A really short BookNotes with some big Hearts & Minds news. An exciting new temporary website, curated for Jubilee — and a PROMO CODE just for you

Yep, you read that right. Welcome to the 21st century Hearts & Minds.

Our old school, (but secure) order form page where you have to type in your own order and converse with us about shipping options is a bit clunky and inefficient — Neil Postman’s “loving resistance fighters against technopoly” that we are — does have, some say, some odd charm. We try to keep the personal touch and not give over our bookseller chat to automation. Just the other day somebody said Jeff Bezos never wrote to him to confirm an order. I wouldn’t know since I don’t know exactly how they work, but we have created a bit of a brand, as they say, out of being homespun, earnest, and low tech.

Alas, kids today. And Covid.

We always sell books at the annual collegiate Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh run by the CCO campus ministry, a big fact about which I’ve dropped hints often. But of course, this year the conference is all virtual. So, we’ve come up with a way to sell books to students, to help equip them with the relevant Jubilee vision view of whole-life discipleship, by setting up a on-line, e-commerce, Jubilee bookstore, curated just for them and their event.

Beth and I are associated with CCO and, in fact, had a hand in planning some of the early Jubilee events (in the late 1970s, believe it or not.) It’s gotten bigger and more energetic, but the worldviewish, relevant, “all of life redeemed” sort of missional Christian faith, relating the good news of Christ’s Kingdom to their studies, their personal and public lives, calling them to thinking well about their academics and their future careers, all remains the heart and soul of the conference. This year they have the theme borrowed from Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, that Christ is claiming “every square inch” of his good but fallen creation. There isn’t any aspect of our lives that isn’t touched by the goodness of God and the redemptive grace of Christ. Through His creating, sustaining, and empowering Spirit, we get to participate in the healing, hopeful, work of renewal and reformation that is going on all around us. This includes our worship and church involvement and includes our work lives as well. God’s people hear this many places, but we believe it is never heard with so much gusto as at Jubilee. When we gathered last year, right before Covid, our huge book display was right outside the ballroom where there were about 4000 folks and we and our team of volunteers talked about books relating faith and life around the clock.

We know students who have come to faith at this gathering, touched by God with the message of forgiveness and challenged to sign up for a life-long long obedience in the same direction. We know people who have bought books from us there that, in their own words, truly changed their lives. It is the hardest and the biggest and the most rewarding thing we do, year after year after year. We believe these sorts of resources about all areas of culture and the Lordship of Christ over every square inch can be truly transformational.

This year — going live all day on Saturday, February 27th — Jubilee will be virtual. On line. Please pray for the students that this year will be watching, some of them, alone in their dorm rooms, or in socially distanced watch parties. In fact, maybe you can join them.

Yes, you can sign up now. The registration fee gets you access for a month which means you can attend all the plenary events with speakers like Jon Tyson, Tish Harrison Warren, Ashlee Eiland, and more — and over 20 workshops. And you’ll get to hear all four of my 7- minute book announcements, citing books that related to their main stage talks of creation/fall/redemption/restoration.

But here’s the lede I almost buried: CCO and their Jubilee team invited us and helped us create a temporary, e-commerce, automated, shopping-cart, all digital, pop-up online Hearts & Minds Jubilee Bookstore. Yep, I have curated about a dozen books in about 50 categories.

This is what it is like in our store, but folks don’t always notice. We have, and can talk to you about, books on engineering and nursing, art and psychology, education and business. There are Christian scholars who have written wisely about historiography and there are faithful practitioners working in regenerative agriculture. We love telling about thoughtful Christian books that guide us beyond our political divides and Christians in the sciences who are showing that faith and scientific work are not at odds. To tell young university students as they prepare to enter their professions that God cares, that God is with them, and that God expects them to be agents of change for normative institutional reformation, well, it’s a big deal. And using books as tools for that full-orbed, “every square inch” being redeemed, that deep relationship between Sunday and Monday, it’s why we started Hearts & Minds in the first place.

Want in on this? You ought to consider singing up for the conference– that allows you top quality access for a month! — but you don’t have to sign up for the conference to get into our Hearts & Minds e-commerce bookstore. Just go to the CCO Jubilee conference website and scroll down past the speakers and workshops and other good stuff til you get to their description of our role in their amazing event. We are honored and wanted you to see it.

Check this out, here:  https://www.jubileeconference.com/

Or, cut to the chase an enter the store here: https://heartsandmindsbooks.square.site/


Again, this is our temporary, new, second Hearts & Minds website, a supplement to, an addition to, our store and our ordinary secure Hearts & Minds order form page. You can still get (almost) anything you want by visiting us per usual. No worries. But we really wanted you to see this modern, automated, click-and-put-stuff-in-the-shopping-cart e-commerce website. It’s the 2021 Jubilee Bookstore and you, our friends and followers, are invited in to place your orders that way. It’s going to be a blast. Check it out!

To make it easier and even more appealing, you can enter this PROMO CODE at the time of checkout. Just enter in the promo code box the letters BOOKNOTES10 and it will automatically deduct 10% off anything you order at that site. Oh yes, you’re very welcome.

This BOOKNOTES10 discount promo code can be used as often as you’d like for one month, until March 27 2021, which is the duration of the Jubilee 2021 website. Who knows what we’ll do with all this later, since some of it is quite specific to the speakers and topics of the CCO event. But these are good, good resources, friends, and we’re delighted to invite you to shop a bit extra this month, browse around our selections, and use that discounted code. Send us an order. You’ll get an automatic reply showing the calculated shipping cost. Not as personal as you expect from us, but it’s pretty darn 21st century, eh?

Just to say it one more time: this new on-line store does not replace our ordinary website, which is also secure, and you can still browse all our old BookNotes at the standard/old Hearts & Minds site. The Dallastown shop is still closed due to Covid but we’re doing lots of mail outs and curb side customer service in our back parking area. As always, serving the gathered folks at Jubilee is a huge project, and we anticipate a lot of orders this next week or so. We continue to value you as our ordinary customers but hope you can be excited with us as we serve this rising generation of young Christian leaders, hoping they will learn to become better readers, thinking well, and serving God with all they’ve got. Won’t you pray with us, that this unique Hearts & Minds/Jubilee Bookstore is effective and bears worthy fruit for God’s Kingdom. Thank you, thank you.


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234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313


More thoughtful books good for Lenten reading during these hard days. 20% OFF from Hearts & Minds

Remember when you order to please tell us your preference about shipping. As we’ve noted often, USPS is slower than usual these days and while “Media Mail” is the cheapest ($3.25 for one or two books) it may take longer than usual. UPS cost about $7.00 or $8.00 for one or two books but is more reliable. Please tell us any needs you have in the secure order form page when you enter your information so we can serve you well.


The link to the Hearts & Minds Bookstore order form page is at the end of this BookNotes newsletter.


I hope you saw the last BookNotes newsletter which announced a few new Lenten devotionals and other suggested titles for this liturgical season. We also offered some links to older BookNotes that offered Lenten resources. A number of folks said they found it helpful and we thank those who send us orders or came by our back year for curbside pickup.

In between our pandemic-inspired backyard customer service [we are still closed for in-store shopping] and creating lists for folks who have made online inquiries, I wandered around the store and wondered: what else would fit the mood of this cultural moment and the upcoming liturgical season? What books might we tell you about for this Lenten time, even if they aren’t about Lent as such. We named a good handful last time and that inspired me to share more – here are some that might work for you and your needs right now. A few are brand new and others are ones I’ve told you about before.

Here then, another list of good books for complicated times in the very hard Year of Our Lord, Lent 2021.

Every Thing is Sacred: 40 Practices and Reflection on the Universal Christ              Richard Rohr (Convergent) $22.00                                OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Many found the 2019 book by Father Rohr, the famous Franciscan (known for a good intertwining of mystical spirituality and social justice, peace, and ecological activism) called The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, to be mostly wise and quite stimulating, if at times a bit theologically off-center. Anyone who has read Colossians 1 knows that Christ makes universal claims about the creation-wide scope of His Lordship over all things. As a gentle and servant King, he is utterly loving but his divine nature makes him supreme over all things, universally so. That Rohr book, The Universal Christ, is an important, poetic, rumination about Christ and his unfathomably gracious work in and through “all things” and it just came out in paperback (selling for $17.00 – but at our 20% off, $13.60.) And a brand new companion volume was just released.

This new hardback, Every Thing Is Sacred: 40 Practices… just came a day or so ago and it is a spiritual handbook to help you apply some of the insights explored in The Universal Christ. As Rohr says in the introduction, “This is incarnational Christianity!” And he means that – we don’t know Jesus only in our heads but in our bodies. As he writes about this book of practices, “our hope is that this knowledge will not be stored away in disconnected theory but be connected to the here and now, and thus everywhere.” As I’ve glanced through it quickly, I’d say this, too: I think Every Thing is Sacred: 40 Practices and Reflection on the Universal Christ could easily be used even if you haven’t read Rohr’s companion book.

After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It  A.J. Swoboda (Brazos) $18.99              OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Brazos Press keeps releasing amazing books that are vital contributions to the broader world of religious publishing. A year or two ago A. J. was on our “best of” list (and, admittedly, on other Best of lists as well) for his extraordinary, thorough, beautiful, challenging, Subversive Sabbath. Here, in this brand new one, he offers his honest appraisal of doubt and deconstruction. This is no simplistic rebuttal, not a cheery reminder of the truth of all things Christian. It takes the concerns of those with doubts seriously; it takes the doubts seriously. It is, perhaps, the best thing we’ve seen on the topic, although I admit to only spending a bit of time skimming it. It is brand new – technically releasing in March. We are happy to tell you about it a bit early and suggest it as a very appropriate Lenten study.

By the way, this isn’t utterly new ground for Swoboda. We really liked his 2016 book The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith which hints at this conversation, using the biblical narrative of wandering to show readers that being a bit lost is not only an essential aspect of Christian spirituality, it is a discipline to be practiced.

You may recall that we recently announced that we were glad to be a sure source for Brian McLaren’s new Faith Beyond Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It (St. Martin’s Press; $26.99, with our 20% off sale price = $21.59.) It is a very important book, a bit different then my other favorites on the topic (for instance, Os Guinness’s God in the Dark or Beyond Doubt by Cornelius Plantinga, both writers I greatly admire.) It is the only McLaren book I’ve not finished – this Covid stuff has made keeping up with reading a real struggle for me. But I am liking it very much and glad for his thoughtful guidance through topics such as the stages of faith development, how to draw on ecumenical sources outside of one’s one faith tradition, how to place our own doubts within the context of our broader cultural evolution. McLaren’s Faith After Doubt has endorsements on the back from Richard Rohr and Bishop Yvette Flunder and Glennon Doyle, if that helps place some of his those who ordered it from us.

I would really love to compare and contrast Brian’s book with A. J. Swoboda’s. Brian is a former evangelical; A.J. an edgy and scholarly Pentecostal. Brian is passionate and kind as a guide helping those who are drifting from faith, assuring them that they can reconstruct new sorts of emerging faith after rejecting more conventional assertions. Swoboda is about the same project, but a bit more detailed on the philosophy of deconstruction (both its wise and useful practice and the more critical and unhelpful sort) and a bit more tethered to historic, orthodox faith dogma. Someone, soon, I hope, will compare and contrast these two very important new books on our skeptical age and the complexities of deconstructing faith.

I do love Swoboda’s humor at times; he’s a good thinker but upbeat and knows how to poke a bit at his own evangelical foibles (“I learned dating was a sin after I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I Acquired the Fire.”) I like that he cites a wide array of writers and thinkers, from standard guys like C.S. Lewis to postmodern masters John Caputo and Mark Taylor. It’s not every Protestant spirituality writer that knows Pittsburgh’s Adrian Van Kaam. Not every book on doubt draws on Newbigin and Pannenberg and Volf. I swear it’s the first time I’ve seen R.C. Sproul and Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton and Sinclair Ferguson (and Abraham Kuyper and Flannery O’Connor) cited in the same dazzling chapters.

Listen to these great endorsements:

“In this remarkable book, A. J. guides us into a path of stronger faith through the surprising valley of doubt. I resonated with this book at a profound level and think you will too.”– Jon Tyson, Church of the City New York; author of Beautiful Resistance

“Whether you’re in the midst of the isolation and disruption that doubting your faith often leads to or if you’re leading those who are, A. J. Swoboda’s voice is one of a well-differentiated leader, accurately articulating the struggle many Christians are experiencing and casting a hopeful vision for a way forward together.”– Emily P. Freeman, author of The Next Right Thing

“Swoboda invites us to reimagine what’s happening when we doubt the coherence of the Christian faith. What if the disorientation is actually a strange gift, pushing us toward growth and transformation? In this book you’ll find wisdom and guidance as you take your questions deeper.”– Tim Mackie, cofounder of the BibleProject

“As a college professor who daily watches the challenges of life and the ideologies of the age batter my students’ confidence in their Christian faith, I am eager to put this book into their hands. It offers an informed, insightful, and deeply empathetic conversation about the road home.”– Sandra Richter, Westmont College

By the way, Mr. Swoboda has a way of showing up regularly in our annual Lenten suggestions. I have raved more than once about his splendidly written book A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience (Baker; $15.00.) It is about the “Triduum” — Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. There is really nothing like it and I highly suggest that anyone who preaches or offers spiritual direction during this season should have it. For a more scholarly work, by the way, don’t miss the very impressive, heavy, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan Lewis (Eerdmans; $39.50) and the more recent ‘He Descended to the Dead’: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday by Matthew Emerson (IVP Academic; $30.00.)

Awakened By Death: Living Giving Lessons from the Mystics Christiana N. Peterson (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Kudos to Broadleaf for publishing this great writer in a sturdy hardback, even if it is a topic and title that might be off putting to some. But why should it? We’re all going to die, right? And many of us have great appreciation for genealogies, the past, history – okay, cemeteries; that’s where this is going. Christiana says on the first page that she loves graveyards. And, man, there’s a lot to be learned from the inscriptions of headstones and much to ponder about life lived in light of the realities of death. Ashes to ashes, Memento mori.

Awakened by Death sounds like a very good one for Lent.

I’m very eager to read this — in part because there is nothing quite like it that we know of (“immersed in a holy awareness of our mortality”) but also because we know that Ms. Peterson is a great writer. We adored her well-written memoir Mystics and Misfits that both told of her involvement (with her husband and children) in a rural, intentional Christian living community alongside her own discovery of medieval saints, especially the one named Francis. If this book is even half as engaging and insightful and honest and moving as Misfits… it is going to be unforgettable.

I am glad this book is said to be about “how God can be found even in dying, loss, and grief.” In these days when so many of us have been touched by Covid-related deaths, when it feels like the plague or black death all around our nation and world, it could be useful to learn from those who found God in the middle of those legendary cultural tragedies.

I adore the books about funerals and undertaking by the master writer Thomas Lynch. I’m still dipping in to last year’s anthology of his writing called The Depositions: New and Selected Essays on Being and Ceasing to Be. If Christiana Peterson’s Awakened by Death brings us clarity about anything close to the topic the way Lynch does, it will be a great read and good addition to libraries about death and dying. I find it promising that the publisher says this about it:

Fear of death is nearly as inevitable as death itself, so we have used modern medicine and the funeral industry to create an ever-increasing distance between us and our mortality. But these interventions have stripped death of its mystery and mysticism. Taking readers on a journey through history, guided by the mystics, Awakened by Death shows us how our psychological and spiritual relationship to death has changed over time, and helps us to reclaim a healthy engagement with our own mortality. Ultimately, readers will gain a deeper understanding of how facing the fear of death, and embracing rather than eschewing its mysteries, can help us live richer, fuller lives.

I like the good words about it written by Christine Valter Paintner, who says:

This is an important book. In a culture that desperately tries to deny mortality, Christiana N. Peterson offers us a gift and an invitation. She presents an ambitious journey through history to follow the path of an impressive array of ancient and modern mystics who knew that death could be a sister or a friend. These stories, paired with her own personal ones, bring the reader on a pilgrimage of the heart and, ultimately, toward a deeper cherishing of life.

I admire the writing of Kelly Nikondeha, who recently wrote Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom. What a book that was! She says this book could bring us not only less fear, but “resurrection goodness.” Listen to this by Nikondeha:

You will be better prepared to walk through the valleys and vistas of life after reading Awakened by Death. Christiana N. Peterson is a gracious guide through graveyards and dark places, ultimately moving us toward the light where we can live with less fear and more resurrection goodness on this side of eternity.

And this good endorsement by Andrew Peterson, the singer-songwriter, author of the kids’ fantasy series The Wingfeather Saga, and founder of Rabbit Room, is really worth reading. I like that he says this:

“For as long as I can remember, I have felt more unsettled by our modern culture’s discomfort with death than by death itself. That’s why I’m grateful for this book, which is less of a cold, hard look at the specter that haunts us all, and more of a gently guided walk through a lovely old cemetery. Peterson’s done her homework and has a lot to teach us about the way Christians through the ages have reckoned with the ticking clock of our own lives. Yes, Christ conquered death-all the more reason to look it fearlessly in the eye and ask what it has to teach us about life.”

Wait With Me: Meeting God in Loneliness     Jason Gaboury (IVP) $16.00                                      OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

When this came out right before the Covid pandemic last spring, I kept wanting to tell people about it; many folks became deeply lonely as we quarantined and sheltered in place. Many of us – if we are being as careful as we should be – most likely are struggling with this yet today. I know we are.

A month ago we highlighted and recommended a very good new book on loneliness and we had a number of folks order it from us. More than I expected, actually, and I know at least one group that I respect a lot is using it for a study. It is called The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other by Charlotte Donlon (Broadleaf Books; $16.99) and it deserves being mentioned again. In that previous BookNotes shout out I noted how very interesting and helpful it is, and how many good writers endorsed it heartily – Karen Swallow Prior, Lauren Winner, Marlena Graves, David Zahl. She is a spiritual director and offers good ideas for “transforming loneliness into true belonging.”

For some reason, it feels to me that Jason Gaboury’s fine book Wait With Me, is, alongside of Donlon’s, a very good Lenten read. It seems almost to have a tone of lament, a deeper spiritual discernment of the culture’s brokenness and our deeply human condition of alienation; it names the isolation we feel (even though it was written before Covid.) As my friend Jonathan Walton (Twelve Lies that Hold American Captive) wisely said about it, “This book is not a roadmap how to escape something that is core to being human, but a testament to how rigorous engagement with loneliness can free us to live more fully as people made in the image of God.”

It is not a roadmap how to escape. It certainly does not do an end-run around or a pious cover up of our loneliness. It does invite us to a deeper awareness of God’s presence in our affliction and to know Christ in his own solitude and sorrow. The title, you will recall, is a line from Jesus Himself in his own time of sadness. Man, this is Lenten stuff, right there, isn’t it?

Listen to what Jamie Smith says about it:

“This, thankfully, is not a book that promises to solve loneliness. It’s not a how-to guide for ‘getting out there’ or a formula for ensuring God will erase your sense of isolation. This book is something very different: a poignant, wise, at times searing invitation to attend to our loneliness as a call from God. This is spiritual writing that is at once urgent and patient, honest and inviting.”–James K. A. Smith, Professor of Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview at Calvin University, author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

…And Yet, Undaunted: Embraced by the Goodness of God in the Chaos of Life           Paula Rinehart & Connally Gilliam (NavPress)  $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

We awarded this one of our Best Books of 2019 Award last year (you can read my longer review here.) So it’s a really good one!  I loved it then and mention it now in part because of the wisdom and down to Earth sisterly sort of advice these women offer.

Both authors have written well about basic sorts of evangelical discipleship, especially for women. This recent one is written in short devotional-like chapters and would be ideal for working through in this complicated season. It gives us words to use that are generative and what we need right now.

You may know that there has been a bit of a shift in the frame of understanding of faith and discipleship in recent years, a shift we have promoted for decades. It has been shown that the Bible is an unfolding drama with a coherent (if circuitous) plot. There is an over-arching narrative, a trajectory; it is, as they say, a narrative.

It is also observed that we live our lives in light of a story that captures us – we make our decisions and find meaning in light of some overarching plot we think we are in. Naturally, then, our own story ought to be shaped by the Biblical story what Lesslie Newbigin called “the true story of the whole world.”

Calling the Bible (and our life formed by it) a story is heard in recent titles like The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story or God’s Story, Our Story, or The Story of God, The Story of Us. It’s a good trend to see the Bible as something other than a repository of doctrine or a bunch of disconnected episodes, let alone a rulebook. There is a redemptive storyline to the Bible and the only way to read God’s Word well is to see that Big Picture. And the only way to follow Jesus as agents of His Kingdom is to see our lives unfolding as part of His ongoing mission to complete the redemptive plot. It is one of the chief tasks of our churches, I’d say, is to invite people into the life of a community that sees itself as a part of this Biblical story. In Christ, we become actors in God’s redemptive adventure, and what an epic story it is.

Enter Rinehart and Gilliam and And Yet, Undaunted who help us frame our own lives in light of the four major themes of the plot of Scripture, the “acts” of the drama, so to speak. From Al Wolters to Marva Dawn to N.T. Wright and to so many others, we have seen the key high-points of salvation history to be (a) the act of God forming a good creation with humans bearing the image of God, (b) the radical fall into sin and rebellion and dysfunction, (c) the decisive promise and accomplishment of redemption in Christ, (d) and the future hope of “all things restored.” Get it? Creation-fall-redemption-restoration: those are the major “acts” of the Biblical drama.

Creation/fall/redemption/restoration is, in fact, the organizing structure of our Jubilee Conference held out in Pittsburgh (virtual this year, so you can easily attend) that each February invites college students to “live a better story” by entering into that on-going drama.

Rinehart and Gilliam tell that story in a lovely, fresh way in the four units of their book. They allow the big picture of God’s Biblical plot to inform how we understand our daily lives, our personal hurts and fears, and how to learn to trust not only that God is good, but that God is up to something good: the fulfillment of His promises to renew and restore the cosmos. Our daily lives find health and hope by placing ourselves between the creation and the new creation, in the plot that moves from the garden to the city. Christ’s “new creation” work in Jerusalem, on the cross, through the resurrection, is at the very heart of this big story so this season of the church calendar isn’t merely one for beating our selves up or being extra punctilious about spiritual tings. It is about living into the heart of the gospel story in all its vast hope.

It is explained in And Yet… that we as people are good, part of God’s very good creation, but we are hurting, not as we were meant to be because of our complicity as rebels in this fallen and distorted world. Christ has brought us back to life and redeemed His beloved creation, but yet the hopeful end is not yet seen. We walk by faith into the newness of life, realizing that the Kingdom is already but not yet.

And Yet, Undaunted easily gets at the creation-fall-redemption-restoration worldview story and helps us frame all of our lives — all of our sorrows and all of our successes and joys — within the context of this big, true, Story of God.

And here is how they do it — this is amazing and unlike any book on the market. Read on, please!

These authors transpose the words “creation”-“fall”-“redemption” and “restoration” into phrases that were coined by the super smart worldviewish consultant (of the Clapham Institute in Annapolis, MD) Mike Metzger. Namely, their four units are:

  • What Ought to Be (Creation)
  • What Is (Fall)
  • What Can Be (Redemption)
  • What Will Be (Restoration)

The chapters are almost devotional in nature, with lots of Bible-based encouragement to live into this “ought-is-can-will be” framework. This slant, this take, this narrative, this Story is how to get the Biblical worldview into your bones and into your imagination. Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent College in British Columbia explains the value of this, how the language of this very book can help us name and make sense of our life and times, in this “beautiful but broken” world:

This book exposes our longings for a better world and then points us forward to the way things can and will be redeemed by Jesus Christ. Because of that, we can live realistically and joyfully – even undaunted – in this beautiful but broken world. Sharing openly about their own lives, Paula and Connally invite us to do the same and live not our best life not, but our real life now.

