way.)

Which is a long way of saying why I am declaring Believe Me as one of the most important books to be published in 2018 and predicting that it will remain one of the most important books for many a year.

Look: I don’t agree with all of the analysis Dr. Fea brings, and I wish he had covered stuff that he misses. In this sense it may not be utterly adequate but it is nonetheless the best book in recent years on the new itineration of the Christian right in the Trump years. Fea is a respected historian and brings his discerning critical eyes to what he calls “the court evangelicals.” There is no other book like it.

Good historians such as George Marsden have given big accolades to Believe Me. For instance, the always measured Mark Noll writes:

John Fea’s timely and sobering book shows convincingly how legitimate concerns from white evangelical Protestants about a rapidly secularizing American culture metastasized into a fear-driven brew of half-truths, fanciful nostalgia, misplaced Christian nationalism, ethical hypocrisy, and political naiveté–precisely, that is, the mix that led so many white evangelicals not only to cast their votes for Donald Trump but also to regard him as a literal godsend.

Few contemporary Christian thinkers and advocates for a balanced public theology are as wise and balanced as Richard Mouw. His own memoir is the Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground and he knows much about hearing various viewpoints and showing “uncommon decency” as his book on civility puts it. And about Fea and Believe Me, Mouw says this:

While the significant support for Donald Trump by white evangelicals has been the stuff of headlines, there has been little serious probing of the deeper factors at work. John Fea here gives us what we need, with his insightful tracing of the theological-spiritual road that has brought us to this point. A wise and important book!

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by Messiah College prof and Hearts & Minds friend (and blogger extraordinaire ) Dr. John Fea deserves a, extra award medal for all he’s done promoting conversation around this book. He has helped us understand the contemporary interface of Christian faith and modern politics and while it isn’t the last word, it is a very, very important contribution. I’m glad other outlets more important than BookNotes have named this as one of the outstanding books of 2018.

Listen to Jana Riess, a senior columnist for Religion News Service:

It would be enough for John Fea to marshal his considerable prowess as a historian in proving how evangelicals have been propelled by fear, nostalgia, and the pursuit of power, as he does so compellingly in this book. But he also speaks here as a theologian and an evangelical himself, eloquently pointing toward a better gospel way. This is a call to action for evangelicals to move beyond the politics of fear to become a ‘faithful presence’ in a changing world.

Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning edited by Mark Labberton (IVP) $17.00 . I have written at length about this book when it first came out and I hope that our BookNotes review then garnered it some attention. It’s a wise and interesting and helpful book for any evangelical, and for anyone that has even a bit of interest in what that part of the church pew, many who sit on the right side of the church, are like these days. What this really does is ask the tough question if this phrase — evangelical — is worth saving, clarifying, using, or not. Again, we think this is a very important question and the authors of this book, themselves insiders to the movement, have different answers to the existential question.

The women and men who contribute to this book are all well worth hearing, and they each bring a certain passion or expertise to the conversation. Still Evangelical includes Lisa Sharon Harper, Lauren Winner, 

Here is the table of contents that will help you see why we think it is such a great book, covering such important and interesting concerns. We hope you send us an order and think this through yourself.

  •  Will Evangelicalism Surrender? (Lisa Sharon Harper)
  •  Why I Am an Evangelical (Karen Swallow Prior)
  •  Recapturing Evangelical Identity and Mission (Mark Young)
  •  Immigration and the Latina/o Community (Robert Chao Romero)
  •  Evangelical Futures (Soong-Chan Rah)
  •  Theology and Orthopraxis in Global Evangelicalism (Allen Yeh)
  •  Remaining to Reform (Sandra Maria Van Opstal)
  •  Looking for Unity in All the Wrong Places (Mark Galli)
  •  Evangelicalism Must Be Born Again (Shane Claiborne)
  •  The Importance of Listening in Today’s Evangelicalism (Jim Daly)
  •  Hope for the Next Generation (Tom Lin)

Our hats are off to all of these contributors and for those grappling with religious idenity, wanting to be true to the consciences, true to their understanding of Scripture, and continue to abide in Jesus, even as they try to discern how and with whom and with what words to do that before the watching world. 

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy Jonah Goldberg (Crown Forum) $28.00  Well — it is getting so late I just don’t have the capacity to carefully review this now although, believe me, I’ve tried. In fact, even if I was bright and chipper and at my best I am not sure I can tell you why I want to commend this book. It is big and heavy and serious and at times tedious, with a lot of fascinating footnotes, too  — except when it’s not; Goldberg is known for his nearly gonzo humor and although he restrains himself in this heady work, it does have it’s clever moments. He is witty and smart and maybe only somewhat right, but this is a great book that took years to write. It is certainly a notable book of the year and I wish others would consider it carefully.

Here’s just two things you should know. Goldberg used to be a wild-eyed leftist but, as many such young idealists find, their Che berets and Jack Kerouac motorcycles don’t quit comport with the real world and its deep needs and he settled down, began to study the intellectual ideas and ideals of classic, serious-minded conservatives. He is one of those noble right wing guys in the tradition of William F. Buckley — who through intellectual prowess and sheer determination ran the racist John Bircher’s out of the Goldwater movement — who cannot abide the values and dispositions of Donald Trump; not because Trump is a conservative, but because, in a way, he’s not a real conservative. Goldberg knows that at the heart of historic conservatism lies individual virtue, and the narcissism and greed and irreligion and lust for power and petty meanness and intellectualism and nationalism of the current President does not build up our civic strengths nor help the Republican party or our democracy. They call these guys “Never Trumpers” and they are a principled crew within the conservative intelligentsia who call out those who have accommodated their values and virtues to the allow them to support Mr. Trump. So, Goldberg is a principled, funny, and serious conservative at the American Enterprise Institute who writes a must-read column in National Review online.

Goldberg’s earlier book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change, took issue with how liberals tend to misunderstand fascism and argued that the threat of power-brokering control comes less from the right than from the left. For many of us it was a counter-intuitive analysis, but the book was a blast and made me think.

If Liberal Fascism made me think, Suicide of the West made my head hurt. Okay, that’s not really true, but it was pretty scholarly for a best-seller. It is a gift to be able to write a book that fast moving but still detailed, sweeping intellectual history without generalizations (at least not too many) and both oddly acerbic and generous. I guess what I mean is that he can be feisty and forthright in his denunciation of dumb ideas and that it cuts both ways. He brings strong critique to those I disapprove of and next thing you know he’s hitting a bit too close to home. I like that he attempts to be fair and not idealogical.

Which is, in fact, the point: those who adopt what I would call an idolatrous reductionism, end up as cheap populists, complaining about how identity politics on the left is hurting our country, breaking unity over who is most aggrieved, all the while sounding as tribal and ideological as anyone. What an irony that those decrying identity politics the loudest are those on the Trumpian right. It should be clear from the subtitle of this conservative book that his critique is as much against the far right as it is the cultural left. I guess you see why I like it — a big, sweeping genealogy of ideas and showing that too often, the right has bought into ideas that are themselves not adequate. In this regard, this important book should appeal to those who appreciate Os Guinness, say, or never-Trumpers like moderate, wise, conservatives such as  Michael Gerson and David Brooks and Yuval Levin.

The great Levin, by the way, says of it:

“More than any book published so far in this century, it deserves to be called a conservative classic.”

There are critiques to be made of his own idolatries and the are significant. I think he means well, and I like that about him, but I think he is wrong about some of his intellectual history and some of his policy proposals. But that’s not the point here. It was thrilling to read a book like this — even if well over 450 pages — and a good intellectual exercise for his small town bookseller. Here are a few other good endorsements that will hopefully illustrate why I list this in our 2018 list of most interesting books.

Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West is a tour de force. As ever, Goldberg wears his extraordinary erudition lightly as he demonstrates how the ideas that have animated free societies for the past 250 years are the greatest creations of humankind–and how we are imperiling our posterity by the way we mishandle, ignore, and belittle them. This is a very important book.
–John Podhoretz, Editor, Commentary Magazine

Populism and identity politics are not just unpleasant; they are an existential threat to the American way of life. With characteristic wit and erudition, Jonah Goldberg argues that if you value democracy and a free society, you must stand against ideological tribalism, no matter what your politics. Suicide of the West raises an alarm everyone needs to hear, and makes clear the path we need to take. 
–Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute

I am not sure I am as much of a fan as these two are, and certainly not as sure as this next blurb, but it’s so fun — and it sounds like something Jonah himself might pen — that I’ll share it with you, laughing that of course I want to list a book that ends up having endorsing blurbs like this!

When future archeologists are digging through our ruins and asking, as they will ask, ‘What the hell were they thinking?’ I hope they come upon a copy of Suicide of the West, and that it is only slightly charred from the bonfire into which the mad idiot ideologues of our time are sure to cast it.” 
–Kevin Williamson, National Review correspondent

Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear Matthew Kaemingk (Eerdmans) $28.00 I did a major review of this before it got to be a much-talked about study, and I am proud to have been an early cheerleader. This is without a doubt one of the more important and substantive books of 2018 and it is offers a very nuanced, even surprising analysis of the modern West’s immigration and refugee crisis and Muslim-Christian relations.

You’ll have to go back to my earlier BookNotes review or the many other reviews to understand all this, but the short version is this: Kaemingk studies the political and social philosophy of the early 20th century conservative Christian political leader in Holland, Abraham Kuyper, whose view of pluralism and common grace set the Netherlands on a course to become a nation and culture which affirmed the “worldviewish” nature of life and therefore became eagerly open to diversity and hosted a variety of perspectives, robustly, even. There was room for all in this small Calvinist culture — they government funded, fairly, alternative schools and newspapers so lots of ideas could be considered and minorities were not tyrannized by the majority rule. This theologically-rooted social architecture (with a Christian political party to enhance such cultural attitudes and structural pluralism — Kuyper became the Prime Minister, after all) led to an open and liberal attitude towards immigrants.

In what seemed like less than a year, Holland turned away in the early twenty-first century from that open-minded and generous attitude towards outsiders and, with a tide of alt-right, anti-Muslim hostility (stimulated by the brutal murder of a descendant of Vincent Van Gogh by a jihadi/Islamist terrorist) became one of Europe’s most hostile countries to refugees and immigrants.

In Matt Kaemingk’s capable hands this becomes more than a parable, even more than a case study, but a hefty dose of deeply principled wisdom for these days. He offers a splendid (page-turning at times) account of the rise of Christian-based arguments for pluralism and, using Kuyperian Holland as a case study, how this does and doesn’t help with the huge question of immigration today. With today’s vivid headlines as a backdrop, Christian Hospitality is deep and thoughtful and urgent. One reviewer called it “winsome” while another called it “wonderfully written and ambitious.” James K.A. Sith has a fabulous foreword saying it is a “singular book… Here is the public theology we need today.”

Hear Christian political theorist Jonathan Chaplin:

A pathbreaking, theologically rich Christian intervention into contemporary public debates over the place of Muslims in Western societies… Matthew Kaemingk has pulled off a feat many would thought thought impossible.

We care about the immigration crisis and have plenty of books reminding us to care for outsiders. We have books about inter-faith conversations and plenty of other resources that would be good for beginners in this area. But Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear stands out as an extraordinary study, a book unlike any other, that is deserving of an award for one of the very Best Books of 2018.

Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up Kathy Khang (IVP) $16.00  I have mentioned this book a couple of times —  at BookNotes and that special column I did in the Public Justice Report — and have been glad to get to recommend it. It is, as the titles says, a book about speaking up. It evaluates various motivations for civic involvement, tells how to be involved, and offers sage advise about civility and more. Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director of Evangelicals for Social Action, who knows a thing or two about all this, says “Raise Your Voice is honest, funny, and utterly practical.”  Rachel Held Evans talks about its “integrity and holy force.

There are social forces (including our own families, as Khang herself experienced) who try to silence or diminish our voices. There are spiritual and emotional hurdles and prices to be paid for speaking up. Raise Your Voice will help avoid the ugly side of social media and help you navigate power dynamics and other barriers to overcome if we are going to be faithfully engaged in the public square. Although it pays special attention to the dynamics sometimes faced by women and people of color, this is for all of us, a fine and wise resource that is a fabulous read. Kudos, again, to IVP, for bringing to us a book that is unlike anything else available.

Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness Joshua D. Chatraw and Mark D. Allen (Zondervan) $34.99 We have bunches and bunches of books on evangelism, or storytelling the gospel, or apologetics both evidentialist and presuppositional and all manner of reasonable and postmodern styles. It is a fascinating field and I’m sad that more don’t deeply delve into resources to help them bear witness and help others along in the journey of coming to deeper and more confident faith. There is no doubt, though, that the art of apologetics, of being prepared to explain the hope we have in Christ, needs to be re-learned from generation to generation. In these times — influenced by social media and what Taylor called “The Secular Age” and the cynicism many have about religion — we simply have to be more savvy if we want to connect well with others, including the unchurched and the de-churched and the young who are making up their minds about faith in this hyper-modern, pluralizing social context. Apologetics at the Cross is a masterful, comprehensive guide that takes our cultural context seriously. It is presented like a lively textbook and is very highly recommended for personal use and for classes. (There is a remarkable set of video lectures on DVD by the author as well.)

If you don’t believe me that a book of this nature deserves to be celebrated and promoted as a BookNotes Best of the Year, listen to this, from our friend Jamie Smith:

Just when you think this book is the comprehensive apologetics textbook you’ve been looking for–covering Scripture, history, philosophy, and culture–you realize it’s also something more: a creative, original proposal for an ‘inside-out’ apologetic that is precisely what we need in our secular age. If you’re skittish about ‘apologetics, ‘ like I am, this book will show you another way. — James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College, and author of You Are What You Love

Or, how about this, from Timothy Keller, author of Reason for God and :

In our culture, the practice of apologetics has moved from being a ’boutique’ topic for specialists to being a requirement for even having a conversation with one’s neighbor. Joshua Chatraw and Mark Allen have produced the most comprehensive, accessible, and up-to-date manual on Christian apologetics that I know of. Despite how full its treatment of the subject, it is eminently readable. The authors present all the various approaches to apologetics respectfully, proposing their own pathway that incorporates a large range of insights from many disciplines and thinkers. Highly recommended. — Timothy Keller, pastor emeritus, the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches of New York City

 

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PRE-ORDER these soon-to-be-released books at a 20% off from Hearts & Minds

We can take pre-orders for nearly anything you are eager to snag; just let us know. We family-owned and operated, indie bookstores may not be super high-tech but we are what Leonard Sweet once called “high-touch.” We use the internet — sure — and I’m on-line a lot. But we give that personalized service that is as close as face-to-face real as we can get. (Apologies to my Lutheran pastor pal who put with with Epiphany jokes today as I answered her questions about getting books quickly. I’m glad she got it when I said her group finally saw the light.)  So, ya want something? Give us a shout! Considering ordering something? Let us know how we can help. Wonder about a book you’ve heard about — maybe we can tell you more. Unless it is some super funky self-publisher who doesn’t deal with stores, or a sectarian publishing house that doesn’t offer wholesale prices to real stores (like LifeWay) we say we can get almost anything.

Here are just a couple of titles that are building a buzz this month. We are familiar with the authors and/or books in each case and highly recommend them.  Get ’em on your list and we’ll send them out as soon as they are released. We may be in small-town central Pennsylvania, but we often get things before the big chains. We’re happy to get these forthcoming titles to you as soon as they become available.

ALL ARE 20% OFF THEIR SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE.

Bakers and Fresh Food Makers Margaret Feinberg (Zondervan) $22.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39  release date: 1/22/19

I have chatted with dear Margaret from time to time and so appreciate her joy, her hope, her deep commitment to finding God in the real world. You may recall a review we did here once raving about her book Wonderstruck that, in memoir-like fashion, almost, told of her journey to be struck afresh by the glories of God by paying attention to the goodness of creation. Her book Fight Back With Joy tells of her effort to share joy during a very, very hard time in her own life.

Margaret Feinberg is an adventurous person and a good writer and has done this kind of book before — an earlier one called Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey explored those ancient occupations and what they teach us about the God of the Bible. In this new one she will be looking at the whole “foodie” phenomenon, telling of her journeying around the world in this “culinary study of Scripture” and visiting olive growers, fruit farmers, butchers, potters. Does God have a foodie focus? Will paying attention to artisanal food sources offer insight into how we read the Scriptures? What might happen — to our faith and our own food tastes and dining practices — if we see God as the Executive Chef of the Universe? How does feasting help us savor life and understand embodied, real-world faith? This is fun stuff and, frankly, not frivolous. How we embody our life in God’s good but broken world is of urgent importance and we don’t often hear about such a quest.  We’re excited to see this fresh, new book.

We already have the delectable six-week Taste and See DVD curriculum ($41.99 includes the DVD and one partipants guidebook; OUR SALE PRICE = $ 33.59) which could be a fun treat to use with your small group. You might have to forego cheap chips and soda for your Bible study snacks, but this could be fun. We recommend the book and the DVD, too and give a hearty shout-out to the always generous Ms. Feinberg for offering this whimsical, good, work to us all.

Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels Richard J. Mouw (Brazos Press) $19.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99  release date: 2/19/29

This trim volume (192 pages) is easily worth twice the price and I, myself, am on my second time through reading an early, advanced manuscript. Mouw is a hero of mine and we have many mutual, dear friends. (I was so, so happy to see him appear from time to time in the recent memoir by his philosopher-scholar colleague Nicholas Wolterstorff which is called In This World of Wonder: Memoir of a Life in Learning.) Dr. Mouw is a reasonable, clear-headed, open-minded, generous, Dutch Reformed, Kuyperian, PC(USA) evangelical who is active both in the world of scholarship — just for instance, he has thought so much about this that he has a small collection of inspiring pieces called Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars — and in the broader world of theological studies. (In fact, he wrote his own memoir, less a full autobiography, but a memoir-like set of reflections about his own academic journey, the issues he has attended to, the reception he has gotten as he has spoken his evangelical mind in a real variety of settings. As the retired President of the world’s most multi-ethnic and trans-denominational seminary (Fuller) he obviously has been in the thick of all kind of conversations and his memoir, Adventures in Evangelical Civility shares not only his academic and social interests but how he tried to live out of a posture of civility. His wonderful Uncommon Decency is a call to Christian civility and his Adventures in… is his own story of being a leader who majors in that theme.

The forthcoming Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs… is a bit more of the same and, as I’ve noted, I couldn’t put it down and am taking great pleasure in re-reading it. It is on a topic (well, it’s on a lot of topics, actually) that is important to many of us; namely, our relationship with the broader evangelical movement and the very word itself. Is the label “evangelical” worth keeping (and who gets to use it)? There is one very good collection of essays about that topic (see Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning edited by Mouw’s good friend and successor, Mark Labberton) but we need more. And this is a truly lovely, thoughtful, honest, reasoned account of why Dr. Mouw — even with a bit of restlessness about it — still wants to call himself an evangelical. Look: Rich admits (and has some nice stories about it in this restless memoir) that he has always been a bit restless about the phrase and all it entails. At its best, the term communicates much about his own faith tradition and about the theological and spiritual truths and impulses that he thinks we need to affirm and experience. But, as we all know, evangelicalism has rarely been at its best and often is a hot mess, theologically, institutionally, and especially in terms of its social and political and culture witness. If mainstream evangelicalism has not been entirely seduced by the far right and Trumpian politics (as I maintain, by the way, that it mostly has not) it is because of, in part, the moderating voice of Rich Mouw and others in his movement.

I think the publisher is right to announce this book by saying “One of the most influential evangelical voices in America chronicles what it has meant for him to spend the past half a century as a “restless evangelical” — a way of maintaining his identity in an age when many claim the label “evangelical” has become so politicized that it is no longer viable.”

One publicity piece tells us:

Richard Mouw candidly reflects on wrestling with traditional evangelical beliefs over the years and shows that although his mind has changed in some ways, his core beliefs have not. He contends that we should hold on to the legacy that has enriched evangelicalism in the past.

In a way, Restless Faith is nearly another memoir like the fascinating Adventures in Evangelical Civility (it is conversational in tone with good stories and ruminations) but in it Mouw shows not just that he wrestled with other views with passionate but civil tones, but how he has come to grapple with issues that plagued him, topics that we must think about, issues that must be resolved within the broader church and within thoughtful evangelicalism. Mouw can do some very heady scholarship and some of his work in social ethics have been very well received within the scholarly world. But this is perfect for those of us who are “armchair theologians” and activists of a rather ordinary sort.

I will write more about this great book later, after it releases, as I’m sure it is a book we will want to tell many about. His own willingness to be a bit “restless” in holding his own convictions lightly, and offering a “lovers quarrel” with the church is a model for all of us. He is fair and honorable and wanting to be clear about the first things of the gospel. And he is willing to critique and challenge and ponder and hope for change in other matters. He’s one of those guys who, with a Reformed, worldviewish sort of accent, insists that we live by that Moravian slogan, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” This is a good introduction to what he thinks are the most essential truths of faith and the most important insights of the evangelical tradition.

“In Restless FaithRichard Mouw stakes out a thoughtful defense of evangelicalism as a spiritual and even intellectual tradition. Always compassionate, Mouw’s voice is a vital corrective to the invective that distinguishes some prominent evangelicals. You don’t need to be religious yourself to appreciate his earnest pursuit of truth and meaning in our divisive age.”
— Sarah Jones, staff writer for New York magazine

 

Rich Mouw has contributed much wisdom to Christian faith and life over many decades. This wonderful book continues that gift. With characteristic honesty, humility, and hope, Mouw acknowledges the restlessness of his own evangelical identity but then points a way forward to a generous and faithful expression of that identity. For other restless believers, this book contains needed ingredients: some correction, some coaxing, and plenty of celebration for God’s good gifts.”
— Leanne Van Dyk, Columbia Theological Seminary

The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism Jemar Tisby (Zondervan) $21.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59 release date: 1/22/19

I know it would be different in other circles but for what it’s worth, I think among many of our social-media friends and customers, there is more of a buzz about this forthcoming book than nearly any other title this season. We are eager to sell it, and hope many will consider pre-ordering it now. In fact, now, if you pre-order, you can get some extra digital content at his website by showing your receipt from us.

Tisby is an impressive speaker, has presented at national conferences, and has penned eloquent, intelligent pieces in significant outlets such as The New York Times and The Atlantic. He is president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective where he writes about race, religion, politics, and culture. Perhaps you have heard him as the cohost of the Pass the Mic podcast. He has a BA from Notre Dame and an MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary (and doesn’t that just make him that much more interesting.) As a PhD candidate studying history and social reform movements of the twentieth century, he is increasingly becoming an expert in this space, offering an historian’s eye, even if he is writing about the rise of the religious right, the “new Jim Crow” or  racial reconciliation in the age of #blacklivesmatters.

There are many broad histories of the atrocities against people of color; the classic Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett reminds us that slaves were brought to the shores of North America before The Mayflower. Books like Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (by Lisa Sharon Harper, Mae Cannon, Soong-Chan Rah, and Troy Jackson) give us passionate critique of compromised faith and serious complicity in injustices of various sorts. Of course we have dozens of such books in stock and even more on the project of enacting racial justice and finding racial reconciliation and equality. In my reading in this field, I think I can say that this book fills a much-needed gap and is an excellent resource to fill this niche. We need a solid history that isn’t dry or tedious but that is more than polemical.  We need a careful excavation of the roots of the sustained injustice in the American culture and church. Some have said some of this book is chilling; the gross injustices are not easy reading. Given that there has been an inadequate response from the church — particularly the large evangelical church — we need to continue to learn, to be informed, to study well ups and downs of race relations in the US.

As the publisher is quick to say:

Tisby does more than diagnose the problem. He charts a path forward with intriguing ideas that further the conversation as he challenges us to reverse these patterns and systems of complicity with the world.

Some have said this book offers a bold, courageous call for immediate action. Let’s hope so. Yet, we can be glad that, young scholar that he is, Mr. Tisby provides an accurate historical diagnosis and creative ideas, shared with what he calls “the urgency of now.” Like many others in our circle of friends and supporters, we are very eager to promote this important new book. Why not order a few and spread the word. This is a very important contribution.

Becoming a Just Church: Cultivating Communities of God’s Shalom Adam L. Gustine (IVP) $17.00 / OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60 release date: 2/12/19

I cannot say too much about this as I have not yet seen it, but I am very, very excited. I have the table of contents and it looks extraordinary! As always, IVP does excellent work on racial justice and wholistic missional Kingdom stuff; this is in their Praxis line, an imprint very much about embodied best practices for the missional church. If a book is on their Praxis imprint, it is worth having. But this — this is one of those rare books that combines a deep passion for social justice and racial reconciliation and is designed to bring this big cultural assessment and Biblical vision down to the local church and its unique practices. Like many in the IVP Praxis imprint, Becoming a Just Church is academically strong without being tedious — it seems like it will be readable, exciting, even. Yes, it is about ecclesiology, but it is, as the first part puts it, “an ecclesiology for justice.” If justice is “a way of life for the people of God” and we are called to be, in our social situation of exile, “a prophetic alternative” then how do we live out the hope we have? What does that kind of a church look like? What does it mean to be “gardeners of shalom” in our lives, our communities, but, in Becoming a Just Church, in our local congregation?

This book, rooted well in the missional strategies Adam Gustine learned at Missio Seminary in Philadelphia (Dr. Gustine has a Doctor of Ministry degree from there) and is informed by his own deep expereince. He leads CovEnterprises, a social enterprise initiative of Love Mercy Do Justice and is the founder of Jubilee Ventures (in South Bend, Indiana.) I’m very, very excited about Becoming a Just Church so we can learn, as he puts it, to “demonstrate Manana.”  I’m eager to see how we “disciple people into a shalom community.” I can’t wait to read about justice within the church and equipping people — through acts of hospitality and acts of worship and more — to be agents of God’s vision of shalom.

“Adam Gustine writes with the heart of a pastor and the imagination of a prophet. Immersed in sincerity from Gustine’s ministry journey, this is a lived story of repentance, a testament of how personal―even ecclesial―privilege can cede to God’s transformative love. Becoming a Just Church provides a biblical approach for churches to seek shalom in their contexts, living as God’s demonstration for the world to witness with wonder. Like a hearty Sunday benediction, every chapter should inspire many to live into God’s dream of tomorrow for our world right now.”   José Humphreys, author, Seeing Jesus in East Harlem, pastor, Metro Hope Covenant Church, New York

Prayer: Forty Days of Practice Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson (Waterbrook) $16.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59 release date: 2/5/19

We are very happy to tell you about this book again. Yes, that’s right: again! Our good friend singer-songwriter, author, podcast guru, justice worker, and retreat leader Justin McBob McRoberts and his pal painter Scott released this as a very handsomely done self-published book about two years ago. They team up at Jubilee in Pittsburgh most years and they cooked up this idea to do a prayer book together (maybe standing in the Hearts & Minds book display there, inspired by all our good volumes, although that may be a self-serving story I made up.)

This is a prayer book, or a book about praying, or a devotional, unlike any you’ve ever seen. Trust me, it has these edgy, very contemporary art pieces by Scott that are themselves worth the price of the book, but they illuminate these pithy Kingdom sayings that Justin created. How these two creatives sat still enough to evoke the Holy One to speak through them is a mystery but I am sure God is behind this thrilling little, allusive book. It is, as the publisher of this new edition insists, “An invitation to intimacy with God.” Justin and Scott themselves put it like this: “We designed this book as a way of inviting you to contemplate your own life, the lives of those yo love and the presence of God in , though, and around all of it.”

“Just one page of Prayer could change your life. Deep, beautiful, and centered, this book drives us ever closer to being people who love God and love each other. Justin’s reflections show evidence of someone who has spent a lot of time journeying with Jesus, and Scott’s illustrations are worthy of meditation. This book has helped me move deeper into the presence of God.”
—Matt Mikalatos, author of Good News for a Change

“Justin and Scott have compiled the most beautiful anthology of prayers and images, interwoven with suggestions for contemplation and spiritual practices. I’ve been using these words and pictures in my own devotional life for a couple of years. They have refreshed and renewed me. This book is a gift.”
—Michael Frost, author of Surprise the World and Keep Christianity Weird

“McRoberts and Erickson are flip artists: they take what is commonly assumed or known and flip it in unexpected ways, all for the sake of greater authenticity and deeper wisdom. Their book Prayer surprises, interrupts, explodes, confronts, and inspires. I encourage you to take up their invitation for Forty Days of Practice.”
—Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary

Prayer by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson is a gift of a book. Its compelling prayers and captivating images resonated deep in my soul. Sacred in its sincerity and simplicity, Prayer is a forty-day path we can walk together to live out the spiritual truths that make ourselves—and our world—uncompromisingly whole.”
—Sarah Thebarge, author of The Invisible Girls and Well 

“In my home we have a special shelf where we keep sacred things of beauty. On the shelf are a few icons, seashells, the Book of Common Prayer, and this book, Prayer. Each person in my family—from children to adults—sits in quiet wonder as they flip these pages. This meditative and practical book brings together prayer, practices, and visual art to provide a feast for the soul. McRoberts and Erickson have created something beautiful, thoughtful, and mesmerizing.”
—Tish Harrison Warren, priest in the Anglican Church in North America and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary

We are pleased that Waterbrook, owned by Random House, is re-issuing this little gem to a wider public. Astute observers might notice a different one of Scott Erickson’s artworks on the cover. By the way, they are working on a sequel, a new hardback which will be called May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lords Prayer that should be out in the fall of 2019. You can pre-order that from us, too, ya know.

