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 lovingkindness, covenant 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)
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