Cherie Harder of The Trinity Forum writes about it so well:

This wise, beautiful book will undoubtedly serve as a guide and friend through the dark valleys of life, a balm and a spur to those weighed down with regret, disappointment, and unmet longing. And Yet, Undaunted shows the possibilities of finding courage and joy in your life story, by pointing at the Larger Story – what ought to be, what is, what can be, and what will be – and the ways in which Love himself unites the plot and pervades each scene.

Listen to Vaneetha Rendall Risner (The Scars That Have Shaped Me) who says:

Connally and Paula’s writing makes my heart ache – ache for the way things ought to be and ache for the way things will, one day, be – all while dignifying the longing, disappointment, and suffering wrapped up in the now. I am so grateful for these two women: for their wisdom, honesty, and call to hopeful courage. This book will faithfully point you to Jesus as you are drawn in to engage with the deep longings and questions rumbling inside your heart.

Prayer: Forty Days of Practice Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson (Waterbrook) $16.99                                          OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer (Waterbrook)  $16.95                                                      OUR SALE PRICE  $13.59

I was talking on the phone the other day to my good friend Justin McRoberts and recalled how I suggested these in previous Lent lists. It just seemed really useful and people were so surprised to realize how artful and creative they were.

These two books are perfect for a Lenten practice for those who don’t want too much study or too many words. Some of us, especially we who love books, maybe have read enough books about how to pray and just need some help to get to it, honestly. For newer BookNotes fans, they may not know these remarkable books of edgy contemporary art and brief reflections designed to stir you to pray. This really is about connecting with God for the sake of the world and is done with images and words that combine to form a remarkable window into deeper intimacy with God.

There is nothing like these, believe me, and many of found them fabulous, evocative resources. We’re glad both singer-songwriter/speaker Justin and visual artist/writer and speaker, Scott will both be presenting at the (virtual) Jubilee conference again this year. Both books are highly recommended.



The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $23.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19

Yes, again and again, I tell about this. Here was one of my first reviews of it in which I described it and recommended it. As Comer puts in his fabulous podcast, it captures something of our “cultural moment.”

It is zippy to read, written by a hip young pastor, a cool writer, a leader who was on the crispy cusp of burnout who was seeking advice, we learn, from Dallas Willard about spiritual formation. This is his telling of what he learned from Willard’s famous answer. It has been one of the most popular books of last year and we are glad to suggest it again, now, in this season to consider our pace of life and our desires to take on the easy yoke of Christ. Not dense, to very useful in this time when we are called to recommit to being intentional about our habits.

How about giving up hurry for Lent? This can help.

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Many people loved the best-selling first book of the lovely, passionate writer Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Life Fully Right Where You Are. It is a beautiful book looking at the goodness of the world and how to find God’s presence in the many gifts around us. This one, a flip-side sequel, so to speak, to put in simply, looks at other sorts of gifts, the hard ones, the broken and painful things, God’s call to get real about what seems to be unpleasant stuff. What do we do with our “unspoken broken”? How can we be honest about these gritty things in ways that might be transformative? Voskamp is a passionate writer and many adore her honest storytelling and realistic (but, in a way, visionary) sense of how to live in this “broken way.”

Important, eloquent, trustworthy authors like Philip Yancey and Eugene Peterson and Christine Caine have complimented Voskamp’s writing and wisdom. Max Lucado mentions her “skill with words” and “her tenderness with hearts.”

This handsome hardback would be a good book to curl up with and read slow only in these days of winter as we move towards spring. The fourteen chapter titles themselves are allusive and inviting, evoking in many the desire to do this work, go on this journey, allow love to break us and heal us. There is, by the way, a very nice DVD curriculum, too.

The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.           Rich Villodas (Waterbrook) $24.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

This book has really caught on within a number of our circles and it is a delight to see this New York Latino, a pastor from Queens, get so much attention for his first book. It is missional, visionary, an energetic invitation to make a difference in the complex and challenging world of crisis in which we live, all by being, firstly, shaped by the person of Jesus. Which shapes us into being the kind of people who can walk in his ways. Talk about a book appropriate for a Lenten journey!

Villodas is clear and upbeat, energetic and a good writer. This is the best of what evangelical piety can look like – Christ-centered and oriented to action in the world. And he does what action. The book is about being “deeply formed” so we can be on that rugged way of service.

I want to mention, briefly, that I do not know many books that are about spiritual disciplines, our interior lives, inviting spiritual transformation that have as one of the key spiritual priorities to grapple with racial justice. Although it should be obvious, racism is (as Dr. King often said) not only an ideology that hurts people of color but damages the soul of the racist. Rev. Villodas offers us a guide to wholistic transformation, including – alongside more expected practices like contemplative rhythms, interior examination and such – an honest appraisal of our commitment to be anti-racist.

We are, he realizes, exhausted and superficial, divided and distracted. We have a confused sexual attitude that splits bodies from souls; wow can we reject unhealthy compartmentalization? The Deeply Formed Life is a great book to read with others, but if you can’t, pick it up and start through it on your own. It’s okay if you don’t agree with all of it or if his convictions and missional approach aren’t all your own. It’s a fabulous guide to get us going in the right direction with lots of stories and lots of healthy insights.

Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone James Martin (HarperOne) $27.99                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

What a classic topic to explore during Lent – your prayer life. We have to list this brand new one even though I haven’t looked at it much at all. I stayed up to watch Father Martin, a really funny and super smart Jesuit (aren’t they all? Smart, I mean) on Colbert and it could have been a slightly edgy 700 Club episode. Neither Colbert nor Martin apologized to their public audience or were squirrely about talking overtly as Christians. They just went ahead and talked honestly about a Christian spirituality of prayer, why it matters, how to start, what to say, how to listen to God, whether we should use prayer aids like the rosary, etc. etc. It was really refreshing and reminded me of the older days when Colbert would Martin on as his spiritual director. The two have been friends for a long time.

This book carries weighty and gushing endorsements by Catholic writers like Mary Karr and clerics like Bishop Robert Barron and mystics like Joyce Rupp and Ronald Rohlheiser, as well as activists like Helen Prejean. Even Rowan Williams has a rave commendation. And I Iove that they brought Kathleen Norris into it, as she says “this delightful book is truly for everyone.” This is a hefty book, a major release of the season. 20% off, too of course.

Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out Juanita Campbell Rasmus         (IVP) $22.00                                                          OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60       

This is a very moving volume of contemporary spiritual wisdom written beautifully, nearly as a memoir. Juanita Rasmus is a lively African American woman involved in ministry with her husband, Rudy (also a vibrant author), in United Methodist church in downtown Houston. She has been a spiritual director and travelled with Richard Foster’s Renovare ministry. (She has, in fact, spoken to a Renovare gathering here in central PA and those who heard her were just in awe.)

Learning to Be talks about what Juanita calls “The Crash.” You can imagine – part nervous breakdown, part “major depressive episode” part dark night of the soul. And yet, when her life came crashing to a halt, she found she “had to learn to be – with herself and with her God – all over again.”

Maybe like her you may be a perfectionist, a “good” Southern woman, a ministry leader, a driven workaholic, coping with shame and too, too busy. But, like her, perhaps you have felt overstressed and empty and need to learn to just be.

Richard Foster writes that he has known Juanita Rasmus for many years and admires her greatly. He says:

This is a book of genuine substance dealing with the most heart-wrenching needs of the human soul. I recommend it highly.

Just Tell the Truth: A Call to Faith, Hope, and Courage Richard Lischer (Eerdmans) $24.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Eerdmans is such an important, storied publishing house and they are known for exceptionally scholarly volumes of Biblical studies and theology and other serious tomes of social and cultural criticism. They also have books that are more oriented towards the popular reader, a reader that might be the nearly ideal caricature of a Hearts & Minds customer and BookNotes fan — thoughtful, a bit literary, ecumenical, open-minded but deeply serious about faith, educated but mostly not working in academia, committed to the life of the local church. Most of us want books a cut above the average – intellectually stimulating but not dry, Biblically and theologically astute but not strident, creative and lovely without being too weird. And, once again, Eerdmans comes through with a book that should be very widely read and truly enjoyed. Just Tell the Truth is a collection of sermons that many of our customers will surely appreciate. It will delight your reading palette with solid, interesting, enjoyable meat with just a bit of spice.

Richard Lischer is a very good writer. We have often promoted his memoir about being a small town Lutheran pastor (Open Secrets) and his story about his family’s grief upon the death of his son (Stations of the Heart.) He has a major book about Martin Luther King’s preaching and I adored (and still recommend) his book about preaching called The End of Words. His study of the parables in the New Interpreters Commentary series is very highly regarded. We have ‘em all.

I have not looked at this brand new one yet – it just came! We had ordered a bunch in anticipation. I trust it will be excerpted in places like The Christian Century, at least so some of our customers will hear more about it soon. With rave reviews on the back from Barbara Brown Taylor and Will Willimon – who calls it “evocative, creative, demanding beguiling, and faithful” – it should be widely read. Let’s hope so.

At the heart of the book seems to be this question: “what does it mean to live the Christian life with conviction.” Pastor Lischer is showing us his love for preaching, insisting that these verbal works of art can help us understand why they gospel matters. Stanley Hauerwas says he does so “with searing honesty.” He continues, “God knows we need examples of sermons that avoid the sentimentalities of our culture, and this book does just that.”

Here are the section titles, each offering a good handful of sermons

1. Season of Suffering
2. Waiting in Hope
3. Triumph
4. The Life of Faith
5. People: For All the Saints
6. Public Callings

William Barber says:

Richard Lischer plumbs both deep traditions and urgent contexts to remind us that it is when the ancestors speak strongest through the preacher that she or he unfurls the most original and creative visions.

Donyelle McCray of Yale Divinity School writes,

This luminous volume erases any doubt about the sermon’s capacity to cheer the heart. With striking immediacy, God’s word emerges as salve, compass, catalyst, and joy.

The Cross Examen: Spirituality for Activists Roger J. Gench (Cascade Books) $20.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I only have only just discovered this book that was released late in 2020 – we hope to have more in soon. I’m excited about it. It is slim but potent, beautifully rendered with powerful stories. Gench served as Senior Pastor of the famed New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC and now is “Theologian in Residence” at Second Presbyterian in Richmond and an adjunct faculty member of Union in Richmond. Several years back he wrote a well-received book about urban ministry called Theology from the Trenches.

This recently released one, as the title suggests, explores “the essential relationship between spirituality and activism” but it does so – get this! – with a robust political theology of the cross. That is, both contemplative practice and social activism should bear “the same cruciform footprint” and are thereby integrally connected. There are shades of Michael Gorman’s work here and yet he goes farther in ruminating about the connection between Christ’s cross and the “other crosses” that illustrate the pains and brokenness of our world, both personal and public.

I cannot think of a book I have seen that is quite like this. He looks at the cruciform life and explores it even in specific Biblical books (a whole chapter on Galatians!) and he does this with an eye to discipleship that is both interior and public. The whole second half offers practices for spiritual formation all the while it explores the fruits of the spirit at applied to the political turmoil of our era. The fruits of the Spirit for public life? Wow.

Read this blurb on the back cover:

There is no better time for religious leaders to learn how to pray than in the challenging and unpredictable times in which we are living. There is also no better spiritual guide and teacher than seasoned activist and pastor Roger Gench. If you are looking for a resource that will provide you or your study group with life-sustaining contemplative practices that you need to turn away from the violence and polarization so endemic in our times and toward neighbor, nature, and God, you have found it in The Cross Examen.”  –Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, author of The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence

By the way, the striking art piece on the cover is called “Death” by Dutch painter Anneke Kaai.

The J-Curve: Dying & Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life Paul E. Miller (Crossway) $22.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

In my list last week I highlighted two books that offered very clear-headed and theologically solid descriptions of our union with Christ and with the work of the cross of Christ. Both were by a very thoughtful mainstream evangelical writer, Rankin Wilbourne, and received my warmest recommendation. Thanks to those who ordered them.

This book which we have described before at BookNotes might be in a similar sort of style and approach, a book which has practical application – some might say it is pastoral – by appropriating major and heavy theological themes to ordinary living. This is not in the genre of mystical spirituality nor is it abstract, heady theology. This is detailed Biblical teaching applied to the foibles of our character. In this one – somewhat akin to the messages of Wilbourne – we are invited to think about how the very pattern of Jesus (dying and rising) is a pattern of our own lives. We go down, down, down in recognition of sin. We struggle and – according to the Scriptures – die with Christ. But in dying, like Christ, we arise anew. Hence, the J-curve of the title and the illustration on the cover. Can you imagine your life patterned like a J?

Paul Miller is known for a beautiful book about loving others well; he has a book about Ruth, and is most known for The Praying Life. (And there is a new book about his father, Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller by Michael Graham to which Paul wrote a lovely foreword about learning about the doctrines of grace from his famous father.)

The J-Curve: Dying & Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life, though, is a tad deeper and more complex than anything he has done before. But for those who work through it, The J-Curve and its solid framework (“a map of the Christian life” he calls it) for thinking about our Christian growth. I hate to use the fancy pants word, but it is, I’d say, a book that moves from justification to sanctification. It does not conflate the two, but it does show the similar processes. It names our sins and daily hurts, our failings and pains, and it offers the hopes and joys of what the old Lutheran liturgy calls “the newness of life.” It is, finally, a book about transforming grace.

This book takes the creedal teaching and liturgical habit of confession and renewal into the realm of daily living and real Christian growth. It tethers our transformation to Christ and his cross and resurrection. It tethers our daily hurts and sadness to Christ’s own. Can you think of a better theological book to study during Lent?

Here is what Joni Eareckson Tada (a family friend of the Millers) says of it:

‘Take up your cross and follow me.’ What was Jesus asking us to do — or be? How does it play out in everyday life? These questions are intensely practical from the moment I wake up in the morning. And that’s why I love Paul Miller’s new book, J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life. Never have I read a more practical work on how a Christian can flourish through deep affliction. This book will revolutionize the way you look at your sufferings and your relationship to Christ. If you’re craving a life with your Savior that utterly transforms, this book is your best hands-on guide.”

Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends

And, fun fact spoiler alert for local customers: the story about the owner of an ice cream place who learned to trust Christ more in her own life and work? Visit the DQ out on Route 30 in West York! Even if you don’t buy The J-Curve, you should go there!

Christ and Calamity: Grace & Gratitude in the Darkest Valley Harold Senkbeil (Lexham Press) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

I’ve long liked the alliteration of “grace & gratitude” and I appreciated the very handsome, award-winning book on deeply theological and spiritual pastor care written by Rev. Senkbeil (The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart) just a few years ago. So when this pocket sized, but very handsome and well designed little paperback came out, by this same author, we bought a bunch sight unseen. Later, it won a Christianity Today book of the year award and that re-confirmed in my mind that this was well worth having.

This little essay is pastoral balm based on what some call “the great exchange” – our rags replaced by Christ’s righteousness; our guilt, His grace; our hurt, His hope. The frightened disciples in the boat cry out, “Lord, do you not care if we perish?” In the midst of suffering and uncertainty, Senkbeil says, we’re all prone to think that God has forgotten us.

This little volume does not explore all the hard nuances of theodicy. It isn’t comprehensive and isn’t going to assuage the horror of some who are in deep distress. But for most people, it seems, this good sermon that Christ is mighty to save, that He wills our good, that in all things God is with us, will be a great blessing.

As Lexham sometimes does, there are black pages with enlarged white print, pull quotes with that reverse printing look. It is visually striking and an expense and artfulness they put into the design that gives the book the gravity it deserves. The author is a theologically conservative Lutheran and offers time-honored, classic truth for those who need a word of prayerful comfort during time of affliction.

There are a few short prayers and litanies in the back, too, and a couple of lyrics to old hymns. Mature, good stuff.

Might from the Margins: The Gospels Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice Dennis R. Edwards (Herald Press) $16.99                                           OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is another book we have promoted and if we were out doing off-site book events we’d be showing it off and hand-selling it. It is a remarkable, easy to read book – Jim Wallis calls it “a powerful” and “inspiring” and it surely is. We’ve followed Dr. Edwards’s work for years (and I have used his Story of God: 1 Peter commentary.) He is a professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary and author of What is the Bible and How Do We Understand It in the little “The Jesus Way” series published by Herald Press.

As I considered what books I might highlight here that seemed useful for this time in our year – culturally, socially, and liturgically – it seems that Might from the Margins would be ideal. Like other Lenten themes, this calls us to downward mobility, so to speak, to servanthood and giving up privilege. It includes a call to the margins, to listen well to those who have been ignored or marginalized. Indeed, Edwards shows that this is at the heart of much of the Biblical narrative. The power of the gospel is the key to the story – that is, not human power. The Bible shows God working in history, unfolding God’s own purposes. Might form the Margins is designed to show how God uses the power present within marginalized communities but it does so by documenting this in the Bible itself. As it says on the back, “God has empowered marginalized Christians to transform the church.”

Here is the quite wonderful titles of each of the chapters in the table of contents:

The Power of God, The Power of Diaspora People, The Power to Discern Injustice, The Power of Prophecy, The Power of Anger, The Power of Solidarity, The Power of Worship, The Power of Hope, The Power of Spirit, The Power of Love.

Drew Hart of Messiah University and author of the must-read Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance, writes that it is, “A compelling vision forward, grounded in Scripture and God’s delivering presence for those with their ‘backs against the wall.’” Right on!

Finding Jesus at the Border: Opening Our Hearts to the Stories of Our Immigrant Neighbors Julia Lambert Fogg (Brazos Press) $17.99                      OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I suppose it isn’t my best strategy to try to sell books to our friends and good customers by making readers feel guilty. But, alas, it is nearly Ash Wednesday and we nearing Lent so it is time for us to all get honest about our sin which includes complicity in this awful world of sin and violence. I suspect that most of us were heartbroken to learn, if we did not know, that the Obama Administration had a fairly brutal policy when it came to immigrant children at the Southern border. And it was excruciating to know that President Trump’s administration, with lots of loud so-called “Christian” backing, put children in what resembled cages, tore mothers and children apart, had sloppy and cruel policies that devastated families, tore them apart and lost track of some of the separated children. That groups like Tony Perkins’ so-called pro-family organization supported these policies that hurt children is beyond flabbergasting. That most of us cared sincerely but didn’t know what to do is, if we are honest, also vexing. We are all implicated.

And so, for Lenten penance, I suggest we read something like this. We have more than a dozen others on this topic and we commend everything from the best-selling novel (that I could not put down, harrowing as it was) American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins to the real life story of the terrible train ride by Sonia Nazario, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother to IVP’s riveting Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mothers, and a Migrant Child’s 3,000 Miles Journey by Gena Thomas to any number of New York Times best sellers or the many theological studies we stock on this topic. Pick something that will get you in touch with our hard hearts and our frustrating sense of incapacity. Finding Jesus at the Border, is a good start.

Getting to hear the stories, meeting the people, and helping us see the Biblical correlation, is the goal of Finding Jesus at the Border, a book called “beautifully written, well-researched, and painfully moving.”

Interweaving biblical narratives of border crossing and stories of immigrants journeying to the United States today, this recent work invites us during this season of repentance to reconsider the plight of our neighbors. It calls us to ask WWJD which is a pretty solid Lenten practice, eh? Julia Lambert Fogg, by the way, has a PhD from Emory, is an ordained Presbyterian minister, and teaches religion at a Lutheran University while she works often with congregations near the Southern US border. Her Meeting Jesus… vividly helps us with that classic desire to read the world in light of the Word and to read the Word in light of the world. Highly recommended.

Weep With Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation Mark Vroegop (Crossway) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

In a “First Friday” Zoom lecture I did not long ago for friends at Chestnut Grove Presbyterian Church (visit our Hearts & Minds Facebook group page to watch it if you’d like) I was asked a question about trends in the publishing world and things we may have learned in this past hard year. I noted two things that seem to stand out in these past months and that includes a deepening awareness of the role of lament and an honest reckoning with the disappointments and injustices in our world and, of course, the deeper awareness many American’s have, now, about the racism – instructional and otherwise – that still plagues our society (and, in many cases, our law enforcement organizations.) There have been several new books in recent years about lament and many, many about racism. Weep With Me is a solid contribution to both fields, inviting us to lament (Biblically) about racism.

Weep With Me is a book I’ve mentioned before and I think it is very useful. It is written by a white pastor, who is a straight-arrow conservative theologically. It is not edgy or progressive or written by what some dismiss as a social justice warrior. Vroegop is a pastor of an evangelical church who wants to do what the Bible says and what God’s grace demands. An earlier book, last year’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament won a number of awards and seemed to be helpful to many as he invited the use of the Biblical songs and Psalms of lament in personal devotion and public worship. This newer one, Weep with Me, applies that teaching specifically to the topic or racism.

“Gospel unity,” he writes, “creates racial harmony.” Yes. But to truly experience such unison in the gospel we work out our life together as those whoe one in Christ, which at least means learning to “weep with those who weep.”

Those of us from majority cultures simply must listen to the heartfelt agonies of our black brothers and sisters and other people of color. In this good study, pastor Vroegop – who starts the book with an painfully honest admission of his privileged past that kept him from seeing some pretty plain facts in his ministry setting – unfolds how to develop empathy, how we need heart change and a very deep level. He says about the practice of lament, it is “the biblical language of empathy and exile, perseverance and protest.”

At the end of each of the strong 9 chapters there is a sample prayer, written by black, white, Latino, and Asian pastors or leader (mostly men.) Further, there are a few appendices offering samples of prayers of lament.

Here is the table of contents so you can see if this might be useful for your or your congregation or group:

Part 1 Lament in the Bible and History

  1. Pray: The Language of Lament

2.Listen: Lessons from African American Spirituals

3.Walk: The Bridge of Lament

Part 2 Lament and Majority Christians

  1. Weep: The Healing Grace of Empathy
  2. Speak: Ending the Painful Silence
  3. Repent: Remembering with Remorse

Part 3 Lament and Minority Christians

7.Protest: The Voice of Exiles

8.Triumph: Redeeming the Pain

9.Believe: Dare to Hope Again

Conclusion: Lament: An Open Door for Racial Reconciliation                                       Appendix 1: Psalms of Laments                                                                               Appendix 2: Learning-to-Lament Worksheet                                                             Appendix 3: Sample Civil Rights Vision Trip Itinerary

Motherhood: A Confession Natalie Carnes (Stanford University Press) $24.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Again, for those who want something substantive and reflective, deep and meaningful to read during Lent but who don’t want a little daily devotional, or anything exactly about Lent, this thoughtful book might be a real companion for your journey this next month or so. That is, if you’re pregnant. (Or, if you’re not. Work with me here, people! It is a book Tish Warren says “combines profound theological depth with astonishing beauty and Jamie Smith calls “a masterpiece.”) Pregnant or not, a mother or not, a woman or not, this is a pretty amazing work.

We were struck by this book the moment we heard about it; I am not sure what we read but it was most likely a short review in Publishers Weekly or an advert in an industry journal. We knew the author had written a book of feminist analysis of Christian art (nursing Madonna’s actually) and teaches at Baylor. Could this book be as interesting as we hoped?