How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers–And Why That’s Great News Peter Enns (HarperOne) $26.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59  release date: 2/19/19

I hope you know a little bit about the fascinating story and work of Dr. Pete Enns. He is a good Biblical scholar and has done some important, commentaries. His professional chops are solid. Alas, he was let go from a conservative Reformed seminary for not towing their line about absolutely inerrancy as he grappled with issues evident in careful studies of ancient manuscripts. (He wrote about his study of these problems in the Old Testament texts in his much-discussed Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.) Beneath and around this in-house discussion about how the early manuscripts are or are not utterly infallible is a bigger question and this has been Pete’s passion: what does it mean to reject the ways of knowing and certitude that science, perhaps, gives us, but that aren’t adequate appropriate for talking about, let alone experiencing, historic, warm, lively, Christian faith. Faith, of course, is more than intellectual assent to certain truths and, in the deepest Biblical and theological traditions, is more akin to trust. At Christmastime we just celebrated the very good news that God didn’t send to us a proposition, but a Person. And so Enns wrote an important book called The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our Correct Beliefs. It may not be a perfect book, but it is very, very important and highly recommended.

Alas, in the midst of that — defending his views of the Bible whilst losing his job as seminary prof — he wrote The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. And now, after that blistering critique of wrong ways to conceive of and approach the Bible he gives us a positive, thoughtful, faith-filled way that we should engage these sacred texts. I have not seen How the Bible Actually Works yet, but I respect him and know that this is going to be much discussed. I suspect that it is somewhat similar to, but also different than What Is The Bible by Rob Bell, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans and, perhaps, the novel by Brian McLaren (which is coming out in a new edition in March, by the way) The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian. There are plenty of other books which help us grapple with the best way to read the Scriptures — I’ve got some old favs and there are some very new ones — but I mention these together as they are all written in the spirit of what we might call post-evangelicalism. Each of these authors have drifted from previous, stricter views of how to read and obey the Bible and have now embraced more narrative approaches that are perhaps more congenial to our postmodern times but, more important, more consistent with how the Bible ought to be understood and read, anyway. Could it be that maybe earlier faith communities (before the West, at least, was mired in Enlightenment-based views of knowing and a certain approach to facts) understood the Bible better than some of our most logical thinkers today. In any event, that’s what these books are exploring. They are each on a journey out of some hard places and have embraced some new ways. And, as each book shows, they love the Bible, now, more than ever. I think Dr. Enns would say that, too. For what it is worth, he is a trained Biblical scholar and, although he writes well and this book is a popular-level exploration, he truly knows what he’s talking about.

I appreciate that Enns insists that the Bible is not a rule book or instruction manual but yet a powerful learning tool that “nurtures spiritual growth by refusing to provide easy answers but instead forces readers to acquire wisdom.”  I am looking forward to this and thought you, too, may want to pre-order it now.

Human Rites: The Power of Rituals, Habits and Sacraments Dru Johnson (Eerdmans) $17.99 / OUR SALE PRICE $14.39  release date: 2/21/19

Although the cover of this maybe didn’t grab me at first, I am now convinced that the book is surely eloquent and righteous. Jamie Smith is not the only author who writes about “cultural liturgies” and while I truly adore Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary the fact that David Dark has the forward to this upcoming new one suggests that this is something more, perhaps a more thick account of our habits and rituals and even public policies. Dark, as you may know, is a relentlessly thoughtful, literary, justice-seeking, social prophet from the South. (Thanks be to God that his wise and interesting The Gospel According to America is being re-issued in in a much updated, considerably revamped edition late March with the important new title, The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend Our God-Blessed, God-Forsaken Land (WJK; $17.00.) You can pre-order that, too, and I surely encourage you to!

Dru Johnson is a young gent I’ve heard much of and I’m eager to read his words. His scholarly interests are significant and his contributions have spanned continents. Dr. Dru is an Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at The King’s College in New York City. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Henry Center (at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and formerly a research fellow at the University of St Andrews (working with the Logos Institute.) Holy smokes, he’s even been a Templeton Senior Research Fellow in Analytic Theology at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center (now called the Herzl Institute) in Jerusalem. And if all of that seems a bit stuffy, you may want to know that he was also a high-school dropout, skinhead, punk rock drummer, combat veteran, IT supervisor, and pastor. So he gets around.

But he also is pretty savvy about culture, about how we engage and live into the world in which we live. Drawing on Smith’s “cultural liturgy” project, he offers us this sure-to-be acclaimed new work inviting us to think seriously about this sort of question: “What are we doing when we gather around the sacraments — or when we make the same breakfast every morning?” We are, of course, embodying rituals. And in this new book he is going to unpack and open up all kinds of insights about this formative aspects of our day to day living. As the publisher says, Dru Johnson’s, Human Rites, “colorfully illustrates both the mundane and the sacred rituals that penetrate all of life, offering not only a helpful introduction to rituals but also a framework for understanding them. As he unpacks how rituals pervade eery areas of our lives, Johnson suggests biblical ways to focus our use of rituals ,habits, and sacraments so that we can see the world more truly through them.” It seems to me that this book is going to be a helpful witness to not only the liturgical aspects of culture, but of pointing us to a sacramental view of reality. If you like Smith or Warren, you need this.

Whether it is a baptism or a barbecue, Jewish passover or a church potluck, Johnson shows you how extraordinary our ordinary feats of repetition turn out to be. Michael Bird, Ridley College, Melbourne

Dru Johnson’s Human Rights helps us discern the difference between rites that are health and life-giving and those that are not, challenging us to lean in to the former while forsaking the latter. As a constant work in process myself, I commend to you this very helpful volume. Scott Sauls, pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville Tennessee

For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes Difference Miroslav Volf & Matthew Croasmun (Brazos Press) $21.99 / OUR SALE PRICE  $17.59 release date: 1/22/19 

I hope you noticed my little shout out about this, ever so briefly, in the previous BookNotes newsletter. I was reviewing a book by and about the life of singer-songwriter and justice advocate and global peacemaker, recording artist and Anglican priest, Garth Hewett. I said something about his art and his theology intertwining somehow, and that he sang about stuff that mattered and that there have been recent books about an evangelical vision for the common good that explore the same sorts of themes that Hewett sings and writes about.  Theology, good theology, like healthy spirituality, must always bear fruit deepening our love for the world God so loves and equip us to be faithful in our engagement with our times. Professor Volf knows this and is an acclaimed “public theologian” whose books have this keen perception of the issues of the day and whose study yields deeper insights about being alive in and for the world.

This forthcoming work — out in the next few weeks — is asking a huge question, and that is, if it doesn’t sound too grand, “what makes life worth living?” In fact, Volf is involved in the significant Yale Center for Faith and Culture where his co-author, here, Matthew Croasmun, directs the Life Worth Living program. They are doing research into this fundamental, human question and then — yes! — asking how to do theology in light of that, or in conversation with that human research. In a way, this must be a major concern of any theology that hopes to get a hearing in our pluralistic, pluralizing, post-Christian (post secular?) world. The question of what constitutes a flourishing life is up for grabs (or is just as often just neglected in our universities, business’s, and even churches!)

“The vision for theology presented here is simple but not easy. Volf and Croasmun think our task as theologians is to be about the flourishing not only of the academy or the church but also of all peoples. Their work is tested in the hard laboratory of professors’ classrooms and church planters’ living rooms. I challenge you to read this book and not come away encouraged, enlightened, and renewed for our task of contemplating God for the good of humanity. So much of what passes for theology dies in intramural food fights and name calling. This book calls us to a task more urgent, more dangerous, and more life-giving by far than that.”
— Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

By the way, we heard of Matthew Croasmun a year or two ago when he edited, along with Zoran Grozdanov and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, a collection of essays in honor of his teacher, Miroslav Volf called Envisioning the Good Life. This summer we discovered his Upper Room book Let Me Ask You a Question: Conversations with Jesus. Nice stuff.

The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament Aubrey Sampson (NavPress) $15.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79 release date: 2/5/19

This stunning book comes out in less than a month and we hope to alert many to it. It’s very well written and exceptionally thoughtful. I will admit, there are oodles of spiritual books that tell of the great suffering people have gone through. God helps folks cope, and it is a great grace. Some of the stories are heart breaking and heart warming. Whether they are beautifully rendered or plain, there is something moving about reading the stories of others journey into the depths and coming back out, chastened, sobered, but alive and still loving God and God’s people.

I have an allergy to books which offer cliches, though, or answers that sound too easy. Some of these sorts of books about making sense of suffering tend that way and we avoid recommending them. It is hard to match the pained, spare eloquence of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son or the hard-won but faithfully raw insight of Gerald Sittser’s A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss.

And so, I’ll admit, when I read the long list of tragedies that befell this young woman — herself struck with a painful, chronic illness — I feared it would just be another rather sentimental story of God’s love for her through it all, fine but not terribly substantive.  But, my-oh-my, is this a strong, thoughtful, gripping book. Yes, Aubrey Sampson has suffered more than most, and yes, she tells about her grief and loss and struggle and pain. But this is also an apologetic for and study of lament, one of the few very good books on this topic. In The Louder Song she explores what it is like to have exploding grief and to be able to cry out; how, indeed, God uses lament to lead us between (as she puts it) “The Already and Not Yet.”

Ms. Sampson says,

“God sings a louder song than suffering ever could, a song of renewal and restoration. Lament helps us hear God’s louder song.”

I really appreciate her shameless honesty, her devout piety, her robust faith, and mature spirituality. I liked her stories. And I commend her good scholarship — she is not just writing out of her own experience, rich and formative as it is, but she’s done the reading and thinking and processing of good Biblical and theological scholarship. How many evangelical testimonials of this sort integrate the insights about lament from, say Claus Westermann [who I first read because Brueggemann cited him so much] or the old Puritan Thomas Watson or modern thinker N.T. Wright? To see an author quoting Bono and Soong-Chan Rah and Lament for a Son and Marva Dawn and, of course, Michael Card’s Sacred Sorrow shows she’s got a thoughtful, balanced, creative, approach. To see Tim Keller and Anne Lamott in the same book makes me smile. To draw on progressive Africans like Mpho Tutu and stuffy Anglos like C.S. Lewis (and a quote from the Jeffrey Eugenides novel, The Marriage Plot) shows this is super interesting and well-edited.

There is a good listing of Bible verses on which those who are suffering can draw upon. There’s a thorough guide-book full of discussion questions for personal or group use.

The Louder Song is a strong, important book and we highly recommend it. On sale for pre-order now.

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A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Hearts & Minds is the US source for “Against the Grain” by UK singer/activist Garth Hewitt

Those that know us, know that we have been involved for much of our adult lives in social justice activism. I’ve been feeble in this, perhaps, more talk than walk, way too often, taking steps in spurts and with grave failures. My conservative, small-town mother made me pick up littler on the first Earth Day in 1970 — how our small United Methodist youth group got that pick-up and big green Earth Day flag I don’t recall — and she and my Republican dad taught me about befriending Vietnamese refugees (“Boat People” they were referred to in those early post-Viet Nam years) which served me well when I had to get deeply involved in working for reform of political asylum laws under the awful Clinton administration as we struggled to keep them from deporting Chinese immigrants, imprisoned in York, PA.  From serving in soup kitchens to doing peace demonstrations to working in pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, from being arrested in nonviolent protest against nukes to lobbying in DC with organizations like Bread for the World and Amnesty International, these shoes, as singer Bruce Cockburn puts it, “have seen some strange streets.”

Which is why Cockburn has so appealed to me as a rock star over the years. Along with the Indigo Girls, Bill Mallonee, Mark Heard, Holly Near, Bono, Larry Norman, Jackson Browne, and lots of soul singers and and a tons of hip-hop artists, rockers of good faith (often evangelical faith) and strong musical chops used their artful talents to help us see and feel things, including hearing the cries of the oppressed and even about the structures that too often keep people down.(Ahhh, I once had a long conversation with CCM star Randy Stonehill, a wonderful lyricist and guitar player, about why he only rarely did songs about poverty and compassion and never any denouncing injustice, like the Bible itself does. On his next album he recorded the blistering “Can Hell Burn Hot Enough” that was like Ron Sider or Jim Wallis or maybe Amos put to rock.) That the Bible itself is laden with protest music, social lament, and the prophetic denunciation of economic injustice and political abuse should go without saying. although some people need scholars like Walter Brueggemann to see it. Increasingly, even those who before thought of the Bible as mostly about spiritual things and proper theology realize that so much of the Bible is about land and politics and economics and cultural idolatries and social renewal. (Jerry Falwell Jr., by the way, supports the policies and values of the current President because he says “I don’t look to the Bible for my politics.” Allrightee, then; at least he’s honest about that.)

We may interpret some of this social theology in the Bible in ways that seem rather liberal and revolutionary (liberation theology, for instance, or the good social gospel of Martin King and the like) or in more conservative, traditionalist ways (some of the best thinking of Popes Benedict and John Paul II and their social proclamations that sounded more like Alexis De Tocqueville or Lord Acton than Karl Marx) or ways that go beyond the conventional left/right spectrum altogether; I’d love to put the Dutch neo-Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper and his modern followers such as the Center for Public Justice in that camp. Friends such as Vincent Bacote and Richard Mouw and James K.A. Smith have helped me immensely in this and I hope you know their work.

In any case, the Bible and our faith must be seen in ways that are, as Sojourner’s Jim Wallis has put it, “always personal but never private” and in what that are, in the words of Nicholas Wolterstorff, in Until Justice and Peace Embrace, “world transformative” rather than “world flight.” You know we love the book The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper. She shows that Biblical hope is for “everything wrong to be made right.”

Happily, lots of recent books these days shout this out clearly. Just for instance, Whitaker House is a revivalist/charismatic publisher and they just released a book called Jesus’ Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, The Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change by John Barry, an pastor and editor of the FaithLife Study Bible. Earlier this year, Grace Ji-Sun Kim co-wrote Healing Our Broken Humanity: Practices for Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World. (A month ago I even wrote a review essay in CPJ’s Public Justice Review about of some of these recent books.) These evangelical books are delightfully and importantly clear about the full implications of the gospel.

 A recent collection of essays by N.T. Wright about “speaking truth to power” is simply called God in Public. A nice paperback by Miroslav Volf (on which I happen to have an endorsing blurb) is called A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good and, as you will hear about in our next BookNotes, he has a brand new one coming soon called For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference. Yes! That’s it!

Music has been my other great love through this journey of trying to do “theology that makes a difference” and to live some sort of life that speaks out about public issues. Much of my life, I’ll admit, I’ve been discouraged about all this, and music has kept me going. I’ve mentioned Bruce Cockburn. My pal Brian Walsh has written the very best book about how an artfully Christian imagination can address so very much about the world we live in, in his careful study of Cockburn’s lyrics and social vision called Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos Press; $19.00.) Even if you haven’t read this book (and you should, even if you don’t know about his many albums!) you might have heard of Cockburn. Even U2 cited him in their song “God Part 2” making famous his line about “kicking at the darkness til it bleeds daylight.” And I’ve sometimes quoted his blazing powerhouse rocker “Call It Democracy” which I’ve quipped is the only rock song about the International Monetary Fund.

Which is all a very long way of introducing the fabulous new book by a British musician named Garth Hewitt called Against the Grain: Choices on a Journey with Justice (published by the Garth Hewitt Foundation) $20.00; our sale price = $16.00.

It is a long way of saying that Anglican Garth Hewitt is a singer-songwriter that early on we realized had an artistic vision that was bigger and broader than the sometimes sappy Jesusy songs from CCM, a 70s folkster with a truly Christian worldview, maybe akin to Mark Heard, who increasingly was singing not only about God’s sly presence in all of life, but, in fact, particularly about social justice. Garth Hewitt, in this regard, is maybe the example par excellance of a socially-engaged, activist, pop star doing music with a message. He was a bigger deal in the UK than he was here (in part because British evangelicals have long been more socially engaged than American evangelicals, what with leaders like John Stott, so they had their political and artistically vivid Greenbelt Festival and we had our safe and inspirational Creation Festival. Greenbelt features Cockburn and Billy Bragg and Calvin Seerveld and Over the Rhine and Nicaraguan Catholic poet, Ernesto Cardenal, for instance. Creation dis-invited Baptist evangelist Tony Campolo because he didn’t toe the Christian right-wing line enough.) So it’s no wonder most of us never heard much of Garth Hewitt.

There are reasons Garth’s many good albums weren’t terribly well known here (besides the practical matter of distribution — how does a very indie artist from England get albums in US record stores, especially if he is too religious for the mainstream record shops and too politically outspoken and intelligent for the Christian bookstore scene?)  I think a reason is this: he spent a lot of his time traveling all over the world, not being a pop star.

As a spokesperson for many wholistic ministry organizations such as TearFund, Mr. Hewitt went places. He listened and learned. He got involved. If Bruce Cockburn travelled a lot and wrote some truly great songs about his travels from war zones and refugee camps and such, and did properly allusive/aesthetic musical reporting, Hewitt actually worked in those places. He spent less time making records (although he made a lot) and more times making change. He did what he felt called to, and lived and learned as a faith-based social activist. His work among the suffering informed his take on the world and the sorts of music he did. He’s an artist and a minister; he’s a songwriter for justice and also a spokesperson, scholar, leader, organizer of a nonprofit organization.

He recounts in the book how a music publisher trying to be helpful said his songs were “too intelligent.” The professionals advice? He should write songs that were “less intelligent.” So you can see why we want to support this book here in the States.

So, Against the Grain is Hewitt’s new book published in the UK and we here at Hearts & Minds are delighted to stock it. As noted above, it is published by the Garth Hewitt Foundation (and Amos Trust) and they have allowed us to sell it for a fabulous price of $20.00. We are offering our BookNotes 20% off, making it just $16.00. We are honored to be able to offer this oversized paperback to you. It is a book of one gent’s pilgrimage, his life-long, world-wide, joyful (if often hard) exploration of what it means that “the personal is political.”

Hewitt has a Palm Sunday song called “Against the Grain” which reminds us bluntly of the nature of Jesus’s community, inspired by the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, even though perhaps other kings were entering the city that day with their war horses and violent view of power. Which will we embrace, the nonviolent one standing against the grain or the powerful of the Empire?

Against The Grain

Against the Grain is in many ways an auto-biography but it is written more like a fan-bio than a literary memoir. You learn about his many albums, his ordination, his mission trips. He’s in the studio bumping into Paul McCartney, he’s protesting abuse of Palestinians during a concert in Bethlehem. He’s working hard to get the sound right with Mark Heard doing production, he’s heading to perform here or there. But it is artful, laden with poems and song lyrics and the stories behind the songs which makes it interesting even if you’ve never heard any of his music.There’s lots of episodes from his struggles to make a difference and great stories of his life on the road as a peacemaking, justice-seeking Christian troubadour. The declaration on the cover, in fact, tells us much: it’s a “mixture of stories, theology, wisdom, music, humour — all building together to say something really important… but gently.” This truly is “the story of singer-songwriter, priest, author and activist Garth Hewitt, in his own words.”

Did I mention the pictures? Yes, there’s a lot of cool, full-color shots with him playing his banged up guitar. He’s toting that thing everywhere like a post-modern Woody Guthrie, whose anti-Hitler guitar had emblazoned on it “This Machine Kills Fascists.” But, again, Hewitt is a follower of Jesus, and isn’t interested in killing anyone. His guitar should say something like “This instrument help us love.”

But the pictures even more clarify his work with others of note. There he is with Bono; there’s pictures of him with Bruce Cockburn, several with Mark Heard. He has met with Yasser Arafat and there’s a shot of him with Desmond Tutu. Who gets around like this? Hewitt has had a remarkable life (he heard Martin Luther King live; he has met Mother Theresa!) Those who have sung with him and on his recordings range from straight man Cliff Richards to black gospel groups like Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Jessy Dixon Singers. Reading Against the Grain is a blast for anyone who follows music as the names just keep coming, naturally (not bragging) as his lifetime in the music industry has afforded him lots of cool collaborations. One minute he’s writing about Oscar Romero or Elias Chacour, the next there’s a picture of him with Pat Boone. One page he’s talking about Larry Norman and the next one has a sidebar about Mavis Staple. Often, he is with his wife, Gill, a true companion. And he’s always citing books and writing poems and prayers.

Hewitt, it is said, writes “redemption songs and then sings them without fear.” From working with the Dalits in India and the abused Palestinians in Gaza and peasants in Africa longing for faith and justice, he and Gil have been there. This is the story of a thoughtful Christian, a global activist, and a dynamic performing artist. It isn’t every overtly Christian book that carries endorsements from Muslim leaders and serious singer-songwriters like Martyn Jospeh, himself quite an artful singer/activist.

Mr. Jospeh says

I deeply respect Garth’s integrity and his commitment to social justice worldwide. The full extent of his humble hand in these matters may never be known, but this book will spread the word of a life that has affects thousands of people globally for the betterment of their lives, and the pursuit of a peace that finds justice.

This book offers si much fun stuff to hear about, even if often only in passing — he’s a godparent to a child (now grown) whose other godparent is Eric Clapton. Early on Hewitt did some gigging with Bonnie Bramlet; he describes talking to one of the Rolling Stones about Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins; in those years he was listening to early Gram Parsons, who truly helped pave the way for a new thing called folk-rock. His serious theological reading is evident, too, and you’ll be excited to see who he reads and who he gets to know. Anyone reading about wholistic mission will be eager to learn from him. He takes the reader along on his journey and it is one that is exciting and sober and good. We are so happy to be able to offer this book at our Booknotes discount. Thanks to the GHF and Amos Trust for inviting us to be their US contact. What an honor!

 

In passing allow me to also note that we have stocked some of his classy photo/prayer books such as Making Holy Dreams Come True: A Book of Prayers and Meditations and we have reviewed and continue to recommend his splendid book from 2014, Occupied Territories: The Revolution of Love from Bethlehem to the Ends of the Earth (IVP; $16.00.) It is very highly recommended, so we’d love to send one of those out for you, too. You will learn a lot and be inspired by his very interesting life and teaching. Thanks for caring.

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Twelve Days of Christmas Sale: 12 (Advent) Books on sale for 12 Days at (an extra) 12 Percent off — 32% OFF until January 5th

12/12/12 SALE

Merry Christmas, H&M friends scattered far and wide. We hope your Advent was meaningful as we pondered the hard times in which we live and the true hope of God’s coming again to make good on the promises of restoration, completing the work of incarnation and redemption. As our friend Lisa Sharon Harper puts it in the subtitle of her must-read book about reconciliation within the Biblical narrative, The Very Good Gospel, we look for “how everything wrong can be made right.”  Or, in C.S. Lewis’s simple phrase, we want God to heal the situation of being “always Winter but never Christmas.” Indeed, once Aslan is on the move in Narnia, “winter began stirring backwards” in what some call the “great reversal.” Christ has come! Christmas is here! The curse is being reversed!  We eagerly now sing “Joy to the World” but the time of Advent reminded us that the story is not yet finished, that we endure much in this broken world and that Jesus will return and make all things (re)new(ed.) Far as the curse is found!

Now, we are in the joyous 12 Days of Christmas. Don’t you dare take your tree down yet and don’t stop singing the carols! Given that the wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus (on what we now call Epiphany) you can’t even put that gift wrap away yet. Are you excited?  Merry Christmastime!

Of course, like any other retail place, we have to have “after Christmas” sales, but we want to reconfigure this, with tongue just a little bit in cheek, as a 12 Days of Christmas Sale. After all, it can’t be an “after Christmas” sale when we are in the middle of Christmas-time!

To wit. For the next 12 Days these 12 Advent books are an extra 12% off. We had ’em at 20% off before, so now they are, until supplies run out, discounted to 32% off. You can read these yet this season, or hold them until next year when you can use them or give them as gifts or start a book club. Stock up now. This sale ends January 5th, 2019.

Here are 12 books on sale for 12 days for an extra12 percent off. 12/12/12 — get it?

Again, that extra 12% off = 32% off. While supplies last. Offer expires January 5, 2019.

Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ Rev. Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans)  $30.00

If I get around to doing our annual Best Books Awards in a week or two, this will surely be on the top of that list. What an amazing collection of sermons, 400 pages of them, some quite extensive, some shorter, some from Sunday morning services, others maybe from evening services, preached over many years, many in her own parish in New York City. This meaty but beautiful work comes at us with what Duke theologian and Bible scholar Richard Hays described as “the same elemental force as the preaching of John the Baptist” and what poet and writer Marilyn McEntyre called, “Invigorating — edgy, intelligent, unflinching, and joyful in all it reclaims.” This is very, very highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand what Advent is supposed to be about —  namely, training us to live “between the times” as we long for God’s ways and Christ’s second coming. It is interesting that the liturgical color for Advent is the same purple as in Lent. This season is no “countdown to Christmas” but a time of lament and social prophecy, personal and corporate repentance, and living into apocalyptic hope. This book is important and a true gift to our deepening understanding of living between the times.

Advent Conspiracy: Making Christmas Meaningful (Again) Rick McKinley, Chris Seay & Greg Holder (Zondervan) $14.99  Every year we convince somebody to use (and they thank us!) the Advent Conspiracy DVDs where these three youngish, hip, pastors share with Biblical acumen and honest communication just how hard it is to preach during Advent, how so many church folks are seduced — maybe even against their will and better judgement — by the materialism of the mall and the sentimentalism of our current views of the holidays. Whose birthday is it anyway? How can we subvert those tellings of the tale, and get back to the raw and edgy and controversial and somewhat disturbing narratives of the Bible itself? The videos are clever and interesting and upbeat; the book is fantastic. These pastors joined together to take the risk of inviting their congregants to spend less, give more, worship well, and love everybody. They expected a lot of push-back, it seems, but folks were relieved; you mean we don’t have to live like this, enduring this stress and debt and anxiety in December? Members young and old from all three churches agreed — we can say no to the secularized narrative and search out another set of practices, grounded in the truest meaning of the story. Now there’s some subversive stuff!

The Advent Conspiracy book is so good, and I very highly recommend it. Don’t be scared — you can do it!  If we don’t sell a few more of these I will be depressed for months, so come on! If you don’t need help “substituting compassion for consumption” maybe you don’t need these four simple but powerful countercultural concepts to guide you and yours. But I think this experiment, this project, this conspiracy, could be a great thing for you and yours. I’m not just saying this: almost everybody who uses this in December says they wish they’d have studied it sooner in the year. You really should get it now and plan something for next year. (This is, by the way, the newly revised and expanded 2018 edition of the book. We’ve got the DVD, too, if you’re interested.)

The One True Story: Daily Readings for Advent from Genesis to Jesus Tim Chester (The Good Book Company) $7.99  You may recall us saying (in either this year’s Advent newsletter blog or maybe last years) that this is truly one of the very best books to show the unfolding drama of Scripture as it moves us towards the “dawn of redeeming grace.” In fact, it may be that Christ’s coming is more the beginning of the conclusion and fuller consummation of a longer story, since the dawn was hinted at in covenant and hope and promise in stories from Genesis onward. That’s what this book is about. The One True Story paperback has 24 short meditative readings on bible stories, including ideas for reflection, prayer, and even application. These devotionals truly offer Bible-based, gospel-centered, promise and deliverance, hope and joy. HIi

Advent for Everyone: A Journey With the Apostles N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 Who wouldn’t want to dip into daily devotionals by one of the world’s leading Christian writers? The provides “an inspirational guide through the Advent season, from the first Sunday in Advent to the Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent.” You get Tom’s own translation of the Pauline texts and his discussion of key themes, fro thanksgiving and patience, humility and joy.

Advent for Everyone: Luke N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 This is the new month-long, Advent devotional from Wright, about which the super-smart former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said, “Tom Wright is, as always, brilliant at distilling immense scholarship into vivid, clear, and accessible form.” This is so true — and this is a great example. Clear as a bell, powerful, inspiring, it explores the gospel themes of faith, repentance, justice, and celebration.

Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness Todd Outcalt (Abingdon) $9.99 I think this is so good, so important, so helpful, and I invite you to buy one or two on sale and wait for the opportunity to share them with somebody you know. This devotional accompanies the reader through the four weeks of Advent with Scripture, meditation, prayer and suggested application, as many such books do, but with an expectation that the reader gloomy or sad, in grief or perplexed with hard times. Can those walking in darkness find comfort in the Light? Even though this season often magnifies loneliness and anxiety (and sometimes despair) with “death’s dark shadows” this honest devotional “meets people where they are — in their hurts, fears, and disappointments.”

Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations David Bannon (Paraclete Press) $29.99  I raved about this earlier in the season, explaining that Bannon is himself a bit of a hurting man (he’s had some of his own struggles and his adult daughter died in an awful story.) Alas, he has been drawn to paintings that evoke lament and that honor the grief of these hard times. The paintings are mostly older, classic, even (Gauguin, Delacroix, Van Gogh, and more) and often done by artists who themselves were facing deep disappointments. Besides his own informative and tender prose, Bannon adds remarkable lines from poets and writers and thinkers — from N.T. Wright to Barbara Brown Taylor, Philip Yancey, Bonhoeffer, Nouwen, Paul Tournier, Joan of Arc, and more. He shares a bit about the latest research on grief. Yet, these rich daily reflections are more than an admitted “pilgrimage of brokenness.” Wounded in Spirit is a book of lovely, tangible hope. We sold out of this in the first week after we highlighted it and ordered more. A few customers even re-ordered, having given away the one they purchased from themselves. We have a stack still, now, so why not pick one up at this extra discounted price? I assure you, it will be useful to read at any time of year and a favorite you will return to over and over.

Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soul  Mark A. Villano (Paraclete Press) $16.99  We raved about this in an earlier Advent BookNotes newsletter — Villano has a MDiv from Catholic University, has done campus ministry, he has an MFA from the School of Cinematic Arts at USC so has done some pretty nifty stuff. I’m impressed. This substantive book is both gentle and deeply in the tradition of contemplative formation even as it is richly colorfu and culturally relevant  Endorsements are from contemplatives like Ron Rolheiser and Wilkie Au. Rose Pacatte says it “breathes silence and grace as Villano draws from Scripture, literature, film and life to create this gentle tome for Advent.”  Nice.

Light upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press) $18.99  We have often touted this and the others in her trilogy of “prayer books” filled with literary quotes and poems, excerpts of novels and stories, good lines for devotional use, offered for daily and weekly settings. The others are At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time and Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide. All are handsome paperbacks with “French Fold” covers, full of good lit, classic and contemporary, artful and useful. Endorsements on the back from the likes of musician and theological aesthetics scholar Jeremy Begbie and poet Luci Shaw and lit prof Jilll Pelaez Baumgaertner are, understandably, enchanting.

By the way, you might know Sarah Arthur’s name from a devotional she did called Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey Through the Lord of the Rings, or for last year’s award winning co-written memoir about discipleship, The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, or, more recently, her marvelous, A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle.

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (Reader’s Edition) edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $18.99 This has been a perennial best seller for us, especially back when it was loaded with full color art. Alas, this is not that, but as a “Reader’s Edition” focuses one’s attention on the wisdom and eloquence and deep insight of authors Beth Bevis, Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson and Luci Shaw. Pennnoyer & Wolfe (formerly editor of Image journal) used their thoughtful theological and aesthetic training to bring beautiful writing to us in what remains on of our era’s most remarkable Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany resources.

Jesus Calling for Christmas Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  I suppose you know the mega-selling Jesus Calling and the others in that hugely popular series of books. Their genre is simple and moving — author Sarah Young imagines what it might be like if Jesus wrote a real letter to her, offering presence and assurance and comfort and joy. Of course, this is all imagined, so you needn’t listen to any grouchy critics that suggest she implies these are “real” revelations like some new age prophecy. No, this is just an imaginative, time-worn genre, doing a short, touching devotional format supposing God is calling out to us, writing to us personally. Kinda like the incarnation, eh?

This square sized book has a nice padded cover edition, a bit bigger than the palm-sized Jesus Calling, Jesus Waiting, and Jesus Lives.  There are plenty of Biblical texts and much evangelical tenderness. By the way, the inside of Jesus Calling for Christmas is laden with beautiful, full-color, wintery photos, making this just a beautiful little gift book for this time of year; the nice cover hardly does it justice. It is all very nicely presented and a very nice book. We’ve got some left, so order them while supplies last.

 

 

 

 

O Wisdom: Advent Devotions on the Names of Jesus Rachel Jones, editor (Forward Movement) $7.00  This is a nice little devotional of short daily readings (and a few poems and lots of quotes from the Book of Common Prayer) all drawing on and pointing us to the “O Antiphons.” There are bidding prayers and collects from St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle and woodcuts from St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Nashville but the writing is a compilation of various writers, mostly ordinary folks, each drawing on the names of Jesus as presented in Isaiah.

As it says on the back, “Songs of thanks and praise, of lament and longing, or restoration and return have been on our lips for millennia. The verse of the ancient hymn, the O Antiphons, explore and celebrate the many names of Jesus.” These prayers have been used since at least, if not before, the 8th century and present a way for us to “sing along with the story of God, to ponder and praise.”

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Hearts & Minds Christmas gift-giving ideas — novels, poems, and children’s books. 20% OFF (in time for Christmas)

We are quite sure that if you order from us in the next day or two you will still get your order before Christmas. USPS Priority Mail is often quicker than UPS and cheaper, too, so we can get a shipment from here in central Pennsylvania to you in less than a week. Unless there’s problems from bad weather or Santa’s sleigh gets in the way, we’re confident you can receive your package within the week.

Also, as we’ve said before, we’re happy to send a package directly to your loved one on your behalf. We’ll gift wrap it for free (unless you don’t want us to) and enclose a note saying it is from you. Just tell us at the website order form page (or the inquiry page_ what to say and how to sign your name.  We’ll confirm it within the day.

Here are just a very few ideas of more books to give. We’ll explain them in such as way as to give you a hint as to who might enjoy such a gift. Many of these you may know, and this may serve as a reminder. Giving a novel is a great idea, and it gives you a chance to talk about the story, the plot, the characters, the deeper values or worldview of the characters or author with others. What fun!

We know we won’t get an overwhelming response to this (we usually don’t when we highlight novels or kids books) so we’ll admit we don’t have tons of copies of these on the shelves. I guess I should say, without too much of Grinchy spirit, that our expectation to get them out in time for Christmas eve is only good while supplies last. (But, of course there’s the 12 days of Christmas coming up, and Epiphany, so there’s plenty of time for more holiday gift-giving then.)

NOVELS

Virgil Wander: A Novel Leif Enger (Atlantic Monthly Press) $27.00 What a solid hardback, what a long-awaited book. I know a number of folks (including a few Christian non-fiction authors and bloggers) who say Mr. Enger’s Peace Like a River is one of their all-time favorite stories — mysterious, dramatic, poignant, tender as it is. He’s a great talent, a fabulously interesting storyteller, and a solid Midwestern “American Balladeer” as NPR called him. In this story, Virgil is the owner of a small town cinema who, after a car accident, loses much of his memory and is trying to piece his life back together Can the whole down-on-their-luck town find renewal along with the other cast of characters seeking some kind of redemption? This has gotten good reviews at all the most respected places and I’m sure will be used as book clubs choices. It would make a fine gift idea.

The Solace of Water: A Novel Elizabeth Byler Younts (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 This is one of those novels that some serious readers may not know about. Yes, it is an Amish story; yes, it is on a religious publishing house. Amish romances by evangelical authors have become quite the thing, and some are okay and some are pretty cheesy. This story, though, is remarkable. It is set in central Pennsylvania in the 1950s as an African American family moves there from the deep South and the wife and grieving mother is befriended by a wife and grieving mother of the Anabaptist Amish community. Kudos to Byler Younts and Nelson publishing for doing such a daring, moving book that tells a good story and pulls readers in to a study of grief and isolation and friendship and differences.

As the publisher says it is “Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today…”  The Solace of Water is a fine, enjoyable, thoughtful read.

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel Cheryl Anne Tuggle (Paraclete Press $17.99 This, too, is set in Pennsylvania, this time out in Western PA farmland. The story is written by an Orthodox writer and is set on a farm, and is about farming. (Move over Wendell Berry I can hear some saying!)  Young Jess Hazel, the main character in the story, inherits his parents farm when he loses them in a farm accident.  As it says on the back cover, “Unable to shake the memory of a strange light he has seen hovering the mountain peak above his valley home, he embarks on a pilgrimage — a halting inner odyssey riddled with fits and false starts.”

This story picks up speed as it goes but even from the prelude readers know this is a very artful, intelligent writer, and it will be savored slowly as good literary fiction often is.  She has a poetic voice and the story is, as one reviewer put it, “as deep and rich as the ancient ground beneath the character’s feet.”

Paraclete Press does mature spiritual books, ecumenical and contemplative resources, mostly non-fiction that is always very well done. They have a few books about aesthetics and the arts, too, so they truly have a vision for making a distinctive contribution to the publishing world. When they do novels, they are certainly well worth owning.

Their last one, by the way, called Can You See Anything Now by Wheaton College alum Katherine James was stunning for both Beth and I; it was really engaging, very modern and creative and thought-provoking — you can read our review by searching at our BookNotes. And older one published by Paraclete that we love and which was slightly updated not too long ago, is a wonderful book about woman who does old painting restorations — which speaks volumes in quiet ways about the restoration of humans, too, entitled Unveiled by Suzanne Wolfe ($16.99.) Interestingly, they published years ago another novel about a woman working her farm; it is one of my all time favorites, called This Heavy Silence by Nicole Mazzarella ($16.00.) These three previous ones will be joined by Lights on the Mountain by Cheryl Anne Tuggle as a standard we’ll recommend here for someone who wants a well written story that is deeply aware of spiritual issues and the nature of the human soul, but doesn’t quite feel like “contemporary Christian fiction.”  Give Lights… a try and you’ll know what we mean. Highly recommended!

Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99 This may be the fifth or sixth time we’ve recommend this here at BooKnotes and those who have allowed us to speak up front at their gatherings where we have book displays will know that I’ve promoted it vigorously. We often say that pastors and church leaders should read it because, well, even though it is a novel, it gets at the nature of congregations and the meaning of church so well. That quote from Eugene Peterson is an author’s dream. I cite it all the time when trying to convince people to read this book.

Pastor Peterson wrote that Love Big Be Well is

A tour de force — an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read.

Here, though, ho-ho-ho, I want to suggest this as a fun Christmas present to anyone who likes a good story. There’s tons of good theology in the letters the fictional Jonas McGann writes to the somewhat cranky congregants and the Granby Presbyterian Church in small town Virginia. But even though this novel is comprised of pastoral letters from Jonas, he tells of this episode or that situation, the ups and downs of the various people in his flock or in the town. The stories unfold, the plot thickens, and there are ups and downs as there would be in any such slow-moving, quiet sort of novel set in such a place. One of my favorite writers, Robert Benson says about Collier, “I never fail to read anything that he writes. If you are a lover of words and wisdom on the printed page, you should read him, too. This book is a fine place to start.” This is good, honest stuff, a story about church life by a real-life pastor. It is fun and interesting and, as Benson says, wise and good for anyone who is a lover of words. Get some for fiction lovers on your list, or for those left-brained theology types who don’t think they like novels. This is one they will love. Get one for yourself, too, while you’re at it.

Unsheltered: A Novel Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $29.99  I finished this a week ago and am still pondering it. This is profound and complicated but the short version is this: every other chapter tells of the lives of two families that reside in the same house in Vineland, New Jersey, one in the late 1800s and one in contemporary times. The house is falling apart which becomes an obvious metaphor for their struggles as families and for the town itself. Did you know that Vineland was an early planned community (founded by a guy named Landis who later moved to Central Pennsylvania?) Much of the plot of the story of the first family, set in the 1800s, is about a science teacher and, without spoiling too much, a character who is corresponding with Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, and a renegade newspaperman who is telling the truth about some of Landis’s injustices.  The contemporary story — in that same house — is about an adjunct college prof and his wife, who is taking care of a brand new grand-baby (whose mother, their daughter in law, committed suicide shortly after childbirth.) There’s a lot of politics in this as you’d expect from the ecologically-minded, lefty Kingsolver (one of the daughters of the contemporary couple just got back from living in Cuba for a while and disapproves of her brother’s work in the financial sector.)  The New York Times review said

This is fiction rich in empathy, wit, and science… Kingsolver’s gifts are ‘fierce and wondrous’ with ‘colors moving around like fire.’

There is some vulgar language here but, still, Unsheltered is a novel which, as the Washington Post Book World review put it, “is on familiar terms with the eternal.”  I don’t know about that, but it is seeking a better world, asking big questions about meaning and life and death and love and goodness. I admire the talents and vision of the author and I enjoyed this complex book immensely. Maybe only because of Darwin’s role in the plot, it reminded me a bit of one of my all time favorite novels, the extraordinary, unforgettable The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead; $17.00.)

Anatomy of a Miracle: A Novel Jonathan Miles (Hogarth/Random House) $27.00 Speaking of vulgar, vulgar novels that are about God and faith and the meaning of things, I adored Anatomy of a Miracle (and the previous, very thought provoking novel by Miles, Dear American Airlines and, especially, Want.) As I said in my BookNotes review this summer, he is theologically aware (quoting C.S. Lewis and others about the theodicy question) and portrays different sorts of skeptics, seekers, believers, and charlatans, all really, really well. In this story, a handicapped Afghanistan war vet one day just gets up out of his wheelchair while heading to the local convenience store to buy some smokes. (You can see this is the book cover, which I don’t love, but is, admittedly clever.) The parking lot of Biz-E-Bee, right there in post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi, becomes a pilgrimage site as others seeking healing flock there. In the meantime both a serious theologian from the Vatican — you learn why as the story unfolds — and the doctor of the now-walking/healed vet are trying to determine what in the world happened. For the secularist scientist, there simply cannot be such a thing as a miracle, so she has to run bunches of neurological and psychological tests to figure how the inexplicable happened. (Maybe he never was really a paraplegic? Maybe he’s a nut job, or a fraud?) When the reality TV show people come in with tinsel town promises (what a way to help others, they say!) all hell breaks loose.

This is a fun and fascinating story, by a writer who has been called “gripping and memorable” and “a rare original” and “raucously ambitions.” With blurbs from the likes of Dave Eggers and Joshua Ferris and Elizabeth Gilbert and Richard Russo, you’ll know if this is a book your smart book loving friends will appreciate.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis Patti Callahan (Thomas Nelson) $25.99  This new novel should be flying off our shelves. We are sure you know somebody that would be just delighted to get it as a gift. I do not have to say much, only that there are pages and pages of good reviews of Patti Callahan’s writing and storytelling. (She sometimes writes as Patti Callahan Henry.) She has been a finalist in significant literary awards, has been an IndiePick (favs of indie bookstores) and is especially known in the South. (She resides in Alabama and South Carolina.) That her books (such as The Bookshop at Waters Edge or Coming Up for Air or Driftwood Summer and many more) have been regular best sellers illustrates her popularity, that she writes in a way that resonates with many. The endorsements are from other really popular writers such as Lisa Wingate and Mary Alice Monroe and Charles Martin which assures you that this is readable, entertaining stuff.

And my, oh my, have we needed a novel like this! Most of us know a bit about Joy Davidman, the good friend of C.S. Lewis, an American left-wing atheist Jewess and serious poet who fell in love with the Oxford don, who married her in her hospitable room, knowing she was dying. She didn’t die quite so soon, and the rest is, as they say, history. History which comes alive in this nicely written, engaging fictionalization. (Thanks to Don King of Montreat College for doing the defining serious study of her in Yet One More Spring: A Critical Study of Joy Davidman (Eerdmans; $32.00) as well as the exquisite, important Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman  (Eerdmans; $28.00.)) Until now, it seems, we simply haven’t been put into the story from Joy’s perspective (even though we love the memoir by her son, Douglas Gresham, Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis (HarperOne; $9.99) which was revealing.) This fresh, new novel is based, we are told, on a very close reading of Davidman’s life and love with Lewis, and is “a masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times.”

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is both a fascinating historical novel, so good for anyone who likes period pieces set circa 1950 Oxford, England. It would be a great gift for anyone who is a Lewis fan, of course. And, it is a beautifully-rendered glimpse into the life of a writer and seeker. Joy Davidman was a woman of ideas, of words, of literature. That she died so young is a great sadness.

Listen to Ariel Lawhon, author of I Was Anastasia,

Patti Callahan has written my favorite book of the year… It is both a meditation on marriage and a whopping grand adventure. Touching, tender, and triumphant, this is a love story for the ages.

Or, this great quote from author Kristy Cambron (of The Ringmaster’s Wife and the Lost Castle series) who exclaims:

This book is a work of art. Intelligent. Witty and charming. I’m left as spellbound as the first time I met Aslan… with these characters now just as dear.

Home Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $15.00 and Lila Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $16.00 These are the two sequels to the altogether beautiful, enchanting, well-told story of Rev. John Ames in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead. As you may know, and should, Home tells the story of the colleague of John Ames, The Reverend Broughton, whose hell-raising son, Jack, has returned to Gilead, Ohio, after twenty some years. Considered “luminous and healing” it may be a modern re-telling of the prodigal son story. It is simply a must read.

Lila, the quirkiest (and, for some readers, the most miraculous and magnificent of the trilogy) tells the back story of the younger wife of John Ames, who appears a bit in Gilead and Home. One wonders about her, and, whew, what a story she has to tell. Lila was raised nearly homeless and alone, living on the fringes of society in “fear, awe, and wonder.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Lila is a book whose grandeur is found in its humility. That’s what makes Gilead among the most memorable settings in American fiction.

The Chicago Tribune reviewer opined that,

Lila is the highest fictional magi: a character who seems so real it’s hard to remember that she exists only in the pages of this book

If you know anyone who read Gilead, but does not own these two, either one would make a marvelous gift. One can read either, in any order.

Watch With Me, And Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Nee Quinch Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $16.95  Well. If one hasn’t read Hannah Coulter ($14.95) and Jayber Crow ($15.95), you should know they are amongst our most beloved of all time favorite novels. We are not alone — nearly everyone who reads Berry is smitten with those two beautiful novels. Of course, he has many others, all, in one way or another, inter-locking, all set in Port Williams, Kentucky. He has several collections of short stores, too, and they are marvelous for those who love the genre. If if you are not a big fan of short-story, if you are taken with the Port Williams membership, then you want to know more of Berry’s imagination and more of his characters.

This is a great looking paperback, with an old-fashioned wood cut or silk screen on the cover. It is, many say, the most comic work Mr. Berry has done. These stories, like his others, “shine,” (in the words of the Christian Science Monitor) “with warmth and meaning.”  As Booklist noted about these seven tales, “Their diction is as as chaste as a Bible’s story’s; they express a biblical reverence for life and community, yet they are funny, too, and so beautiful.”

Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories: The Civil War to World War II Wendell Berry (Library of America) $40.00  Perhaps you have seen the handsome, well-bound, somewhat smaller size (if thick) hardbacks produced by the Library of America. They come on very nice paper, with ribbon markers, and make available some of the most enduring classics in American literature. It was a great joy and important literary event when it was announced that there would be two volumes bringing together the complete stories of Mr. Berry, offered in chronological order. (That is, in the fictional Port Williams world, not in the order of their publication date.) This is the first volume; the release date of the second has not been yet been announced. This nice volume one that came out early in 2018 includes Nathan Coulter, Andy Catlett: Early Travels, A World Lost, A Place on Earth and twenty-three short stories, in narrative order. There is a good bibliography and a splendid map.

This could be just about the best gift you could reasonably give to a serious fan of the fiction of Mr. Berry. I wish I knew when the second volume is going to be released but if you get them this one, that one will be a no-brainer of a gift next year this time.

By the way, for true Wendell Berry fans, we are thrilled to be taking PRE-ORDERS for the other two- volume Library of America editions which are coming out April 16th, 2019.These are Wendell Berry: Essays 1969 -1990 (Library of America; $37.50) and Wendell Berry: Essays 1993 – 2017 (Library of America; $37.50.)

There will also be a fabulous boxed set of the two entitled What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969-2017 which will sell for $75.00. This itself would make a wonderful gift this Christmas, promising your Wendell Berry admirer to get this fabulous edition when it releases in the Spring. 20% off of that price, of course.

 

 

POEMS

Roots to the Earth Wendell Berry, wood engravings by Wesley Bates (Counterpoint) $26.00  We suggest this for that hard-to-buy-for person who may be a fan of Wendell’s. It is not as well known, but is a very handsome, larger sized, nicely illustrated poem, handset in a great old font. This is a much-expanded edition of a chapbook Berry and Bates did in portfolio form by West Meadow Press. This 2014 edtion was reprinted with additional poems and a prize-winning, never before published in book form short story, “The Branch Way of Doing” that also has engravings by Mr. Bates.

In an earlier edition, Bates wrote:

As our society moves toward urbanization, the majority of the population views agriculture from an increasingly detached position. In his poetry [Berry] reveals tenderness and love as well as anger and uncertainty. The wood engravings in this collection are intended to be companion pieces to. . . the way he expresses what it is to be a farmer.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver Mary Oliver (Penguin Press) $30.00 I suppose it may be said that there is no more popular poet working in America today than the beloved Ms Oliver. We have sold her books Swan, Dog Songs, A Thousands Mornings, Blue Horses and, most recently, her 2017 volume Felicity and others over the years. We celebrated this large, handsome collection when it came out, reviewing it in BookNotes the best I could. It offers poems from throughout her long career and is simply wondrous. (Other than this and Felicity, Oliver’s most recent published volume, by the way, is a fabulously interesting, rich collection of essays about life and times, mostly what we might call nature writing, although, like many of our best natural historians and observers of nature and our ecological crisis, she is a literary figure, and writes a bit about that as well. It is called Upstream: Selected Essays (Penguin Press; $26.00) and would be a much-appreciated gift, I’m sure, for any who like her words.

Eye of the Beholder: Poems Luci Shaw (Paraclete Press) $18.00 Speaking of beloved poets, Luci Shaw is among our favorites and many, many agree. She may be one of the most known and preeminent Christian poets these days; she was friends with Madeline L’Engle, and her faith and spirit seems similar. She has been an important figure in Christian publishing (with several non-fiction books, most recently, with IVP.) In this brand new collection, we get a glimpse of the themes explored from the book title — we are asking to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. As one reviewer put it, “Shaw crafts poems in the way she sees God’s creation is crafted — seamlessly and with enviable freshness.” Another serious literary critic says they “catch what Hopkins once called the ‘inscape’ of things…”

The famous founder of Image Journal (now being edited by James K.A. Smith), Gregory Wolfe, says,

A collection that not only distills a lifetime of spiritual reflection and poetic craft but also launches with the author’s characteristic boldness into new, uncharted, liminal spaces.

I suppose you know somebody who would revel at just such an invitation. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t overly fancy, obscure or arcane works. This is truly lovely stuff, highly recommended for the serious connoisseur or those that just enjoy inspiring lines. There is even a really good introductory essay called “Prophets and Poets.”  Enjoy!

Holy Luck Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $15.00 With Eugene’s recent death there is (thank goodness) a renewed interest in his many books. I think in the new year I might do an annotated reading guide to all of his work; we know it and love it. Decades ago he and I talked about him coming here, which he wanted to do, but time just didn’t work out. He used to write poems as somewhat of an avocation and he did them for Christmas blessings, too, the way some people write year’s end summaries of their busy lives. He was going to read some of his little-known poems for us.

Anyway, it was a joy to know this little collection was released a few years ago and I know he was fond of it.

I forget what we said at BookNotes when we first reviewed it, but here is how the publisher puts it:

Throughout his many years of pastoral ministry, almost everything Eugene Peterson has done — preaching, teaching, praying, counseling, writing — has involved words. To keep himself attuned to the power of words and to help himself use language with precision and imagination, Peterson both reads and writes poetry.
Holy Luck presents, in one luminous volume, seventy poems by Peterson, most of them not previously published. Speaking to various aspects of Kingdom of God-living, these poems are arranged in three sets:
Holy Luck — poems arising out of the Beatitudes
The Rustling Grass — poems opening up invisible Kingdom realities through particular created things
Smooth Stones — occasional poems about discovering significance in every detail encountered while following Jesus

Echoing the language of Peterson’s popular Bible translation, The Message, the poems in Holy Luck are well suited for devotional purposes. An ideal gift item, this volume is one that readers will look to again and again.

CHILDREN”S BOOKS

The Friend Who Forgives: A True Story About How Peter Failed and Jesus Forgave Dan Dewitt, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.00 We adore this good series (“Tales That Tell the Truth”) such as The Garden, The Curtain, and the Cross or our favorite, God’s Very Good Idea. We have customers who just adore The Christmas Promise, another collaboration with this creative writer and illustrator. These books are theologically clear, solid as can be, but playful and witty. We are very happy with how this story is both obviously relevant (friends forgiving) but finally not moralistic, but about deep gospel. These books are Christ-focused, gospel-centered, delightfully sharing really good news.

Outside My Window Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Eerdmans) $17.00 This lovely book works on a few levels — it has a poetic cadence that we really appreciate, as will any real wordsmith or lover of words. As importantly, the story itself invites kids to pay attention to what they see. Further, because each page spread shows a different child looking out her or his window in some different part of the world, it becomes clear that everybody sees stuff, even if really different things. Or maybe not so different?  While the lives of each of the children seem so different, there is something they all share. There’s a nice simple page in the back showing the cities and countries where each of the page spreads are set. Nice.

Everything Tells Us About God Katherine Bolger Hyde (Ancient Faith Publishing) $19.95  This is one of several really beautiful books we carry that are published by this great Orthodox publishing venture. A few of their books are very distinctly for Orthodox children (or those that want to read about the lives of those involved in the Orthodox way.) But a few are more general, and this one — imbued with a sacramental sensibility perhaps informed by the likes of Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann and his For the Life of the World — it is the sort of book that nearly anyone could fall in love with. The book says on the back that “the world is like a giant puzzle God made to tell us about himself. Every piece whispers one of His secrets — all we need to do is listen.”

And so, with this adventure awaiting, the children pay attention and listen to how the very creation itself points us to important aspects of God’s being or character. For instance, the wind reminds us of the Holy Spirit (“moving over the Earth like an enormous dove beating its wings. The Spirit is everywhere, filling all things. He is God’s breath — and our breath of life.”

Well, rocks tells us Christ is strong as a boulder. The ocean  reminds us that God is great and powerful (“and we can never control Him – just as sailors on the sea obey the sea’s laws so they can travel safely from one shore to the next.”) Stories we read remind us of the eternal story of which we are a part.  Water reminds us that Christ said he was the living what that can quench our deepest thirsts. Our food reminds us that God provides for us (and the bread we eat reminds us of Eucharist — the Body of Christ broken for Us. Jesus is the Bread that came down from heaven, the Bread that feeds us and gives us life.”

What do games and stadiums remind us of? How about teachers and pre-schools? Can animals teach us about God? How about seeds and stars? As you can tell, this is a wide-ranging, beautiful and deeply profound book for little ones. This book has so much wisdom and insight and I’m sure you’ll enjoy giving it to some child (or parents of young children) you know.

When God Gave Us Words Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Darcy Day Zoells (Flyaway Books) $16.00 If you know much about religious education and thoughtful, creative children’s books you may know this Reformed Rabbi, Sandy Sasso, and the many beloved books she has done. For years she is a mainstay of many mainline denominational children’s libraries with titles like God’s Paintbrush and In God’s Name. A year or so ago she teamed up with the Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jil Levine to do two books re-telling some of the parables of Jesus (Who Counts? and The Marvelous Mustard Seed. We, of course, stock them all.) But this new one is spectacular.

It is spectacular and I hope many buy it from us. We’d love this book to be unwrapped by little children all over. However, I’ll admit, When God Gave us Words is a tad provocative, eccentric, event. Even the illustrations just have this odd little edge to them — it makes for a great reading experience and makes it well worth revisiting, time and again.

Here is the basic gist: God gives the gift of words to the first humans, and this Godly gift — we are made in God’s own image, after all — is a great thing, full of potential and power. There are so many words in our world and this tells us where they all came from. What joy, and what a true truth about our ability to speak, to tell stories. Alas, humans start to mis-use God’s gift and words are no longer crafted to bless and inspire but to curse and gossip, to hurt and harm. Oh my. You can see where this is going; the angels, in fact, beg God to take this gift away, to gather up the words and pull them back to heaven, since these words are so distorting God’s intentions. Words could have created friendship, solidarity, and community in the good creation. Hmm. What will God do?

Nope, God does not destroy the humans, or even take away their ability to speak and write and their colorful capacity for imagination and creativity. In fact, the story has a bit of a happy ending as people come to their senses and realize that words are to be used for good. Or, we might say, the angels came to appreciate the deep power of good stories and themselves wanted to see what humans would come up with next.

This is a great and playful story, like good Jewish midrash often is. It raises questions about free will, about divine grace, and, of course, about the proper use of words and the power of stories. It is not gospel centered, even if it follows the arc of creation and fall and some sort of hoped for restoration. But, despite it not being a fully Christian story, it is, nonetheless, a good one, a fascinating and provocative one. Ms Sasso has used words well to invite us to good conversations with our children — about origins, about God, about responsibility, and about words and writing and speaking and stories. What a book!

The Gift That I Can Give Kathie Lee Gifford, illustrated by Julia Seal (Tommy Nelson) $17.99  Okay, we’ll say this right from the start. Gifford is a remarkable person, very involved in philanthropy and social change work, and has written for adults and children (and recorded albums and plays and was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.) She knows how to get stuff done. The illustrator, Julia Seal, is herself an excellent designer (and loves glitter, as the cover of this sparkly book attests!)

This book is for very young children but it is trying to approach the questions about gifts and talents, about callings and vocations. Or at least being used by God to show love and goodness to others.  It says on the back, “Your child has a special gift to share with others. What could it be?”

Gifford believes that from the time children are very small, God gives them a gift that is meant to be shared with others. This sweet, rhyming story invites your child to discover that gift is God’s love. As it says on the back, “You don’t have to be a grown-up to make the world a better place. The smallest act of kindness shared from the heart is a truly beautiful gift.”

