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, and – just 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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