When we got it in the store, we realized it really is exactly a companion to and conversation partner with St. Augustine and his famous Confessions. Jessica Mesman calls it “beautiful” on the front cover, and we were hooked.

Can stuff about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and mothering feel Lenten? Yes. And linking it to a spiritual classic about repentance surely makes it apropos. What if Augustine’s Confessions had been written not by a man, but by a mother? How might her tales of desire, temptation, and transformation differ from his? Natalie Carnes “describes giving birth to a daughter and beginning a story of conversion strikingly unlike Augustine’s — even as his journey becomes a surprising companion to her own.”

Turn the book over, and we find rave endorsing blurbs by two good friends, Tish Harrison Warren and James K.A. Smith, who calls it “a masterpiece.” And a great endorsement by the always-interesting Tony Jones.

Here is what they wrote:

Natalie Carnes’ remarkable meditation on motherhood, in conversation with Augustine’s Confessions, is destined to become a classic itself. Her prose is vivid; her insight is penetrating; her honesty is disarming. This is a book that has been waiting 1,600 years to be birthed. Carnes has brought forth a masterpiece.                             — James K.A. Smith, author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

Parenting can feel terrifyingly lonely, in part because it conjures emotions wholly unique to the endeavor. Natalie Carnes reflects on her own motherhood in this moving memoir alongside the progenitor of the genre, Augustine’s Confession — a risky undertaking, but accomplished brilliantly. Motherhood is a book to be savored.                                — Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution

This book pulls you in and leaves you better for having read it. Natalie Carnes’s meditations on her experience are vulnerable and relatable, yet she gives us so much more than merely another Christian ‘mom book.’ Rich with insights from iconography, scriptural exegesis, and the Church fathers, her work as a mother, a stunningly gifted writer, and a thoughtful theologian combine to give us a gem of a book that often left me in tears. The beating heart of Motherhood: A Confession is the power of a mother’s love, and Carnes’s luminous examination of that love’s complexities, contradictions, and grace drew me into wonder and worship. This is a rare book, one that combines profound theological depth with astonishing beauty. As Augustine’s own Confessions would say, Tolle lege. Take up, read, and savor this book.                  — Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life and Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Watch or Work or Weep

Dinner Party with the Saints Woodeene Koenig-Bricker (Paraclete Press) $17.99                              OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Speaking of Saint Augustine (and his own mother, and mistress) they all make an appearance in this utterly charming, fanciful, clever, and very informative and entertaining book. I wasn’t sure if it should be added to a list of heavy books for our complicated times here during Lent because it is written with whimsy and includes some remarkable recipes, crafted by a classically trained culinary artist, Celia Murphy. The last chapter made me weep with its simple reminder of the call to servanthood and kindness, so I knew I had to mentioned it quickly here, now.

This new book offers a handful of components in each chapter. First, the main part of the chapter is fictional as the saint to whom we are being introduced shows up at this celestial dinner party “up there” in heaven. Yep, it’s goofy and romantic with harps and golden streets and these saints realizing that can let go of some of their earthly compulsions – St. John Henry Newman arguing rational theology, Francis Borgia flagellating himself, the other St. Francis over-doing the fasting, as they readily admit in a conversation at the dinner party. (Okay, Newman doesn’t concede, actually.) Yes, each chapter unfolds a part of the story as the guests bring their favorite item to a potluck dinner and observe who all they see there. (They do this potluck thing in America, St. Augustine tells Newman, who finds it exceptionally odd. Ha.) They meet and mingle with clever banter and some self-revelation about their own time and place, fears and foibles, passions and interests. What a hoot!

Next there is a several page non-fiction survey of the Saint in question. This is a remarkable resource for novices to this world.(Koenig-Bricker is the author of 365 Saints, a very popular book in Roman Catholic circles so she knows her stuff.) These 16 sections fill in the facts about the person we met in the fictionalized heavenly banter. Some, naturally, are early saints of the church as mentioned in the Bible, from Martha (who is busy helping organize everything, of course) to St. Peter to St. Lydia of Thyatira to St. John the Baptist (who brings locust to the party, naturally) to St. Martine de Porres to St. Teresa of Avila (with her dancing shoes, which should choke you up if you know about her discalced order) to St. Bridget of Ireland. So many fascinating folks are interacting at this fun dinner party. The factual portions are very interesting as we learn about them all – St. Kateri Tekakwitha (the increasingly well known Native American saint), St. Gertrude of Ivelles, the Korean St. Andrew Kim Taegon (who in the story has his kimchi) and more.

After the fictional conversations and the earnest biographical section, there is another section about the miracles, legends and lore of each saint. There are interesting sidebars and facts and some historical insights. It’s all very interesting.

And then there are the recipes, authentic from the era and location of the famous heavenly conversation partners. There is attention to those who need gluten free diets and there are some that are vegetarian. They look sumptuous and some are not that complex, although a few are perhaps for more adventuresome cooks. This is pretty darn cool, lots of fun, and curiously edifying.

Charming, inspirational, educational, and tasty, this is a lovely book that reminds us that the saints were real people, who worked, slept, prayed, read and ate. Being holy means being yourself, and part of our shared humanity is enjoying a well-cooked meal. I learned a lot about the saints from this book, and also am eager to try some of these recipes!” — James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints and Learning to Pray

“Here’s an offering that is both factually delightful and delightfully true to the facts. This author has done her homework, bringing into real life stories of a whole panoply of saints, revealing their idiosyncrasies and describing the cultures in which these holy men and women practiced their vocations with holy partying and praying.” — Luci Shaw, poet, author of The Generosity; Writer in Residence, Regent College

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $14.99      OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

I think it was two or three seasons ago that I did a BookNotes list of a few books about the cross. From John Stott’s remarkable The Cross of Christ to Fleming Rutledge’s magisterial The Crucifixion to many old and newer studies, the topic is endlessly generative and serious Christians should regularly read books about this key topic.

One of the books I highly recommended – and still do! – is The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion by N.T. Wright (Harper; $19.99.) The premise of that stellar book is that the “end” or goal of the death and resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus is to vindicate God’s promises of offering not only personal salvation for those who believe but to bring about a whole renewal project of the fallen creation. Death and dysfunction – the disordering of the cosmos — is defeated. That is, if the “end game” is a healed or “new” creation, then how should we understand the many references by Paul in the New Testament about the cross? Wright studies each major passage by Paul about the death of Christ and/or the power of the cross in light of the hoped for renewal of all things. It’s a splendid project, and illuminating book.

However, as much as I recommend The Day the Revolution Began, in a way this one, How God Became King, is a prequel to it. It allows us to read Paul in light of Jesus, making clear the gospel-based message and the primary teaching topic of Jesus: that the Kingdom of God is at hand. When we had Tom Wright in the back yard of our store a few years ago he preached on this exact business, joking (as he does in How God Became King) that he could imagine the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, protesting our Apostles Creed for skipping right over the biographies they gave us of Jesus’ teaching, stories, work, and life. Yes, “born of a virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate.” But wait, the apostles insist – we went out of our way to tell about a whole lot of others stuff, his miracles, his parables, his sermons, his confrontations with the religious leaders, his prayers, his promises. What about all that?

One simply cannot understand Jesus, I think, without realizing that the heart of his message is that He is the Messiah of Israel and would bring about, inaugurate, the long-awaited Kingdom of God. On Earth as it is in Heaven. If Paul teaches about the cross as the entryway to the fully consummated new creation, the language Jesus Himself gives us for this is the Kingdom of God.

How God Became King is, for many of us, still, “the forgotten story of the gospels.” We need, during Lent surely, as we move towards the tragic week we call holy and we focus on the horrific trial and cross, to know what it is all about. What is this “revolution” that begins there? N.T. Wright is clear as can be and this book is a great read for any time of year, but especially now.

Don’t miss the three middle chapters under the unit “The Kingdom and the Cross.” He writes about “Where We Get Stuck — Enlightenment, Power, and Empire”, “Kingdom and Cross in Four Dimensions” and “Kingdom and Cross — The Remaking of Meanings.” As always, he moves us towards application, too, as he suggests by the end “how to celebrate God’s story.” Thanks be to God, the suffering King. Please consider ordering some of these for your church, fellowship, Bible study or book club. You won’t regret it!

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work Steven Garber (IVP) $20.00                      OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I sincerely lauded this compact hardback before it even came out and, a year or ago, named it one of my very favorite books of that year. I say an even more audacious thing on the back cover where I was honored to insist that it is one of my all time favorite books of this kind. It is true.

Garber’s previous 2014 Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, also published by IVP, ($18.00; our sale price = $14.40) is another exceptionally important book to me that I find myself talking about often. I think it is ideal for Lent, by the way – he takes our being implicated in the fallen systems and injustices of this world very seriously and he knows (and writes with astonishing beauty) that loving the world as God does is hard, very hard, especially for those who feel the sorrows of things, the pathos. Those of us who carry some of the weight of the world on our sad shoulders need the companions described in Visions of... His tone is morally serious and yet honest about the foibles (and joys!) of such a life given for the sake of the world.

Steve’s collection of shorter posts (complete with lovely, full color pictures) found in The Seamless Life strike me as an introduction to his good writing style – not light and cheery, but certainly not dry or drab – and to his overall vision that our life of discipleship necessarily includes a integrated sense of God’s care for every area of our lives and our sense of His call to serve in every sphere of culture. These luminous, interesting essays are brief but captivating and offer a truly robust vision of the consequences of the gospel being lived out in humane way in all sorts of venues – while watching movies and reading books, in the business world, in farming and in travel, in family life and in politics. Getting to experience his writing style (which is lovely if a bit unique) and his vision, which is deep in his own bones as these reflections indicate, is a joy, if a bit of a challenge. The short pieces really help us become more deeply acquainted with the author and his vision of life.

A Seamless Life is a small but smart book which is ideal for Lent, for a slow careful read. It will make you happy (is that allowed in this liturgical season?) and may make you deeply glad that there are these connections being made – between love and learning, say, or between worship and work, between liturgy and labor – all over the world. He has fanned those flamed, guided and mentored people, reported on that which he sees (sometimes from a bit of a distance, sometimes from quite close up.) His stories about his own life, about those he has taught or inspired, about those he works with, show us what it looks like that the Kingdom is coming. It shows us how to live lives that make sense, coherent and whole.

Many of us lament that our deepest convictions don’t play out in daily life as much as we wish. Few of us are crass dualists – insisting there really is a huge gulf between spiritual things and worldly things – and most of us aspire to a life where what we do on Sunday spills over into Monday. We want to be consistent, living within a fabric of faithfulness. But yet. But yet, we don’t have that many models and stories and examples of those who live so seamlessly they naturally worship at work, love when they learn, see God in everything. Garber’s short essays teach this gently, slowly, not nearly as didactically as I tend to when I preach about such things. He’s got a lovely storyteller’s gift and a good writing style making this book an ideal little volume to read slowly, enjoy, and ponder. Highly recommended!

Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes Jonathan Dodson (IVP) $16.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I have commented on this before and complimented the good insight and quality writing by this young pastor (founder of City Life Church in Austin, Texas.) I loved a thoughtful but inspiring book he did called Here in Spirit explaining the doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit; he wrote another called The Unbelievable Gospel He had one about forming missional communities and one called Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Relatively young, Dodson is perceptive, thoughtful and fully aware that we are living in a culture of crisis. He wrote this book before the Covid pandemic and before the civic chaos of the last months; as I write these comments the President’s awful rhetoric and ugly speeches about his political enemies has been played on national TV as the hearings about the riot at the capitol has lead to even deepening divides in our morally confused age. As the back cover puts it, “We’re confronted with calamity every time we read the headlines.” Yup.

The back cover copy continues: “But behind each of these lurks another kind of crisis, one we find harder to define: a moral crisis – a crisis of goodness. To properly address the crises that plague our world, we must be formed as people of moral goodness.”

This is one of the things I very much appreciated about Dodson’s book. It doesn’t just assert this abstract arguing point that without God we have no ability to measure ethics (an argument that is important to make, I think) and that without a consensus about absolutes we will be forever in a quandary about what is right and good and just. Fair enough, but it’s deeper than just a disagreement about God and truth and right and wrong.

In a way, this deeper moral crisis was the very “line of despair” Schaeffer wrote about as we devolve towards not only incivility and confusion but ultimately nihilism. It seems to me – Dodson does not go here – that the alt-right and Proud Boys and the far anarchist left like Antifada are grasping for meaning in what we call “a secular age.” With extremists acting out, with weirdo conspiracy theories gaining traction, with ideologues breaking into the Capitol and then not knowing what to do other then scream USA! USA!, we are in the throes of a deeper experience of the bankruptcy of our times. Jonathan is so right – we are in a crisis of goodness. Not just that people are not good, but that we don’t have an idea as to what goodness is.

Enter his astute study of the Beatitudes. Could these hard but beautiful words of the Master be a clue, a lifeline, a vision for a life well lived? Can they be, as Dodson puts it, a guide to “flourishing in an age of crisis”?

Look: these are some of Jesus’ most direct teachings and we should read them over and over and then study authors who explicate them, regularly. They are so countercultural and so perplexing we need all the help we can get. We’ve got oodles of different books on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes on the shelf here. Start with this one.

As missiologiest Allen Yeh puts it,

Pastor Jonathan Dodson poignantly unpacks the perennial truths of the greatest sermon of all time, revealing its ancient wisdom for our morally confused times. Replete with real-world examples, both historical and contemporary, this book offers a compelling countercultural solution to our moral crisis grounded in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom.

The Opposite of Certainty: A Memoir: Fear, Faith, and Life in Between Janine Urbaniak Reid (Thomas Nelson) $18.99                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Back before the virus started spreading we ordered a big batch of these; I love memoirs and when I saw Anne Lamott had a foreword I thought that would be fabulous. (She, by the way, has a book coming out on March 2nd for which we are taking pre-orders. It is called Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage; Riverhead $20.00.) Anne is such a witty writer and I respect her work a lot so if she enjoyed this, we thought we’d review it and take it to some of our off site gigs.

Anne Lamott knows the author Janine Urbaniak Reid from their church (St. Andrews Presbyterian in Marin City) and about The Opposite of Certainty she writes,

A brilliant, rich, breathtakingly honest and sometimes very funny account of defying the gravity of circumstances.

Here is another back cover blurb that pulled me in:

Full of spiritual grace and shining with a kind of rare hope, yes, it brings you to your knees but miraculously shows you that this might actually be the best vantage point to see the stars. Extraordinary. –Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

The book does have its funny moments and it covers a wide range of human emotion as this feisty mom experiences them. As one reviewer said, “one day it is doughnuts and hot coffee and the next day it’s gurneys and scans.”

You see, the book is mostly about the author’s coping with her young son having a brain tumor. Oh, and she has breast cancer. There are obviously no easy answers to this kind of stuff and she “searches for a source of strength bigger than her circumstances” and then her circumstances got even worse. Early she penned a piece for the Washington Post that went viral. She became a voice for healthcare justice. Indeed. We thought it might be a good season to read a book about fear and faith. Might The Opposite of Certainty be a memoir for your next book club? 20% off, of course.

Lent of Liberation: Confronting the Legacy of American Slavery Cheri L. Mills (WJK) $14.00     OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20

We just got this in and we’re very eager to explore how this study of slavery and its brutal impact on black people can be used as a Lenten resource for those wanting to deepen their understanding and repentance of this aspect of our American culture. It has forty readings, each linking a true story of narratives by enslaved individuals (drawn from a famous book about the Underground Railroad by William Stillman, written in the 1800s) and an aspect of the legacy of racism.

With each historic reading there is also a Bible text and serious conversation questions for reflection. There is a digital resource available for facilitating personal study or small group discussions. Pastors may want to consider this even for sermon preparation – wwwwjkbooks.com/LentofLiberation.

A Book of Days for Lent: Daily Reflections for the Season of Lent edited by Steven G.W. Moore & Fr. Richard Ganz, S.J. (M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust) $17.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36

This is a book we are honored to tell you about as it is a book that isn’t widely available in many bookstores; it was a labor of love put together by two entrepreneurial thinkers who compiled these reflections in a handsome hardback (with some full color art.) What a joy to have some of these and to get to sell them this season.

Moore is the CEO and Executive Director of the Mudock Charitable Trust which dispenses a large amount of grants to mostly faith-based organizations and ministries doing good, responsible work in the world. We have heard of their philanthropy for years and know a bit about some of the excellent organizations, colleges, camps, advocacy groups, social service agencies, and ministries they’ve supported. The contributors to their Book of Days for Lent are leaders of the missions and nonprofits they support. Many (but not all) are in the Pacific Northwest and each entry is very nicely done.

A few of the contributors are themselves fairly well known – the late, great writer Brian Doyle (of Portland College) is here and, for instance, the aforementioned A. J. Swoboda (at the time pastoring in Portland and working on an environmental ministry called “Blessed Earth.” Our friend Kate Harris has an entry, too. Other authors of the Lenten pieces are camp directors, college presidents, street workers among the poor, folks with jobs as different as running high financial institutions to food banks; from those working with Habitat for Humanity to prison ministries to cultural discernment think tanks. The writers are good folks who do good work, the insights profound, the layout quite nice. That these leaders of culture shaping organizations want to help us “honor Lent” and pulled together this marvelously handsome resource says a lot. We are thrilled to share it with our customers, while supplies last.

Approaching Easter Jane Williams.         (Lion Press) $16.95                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56 

We were so glad to get this in again this year from the UK as it is a lovely, affordable, medium-sized hardback book with great reflections on historic paintings that are excellently reproduced on heavy, bright white paper. This small hardback is a small treasure to hold at 5.5 x 6 inches. You may know that Dr. Williams is a renowned theologian and art historian (she did a book that has been a beloved Hearts & Minds bestseller, The Art of Advent.) Here she blends personal stories, spiritual reflections, and quotations from Scripture) and some other classy sources) to illuminate the art the book shows off. Very nicely done.

The Art of Holy Week and Easter: Meditations on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK) $13.00                          OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

In a few weeks I hope to have the time and energy to list a few books to use during Holy Week. This little volume just came in today and I don’t want to run the risk of not telling you about it, so will gladly celebrate it briefly, here, now. Hooray!

I know you know the aforementioned hand sized The Art of Advent compiled by the aforementioned Jane Williams. The companion volume for that has been The Art of Lent compiled with reflections by the late Sister Wendy. Now, here, we have another in that series of small, fiull color, very, very classy little art books with devotionals for the season.

The Art of Holy Week has 30 art pieces (some instantly known, many famous, some somewhat rare) and her discussions on them and the Biblical matters and spiritual truths the art conveys. It is arranged with 7 or so paintings and reflections in four major sections. The first set are arranged under the rubric “This Is My Body” and includes art of Jesus entering Jerusalem, cleansing the temple, and several of the last Supper and in the Garden.

Part two is entitled “Behold the Man” and of courses includes the betrayal, the trial before Caiaphas, Peter’s denial, the trial before Pilate, and Jesus being stripped of his garments and mocked.

Part three includes powerful paintings and descriptions under the heading “Father Forgive Them” and as you can imagine they are mostly crucifixion works and scenes of Jesus being mourned by his disciples, by Mary, the angels (one I’ve never seen by Guercino (1617-18)  and the entombment.

The fourth set of nine paintings include Christ’s descent into hell, the women visiting the tomb, several on resurrection, and several post-resurrection scenes (including Caravaggio’s famous Supper at Emmaus (1601) and an 16th century icon of “Doubting Thomas.”

The art here is almost all ancient or medieval. There is one striking one from 1987. There may be one or two you don’t care for. (There is one I rather disapprove of, but yet Sister Wendy’s description is edifying.) What a great little book this is. Along with The Art of Lent this is a real joy to own or to give.

Remember when you order to please tell us your preference about shipping. As we’ve noted often, USPS is slower than usual these days and while “Media Mail” is the cheapest ($3.25 for one or two books) it may take longer than usual. UPS cost about $7.00 or $8.00 for one or two books but is more reliable. Please tell us any needs you have in the secure order form page when you enter your information so we can serve you well.


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LENT 2021 – Good books for complicated times. 20% off from Hearts & Minds Bookstore. ORDER NOW.

Please be aware that depending on where you want us to send the books, the United States Postal Service (USPS) may be considerably delayed. “Media Mail” is about $3.25 for one book but can take a while (weeks?) UPS is more costly (about $8.00, depending on weight and destination) but much more reliable. It is really helpful if you tell us what your shipping preferences would be so we can serve you well. Please call us if you have any questions.

It is really helpful if you tell us your shipping preferences so we can serve you well.          Please call us if you have any questions.

In the last few years we have delighted in sharing with you a complication of some of our favorite resources to read during Lent. Most obviously, these included daily devotionals and books designed for this 40 days of reflection, penitence, sober reflection, spiritual formation in the ways of the suffering servant. Some of these are still quite useful and some of the books are highly recommended. The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day by Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK; $17.00) is the companion paperback to the fabulous Art of Advent and has been a big seller for us. There are standard books of readings like Bread and Wine (Plough; $24.00) the Plough Publishing volume that is a companion to their popular Advent anthology, Watch for the Light. Each year we tell about Paraclete’s God is For Us edited by Gregory Wolfe & Greg Pennoyer (Paraclete; $21.99.) Naturally, we sell all the Adam Hamilton resources, books, study guides, DVDs. And every year I love saying that Fleming Rutledge’s 2002 release The Undoing of Death (Eerdmans; $24.00) remains a book that means very much to me and that I read from every year. Last year her handsome, compact hardback Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday (Eerdmans; $18.00) was especially popular near the end of Lent as we approached Holy Week.

All are still 20% off the listed prices.

You can see some of those previous Lenten BookNotes columns HERE, HERE, or HERE.

For a more wide ranging list — 40 books that aren’t Lenten devotionals but seemed somehow righteous at the time — check out this somewhat Lenten list from 2017.

This year, perhaps due to the great sadness of the public health crisis and the laments emerging from the brokenness of our body politic, I seem still stuck in exile. I still dip into Fleming Rutledge’s Advent (with its profound sermons on yearning for Christ’s coming in judgement and hope, seems nearly Lenten to me.) Quite practically, I’ve been so busy with our new workflow from our pivot to mostly mail-order and online correspondance, that we haven’t been able to write much about new Lent resources for this complicated Year of our Lord 2021.

Sorry if this is a bit later than you may wish. Still, we’re glad to send it out, hoping it helps somebody along the way. There are some good book ideas, for sure.

We’ve got two lists, here, now. You can, of course, order them by clicking on the link at the bottom that says “order.” That takes you to our secure order form at the Hearts & Minds bookstore webpage. We’ll be sure to write back and acknowledge the order personally.

If you don’t want to enter credit card info there at the “order” tab, please feel free to call us here at the shop from 10 am – 6 pm Monday through Saturday. You can reach us at 717-246-3333.

So, two lists:

First, a few new Lenten titles for those who want a brand new devotional designed for this seasonal use. Don’t forget to review the previous posts (see above) listing other specifically Lenten resources.

(In a couple of weeks, by the way, I’ll do a list of books about Easter, including some splendid children’s picture books, board books, resources for teaching about Good Friday and Easter. We know some of customers like to include books in the Easter baskets, so we’ll be on that.)

Secondly, after listing a few recommended brand new Lenten titles, I’m going to offer a random list of other stuff that I feel drawn to tell you about. I’ve been pondering this, prayerfully considering what to suggest, and these, for whatever reason, seem useful to share.


Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Few authors have routinely with each new release captured our attention as has Marilyn McEntyre. Anyone who has heard me speak about books and reading has heard me rave about her splendid Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. This fall her sequel to that, Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict explores a handful of great writers whose prose and poetry is commendable. Some really liked her Make a List and her devotional Word by Word is great. A book that perhaps isn’t as well known but which we have often highlighted in books talks and displays (back when we did off site stuff) was a small paperback called What’s in a Phrase? She wrote wise and interesting reflections on phrases in the Bible that just happened to catch her attention.

Where the Eye Alights is a Lenten version of that. Has your eye, like hers, alighted on a phrase. Might you ponder it, meditate upon it, pay attention?  That’s the trick, she seems to say. Listen to this:

Lent is a time of permission. Many of us find it hard to give ourselves permission to pause, to sit still, to reflect or meditation or pray in the midst of daily occupations — most of them very likely worthy in themselves –that fill our waking minds and propel us out of bed and on to the next thing. We need the explicit invitation the liturgical year provides to change pace, to curtail our busyness a bit, to make our times with self and God a bit more spacious, a little more leisurely, and see what comes. The reflections I offer here come from a very simple practice of daily meditation on whatever comes to mind in the quiet of the early morning.

Rooted in Love: Lent Reflections on the Life of Christ edited and introduced by Sarah Mullally (SPCK) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

What a great and clear idea this book is — Lenten devotionals written by the area bishops of the Diocese of London. Revered Mullally is a remarkable woman; before her call to ordained ministry she was the Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health and a midwife, which makes me think of the great women of “Call the Midwife.”  In this paperback you’ll find an introduction to the life and work of Jesus in 40 short reflections, each with a suggested action and a closing prayer.

An Ocean of Grace: A journey to Easter with Great Voices from the Past Tim Chester (The Good Book Co.) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Another book from the UK, Tim Chester is well known here in the states (with some of his books published by Crossway.) He is a pastor at Grace Church and this offers his good words inspired by words of believers of the past, from Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine to Catherine Parr and Charles Spurgeon, from John Calvin to Thomas Watson. He favors the Puritans of old England, hymn-writers and preachers who proclaim the mysteries of deep, deep grace.


Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals Luke A. Powery (WJK) $13.00                 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

This is not brand new this year but it seems it is being discovered this year for understandable reasons. Powery, you may know, is the Dean of Duke University Chapel (he was formerly a great homiletics prof at Princeton and his brother, I might add, is a theologian who teaches near us at Messiah University.) This book does just what you’d think, reflecting on the spirituals written by those who were enslaved during the years of that American horror. They have often be held up as exemplary, of course, lament and hope mixed in code language, good for the soul and the body politic. The black church and the black church musical traditions have much to offer. Black theologians and leaders like Peter Paris and Bishop Michael Curry have rave reviews on the back. As does Parker Palmer.

And this, about it, by Lauren Winner,

Luke Powery has written powerful contemporary psalms of lament, psalms of hope. This volume offers sorrow, silence, and song as spaces in which our truest selves can dwell with God. A Lenten treasure.

The Villains, Heroes, Cowards, and Crooks Who Witnesses History’s Biggest Miracle Daniel Darling (Moody Press) $13.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

It was a bit more than a year ago when I finally met Dan Darling at the annual Christian Legal Society event in Chicago. We had reviewed and promoted his book on human dignity which offered an argument for and handbook about a consistently pro-life, just treatment of all people and it was a blast to meet him. He has written a lot, actually, and last year we sold a handful of his very intersting The Characters of Christmas. This one is just like that, each chapter a sermon on and exploration of  a character of the Easter story plot-line.

There are 10 chapters (each nicely set off with a bit of colored ink, too) with each complicated character being named with a certain attribute — titles such as “The Failure – Peter”, “The Beloved –John”, “The Rogue – Barabbas”, “The Powerless – Pilate”, and so forth. He looks at the religious leaders, the women at the tomb, those behind the scene, the Romans. His introduction “Why We Need Easter” is quite good

At the end of each easy to read chapter there are study questions and suggested hymns  and contemporary Christian songs. Very nicely done.

Essential Lenten Prayers (Paraclete Press) $10.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $8.79

What a nice collection. This is a small-sized, compact paperback that stands alongside others in their series (Essential Celtic Prayers, Essential Mystic Prayers, Essential Christmas Prayers and Essential Easter Prayers.)

It includes some prayers for Ash Wednesday, prayers for morning & evening, prayers for penance & fasting, seven Psalms of confession, some prayers, of course, for Friday and others, including some final ones by famous Christians from the broader ecumenical tradition down through the ages.

David’s Crown: A Poetic Companion to the Psalms Malcolm Guite (Canterbury Press) $20.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $16.79

Okay, I suppose this isn’t exactly designed for Lenten use although it just came out and it is a devotional companion to the Psalms, so I’m going to call it a Lent resource. Of course, the famous British poet is well known in church circles and has several thoughtful collections of poems for liturgical or devotional use.

His collection that is designed specifically for Lent is one we’ve promoted before, called The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter Canterbury Press; $21.00.) You should also consider Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for Christian Year (Canterbury Press; $16.99) which also has some material for Lent and Easter and Eastertide. It’s really good.

David’s Crown is described by Canterbury in the UK like this:

A corona is a crown, the pearly glow around the sun in certain astronomical conditions, and a poetic form where interlinking lines connect a sequence. It is the perfect name therefore for this new collection of 150 poems by the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite, each one written in response to the Bible’s 150 psalms.


Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God Ruth Haley Barton (IVP) $22.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

We stock all of the excellent “formatio” line of IVP and Ruth Haley Barton’s several books remain essential reads, in my view. We so respect writing and her work at the Transforming Center. This book came out a year or more ago and I wanted very much to highlight it when the stay-at-home quarantine orders went into place last Spring. Things conspired to prevent me from writing much during that time but as the seasons wore on, and we still have to be careful about staying home, I think that adapting this book into our current context would be a fabulous exercise for some of us.

For what it is worth, when I heard that this was a book Ruth was working on, I wondered if it would be that, well, interesting (for starters) and (more importantly) actually edifying. How to put together a little time apart? What to do on a retreat? Sounded to me like a blog post or brochure to pick up at the counter of the retreat center. I’m happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I should have known… she really has a heart for helping folks and digging well into a topic. This book deserves a careful bit of attention and you will enjoy it, I’m sure.

Ruth Haley Barton understands the process of spiritual transformation and writes in a way that is appealing to those just beginning their journey into a more contemplative spirituality. Yet, her books are read and re-read by those with a deeper bent and who have longer experience in the monastic sorts of practices. So, no matter where you find yourself on the spiritual journey, her work is wise and good, solid and redemptive.  This resource cries out to be pondered, inviting us to some self-examination about what makes us so tired, why we need to be intentional about planning for returning to our first love for God and discovering the life-giving rhythms of rest.

Ruth has long been a prayer partner and consultant for some very hectic, important, social justice missions, just as the International Justice Mission and Compassion International So she honed some of this realizing the need for those who are very busy doing demanding work, work that is hard to take a break from. In Invitation to Retreat she gives us what IJM human rights worker Jim Martin calls an “incredibly inviting description of ‘strategic withdrawal.'” Santiago Mellado of Compassion International says, “I was unprepared for such practical, honest, and open insights into the spiritual discipline of retreat.” Me, too.

As Jarrett Stevens (co-pastor of Soul City Church) says,

“You need this book more than you know. Trust me. You do.”

Living His Story: Revealing the Extraordinary Love of God in Ordinary Ways Hannah Steele (SPCK) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

I can’t wait to read some of this myself in the upcoming weeks. I like that this book is The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2021 and that we can read with other Anglicans all over is sort of cool. (And I’m not even Anglian or Epsiopalian!) Consider: if the Archbishop of Canterbury (Rev. Justin Welby) selected this new book of all the options out there to have his flock read it together this season, it is almost surely an excellent book. This certainly is relevant to the latest insights about apologetics and evangelism and faith formation, that we live in a world shaped by stories and the gospel ought to be understood as a story, a story we enter. Can we learn to listen well, “to understand other people’s hopes, dreams and interests” and thereby build bridges and convey the gospel more naturally. In this post-Christian culture, folks simply don’t know what story they are a part of, let alone the coherent plot of the Christian story.

Living His Story is a book about communication, about construing meaning, about gospel narratives, about sharing goodness the way Jesus and His disciples did.

Is this a book about evangelism, then? It seems so.  As the author reminds us, “Stories tell us who we are, where we belong, and how we related to the world around us.” But, as the publisher says:

This liberating book, ideally suited for Lent reading, suggests many ways of engaging in invitational evangelism. Through exploring accounts of Jesus and his first followers, we discover simple and practical ways of telling the gospel story afresh.

Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Broadleaf Books) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I read this book when it first came out as the topic is appealing but, more, the author is a man I admire greatly, a Hearts & Minds customer and friend. We’ve told you about him and his important books before; most recently we’ve commended Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century (2018) and, with Patrick Keifert, How Change Comes to Your Church: A Guidebook for Church Innovations (2019.) Wes has told some of his own story as a small-town evangelical boy who arose to global leadership in the World Council of Churches (with a season of working in DC with Senator Mark Hatfield and editing Sojourners magazine) in his auto-biographical memoir Unexpected Destinations.He has written books on eco-theology, on leadership, on his extensive involvement with the global church.

All of this has come together, tributaries flowing like in what Richard Foster calls “living streams”, into a great river. Lot’s going into it and still on the move. This gentle story offers the latest step in the journey for brother Wes. As I’ve said, he has written often about the relationship between inner spirituality and social justice work, between care of self and care of creation, and other sorts of theologies of integrated, missional holism, so you might know that we’re fond of his articulations. His ecumenical commitment to the global church is so beautiful and commendable and his good ideas rooted in a coherent worldview — he has served much of his life in the largely Dutch Reformed Church of America — resonates with me and my appreciation for public theology for the common good.

And yet, like many, Wes longs to deepen his discipleship in ways that often come for many of us; namely, in ways that transcends mere ideas and theology and even activism. Of course, he doesn’t renounce ideas or theology or public action, but he continues to voice concern about this oddly Western/modern notion that we primarily know God in our heads, by formulating doctrines about God. Or that faith is primarily about belief (rather than trust in covenantal relationship.) In Without Oars he “casts off” as the great Celtic mystics missionaries would, into strange waters in coracles (literally, boats without oars) to see where God’s winds would blow them. This is a book about spiritual pilgrimage and it is largely written as a memoir about his own experiences of actual pilgrimages.

Without Oars starts with and is anchored by Wes’s good writing about his journey on the El Camino. I hope you’ve read at least something in this genre (and have watched the splendid Martin Sheen film about hiking the El Camino trail called “The Way.”) This book captures much of this trail and the hard and funny and poignant stories that come out of that rigorous pilgrim’s journey. It’s so interesting and how he weaves inspiring messages through this lovely story in a way that isn’t too preachy makes it a book that’s hard to put down.

I must say, though, that the writing seems to shift a bit as Granberg-Michaelson moves from the El Camino stories to his experience, sometimes alone, sometimes with his wife, to other sacred sites of holy pilgrimages. (Some of these you may know about, like Lourdes, and others, like a place of miraculous dirt at a small Catholic church in New Mexico, or a vivid gathering in Nigeria, you may not have heard of.) With each leg of this journey, with each report from the road, he offers new insights about truth, goodness, the gospel, the way of Christ, the failures of the church, his own hopes and dreams, and new ways to live into the reign of God in these complicated times. This ancient future stuff is not really new for Wes, but this book brings it together in an almost stunningly beautiful story cum manifesto. I happen to know he is very glad that God has lead him to write this particular kind of book. Me too.

Rev. Michael Curry says “I found myself caught up ‘in the Spirit’ in the story, in the insights, in the wisdom in the pilgrimage. Wow!”  Shane Claiborne says “This book will help you declutter your soul.” Of course Wes’s good friend Richard Rohr endorses it, saying it describes the “promise and the joy” “that makes us want to start walking,”

I could say more about this entertaining, well-written story of the faith journey and this particular part of it, describing our discipleship as “our embodied practice of heading into the unknown and unknowable — with all the excitement, risk, and rewards that come with letting go.” There are so many good lines in the little book and so much to ponder. Even the cover has to be pondered carefully as you see the “letting go” of the oars themselves, sinking into the deep in the lower left corner…

Diana Butler Bass’s forward is only a few pages but is fabulous. She describes how the book is “sort of” like a map. She says, too, “If this book were only a map, it would be like a wedding invitation. But it is more.”

She summarizes much of what Wes offers, such as:

…what you can expect as you walk, like markers you see on some roadsides. How pilgrimages start with restlessness, how we are not really who we think we are, that patience is a gift, what we think makes us secure actually imprisons, faith is far more than we think the Spirit is reckless, grace is always surprising, turning our backs on injustice is necessary on this road, and the end of all is love.

Here is what the publisher says of it:

The way of the pilgrim begins with what we leave behind–not so much a journey to a holy place, but a holy practice of leaving the comforts of the familiar for a radical vulnerability, letting the very breath of God direct us on the unknown, stripped-down path of trust. In Without Oars, Wes Granberg-Michaelson blends history, storytelling, biblical insights, personal reflections, and spiritual formation in an inviting call to discover pilgrimage as a way of life. This book offers a unique perspective on the faith journey as an embodied practice of heading into the unknown and unknowable–with all the excitement, risk, and rewards that come with letting go.

I could write more. I loved this book (even if I most likely won’t ever go to the places he takes us and I may have wished for a different line or two here or there.) I highly recommend it. And, better, I recommend it as a Lenten read. I hope you consider sending us an order now.

Here is a free Reflection Guide for your own use or for those who want to pull together a Zoom group to study it together. Thanks for this, Wes.


The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself By Forgetting Yourself Marlena Graves (IVP) $22.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

I’ve told you before about this great 2020 book and her previous one (A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokennes.) Marlena is a very good writer, a church worker who has also done justice activism. (As one who used to be involved in the grape and lettuce boycotts of Cesar Chavez and the UFW, I was thrilled to learn that Marlena has worked with FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Ohio. Prayer and justice? Yes!)

So, this award winning book is ideal for Lent as it does invite us to a downward journey, following Christ on the journey towards humility and servanthood. Although it is a paradox (at best) this is good news she is exploring. She starts with that Kierkegaard line where he says, “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Or, in the harder words from Jesus from Mark 8 “…whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Yep, this book is on solid ground but offers profound and well written insight about emptying oneself so God can move us toward Himself. In this she is offering ancient insight from the Russian and Orthodox tradition — it’s fun having this rural gal of Puerto Rican descent citing Russian mystics alongside old black spirituals and contemporary authors like her friends in Ronovare like Richard Foster and the late Dallas Willard.

Here are a few of the rave recommendations for The Way Up Is Down.

“I know of no one who cares less for the superficial ‘worries of this life’ (Mt 13:22) than Marlena Graves. She is a voice calling out in our generation, beckoning us to a vision of Christ that has nearly been drowned out by the rise of self-help pseudo-Christianity. And this book? This book is her heart on paper. If you want to sit under a spiritual giant, and if you want to remember just what kind of freedom we are called to in Christ, do not miss this message.”–Sharon Hodde Miller, author of Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More

“When conversations about discipleship or living into the kingdom of God seem heady and out of reach, I turn to writers like Marlena whose feet are firmly on the ground. She gives us a path to walk and practices to embody our big hopes and dreams about the upside-down ways of Jesus. If you’ve ever wondered how the last will be first (and what that even means for someone with privilege), Marlena is a faithful companion and guide to you. She is bold and pastoral–a rare combination–and best of all, she is the real deal. She has never lost sight of the people for whom this gospel is such good news, and in her words there is an invitation for all of us.” –Sarah Bessey, author of Miracles and Other Reasonable Things and A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal

“Marlena writes with passionate urgency, nuance, and spiritual substance. She offers a much-needed word for a culture that prizes identity in what we achieve and make of ourselves. I found myself truly enriched by her powerful vision of relinquishment for the truly significant and flourishing life offered by Christ.”–Rich Villodas, lead pastor, New Life Fellowship, New York City, author of The Deeply Formed Life
“Breathtaking. A stunning achievement. This book aches for us, daring to offer its own raw beauty, courage, and unflinching light. What’s most gorgeous about Marlena Graves’s humbling book, however, is its call for moral imagination, even among we who are wounded. If we fall broken at Jesus’ feet, she teaches, we will all heal by his grace–mended and scarred but lifted together. What a brave, rare book for these unlikely times. An honor to read, it’s one of the most exciting theological reflections in recent memory.”–Patricia Raybon, author of My First White Friend and Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace


A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal edited by Sarah Bessey (Convergent) $20.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This book releases February 8th so if you order it now from us (at our discounted price) you will be among the very first folks to get it. We have a waiting list already from those who pre-ordered it from us and we are simply thrilled to send them out Monday.

Sarah Bessey is a great writer and we’ve featured here at BookNotes each of her previous books, including Jesus Feminist and the excellent memoir-ish Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God. She is an important voice, in the mold of her dear friend Rachel Held Evans, and here draws in a number of thoughtful women to create a collection of prayers and reflections. Some who she invited into this literary/spiritual conspiracy would call themselves evangelicals, some who used to but no longer do, some who are firmly within the conventional mainline church traditions. It’s the sort of generous ecumenism we love and although I have not seen it yet (as I write) I am confident that it will be rich, thoughtful, lovely, useful, good. There are a few women writers here I know and many that Beth and I respect — from Barbara Brown Taylor to Amena Brown to Lisa Sharon Harper to Nadia Bolz-Weber;  I hope you know the authors Kelley Nikondaha, Enuma Okoro, Kaitlin Curtice, and the aforementioned, wonderful Marlena Graves, to just name a few. I can’t wait to read their prayers and to see how Sarah ruminates on their good words.

One thing I discovered is that there are three main sections of prayers and readings, drawn from Walter Brueggemann’s commentaries on the Psalms: we have in A Rhythm of Prayer entries in categories of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Oh my, that works, doesn’t it?

The Library Journal gave the publishing world a what’s up:

“An inspiring compendium of original prayers and essays written by progressive faith leaders. Each entry is a meditative gift offering a gateway for one to sit with the challenges of living in the world today. . . . The words here allow spiritual devotions to be approached with a diverse lens while remaining God-centered. . . . A book that allows people to speak in their own words while reminding those in positions of privilege that their faith in action is a catalyst for change. This is a welcome addition for those who enjoy contemplative prayer collections that intersect with important topics such as social justice.”

Not having seen it yet (if any editors out there at Convergent are reading this — hey! Hand waving, here!) I can’t say much and can do no better than show this PR bit from the press:

For the weary, the angry, the anxious, and the hopeful, this collection of moving, tender prayers offers rest, joyful resistance, and a call to act, written by Barbara Brown Taylor, Amena Brown, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and other artists and thinkers, curated by the author Glennon Doyle calls “my favorite faith writer.”

(And I thought I thought I created run on sentences!)

It’s no secret that we are overworked, overpressured, and edging burnout. Unsurprisingly, this fact is as old as time — and that’s why we see so many prayer circles within a multitude of church traditions. These gatherings are a trusted space where people seek help, hope, and peace, energized by God and one another.This book, curated by acclaimed author Sarah Bessey, celebrates and honors that prayerful tradition in a literary form. A companion for all who feel the immense joys and challenges of the journey of faith, this collection of prayers says it all aloud, giving readers permission to recognize the weight of all they carry. These writings also offer a broadened imagination of hope — of what can be restored and made new. Each prayer is an original piece of writing, with new essays by Sarah Bessey throughout.Encompassing the full breadth of the emotional landscape, these deeply tender yet subversive prayers give readers an intimate look at the diverse language and shapes of prayer.

Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
This, you may recall, is a book I raved about before it came out and invited you to pre-order at our 20% off discount. We adored and continue to regularly recommend her wonderful Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life and this book continues in that mode of memoir, reflection, teaching, and thoughtful application of nuanced theology to daily discipleship. Prayer in the Night is our biggest selling book so far in 2021 and it will surely be in the running for our favorite book of the year. It is that good and we very highly recommend it.
You can scroll back through out archived BookNotes and find our review last November (2020) to see a more thorough review but the short version of this remarkable read is this: Tish is an Anglican priest, then writing from Pittsburgh, where she suffered any number of sorrows — the death of a parent, a painful miscarriage, a medically dangerous pregnancy, and some standard fare sadness about missing home and being in a new city. She and her husband are good thinkers, dear folks, great writers. She does now whine or mope, but this book — about using the Book of Common Prayer‘s evening prayer of Compline — is gripping as it offers this fairly simple prayer practice in the face of the horrors of theodicy.
The first pages have her bleeding seriously during the tragic miscarriage under the bright lights of an emergency room; I know that hospital and know something of that feeling of great loss in an impersonal institution of that sort. I wept reading the first pages as she cries out for Jonathan to read Compline prayers with her in that complicated setting.
And so, Rev. Warren offers prayers for the night, practices of praying in the night. She writes well about the night — literal and metaphorical — in ways that brought to mind Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor (a book, by the way, she had not read as she was doing her own writing on the topic; I get that.) Her stories range from episodes of sadness and darkness to the glories of life in the dark. She writes about work (in very good ways —  thanks, Tish) and reminds us to pray in solidarity with those who watch and those who weep.
This new Prayer in the Night is an easy to read but substantive new classic, and reading it slowly during Lent would be a wonderful experience for you, even if you aren’t used to Compline Prayer.  We are glad she is speaking again at our (virtual) Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh on February 27th. 

Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World Kathy Escobar (WJK) $18.00                        OUR SALE PRICE  =$14.40

Back in our Advent BookNotes post we commended to you Kathy Escobar’s moving and very important A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas. I know a number of folks thanked us for sharing a resource that honored their greif during that cheery time of year. Of course, in one way or another, this included most of us who knew loved ones who were sick or lonely or worse.

Rev. Escobar is a progressive community organizer, trained spiritual director, and pastor of an inclusive faith community in Denver called The Refuge. Drawing on the often story-based teaching and formational work she does in her own church, she writes the book to flesh out her opening assertion — “You have more power to change the world than you realize.” Oh my, just when I was feeling comfortable with less hope, proximate justice, accepting the brokenness with lament and grief, she suggests that we deepen our spiritual renewal for the sake of the world with hope to make a difference.This isn’t glib or cheesy, but something true, offering hope of “substantial healing” as one once put it. Our personal practices really can spill over into the bigger world. In fact, they must.

I was reminded of the more overtly Reformed book on spiritual formation by Kyle Bennent, Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World and the good forward by Jamie Smith insisting that the classic spiritual disciplines ought to form us in ways that change how we live in the world. That is, spirituality is not just for nurturing our own intimate relationship with God but should enable and cultivate a robust piety that is “for the life of the world.” Or, in the subtitle of Escobar’s great book, we seek God’s transformation so that we can “change the world.” Indeed.

Practicing is really good for a number of reasons. One is to just catch the mood and vocabulary — I guess in her bohemian faith community we can say the “vibe.” We can catch this shift in vocabulary from spiritual disciplines to practices. This language of “practices” is very common now, but for many it is just a word switch. For the best thinkers and spiritual directors, “practices” carries a different feel and denotes am embodied, habitual, and generally outward focus. (Granted in the ur-text of the recent renaissance in spirituality, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says that some of the classic disciplines are clear directed outward.)  Anyway, Escobar’s Practicing is about this matter of embracing practices to see personal change to set us on a trajectory of public discipleship and culture-making.
Pastor Kathy here inspires readers to take up practices that have the capacity to transform us, training us, shaping us, particularly in the ways of being better public citizens, living intentionally in the ways of Jesus for thee sake of others. Brandon Robertson (who has ministered tirelessly to create a more inclusive evangelical movement) says Practicing is “a healing balm.” He continues:

…offering a practical guide for people of faith to reconnect with our faith not just on a pious or intellectual level but in a way that impacts every aspect of our lives. If you are ready for spiritual renewal, read this book!