The Gift That I Can Give really is a great book to read with little ones, and it covers all sorts of ways to help make the world brighter. Since there is a little girl on the cover and the butterflies are all pastel and sparkly, I suspect it will be most loved by little girls. In fact, it shows the little girl doing all kinds of things, including throwing a football!  From playing the drums in the marching band to raising money for hungry kids to giving a hug to her grandparents, this child has much to offer. What a sweet, colorful, simple book. Three cheers.

Child of Wonder Marty Haugen, illustrated by Stephen Nesser (GIA) $16.95  GIA is mostly a music company and Marty Haugen — a contemporary Lutheran hymn-writer who is known for many recordings, folk-mass songs, and acoustic ballads of faith and seeking and justice — has worked with them for years. In this, his baptismal song, “Child of Wonder” is given a new feel. The lyrics are so beautifully, richly, illustrated by Nesser, highly respected Minnesota water colorist, and in so doing, the song becomes an inter-faith celebration of rituals for the sacredness of human life and delight in the lives of children.

The song is, at its first intention, a song to celebrate God’s love for children, to be sung at a baptism. But with these beautiful illustrations of folks from other world religions and their babies, it frames the baptism liturgy by this broader more general vision of children everywhere who are beloved.  Child of Wonder is an interfaith and multi-cultural book to cherish and share. Included, by the way, is a link to a free mp3 download of the song. Child of Wonder is not all that needs saying about Christian baptism. (There are several other really good books for that; call us when you need suggestions.) But it is a delightful, warm book and would make a lovely gift for a family that appreciates this sort of cross-cultural celebration.

Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol Wehrheim, editors (WJK) $25.00  When this came out earlier this year, many thoughtful educators (especially those that know the Christian ed theories of Caldwell and Wehrheim) celebrated, saying that this was finally the children’s Bible story book that they were awaiting. Ideal for kids who are 4 to 8 or 9, maybe, it helps nurture faith not by merely telling the Bible story but by telling it in such a way that it invites wonder. And invites kids to say “I wonder…” Rather than just preaching, it evokes in the reader a desire to take the story seriously, to enter in, if you will. The word choice, the cadence, the blend of illustration and photographs the questions asked all conspire to make this a particularly useful (and entertaining) tool in a child’s faith formation.

We continue to suggest that Sally Lloyd-Jones The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (Zondervan; $18.99) is our favorite for young children. Her devotional, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Zondervan; $17.99) also illustrated with the contemporary artist Jago, is also fabulous.

But this new Growing in God’s Love, as we said at BookNotes when we gladly announced it earlier in the year, is one-of-a-kind, with a respected team of mainline denominational educators and thoughtful Christian educators and an array of different kinds of artists and illustrators collaborating to give us one of the most colorful, interesting, gentle, evocative, and faithful kids Bibles in years. Highly recommended.

FOR OLDER ELEMENTARY KIDS

Love Does for Kids Bob Goff & Lindsey Goff Viduchich, illustrated by Michael Lauritano (Tommy Nelson) $16.99  We have bunches of these at the ready to send out, and we hope you email us right away —  or call! — so we can be sure to get some of these out the door, ASAP. I’m sure you know how much we love Love Does (and the great, great sequel, Everybody Always.) We have promoted it everywhere we’ve gone and written about them both at BookNotes. Goff is a hero of ours, adventurous, funny, whimsical, upbeat, and joyfully serious about making the world a better place. He tells amazingly entertaining stories of loving others — people in his workplace, folks in the neighborhood, people he bumps into, and (yes) some pretty amazing stories of resisting sexual trafficking and starting an orphanage in a war zone, and other such dramatic deeds.  I hope you know his books and his work.

This new version, Loves for Kids is ideal for older elementary kids who could read it themselves (like a “chapter book”), very nicely retold by Bob’s own grown daughter who is a second grade teacher. Here they takes some of Bob’s best stories, his daughter to bring a kids spin to them, making this the perfect book for kids that want to be inspired to life in big ways for the Kingdom of God. The pictures are inviting and I think will help kids imagine themselves living with the kind of whimsy and faith in Jesus that Bob does. What fun. It’s a hoot for anyone, of any age, really, but I think it this version is best for ages 8 – 12.

The NIV Action Study Bible illustrations by Sergio Cariello (David C. Cook) $32.99 By all counts, Sergio Cariello (who has worked for Marvell and DC Comics) is one of the best classic cartoonists doing action/adventure type comics today. His Action Bible has introduced millions of kids to the stories in the Bible with the dramatic comic-book-style illustrations. This Bible features the complete text of the NIV with lots of neat features, sections such as “What About This?” and “Unlock It!” and “Activate” and “Ancient Archives” and more. There’s good guessing games (“person, place or thing?”) and a distinct icon that appears whenever a story is included in the Action Bible illustrations. We think this could really help encourage a stronger connection to God and certainly a lively interest in Scripture.

If you know a kid that follows Spider-Man or Iron Man or Wonder Woman and the like, they may know Cariello. This kind of Bible could make a very good gift.

FOR TEENS

The Day the Angels Fell Shawn Smucker (Revell) $14.99 (paperback) $17.99 (hardback) We’ve been quite taken with this received fantasy novel about a something like a time-travel portal (set in New Orleans.) There is a whole, whole lot going on here and it is deeply spiritual without being preachy or push; it is just what a good, thoughtful yarn should be. Even those who don’t carry for magical realism or supernatural thrillers or any of that mind-boggling stuff will appreciate this. Here’s the thing — we almost listed this above under adult fiction, as it is that good. Serious teen readers could certainly enjoy it, too, so we’ve placed it here. It’s thoughtful and fun and adventuresome and — we have to tell ya: part one. Might we recommend getting part two, the sequel, along with this one? It’s a cool lookin’ pair, for sure.

The Edge of Over There Shawn Smucker (Revell) $17.99 (hardback only; the paperback will release in early April, 2019.) This is the powerful sequel to The Day the Angles Fell, the award winning tale of kids doing this time-travel sort of thing, not exactly time travel, but moving into another dimension — is “over there” heaven? What is this place called “the edge of over there”? Can they get the Tree of Life to help bringing healing to the city that is nearly in the grip of chaos? The Edge of Over There picks up almost where The Day the Angels Fell left off, only several  years later. The boy in the plot is 16 years old, now. What a story.

 

Shawn Smucker enchants with a deftly woven tale of mystery and magic that will leave you not only spellbound but wanting more.

 

What the Night Sings: A Novel Vesper Stamper (Knopf) $19.99 I realize that a story of a teen holocaust survivor is a heavy topic to give as a sweet Christmas gift for some tender kids, but for those who are a bit mature, thinking deeply about the horrors of the world, and maybe have a bit of punky attitude, this wonderfully crafted, powerful story about a German gal named Gerta making her way after getting out of Bergen-Belson is absolutely remarkable. Vesper herself grew up in a very creative family (born in Nuremberg, raised in New York) and, as she tells it, was raised amongst “an eclectic mix of engineers, musicians, and artists who didn’t think Voltaire too tough for bedtime reading, Chopin Valses too loud for wake up calls, or precisions slide rules too fragile for play things.” She studied design at Parsons and got a MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts  and has very impressive graphic novel stylings in this — it isn’t a graphic novel but there are lots of black and white drawings, illuminations, and graphics throughout this luminous, powerful story.

That a young adult book has this sort of endorsement by such a major literary figure — Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale — on the back should make us all take notice:

A tour de force. This powerful story of love, loss, and survival is not to be missed.

Or listen to this from Deborah Heiligman (known for Charles and Emma and Vincent and Theo) who said:

What the Night Sings is a book from the heart, of the heart, and to the heart. Vesper Stamper’s Gerta will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Her story is one of hope and redemption and life–a blessing to the world.

This title has been on the list for the National Book Award nominations and is acclaimed in all the best educational journals that review teen books. Just a week ago it was named a Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2018! It is a book of considerable heft, literarily and visually and literally — whew. For what it’s worth, Ms Stamper (and her husband Ben) have been in circles that we have been in at conferences organized by Mako Fujimura in New York and at others doing good faith-based creative work for the common good. It is an honor to tell you about this and invite you to consider gifting it to somebody who may value such an intense, passionate story of hope.

Just Mercy: Adopted for Young Adults: A True Story of The Fight for Justice Bryan Stevenson (Delacorte Press) $18.99 We have told nearly everyone who cares about our love for this man, his good work, and his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption that has to be one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Stevenson, after graduating from Eastern College (now University) and earned a law degree from Harvard Law School, started a small non-profit legal aid ministry, serving the poorest of the poor in prison in the deep south. Most of those he served were incarcerated with terrible, terrible injustices — blatant and illegal racism in the courtroom, incompetent and unhelpful public defenders, wrongfully condemned prisoners on death row, stuff the poor and many people of color face in our messed up criminal justice system. Bryan pours his life out though his Equal Justice Initiative, using his skills and faith to fight for the forgotten; I have said often that I think someday he may get the Nobel Peace Prize — he is that important and that good. Read Just Mercy and tell me if you don’t agree!

Just recently they did a somewhat abridged and more accesible volume of Just Mercy designed for the YA market. It says “young adults” on the front, but I don’t think this means college students or 20 somethings, but younger teens. Bryan is a great role model, has argued before the Supreme Court and has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. He is known in the evangelical community as well, having spoken at many Christian colleges, at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh and the national Q gatherings, and as churches such as Redeemer in NYC.

One of Bryan’s big passions (and the topic of one of the most watched TED talks) is about young people who are incarcerated. He has represented many young people and it is to them this book is dedicated.

I think this youth version of Just Mercy would make a great gift or follow-up for any young person who has read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, the YA novel about a black youth killed unjustly by a police officer. Or if they saw the movie that recently opened to much acclaim.  Get them this real-world, hope-filled, inspiring story of making a difference for anyone you know is fired up or distressed by that story (or looking forward to Thomas’s next one, On the Come Up, releasing February 5th. You can pre-order that from us, too, of course.) Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults should be in church and school youth libraries everywhere!

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Hearts & Minds Christmas gift giving guide (part 2) — more book ideas ON SALE 20% OFF

We were glad for those that shared our epic gift giving guide the other day. But even as we sent it out, I kept thinking of this book or that one, for all sorts of different folks. Giving-giving can be stressful, and we can help; books can help. And we have so many different sorts of topics and titles here.

Just the other day I was showing the brand new, rather quirky but utterly fascinating (and incredibly informative) The Infographic Bible: Visualizing the Drama of God’s Word created by Karen Sawrey (Zondervan; $34.99) and the customer was perplexed. “Who could buy a thing like that” she wondered, struck by the colorful look, creatively imagined data and, I suppose, the price tag. I admit I sort of wondered that myself; it’s awesome, but who actually buys such a book?

Send us an order and we can get it right out at our discounted priced — we’ll take the 20% off the regularly shown price – and you’ll have it by Christmas. Or, we can send something directly to your recipient, tucking in a little note on your behalf. We gift-wrap for free, too. Just let us know how we can help.

Here are some other categories that might be useful for certain folks on your gift-giving list.

FOR SOMEONE WHO LIKES EARLY ROCK AND ROLL

Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock Gregory Alan Thornbury (Convergent) $26.00 I hope you saw my long review of this when it came out this summer. I did a big BookNotes feature on it and, happily, got a smaller review published in the big-time Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The book review editor there is a Larry Norman fan. If you know anything about the subculture of CCM, you know Norman is considered one of the grandfathers of the movement. His early days, though, were themselves legendary as he preformed with or before nearly every late 60s rock legend, from Paul McCartney to Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin. He shared his faith eagerly and helped create the vision and vibe of what was known then as “the Jesus Movement.”

Contemporary Christian rock has had its share of genius artists, brilliant performers, and sell-out wannabees not to mention a few fakes and frauds. There has been, as they say, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Greg Thornbury, himself a scholar, a cultural historian, an evangelical (and a rocker, despite his bow tie) is the perfect author to tell this story and it is right on.

It is my sense that this is a must read for anybody who likes Christian rock, and, perhaps, nearly anyone who enjoys reading good accounts of the not so halcyon days of the 60s and 70s in American pop music culture. Why Should the Devil… is a great, vivid book, highly recommended.

FOR ONE INTERESTED IN URBAN MINISTRY

Voices Rising: Women of Color Finding & Restoring Hope in the City edited by Shabrae Jackson Krieg & Janet Balasiri Singleterry (Servant Partners Press) $15.95 What a find, this recent start up publisher that is doing really good stuff on urban outreach, race, economic justice, mission. We are so glad to have found them as they are doing great books like this one. Evangelical women of color are increasingly being honored and their voices are slowly being heard in broader settings; this anthology of great writings of women of color working and living in poor urban communities is a great witness to this shift and new openness. As it says on the back cover “As the reader, you are invited to listen to the call and the need for diversity in mission and to seeing the uniqueness that women of color bring.”

There is a lovely forward to this by Sandra Maria Van Opstal who is known for her great book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World and a great endorsement (among many, many others) from Lisa Sharon Harper. We hope you know somebody who would like this book!

Urban Ministry Reconsidered: Contexts and Approaches edited by D. Drew Smith, Stephanie Boddie, & Ronald Peters (WJK) $40.00 I need to do a major review of this as it is extraordinary. Let me just not, now, that if you know anybody who is seriously studying this topic, this is a major anthology, edited by leaders of the Metro-Urban Institute at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. These folks have decades of scholarship and practice as theologians and activists. There are chapters on poverty, housing, health, racism, missional church stuff, global insights, and lots more. It is fairly diverse theologically, mostly progressive in terms of social agenda, and pretty scholarly. It advances a number of fresh insights, offers current research and we have a few trusted friends who have done pieces in it. There is nothing like it on the market and just came out this fall. A great gift for someone you know who is deeply involved in studying this field.

Seeing Jesus in East Harlem: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put Jose Humphreys (IVP) $16.00 This great book is part of the Praxis imprint and, with the colorful cover, is immediately attractive. This is very much about a sense of place in the urban context and how our own stories and faith formation are tied to particular places. The author is a Puerto Rica pastor who has planted a multi-ethnic church in East Harlem and this book is ideal for anyone thinking practically about urban ministry.

Humphreys is pastor of Metro Hope Covenant Church and I like that the church is described as being “involved in shalom-making in the city through facilitating conversation contemplation, and action across social, economic, cultural, and theological boundaries.”

Good, good evangelically-minded activist/scholars/pastors endorse this with rave reviews, from Soong-Chan Rah to Paul Sparks (of The New Parish) who says, “Go get this amazing book!”) to Noel Castellanos.

Lisa Sharon Harper says:

A beautiful love letter to the church about how to be church in our browning, decolonizing world…Every pastor’s next must-read.

How Neighborhood Make Us Sick: Restoring Health and Wellness to our Communities Veronica Squires and Breanna Lathrop (IVP) $17.00 This long-awaited book just came today and we are thrilled to suggest it as a gift for anyone you know who is interested in urban life, or in health, wholeness, environmental safety and the like. We have long wished for a book about public health from a Christian perspective that was readable, passionate, helpful. Such a book would have to look at environmental issues, racism, poverty, and our general lack of awareness of environmental toxins. Obviously we think of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, we think of asbestos and urban fracking. But there is so much more about caring for our built environment and caring in effective ways about how some of it is literally making us sick. Buildings with mold trigger asthma; geographic lack of access to healthy food and health care increases childhood mortality. Trauma (from community violence, for instance) can cause physical changes to the body and to our resilience.

Squires and Lathrop are serving well on the front lines at the Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta and have been working on this topic for years. (Lathrop is a family nurse practitioner with a Master’s Degree in public health; Squires is chief administrator and is on the board for the Georgia Charitable Care Network.)

Beth started reading this the moment it came out of the box, and we are very, very grateful for publishers who do this kind of work. As Bob Lupton says on the back cover, “The time is right for an insightful, well-documented expose of the pathology in poverty neighborhoods and a roadmap for the journey towards health and wholeness. How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick is just that.”

FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN RACE, JUSTICE, AND SOCIAL CHANGE

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Freedom on Death Row Anthony Ray Hinton (St. Martin’s Press) $26.99 This would be an excellent gift for anyone who likes powerful memoir or even crime thrillers, although it is a righteous story about overcoming gross injustice. It is a perfect choice for anyone who has read Bryan Stevenson’s classic Just Mercy because Anthony Ray Hinton and his awful case – convicted in a sloppy trial for a crime he couldn’t have committed – figures into the dramatic plot of Stevenson’s book about this very kind of thing. His Equal Justice Initiative offers legal aid to poor folks who are incarcerated unfairly. Hinton spent decades on death row and in Just Mercy he remained in jail despite Bryan’s heroic efforts on his behalf, getting the trail reheard, appealing, appealing. This tells the story from Hinton’s view and is a simple story of his ordinary life and his extraordinary faith and courage and dignity living on death row.

Some of this is hard stuff; some is beautiful – I will never forget the pages about his book club on death row and the dead men walking and their love for one another and good books.

There is good news here: Hinton is finally released so this is an inspiration tale of endurance and freedom and goodness. There is a reason Ray has become a hero to many all over the road and why so many astute readers (like Desmond Tutu) have raved about Bryan’s role and Ray’s telling of the story. The Sun Does Shine is a book that is unforgettable and you could give it to nearly anyone who has interest in criminal reform or the long work for justice.

Burden: A Preacher, A Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South Courtney Hargrave (Convergent) $26.00 I hope you read my long review of this earlier this year in BookNotes. This is quite a story (and there is now a Hollywood movie about it all, directed by Andrew Heckler of Dallas Buyer’s Club fame.) This, also, is a book I couldn’t put down, an intriguing tale of life in a small Carolina town where, yep, there is a white supremacy guy who opens a KKK museum. Naturally, it attracts protests and national attention and an ill informed, poor white kid is taken in and becomes the point man running the shop.

Oh, the things we do for love, the old song goes, and Michael Burden (that’s really the man’s name) falls in love and is convinced by his equally poor white girl friend to leave these racist guys behind. The array of radical white supremacist, confederates, and neo-Nazis that used the Klan Museum as a front were mad at Burden’s betrayal so they kicked him out of the basement apartment he was using. Homeless, he and his girlfriend are taken in – get this; you can hardly believe it – by the black activist pastor who was his nemesis in protest.

The all black church was understandably skeptical of their pastor’s newfound KKK friend and Burden had some learning to do as he attempted to fit in to the black Baptist congregation. And, believe me, the story doesn’t end there! This riveting book nicely illustrates the adage about truth being stranger than fiction and how God’s redemption comes in often surprising ways. Burden is a great story and would be interesting to anyone who reads about race, about the changing south, about reconciliation and such. I agree with one reviewer who said Burden is a “mesmerizing narrative with a powerful social and political message” although it really is a very human, humane drama.

Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody James H. Cone (Orbis) $28.00 Anyone who studies black theology knows the name of James Cone, whose major work came out in the late 60s amidst the “black power” movement and the debates about which approach – King or Malcolm – were most effective and righteous in those hard days. More recently, as an older man, his popularity was broadened and renewed by his stunning last major work Christ and the Lynching Tree. This new book, published just after his death earlier this year, is an autobiography, a slim hardback (admittedly a bit pricey) but “a must read for everyone interested in discerning how to live awake in the gospel while inspiring the voice of the oppressed.” It is Cone’s own story of finding his voice, of coming up with his notions of black theology, of his life in the academy (he taught at Union in NYC) doing this significant work. It is very interesting and somewhat revealing.

The electric Cornel West has a thrilling foreword that makes the book that much more precious, and anyone following this stuff would be glad to have it. One reviewer calls Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody his “final masterpiece” and another says it is “both eloquent and unflinching,”

Listen to Willie James Jennings, the important young author of The Christian Imagination (so ably discussed, by the way, in James K.A. Smith’s Imaging the Kingdom: Reforming Public Theology) who says:

These are some of the final words of our Father, the one who brought many of us into the struggle for black theological liberation. This memoir must find its way into the hands of future generations of students who need to know that before they found ‘the struggle’ there was a theologian named Cone already deeply committed to it.

Not Your White Jesus: Following a Radical, Refugee Messiah Sheri Faye Rosendahl (WJK) $16.00  I have written about this a few times and erased it each time. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s Christmas, although I do have to think of the Jackson Brown song “The Rebel Jesus.” I do think this new little book would make a fabulous gift to just the right person. Maybe you know somebody you could gift it to. After all, it is His birthday, right?

Anybody who is tired of how it seems that Jesus has been co-opted by the far religious right, as if Jesus was a gun-toting, anti-immigrant, white power Trump-man, will find a breath of fresh air, here, maybe a life-line even. I don’t have to tell you that many justice warriors, well-meaning and often noble kids on the streets in protest of how we’ve surged to the right amidst growing poverty and racism are convinced that Christianity is not for them. This suggests – no, it nearly shouts – otherwise. Jesus was revolutionary in many ways and clearly was not white. Does this bother us? Many who are overlooked by conventional churches would find a home with Him (we know many who were despised by the religious leaders of his day found a home with Him) and this book offers a feisty reminder that Christ was not blond-haired or blue eyed and would not have supported policies of exclusion and violence or quiet support of any status quo this side of New Creation.

We have a lot of books about Jesus and many are more moderate and perhaps more balanced, maybe even more fully accurate. A good friend just re-read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright for the third time! (It’s now out in paperback.) We’ve recently discovered the brand new almost pocket sized A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus: An Introduction to the Man from Nazareth for Believers and Skeptics by the sharp thinker John Dickson from the UK. But this Not Your White Jesus is a radical reminder of some urgent stuff, offering heartfelt conversations and even a Bible study/reflection guide in the back to deeper our engagement with the controversial stuff Jesus taught. Even the cover is “in your face” and would be good for a disillusioned young person.

As Michael Frost says on the back, “Yes, she says things that will likely rub you the wrong way. Maybe she is just trying to be true to Jesus– the radical, brown-skinned, refugee Jesus.” Not Your White Jesus by Sheri Rosendahl is maybe not for everyone, but I bet you could have some great conversations giving it to just the right person. Maybe somebody for whom it would provide a fresh link to the church and to Christian discipleship. Maybe somebody who never really heard just how upside down the Messiah’s Kingdom really was. Why not order one and give it a try!

Once We Were Strangers: What A Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor Shawn Smucker (Revell) $14.99  There is more than one way to skin a cat by dad used to say, by which he meant that there can be several ways to solve a problem. If your hope is to enlighten someone about the Biblical call to peace and justice about the need to be hospitable to strangers, maybe even care for immigrants, one might not have to go full-on didactic by giving a book like the above listed James Cone or Not Your White Jesus. Yes, those will make fabulous gifts for some people but I am quite aware that either could be a real stinker at the lovely Christmas brunch table. But there’s other ways into this conversation.

Shawn Smucker is a dear man, a solid, conventional evangelical, and an excellent writer and thinker. We have touted his last two YA fantasy novels – Beth just finished both and found them hugely entertaining and thought-provoking. (Those are The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There.) We like him a lot and nearly any reader liking a good story would too.

Here is how the back cover starts this riveting, inspiring story:

In 2012, Mohammad fled his Syrian village along with is wife and four sons. Four years later he sat across from Shawn Smucker in a small conference room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Though neither of them knew it Mohammad had arrived in Shawn’s life just in time.

I suppose this is a story of refugee resettlement, of getting involved in social service and becoming an advocate for justice. It nicely tells of how one central Pennsylvania family learned to be aware of the complexities of global concerns and why refugees risk so much to come to a new home. It is even about inter-faith conversation as a Christian and Muslim family. Many people these days would find it interesting, I’m sure.

But more than anything Once We Were Strangers is a story of friendship, and of learning to love. It is an intimate story and it is almost (almost) as simple of that. It will make a truly lovely gift to almost anyone who likes a good story about kindness and love and grace.

Peter Greer runs the amazing micro-financing ministry (globally recognized, based in Lancaster, PA.) He has seen all manner of injustice and global violence and he has seen hope and change. He is a remarkable social entrepreneur and Christian leader. Listen to him as he talks about this book by his friend Shawn Smucker and this nice new book; Greer says it offers,

A glimpse into the bridge-building, fear-silencing, life-affirming gift of cross-cultural friendship.

FOR ONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN SCIENCE (AND IS A SERIOUS READER)

The Penultimate Curiosity: How Science Swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions Roger Wagner & Andrew Briggs (Oxford University Press) $45.95 This is a big, big book, big in heft (slightly glossy pages make it a bit heavy) and, more importantly, is hefty with a broad vision, suggesting, as the subtitle implies, that it is truly about ultimate questions. The one author is himself a scientist of great renown (in the UK) and the other is a painter. My, my, what a broad set of conversations about life and times, truth and knowledge, heart and mind. It has a lot of fascinating chapters about a range of topics about science and the search for meaning.

Endorsements on the back are quite notable – from Alister McGrath, an evangelical theologian with two science degrees, Malcolm Jeeves, a former President of the Royal Society of Edinburg and prolific author about faith and science, the brilliant Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (who calls it “a path-breaking account, vast in scope, thrilling in detail…”) Even Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury says, simply, “Here is magnificence.”

Impressive to me, too, is that a good friend, herself an accomplished, Harvard-trained scientist and now professor (and her husband, a theologian and cultural analysis in his own right) have said it is among their favorite books on this topic. That is what first turned us on to it, and we’d love to share our enthusiasm for The Penultimate Curiosity with you. Maybe you can share the love, buying one for somebody you know who would like just a large gift.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective Robert Bishop, Larry Funck, Raymond Lewis, Stephen Moshier, John Walter (IVP Academic) $75.00 Hey, this wraps up really nicely and it could find other uses if your recipient grows tired of reading a new science textbook – using it as a door stop is the standard joke for one this size, but I suspect it could hold a small child who has graduated from a highchair. At over 650 pages and slightly oversized this big textbook is simply breathtaking in scope and very, very nicely created. It just came out last week so we are among the first to see it. We are very impressed and eager to tell you about it.

The authors are each professors at Wheaton College; three are proper scientists, one specializes in both physics and the philosophy of science, and John Walton is a renowned professor of Old Testament (with a PhD from Hebrew Union College.) The five of them have team-taught a course on the theories of origins for over twenty years and they offer here both top-notch scholarship and what seems to be a warm sort of collegiality. Dipping in one can just sense the joy of learning, the excitement of big ideas, the big questions about the questions of origins, the bright evangelical perspective and the honest wrestling with the best minds, and best data, out there.

There is much more about science than this sub-topic of the debate about origins, although we do have many books on the study of origins; it is of perennial interest. We also have lots of other books more generally about Christian faith and science (not about origins and evolution.) We had to list this one, though, as it would be a delightfully surprising gift for any geeky scholar who likes this sort of resource. It looks truly wonderful.

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous ideology J.P. Moreland (Crossway) $16.99  One of our go-to customers and friends I call whenever we have a new science book that I want an opinion on just finished this. He quickly urged me to tell others about it. He said it was very, very clear and very, very important. I tend to agree that this philosophical worldview, a reductionism that says that the only things that matter are those things that can be empirically measured, is dangerous. That it leads to a loss of transcendence and proposes in its place a thin sort of secularism nearly denuded of wonder and ultimate value seems evident to me.

 

Not so, everyone. Many disagree, although the debate about this world of wonders is lively.  This discussion is important for all of us, and not just for those in the sciences. In fact, another fabulously rich, brand new literary book explores this questions and makes a somewhat similar case, drawing on history — see George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles: Incarnation, Doubt and Reenchantment by historian Timothy Larsen (IVP; $16.00.)

 

Anyway, if you know anyone who needs to sort through the differences between science (a good, good thing) and scientism (again, the view that “the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality”) this small book by J. P. Moreland cold be just the thing. Give it to anyone who enjoys a healthy respect for science but wrestles with a rigid adherence to scientism. It is a bit philosophical.

The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory Susan Wise Bauer (Norton) $26.95 What a great gift idea this is for those who are interested in the history of the development of science in the West and who want to dip in to concise summaries of hundreds of major theories, key thinkers, chief debates, sprinkled nicely with primary source quotes. You may know the very widely read Susan Wise Bauer and her many volumes helping us all develop a well-educated mind. In this book she has arranged short and nearly chatty overviews of hundreds of important and often seminal thinkers and researchers. For each chapter she has a link to her website that offers excerpts of the primary source readings she discusses.

As the title suggests, here you get clear explanations of Aristotle and Ptolemy and learn the advanced made in those early Greco-Roman years. You can read about the chief contributions and work of Copernicus and Galileo, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, on through Darwin and Mendel, Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. She is balanced and insightful about what maters and what the controversies were and, even as a conventionally orthodox Christian, she doesn’t shy away from the vast implications of new discoveries, from natural selection to relativity and big bangs. Bauer guides you through them all, explaining who these discoverers were, the era in which they worked and how to appreciate the particular points she makes and the excerpts she offers. This is a college level history of science in one good volume, the best book of this sort with which we are familiar. Somebody you know is going to love it.

FOR ONE INTERESTED IN SCIENCE WHO IS NOT VERY WELL READ (YET)

Scientists of Faith: 48 Biographies of Historic Scientists and Their Christian Faith Dan Graves (Kregel) $15.99 Graves is a life long reader (with a degree in library science) so has access to resources that many of us simply don’t know about. In this nice little volume he tells the Christian testimonies of many important scientists, drawing from their own biographies and letters, showing how many of the important researchers did so out of a deep motivation to understand God’s world and worship God with their learning. It is actually very interesting to hear about so many scientists from earlier historical periods in so many fields doing good academic and scientific research. A nice gift for a high school student, perhaps, or young collegiate.

A Little Book for New Scientists: Why and How to Study Science Josh Reeves (IVP) $12.00 This is truly a pocket sized book, a perfect stocking stuffer for a sciency high school student or a young collegiate. This publisher is affiliated with the great campus ministry organization (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, known on campus often as I-V) and they know well the struggles and joys of a young person of faith learning to use their minds for God, sensing an interest in science, and they want to help those students take up their science classes as holy callings. There is no dilemma here; science isn’t a battleground against faith (although there are some science profs who hold to a naturalistic philosophy of scientism which is itself an a priori belief which isn’t exactly scientific itself.) So there are philosophical questions about the assumptions of science and what science does and can do so this little guidebook delightful lays the groundwork for such faithful scholarship. It is short and clear and interesting, surely a blessing for one who hasn’t ever read anything like this. It’s a good start.

The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl Giberson & Francis Collins (IVP) $22.00 This nice hardback is often our main “go-to” book for one who wants to read about the ways to think about science from a balanced, winsome Christian worldview. There are many others, some more complex, some more strict in one way or another, but this, written almost in a Q & A format, construed by two very impressive Christians scholars. Giberson is an educator and Collins is a world-renowned geneticist, former head of the team mapping the human genome.) They do help us embrace both science and faith without compromising either – they do not reject standard views of evolution, by the way. It’s very nicely done, smart and helpful.

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design edited by J.P. Stump with Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, and Stephen Meyer (Zondervan) $19.99 For some on your holiday gift list, this may not be of interest, but there are others that simply must have a book like this — they are just itching to figure this out and want each side to have a fair hearing. This “four views” point-counterpoint offers each view a good-sized chapter to present their case and then the other three views respond. This new 2018 release really offers the “state of the conversation” about origins among evangelicals. Represented are “young earth creationism”, “old earth/progressive creationism”, “evolutionary creation” and “intelligent design.” This book is fascinating!

FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture, and Computer Technology Derek Schuurman (IVP Academic) $18.00  I have reviewed this more than once at BookNotes and each time suggest how very important it is. Derek has a very comprehensive and integrated Christian mindset and his worldviewish perspective informs how he thinks about his field of computer science. Consequently, it is almost a one-of-a-kind sort of book.

Of course Schuurman affirms and takes delight in the goodness of God’s world and our ability to create digital technology. He understands how sin has distorted and brought ideologies and bad thinking to bear on our science, even in his beloved field of computers. And, yet, as a Christian, he is a person of hope and renewed practices, discerning how belief in Christ’s redemption has implications for restoring this good, but damaged world of computer technology. See what a great framework he’s got – good creation/sinful brokenness/hopeful redemption — to explore the ups and downs of our life with computers. This is a must-read for anyone working in the field, the most foundational book we know. I’m sure somebody would benefit from it and be glad to find it with a real ribbon. Not digital. Ha.

Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal Craig M. Gay (IVP Academic) $25.00 We will be naming this as one of the most important books of 2018 so we will be tempting you to buy it in an upcoming BookNotes. But surely you know someone who works in (or is fascinated by) modern technology. From industrial engineering to computer culture, we have come to realize that technology is not neutral. It effects us. It is – as Schuurman, above, remind us, made by God, but distorted by sin. Things are blessed and cursed, good and bad. How do we navigate all that intentionally and faithfully? This is a thoughtful, balanced, important work and we are so grateful for its robust theological vision and “in the world but not of it” Christian perspective.

Listen to what the always-wise Gordon Smith – who has written books on vocation and calling, on spirituality and prayer, on institutional intelligence in leadership, and more – says of it:

One of the most critical conversations of our day is quite simply this: How do we manage the machines and technologies that intersect our lives in a way that is consistent with our core Christian commitments? Craig Gay in this volume makes an invaluable and essential contribution, helping his readers think critically and more clearly about aspects of our daily experience that we all too easily take for granted. And part of the strength of this contribution is that Gay insists we need to think theologically about technology ― that is, to view technology and respond to technology in light of the Triune God and a biblical understanding of what it means to be the church. And, of course, to then respond to the challenge of our day in a way that is intentional, discerning, and hopeful.

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto Jaron Lanier (Vintage) $15.00 Lanier is a programmer and the father of virtual reality technology. It is said about him that, “he was a pioneer of digital media and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture.”

Okay, we’ll cut to the chase. This pioneer and secular evangelist of computers and the admittedly genius programmer has come to realize that it isn’t as simple as that and that our obsession with digital life has significant dangerous implications. Interestingly, he says some of these concerns were nearly “baked in” to the very cake, woven into the very fabric of the earliest days of digital life. As the publisher explains Lanier “discusses the technical and cultural problems that have unwittingly arisen from programming choices that were “locked in” at the birth of the digital age.”

Give this to anyone in the computer science or IT field, to any student dabbling in this geeky stuff, to anyone who needs to consider a prophetic critique coming from deep inside the edgy digital industry itself. Jason Lanier is a persuasive and important new critic, offering what one reviewer called “a necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technology debates.”

This is not an intentionally religious book (just so you know) but think it is a valuable contribution, perhaps somewhat akin to Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly by the late Neil Postman. Does that help? Who can you give one of these to? Be prepared for some hefty conversations!

By the way, I just have to give a quick shout-out: if you know any parents of almost any age, you should be sure they have the small but fabulous The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch (Baker; $14.99.) It is so very wise, thoughtful, interesting, accessible. I like that it has this balanced view that tech isn’t bad or neutral, either. It really does effect us and we must steward the gift well. It’s a gem and if your younger parents don’t have it, you should get it for them. They will thank you.

 

 

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology Ellen Ullman (MCD/FSG) $27.00 Wow. With rave reviews in Wired and great blurbs from the likes of cultural critic Sherry Turkle (and, curiously, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks) two things, at least, are evident, and will help you determine if this would be a cool gift for somebody you care about. First, the writer knows her stuff: she is an original voice, to be sure, but she is telling a story that is nearly a memoir. She is a coder and works as a woman doing this odd, techie work. What kind of person gives us our latest digital gizmos and makes them work as they do? Who cooks up and then actually designs the digits and dots that make them flow? Ullman builds worlds with the software she builds. As we know, this is a culture-making, story-telling, soul-shaping thing, for herself and for us. As James K.A. Smith puts it (in You Are What You Love) “the things we do, do things to us.” That is, taking up the technology that Ullman gives us effects us, and shapes our worlds. Ullman knows this and tells her story with vivid grace and tons of detail. Some important reviews have said it is one of the best books of the year.

Secondly, not only is Ellen Ullman informed about the industry, her work doing software and code, she is, also, a novelist. So she knows how to write, to spin this other kind of code, the kind we find in good pages in good books. Guys like Jason Lanier (above) wisely worry about all this – even now people are talking about being post-human. But she helps us understand, the glories and the temptations. As Constance Hale writes in Wired,

Ullman comes with her tech bona fides intact (she is, after all, a seasoned software engineer). But she also comes with novel material . . . We see the seduction at the heart of programming: embedded in the hijinks and hieroglyphics are the esoteric mysteries of the human mind.

The prominent Kirkus Review says this, which I love:

Sharply written, politically charged . . . What Anthony Bourdain did for chefs, Ullman does for computer geeks.

 

FOR SOMEONE WHO ENJOYS THE ARTS

He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art Christian Wiman (FSG) $23.00 From one of our most esteemed poets and talked about theorists of the arts we have a brand new thin hardback ruminating on aesthetics and faith and poetry and creativity and more. This is new and a bit on the highbrow end of things; the brilliant Marilynne Robinson has a blurb on the back saying that Wiman’s poetry and scholarship “have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world.”

She continues, “This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader’s surprise and assent arts one and the same.”

In speaking of his much-discussed memoir My Bright Abyss, Christian legal theorist (!) and attorney David Skeel wrote,

If the nineteenth-century English poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins were transported to early twenty-first century America, this is the kind of memoir height have written.

That quote alone might give you a clue to whom you might gift this heady, mysterious, artful new set of essays.

Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life Thomas Terry & J. Ryan Lister (Moody Press) $14.99 This is a passionate youthful, visionary new book that emerges from the humble beast community, centered in the hip-hop record label with that name. It is no surprise that this carries a foreword by Christian rapper Jackie Hill-Perry. But it is not primarily about hip hop or pop culture – it is the first volume in a series of small, cool books that intend to lay out a Christian apologetic for the arts, why creativity matters, and how God is glorified when people do good, allusive, creative art work. As it shouts on the back cover –  “God is reclaiming creativity for His glory and our good.”

We have lots of books on aesthetic theory and dense Christian studies about the arts – from classics by Calvin Seerveld (Rainbows for the Fallen World, for starters) and Mako Fujimura (see his Refractions, and Culture Care) and everything Square Halo Books publishes (see, for instance, their simply must-have It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God.) But this new Images and Idols is upbeat and a bit intense, cleverly created (no dust jacket) and I think would be really appreciated by any aficionado of contemporary art or who look for signs of life in popular culture.

God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & The Broadway Musical He Inspired Kevin Cloud (Deep River) $15.99 I’m going to be straight up honest with you: I haven’t seen the play and haven’t read the book. But it’s the only one of its kind and it looks pretty solid. And I am almost sure that most of you know somebody who is taken with this play. Or at least the popular soundtrack. Mike Breen – a very energetic and pop culture savvy missional church planter has a rave endorsement (“I cannot recommend it more highly!”) and it does seem to inspire people to reflect on how God works, even in “our own heroic journeys.” There’s a nice blurb on the back by one Lauren Boyd, who is in the Hamilton Broadway cast. She says,

God and Hamilton turned me inside out and revealed a side of Hamilton I had never thought to explore.

 

The Art of Edward Knippers – Prints and Drawings James Romaine et al (Square Halo Books) $19.99  I have talked before, often, about our respect for this remarkable niche indie publisher, a boutique press called Square Halo Books out of Lancaster, PA. Our friends there do books mostly about the arts and the interface of Christian faith and art. They’ve done the aforementioned It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and others such as It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God.

They have a book about teaching art and music (Christianly) and a very good one about the artistic vision of C.S. Lewis. They’ve got one on the theology of Doctor Who called Bigger on the Inside. And more.

 

They have done some marvelous gifty art books, coffee table type books.Their larger sized Beauty Given By Grace:The Biblical Prints of Sadao Wantanabe ($29.99) is known all over the world. It makes a fabulous Christmas gift, by the way.

One of the important things they’ve done is publish a small set of books that are essentially introductions to some very contemporary Christian visual artists. My favorite has full color pictures – some lovely, some disturbing, some vivid, some subtle – and interviews with each of the artists talking about their creative work. It is called Objects of Grace ($19.99) and it is an excellent book to encourage modern artists to be active, doing good work and thinking well about their vocation.

They also have a small series of beautifully designed books of lots of artwork – of, by, and about particular artists. There is one complimenting the work of Mary McCleary. They did one comparing the work of Makoto Fujimura and some previously un-shown works of George Rouault. Their Square Halo Books website shows all their releases and we carry them all. They do make splendid, rare gifts.

They have three in a series called “The Art of…” which, as they say at the website, “introduces artists to the reader with a lavish amount of the artists work woven through several essays on the theological, art historical, and aesthetic merits of that work. The first three books in this series are The Art of Sandra Bowden, The Art of Guy Chase, andjust off the press —The Art of Edward Knippers: Prints and Drawings.

The Art of Edward Knippers: Prints and Drawings was edited chiefly by James Romaine, a very astute art critic and historian. Other important Christian artists have short essays in this provocative little book, including Bruce Herman, Chad Barlett, Steve Prince, Danika Bigley, and, again, James Romaine.

Knippers is legendary for his very large, very lush, oil paintings – mostly of big Bible characters, many nude, all vivid and energetic. They have drawn some controversy and that will surely be discussed whenever Knippers and his work is studied. This new volume, though, focuses on his sketches and his prints, smaller works that may not be as known. They are very artfully shown in this splendid new art book.

The essays and the artwork, the graphic design of the pages and the thoughtfulness the critics engage the prints make this an extraordinary little volume.

You may want to give these as gifts. The Art of Sandra Bowden is a very lavish hardback, with glossy pages, showing all manner of her beautiful work from her prodigious output. (It sells for $49.99.) Much of her art has a Byzantine feel, and while she is very contemporary, some have said she harkens back to medieval and Renaissance artists.

The Art of Guy Chase one is one we have enjoyed showing and reviewing in BookNotes. The late painter was playful and eccentric, postmodern and surprising. It is colorful and really interesting. What a wild and creative book The Art of Guy Chase is. It sells for $19.99.

FOR ONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN PUBLIC THEOLOGY ESPECIALLY IF THEY”VE READ SMITH’S YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE.

Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99  This is the third and final volume in the much-discussed “cultural liturgies” project, which included two previous books, the mighty and transformational Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation and Imagining the Kingdom: Who Worship Works ($22.99 each.) All three volumes can be purchased in a cool box set for $66.99. I have reviewed them extensively in previous BookNotes and have often said that his very popular You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99)was a summarizing, easier version of the big three. If you know somebody who liked the more concise You Are What You Love volume, why not spring for the boxed set, and give all three together.  Or, just one, even. These are heavier, but they are very, very important and if someone you know is a Smith fan, they ought to have them. They will thank you, later, after they work through them.

FOR SOMEONE FOR WHOM YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BUY

Here are five fascinating books that might surprise just about anyone. They are handsome and unique and special.

Four Birds of Noah’s Ark: A Prayer Book from the Time of Shakespeare Thomas Dekker, edited by Robert Hudson (Eerdmans) $17.99 Again, this is one of those books that I have talked about often this past year, and we named it a best book of last year. From the beautifully crafted design, the cover and fonts, to the back-story of how this little-known literary classic came back in to print, Four Birds is a bookseller’s dream. I think it is a book-lover’s dream, too, and many of our customers have agreed. What a joy to have and to hold. Congratulations to Eerdmans (and poet and Bible scholar Robert Hudson) for daring to bring this nearly-lost volume back to print.

As I’ve written before, Four Birds of Noah’s Ark was written amidst the Black Death in the very early 1600’s in London. Each set of prayers—beautifully crafted, Biblically-rich, theologically-mature — comes from one of the four birds, each around a constellation of concerns.  It’s a curious metaphor and structure, but what is most interesting is that this prayer-book full of these four different sorts of prayers, was in print for centuries, finally going out of print in the early 20th century (1924 to be exact.) Hudson rediscovered it, edited and adapted it with just a bit with some helpful annotations; his own preface is itself glorious, by the way, and repays repeated readings. Eerdmans Publishing Co. created a handsome volume (with two color ink and lovely engravings), bringing it wonderfully back into print after this hiatus of nearly a century. I think it would make a very nice gift to any number of book lovers on your list.

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $21.99 I so enjoy this author and commend any of her books. But this is one of these compact sized hardbacks that is just so nice to hold and which is so inviting. Interestingly, it is a book that we’ve heard customer rave about – sort of a spirituality of getting things done, but with a poetic, leisurely tone. It is from a Christian perspective of course, but is perhaps the least overtly religious books she has done. That is, you could give it to all most anyone. It is a treat, a gem, a lovely little hardback.

 

We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together Jean Vanier (Paraclete) $19.99 This is a sweet, small, hardback volume that offers the reflections of this living saint and Winner of the Templeton Prize. You may recall that Vanier is a master of writing about community and has given his life to offering care and hospitality among the mentally and physically challenged. (Henri Nouwen famously went to one of Vanier’s L’Arche communities to live with the disabled in Toronto.) This book actually came out of a retreat Vanier led in Nyahururu Kenya (a land that has been shattered by violence and bloodshed.) There is a powerful endorsing blurb on the back by Ronald Rolheiser notes how Vanier helps us get to a place of feeling accepted, loved. What a graceful little volume this is.

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Your Life Frederick Buechner (Zondervan) $16.99  This came out to not near enough acclaim last year and we still are excited to tell people about it. These chapters were based a serious of mostly unpublished lectures given at Laity Lodge in Texas, years ago. Buechner was inviting his listeners (who I believe included some who where theologically astute, and some who maybe where not, and some artists, too, I heard.) He challenged them to pay attention to their lives, to realize that one’s very remarkable life is being played out in the ordinariness of each day. He asks us to use our imaginations and see the greatness in others, to love others. Pay attention, he says. Who wouldn’t appreciate an eloquent, careful, wordsmith telling stories and calling us to find God in the midst of our daily living? This is an important author and yet a not well known books. Maybe you could surprise someone this season by offering this as a nice little Christmas blessing.

Wisdom: Advent Devotions on the Names of Jesus (Forward Movement Press) $7.00 Okay, friends, let’s get our deep Advent on, here, and share some really interesting news. The O Antiphons are some of the Christian communities earliest prayers, dating to the eighth century monks, or earlier. They are prayers drawing on various names of Christ, starting with the names in Isaiah. You may know some of them as sung in the first phrases of each stanza of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” (Did you know there are, I think, maybe, a zillion verses to that hymn in the ancient church? I’m only exaggerating a little.) And here is what is so interesting – the first letters of the names of Christ (Immanuel, Wisdom, Dayspring, Desire of Nations, etc) – in the initial order as prayed in the O Antiphons, were, in fact, a backward acrostics, spelling “ero cras” in Latin, which means, “tomorrow I come.” Or something like that.

And so, the ancients did the second weeks of Advent with these devotionals and songs known as the O Antiphons, honoring Christ and expressing a desire for His return.

This little book is a collection of short daily meditations offered by a variety of people, each reflecting briefly or telling a story or offering a Scriptural insight about the name of Christ for that week. It’s a late Advent kind of thing, and you could use this over the next several weeks. It might be a fun gift to share at some holiday party.

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Hearts & Minds Christmas gift giving guide — lots of book ideas ON SALE 20% OFF (part 1)

Tis the season for gift giving! Books make great gifts! We can mail them out right away, even gift-wrap for you. And don’t forget the 12 Days and Epiphany. Etcetera. Etcetera. We trust we don’t have to convince you that Pastor Luci or Uncle Tony or sister Melissa or your dear friend at work or your kid’s friend’s parents who helped them out deserve a little something, if not under their tree, then in with the Christmas cookies or fruitcake. We think we can help. Here’s part one of a free-ranging Hearts & Minds gift-giving guide. We’ll do more in a day or so, including a handful of suggestions on books about science, for those interested in racial justice, and some about the arts. And a few novels, and a couple of kids books after that.

By the way, these are almost off-the-cuff suggestions, good, good stuff we have here in the shop, all titles we think are well worth commending. But there are oodles of other suggestions, so don’t hesitate to give us a call if you want us to put our heads together and find other appropriate titles for your special someone, that quirky, hard-to-buy-for friend or relative. Books are such great, substantive presents, and we’re happy to help.

(We can mail directly to your loved ones, too. Let us know if you want us to add a little message and if you want us to gift wrap; with our compliments. We’re happy to help.)

FOR A MAINLINE DENOMINATIONAL PASTOR (or any church leader)

Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: Year C – Volume 2 edited by Joel Green, Thomas Long, Luke Powery, Cynthia Rigby (WJK) $45.00 Volume 2 just arrived yesterday, a few days earlier than we expected, and we thrilled. We sold the new volume 1 (Advent Until Lent) that came out this fall the last few months, so this, the second, (Lent Through Pentecost) is here just in time. They follow the Revised Common Lectionary and offer ideas for sermons through careful study of the Biblical texts (as they connect with the broader Biblical story and as they connect with our contemporary culture) as well as resources for worship planning. If they don’t have Volume 1, yet, that one would make a great gift. Putting them both together (Volume 1 that came out this fall and Volume 2 that just arrived) would be even sweeter. We love wrapping up two-fers.

Learning Theology Through the Churches’ Worship: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs Dennis Okholm (Baker Academic) $24.99 We like this author a lot; with a PhD from Princeton, he how teaches theology at Azusa Pacific and is adjunct at Fuller. He previously wrote a great introduction to the meditative life cleverly called Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants which is really, really good. This is designed as a textbook (he even has an appendix of really great assignments that could be given to supplement this study) but I think anyone who cares about the intersection of worship practices and good theology will adore it. Rave blurbs on the back are from Leanne Van Dyk (at Columbia), Simon Chan (Trinity Theological College), John Witvliet (of the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship), Todd Hunter, and Anglican bishop and founder of a group Okholm works with, the order of the Churches for the Sake of Others. It’s very, very nicely done.

Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey Barbara Melosh (WJK) $18.00 This lovely book — a memoir about a pastor whose ministry did not particularly bear effective fruit and her sense that it was time to leave – could be a appreciated by any pastor, I suppose, but her setting is her calling in the ELCA. (She was also a college professor at George Mason University.) She writes for The Christian Century and is a very talented wordsmith. This really is a great story, poignant, moving. Listen to Richard Lischer (of Duke Divinity School, himself a great author of books on preaching (like the remarkable End of Words) and a quirky memoir of his own small church pasturing (Open Secrets) and a stunning book about the death of his son (Stations of the Heart) as he explains why this would make a great read for pastors:

For anyone who loves the church – or is confounded by it – Barbara Melosh offers an unflinchingly honest account of how one little group of saints and sinners transformed a novice into a pastor. Melosh has the heart of a pastor and writes straight from that heart with great beauty and insight. Pastoral writing at its best!

Here is Dorothy Bass’s great endorsement:

This well-told story of real-life ministry in a small congregation moved me deeply. A pastor and a people come to life in these pages, as heartbreak and hope contend within the worship, the building, and the community they share. I heartily commend Loving and Leaving a Church to anyone who cares about, and worries over, a community of faith that struggles to live as Christ’s body in this time of challenge and change. Pastors who read this book will ponder anew the meaning of success and the contours of faithfulness–and parishioners will see with fresh eyes their own strong role in embodying God’s presence in the particular places where God’s people gather and serve. -Dorothy Bass, Valparaiso University

Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99 I bet you recall that we’ve promoted this several times in previous BookNotes, told about it from up front almost everywhere we went last year, and, of course, awarded it one of the Best Books of 2017. So, I think there may be a few people who haven’t read it yet, so let’s go! To whom can you give this fabulous little novel? It is fiction, with a human-scale plot that unfolds as a series of letters from a down-home, literary, eloquent, thoughtful (Wendell Berry quoting) new pastor of a rather cranky, colorful (if ordinary) small church in a small town. The life of this just-out-of-retirement, seemingly jaded, old pastor who cares well for this new little flock is only part of the story. Love Big, Be Well is a novel about a church and a pastor and a place. The late, great, Eugene Peterson called it a “tour de force” although it seems to me to be a bit to gentle and witty to be that much of a force. Peterson went on to exclaim about Winn’s story that it was the best thing he ever read on pastors and their churches. I think that may be just about right. In any event, it’s a really interesting, well-written read, clearly the best novel I’ve ever read about church stuff. Pastors have loved it although anyone can enjoy it.

FOR ANYONE WHO LIKES TO SING OR APPRECIATES WRITING ABOUT WORSHIP

Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Keith & Kristyn Getty (B+H Books) $12.99 I like these smallish, compact sized hardbacks without dust jackets — something concise and solid about them, without being “too much.” This is a perfect gift for a choir friend or praise team leader you want to thank. The Getty’s are internationally known and loved for their modern hymnody (“Through Christ Alone” and many others.) This is one of the only little books of its kind, offering a substantial, if warm, call to sing. It isn’t a heavy exposition, but it has good Bible and sound (sorry) theology.

Just the other day we passed around a little meme on facebook from the Pope who was praising choirs and song leaders for helping us worship well, but reminded them to never sing in such a way as to drown out or discourage the ordinary members of the gathered congregation. And, wow, did it resonate. There are singers out there who feel discouraged because our professional choirs or rock and roll praise teams are drowning them out, replacing  congregational singing with mere performance. As Thom Rainer says on the back of this little volume, “Sing in not just a book; it’s a revolution!” Joni Eareckson (herself a lovely singer!) has a wonderful blurb on the back and she says, “flip the pages and start singing!” Let’s get this revolution going by giving out a few of these!

FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP

The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future edited by Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale & Christopher Devers (IVP) $28.00  I know there is a pretty large body of folks out there who read, or at least read about, the incredibly important 1995 Eerdmans book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. I don’t have time here to explain the history of that book nor the extraordinary impact that, through God’s grace and some serious work on many fronts, that book generated. In a way, some of our favorite publishers and authors were shaped in significant ways by Noll’s call to be more intentional and serious about developing a Christian Mind. This new book, The State of the Evangelical Mind is a multi-authored volume about the legacy of the Noll book two decades ago. It is a tribute, a sign of hope, and a challenge for those of us who want God’s people to continue to grow in hearts and minds!

There is a short preface by Richard Mouw which itself speaks volumes. (That he quotes the late Rodney Sawatsky, a Canadian Anabaptist who died while President of Messiah College, on how scholarship can reveal hope and love starts the book out just right.) If you know any of the contributors –James K.A. Smith, Timothy Larsen, Lauren Winner and Noll himself, among others – you will know why this book is such a treasure.

Do you know anyone who fancies herself a Christian scholar? Do you know anyone in the academy, wishing to think harder about relating faith and higher education? Do you know anybody who used to read the intellectually stimulating (now defunct) Books & Culture? You should give them this book as it is dedicated to Books & Culture editor John Wilson and his wife, Wendy.

This is a book that means a lot to us, that offers wonderfully interesting essays about the public face of evangelicalism, about the Christian mind, about the call to think well and advance a humane and gospel-centered sort of perspective on the arts and sciences and more. You may know somebody who needs this. It would be a blessing to them, I’m sure.

FOR NASCAR FANS

Racing to the Finish: My Story Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Thomas Nelson) $26.99 I don’t have to say much more. If you are into motor sports at all, or know anybody who loves NASCAR, this name is iconic, and, since the book just came out about a week or so ago, it is a perfect holiday gift. When he retired from professional stock car racing in 2017 he walked away as a healthy man, but had multiple racing-related concussions and was concerned about the “race-at-all-costs” culture that he was a part of, even though he “feared something was terribly wrong.” For the first time, he here tells his behind the scenes story, his notes about the physical and emotional struggled he faced, and how he wanted to end his own storied career on his own terms.

FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES MR. ROGERS OR SAW THE DOCUMENTARY

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers Maxwell King (Abrams Press) $30.00  Believe it or not, this is the first full length, major biography of the Presbyterian saint, and what a beautiful, majestic, work it is. It tells us so much, and is so interesting! The Good Neighbor looks at Fred’s growing up years, his call to ministry and years at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and involved in Western Pennsylvania Presbyterianism, his dream to found the innovative, gentle TV show, and his legendary vocation in media making a difference in the lives of the nation. This is a handsome, fascinating volume, almost 400 pages, with some wonderful pictures. As jazz great (and Fred’s friend and associate) Wynton Marsalis says, “Fred Rogers was one of a kind – an American original like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash. There was no one like him.” This book tells the real story with insight and care.

For those who are truly serious fans you may recall that we often recommend the insightful study of the values and politics of Fred and his show well researched and well told by near-by Elizabethtown College religion professor Mike Long. It might make a great gift for some fan on your list, too. It’s called Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers (WJK; $17.00) and it is really informative, inspired by reading his many notes and letters and remarks about many of the most influential episodes. It is remarkably revealing and should be better known!

 

FOR SOMEONE WHO LOVES THE FICTIONAL MITFORD SERIES

Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim’s Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series Jan Karon (Penguin) $20.00  Of course, if they don’t have the whole batch of Mitford novels, you could always order the next one in the series your loved one needs to read. Or just buy the whole set for some lucky recipient.

But if they’ve visited (or revisited) Jan Karon’s fictional Mitford town and the lovely church there pastored by Father Tim, then this is the book for them. Here is what I wrote about it once before: When we announced this a month ago a few customers were just tickled – what fun! This is a collection of various sermons and prayers by the fictional Father Tim of the beloved Jan Karon Mitford novels. Ms. Karon adds some of her own reflections about the inspirational parts of the stories and her own hopes and prayers. This is a lovely, real, book of devotion and prayer, even if from the pen of a storyteller. What fun.

Father Tim is, of course, a very good guy and his prayers and Bible studies and sermons are well worth considering. This compact-sized hardback would make a great gift for anyone, but certainly for those that love Mitford.

FOR ONE WHO APPRECIATES FINE LITERARY ESSAY

What Are We Doing Here? Essays Marilynne Robinson (FSG) $27.00 Okay, I don’t want to get too highbrow or smug here, but Robinson is a Christian and a John Calvin scholar who wrote one of the great modern novels, Gilead (for which she won the Pulitzer Prize!) By the way, if you need to give a gift for one who likes good fiction, you should right away order from us Gilead, the sequel, Home, and the final in her trilogy, Lila.

Robinson was a favorite of the former President Obama, by the way, so reading her dense, serious-minded essays just might be a statement of principle – we must keep alive our interest in this sort of public intellectual, even if our current leaders seem not to have the time or stomach for it.

This is a serious collection of more than a dozen essays about deep things that matter; most were first delivered as lectures at some of the world most acclaimed universities. A few were given at churches, some appeared in academic journals or public publications like The Nation. My, my, that this book exists is notable; it is a valuable cultural artifact. It is also interesting, for those that have ears to hear, that one of the first book launch events for this prominent work was at a special commissioned lecture delivered at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  I don’t know who you should give it to, but anyone who reads deeply in essays and big questions, seekers, skeptics, philosophers, cultural pundits. It isn’t terribly religious sounding, for what it is worth, not what I would call “apologetics” although, in a nuanced way, it presents a case for a well lived and ordered life in a world of meaning.