Each chapter (each starting with “The Practice of…”) focuses on a specific practice which she invites us to consider and guides us towards embracing. Here are the verbs — the habits of heart and lifestyle skills she invites us to as actual practices: healing, listening, loving, including, equalizing, advocating, mourning, failing, resting and celebrating. This is not a rehash of the standard sort of contemplative disciplines and is full of lively stories and application insights.

I loved the Sarah Bessy description on the back complimenting Kathy’s work as many seek a spirituality and sort of faith that is “healthy, life-giving, and truly an embodiment of good news.” Sarah says Kathy is “a faithful companion to those who wander, stumble, and, against all odds, continue to hope.” Sounds like a good Lent read,

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $16.99.                   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Many who have entered the movement of spiritual formation and have guided people as soul friends in recent years have increasingly been drawn to the language of mystics and poets (emphasizing the journey inward) or of practices (the journey outward.) I get the allure and value of both and appreciate the great resources helping us in this allusive and often mysterious journey of encountering the Divine and learning to serve the world well.

Another important contribution to Christian spiritual growth, though, is too often missed. I think that books and pastors that offer fairly traditional, historic (Protestant) theological categories about union with Christ and being shaped into Christlikeness are very important. This book, some suggest, is one of the very best titles to explore this class notion of “union with Christ.” I read it and reviewed it at BookNotes; having taken up our recommendation, a few of our customers have ordered and then re-ordered it. It seemed right to offer it again, now.  Tim Keller says it is the best book on the subject , in one a Gold Medallion award, and it’s a great price.

I have not yet read much of Rankin Wilbourne’s sequel to Union with Christ, but it sure seems like it would be fitting to work through these next weeks. It is co-written with a young philosophy prof so it meaty, but accesible. It is called The Cross Before Me: Reimagining the Way to the Good Life Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $22.99.  People who are clear thinkers and good writers themselves have commended this. For instance, Scott Sauls, an author whose books we promote, says:

Rankin and Brian have an uncanny ability to explain deep, complicated truths in a way that almost anyone can understand. The rare combination of intellect and accessibility that they possess shines in this wonderful book. They expand our vision for how the cross not only secures our pardon, but also establishes for us a pattern of life that will lead to freedom and flourishing.

Our friend Michael Gorman, noted New Testament scholar at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute who has done some demanding work on this subject (in books like the masterpiece Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross) says this:

“In this extraordinarily perceptive and powerful book, pastor and philosopher show us how the way of the cross is, surprisingly, the way of life, happiness, and communion with God. I firmly believe that the faithfulness of everyday Christians, the renewal of the church, and the flourishing of humanity depend on taking the sorts of insights and examples found in this book with the utmost seriousness–by embracing them as a way of life.”

Here are three more of the many rave reviews:

“The Cross Before Me heralds the upside-down wisdom of the cross–a paradox meant for settling into the marrow of our lives and forming us into the image of Jesus. But it’s not enough to think of the cross, the authors remind. Rather, if we’re to be led into God’s enduring joy, the glorious shadow of the cross must fall over every square inch of our longings and ambitions, hopes and dreams. Rarely do books cover as much important, theological ground as this one, which makes it a delight for me to recommend.   –Jen Pollock Michel, author of Surprised by Paradox and A Habit Called Faith

The desire for happiness is universal. We all want happiness. And yet we just can’t seem to possess it. Maybe it’s time to take another route, a cross shaped route. Rankin Wilbourne and Brian Gregor winsomely point us to the only true way to happiness, a way that necessitates death in order to truly be fully alive, to be truly happy.”  –Bryan Loritts, pastor; author of Insider Outsider

“I love this book! The Cross Before Me brings the reader on an extraordinary journey. Accessible yet deep, it invites readers into the wondrous caverns of Scripture and the Christian tradition in articulating a much-needed word to today’s church: if you want to flourish, pursue the way of the cross in Jesus Christ. The message is counterintuitive but true. Beautifully written, Wilbourne and Gregor make this case by drawing together a colorful tapestry of voices from literature, philosophy, theology, and popular culture. I give thanks to God for this book, and I plan to recommend it frequently.                        –J. Todd Billings, author of The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live

The Glorious Pursuit: Becoming Who God Created Us To Be Gary Thomas (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Here is another book that seems to me to be heading us in the right direction — not merely semi-mystical encounters with some vague Divine, but a oneness with Christ who can remake us into His own image if we let Him. I adore the good spiritual writing about holiness and a life that matters and joy and spiritual renewal in the many other books by Mr. Thomas. He’s best known for books on marriage and parenting (and even dating) but this is one of his best.

(Thanks to his other publisher Zondervan, by the way, for re-issuing an expanded version of his groundbreaking Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Encounter God and a new accompanying DVD curriculum.)

And to NavPress for the great “pottery wheel” on the cover on this one. Very nice.

The Glorious Pursuit, is perfect for this transformative time of the liturgical year. Curiously, they changed the subtitle in this brand new revised edition and it seems to me a bit annoying, capitulating to the trend to describe faith formation as finding your true self. It isn’t a huge deal and I understand the impulse but most often the Bible suggests our true self is a traitor to the Kingdom of God and as rebels, we ought not want to be true to our own selves. Rather, we get a new self.  We become new creatures.Well, this is a book that helps us do just that, receive the gift of our new, transformed selves. How, you ask? We take up the “glorious pursuit” of practicing the virtues of Christ. Yep, that was the older subtitle. I guess “becoming who God created us to be” is less daunting and more appealing than “putting on the virtues of Christ.” Maybe folks don’t even know what  virtues are, let alone the virtues of Christ. In any case, I hope the marketers are right and this wonderful book that calls us to Christ-likeness and helps us discover the long-term change that comes from following Jesus, is widely read. If so, we might “reveal His glory in how you live your everyday, transformed life.”

By the way, the chapters examine the lifestyle of Jesus, characterized by virtues such as humility, detachment, generosity, love, gentleness, fortitude, and many more. This is a great book.

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $27.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Well, you know what the Good Book says, over and over: the greatest of these is love. The above mentioned books certainly help us towards that. Christlike virtues and spiritual practices deepened during this intentional space of discerning God’s Lenten work in our lives all should lead us to love. Yes. Obviously so, eh?

But can we suggest as a Lenten read a book with such a happy guy on the cover?

Happily, this recent book by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has been very popular among some of our customers who have ordered and re-ordered it these last months. We’ve hand delivered a number of these out back at our parking lot “curb side” delivery, too. It is upbeat and fun and, with chapter titles like “What Desmond Tutu and Dolly Parton Have In Common” you know it isn’t too gloomy. Again, could this be a Lenten read?

Well, yes, yes it can be. It is challenging, after all, to be people who love well. Maybe we could give up being unkind for Lent. And learning to find hope through embodying the virtues of love sure is a challenging way; some might say a “way of the cross.” There are chapters here that are blunt (“It’s Not Easy”) and challenging (“Leave No One Behind.”) Rev. Curry moves from “The Great Relationship Revival” to “The Real E Pluribus Unum.” Can we find “Hope, Help, and Healing” by living into the still more excellent way? Curry helps us believe it could be true. Yes, this mostly up beat book is perfect for this hard time of Lent. Listen to these profound endorsements:

“Bishop Curry proclaims and lives the way of love that has the power to transform broken systems and imperfect people. This book is a gift for our time, as is my dear brother. Listen to him.” — Bishop William J. Barber, II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign; author of We Are Called to Be a Movement“This is a profound and essential book. At once personal and universal, intimate and sweeping, it frames the great question of our time–which is, really, the great question of all time on this side of Paradise–with passion and eloquence. Michael Curry, priest and bishop, plays the prophet in these pages, drawing on his own remarkable life to show us the way we might make our own lives, and the lives of nations, warmer, better, and nobler.”– Jon Meacham, author of Destiny and Power, American Lion, and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Michael Curry believes in love. Not the kind of love that sidesteps and softens our response to the most brutal realities of our deepest, racist, economic, and human oppression. But rather, like Dr. King and, more importantly, Jesus said; the kind of radical love that may be the only thing that can finally overcome such radical sin. On a personal note, Michael is and does what he says about being a follower of Jesus and the way of God’s overwhelming and overcoming love. Love is the Way is moving, heartfelt, and extraordinarily important. In this fearful time, more than perhaps ever before, the world needs this book because, as Michael says, ‘Love dreams visions.’     — Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers Dane Ortlund (Crossway) $19.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I might want to note that it could be a tad ironic to mention this as a Lenten read because this exquisite, profound book draws much upon a Puritan writers who, I’m suppose, would find the language of Lent somehow a unhelpful (Roman) practice the suggest we have to do something to please God or perform some ritual the add to the free grace offered by our Sovereign, merciful Lord. But, be that as it may, or not, Ortlund has written a beautiful book that is elegant and serious, not to be read lightly or quickly. I reviewed it a bit when it first came out and the conservative evangelical and usually Reformed publisher ran out of them in the late fall. We are glad to finally have more in stock.

It is handsome book with a textured cover and deep green flyleaf pages which illustrates that it is a thing of beauty to be read with care. The blurbs are notable (from some of the usual suspects within this faith tradition — Ted Tripp, Paul Miller, Rosaria Butterfield, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Michael Horton. Michael Reeves is a theologian and author who has written a lovely book on delighting in the Trinity and another on rejoicing in Christ. He says of Gentle and Lowly:

My life has been transformed by the beautiful, staggering truths in this book. Dane Ortlund lifts our eyes to see Christ’s compassion-filled heart for sinners and sufferers, proving that Jesus is no reluctant savior but one who delights in showing his mercy. For any feeling bruised, weary, or empty, this is the balm for you.

Sam Allberry, a PCA pastor and author, writes:

Only a few pages in I started to realize how unusual and essential this book is–it is an exposition of the very heart of Christ. The result is a book that astonishes us with the sheer abundance and capacity of his love for us. Breathtaking and healing in equal measure, it is already one of the best books I’ve read.”

Something Worth Living For: God, the World, Yourself, and the Shorter Catechism Randall Greenwald (Christian Focus) $12.99                       OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

If you don’t know what the “Shorter Catechism” is, I don’t blame you for being annoyed by the publisher speaking only to their own. I guess they can’t imagine — and, hey, I don’t really blame them — anyone but conservative Calvinists who are not Dutch and traditionalist Presbyterians caring about the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is a document that was created in the mid-1600s by the smartest Protestant cats in the British world in those days — “Divines” they oddly call them yet today — who gathered at (get this) Westminster Abbey. Yes, that Westminster Abbey. And they created a handful of documents that some Reformed people throughout the world still see as exceptionally important formulations of level-headed, Bible-based, Christian thinking. It is one of several officially recognized creedal documents in the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions but it is mostly used by those in the more conservative Presbyterian Church of America (PCA.)

Francis Schaeffer’s son-in-law, the beloved Jerram Barrs of Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis wrote the foreword to Greenwald’s book and he is amazed by it. He says it is beautifully done, good even for skeptics or seekers, and that in it, we learn not only much about God and His truths but about what it means to be human. I liked that. He notes that the author writes with humility and vulnerability. Again, it’s true and good and a bit rare for this kind of teaching of dogmatics.

Barrs’s foreword is right — Greenwald has written a book like none other on this relatively obscure (for most people) theological teaching document. There are a number of dry manuals to both the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms (not to mention the Westminster Confession that was created also at that time back by the Divines at their several years long session at the Abbey.) Something Worth Living For is not like those. It is lively, witty, careful to explain its in-house lingo, pastoral and, at times, quite compelling. And short. That is, it is a short introduction to key theological themes that are explained in ways that are interesting and relevant.

It is, as the title puts it, a book about life, about something “worth living for.” (Again, why on Earth the Scottish publisher has a set of book spines in a book about living well is beyond me. I make an idol out of my love for books and this bored even me!) But trust me, the colorful but meaningless cover should not turn you off — you should check this out even if you aren’t familiar with this old Presby manifesto. Greenwald is a solid, caring pastor, a sharp, interesting guy, a bit funny, and a great writer. Some who follow his blog and know his years of honing his craft know him as a very good preacher, too. And did I mention he can be funny?

(And, I might note, Rev. Greenwald delightfully enhances his own good insights by drawing on writerly quotes from a wider range of sources than you might expect in a book about the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Authors like Kathleen Norris, Frederick Buechner, and Marilynne Robinson, lines from TV shows like The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a bit from The Princess Bride, and a reference to Luna Lovegood, all are alongside more expected quotes from the likes of Tim Keller and J.I. Packer. Fun!)

I would think that this Lenten season is a good time to commit oneself to discerning what one believes and why. A study of conventional, classic Reformed theology of an Anglo sort, could serve you well. Under Greenwald’s tutelage (offered, by the way, in a succinct Q & A style consistent with the WSC itself) you’re sure to come to a better vision of the meaning of our lives under the sun. It’s a big claim for a small book. Check it out and see for yourself.

And check out these endorsements — more glowing than one typically sees on books about the theological questions of those Westy Divines.

Finally a book of theology and the Reformed faith that won’t bore the reader to death. This is a book that will be such an incredible tool for small study groups, leadership training and laypeople who are often looking for an understandable and useful guide to the Christian faith. — Steve Brown of KeyLife Radio and author of many books such as One Free Sin

Randy has a great gift for finding illustrations, real parallels between the deep things of redemption and our present experience. This is the kind of teaching that will move modern people to study the Catechism, and the Scriptures, for themselves.  — John Frame, theologian and author of many books, including Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers

As a professional writer and editor, I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of Randy’s writing; I’m also struck by his deep theological knowledge, and how it’s paired with genuine pastoral concern for those around him. This is a project that requires writing chops, theological acumen and a pastor’s heart. Randy’s got them all.— Nathaniel Espino, editor

… brings the deep, rich, biblical and reformed theology of the 17th century Westminster Shorter Catechism to life in the 21st century in a way that is warm, inviting, accessible, conversational and centered in Christ and the gospel of saving and transforming grace. — Mark L. Dalbey author and President of Covenant Theological Seminary

The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything Will Willimon (Paraclete Press) $16.99. OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I suppose you may know that The Revered Doctor William Willimon is one of the most prolific Christian writers of our time. As the former Dean of the Chapel of Duke University and a former United Methodist Bishop, Willimon has spoken plainly about being Biblical people in a secularizing age. He calls the church to be the church and, in many of his books, he equips pastors to lead well, fearlessly and faithfully to the simple but challenging truths of Jesus. (His other new one, by the way — yet another on preaching — is called Preachers Dare: Speaking for God [Abingdon; $19.99.] Believe me, the dumb cover of the cutout figure on a tightrope doesn’t do it justice!

Well, Will was known for being sly and funny in an understated gentlemanly sort of way for much of his long career, a moving old-school storyteller. Yet he was forthright and candid about the church being faithful to the teachings of the faith. Once he started writing with the even more bluntly provocative Stanley Hauerwas, he became even more known for his call to live like “resident aliens” and live out the Bible against the worldview and ideologies of the American dream.

I suppose you know at least a bit of that, and maybe have read him in The Christian Century or heard your pastor quote one of his memorable lines (or maybe even remember when we had him at the Jubilee Conference back in Pittsburgh.)

I am simply thrilled to announce that his long out-of-print first book –his very first one — has just been reissued. The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything is more or less a collection of sermons preached at his first church, somewhat inspired by Bonhoeffer’s call to “devastate the congregants in order to deliver them.” I read it decades ago when we were new to this work.

What do you say to a members of a congregation that seem blase about their faith, who don’t feel a “need” to rely on the gospel all that much? How to you preach not to the hurting and knowingly alienated and needy but those who are privileged and content? This was his first unforgettable attempt at preaching to the upwardly mobile person who thinks she has everything.

There is a great new preface to this old book and it’s great to read Will ruminating on these old messages. Even better, there is a great new foreword by UCC leader Lillian Daniel (author of, among others,When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ is Not Enough.) Her few lines about leaving her punk band to become a pastor of a New England church and hearing Willimon sermons on cassette are nearly worth the price of the book. I think I might have had some of those cassettes.

These mid-70s sermons are honest, real, challenging — without being haranguing.

I’ve always appreciated Willimon’s strong condemnation of cheap faith, of racism, of materialism, of the philosophies of scientism and Enlightenment notions of rights and social contracts. He takes the Bible seriously without being a fundamentalist. He’s not afraid to be outspoken. I’ve also enjoyed his own self-effacing admissions, at times.  For instance, he writes,

When I was serving my first student pastorate in George, I remember complaining to a seminary professor about how disappointed I had been over the poor quality of my church members. They had shocked me with their marital problems, their lack of commitment, and their general backwardness. Frankly, I thought that I deserved better. After listening to my long complaint, the professor replied, “But the really shocking thing is that Jesus said that people like them would be entering the Kingdom first. What do you do with that?”

This study, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything is as needed now as it was then — maybe more so. It isn’t condemning or shocking but it does point us to a more real faith and a more robust discipleship. Not bad for Lent, eh?

(Hey, believe it or not, we have a copy or two left of the original paperback published by Judson. If you want it, it’s yours with a purchase of this new one. Just ask; for the first two only of course.)

Praying With Our Feet: Pursuing Justice & Healing on the Streets Lindsey Krinks (Brazos Press) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Years ago we would have been stunned that a publishing house owned by an evangelical outfit in Grand Rapids is willing to do such a innovative, honest, and — let’s face it — controversial book about serving God in ways that include demonstrations and protests and a lot of time hanging with folks on the margins with colorful names that ring true to those who have spent time on the streets. That the irresistible The Irresistible Revolution with Shane Claiborne citing Dorothy Day and William Stringfellow was published by Zondervan back in the 1990s was ground-breaking and, I think, a bellwether of more interesting days for the evangelically-Christian publishing industry. Did these guys who published books by Ollie North even know who the Berrigan brothers that Shane sited were and realize his involvement in similar dramatic acts of civil disobedience? Our bookselling work really got more interesting when fresh voices like Brazos Press appeared. They (along with others, from IVP to Cook to NavPress to Waterbrook) are illustrative of evangelical publishing houses that have become more open-minded around social issues, publishing a newer generation of artful writers who draw on ecumenical sources and offer resources for those who want their love of God and commitment to Christ to lead to righteous acts of healing and hope and social change, culturally relevant, as we sometimes say. That the best books about racism and immigration and ecology and other burning social issues can be found on evangelical publishing houses is one of the great under-reported religious news stories of the last several decades.

But I didn’t foresee a book which includes a bit about the spiritual practice of protesting. This new book is a heartfelt and dramatic story of classic social activism, of hitting the streets as an act of worship and discipleship and love and hope. There is plenty of Scripture and Bible-belt church life in Praying With Our Feet, but the author also cites rowdy folks from Mother Jones to Paulo Friere to her beloved Dorothy Day.

Author and activist Linsdey Krinks is cofounder of Open Table Nashville (a homeless outreach nonprofit) who came to an analysis of the poverty of Nashville as a young activist with the Homeless Power Project and other street-level organizations there. She speaks throughout the country about the integration of action and contemplation and of a faith-based approach to social agitation and community development. For another look at community organizing which is more instructional in nature, see Transforming Communities: How People Like You Are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Rani Sandhya Jha (Chalice Press; $15.99) or Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World by Rev. Alexia Salvatierra (IVP; $18.00.) For a more scholarly examination see the new God and Community Organizing: A Covenantal Approach by Hak Joon Lee of Fuller Theological Seminary (Baylor University Press; $49.95.) There are other books like this, to be sure, but Praying with our Feet is a must for anyone interested in public discipleship among the poor.

Praying with our Feet is written as a narrative, offering a captivating read and the hard-learned lessons of this organizer who grew up in a family plagued with mental illness, addiction, and who hoped to go to college with the simple dream of marrying and moving into a more conventional American middle class lifestyle. Who could blame her? At Lipscomb College, though, she met Christian leaders and professors like Lee Camp (his most recent book is Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians) who encouraged her study of Christian social action and the prophetic tradition from the likes of MLK. She met up with other students who were learning to relate their faith to the issues of the day and were eager to do some dramatic (if benign) attention-getting stunts. She quotes the famous line from Flannery O’Connor about needing to speak in sign language to the spiritually deaf. Once such “sign act” they did was cut out 29,000 little paper dolls which they hung up in the student center to dramatize the number of child that die of hunger each day. All they were doing was trying to break through the student apathy and get people to sign up for a World Vision “Planned Famine.” The college was not amused.

From Dorothy Day to Oscar Romero to the “New Monastic” movement of Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and eventually to Vanderbilt’s Emilie Townes (where Krinks studied after her undergraduate years) she took in and lived out a radical faith that was part anarchist, part liberation theology, and part old-time gospel revivalism. She protested and retreated to the famous Merton-related Gethsemani. She not only cared for the poor, but got to know folks on the streets. She organized and protested, planned civil disobedience, joined with and suffered with tent cities and social refugees. She joined campaigns to take on the powers that be. It wasn’t for years into this work that she heard a speaker citing Frederick Douglas about praying with ones feet in resistance and action and the lights came on.

I believe it is true, these protest actions and community organizing and campaigns on behalf of the socially hurting are prayers. But it isn’t easy and the anguish comes through these pages. It isn’t exactly Tattoos on the Heart or Barking to the Choir or Sara Miles and her exquisite Ash Wednesday/urban ministry memoir City of God: Faith in the Streets, but it’s similar territory.

Liz Theoharis ( who wrote the powerful, serious, Always With Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor) notes that the book is “thoughtfully crafted and powerfully told.” But listen to this:

Praying with Our Feet is a story of a movement growing from those who are homeless but not helpless coming together to demand dignity, life, and change. I thank Krinks for treating the lives and wounds of so many of God’s people as serious and sacred, and for recognizing these people as moral and political agents of change.

I don’t know many books that capture the grit and hope and set-backs and trauma of those who work in this way organizing the marginalized. (But then, I don’t know many authors who called themselves “street chaplains.”) She tells of her journey into activism — the book begins telling about a meeting with her college administrators who were insisting that she and her friends call off a protest against the Nashville Mayor’s bad policies about homelessness — and readers can feel the tension of the episode where older religious leaders are trying to dissuade young idealists from their faithful efforts. (Hands up if you’ve been there!) Later, there is a very dramatic scene where a large evangelical church is outwardly hostile to a homeless shelter her team was creating — NIMBY and all that, with a religious gloss. It was painful but important to read.

In the epilogue we learn that the author and her husband lost their home (as did many neighbors) in an awful hurricane that ravaged through parts of Nashville. It isn’t much, but buying this book helps her and her work. We sincerely invite you to give Praying with our Feet a try. There is a discussion guide that can help you or a group process this remarkable story.

Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home Barbara Brown Taylor (WJK) $25.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Unless you are giving up the tactile pleasure of holding a well-made book in your hand, this hardback is a beauty and very nice to hold. The cover is slightly textured, the paper book, it just feels fairly solid, but not bulky. The wordsmith and thoughtful, expansive preacher deserves to be published in such a book. Always a Guest is a collection of sermons and it might make a fabulous book to have on hand as you ponder things this Lenten season.