FOR ONE WHO LOVES ANIMALS AND MAGICAL CREATIVE WRITING

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals Sy Montgomery, illustrations by Rebecca Green (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $20.00 This is an immediately attractive book for those that like creative and whimsical design, but don’t let the colorful, child-like look confuse you, let alone dissuade you, for considering this extraordinary, thoughtful, beautifully-written book. I forget how we first discovered this – maybe from the brilliant Brain Pickings blog by the genius Maria Popova. It’s that kind of book: about nature and science and human psychology and meaning; it is full of nuance and wit, the wonder of life and startling truth. It is, as the subtitle suggests, a study of what it means to learn from a certain animal, with each chapter exploring a certain creature.

The first line of the just-jacket reads: “Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative.” Indeed. How to Be a Good Creature is a great read for anyone who loves animals, for those who sense they are connected well to other living things, or who exhibits great empathy. This memoir is for the curious and caring, what one reviewed called “a rare jewel” and what another described as “a superbly crafted memoir,” saying it “brims with wonder, empathy, and emotion.”

FOR FANS OF BONHOEFFER

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler John Hendrix (Amulet) $16.99 I do not have to say much about this other than to announce that it is a top-rate graphic novel, complete with all the features you’d expect – good illustration, graphic design, sidebars and illuminations, all done as a modern day “cartoon” biography. It is so exceptionally well-done that it recently was award a prestigious graphic design award from professional association of graphic novelists and publishers. Want to attract a young person to the powerful, complicated story of Bonhoeffer? There is a youth version of Eric Metaxas’s lively Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr Prophet Spy that is good for serious middle schooler or younger teens, but this cool graphic novel is ideal for any who read in this genre. Brilliant!

The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in an Age of Trump Stephen R. Haynes (Eerdmans) $19.99   I hope you saw my longer essay about this book when it came out a month or so ago; it is valuable and sure to be interesting for anyone who has already read a bit by and about Bonhoeffer. It is really true that many authors and churches and movements have appropriated Bonhoeffer for their own theological agendas and social causes, and that Eric Metaxas marshaling support for President Trump by suggesting that we are in a “Bonhoeffer moment” is only the most recent and most egregious example. Haynes looks at Bonhoeffer, of course, but more, about those who read and interpret and claim him as their own. Yep, he’s critical of Metaxas and spends a lot time explaining why. For the record, I happen to like Eric and appreciate his books. But given his platform these days beyond the books, this Haynes book is very, very important.

FOR ANYONE WHO WATCHED THE ROYAL WEDDING

The Power of Love: Sermons, Reflections & Wisdom to Uplift and Inspire Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $20.00  We were happy to highlight this in our last BookNotes but just have to list it again. Michael Curry is an American Episcopalian, a black preacher who just oozes an enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God and the transforming power of love. That his great sermon about love offered during the wedding that was watched around the world went viral was a testimony to the hunger many have for some connection to God’s love and to social transformation inspired by the ways of Christ. If you know anybody that talked about that sermon last Spring, why not underscore their interest by offering this very handsome little gift book, a collection of fine sermons by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church.

Here is what I wrote about it last week:

What a great little gift book this would make, ideal to give to unchurched folks, even. Who didn’t hear about the extraordinary sermon preached at the 2018 Royal Wedding? It certainly went viral. That sermon about Christian love is here along with other important messages delivered by this energetic black preacher. Rev. Curry (who has a little paperback about robust discipleship called Crazy Christians and a memoir called Songs My Mama Taught Me) is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  One of the great talks reproduced here is a message he gave to their annual conference called “The Good Life” and it is good for anyone!  Another was given at the National Cathedral – “Welcome to the Movement.”

The book is small and has purple end papers, some gold ink, and a presentation page. It’s a nice little collection, but the “Power of Love” sermon preached for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is what will make it of interest to some. It was fun announcing the release of this brand new book to Episcopalians who were gathered with Becca Stevens whose own tag line is “Love Heals.” Do you believe there is power in love? This book will remind you of the truest truths about this very thing.

FOR ONE WHO LOVES A GOOD STORY ABOUT FAITH AT WORK

Stronger Than Steel: The Wayne Alderson Story R.C. Sproul (Nancy Alderson McDonnell) $20.00 This book deserves a much longer review but I must be brief here. We think it would make a nice gift for any number of people and we are one of the few stores that stock this new edition, re-issued by Wayne Alderson’s daughter, Nancy, who continues his work as a consultant teaching about respect in the work-world.

Conservative, Reformed Christians may know of the late R.C. Sproul and his serious teaching ministry that continues on as Ligonier Ministries, based in Florida. Ligonier, however, is in Western Pennsylvania, and in the 1970s, when Sproul lived there, East of Pittsburgh, he started what was called the Ligonier Valley Study Center, sort of a Western Pennsylvania L’Abri where he lectured often about human dignity, social ethics, the arts, and cultural renewal. In those years he met Wayne Alderson and helped him tell his story in this lively biography. By telling of Alderson’s brave work as an agent of reconciliation in the steel industry, he furthered an agenda of offering a social philosophy that honored working class people, that sought true dignity in the workplace, and that offered a vision of the dignity of all labor.

For those that follow theological discussions and movements, I know that Sproul was reading Abraham Kuyper a bit in those years and thinking about the social implications of the gospel for all of life, including work and business and the marketplace.

Wayne Alderson was quite a man, and we met him a time or two in those years (when we, too, were following Sproul around Western PA and coming up with the idea for the now legendary Jubilee Conference.) The very short version of a much longer and fascinating story is that Alderson worked for management sent to close a failing foundry south of Pittsburgh where he helped the workers in part by doing Bible studies with them in the shop, by showing them God’s love for them as blue collar union men (most were men) as well as their families. By proclaiming God’s purpose for meaningful labor and the goodness of successful work, for economic and social justice in the workplace, and for honoring the dignity of all in what he called “the value of the person in the workplace” he made a few enemies but a whole lot of friends. He was making a difference, as we say.

In a way, this was more radical and relevant than all the speeches of the AFL-CIO and Teamsters… remarkably, the back of the book has endorsements by Lloyd McBride, then President of the United Steel Workers and the then-chairman of the National Steel Corporation. I bet this is the only book in America that has blurbs from such disparate individuals, representing labor and management who are usually locked in a cold war struggle for the heart of industry. But, as Dorothy Kelly (an old civil rights activist) put it, “Wayne Alderson is prophetic. He is the Martin Luther King, Jr. of the work world.”

As Stronger Than Steel tells, there were some miracles at Pitron, the plant which Alderson was commissioned to close, and some struggles with his own bosses as he insisted that these workers could come through and turn the plant around, if they were treated with God-give grace and respect. The plot thickens a bunch of times as this WWII vet meets the (rather blue-collar) Calvinist theologian affectionately known as RC and they continue to promote what eventually became known as “Theory R” management, where R stood for respect.

If you know anyone who is interested in the faith in the work-world movement and is thinking about the meaning of labor from the vantage point of a Christian worldview, or engaging in any sort of marketplace ministry, this amazing story is well worth sharing with them.

If you happen to know anyone who is a fan of Ligonier Ministries or collects the many books of RC Sproul, Stronger Than Steel is not well known and has been out of print for decades. (It was first published by Harper & Row in 1980.) We are thrilled that Wayne’s daughter Nancy got it republished with a new chapter.

FOR FANS OF WALTER BRUEGGEMANN

Tenacious Solidarity: Biblical Provocations on Race, Religion, Climate, and the Economy Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $29.00 If you know you’ve got a Brueggemann fan on your list this year, and you don’t know about this brand new book – it released just a few weeks ago! – then hearing about this book here, now, may capture your prophetic imagination. Ha! Yep, the author of that classic work, The Prophetic Imagination, published forty some years ago, is still at it. This is a heavy collection of bunches of sermons and Biblical scholarship talks and homilies and lectures (all delivered or written 2014 – 1018) that shows forth Brueggemann’s ongoing relevance as he relates Biblical teaching to these controversial topics of the day.

And there is no doubt he brings considerable Biblical expertise and provocative passion to the issues he addresses. Out of being steeped in the Scriptures, he condemns racism and injustice, calls out the driving idols behind our disregard of environmental catastrophe, invites us to work for justice and solidarity.

In a way, this is nothing new, just yet another great collection of mighty sermons by this figure that looms large over all Biblical studies (especially Old Testament) scholarship today. But yet, it is urgent, a major release, so very, very important.

FOR ONE WHO WANTS TO KNOW GOD BETTER

Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness Michael Card (IVP) $16.00  Some days I have to pinch myself, reminding myself that we’ve got this job and get to do this work. I thought of that the other day when this beautiful new book by Mike Card – singer-songwriter, recording artists, Christian rock star, literally – showed up a few days ago. When Mike visited Hearts & Minds a few years ago we briefly talked about books he had in him, so to speak, artistic hopes, authorial dreams. He is one smart guy, and we are very, very glad to be able to announce this brand new book on the nature of God. He’s been thinking about this a while, and I am sure it will be excellent, well-informed and practical, too.

It would make a great gift for anyone hat follows Michael Card, but whether you know his soft rock, singer-songwriter music or not, or even his other books or not, Hesed is going to be a wonderful, wonderful read and a very great resource. And it’s brand new!

Here is a very nice description from the publisher:

God’s identity is beyond what we could ever fully express in human words. But Scripture uses one particular word to describe the distinctiveness of God’s character: the Hebrew word hesed.

Hesed is a concept so rich in meaning that it doesn’t translate well into any single English word or phrase. Michael Card unpacks the many dimensions of hesed, often expressed as lovingkindnesscovenant faithfulness, or steadfast love. He explores how hesed is used in the Old Testament to reveal God’s character and how he relates to his people. Ultimately, the fullness of hesed is embodied in the incarnation of Jesus. As we follow our God of hesed, we ourselves are transformed to live out the way of hesed, marked by compassion, mercy, and faithfulness. Discover what it means to be people of an everlasting love beyond words.

FOR SPORTS FANS

Sport, Faith, Life Brian R Bolt (Calvin College Press) $9.99 This is a small, almost pocket-sized paperback but it is mature, thoughtful, crisp, and insightful. Too many books that attempt to develop a uniquely Christian perspective on sports and athletics fall into one or two errors. Either they are merely devotional, using a muscular sort of faith writing to inspire jocks. I suppose there isn’t anything wrong with that, although some athletes I know are super smart and mature theologically, so they need more than “God will help you win” sort of devotional bromides in their daily spiritual reading. On the other hand, there are a handful of very heady Christian studies of the philosophy of athletics and they are so sociological that they don’t seem particularly relevant for ordinary athletes or sport fans. If the one sort is a little too lightweight, the other extreme includes books that are for scholars, not sportsman and women. Sport, Faith, Life is a breath of fresh air, meaty and mature yet not too heady or heavy. (It is part of a series called “shorts” which allow good scholars to do nice summaries of their work without getting too bogged down. Perfect!)

Brian Bolt is a professor of kinesiology and men’s golf coach at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, a school known for some winning sports teams, by the way. He is involved in an intercollegiate faith/sports association that recently authors “A Declaration of Sport and the Christian Life.” He has become a rising spokesperson in this whole arena of relating sports and Christian faith.

This new book is a gem, short and easy, but pushing us to think deeply and act faithfully. We need to play sport the way we live life, he observes, “depending on our Creator in every moment and in every action. That means learning how to love God and neighbor better, how to turn away from thoughts and actions that dishonor God and harm ourselves and others.” He talks in this book about “how to both be wary of our own desires and to delight in the good things that God has made.” God does delight in this world – including the world of sports! This book helps us experience that, in life, and on the sports field, “tastings the pleasures of organized play.”

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood Jeffrey Marx (Simon & Schuster) $24.00  Marx is a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports journalist who often writes for Sports Illustrated. He is not particularly known as a religious writer, but here he tells the story of a devout evangelical football star, Joe Ehrmann. (Ehrmann, who has since written his own book called InsideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives) played for the Colts when they were still in Baltimore. He left his championship fame and headed off to seminary, only to start a bunch of inner city youth sports teams, which he believed would transform their lives. Marx tells the story well, and what a great story it is. Season of Life is one of the great, inspiring sports stories of our time. It’s a very nice hardback, which makes a great gift.

By the way, the award-winning Jeffery Marx’s next book was also about a Christian football player and of course we stock it and recommend it. It is called The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for Life (Simon & Schuster; $15.99) which was about Brian Kinchen, a 38-year-old father and Sunday school teacher who took up a position as long snapper for the New England Patriots.

As one reviewer put it, “In the hands of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Marx, Brian’s remarkable true story becomes a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit.“

 

After the Lights: Find Meaning Beyond College Athletics in Five Simple Steps Mark Steffey (CreateSpace) $11.99  I’ve told you about this before, but it would make a surprising little gift to any college athlete or any college athlete who has been out of school for a few years. It is a novel, written by friend who works for the CCO doing campus ministry with college athletes. It asks the question, in a fun, storytelling way, what comes next for one whose identity is too wrapped up in being a sports figure. Few college athletes really get to pursue professional sports so here Mark offers helpful principles about identity and healthy transition out of the college sports scene. This easy-to-read paperback just might be a lifeline, or at least open the door to good conversations about what comes next…

FOR ONE WHO BELIEVES GOD CAN BE FOUND IN ALL ORDINARY THINGS

Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in all of Reality Gerald R. McDermott (Baker Academic) $22.99 This is surely one of the best books of the year, a fabulous, solid, wise study of what we used to call “general revelation.” That is, we all know God speaks to us in the Bible, but does not the Bible itself teach that God is present in all things, that the stuff of life – starts, meals, seeds, even fish, according to Job – can speak to us? This is a book about all that, about how there is an ordinary sort of ‘earthy’ glory, a holy realization of God upholding all things in the creation, everywhere, always. Many have made this point in recent years – just think of Norman Wirzba’s concise but dense study of why we should speak of “creation” rather than “nature” – and McDermott is helpful and reliable, not drifting off to goofy pantheism or overly mystical sentiment.

McDermott is the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson at the Samford University and there are endorsements on the back from evangelical scholars from Regent University, the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, by Bruce Ashford (a young Kuyper scholar at Southeastern Baptist) and the extraordinary Peter Leithart (of the Theopolis Institute) who calls it “richly suggestive.” After suggesting that McDermott is himself also a Jonathan Edwards scholar, he continues, “McDermott calls our attention afresh to the types of the kingdom that teem around us in nature, science history, sex, and sports. Read this book, and learn to see the world through new eyes.”

Hey, by the way, how about that beautiful Van Gogh cover? You could buy Steve Garber’s thoughtful Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $17.00) and give them as a pair.  I’m not even kidding! It is a wise and eloquent volume about keeping on, about taking up our callings in a messy world and is one of my most often-mentioned books. It isn’t simplistic, and the rich cover matches it

FOR A YOUNG MOM

Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood Abbie Smith (Kalos Press) $15.95 We’ve mentioned Abbie a few other times this year, naming this book when we could, because we are thrilled to know her, to name her as a faithful friend of the bookstore, and because she is a fine, fine thinker and fine writer. (An early book thrilled us as it explored how college students serve God even in the classroom by thinking Christianly in their majors, and another about sexuality written when she was a passionate, single young adult.) Now she and her husband are stewards of a beautiful, intimate retreat center run by a historic United Methodist Church in Cha and now she talks candidly about their life together in this recent memoir.

Yes, as the title suggests, it is mostly about being a young mom and fairly newly married woman; she tells of their marriage, their struggles with infertility, their urban ministry, hosting great disappointments alongside many life-giving joys. She writes about faith that waxes and wanes. She writes about pregnancy and childbirth and raising little ones. This is a “mommy memoir” but it is prayerful and reflective and a helpful guide for anyone navigating young parenthood who wants to nurture a Biblical faith in the midst of those stretching times. If you know any new moms or soon-to-be-moms, Stretch Marks would make a unique and surprising gift. Highly recommended.

FOR A LEADER

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts Brene Brown (Random House) $28.00 I assume most readers have heard of Brene Brown, the popular social science researcher who has done dramatic books about vulnerability, resilience, hope, recovery from hard stuff, shame, even a spirituality of daring. Maybe you’ve seen her TED talks, or read Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, The Gifts of Imperfection or Braving the Wilderness. It would be a fair guess to suggest that you know somebody who has a BB book on her gift list. We stock them all and could send any of them out, right away.

This new one, Dare to Lead, though, just released about a month ago. Dare to Lead was heralded as a “game changer” by one esteemed Christian friend engaged in marketplace ministry. Brown basically applies the insight of her other good books to the field of leadership, and invites us all to think about creating not only better leadership traits, but renewed, healthy institutions. She has been out on the road in some impressive places preaching this work and some super sharp folks – Brigadier General Brook Leonard of the Air Force, Kwabena Mensah (an ISD Principle of the Year), Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), even the President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios all say that her message to them was very empowering and her book is just remarkable. Who could you give it to this season?

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory  Tod Bolsinger (IVP) $22.00 It isn’t every book we get to announce as a new one more than once but this book – in part because it is very, very good and increasingly respected and cited – was out in paperback last year. In a rare move, the publisher (for some good, technical reasons about getting it reviewed and taken seriously in serious places) re-issued it in hardback! (Usually, a hardcover comes first and is then replaced by a cheaper paperback.) Canoeing the Mountains has had a buzz unlike any other book on leadership I can think of in recent years and we are glad. The new hardback does include a study guide, so it has some value added. It is a must read for leaders in any setting and we are grateful for this astute young theologian who has written a superb, insightful book about navigating change as a leader. You should give this to somebody you know.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN SPIRITUALITY

The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us From Drowning Aaron Niequist (Waterbrook) $19.99  What a book! You may recall our longer review of this earlier, but it is a wild and passionate invitation to participate… using the image of a River, Niequist invites us to join this River (what Jesus called “The Kingdom of God”) and get wet. This book is, playfully following the metaphor, a guide for learning to swim in the wild, moving, eternal current.

But we don’t swim just to keep from drowning; we don’t just want to stay afloat. We join this river as it moves into the world, for the sake of the world and we get carried along for a purpose, in a certain way. This is worldly spirituality, earthy mysticism, creational faith, in but not of the world par excellence!

As it says on the back, “The Eternal Current offers a vision and set of concrete practices for a deeper, more vibrant, beatitude-like faith rooted in sacred memory and holy imaginations. “ Yes, it’s a bit poetic and will appeal to your more mystical friends but you could give it to anyone wanting to learn about lively spiritual disciplines, practices of church (which he calls a gymnasium), ecumenism (we need each other and can’t swim alone), mission (going to church is not the “main event”) and the like. This is missional spirituality, Kingdom living, healthy, vibrant, Christian living more exciting than many have ever imagined. Get one for yourself, too, because whoever you give it to will want to discuss it come mid January or so…

An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation Martin Laird (Oxford University Press) $18.95 Doesn’t the title just sound like it would appeal to someone on your list? This is a compact hardback, just beautiful to hold and handle, and it is mature, thoughtful writing that brings to mind the mystery and depth of Thomas Merton. Some of our customers just loved his first book in this set, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation and then read the handsome companion volume, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation, both published by Oxford University Press ($18.95 each.) This new one, An Ocean of Light looks very special.

A Catholic priest who teaches at Villanova, here is what the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote about Laird and his writing: “This is sharp, deep, with no clichés, no psychobabble, and no short cuts. Its honesty is bracing, its vision utterly clear; it is a rare treasure.”

Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much Ashley Hales (IVP) $16.00 This nice paperback book is just on fire, blazing with good ideas, thoughtful analysis, touching stories, good pastoral advice, deeply rooted in pastoral care and a great fluency in spirituality and good literature, too. (Hales is a pastor’s wife and public speaker and has a PhD in English from Edinburgh; it isn’t surprising that she has written in Books & Culture, The Englewood Review and other solid journals.)

I will be writing more about this later, as we are surely awarding it one of the Best Books of 2018 and I suppose it isn’t quite accurate to put it in the category of “spirituality.” It isn’t mostly about monastic type prayer or contemplative mysticism. But yet, it transcends the “basic Christian living” genre, it’s more than another guide to missional discipleship, although it is that. Her insight about how our built environment does something to us, how our cultural context shapes our desires and longings, our heart’s nature and how we must “find home in the geography of nowhere” puts this into the deeper waters usually found in books about formation. She explores busyness and our fetish for safety. She has chapters on hospitality (“This isn’t Pinterest-Worthy Entertaining”) and how to express vulnerability in the land of cul-de-sacs. Her stories of shalom, her critique of busyness, her reminder about belonging – belovedness! – is just beautiful and vital. I can’t imagine a thoughtful Christian wanting to grow more in her faith and spiritual life who wouldn’t just love this moving guidebook. There are wonderful blurbs on the back from Tish Harrison Warren (of Liturgy of the Ordinary fame) and the excellent Scott Sauls and Jen Pollock Michel. Doras Cheng-Tozun says it is written with “poignant clarity and expansive grace.” Wonderfully done.

Honey From the Rock: Daily Devotions from Young Kuyper Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press) $39.00  I hope you know that although Abraham Kuyper is legendary for being a late 19th century/early 20th century Dutch civic leader and tireless activist for Christian causes (he started a newspaper, a university, a system of Christian schools, studied the sciences, Islam, the arts, encouraged neo-Calvinist philosophers, and formed a unique political party through which he became Prime Minister) he was a deeply spiritual man who who had an intimate sort of piety. Besides his public theology and civic writings, his beloved devotional Near Unto God remains a lovely, mature classic of warm-hearted Bible exposition. Now, for the first time, in a translation by James A. De Jon, we have this massive collection of Kuyper’s early devotional writings, writings that Rich Mouw has called “spiritual sweetness.”

As the publisher has said:

In his meditations, Abraham Kuyper reveals a side of himself unseen in his well-known theological writings. First published in 1880 and 1883 and never before translated in English, the devotions in Honey from the Rock were written for the nourishment and health of his soul. Rather than the public figure and theologian, we see a man thirsting and hungering for God’s presence.

I suppose the publisher made this a massive size (7.4 x 2.4 x 10.2 inches and 600 big pages) so that it can match the volumes being released in the hefty, on-going Kuyper translation project. From his several volumes of public theology exploring common grace to his Pro Rege works to first-time translations on Islam, education, the church, and more, this on-going series is beautiful, but the books are large.  We have them, and will continue to stock them as they are released over the next few years. I suppose this big  new devotional volume is made to take its place alongside those.

Consider these words from two important fans, the widely read Albert Mohler and the long-standing Kuyperian, Richard Mouw:

Imagine opening a collection of meditations by the young Augustine, a young Martin Luther or John Calvin. In this new volume we find a collection of meditations by the young Abraham Kuyper, never before published in English translation. Here are the devotional thoughts of one of the most significant Protestant thinkers of the last 150 years and from the most formative period of his influential life. This treasure is both timeless and timely.

I have been reading Kuyper’s Near Unto God collection of meditations for decades—so much so that I wore out my first copy. He is my favorite devotional writer. And now this wonderful collection of 200 more. I hope all who have come to appreciate Kuyper’s writings on politics and culture in recent years will now taste the spiritual sweetness of Honey from the Rock!

This isn’t a stocking stuffer as some small devotionals are. It is a handsome, hefty volume, and worth every dollar. Do you know anybody that would want Honey from the Rock? Let us know — it would make our day to help you surprise them with this brand new tome.

FOR ONE WHO LIKES THE OUTDOORS

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate Peter Wohllenben (Greystone) $24.95 This book was translated from the German and became a surprising, break-out best seller during the holiday season of 2016, and was a healthy seller throughout the world in 2017. We have been pleased to stock it, and sell a few here and there. It is a handsome, sturdy, smallish hardback that is charmingly beautiful, full of natural history and provocative science and poetic wisdom about the living nature of trees. Did you know their roots communicate, even help each other? The sub- subtitle on the bottom says this work reveals “Discoveries from a Secrete World” and so it does. Wohlleben is brilliant and is know for his other “mysteries of nature” books such as The Inner Life of Animals and The Secret Wisdom of Nature. Given that Christians read a Sacred Book that tells us, in poetic language, that “trees clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12) our ears should perk up when a major New York Times bestseller documents the language of creation. Of course, if you have a friend that is utterly secularized, they might have a bit of wonder restored by learning about our “joyous entanglement in the ancient and ever-new web of being” that one reviewer called “paradigm-smashing.”

Just a little heads up: you’re going to hear just a tiny bit more of this if you check out the much-discussed award winning novel The Overstory by Richard Powers. We’ll discuss novels in the next BookNotes.

Renewal in Love: Living Holy Lives in God’s Good Creation Michael Lodahl & April Cordero Maskiewicz (Beacon Hill Press/Foundary) $14.99  We have so many books on environmental stewardship, creation-care, green theology, climate change, farming, and the like, that if you know anyone for whom you’d like to gift such a book, I’m sure we can find just the right thing. This one is nice, serious but curious, in that it is a call to holiness (Beacon Hill is related to the Nazarene denomination) and shimmers with warm Wesleyan theology and spirituality. Along with so many others these days, Lodahl & Maskiewicz are asking “what is our salvation for?”

For them, they answer that question by saying there is much to do, and that our humanness is deeply connect to our call to steward the garden of God. We are to live for Christ in all of life, including in the ecology of creation care. This is a book about wholistic understandings of salvation, about our relationship to our vocation in the world, about what it means to love what God loves.

They quote good sources, from Augustine to Wesley the theologian to Wesley the hymn writer, from Ellen Davis to Lauren Winner. If only they’d cited N.T Wright or Wendell Berry. Ha. Renewal in Love is a great little book.

Water at the Roots: Poems and Insights of a Visionary Farmer Philip Britts (Plough Publishing) $16.00 I am not being cheap when I suggest that this is an ideal gift for anyone who likes Wendell Berry. Or anybody who farms and appreciates good words. Or anybody who likes very handsomely designed books of prose and poetry. Britts lived from 1917-1949 and was an idealistic, spiritually-motivated, British agrarian. He resisted the injustices of modernity, he cared for his land, and he wrote prose and poetry of the sort that lead the lively evangelical organic farmer Joel Salatin to exclaim “One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read! Alive with profound spiritual and practical insights, Britt’s words are timeless.”\

Wendell Berry’s friend David Kline (who himself has written beautiful books about Amish farmers in Ohio), has the foreword, and Norman Wirzba, theologian and farmer himself, has a lovely endorsement on the back, reminding us that Britts loved the land and its people and creatures. Wirzba says, “For those seeking a healthy and peaceful world, this book will be a provocation to a better way of living.” It is rare and very nicely made and would make a lovely gift.

FOR THOSE WHO LIKE HISTORICAL BIOGRAPHY

7 Men and 7 Women – And the Secret of Their Greatness Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson) $19.99 These collections of very inspiring, informative, well-done short biographies of seven men and seven women were initially published as two separate books. We’ve sold, and still have, them both as single volumes, each in paperback. This great paperback, though, is a combo of both books in one nice, new book. This unique edition combines these two popular books of fourteen individuals who changed the course of history and shaped the world in astonishing way. It would make a nice gift for almost anyone who enjoys history or biography.

Metaxas writes about these women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, St Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. The men are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul 11, and Charles Colson.

Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: 14 People Who Dared to Change Our World David Gushee & Colin Holtz (Brazos Press) $25.99  What a great, urgent read – informative and inspiring – and what a great gift this would make. Who among us doesn’t desire to have greater capacity to offer moral guidance in whatever space we find ourselves? Who doesn’t want to know a bit about how great change has happened in the past and how leaders have marshaled their leadership abilities to speak to the issues of the day? There are books about leadership and there are books about social change and there are books about character formation but this bring it all together as Gushee – himself an ethicist who has learned to speak out and pay up with integrity in aces – and his co-writer studies great moral leaders, their character and their ability to lead.

The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue Collar Conservatism Henry Olsen (Broad Street) $27.99 This is not the place – and at your Christmas party it may not be either – to debate the merits of the controversial but well-loved Ronald Reagan. If you have any conservative politicos on your list (or, for that matter, anyone trying to figure out the appeal of our orange-haired Presidente) this book really could be a great gift. It has a rave, rave review on the back by none other than J.D. Vance (of Hillbilly Elegy.) A not-so-blue-collared guy, the elegant George F. Will, who one simply must respect for his smart, articulate, grace, says “With this nuanced portrait of Ronald Reagan’s political evolution and maturation, Henry Olsen challenges many of his fellow conservatives to rethink, as Reagan did, the art of the possible in the America that the New Deal made.” Other raves from The National Review crew come from Jonah Goldberg and Reihan Salam. This book has garnered a lot of advance praise and we think you may know someone who would enjoy it.

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press) $29.95  This isn’t exactly a collection of straight biographies, but it looks at significant articles and speeches written by an unique array of Christian intellectuals after World War II. What an interesting scholarly bit of research to explore these several scholars and what they did and said in the mid-1940s as they pondered the future of the West. This book by Alan Jacobs that came out in the summer is surely one of the most significant books of this year.