The sermons are on Biblical texts and are sermons — although, like all good sermons, there some lovely language, some good stories, a couple of jokes. She’s a fine and classy writer but never obtuse or dense. Many have savored her handful of paperback sermon collections (Seeds of Heaven, Home by Another Way, Gopsel Medicine, Mixed Blessings and others) and this one is not much different than those.

There is a bit of a theme, though. Her other published books of collected homilies were, in fact, preached in her home parish where she served as an Episcopal priest and pastor. (Her poignant memoir telling the tale of her coming to leave the parish ministry is told in Leaving Church,) Now, when she speaks or preaches, she is at some other church, a retreat or conference or place like Chautauqua or the chapel at a seminary, say. That is, she doesn’t know the crowd, isn’t their pastor. She is an outside — “always a guest.” There is usually a bit of concern about this (any of us who do public speaking of any sort know this) and she is as always gracious and good as she delivers these messages in a variety of settings and context.

Cruciform Scripture: Cross, Participation and Mission edited by Christopher W. Skinner, Nijay K. Gupta, Andy Johnson & Drew Strait (Eerdmans) $35.00                                                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Oh my, how can I explain this complex and valuable text? To whom will it appeal as a resource for Lent? Well, it isn’t that complicated. Cruciform Scripture is a book in conversation with, in response to, and in some ways, in honor of and for, our friend Michael J. Gorman. In this remarkable (if at times dense and demanding) collection of academic chapters, the work of Gorman is studied and explained, honored and refined. As Richard Bauckham of the University of Cambridge says, “This is a collection of first rate essays that celebrate Michael Gorman’s work by pursuing his own central concerns in fresh directions.”

As Bauckham points out, and which I concur fully, Gorman’s work always is both attentive to Biblical exegesis but “overflows into theology and the life of the contemporary church.” Indeed, these are the sorts of things our best Christian leaders do, weaving together good Bible study, generative theology, and good insight for living it out within the church and world. Gorman does that and this book in his honor does that.

The contributors to this party of a book are many and they include some of the most important Biblical scholars of the day. N. T. Wright, Rebekah Ecklund, Stephen Fowl, Richard Hays, Nijay Gupta, Sylvia Keesmaat, and Dennis Edmund are here, and more are included. Several who offer stellar pieces I’m not familiar with. A quick skim makes me eager to spend time studying this.  There are chapters on each of the four gospels and many of the Epistles. Some are general, others more specific — the meaning of certain words, phrases in certain key texts. We’ve got Sylvia Keesmaat on anti-empire themes in Ephesians (new ground there!) and a great piece by Tom Wright on Psalms 87 in Galatians.

Brent Laytham is the Dean at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute where Michael teaches. He and his colleague Pat Fosarelli have a really lovely forward to this collection writing a bit more personally about Gorman’s teaching and ministry there at the Institute. (In an afterword his three grown children way in and, to be honest, I read that first!)

Here are two weighty endorsements that might illustrate how important this amazing collection of good chapters really is:

It is a sign of truly important scholarship that it not only receives recognition but also inspires other scholars to continue to press its insights. Michael Gorman has been one of the key providers of truly important scholarship in our generation as he has tirelessly promoted the significance of participation to any deep understanding of what the New Testament is trying to say. The debt we owe Gorman is attested not just by the fine assembly of scholars in this volume who honor his life and work but also by the way their scholarly contributions here engage directly with his interpretations and continue his work, deepening and widening its insights still further.– Douglas A. Campbell, Duke Divinity School

Michael Gorman’s participationist model has made peace with the other approaches to Pauline scholarship. Where some have said ‘I am of Luther, I am of Calvin, I am of Wesley, or I am of Sanders or Dunn or Wright or Campbell, ‘ Gorman took their best insights to find a more expansive place for exploring Paul. Each of these friends and students of Gorman expresses that peacemaking approach of Gorman, as his participationist model of redemption is explored in other facets of the New Testament. This will be a blessing for all of us.  — Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary

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THREE FORTHCOMING BOOKS TO PRE-ORDER — 20% OFF — “Turning of Days” and “Every Moment Holy Volume II” and “Discovering God Through the Arts”

Amazingly, I am actually learning to write the date 2021 as the proper year – it takes me a while, in early January, you see. Better, we already have some great new books just now out in the first week of this new decade.

We’ve been selling the brand new Jemar Tisby book, How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Zondervan; $24.99) and we just got Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent by Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans; $19.99.) We are exceedingly impressed with Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing edited by Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher Devers (IVP; $25.00) that arrived last week and I’m thrilled that we just got, a bit early, the eagerly-awaited third volume in the much-discussed series by Andrew Root drawing on Charles Taylor for local ministry, The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life (Baker Academic; $26.99.)

Local and real online bookstores need your support as these are hard times for small businesses, but we are confident that we are going to see lots of tremendous books in 2021.

Here are three amazing books coming out in February that we invite you to PRE-ORDER from us now. There are other new titles from authors old and new coming (and, of course, we can take any pre-orders for almost anything that is forthcoming) but these are three we are agog about and think that our unique community of Hearts & Minds readers will find these well worth owning.

All books mentioned are 20% off. Just use the secure Hearts & Minds order form page by clicking on the link at the end of this column.





Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit Hannah Anderson, illustrations by Nathan Anderson (Moody Press) regularly $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79         release date February 2, 2021


I don’t know about you, but I love books that inspire me to do what I really, deeply want to do. From praying more to actually working for social justice, from being a better husband to reading more fiction, some books that are about these topics are not only about the topic, but are invitations into the topic. That is, they are deeply engaging, experiential, and motivational. The act of reading them is less about gaining information but is itself about deepening our formation. They invite us in, they send us out. This is one of those books. In fact, the first chapter of Turning of Days is called “Venturing Out.”

This is exactly what Turning of Days has been for me as I’ve worked with an advanced manuscript – it is itself a joy to behold (not merely read) and it is a profound reminder of something I know, but about which I need to be reminded. God is alive and well, showing up in the most mundane of circumstances. Yes, yes! We really can practice the presence of God and nurture in our bones a worldview that allows us to see what we sometimes call the spirituality of the ordinary.

When I teach about this – making a case for reading widely and being life-long learners who are attentive about Christ’s Lordship over all areas of life, including things like learning science or going to work or reading mainstream fiction – I sometimes go to texts in the Bible that tell us (get this!) that God reveals Himself to us, and His ways, outside of the Scripture. For some, this is obvious, but for others it feels risky or disturbing to admit. Yet, this is clear in the Bible itself and while this is not the place to tussle with the Reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura or the “sufficiency of Christ” we can say boldly that while Jesus’ work alone is sufficient for our salvation and that we can know this from the Bible alone, the Bible is not enough for a flourishing, Godly life and Jesus is not sufficient for all we need in this world of His. We need – as gifts from a caring God — productive, healthful farmers and effective dentists and useful computer techs and just politicians and wise teachers and creative artists and faithful preachers and caring friends and good workplaces, do we not? Fair elections and effective public health policies and a well-stewarded infrastructure don’t hurt, either, do they? No, in God’s good and fallen world, we need more than the Bible, more than the gospel; more than Jesus. The Bible itself teaches not only that we need things in this world, but that God in fact speaks to us through these things He gives us.

One of the great texts that teaches us this is Psalm 19: 1-4. It directly says that God speaks to us in the created order. One doesn’t need the hefty, scholarly work The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic; $50.00) to know this (although the truth of it has been so obscured it wouldn’t hurt to take a year and work through this major text.) Really, though, all we have to do is take the Bible’s word for it. “Listen to the animals, listen to the fish” Job 17 says; they will teach you. (Have you ever heard a sermon on that?)  Isaiah 28 says God teaches farmers how to know what seeds to plant in what sort of dirt — I suppose God could whisper agronomy wisdom into their ears but it is more likely the text is, again, reminding us of the revelatory nature of creation itself; old-time scientists used to talk about God’s “book of nature” that teaches us. St. Paul makes the case firmly in Romans 1, as well. And, of courses, our Master Himself instructs us to “consider the lilies.” Yes, the Bible teaches us that we can know reality and something of God, even hear God’s voice, if only we listen to His good creation. This is a commonly assumed insight, actually, implied by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity and explicated wonderfully in the most recent N.T. Wright book Broken Signposts but yet we often fail to live into it. The reasons are numerous – maybe we need foundational help as is explored in a book I highlighted early this fall, The Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully in the Space Between by J.R. Briggs (Zondervan; $19.99) that reminds us we are literally in a space where heaven and earth overlap and “hold hands.” There really is “more things in heaven and earth” going on than you dreamt of, Horatio…

Rats. You see, I’ve just done it – led us a tad astray by making the case for this notion, this idea, that God speaks to us outside the Bible as if it is just a concept we must master, that we should agree with. Because I believe in the authority of the Bible to shape our deepest views of the truest truths of things, we do have to agree to this non-negotiable teaching. I named those books above because I am confident they would be helpful in shaping how you lean into life, how you think about God and life and work and play. But yet, this isn’t an abstract fact to check off in some theological checklist. This is one doctrine we have to experience in our bodies, using our senses. A wise person shaped by this aspect of a Biblical worldview has to get outside and sniff around. It is almost as simple as that.

Which brings us, finally, to my invitation to pre-order this marvelous, artful, and moving book of mediations about exactly this. Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit is a lush and lovely square-sized paperback book that is part devotional, part field guide. It is deeply spiritual and yet offers stimulating natural history. It prose is nature writing which is a bit less obscure than Annie Dillard and a bit less political as, say, two of my favorites in this genre, Kathleen Dean Moore or Terry Tempest Williams. Hannah Anderson is a fine creative writer and with her husband’s handy pen and ink drawings (a few in color, most in black and white) to illustrate the work, her writing comes alive, beckoning us in to its pages and then right back out again, to take up her example of encountering the great (and in some cases, a bit creepy) outdoors for yourself. Not in the rugged terrain of far-away wilderness or expensive adventure sports, but by observing the more ordinary nature of backyards and meadows, neighborhoods and local woods. As I said, it is a beautiful book that helps us see God in creation and that motivates us to want to see more, to experience more, to get outside for a bit and discover stuff that we too often fail to notice.

Ms Anderson has shown herself in her previous books to be a very good writer. We know of some young adults (women, mostly) who have exclaimed to Beth and I how much her writing has inspired them. Her most recent one is very nicely written, wise, too, on discernment. It is called All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment (Moody Publishers; $13.99.)

Her 2016 Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Moody; $13.99) is a gem of basic Christian living insight about humility and there are hints of her love for real roots and real ground in it. (Just look at that cover.)

Many loved her first one, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody; $13.99.) That she understands well that the profound Biblical insight of being made in God’s image gives us not only dignity and worth, but purpose and vision is wonderful. That she writes with a clear and breezy style is helpful for many. She’s a thoughtful, fun writer we respect a lot.

Here is what our literary friend Karen Swallow Prior wrote a few years ago about Made for More:

Here at last is a book about Christian womanhood that I can read and recommend, a book that builds a biblical view of womanhood not with proof texts but with foundational doctrines, a book that draws not upon trendy bestsellers but upon the greatest thinkers and writers in history. Made for More transcends narrow, contemporary gender debates with a clear and compelling call for all of us to flourish as human beings made in the image of God.

Or listen to Kathy Keller, writing from New York City when that book came out:

Hannah Anderson’s book Made for More is refreshing. It locates the real discussion of what a “woman’s role” is or isn’t in both men and women being made in the image of God and tasked with the care of creation. This challenges the self-absorbed literature regarding women that has become the norm, as well as self-satisfied women who are content to do little for the kingdom.

So, Hannah’s got a solid, evangelical perspective that is both morally serious and winsomely written. We enjoy and trust her work.

But this forthcoming one, due in February? It’s a step in a fresh direction, a book of a different kind. It is not just that it is illustrated nicely and enhanced in such a lovely way, but that it really does evoke something extraordinary and seriously needed. It honors God by helping us attend to God’s creation.

Here is how the publisher has described this soon to be released volume:

From the beginning, Scripture tells of a God who created the heavens and earth. But what might the heavens and earth tell were we to listen to them? Of order, beauty, and unabashed grace? Turning of Days beckons to a world of tree frogs and peach blossoms, mountain springs and dark winter nights–all in search of nature’s God, all in harmony with Scripture. Join Hannah Anderson as she journeys through the four seasons in this collection of devotional essays and illustrations. Take a look, and see His glory everywhere.

Perhaps you noticed from this description that it not only looks at creation but that it does so in what we might call a seasonal approach. The very title Turning of Days captures this – what we all know but sometimes don’t pay much attention to – by living into the way in which the creation changes, how it swings back and forth with changes in weather and what grows and emerges, in rhythmic seasons. In our part of North America and in hers we call the seasons winter, spring, summer and fall, but all of us sense that our days change. The Bible teaches this, too, and so being attentive to God’s faithfulness to the creation’s weather and the long haul of time is itself part of God’s own plan and glory.

I enjoy the beauty of winter a bit, although less so as I grow older and am eager to stop worrying about slipping on the ice and the need to shovel snow. I think this lovely book is reminding me to cultivate a more spiritual instinct rather than being so practical, as if the most important thing about the ending of March is a relief from the cold and my frustration with not knowing where to pile the snow in our back parking lot. What might it be like if we see the turning of days and seasons as part of God’s own gift, something deeply structured into the created order of things; something deeply beautiful?

This beautiful little book – a lovely square paperback – will help you, here, too. It helps us hear God’s voice in God’s own creation and it helps us see the passage of time – days and nights, weeks and months, seasons into seasons – as the meaningful ordering of our sense of time itself.

Allow me to share just two portions of Turning of Days so you can see how very interesting and, I think, helpful it is.

The first excerpt I’ll show is from an opening note from the author, just setting the stage. For those who are understandably leery when folks start talking about experiencing God in nature – pantheism is an idolatrous ideology, of course – it offers the Biblical framework I opened my comments with, above:

This book is a bit of a paradox because it attempts to use words where nature doesn’t. Writing it was no less paradoxical, and I imagine reading it will be as well. The primary paradox, of course, is that God chooses to reveal Himself through both the natural world and the Holy Scriptures. He chooses to make Himself known through both the universal and the specific. He is the God of both common and particular grace.

Those accustomed to knowing God in certain ways may find it challenging to encounter Him in different ones. Perhaps, you’ll ask, “What can nature teach me about God that Scripture cannot?” or “If I can meet God on a mountain top, why should I worry about a book?” But let me suggest different questions: “What will you miss if you don’t encounter God in all the ways He chooses to reveal Himself? What will you miss if you don’t embrace the paradox of revelation?”

Hannah Anderson has a keen eye for seeing these paradoxes. Sometimes tells of unpleasant aspects of life on a fallen planet. But she can describe a scene so lovely (and, frankly, unfamiliar to many of us) that it just whets the appetite for me to be more attentive to my own backyard, such as it is (without berries, sadly.)

Enjoy this:

The sun is just rising above the trees, and the air is still cool when I step out my kitchen door. I’m barefoot and the grass is wet and cold. Drops of water hang from the clothesline across the yard like so many miniature garments left out to dry, and mist shrouds the mountain in front of the house. Later today, a summer sun will sit high in the sky, blazing hot, and the moisture will burn away; but for now, warmth comes only from the odd sunbeam and the long sleeves of my work shirt.

I’ve come this morning for the raspberries in the corner patch. It’s heavy with them—pink, red, amethyst, and wine—all at various stages of ripening. The canes bend and arc, and morning dew pools on the leaves, cisterns for bird and beetle alike. As I cross the yard, a mourning dove calls for a mate. There’s a newness to these mornings, as new as if I were walking in Eden itself, fresh and full of hope. I’ve come to collect raspberries for breakfast but more likely I’ve come to collect myself.

Nice, huh? In a sense some of this reminds me of one of our favorite writers of recent years, Christie Purifoy who wrote Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace and Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. I know many of our customers have enjoyed her writing and I am sure they will also love Turning of Days.

Again, you will learn something about God; you may even experience something of God in this book. Like any good devotional material, there are Bible texts and quotes from reliable theologians. It will shape you spiritually as you find yourself, as the old hymn puts it, perhaps “lost in wonder, love and praise.” But you will learn things (or be reminded to care about things) on Earth, about biodiversity, about cicada, about something called circinate vernation, about soil and Sabbath and seeds.

(And, just for the record — Anderson does cite Annie Dillard once, and a beloved poem, Aurora Leigh.)

Without overwhelming you, this gentle, brief collection of devotional essays will invite you to know God’s world so you can care more about daily life, practicing the presence of a God who chooses to speak to us in the things of seasons changing and nature’s sturdiness. We invite you to order it now and receive with it (when it releases in February) a free gift of signed artwork — the full color picture of the turtle from the cover, I think — from Nathan Anderson.

Here are a few fine writers, artists, and thinkers who themselves have been blessed and stimulated by Turning of Days.

Turning of Days delights, mesmerizes, and intoxicates . . . a rare book, full of truth and beauty.”  Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

“It is often hard to read nature’s testimony . . . Turning of Days is a delightful primer for us all.”  Ned Bustard, illustrator and designer of Every Moment Holy

“This book left us breathless. It powerfully knits the threads of natural revelation and grace, and . . . elevated what we get to call our daily work in a way that will never leave us.” -Sarah & Steve Pabody, CEOs, Triple Wren Farms

Turning of Days captures my heart at the core . . . a celebration of beauty that comes at just the right time.”  Sandra McCracken, singer and songwriter

“Intimate, moody, soothing; at times searing, like nature and life itself.”  Julie Zickefoose, author and illustrator of The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds

“If, as the poets say, attention is a form of devotion, Hannah Anderson has given her readers a great gift in these pages. In Turning of Days, she has modeled the worship that begins by venturing out, bending down, and considering: the frost and the floods, the deer and the daisies, the seeds and cicadas. To attend to our glorious, groaning creation is to see the steady Hand that sustains life in all of its teeming and wild variety. “An entire cosmos designed to teach you faith,” Anderson reminds. This lovely, meditative book deserves to be read slowly under the banner of the skies.”              Jen Pollock Michel  author of A Habit Called Faith and Surprised by Paradox


While supplies last we have a signed art print from the book drawn by Nathan Anderson which we will send along for free to the first 20 people who order.

Every Moment Holy Volume II:  Death, Grief and Hope  Douglas McElvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard  (Rabbit Room) regularly, $35.00                   OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00         release date mid- late February 2021

I hope you know the extraordinary volume of prayers for all sorts of daily occasions called Every Moment Holy. If our essay above reminds us of one way to find God’s presence in the ordinary — pay attention to the creation — certainly another way is to develop what James K.A. Smith and others might call liturgical/habitual ritual practices. This prayer book is designed to help you offer brief words of prayer throughout the day, sanctifying daily moments with this sacred practice. Every Moment Holy came out a few years ago, first in a sturdy 8 x 12 leather-covered hardback, and then a smaller, compact, flexible, soft-leathery edition. The type font is wonderful and includes some red ink like more formal prayerbooks; the edges are gilded and there is a silk ribbon marker. It is a handbook for pausing to give voice to our prayers on special occasions (even if the occasions are normal and mundane.) EMH offers what they call “liturgies” (by which they mean what most would call “litanies” — prayers to be said out loud in two or more voices) for occasions as obvious as before meals and before bedtime to more curious prayers to use at moments such as before consuming media, before morning coffee, before setting up a Christmas tree, before a competitive sporting event.  I don’t know who has time to pray before changing diapers, but there are two of them here. The “Liturgy for the Morning Before a Medical Procedure” has comforted many and I must say I love the several that are to be offered while watching weather. I know someone who uses the prayer “before paying bills” each month.

Every Moment Holy has prayers for husband and wife, for the unmarried, for those dating, for the overly busy and for the lonely; anyone facing ordinary sorts of experiences that they want to offer up before the Lord who is with us in all things, anyway. There are liturgies for shopping, liturgies for those who cannot sleep, liturgies for home repairs, liturgies for various aspects of parenting, a prayer for welcoming a new pet, a liturgy for the eve of a wedding, one for “flooded with too much information.”

Most popular, I suspect, among those who have used Every Moment Holy have been the prayers for loss, those that take the shape of lament, liturgies offering for times of loss. Which is why a year or more ago Rabbit Room and Mr. Bustard announced a second volume that would offer resources specifically for such hard times; in anticipation, I’ve been calling it the Every Moment Holy lament edition.

Time and space do not permit me to explain more of this or study the nuances of the (mostly) beautifully written and simple prayers / litanies, or the remarkably apt linocut artwork, done by my good friend Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books and World’s End Images.  Ned’s style is ideal for this liturgical prayer book for ordinary use as his contemporary linocuts bring to mind older woodcuts, but with a light touch in the first edition, at least. (Yes, that is Tolkien in the liturgy to be used before reading a book; yes there is something funny about the art accompanying the prayer over morning coffee.) His linocut of grief inspired by a Van Gogh drawing is worth the price of the book and I adore his simple cut accompanying the prayer “for the enjoyment of a bonfire in the night.” I have prayed it even without the pleasure of a bonfire.

The new one, due out in mid February, is a full sized hardback (like the first, hardback edition of volume 1), covered in a brown/tan leather. It offers, as the subtitle suggests, prayers and litanies for seasons of dying and grieving — liturgies such as “A Liturgy for the Scattering of Ashes” or “A Liturgy for the Loss of a Spouse” or “A Liturgy for the Wake of a National Tragedy.” As the good folks at Rabbit Room put it, “these are ways of reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose and eternal hopes even when, especially when, suffering and pain threaten to overwhelm us.”

You can watch an artful video at Rabbit Room of one of these liturgies, “A Prayer of Intercession Against the Kingdom of Death.” Not all in Every Moment Holy Volume 2 are that long or poetic, but it is well worth watching. Amazing.
In Mr. McElvey’s Every Moment Holy Volume II:  Death, Grief, and Hope you will get over 100 “liturgies” in this same, beautiful leather-bound hardcover style with all new illustrations by Ned Bustard. I anticipate we will be selling a lot of these as it is so very, very special. I wouldn’t be surprised if the publisher runs out.  Pre-order yours from us today at 20% off.
Here is a rare look at just two of the art pieces which will appear to illuminate the liturgies in Every Moment Holy II.
Discovering God Through the Arts: How Every Christians Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity Terry Glaspey (Moody Press) regularly $16.99
release date February 2, 2021




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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313

A Reflection on our 38 Years as Booksellers — A Heartfelt Thanks from Us to You. (And some books about books, 20% OFF)

I posted a version of this on Facebook and thought I ought to send it out to our BookNotes subscribers, you who are among our best supporters and most regular customers. We’re so grateful you read our words and send orders for us to ship to you. Here’s a little essay ruminating just a bit on our past 38 years. As we say at the end, we couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for being a part of this story.

Yesterday was the 38th anniversary of the opening of our bookstore, Hearts & Minds, here in Dallastown, PA.

As I’ve often said, the very first book we sold that very first day we opened was a paperback of Les Miserable by Victor Hugo. (This was in 1982, by the way, before the powerful musical made “Les Mis” and Victor Hugo a household name.) A deeply Christian classic novel, so different then most of the so-called “Christian fiction” of the 1980s, we were delighted for that to be our first sale and took it somehow as a sign from above: God smiled upon our youthful hopes to create a bookstore that was a bit different than the typical religious shops of the day.

We have written before about our desire to be a bit more thoughtful and ecumenical as a bookstore than some evangelical stores, offering more meaty books than are often found, without being an academic bookstore. We carry gifts and crafts, cards and music, and a fair share of inspirational bric-a-back, but wanted to stand out as a bookstore. When we opened, most religious shops still called themselves bookstores and in our lifetimes many switched to calling themselves “Christian stores” which meant teeshirts and Jesus junk; they’ve even got “Christian toothbrushes.” You know our story of trying to carry books from a Christian perspective across the whole range of life and career areas, titles about engineering and politics and psychology and art and business. You’ve heard me tell stories of folks who have entered our store and, seeing books on ecological studies, have asked, confused, where the Christian bookstore in Dallastown is. Because we carry books on science and film, they can’t imagine that we are that Christian bookstore. And so, it’s been a wild ride these years…

We wouldn’t have been able to open 234 East Main if it weren’t for tons of friends who pitched in (many from Pittsburgh) and our very generous and helpful families, who volunteered, cooked, did accounting paperwork, worked in the shop, cared for our children, and delivered packages (and, let’s admit it, threw good money after bad) for years and years. Of course, we are thankful for many who volunteered and covered for us, for early employees and staff, and for our current team of the last decade, all who love books and care for our customers in ways that humble and honor us.

If you’ve ever worked here — even for a while — I trust you’ll forgive us for not living up to our ideals of doing things a bit differently, with good cheer and a sense of community that promotes theological care for an open-minded, ecumenical book selection, always putting people above profits. We’ve dropped the ball more times than we can say, but we cling to the goodness of God who seems to have guided and sustained us as we’ve tried to be a space for many different kinds of folks to learn about many different kinds of books. What a blast that has been; we hope our corner of the world is a bit better because of the ideas launched through these books we’ve researched, studied, curated, ordered, stocked, shown, and sometimes sold. We thank those who showed up and worked hard for us, seeing this more as ministry than lucrative wage earning.

We’ve been encouraged and blessed by many in our industry — authors whose names you may know, publishing leaders whose names you most likely don’t, and bunches of faithful sales reps, order takers, supply chain workers, (USPS carriers, UPS and FedEx drivers), publishers and editors, book cover designers, publicity and PR teams, and others who make this whole industry work as well as it does. We are thankful to play a small part in a bigger industry that has changed much over the decades and is facing very hard times now. On this weekend of commemoration, I won’t rant about the industry, the dangers of Amazon, and the vexation of moving forward during Covid. But it worries us a lot. We trust God and forge ahead, I guess, recalling what Francis Schaeffer wrote in True Spirituality so many decades ago: the world is abnormal. Or, as Cornelius Plantinga put it in a beautiful book on sin, swiping a line from the movie “Grand Canyon”, things are “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Got it.

But, of course, it is to our customers (many who have become friends) to whom we owe the biggest debt of gratitude. Truly. This weekend of thanksgiving we are deeply grateful for those who have trusted us with their hard questions, who have asked for book advice, who have put us to work finding titles they need, who have browsed our shelves and found surprising treasures (and who had the candor to tell us when they found stinkers and titles that caused trouble.) We thank those who have shelled out their hard- earned money. We thank you for that.

Beth and I are tired from the long hours of these long years, willing to admit that it’s been harder than we expected, but we are cheered when we think of many fine conversations with many fine folks about books and ideas, authors and writing, words and wisdom. Nearly every day we are reminded about the impact we make by getting books to readers. “Read for the Kingdom!” I used to shout, sometimes, at evangelical gatherings; “Books can help transform your vision and move us to work for change,” I might say to others. Or, perhaps a blessing of sorts, to some: “May these titles touch your heart and shape your soul in healthy, good ways.” In any case, our customers know that books matter, that reading is a spiritual discipline that can change us from the inside out, and that the very willingness to learn from others — through fiction, nonfiction, poetry or prose — is an essential virtue that makes us better people and this world a better place. Today, especially, we thank our customers who have kept us going, in more ways than one.

We thank, also, those institutions that have partnered with us; schools and libraries and social change organizations and, of course, many local churches; we thank you. We’ve loved selling books with and for ministries such as our beloved CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach.) I’m sure some tire of us talking about their Jubilee conference, but it has been more than an annual big gig for us, but the center of our liturgical calendar and a touchstone for why we do what we do. We’ll be somehow selling books on line there this year at Jubilee 2021.

On this Hearts & Minds anniversary we think back to the old days setting up book displays for the York Council of Churches (does anybody remember the local Faith Is Alive Christian Ed conferences?), the epic Pennsylvania State Council of Churches events in Harrisburg — where for the first time I heard Walt Brueggemann and Jürgen Moltmann, the same day) and conferences by groups like the C.S.Lewis Institute, Ivy Jungle, Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work in NYC, Q, CIVA, OneLife, Northeast APCE, Wee Kirk, CLS, Fresh Expressions, CLAC, ESA, CPJ, BFW, The Jonathan Edwards Institute, and the Mercersburg Society, not to mention several regular denominational gatherings, from UCC to Episcopalian, from Presbyterian to Lutheran.

We’ve set up at Catholic retreat centers and Christian rock festivals (Purple Door!), at camps and revivals and protest marches and once at the National Press Club. I’ve lectured on books in countless venues; we’ve set up in rec rooms of college student dorms at the beach and in fancy halls at Ivy League colleges and fine (and not so fine) hotels. We’ve sold books and spoken at events in New York and New Orleans, in Dallas and Denver. We’ve set up books in urban justice centers and at rural nonprofits. And of course we delivered book displays to more church basements than we can remember. We love the church basements.

We’ve worked with authors as distinguished as Os Guinness and Barbara Brown Taylor and William Willimon and Tim Keller (loading out, once, from a very fancy, marbled museum in Pittsburgh) and with edgy activists like Shane Claiborne,Lisa Sharon Harper, Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’ve spoken (like a bookish warm-up act) before Brennan Manning and Fleming Rutledge and John Piper and Rich Mullins and Eugene Peterson; Phyllis Tickle once quipped that Hearts & Minds is the very center of the universe. I’ve had the remarkable fortune to interview authors I love such as Michael Card, Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, Ruth Haley Barton, Jamie Smith. I think the first event we ever did in the store was with Jim Wallis; or maybe Brian Walsh; both were before we expanded the store in the mid 1990s. The most recent, on Zoom, was with Gina Delfonzo and Karen Swallow Prior as we talked about Charles Dickens. Our two largest Dallastown events were with N.T. Wright and another with Amish novelist Beverly Lewis.

These days, with Covid on the rise and the store still closed, we have quick conversations through people’s car windows or standing in the breeze out back. If it weren’t a sign of our grim times, it would be sort of fun, this backyard customer service and curbside delivery.

Most of our customers these days, and I suspect most reading this, are mail-order friends — on-line shoppers and those who read BookNotes and send us orders and, often, encouraging notes. (Or cancel their subscription and send us hate mail, but I digress.) We opened before there was a thing called “Small Business Saturday” or “Cyber-Monday” and we continue on, eyes on the prize, glad for those who support independent and family-owned businesses and who appreciate our odd effort to be a bookstore unlike most, with an unusual blend of passions and the books to prove it. We’re so thankful for those who subscribe to BookNotes, who read (and share) our book reviews, who send us orders, who spread the word. We appreciate you all more than words can say.

I’ve shared this lively video before, but if you want to hear me ramble on about the power of books, the need to read widely, the pleasure and importance of the printed page, this talk I gave at an evening gathering last year at Grove City College is an example of the sorts of notions that often run through our heads as we talk about our work and the Christian perspective that we think shapes us. I was so glad to be with friends out in Western Pennsylvania again and appreciated their trust in allowing me to talk about reading and books to their students and friends.  Even though it was presented for collegiates, I think many will enjoy hearing me enthusiastically preaching about books and what they can do for us. Enjoy!


Of course, it wouldn’t be a real BookNotes if I didn’t highlight some books, so here are three. Happy reading.  ALL BOOKS ARE 20% OFF.  Think of it as an anniversary sale.
The Word: Black Writers Talk about the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing edited by Marita Golden (Broadway Books) $14.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

If you have heard me speak at any length about what books can do for us and the value of reading, you may have heard me read out loud from the first few pages of this marvelous anthology of black writers. In the opening, Marita Golden offers vignettes of her own reading life — as a youth (reading Oliver Twist and Vanity Fair), as a teen coming into her own as a young, black woman, as a person coping with the hard stuff of life (she’s tells about reading Tony Morrison’s Beloved) and as a wife contemplating her bad marriage, reading Madam Bovary. I read it early in my talk at Grove City College that I linked to above, if you saw that. Often, after offering presentations when I use this resource, folks want to know what book it was that I read from. Highly recommended.

Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00 ||        OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

You can read my longer review here, but know that this is one book I esteem almost more than any other, because it names so much of what and why we do what we do. I adore this book.

I wish more would know this content, talk about this stuff, share this book, explore it in groups. It is important and good and we so admire the work Chris has done with his team at Englewood Review of Books.

As missional scholar Alan Roxburgh notes in one review, “Reading isn’t a technique. It’s about cultivating the practice of discernment through dialogue with others.” It is, especially in our polarized culture, as Tim Soerens notes, in his rave review, “subversive.” Slowing down and listening? That’s a habit we get from reading, and especially from reading together. This is much of what Chris is exploring here (and which was developed further in his recent book about conversation, How the Body of Christ Talks.)

Here is how the publisher has described Reading for the Common Good:

We have been created to live and work in community. But all too often we see ourselves primarily as individuals and run the risk of working at cross-purposes with the organizations we serve. Living faithfully in a neighborhood involves two interwoven threads: learning and action. In this book C. Christopher Smith, coauthor of Slow Church, looks at the local church as an organization in which both learning and action lie at the heart of its identity. He explores the practice of reading and, in his words, “how we can read together in ways that drive us deeper into action.” Smith continues, “Church can no longer simply be an experience to be passively consumed; rather, we are called into the participatory life of a community. Reading is a vital practice for helping our churches navigate this shift.” Discover how books can help your churches and neighborhoods bring flourishing to the world.

Listen to memoirist and essayist Scott Russell Saunders:

In this hectic age, with its flood of electronic scraps aimed at five-second attention spans, how refreshing it is to meet a champion of slow, sustained and meditative reading of books. And not just any books, but ones that nurture compassion and community. Chris Smith illustrates in his own work and in his account of the work of his church what it means to love one’s neighbor. It means more than kindly feelings. It means kindly actions. It means caring for others, beginning with those who share the place where we live, and above all those who are most in need. The wealth Smith celebrates is not to be found in stock markets or bank accounts, but between the covers of books, between person and person, and in the loving heart.

A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why (A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore) edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99  ||              OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
When our store turned 30 our friends at Square Halo showed up with cases of this book on hand, a book they had put together in our honor, a great gift we are to this day stunned. They got authors as rare as Calvin Seerveld and as famous as N.T. Wright and as eloquent Steve Garber as teacherly as Karen Swallow Prior, guiding us to the best books they recommend in their respective fields. In sort of an homage to BookNotes, 20 or so experts weigh in with great chapters about books — from Andi Ashworth on books about cooking to Gregory Wolfe on books of creative nonfiction, from Mike Schutt on books about law to Denis Haack on film, it’s a great, great collection. There is an opening chapter which is a transcribed talk form a cassette tape recording of some off the cuff remarks I made at a gathering once, which is pretty good (despite one glaring error regarding Abraham Kuyper and C.S. Lewis. You know how I get when I get fired up preaching about every square inch of Narnia.)

The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $19.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Maybe you will recall us describing this when it came out a year ago. What a great idea, pulling together various writings of the Oxford don from his letters, essays, and books, about the value of reading, the joys of reading, his own love of books and his advice for readers and writers. You can read in one volume his review of J.R.R. Tolkien, some of his reflections on science fiction, and several pieces on children’s books.  And, of course, the often cited chapters on the importance of reading old books.


Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin Press) $25.00  || OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I could just as easily commend the wonderful Oxford University Press book by Professor Jacobs called The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction — yes, he reminds us, highbrow thinker that he may be, that in all our concerns about the lack of reading, “amusing ourselves to death” in “the shallows” and other rants against the demise of reading in our tech-driven, digital age, that we are to enjoy reading. Life’s too short to waste much time or books we don’t like, I say, so, yep, The Pleasures of Reading is a gem.

Still, Breaking Bread with the Dead is named here, though, because, well, it’s a reminder many of us need. We are not too snooty here at the bookstore and we don’t sell many of the great classics to elite readers, no matter what Mr. Lewis recommended. (I’ve been known to push back on this thesis about chronologically snobbery, by the way, noting that his privileging older books is its own sort of chronological snobbery!) Having said that, we do need to attend to what Jacobs so richly and eloquently reflect on here. What a book it is, one of the best, deepest, reading experiences this year.

I may or may not have understood all he was writing about and I may or may not have ever heard of some of the authors he mentioned. Okay, I didn’t. No matter. Breaking Bread with the Dead is a moving, detailed, and compelling argument for taking seriously old books, especially in our season of restlessness and melancholy.

We reviewed this at BookNotes briefly here and we still have it at that 20% off discounted price. Highly recommended.

Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher Jeffrey Munro (IVP) $18.00  ||                OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Few authors capture the range and quality of what we want to be about here as much as this Presbyterian pastor who helped create the modern interest in religious memoir, was nominated for a Putlizer Prize for exceptional novels, and whose witty theology is both meaty and winsome. That some evangelicals and even Catholics liked this mainline Protestant pastor, that secular literary types and heady theologians took him seriously, is just wonderful.

This fabulous book by Jeffrey Munro, executive vice president at Western Theological Seminary (where he also teaches writing) is for those who love Buechner (obviously) and a great prelude and orientation for those who don’t know much about him. This really is, as the publisher promised on the back, “an authoritative new introduction to one of best spiritual writers.”

As I wrote in a brief review at BookNotes a year ago, “There is a lovely, powerful forward by visual artist and writer Makoto Fujimura and blurbs on the back of this book are from the well-known Marilyn McEntyre, Michael Card, John Wilson, and Calvin University English prof and co-director of the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing Jennifer Holberg who commends it to both newcomers and longtime readers of Mr. Buechner.”

Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $17.00  ||                            OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

This is one of those books that I mention often at BookNotes. It is about how college students can see their ordinary academic work as a way to worship God, an easy-to-read introduction to one of the most significant tropes that shaped my life and the founding of our bookstore — that we can somehow relate faith and scholarship, that a Christian lens affords us with a unique perspective to understand learning and its relationship to living well. With blurbs from world class scholars like George Marsden (and the advice from James K.A. Smith on the back saying to “buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know”) Learning for the Love of God is not only highly regarded, but is important.

I remind you of it here, now, for three reasons.

First, this really is the most whimsical and upbeat guide to this whole movement of worldview and culture-making and vocation and the call to distinctively Christian scholarship that early on shaped the vision and texture of our store. Granted, aspiring serious scholars should read, at least, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James Sire and Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior by Steve Garber and George Marsden’s little Oxford University Press book, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship which is vital, and inspired Opitz & Melleby, working your way to the magisterial The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories by philosopher Roy Clouser.  Richard Mouw’s wonderful, recent, All That God Cares about: Common Grace and Divine Delight has a couple of pages about us, quoting from a long BookNotes column where I explained why this stuff matters to us so much, suggesting it is my evangelical sort of take on the “all of life redeemed” vision of Abraham Kuyper and the implications for thinking, learning, and scholarship in service of societal reformation. What an honor to have an author like Dr. Mouw cite us as illustrative of something interesting. Whew.

Optiz and Melleby — perhaps goaded by me, I don’t know about that — knew deep in their bones that this vital tradition of reformational scholarship was life changing and yet often missing the mark of young students who were church kids but had no tools to “think Christianly” about their college classes and task as young scholars. They worked well to create a solid but accesible introduction to this transformative stuff and it says so much about how Beth and I see our role as booksellers that it seems right to highlight it here, now.

Secondly, beside it being a window into much of what we think is important about young adults in college and taking faith into the classroom, I think — I hope you believe me — that this could be helpful to anyone who wants a breezy and quick read that invites them into life-long learning, a discerning wisdom about being “in but not of” the worlds of culture and knowledge. I know of Christians with a wild and wide imagination and they feel guilty, as if studying God’s world is somehow not spiritual enough; this book will help. I know others that don’t feel guilty, but maybe they should, because they study any old thing under the sun without any intentional or coherent way of relating their faith to their daily learning.n Again, this book will help. With so much fake news out there and so much confusing about thinking well, this call to joyful, intentional Christian learning is worth every page.

Thirdly (okay, sorry if this is what rhetoricians call “special pleading”) the book is dedicated to me. I get choked up sometimes thinking about it, or seeing it there when I’m showing somebody the book. Gulp. Come on, folks. It’s our store’s anniversary!  Buy this book that somehow has some connections to the decades of work of Beth and me here at Hearts & Minds.


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PRE-ORDER NOW: Prayer in the Night (Tish Harrison Warren), Faith After Doubt (Brian McLaren), Companions in the Darkness (Diana Gruver), The Great Belonging (Charlotte Donlon) 20% OFF

PRE-ORDER NOW at 20% off, four great new titles dealing with hard, personal stuff.

Of course, we can take pre-orders for anything and we now have waiting lists for all sorts of great forthcoming titles, from Jemar Tisby’s important How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Zondervan; $24.99) to Mako Fujimura’s long awaited Art + Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale University Press; $26.00) both due in early January 2021. I certainly hope we’ll get some pre-orders for the much-needed study Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing edited by Todd Ream and others (IVP Academic; $25.00) that is also due in January. You know we’ve been taking pre-orders for the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier, pushed back to be released in March 2021, called A Burning in My Bones (Waterbrook; $28.00.) And I can’t wait for Praying with Our Feet: Pursuing Justice and Healing on the Streets by Lindsey Krinks (coming from Brazos Press for $17.99 in early February 2021.) We are taking pre-orders, offering 20% off, and invite you to add your name to the waiting lists. Or, pre-order whatever else you’ve heard about that tickles your fancy, from the next novel by your favorite fiction writer to a forthcoming kid’s book you heard of to a cool new cookbook to the many important books of Biblical studies and theology that are coming out. Let us know how we can help. Thanks.

For now, we are inviting you to order right away any of these four beautiful, well-written, and helpful forthcoming books. (In the case of the last two, they have just released so we will be sending those without delay.) These four seem to hang to gather, each addressing the sadnesses of our times, our broken hearts, finding faith in times of difficulty or doubt, reflecting on loss and loneliness. A bit of sadness, yes, but I assure you I enjoyed each one of these books; they are written with verve and distinction.

These authors all write very well, although each in her or his own way. They are not  necessarily theologically similar, but they share a vibrant trust in telling the truth, being honest about the complexity of the human condition, and guiding us to life-giving and faith-filled responses. I have read most of (but not finished) all four and am proud to commend them to you now.

All are 20% off. As we say at the order form page, you can safely enter credit card digits or you can just ask us to send you a bill so you can pay by check later. 

It is our custom to not charge credit cards until the day we actually send the books. So you can enter credit card info safely at our secure order form page but we won’t actually process the charge until we actually ship the books. We list the dates by the sale prices.

If you are ordering more than one of these PLEASE TELL US if you prefer us to send them each individually as they come out or if we should consolidate and ship together, later.

We tend to send things the least expensive way (“Media Mail” costs about $3.00 for one book) but we can upgrade to “Priority Mail” which is usually quicker than and always much cheaper than UPS. We can send UPS, too, if you’d rather. Just let us know your preferences or use the “inquire” page if you have any questions.


Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60                               release date – January 26, 202 

I have had the great privilege of having an advanced copy of this and it is nothing short of the most moving books I’ve read all year. From the breathtaking prologue where she narrates her praying the Compline prayers while in the hospital hemorrhaging with a tragic miscarriage, we know this is a very well-written book; a book with raw and painful observations about our broken lives in this fallen world, observations that are colored by her astute theology and a worldview baptized by her immersion in the Book of Common Prayer. That this forthcoming book is about praying the night-time prayer service, called Compline, should not be off-putting to those who are not familiar with fixed hour prayer or the habit of praying words given to us by a prayerbook. (She does offer some explanation of that tradition, how more formal liturgical prayers were the way of the early church, and an apology for their benefit. Even though she does not diminish more spontaneous and conversational prayers as an Anglican priest, she naturally is steeped in the importance of the prayer book and praying “the hours.”) No matter what your prayer habits or customs are, I am sure this extraordinary book will help.

I will want to do a more extended review of this when time permits, but a few quick notes, here, now. As I’ve noted, Prayer in the Night is a fabulous book which is honest about our hurts and fears and it will be useful for anyone asking the “where is God when it hurts” kind of questions. Technically called the study of “theodicy”, her one solid chapter on this is one of the best I have ever read. She insists that there is no tidy answer, not only because the mystery of the tension between God’s goodness and our suffering is such a tough nut to crack, intellectually, but because it is not, after all, primarily an intellectual question. We live this stuff; we cry out from our hearts when we feel abandoned or harbor fears or when injustices outrage us. Our cry is a protest (as it should be) and no abstract formula will do. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

That she works with the metaphor of darkness and talks quite specifically about the overnight hours is appealing, not only for the common-ness of it, but for the poetic and captivating way she writes about it. It’s really quite good. I think some of this will resonate with those who enjoyed Barbara Brown Taylor’s exquisite Learning to Walk in the Dark, a book I adore. (On the back cover, book lover extraordinaire Wesley Hill links the two, calling them “poet-theologian memoirists.”) Tish Warren’s honest but rugged orthodoxy and prayer-book theology and situated context in the life of a congregation takes her in a somewhat different direction than Taylor in that book and it makes Prayer in the Night, finally, a more transformative and I think enduring resource. In any event, it is lovely to read, enchanting at times, despite the overcast themes.