Here is some of what I wrote at BookNotes earlier, shared again now to remind you about it so you might give it as a gift this season. I’m sure some brainy friend or loved one will thank you for putting this under their tree.

Anything Alan Jacobs writes is well worth reading; he is a wise scholar and public intellectual esteemed by many within evangelicalism and beyond. (Dr. Jacobs is distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University.) His most recent previous book is the wonderful 2017 release How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds although we still tout his lovely The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. In some circles he is known for his “biography” of the Book of Common Prayer while in others he is most beloved for the great bio of C.S. Lewis called The Narnian.

In this new Oxford University Press volume, released this summer, Professor Jacobs does a serious historical study of five key scholars standing clearly in the Christian tradition who wrote vital, much-discussed, major works right after World War II, offering prophetic imagination for what might be coming in the years ahead as the vast project of rebuilding and renewing the West would have to occur.

The five thinkers he examines are Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil. What we wouldn’t give for just one of these sorts of weighty, respected scholars, speaking into our time now; can you imagine a publishing year with major works by all five? Can you imagine Christian thinker talking seriously in ways the world would notice about the contours of Western civilization and the need for revitalization?

In 1943 we had extraordinary output of serious Christian cultural analysis by these writers, and Jacobs deftly walks us through what we need to know about these authors and their work. It starts a few years prior, as other historic events and important voices set the stage. (Reinhold Niebuhr, for one; other intellectuals are named, such as, among others, Lewis Mumford, J.R.R. Tolkien, Eric Gill, Jacques Ellul. The good reflection on Ellul, by the way, is in a long afterword.)

Here’s what the book jacket says:

By early 1943, it had become increasingly clear that the Allies would win the Second World War. Around the same time, it also became increasingly clear to many Christian intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic that the soon-to-be-victorious nations were not culturally or morally prepared for their success. A war won by technological superiority merely laid the groundwork for a post-war society governed by technocrats. These Christian intellectuals-Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others-sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.

In this book, Alan Jacobs explores the poems, novels, essays, reviews, and lectures of these five central figures, in which they presented, with great imaginative energy and force, pictures of the very different paths now set before the Western democracies. Working mostly separately and in ignorance of one another’s ideas, the five developed a strikingly consistent argument that the only means by which democratic societies could be prepared for their world-wide economic and political dominance was through a renewal of education that was grounded in a Christian understanding of the power and limitations of human beings. The Year of Our Lord 1943 is the first book to weave together the ideas of these five intellectuals and shows why, in a time of unprecedented total war, they all thought it vital to restore Christianity to a leading role in the renewal of the Western democracies.

Leadership: In Turbulent Times Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster) $30.00  Dr. Doris K. Goodwin is nearly the dean of great historical biography and she has done much extraordinary work, painstakingly researched but retold in lively, entertaining prose, that has been widely recognized and awarded. (She famously earned the Pulitzer Prize for her thrilling Lincoln book Team of Rivals, which was later made into a popular film.) Here, in her most recent, she explores how four great Presidents handled the leadership challenges life and history threw at them. She asks the same sorts of questions of each, discovers how they came to realize their own leadership abilities, explains their context and struggles, and illustrated how each responded. The President she examines include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson

FOR THOSE WHO LIKE HISTORY AND ITS RELEVANCE TODAY

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels Jon Meacham (Random House) $30.00 This is a major book by one of our preeminent popular historians. Meacham, too, has earned the Pulitzer Prize and has done several Ne3w York Times bestsellers. A gift of a big book by him would surely be appreciated.

This sturdy study is just over 400 pages (with full color pictures on the flyleaves) and although it is complex and circuitous – with blurbs by Walter Isaacson and Ken Burns – it’s thesis is simple. We have been here before. We can understand our own critical time in our public lives by looking back at other times in our history when “hope overcame division and fear.”

Here is how the publisher explains Meacham’s project:

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history.

He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women’s rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson’s crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear–a struggle that continues even now.

Meacham reassures us, “The good news is that we have come through such darkness before”– as, time and again, Lincoln’s better angels have found a way to prevail.

Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat Os Guinness (IVP) $27.00 I think this should be a popular Christmas gift this year, and one that we hope is widely shared and widely read. This could be listed in other gift-giving categories as it could be interesting to so many folks. It really is about current affairs, our own critical time, and what we in America (and particularly, Christians in America) can do to understand more deeply and advocate more effectively for a robust, deep loyalty to the great ideals of the American experiment. We are in a time that Guinness fears is the gravest crisis sine the Civil War. Those concerns about our current situation will find it valuable.

But it if is about our contemporary crisis and how to recover a commitment to the ideas and structures and freedoms of the Republic, creating room for all in authentic, covenantal freedom, we must draw on the past. We must know our history.

In many ways, Last Call for Liberty is a study of contrasts. Although he covers much ground, Guinness continues to work out the implications of this refrain, that there are ideas and ideals from two great revolutions vying for the American heart and mind and the differences between the two make a large difference. He is referring to the American revolution of 1776 and the French revolution of 1789. Which view of freedom most animates us? What sort of social architecture do we need – what kind of civil society and civic life to undergird it – will provide the structure for civility and freedom? Will the vision of self-rule and liberty and freedom for all offered in 1776 continue in our time? Can we hold the visions of 1789 and expect to bear good fruit? If you know anyone who reads about American intellectual history, especially stuff about the founding fathers, the constitution, and the ideals of the revolution – and how it was codified into American law and justice, and the undoing of it in recent years – Last Call for Liberty is a must read. Whether they agree fully or not, they will thank you for sharing such an informed and eloquently impassioned read.

Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac Steven D. Smith, with a foreword by Robert George (Eerdmans) $48.00 Here is a new, very lively book by an esteemed, conservative legal theorist that not only has a foreword by the brilliant Princeton prof Robert George, but carries endorsements from Douglas Laycock (of University of Virginia Law School and perhaps the leading scholar on the history of religious freedom questions), the wonderful John Inazu (we’ve often lauded his book Principled Pluralism ) and Anthony Kronman of Yale Law School. It is wide ranging – one reviewer said it “canvasses a broad landscape of history, law, political theory, and religion…”

Pagans and Christians… is lucid, and yet creative, suggestive of perhaps new ways to get around the feisty culture war debates. As Professor Kronman says, “Secularists and believers alike have much to learn from Smith’s careful, balanced and generous account.” Smith will firstly appeal to thoughtful conservative but I sure that anyone with an interest in the intellectual history of our troubled times will find this rewarding.

FOR ONE WHO WANTS TO (OR NEEDS TO) “COUNT THEIR BLESSINGS”

Grateful: The Transforming Power of Giving Thanks Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99  Diana is an important religious scholar and historian and a progressive theological critic of the status quo, the Christian right, and those forces that align faith and injustice. I have read all her books from her fascinating memoir of her faith journey through various sorts of Episcopal churches and her good studies of congregational life to the tremendous book about down-to-Earth spirituality called Grounded.

I hope you saw my review of Grateful where I said that I was a little surprised that someone of her thoughtful religious analysis and deep concern for the laments of the poor and marginalized would do a book about gratitude. But I also said that that was dumb of me; sure, some gratitude journals and cheery “count your blessings” facebook memes are shallow and cheesy, but, surely, there is good reason to be grateful and good research that indicates that deep gratitude is healthy. And as she writes (along with a rare few, such as Mary Jo Leddy or Joan Chittister she shows that this Christian virtue actually is subversive, deconstructing our earn-earn-earn late modern capitalist culture. As Brian McLaren puts it, “Diana Butler Bass writes about things that matter, and she does so with graceful, accessible intelligence.”

I like this lovely blurb from the always-interesting James Martin who says

Diana Butler Bass unpacked the various graces and challenges associated with expressing thanks. I found myself grateful to her for this deeply spiritual book.

I think you could give this to anyone interested in the topic, or those who are a bit too jaded to admit they might enjoy something like this. Know anybody all worked up about the Trump fiasco? I’m telling you, this could help.

FOR A CURIOUS BIBLIOPHILE

A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why – a Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99 I suppose most H&M friends and mail or fans already know about this but forgive me for tooting this horn just a bit and suggesting that it would make a nifty gift. (Heck, Beth and I could even sign our little part.) It is a remarkable book, sort of modeled (we’re told) after the sometimes-epic BookNotes where I name my favorite must-reads on a given topic. Here you get NT Wright listing (just for us) his most recommended New Testament books, annotations of cookbooks by Andi Ashworth, the fabulously interesting Karen Prior Swallow offering great novels, Image Journal founder, Gregory Wolfe naming memoirs, and so many more. From friends like Brad Frey and Steve Garber to nationally known writers as diverse as Dave Gushee and Calvin Seerveld, this collection has something for everyone. And it does help support our project here – moving them out into the world would be a real help. So let us know how many you’d like! Your curious book lover friends will be amazed.

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life Anne Bogel (Baker) $14.99  Wowie, I’d think this could be given to almost anyone who loves books, or anyone who knows that you love books. Anne Bogel is a very popular blogger (she was the creator of Modern Mrs. Darcy) and does the podcast What Should I Read Next? Anyway, this is a thin, compact hardback and makes a perfect stocking stuffer or thank you gift. (Have you thanked those who recommended good books to you lately?) It has tons of substance, oodles of fun stories appealing to anyone who loves the reading life, and some great book suggestions. It has some nice, pastel artwork, so I suppose it is designed more for women readers, but if a guy is a true bibliophile, they’ll love it, too. Trust me. What a lovely little gift and book lover’s delight. And, might I add, it would be ideal to nurture the passion and skills of reading widely for teens or college age young adults, too. It is amazing how many who are even taking classes at universities aren’t real book lovers. This book can help give ‘em the bug.

FOR A SERIOUS READER OF CLASSIC LITERATURE

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior (with a foreword by Leland Ryken) Brazos Press $19.99 I am sure you’ve seen the many columns we’ve done touting this book earlier this fall. We described her lovely visit here to the shop and the lecture, reading, and conversation that ensued. If you follow her on social media you may have realized she has many, many fans and this book has become one of the most talked about book within the religious publishing world this year. It would make a great gift to anyone who studies serious literature or for anyone who, with a bit of scholarly awareness, is interested in classic virtue formation. How many people talk about Aristotle and Jane Eyre? Aquinas and Charles Dickens, Hauerwas and Cormac McCarthy? What thoughtful evangelical scholar explains the value of Gatsby and Endo and moves easily from Bunyan to Huck Finn to Flannery O’Connor.

And you should know the part played by our friend Ned Bustard (yes, the Ned Bustard that edited several good books such as It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Performing Arts for the Glory of God, not to mention a little-known volume called A Book for Hearts & Minds.) For each chapter of On Reading Well Ned created an artful print – not a wood cut, but a linocut– so the chapters are nicely illuminated. We even have posters of the cover printed nicely on good paper, too, if anyone would like one. We could send one of those along to enhance your gift-giving.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE MEMOIR

Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover (Random House) $28.00 I do hope you’ve heard of this or have seen at least one the author’s many interviews; we reviewed it at length this fall. It was hard to put down and is surely the memoir of the year that so many are talking about, not unlike the way Hillbilly Elegy swept the country a few years ago. The short version is that Westover was nearly held captive as a worker and homeschooled on the farm in rural Idaho where her parents were fierce survivalists and fundamentalist, apocalyptic Mormons. She was beat by her brother, her education mishandled, her normal desires as a girl often ridiculed and forbidden. (She couldn’t take dance lessons because the leotards were too worldly.) In odds against all odds she ends up getting to college and eventually – it’s a long story – to Oxford and Harvard. It is a brave and revealing story, a reflection on faith and family and hope and reconciliation. What a story, what a writer, what a woman. This book is a fine, fine memoir and, in one reviewers opinion, will “find a place alongside modern classic memoirs like Wild and The Glass Castle. It’s that special.”

Why Religion? A Personal Story Elaine Pagels (HarperOne) $27.99  Pagels is a respected religion scholar at Princeton University, described as “a preeminent academic whose impressive scholarship has earned her international respect.” Not a Christian believer, she has become nationally known for her work writing about the Gnostic gospels and other topics on the margins of convention. All who have heard her – include a month ago on NPR’s Fresh Air – agree that she is an extraordinary person and many who have read her life story in this engaging memoir report it is one of the best books of this genre they’ve ever encountered. It has been called “searing,” “soul-affirming,” “mesmerizing,” “stirring,” “brilliant,” and “tender”, as she writes about loss (she experienced unimaginable anguish when she lost her young son and a year later her beloved husband died) and spiritual struggle and her own religion’s enduring appeal. This is not a born-again testimony but it could be just the right book for somebody you know.

A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (IVP) $16.00  What a book this would be to give to anyone needing the voice of a mentor and leader, but particularly if one needs the voice of a woman, a black woman, who has navigated successful leadership. Natasha Robinson tells of her journey in this book that is part memoir, part handbook for Christian living, and part astute cultural observation and analysis. As a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former Marine Corps officer, Natasha has nearly twenty years of leadership and mentoring experience in the military, government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors.  She has seen some stuff, shall we say. She also has a degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and is an internationally known speaker. She works with several leadership development groups and mentors many.

As we explained when we first highlighted this in a column for the Center for Public Justice, it draws on the story of Moses. Here is how the publisher explains it:

Intertwined with Natasha’s story is the story of Moses, a leader who was born into a marginalized people group, resisted the injustices of Pharaoh, denied the power of Egypt, and trusted God even when he did not fully understand where he was going. Along the way we explore the spiritual and physical tensions of truth telling, character and leadership development, and bridge building across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender lines.

Join the journey to discover your own identity, purpose, and truth-revealing moments.

To understand her passion for justice, her insight about wholistic Christian living, and her faith-based courage, you have to understand her story. A Sojourner’s Truth is a great, poetic read, for anyone who likes autobiography and inspiration. Her story is well told and I can imagine any number of folks — women, especially, but not only women! — appreciating this as a gift this season.

Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life David Giffels (Scribner) $24.00 I can’t say too much about this, but it is just what it says, a gripping, at times funny, deeply affecting memoir about a guy whose dad taught him carpentry skills and, in a good effort to reconnect, they two of them build the older man’s casket. What a story! There are rave reviews all over on this, from Jim Sheeler (the powerful author of Final Salute) and Chuck Klosterman. Kirkus Reviews said, “A lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between father and son.” Oh, and there’s that bit about dad dying and they are building his coffin. What a book!

 

The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life’s Biggest Questions Knox McCoy (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I suppose this is a gift for anyone who likes pop culture, but it is so rooted in a particular era of pop culture, and so written as a memoir that I’m listing it here – good for anybody that likes to listen in as someone narrates their own coming of age and figuring stuff out. On the back it asks, “What do you get when you mix pop culture, faith, and a hint of nostalgia?” Sure, pop culture is a powerful window into the human experience, into the values and stories told in any given place and time. For this guy, this collection of hilarious stories shows that he grew up in the 1980s. He runs something called The Popcast Media Group and in this new book he really tells his own story, although also has just lots of random reflections on various pop culture themes. Although not restricted to it, offers lots of shout outs to tons of stuff from his era – from Pee Wee Herman to “Alex vs. Pat” to Legally Blond to Dawson’s Creek and Cosmo Kramer and Harry Potter.

McCoy tell us that the four most traumatic pop culture moments of his childhood were the death of Rufio in Hook, Mufasa dying in The Lion King, when Sounder crawls under the cabin and dies, and learning about the AIDS epidemic through TLCs song “Waterfalls.” So there ya go.

Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, MD (Bloomsbury) $28.00 We have enjoyed showing this to folks of all sorts – biography and memoir lovers, psychology students, those who know Hallowell as the ground-breaking, leading scholar who documented ADD and ADHA – his book Driven to Distraction has been a bestseller for decades and shaped a conversation for a generation.

We met Hallowell years ago as he was doing a workshop with ministers about parishioners (and fellow clergy) with ADHD and he quipped that he didn’t know too much about religion or theology as such. But then he mentioned that his high school chaplain was a guy named Frederick Buechner. And then his campus minister in college was a guy named Henri Nouwen. He (perhaps jokingly) wondered if we had heard of them. Ha.

And now, Frederick Buechner has a blurb on the back of Hallowell’s life story. He shares the back cover honors with the extraordinary third world public health activist Paul Famer, Ken Duckworth (the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and TV personality Ann Curry. Ned has done a beautiful job telling his long life story and it will be moving and insightful for anyone who likes a good “crazy family” story, but also for anyone taking up the vocation of care-giving.

As Paul Farmer writes:

Rarely does enlightenment about the complexities of the brain, mind, and heart, meet such empathy. This is a book you won’t want to end, since early in the course of it you’ll wish you’d known Hallowell throughout his life. But when you finish it, you’ll feel you have.

Well: Healing Our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa Sarah Thebarge (FaithWords) $20.00 Few people have written as passionately and clearly with such a storyteller’s knack to engage readers as Sarah Thebarge. We respected her first memoir called The Invisible Girls: A Memoir, the amazing story of her getting cancer and finding a new lease on life as she joined together caring from Somali refugees in her new hometown in Seattle. It won a number of awards that year, including Notable Book from World in 2013. About it, theologian and novelist Randy Alcorn said:

Honest, enlightening, heart-touching and, at just the right times, funny. Sarah’s expertly crafted sentences sing and sometimes sting, flowing smoothly, then suddenly jumping off the page. The interweaving of her story with that of a Somali mother and daughters is masterful. This isn’t the American dream. It’s a vibrant and authentic story of loss, disenchantment, discovery, and a reawakening of faith and hope.

Well is almost too complex to simply explain, and some think it is even better than her acclaimed first memoir. I think you could give it to any number of readers, those who like mission stories, those who appreciate justice issues, those who just like a dramatic adventure story. Here’s the short, terribly prosaic summary, that doesn’t do it justice: “After more than a decade of practicing medicine and encountering the medical world herself as a cancer patient, the author optimistically raised funds to serve without pay in a missions hospital. Her story demonstrates what it means to truly become a follower of Jesus: to use faith to change oneself and thereby heal the world.  In addition to practicing medicine in Togo, she served in the Dominican Republic and started a clinic in Kenya for children who lost their parents to AIDS.”

Maybe these endorsements better capture more of how vital this lovely book could be:

Words like love, compassion, courage, and faith easily become clichés … feel-good sentiments that go on greeting cards. If you read Sarah Thebarge’s new book, those words will become more meaningful for you than they’ve ever been … sturdy, substantial, incandescent. Sarah is a supremely gifted writer and she has a powerful story to tell that is worth your precious time.

This book shook me to my core. It is harrowing and beautiful. It challenged my faith and strengthened it. Sarah asks the hardest questions over and over. She sifts our platitudes until all that’s left is truth and love strong enough to hold us all.

FOR ONE WHO LIKES MADELEINE L’ENGLE

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle Sarah Arthur (Zondervan) $19.99 If you don’t know this author, maybe you should pick this up for yourself. If you know anyone who enjoys her memoirs, Bible studies, books about aesthetics and the arts, memoirs, poetry, or extraordinary fiction – A Wrinkle in Time and Swiftly Tilting Planet just for starters – this wonderfully rendered reflection on her life is a great read. Not a biography as such, it is a reflection and evaluation of her spiritual legacy, as the sub-title says. Sarah Arthur is herself a L’Engle-esque writer; she has done workshops with organizations dedicated to the memory of C.S. Lewis, Frederick Buechner, the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, and more. She has gifted literate Christian readers with a number of good books, most recently a trilogy of “literary guides to prayer” (buy Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany if you want to dip in now – you won’t regret it! We have plenty!)

L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis wrote the foreword to A Light So Lovely and, importantly, among the many rave reviews and happy blurbs, is one from Madeleine’s dear friend, poet Luci Shaw. “What fun,” she says. “ And what a delight it is to gain these fresh and careful insights.” She assures us that Sarah “brings Madeleine to life” and that can be “enlarged by these stories.”

Ya gotta love a book that has this on the cover flap:

For anyone earnestly searching the space between sacred and secular, miracle and science, faith and art, come and find a kindred spirit and trusted guide in Madeleine – the Mrs. Whatsit to our Meg Murry – as she sparks our imagination anew.

FOR A SCHOOL TEACHER

On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom David I. Smith (Eerdmans) $22.00 For years we have tried to find the very best books that integrate a Christian philosophy of learning and teaching and make them available so that school teachers who are Christians can more overtly practice a way of teaching that is grounded in Christian convictions. Some of these good books emerge from the movement of alternative Christian schools and we often tell educators to just try to apply them in their own settings. There are some really, really good ones, but they are sometimes a bit academic and rigorous. Busy public school teachers maybe just can’t imagine themselves wading through such volumes, although some do.

There are a few that are directly for public school teachers and are not overly heady – we mostly like the basic Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom by Darlene Vickery Parker, published by Beacon Hill and ACSI’s Making a Difference: Christian Educators in Public Schools by Donovan Graham. The Cry of a Teacher’s Soul (about teacher burnout) by Laurie Matthias (Wipf & Stock) is poignant and intense and beautiful and from “Down Under” we’ve found Christians as Teachers: What Might It Look Like by Geoffrey Beech (Wipf & Stock) which is stellar. We could name others, but David Smith, author of the recent On Christian Teaching is a pillar in this academic sub-genre and a leader behind the scenes of the movement of forming teachers who are Christians to teach Christianly, taking up their work as educators as a holy calling. He does workshops and speaks at conferences all over the world and he has written widely. He supervises young scholars, and student teachers and has directed for years the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College

One reviewer said this new book of Smith’s short, serious chapters is “a masterpiece in accessible scholarship for classroom teachers.” Perry Glanzer of Baylor University says, “Once again, David Smith takes us on a journey and exposes us to teaching vistas that few have contemplated.” Can teaching itself be distinctively Christian? Not every public school teacher wants to dig in to this stuff. If they might, this book will be a godsend.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE LEARNING ABOUT THE BIBLE

Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story Nancy Guthrie (Crossway) $16.99 If the great ending of the Bible story includes the promise of restoration and a removal of all grief (Revelation 21:4) what does this vision of hope mean for how we read the Bible and how we see history and our own lives as they take shape within the unfolding of God’s promises? That’s a mouthful, but if you know anyone who wants an easy-to-read but profound view of the role of the Bible as worldview-shaping and identity forming and world-shaking as we move towards the city that is “better than Eden” this fine book could be a great gift. Nancy Guthrie is a very good Bible teacher and this is a really handsome and rewarding book.

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00  There is a reason Keller is sometimes considered as a contemporary C.S. Lewis. He is Biblically sound and rigorous, culturally engaged (he has hosted anti-racism workshops at the church, done good event in New York around civility, and has written several books about justice and social service.) Yet, he is deeply centered on the first things of the gospel and is clear in his Bible teaching that all of Scripture points us to Christ. This new little hardback picks up these lasting themes — Jonah runs from God, of course, but more to the point, hated certain ethnicities in a certain city. There is much food for thought here as Keller offers a gospel-centered but socially-aware reading of this ancient story. How he links it to Jesus, too, is a bit surprising, making this a lively and compelling read. Just came out about a month ago, so it would make a swell gift.

By the way, speaking of Keller, I have been re-reading many of the entries in his year-long devotion, done with his wife, Kathy, called The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (Viking; $19.95.) It is so good, and would make a perfect gift for some of the people on your list. There are gold-gilded edges, a nice ribbon marker, some classy touches (such as two color printing.) It is a compact sized so there isn’t that much content on the pages, and it feels like a classic, classy prayer book. I like what they do with the Psalter and wanted to remind you of it.

 

Paul: A Biography N. T. Wright (HarperOne) $29.99 Okay, I’ll just say it. We are huge fans and even friends with Tom Wright and we are very big on getting his books known. Some think he’s too conservative, some think he’s too liberal, and to those who have heard this, I’d say it is mostly nonsense. Sure, not everyone will agree with all of his methods or conclusions, but he simply ought not be dismissed so easily. Plus, he not only brings some very fresh thinking to the conversation, he is a fine, fine writer. In our 36 years of bookselling, there has been no Biblical scholar that has thrilled us more.

In this recent, big volume, Wright does an exceptional, creative job of making the great “apostle of the heart set free” (to quote F.F. Bruce) accessible. It is one of the great books of the year and would make a great gift to Bible scholars who would enjoy it as much as beginners who want a good read to give them a big overview.

Here are a few of the rave reviews offered for Paul: A Biography.

An enthralling journey into the mind of Paul by one of the great theologians of our time, a work full of insight, depth and generosity of understanding.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, London)
“NT Wright takes the most controversial and influential author of scripture and does something remarkable: he humanizes Paul. I was hooked from the first page.” (Mike McHargue, author of Finding God in the Waves as co-host of The Liturgists Podcast)

“The most winsome feature is the way Wright paints Paul as a . . . three-dimensional, many-sided, complicated human being. Paul: A Biography is a bright, provocative, imaginative, and often brilliant book.” (The Gospel Coalition)

“Paul is a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.” (Englewood Review of Books)

“In eloquent and inviting prose, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars retells the story behind the story, the story of the Apostle Paul. A master teacher here communicates Paul in language every reader can understand.” (Craig S. Keener, Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary)

All right, friends. Get those twinkle lights glowing and send us some orders. You are going to like giving books, and we’re eager to help it happen.

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POST-EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE CLEARANCE SALE — BUY TWO, GET A FREE BOOK (3 days only!)

FREE BOOK OFFER – THREE DAYS ONLY

Maybe you saw our Facebook allusion to a harrowing drive to our last big gig a few days after Thanksgiving. There was a toxic gas leak that shut down the Delaware Memorial Bridge on the busiest driving evening of the year. I’ll spare you the tedious details of getting our big van into Philly and back down to South Jersey and how the darned delay allowed us to see the sun rise over the Atlantic as we worked all night to get ready for a large book display for an Episcopalian clergy conference. To take a few of our wares on the road and serve priests and deacons and church staff at this annual event is always a great joy. Thanks to Bishop Daniel Gutierrez and others at the Diocese of Pennsylvania. 

(By the way, this is a Diocese that brought in Rev. Fleming Rutledge (presenting on her magisterial volume Crucifixion)  last year and has Miroslov Volf coming in the Spring. One parish is hosting notable author and scholar Alan Jacobs and another is doing a C.S. Lewis conference. It’s nice to see such energy around Christian growth, theological dialogue, and on-going education.)

Sometimes when we do these things we order big stacks of books to sell and in some cases, afterwards, it dawns on us it is better to offer an extra-good deal to our mail-order friends than to pay to send back our over-stock. So, it’s a three-day clearance sale, right here, right now, and you benefit from good savings and a free gift from us. If you act now.

Hey, this could solve some of your perplexing gift giving problems, I bet. Just sayin’.

For THREE DAYS ONLY (this deal only lasts until Thursday night, December 6th 2018, at midnight) we’ll give you a free book by the fabulously energetic and funny and serious speaker, Thistle Farms founder, Becca Stevens, who spoke at the Episcopalian event. What a joy to finally get to met her — Beth and I have promoted her books for years and long respected her important work. And now we’ll give some away to you.

Here’s the dealio: buy two/get one free.

If you buy any two of the books listed down below, we will give you absolutely free a copy of Becca Stevens’ book Funeral for a Stranger: Thoughts on Life and Love (Abingdon Press, a $13.00 value) OR an earlier Becca Stevens book, Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me (Abingdon Press; $14.00.) These are the two free ones we are offering.

Funeral for a Stranger is a wonderful collection of some excellent miscellaneous essays. Becca is an excellent writer, a master of the short form, a good writer and born storyteller… some of her other books are devotional in nature, collections of short reflections and strong, prayerful meditations. Funeral… covers all sorts of territory and is sure to thrill anyone who likes good writing, spiritual ruminations on life and times, love and life. As a justice activist she brings a bit of bite at times but as a pastor and congregational leader she knows how to offer good words for the spiritual journey. It is an excellent book. And you can get it free.

 

OR, if you’d rather, as we’ve said, we can send for free an earlier book, Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me. Again, this is Becca Stevens in her wheelhouse, offering artfully written creative meditations, short reflections that bring us into that quiet place of soul sanctuary with God. It is a great read with each entry a story of a place (often a surprising place) where she discovered God’s presence afresh. The Funeral for a Stranger one includes various sorts of thoughtful essays and they are a delight to read and very insightful. Sanctuary has equally moving stories and meditations but the pieces are shorter and arranged as a daily devotional, each one about the spirituality of the ordinary and meeting God in some particular episode or place.

So, choose any two of the ones listed below and then pick one of these two (just mentioned) as your free choice. Just type it in when you order — we’ll take care of the rest. (Or, if you want both of the ones listed, you can pay for one and have that count as one of the two you are purchasing, and get the other as the free one. And, hey, if you order four below, you can get both of these for free. See, we’re easy to get along with, yes?)

Got it? Buy two from the following list ( below) and get one of the ones listed (above) for free. For. Free. Offer is good while supplies last and just until Thursday night.

BUY TWO OF THESE:

Here are just a few of the thousands that we displayed at the Episcopal event in New Jersey. A few of these were tremendous sellers; others maybe could have been, but we didn’t push them from up front in my little book talks. All are great, and up for grabs in order to get a free one.

The Power of Love: Sermons, Reflections & Wisdom to Uplift and Inspire Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $20.00  What a great little gift book this would make, ideal to give to unchurched folks, even. Who didn’t hear about the extraordinary sermon preached at the 2018 Royal Wedding? It certainly went viral. That sermon about Christian love is here along with other important messages delivered by this energetic black preacher. Rev. Curry (who has a little paperback about robust discipleship called Crazy Christians and a memoir called Songs My Mama Taught Me) is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  One of the great talks reproduced here is a message he gave to their annual conference called “The Good Life” and it is good for anyone!  Another was given at the National Cathedral – “Welcome to the Movement.”

The book is small and has purple end papers, some gold ink, and a presentation page. It’s a nice little collection, but the “Power of Love” sermon preached for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is what will make it of interest to some. It was fun announcing the release of this brand new book to Episcopalians who were gathered with Becca Stevens whose own tag line is “Love Heals.” Do you believe there is power in love? This book will remind you of the truest truths about this very thing.

On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old Parker J. Palmer (Berret Koehler) $19.95 What a handsome, compact, beautifully written, nearly serene study of wholehearted living as we move into older age, becoming mentors and guides to others. Parker Palmer is nearly a public intellectual and has written about contemplative living, about public civility, about higher education. I hope you know his book about education, and certainly his wonderful book about vocation. As the Quaker gentleman and activist ages, gracefully, he is ruminating on the lightness of being and yet the gravity of the era. If you liked Rohr’s Falling Upward this would thrill you, I’m sure. Rohr, in fact, calls it “a generous gift to all of us.”

The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom James Bryan Smith (formatio/IVP) $22.00 We love having especially attractive books to prop up on a nice shelf when we’re out and about, and we featured this, right next to Smith’s previous one called The Magnificent Story, which also has a striking die cut cover. You may know of James Bryan Smith who writes books about spirituality and spiritual disciplines – think Ruth Haley Barton or Richard Foster or Dallas Willard. His previous trilogy continues to sell well (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community) and these two new ones are equally good.

Smith’s insight and eloquence about the journey we are one, an excellent supplement to his previous insight about the storied nature of our faith experience is superb and helpful. A spirituality write we admire, Ken Shigematsu, says:

Deep and accessible, profound and personal, James Bryan Smith offers the very best writing in spiritual transformation. He’s the ideal guide for this magnificent journey. Walk with him and you will become the good and beautiful you that God created you to be.

Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: 14 People Who Dared to Change Our World David Gushee & Colin Holtz (Brazos Press) $25.99  What a great, urgent read – informative and inspiring – and what a great gift this would make. Who among us doesn’t desire to have greater capacity to offer moral guidance in whatever space we find ourselves? Who doesn’t want to know a bit about how great change has happened in the past and how leaders have marshaled their leadership abilities to speak to the issues of the day? There are books about leadership and there are books about social change and there are books about character formation but this bring it all together as Gushee – himself an ethicist who has learned to speak out and pay up with integrity in aces – and his co-writer studies great moral leaders, their character and their ability to lead.

From William Wilberforce to Elie Wiesel, from Ida B. Wells to Malaya Yousafzai, Gushee & Holtz explore how these formative agents of transformation learned to stand up and learned to appeal to others to join them in their campaigns for betterment. The study of Lincoln is very nice, their thrilling look at Florence Nightingale is insightful, and who doesn’t need to learn a bit more about the fascinating journey of recently canonized Oscar Romero, murdered by US-trained assassins in El Salvador? These two authors have given us a great gift in this hefty hardback. Highly recommended.

Adam Hearlson (Eerdmans) $24.00 Hearlson is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and I thought these pastors who tend to be progressive politically would love this reminder that to say “yes” to God in worship necessarily means a “no” to other rulers, other regimes, other claims on our ultimate allegiance. Surely we can’t forget (or think we know enough about) Barman and Bonhoeffer and others who worshipped well with a high Christology and saw the subversive power of that worship to delegitimize the principalities and powers.

Brian McLaren wrote a very sensible foreword to this little book, in which he says it is — get this:

“As brilliant an exploration of the act of worship as I’ve ever seen.”

Important names such as Liz Theoharis, Luke Powry, and the eminent Tom Long give it a big endorsement for being provocative and, at times, fun. It is intense and serious and thoughtful and vital. It is not the final word on worship renewal or the public implications of our creeds and confessions. But in this era when idols and the pride that goeth before a fall is palpable, this should appeal to many. Check it out, give it to a thoughtful pastor or worship leader you know.

Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 Okay, we announce this everywhere we go, tell folks about it hither and yon, and love explaining that it is fun and funny and adventurous and full of capers and stories and some pretty clear-headed ideas about God’s love and follow Jesus, bit by bit. Since Becca Stephens was doing heavy talks about the prophetic power of love and justice work, it seemed more than appropriate to shout out to Goff. It’s a great book for older Christian who need fresh shot in the arm, recalling what it’s all about, and it’s ideal for those not quite up for heady theological reading. Like his wonderful, popular Love Does, the new Everybody Always is a great book for anyone.

Love Heals Becca Stevens (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 Do you recall us sharing about this fabulously artful, very handsome book? It was one of our grand titles that we pushed when it first came out and we were so pleased to be able to say it was lush and lovely – full color photos of flowers and dishes and natures scenes – and, yes, thistles – and yet it has exceptional substance. Her work at Thistle Farms – offering dignity and jobs to women off the street, freed from domestic violence or trafficking or drugs – animates her deep, deep conviction that love is the answer. Yes, their teashop and Thistle Farms essential oils and hand lotions and international gifts are branded with the saying “love heals” but for them it is gospel truth. This book is about hope and community and justice and grace and goodness and beauty.

The principles explained here have transformed lives, leading those who are broken towards self-acceptance and compassion and faith. We loved selling this book at the Becca Stevens event and would love to sell a few more now. It would make a really great gift, so why not buy an extra?

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling Becca Stevens (Jericho Books) $15.00 What a read! This is her memoir, a ground-breaking story about her own life, losing her father (a beloved Episcopal priest himself), her abuse in the church she now loves, and her transformation as she learned to serve others and live in hope. Yep, she speaks truth, here, and it is a very good book.

In fact, the late, great, Phyllis Tickle said:

Snake Oil is one of the best reads I have had in a very long time. Stevens is a consummate storyteller…poignant, persuasive, witty, wise and, ultimately, a passionate lover of God.

 

The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from Its Violent History Becca Stevens (Jericho Books) $16.00  I wished Becca could have been at the clergy retreat longer as I’d have loved to hear her tell some of this story. We read – and promoted (hear! hear!) – this book when it first came out. It’s a nice paperback now. As I announced in my little book pitch at the clergy event last week, there are a number of good books on fair trade coffee which has sort of lead the way to helping consumers think about ethically sourcing their shopping choices. But there hasn’t been as much written about what we might call fair trade tea and here Becca tells a story both inspiring and daunting. What a story, how informative, how interesting – a justice-oriented travelogue.

Here is how the publisher describes this riveting read:

What started as an impossible dream-to build a café that employs women recovering from prostitution and addiction-is helping to fuel an astonishing movement to bring freedom and fair wages to women producers worldwide where tea and trafficking are linked by oppression and the opiate wars.

Becca Stevens started the Thistle Stop Café to empower women survivors. But when she discovered a connection between café workers and tea laborers overseas, she embarked on a global mission called “Shared Trade” to increase the value of women survivors and producers across the globe.

As she recounts the victories and unexpected challenges of building the café, Becca also sweeps the reader into the world of tea, where timeless rituals transport to an era of beauty and the challenging truths about tea’s darker, more violent history. She offers moving reflections of the meaning of tea in our lives, plus recipes for tea blends that readers can make themselves.

In this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for café workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on earth.

Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life Becca Stevens (Morehouse Publishing) $18.95 What a great idea for a book. These are letters Rev. Becca sent out to various folks; to be honest, I don’t know (or even care) if they are real letters or a device to arrange a book of spiritual guidance. It’s a classic form – you know, even the always wise and eloquent Eugene Peterson has such a book, which, frankly, isn’t as substantial as this. So it’s a set of letters all about encouragement in the way of love. Some of these are about social issues – extolling the reader to greater care and action – and others are gentle, luscious, lovely.

Each letter includes Biblical texts and adds some questions for discussion and reflection, making an ideal sort of devotional for once who just can’t quite take a “page a day” devo, or for small groups who need short, artful pieces to discuss. It’s a great book inviting us to cultivate deep Christian practices for the life of the world. There’s lots of stories and lots of advice and lots of sense for you in Letters from the Farm and you get to learn a bit about her good work. It’s a nice cover, too. Yes!

Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim’s Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series Jan Karon (Penguin) $20.00  When we announced this a month ago a few customers were just tickled – what fun! This is a collection of various sermons and prayers by the fictional Father Tim of the beloved Jan Karon Mitford novels. Ms. Karon adds some of her own reflections about the inspirational parts of the stories and her own hopes and prayers. This is a lovely, real, book of devotion and prayer, even if from the pen of a storyteller. What fun.

Father Tim is, of course, a very good guy and his prayers and Bible studies and sermons are well worth considering. This compact-sized hardback would make a great gift for anyone, but certainly for those that love Mitford. Nice.

Why Religion?: A Personal Story Elaine Pagels (Ecco/HarperCollins) $27.99 Maybe this didn’t sell that well at the Episcopal gig because I didn’t push it as much as I might have; I guess we assumed they would naturally be interested, especially after that fascinating NPR Fresh Air interview a week or two ago. I suppose I’m just not that interested, to be honest, about her admittedly significant work on everything from Adam and Eve to the history of ideas about Satan. She’s known as a scholar of Gnosticism (a heresy I despise) and here she tells her own faith journey, such as it may be. She is a major intellectual in our time, so the book should sell well.

The reviews on the back are notable, from Madeleine Albright to Jon Meacham to Harvard colleague Karen King to, of course, Bart Ehrman. As he says this is “a deeply personal memoir by one of the truly eminent scholars of our generation.”

Even novelist Joyce Carol Oates says:

An extraordinary memoir of loss, spiritual struggle, illumination, and insight – emotionally heartrending, intellectually exciting, a model of what a memoir should be.

Holy smokes, I think I’m going to read this soon, after all. Wow. Want to join me?

Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $18.00  I suppose I shouldn’t assume that every Episcopalian or liturgically sensible, globally-minded Christian likes the former Archbishop of Canterbury, but, man – this shoulda flown off the shelves!  What a great little book — rich, deep, mature, about history and historiography, about why the past matters, about how older eras of the church should be informing us in some way (but maybe not others?)

We used to carry the British edition of this book and loved its simple outline, his intellectually astute, learned but gracious vocabulary. After a few opening chapters on “what we expect from the past” and why we should study church history, he offers a chapter called “Resident Aliens: The Identity of the Early Church” which leads to “Grace Alone: Community and Novelty in the Reformation Era” and then “History and Renewal: Records of the Body of Christ.” The Christian Century opined, “others would turn such a topic into a bone-dry lecture, but Williams’ Christological vision is thrilling.” Another reviewer says his prose is “lucid and often beautiful.” Come on, people!

The Jesus Heist: Recovering the Gospel From the Church C. Andrew Doyle (Church Publishing) $18.00 Okay, I dig this guy, and I like this book. I wish I had pushed it harder among my mainline denominational friends this year – we announced it when it came out a year ago and have taken it to various events. Look, we need to own up to this weird place we are in these days. (I don’t mean to caricature or offend.) When I was coming up into Christian leadership – the last quarter of the 20th century — the debate was between liberal theologians who created boring churches that didn’t believe much of anything, certainly nothing worth giving one’s life to, and evangelical churches that were passionate and sure and earnest and right about the first things of the gospel but too often dumb and shallow and oddly politically reactionary. Alas, now the books coming out of “liberal” theological traditions are more Biblical than much coming out of the hip evangelical culture. Oh, how the times have changed. So here, a progressive Bishop of a liberal denomination asks us to flip the script of many Bible stories and see what Jesus is really doing, inviting us to come to a deeper trust in His revolutionary Kingdom. This is what is good about mainline churches – they can preach a non-fundamentalist call back to Jesus and bitch about how we’ve missed Him in all our religiosity and get away with it. Yep, on both the right and left, evangelical and mainline, it seems Jesus has been too often ignored, the gospel domesticated, Jesus hijacked, if not stolen. I love the title of this.

And I love the irony that a mainline progressive is the one telling us we need revival, to focus on Jesus, to read our Bibles (if in creative, generative ways.) Ho!

And guess who has a big endorsement blurb on the back of this feisty book?

Becca Stevens, who says this:

Andy Doyle is an ecclesiastical breath of fresh air!  His writing is insightful, witty, and formative.  Read this book if you have found yourself questioning tradition, bored by Sunday morning routines, or wondering how to bring new life into any congregation. Andy knows the church is broken and invites us all to accept that lostness so that we can be found. Through his writing Andy grounds us in the fellowship of Jesus, does an analysis of where we wandered away from the Sinai traditions, and then cuts a path by which we can find our way back.  We can let go of useless structures that don’t lead us to love the world with eyes wide open.  We can live again as a motley crew of Jesus who are present in the world, loving their neighbors!  This book will free you to reimagine how you spend your time, talent and treasures for the coming kingdom.

Today is a Baptism Day Anna V. Ostenson Moore, illustrated by Peter Krueger (Church Publishing) $13.95  Not sure how this happened but I intended to rave about this from up front at our retreat and celebrate Church Publishing (an Episcopalian publishing house) doing great books just like this. Alas, we forgot to take it and left a whole big stack of them back at the shop. So, we announce it here, wanting you to know it is really interesting, a captivating, poetic sort of read full of mainline church theology, innovative, creative pictures (of all kinds of people and all kinds of families, thanks be to God!)

As a Canon to the Ordinary at the Diocese of Bethlehem says it “unfolds a theology of baptism within an expansive vision of who we are as members of the Body of Christ.” Cheryl Minor, Director of the Center for the Theology of Childhood at The Godly Play Foundation calls it (of course) “wonder-filled.” The author is known in Episcopalian family faith formation circles (she writes for “StoryPath” and their “Daily Devo.” This colorful kids book is good for any faith tradition that baptizes children. Nice!

Home By Another Way: A Christmas Story Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (Flyway Books) $18.00 I’m sure you know we’ve touted this before – it came out earlier this fall and we were just thrilled to see a popular sermon by the always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor re-told as a children’s sermon, and lavishly illustrated with an amazing, creative, whimsical, passionate artists.

This, as you might guess, tells the story of the wise men, the confrontation with Herod, the suggestion that Mary, Joseph, Jesus become exiles (refugees? immigrants? as they escape. There’s some clever wit in here, the wise men are a bit eccentric, and the story unfolds with the preacher/theologian allowing the story to stay front and center, without moralizing. What fun! The artwork is fabulous.

OKAY, THERE YA GO.

BUY ANY TWO OF THESE AND WE WILL SEND TO YOU A FREE COPY OF ONE OF THE FIRST TWO BOOKS DESCRIBED BY BECCA STEVENS.

JUST TELL US WHICH YOU WANT FOR YOUR FREE ONE

FUNERAL FOR A STRANGER OR SANCTUARY. 

OFFER EXPIRES DECEMBER 6, 2018 AT MIDNIGHT.

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Advent Books 2018 (children’s books) ALL ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. It’s a busy time for many shoppers (not to mention frazzled retailers.) But for our purposes, the pending start of the new church year, starting with Advent next weekend, is more pressing. It has been so fun sending out a lot of books this week — thanks to those who paid attention to our Advent book list from last week’s BookNotes. The Art of Advent has been the biggest seller this week, with Wounded in Spirit not far behind. I think the next popular has been the paperback edition of Tim Keller’s Hidden Christmas.

There are others that deserve mention and perhaps I’ll name more later. Now, though, as promised, we wanted to offer a quick list (we are among those frazzled retailers, remember) of a few new children’s books that you may want to have on hand these next sacred weeks. What a simple, powerful practice to call the whole fam together for a time of worship or conversation lit by candlelight glow — the best part for some kids — that can help us focus on the meaning of the season’s longings.

Maybe these can help.

My Advent Calendar Christmas Book Antonia Jackson & Krisztina Hallai Nagy (Lion Press) $7.99  Lion Press from the UK is a favorite (favourite) children’s publisher and we were glad to discover this little gem.  It is a fairly standard little book telling the story of the nativity except the cover of the book is itself a 23-day, open-a-flap-a-day Advent Calendar. The entire Christmas story is here, from annunciation to the flight to Egypt and it’s fine. But the joy is opening the little flaps and awaiting each day’s surprise. The book is 6.5″ x 6″ and the advent flaps are small. We have more conventional Advent calendars, by the way, Give us a call if we can tell you about some.

A Jesus Christmas: Exploring God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99  I like the cool, slightly contemporary look and design of Good Book Company products and this little family workbook is no exception. Ms. Reaoch is known in “Bible Study Fellowship” for those that know that great ministry, and it should convince you that she is careful about Bible study, about application, about seeing how all things cohere in the message of Christ’s gospel. These short daily studies can help your family get excited about a fresh way to prepare for Christmas by taking a look at one of the serpent’s lies (from Genesis 3) and the ways in which the glorious truths of God’s redemptive plan play out. Joni Eareckson Tada says it is “just what fathers and mothers are looking for.” I hope that is true. Donald Whitney writes, “If you have young children and you want to make this Christmas more of a ‘Jesus Christmas’ than last year, try this book.”  It includes space for family journaling, too. Nicely done, for sure.

 

The Shepherd Who Couldn’t Sing Alan Barker, illustrations by Thea Baker (SPCK) $9.00  I really like the illustrations that are rich and warm, creative without being eccentric. There are fabric patterns through-out that are striking, and some water-color washes that are very artful. So I’m a fan of this paperback — even its paper stock and size (about 9 x 10) seems just right. The story is fun; it is about Jake the shepherd boy on the hills of Bethlehem who, er, can’t sing. Can he find his voice and join in the angels given the momentous good news he has just witnessed? He is so brave about so many things but he is afraid of singing! The author tells us at the end that it was inspired by Caedmon who learned to sing. (He even gives a little song to sing to the tune of Frere Jacques called, of course “Jake’s Song.”) Jake’s plight is a creative way into the Bible story, but it raises this other concern, of not being afraid to sing, to find one’s voice in the choir, to stand up and sing-out. Nice.

A Very Noisy Christmas Tim Thornborough, illustrations by Jennifer Davison (The Good Book Company) $4.99  This is another winner from The Good Book Company, a gospel-centered company that provides really attractive books that are clear about gospel truth. We stock all of their children’s books. This one is really inexpensive, has artwork that features non-European-looking characters, whimsical as they are. It is designed to be read out loud, it playfully instructs you (even by the size and shape of the particular font) to whisper some sentences and to really shout out other parts. Fun! Most parents and children will get a kick out of doing this together (probably over and over!) How loud can you shout? How quietly can you whisper? The first Christmas was both quiet and noisy, after all (and the birth of Jesus is worth shouting about!)

After the opening page of instruction on how to read this little book it says,

And if you’re lucky enough to have a grown-up read to you, make sure that they use their loudest, softest, and silliest voices!

Consider yourself warned.

Home By Another Way Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrations by Melanie Cataldo  (Flyaway Books) $18.00 When one of our most beloved and interesting preachers and writers teams up with an excellent, talented illustrator to re-tell one of her famous seasonal sermons, you’d expected it to be much anticipated and much discussed. And this certainly is. Surely one of the most beautifully-illustrated children’s books of the year, it is great addition to the library of anyone who collects Christmas books. It’s a bit odd, even funny at times, but so many holiday books are. It’s part of the fun, I think, re-telling and re-imagining these great, classic stories. And how she puts us right onto the quirky camel rides of these three mystics from the East.

You can see some of the Home By Another Way art in this short trailer.

This story is about the wise men and their journey to meet the Christ child (and, of course, their anxiously freighted meeting with the dangerous Herod.) Some have found it a bit unusual, describing the characters in such odd detail. Others have thought it unfortunate how small of a role the holy family plays, but, again, it gets at that story by way of describing in artful prose the journey of the wise guys. And yet, wordsmith that Taylor is, she tells of how their lives are touched as they hold the baby close. This encounter will surely transform their lives even if the teller of the tale does not spell it out for us. That is BBT’s theory about preaching, I believe — don’t say too much, allow some time for “I wonder” type questions, don’t be too didactic: the power is in the story, after all. So this ought not be the only book to read to children about Christmas; obviously. And — please — realize it is to be read after Christmas, of course. The imaginative story is a fascinating one, glorious in its own way, drawing on a famous old sermon by the former Episcopal pastor.

Taylor now is a professor of world religions at a Georgia college and, in fact, has a long awaited book coming out this March (2019) about her experiences there, entitled Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others (HarperOne; $25.99.) You can pre-order it now, of course, at our BookNotes 20% OFF — we already have a waiting list for it.

 

The Sleepy Shepherd: A Timeless Retelling of the Christmas Story Stephen Cottrell, illustrations by Chris Hagan (SPCK) $10.00  Kudos to our friends at InterVarsity Press for picking up some of these SPCK British books from overseas and making them easily available in the States. This is a fun and funny story and I like it not only because the writing is good but because the art is a bit more eccentric and zesty than some. I don’t always think young children resonate with mature modernist or abstract art, but this is wildly creative without obscuring the content of the story. It does what good art can do — revealing something formerly missed. If only to generate a fresh and invigorated gaze, this book is just so interesting.

I don’t know enough about art history to name the influences of this clever children’s illustrator, but there’s some stuff flying around here, hands raised — Marc Chagall, maybe? Some of the middle eastern figures are wearing what seem to me to be Mexican ponchos with really striking horizontal lines. The folk art impressions are obvious. There are vivid sky scenes, and little illuminations and maybe even some arabesques. Anyway, it’s an inexpensive kids book, but I found it notable.

The text The Sleepy Shepherd is longer and for elementary children, unlike some picture books which are best for pre-schoolers. It starts with the Bethlehem shepherds, of course, one one sleepyhead named Silas, but follows the life of Jesus until, unexpectedly, Silas meets Jesus late in his life.

Grace Comes at Christmas: Gracias Viene en la Navidad  M. J. McCluskey, illustrations by Sierra Mon Ann Vidal (Balboa Press) $15.95  We are especially excited to tell you about this new English/Spanish bi-lingual book, and we recommend it for a couple of reasons. Not least is that we know the author, a friend and customer who is a local Lutheran congregant and respected community volunteer. And a bundle of good energy, which she uses to make her corner a bit brighter, like the cat — named, Grace, of course (did I mention she is Lutheran?) — who is the star of this sweet holiday story. The story unfolds as we learn what happens to the little kitten who finds herself alone in a freezing field on Christmas Eve. You might imagine what occurs when she sees a light on the top of the hill and hears music (although there are toils and dangers throughout until the lovely, hospitable climax.)

That Grace Comes at Christmas is bi-lingual makes it a great gift for anyone who is interested in multiple languages, in Latino culture, even those interested in the current immigration news. And certainly it is a rare, delightful book for anyone who speaks Spanish. Gracias Viene in a new pet named Sublime Gracias, Amazing Grace.

This is a fun, fun story, a lovely little parable, and all the proceeds go to local York area charities. You probably will not see this book anywhere else, so it will be a special surprise for the little ones you know when you order from us. We’d be happy to send one (or more) out right away.

By the way, we can special order a rare bi-lingual Russian/English edition of it as well, that M.J. put together. She knows of a town where there are a lot of Russian immigrants so she developed a Russian/English edition. She’s that kind of person. You should have her book.

That Baby in the Manger Anne E, Neuberger, illustrations by Chloe E. Pitkoff (Paraclete Press) $15.99 This was a best seller for us last year so we wanted to name it again. It is paperback with colorful, somewhat modern art, which makes it a beautiful sight to behold. It is just creative enough to provide allusive nuance to the portrayal but it isn’t odd or disorienting. That is, it is just a great visual treat. The story is more than a treat, it is nothing short of a profound blessing, nearly prophetic in its gentle but potent truth-telling.

Neuberger tells here a true story of a Catholic priest who is talking with the children of his parish — children of non-European descent. As they reflect on the creche scene, they children ask if Jesus really had blue eyes. Lurking just below the surface of The Baby in the Manger is this child-like question that has adult-world ramifications: can people of color relate to a white Jesus? Or, better, can Jesus relate to “all the children of the world” as the Sunday school song promises? This very clever priest, Father Prak, has this situation on his hands and invites the children to bring their own dolls to the nativity scene. Oh my, the glory of what happens and the great love this pen and watercolor artist put into her illustrating it is spectacular. It is fun and sobering, joyful and touching.

Yes, let’s be clear: it gets at issues of racism and true inclusion but it does so with great care and gentle storytelling. What a book. Please, please, give this a try. Buy a few and spread the word. No matter what you or your friends look like, no matter who they are, the Christ child is born for them. Do you believe this? Can you proclaim such the wide, wide mercy of God without having this conversation? This book is a tool to help, as the best stories always are. Highly recommended.

The Birth of Jesus Read-Along Regina Brundidge-Fuller, illustrations by Jeff West (Urban Spirit!) $6.99 We have bunches of inexpensive re-tellings of Bible stories and of course the Christmas story ones are as popular as any. It is so cool that at this time of year it isn’t uncommon to give out books about Jesus, and, to children, books about the birth of Jesus. Yes!  Of course, it is a complicated matter to find books that retell the story well and that have illustrations that are well done and wise. For those that care about these things, we have this (and a few others) unique one published by Urban Spirit! who does ministry out of Atlanta, As you can see, most of the characters in these illustrations are black. (Interestingly, the angels are multi-ethnic, and Herod seems to be white, naturally.)  I do not want to say these are only for the African American market – nearly every church nursery in American has Bible stories of Jesus or Bible characters looking white. Why not supplement your church or family library with something like this. Certainly is is designed for African American children, but we’re happy to suggest it to all sorts of families and churches. They are well done.

A Savior Is Born: Rocks Tell The Story of Christmas created by Patti Rokus (Zondervan) $17.99  I suppose this isn’t just a children’s book as the curious, artful presentation will make it an attractive coffee table book for anyone, or a unique gift for a person who might enjoy such a book. My wife collects little pebbles many places she goes as both memory stones and as decoration.  It isn’t uncommon to find a few smooth stones or a pile of small rocks on a window sill or by my sock drawer. I’m sure she isn’t the only one who is intrigued by the aesthetic revelation of small stones. And so, I’m sure many will enjoy this simple book showing the Christmas story created by stones.

We have for several years promoted a breathtaking book with bi-lingual English and Arabic text about immigrants, where all the artwork is made with stones. It is called Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey and was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. (Orca Books; $20.00.) That is nearly miraculous and very poignant.

This new one by Patti Rokus tells the nativity story and it, too, is very good although pretty straight-forward. The stone tableaus are accompanied with the classic Bible verses so it’s very clear what is going on (not that anyone could miss it.) However, given the surprising way the stones are configured to make animals and manger, angels and people, it will surely capture the attention of children and adults. It will slow you down and you’ll  have to look at each and every character in the story. In that, A Savior Is Born is not just a clever presentation, but a true gift; a blessing. At the end, there is a very nice note from the author who tells of her love of the outdoors, her journey into found stone art, and how we can bring our children into deeper faith by allowing then to interact with nature. She has a website and hopes to foster ongoing nature art. As she says on the second to last page, “Now it’s your turn. What will you create with rocks?”

I like this author a lot — she has a bunch of videos and even guide on how to do this art. Here she is making a nice explanation of why it matters, getting kids find a connection to God by creating with the creator. Enjoy a short video: here.

Look for the sequel to A Savior is Born: Rocks Tell the Story of Christmas this winter which will be called Jesus, My Savior: Rocks Tell the Story of Easter. 

Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher D. Rodkey and Jess & Natalie Turri (Chalice Press) $12.99 Speaking of adult books that kids can appreciate, this is pitched as an adult coloring book, and for good reason. As we explained a year ago (and, again, as we did with the sequel, Coloring Lent) Chris Rodkey is a friend and neighbor and a scholar/activist/pastor of a UCC church here in D-town. We are theologically dissimilar in many ways but I so admire his eagerness to do creative stuff and speak with theological depth into the issues of the day. And so, you should know that this coloring book is very intentionally created out of his progressive/radical sort of deeply theological worldview. It follows the lectionary readings for Advent, and so is very, very Biblical. There are little devotional sentences on each page which are footnoted so you can explore more of why the art is created as it is, and why the paraphrase of the lectionary texts are done as they are. Coloring Advent is ecumenical and provocative and is unlike any other more conventional adult coloring book, but, at the end of the day, it is designed for your own slow, creative, engagement with Sacred Scripture by way of working on your own sacred art.

Can children and families use this detailed, serious coloring book? For those with older children or teens, of course. Can you deepen the quality of your faith conversation by pondering some of the ever-so-slight nuances of text and image in Coloring Advent, even with your children? I think so. Breath deep, have fun.

By the way, although, again, mostly for adults but suitable for some older kids, see the new Coloring Women of the Bible (Chalice Press; $14.99) also lovingly done by Rev. Chris Rodkey and Natalie Turri. It has some vital theological interpretation, brave portrayal of complicated Scriptural stories, and a section of pages to color the feminine images of God from the Bible. There is no other coloring book like it, that’s for sure; it would be fascinating to have younger teens or youth do it. I’ll write more about this later as it makes a great small gift (especially when paired with a pack of colored pencils.)  Cheers.

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