Listen to what author James Bryan Smith says of it:

Tish has done it again! Good writers, Frederick Buechner once told me, ‘pay attention to their lives.’ By this standard, Tish Harrison Warren is a very good writer indeed. She tells stories from her own life–sometimes commonplace, sometimes heartbreaking–with great detail, and even greater insight. Using the brilliant, time-tested words found in Compline, a service of evening prayers used before sleep, as her outline, this well-written and deeply honest book will inspire you to begin using these prayers in your own life. It did for me. Reading this book was like having a meaningful conversation with a friend over a crackling fire and having a clear sense that you are the better for having engaged in it. Tish is far too young to be this wise. I am grateful for her life, for her searching faith, and I am very grateful for this special book.                                                                                                              –James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God
The second part of this amazing book includes three chapters under the rubric of “The Way of the Vulnerable” and includes chapters on lament (“Those Who Weep”) and attention (“Those Who Watch”) and restoration (“Those Who Work.”) These three words — weep, watch, and work — are from the BCP’s Compline prayer and will be familiar to those who have used this prayer. For those who have not, it is still a remarkably rich way to organize a set of prayers, especially for use before bedtime. Anglican, Epsiopalian, renegade BCP fan, or allergic to written prayers, this is fabulous, inspiring, stuff.
(By the way, as you may have guessed, this isn’t an instruction manual on how to pray; it is not even a book about how to pray Compline. It is, rather, her own story and pastoral theology that emerged from it (as a “priest who couldn’t pray.”) It bears witness to God’s mysterious and paradoxical presence in the midst of her own sorrow, and her families, and her churches, and the worlds. Like her wonderful Liturgy of the Ordinary, which wasn’t exactly a book about how to worship or how to craft liturgy, but told the story of the impact liturgical worship had on her daily experience. Similarly, this tells the story of her praying and reflecting on life in light of Compline, not exactly a guide to doing it yourself. After all, it isn’t that hard. Open the book, quiet your heart, pray the prayers.)
Part Three of Prayer in the Night is what she suggests is a “taxonomy of vulnerability.” Again, this offers her profound reflections (based mostly on her own life, sharing honestly much of her own foibles and sorrows) on phrases from the Compline prayer (and a bit about her and her husband and children’s use of it.)  She helps remind us that Christ Himself, God the Son, became vulnerable, and as the vulnerable God, meets us in our own creatureliness. Here are the chapter titles:
  • Give Your Angels Charge Over Those Who Sleep – Cosmos and Commonplace
  • Tend the Sick, Lord Christ – Embodiment
  • Give Rest to the Weary- Weakness and Silence
  • Bless the Dying – Ashes
  • Soothe the Suffering – Comfort
  • Pity the Afflicted – Relentlessness and Revelation
  • Shield the Joyous – Gratitude and Indifference
Yes, there is some heavy content in here. (But don’t you just want to read a chapter on angels with the subtitle “Cosmos and Commonplace”?) For those who have experienced chronic illness (or, heck, any kind of illness) the chapter on embodiment is brilliant.  I wept along with her and her husband — both are priests — as they share how wrenchingly hard it is to put ashes on the foreheads of children on Ash Wednesday (I never thought of that.) I grieved along with her as she described the sudden death of her father. I was bowled over by some of the stories of hardship she tells, including some from her parish in Pittsburgh. I appreciated her reflection about our culture’s tendency to discourage grieving well, the story of her husband’s own experience of not crying. These are hard gifts for the people of God.
But yet, as with her fabulous, fabulous Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life there are upbeat moments as well. I laughed right out loud when she told how her young daughter, just learning to read, wanted to read the Compline prayer and mispronounced the word “sooth” as “smooth”, an adaptation their family (mis) prays to this day. She lists more than once the stuff she loves about the beauty of this world, a point that those who know her knows gladly recognize. Like any of us, she knows life’s sorrows, but she knows glory and goodness, too. (And she quotes some lines from some super-cool musicians, too, from the band Over the Rhine to the alt-county queen, Julie Miller, to the edgy Arcade Fire.) Praying in the dark is part of the territory, but so is a life of big and small pleasures, meaningful work, deep (if difficult) relationships. This book is not a “downer.” Despite the lament and injustice described, it retains a hopefulness, a joy, at times, even. I am in awe and how she weaves together this stuff, this life in God in and for the world, glorious and damaged as it is.
I won’t tell you how this splendidly construed volume ends, but there is a final good chapter set apart in Part Four called “Culmination.” There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil that ending.
I happen to know that this book was hard for her to write. She went through a lot, about which she is candid, here. You know that old adage about what makes a good writer, about “opening a vein.” She has done so, and it is a great gift, a gift that wasn’t offered casually (how could it) and should not be received by readers casually.  Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work, Watch, or Weep is a hallowed book, I think, consecrated through prayer and given as gift.

I know of few writers today who write as pastorally, prophetically, and poetically as Tish Harrison Warren. I know of few writers of any time who write of the deep, dark stuff of life with as much hope, grace, and beauty as you will find in these pages. Prayer in the Night will bring to the darkness in your life a light that will carry you through the days.     –Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well

You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column. 20% off, too.


Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It Brian D. McLaren (St. Martin’s Press/Essentials)  $26.99                          OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

release date – January 5, 2021

See below for a special offer to get autographed book plates by Brian McLaren with pre-orders from Hearts & Minds.

We have quite a large selection of books on doubt on our store, from the rigorous God in the Dark by Os Guinness to Gregory Boyd’s The Benefit of the Doubt to Know Doubt by John Ortberg to bunches more, old and new. I am very pleased that McLaren — who has been a skeptic and seeker, a pastor and postmodern theologian, writer and citizen scientist — has offered his seasoned wisdom for those for whom, as the subtitle pointedly puts it, “beliefs stopped working.” We need this sort of book, I think, and it isn’t surprising that McLaren is there to fill this particular gap. Like others, he starts the book with some brief words on “permission to doubt.” He describes well the “moments of terror” that some feel when they find themselves not embracing the faith they once did. He gets it, and this is a warm and reassuring start for any doubter or jaded believer.

I realize that some strict evangelicals, including some I respect, do not think that McLaren is a reliable Christian author, that his progressive and generous view of God and the re-orientation of his understanding of the gospel, the cross, and the work of the church, are less than Biblically faithful. Agree or not, I think it is fair to say that Brian’s 2010 book A New Kind of Christianity that was criticized by many conservative thinkers, was, in fact, not that new; it was a great, fresh, and invigoration articulation of what many mainline Protestants offer and a not unusual formulation of open, generous faith formation. Brian was sharing with candor and I think much hope, that this non-fundamentalist theology and energetic missional vision of God’s redemptive work in the world in healing (not destroying) ways, would help create new and sturdy faith for those who were already then streaming from the constraints of legalism and overly narrow theology. This wasn’t theologically faddishness but a matter of spiritual life and death, of whether folks would continue in good conscience to remain in the church. Brian retained the evangelistic optimism of the evangelical pastor he once was, and earnestly invited folks into a bigger, better vision of what the faith could be about. That pastoral care and kindness — speaking with dignity to the reader, perhaps as an older brother or humble guide — is evident in this forthcoming one on doubt. And now, in this era of an ever more ludicrous religious right (still) supporting a Trumpian sort of GOP, we need something to help those who are saying they are done with the Christian faith.

I may have quibbled a bit here or there with some of his many previous books, but found his “generous orthodoxy” a great and needed ecumenical/eclectic project. We lost some customers and some bookselling gigs because I generally affirmed his work and that makes me sad.

I was honored to have an endorsement blurb on the back of his lovely book on various ways to pray (Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words) and was glad to have been acknowledged in one of his other books, I think. We got to do some book tables at activist conferences he put together around the launch of his marvelous Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. His daily devotional inviting people to seek spiritual aliveness that is rooted in the Bible but has a big, missional vision, is splendid and very useful; we are often recommending We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. And, of course, for book clubs and those eager to explore the shift manifest in McLaren’s evangelical to emergent to mainline trajectory, we are delighted his three novels have been reissued by Fortress Press. Those are A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, followed by The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, and, the third The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity. He used to be a college lit teacher and knows how to tell a good story (even if the first one is a bit thin on the plot, and heavy on philosophical dialogue between the two main characters, a frustrated nondenominational church pastor and his new friend, a theologically open, liberal Epsiopalian priest.)

One does not have to know his full body of work (and there is a lot more then the few I just mentioned and much to discuss in them) but it helps to know he is a prodigious writer, he reads widely, is interested in interfaith conversations, loves creation and likes science (his most recent book was one we reviewed here at BookNotes, a travelogue, actually, the first in a new series called “On Location” with the title The Galapagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey.) He can as easily be found citing Canadian folk rocker Bruce Cockburn as postmodern theologian Nancy Murphy or Catholic mystic Richard Rohr and anti-racist activists like Ibram X. Kendi. That he has shared stages with open-minded and big hearted mainline Christian leaders like Diana Butler Bass or Desmond Tutu and younger evangelical activists like Lisa Sharon Harper and Shane Claiborne might give you another feel for where he is coming from.

Here are a few key things to know about Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working..

First, although most of his books have been largely read by religious readers, I know that nonbelievers and ex-believers have long appreciated his work; his writing is inviting and honest and not off-putting to those with honest questions and open minds. He often mentions the letters he gets, the many who find in his writing some lifeline that they simply couldn’t find elsewhere. I know people who say they are Christians today because McLaren gave them hope for alternative ways to understand their faith and remain in the church.

Brian even wrote (years ago) two very useful books that were inviting people to “find faith.” One was called Finding Faith: A Search for What is Real and the next was Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense. The tone in these is helpful, not pushy or manipulative, as well as candid and always gracious. Seekers have to find a faith “makes sense” to them.  A religious claim or story or movement that doesn’t seem coherent, doesn’t seem plausible, that isn’t actually sensible to seekers just doesn’t work, anyway, so he has long labored to build bridges, inviting people into searching conversation, offering hints of what might be real and what might really work. I admire his ways to speak to many kinds of people but especially to those who are skeptical of religion, who have been burned by others, who seem cynical. He knows these kinds of folks and their hard questions. Yet, there he is, being used by God to offer a kind of faith that isn’t connected to abstract doctrinal gymnastics and systems nor that is coopted by the political right.

Faith After Doubt is not his first rodeo in speaking with and walking alongside the religiously hurt or confused or skeptical or bitter. He’s got a light touch and a kind voice.  And he’s wicked smart, but doesn’t wear that on his sleeve.

If I haven’t been clear, I’ll try to say it again: this is a book about doubt that does not try to re-convince doubters of the older truths of a rationalistic, right wing, weaponized sort of evangelicalism. He isn’t an apologist for the seriously Reformed faith of his earlier years or even the somewhat culturally engaged evangelicalism of his postmodern, emergent conversations.

As you can see in his more recent book (or video curriculum) The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian he believes that the Spirit is alive and well, moving the Christian community away from religious abstraction or doctrinalism, spiritual arrogance, colonialism, violence, shame. As he puts it there, he is seeing (and promoting) a shift from faith as a system of beliefs (that function more like intellectual ideas) to an embodied way of life. (And, he is mostly right to do so. See the feisty Sin of Certainty by Pete Enns, too, for another way to explain that shift and its Biblical warrant.) McLaren offers a play on words, inviting us to move from “organized religion” to “organizing religion,” knowing that true faith must bear fruit of service to Christ’s beloved community of peace and justice. This becomes, as he puts it, “a beautiful romance.” I think he is on to something.

And so, his soon to be released book about doubt.

What is it, he wonders, that people are doubting? Although he is never glib about it (realizing how disorienting and even painful it can be to move away from earlier convictions and faith communities) he asks if maybe we should doubt some of the inherited notions and practices from a former theological tradition or religious subculture. He doesn’t say “good riddance” but he might have. Perhaps one step in coping with our doubts is realizing that doubting is often quite healthy and that some things, indeed, should be not only questioned but renounced. He helps post-evangelicals and religious nones to discover what can be rejected and what, on the other hand, might just be true and good and beautiful. To enter into that kind of journey away from toxic of dysfunctional faith and towards something healthy and generative, one has to doubt. As he puts it, doubt can save the world!

As the publisher puts it, in Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working… “comes a bold proposal: only doubt can save the world and faith. The author proposes a four-stage model of faith development in which questions and doubt are not the enemy of faith, but rather a portal to a more mature and fruitful kind of faith.”

Not bad, eh?

In Part One of the book he describes — in a way I’ve never read before (and I’ve read a lot on this topic) — what he calls “Your Descent into Doubt.” He has a chapter naming doubt as loss; another called “Doubt as Loneliness.” He explores how it can be a real crisis, but then shifts to a chapter called “Doubt as Doorway.” The fifth chapter in this first part is showing how doubt can be a time of genuine growth. Nice!

Although I need to re-read it more carefully when I get a hard copy (I’ve been skimming on my advanced electronic version) but I think I loved the next few chapters. This is, again, a vision of doubt that I am sure will be a surprise to some but might just put words to those who have these feelings but didn’t have words to describe it. At least not these words. This is good stuff. He calls this next unit “All In Doubt.” There are five chapters but the first three here are notable:

Doubt as Descent
Doubt as Dissent
Doubt as Love

(Indeed, in a following section he writes about “revolutionary love.” He’s “all in” on this, and believes that as people are honest about their deepest beliefs, their more real longings, their truest truths, the will come to a better understanding of this human predicament — sussing the difference between faith and beliefs. This has long vexed Christianity, and most — liberals, conservatives, Catholics, maybe the Orthodox — although they disagree about doctrines and convictions and beliefs, wrongly conflate belief and trust. As if faith means to know the facts in one’s head, rather than the more richly heart-felt, relational  yada yada yada knowing of the Scriptures.

(Almost anyone who has been around the church for a while has heard a sermon on this — that in the Bible faith is less about propositions and more about a Person, it is less about rationalism and more about relationships — but, still, we conflate convictions with trust, demanding that people say what ideas they have about religion and often don’t get around to helping them enter into a bone fide relationship with the Divine. James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is one way to get to that insight; the third chapter of J.I. Packer’s Knowing God might be another, that describes the difference between knowing and knowing about.) McLaren understands this and while he surely isn’t opposed to formulating ideas and proposing truth claims (he writes books and books and more books, after all) he shows the difference between a mere intellectual assent and a living relationship. And he has the touch of a poet, which doesn’t hurt.

And then, after all this framing of the matter in fresh, if a bit progressive ways, he gets to the part that many readers are eager for. What do we do with “life after doubt.” Or, rather, as McLaren puts it, “with doubt.” And here is where it gets interesting. I will let you savor these provocative chapters — use the prompts for reflection after each chapter and the study guide at the back to read this with others — but his theme by the end is (get this): harmony. We need communities of harmony and theologies of harmony and he offers some guidelines for spiritualities of harmony. He pays attention to the shifts in religious studies and experiences and the realities in the broader religious landscape. He has some words for the rising generations. He assures us all who are feeling disoriented with our times and with our own hearts “you are not crazy and you are not alone.”

There is even more content, making this book a real resource for those who doubt and for those who lead faith communities who may want to offer programing around talking safely about our doubts. (Being communities of harmony who offer theologies of harmony, recall, will helps us create these sorts of safe spaces, out of which can emerge true, generative, spiritualities, communal practices of encountering God in our midst.) There are several appendices and guides and resources.

“In a culture in which the self-appointed gatekeepers of Christianity insist that faith equals certainty; belief is adherence to an exacting checklist of principles and politics; and belonging is an insular, exclusive membership, Brian McLaren is a heroic gate-crasher. In Faith After Doubt, he invites us into an honest, vital conversation about the pain and shame created by inherited certainty, and the powerful usefulness of thought and doubt. For all those who have understood that doubt and free thinking are failings of your faith, Brian’s book will help you live fuller and breathe easier. He illuminates the reality that belief and doubt are not opposites, they are the twin sisters with whom any honest person of faith walks continuously.” — Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior and Untamed

Brian McLaren gently moves us away from the notion of God as vengeful and petty, ready to punish those who question and challenge beliefs that no longer harmonize with their evolving experience and honest understanding. Brian encourages the reader embrace a deeper, wider, and more authentic faith that doesn’t fear doubt, but welcomes it as an ally in their spiritual growth. This book will save lives.                         — UCC Bishop Yvette Flunder, author of Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion
You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column. 20% off, too.


Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt Diana Gruver (IVP) $17.00  || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

release date – November 24, 2020

This is another book about faith in hard times, about doubt, and, more specifically, about depression. If we were in a season that was not plagued with the pandemic, we’d have this lovely author, Diana Gruver, in the store for a bone fide book launch event. She lives in central Pennsylvania and we have bunches of mutual friends. We are delighted to get reconnected with her in recent years and it is always a very special delight when a customer of ours publishes a book. And what a book it is. We are honored to get to tell you about it here and announce that we hope to do a Facebook Live interview with her sometime within the next few weeks. Stay tuned!  We want to support this new author and her excellent books and we’re honored that she wants to send some orders our way. Thanks, Diana.

Here’s what you should know about this remarkable book. I don’t say this often, but when I do, I’m glad — there is nothing quite like this in print, as far as we know.  In fact, I said this in an endorsing blurb on the inside over (which gives us yet another sense of connection to the book.)

Here’s what I said:

It is rare to say that there is no other book like this, but with Diana Gruver’s Companions in the Darkness she has done something that no other book has done: given us true companions for dark times by exploring the depression of older Christian leaders. She weaves in her own story of depression, offers contemporary psychological insight about mental health disorders, and invites us to take heart; we are not alone. Through her keen eye―an eye sensitive to suffering―she helps us understand Martin Luther’s melancholy and physical pain, William Cowper’s despair, Martin Luther King Jr.’s exhaustion, and Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul. These biographies are interesting and informative, but more they are manna, light, and hope. Many will be grateful for this very fine and truly helpful exploration.

Perhaps you could appreciate the value of this brand new book by noting what others have said:

With wise insight and palpable compassion, Diana Gruver recounts the oh-so-human stories of Christians revered across the centuries as leaders, as achievers, as exemplars. For all of their fame as ‘great’ Christians, these saints tasted their own radical vulnerability and knew the anguish of mental illness. To all who seek God yet suffer, there is comfort to be found in this sacred company among the brothers and sisters who lived faithfully amid struggle, the companions and guides who assure us that depression will not have the last word. Practical and deeply personal, Companions in the Darkness is a gift to us all.” — Karen Wright Marsh, author of Vintage Saints and Sinners and executive director of Theological Horizons centered at the Bonhoeffer House, Charlottesville VA

Diana Gruver has written a compelling book. In it she tells the stories of seven historical figures, some but not all household names, who suffered severe depression. Gruver does it just right, avoiding the many pitfalls that could have made the book excessively sentimental or judgmental. She lets the individuals describe their own experiences, refusing to subject them to modern clinical diagnosis. She chooses quotes from their writings that are so profound, human, and powerful that I kept tearing up, drawn into the nightmare of their condition. Her writing is clear and cogent and luminous. She tells their stories with sensitivity and compassion. She gives her subjects voices, as if letting them speak across the years to us. Her commentary and reflections along the way are full of hope. This is the kind of historical writing that is both responsible and moving. I will recommend this book to my friends.  –Gerald L. Sittser, professor of theology at Whitworth University and author of A Grace Disguised

These two blurbs are significant — Karen Marsh herself has written one of the very best anthologies a collection of short biographies of a good handful of “sinners and saints.” She knows how hard it is to get it right, informative, interesting, inspiring, historically honest and culturally relevant. If she thinks this story of “seven saints” is well done, you can trust that.

Similarly, Gerry Sittser is one of our finest popular theologians. I’d commend any of his books. A Grace Disguised, though, remains a book we routinely recommend as it is one of the most honest, moving, and faithful books about bereavement and grief of which we know. That he endorses Ms. Gruver’s book is notable, to say the least.

Further, on the back and inside are raves by some who have themselves written candidly about faith and their struggle with depression — Zack Eswine (who has a little book about Charles Spurgeon’s bouts with depression) and Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious, and novelist Sharon Garlough Brown who wrote a novel about the spirituality of depression called Shade of Light. These are all good signs, that those acquainted with this particular sort of greif offer their support. Professionals in mental health care have weighed in as well, such as Dr. Richard Winter, professor emeritus of counseling and applied theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, author of When Life Goes Dark who writes, “This book is a wonderful and sensitive encouragement for any for whom life has become unbearably dark and for those who seek to help them.”

As you’ve gathered, I’m sure, Diana here is vulnerable about her own mental health challenges, telling of her own depression and struggles. More, though, than a memoir of those episodes, Companions in the Darkness show various faces of depression and doubt, exploring various manifestations in seven key Christians from the past. That is part of the point, that we are not alone in this struggle and that while we may have different sorts of names and nuances of description in our modern psychological setting, the notion of melechony is not new. And it is not uncommon. And there are a variety of ways to cope and live through it.

The “seven saints who struggled with depression and doubt” explored by Gruver include (in the order she presents them) Martin Luther, Hannah Allen, David Brainerd, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of these Christian people wrote detailed diaries and journals and letters about their afflictions and, in many cases, their contemporaries wrote about them. Gruver’s well researched accounts are often riveting, painful, even — Hannah Allen’s attempts at suicide in the mid-1600s and her delusional spiritual experiences were grueling. They are candid (even thouse of us who know about MLK’s doubts and Mother Teresa’s “dark night” might be taken aback) but, yet, hopeful. In each case, she tells what caring friends did, what the sufferers themselves recommended (Luther, of course, commended eating and drinking, jest and laughter, even; William Cowper the Puritan hymn writer and friend of John Newton, recommended pursuing art and friendship.) The practical insights for any of us who may be companions to the hurting are clear and evident. A book like this should be on every pastor’s shelf and in every church library. The foreword, by the way, is by a writer we admire greatly, Chuck DeGroat.  He knows the abyss himself, he explains, and now, as a professional counselor, he sees the devasting results of those who are too ashamed to get help or who feel like they are alone.

One would like to say that we no longer believe in the church that depression is the cause of sin or that helpful medications are somehow for those who don’t have strong enough faith. That is hurtful rubbish, but yet, I’m afraid some of that stigma is still around… and so, we commend this not just to those who are hurting or to those who want to be wiser caregivers to accompany others through their dark nights of panic attacks or depression or thoughts of self-injury. It is a book for all of us who want a better glimpse into the human condition, who want a good look at discipleship and spiritual formation as it was understood, even centuries ago, by way of these historical vignettes.


You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column. 20% off too.


The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other Charlotte Donlon (Broadleaf Books) $16.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

release date – available now

Perhaps you will recall that I’ve reviewed a few books in recent weeks that are mostly about civic life, about our increasingly harsh polarizations, about those who feel alienated even from their own places. Loneliness, we have said, has reached epidemic proportions and has sad consequences for individuals but also contributes to the fraying fabric of our societal life. It is bad, and it is getting worse.

And yet, despite the newer ways in which loneliness may afflict us — social media being one obvious culprit, not to mention the recent quarantining — what if this is not so new, maybe not so unusual. This riveting, beautifully written and compelling work argues that loneliness may be a necessary part of the human condition. Charlotte Donlon, here, is giving us an altogether novel look at this much-discussed topic. (And, surprisingly, what is novel about her approach is, among other things, that she draws on ancient spirituality, and surprising other sources (as we shall see) if not in the same way as Gruver does, in the book above. Yet, she offers a profound look, reflecting on how others understand their loneliness and how we might move in creative ways to enter “the great belonging.”

Curiously, as I read my way through some of this I began to wonder (as we often do here at the shop) where it belongs — that is, on what shelf? Our other books on loneliness are in a section with other issues and concerns about our emotional lives — depression, anxiety, anger, forgiveness and the like. That is next to a section on relationships, family systems, sort of the self-help into psychology section. But The Great Belonging (whose author is a spiritual director) seems to have the eloquent feel of a book about spirituality. It almost seems to go with other books on our interior lives and cultivating a sense of God’s presence in our authentic selves. (But then there are those great chapters on family life, mother-daughter stuff, parenting…)

Ms. Donlon is a very  good writer, as I expected. I heard from a very creative and colorful friend that she was working on this manuscript — she had taken creative writing courses through the famous and beloved Glen Workshops, affiliated with  Image Journal. So I knew it was going to be well done, thoughtful, yes, but beautiful, as well.  Perhaps you saw an early piece of it at the classy Mockingbird website’s blog.

And then I heard that Lauren Winner had agreed to write a foreword. Man, when Lauren writes a foreword, readers get their money’s worth, and the author and publishing house are in gratitude. In the several opening pages (that I have read more than once) Winner tells what is so very good about this book and why she is so pleased to promote it.

Winner starts her forward telling you just what the book is about and why she’s interested:

The book you are holding does not aim to cure your loneliness. Instead, The Great Belonging addresses loneliness as a companion.  As  you  would  with  any  companion, The Great Belonging inquires into loneliness — into loneliness’s history, and habits, and fears. And in the company of The Great Belonging’s fearless and  smart author, Charlotte Donlon, we, the readers, are  allowed to indulge our interest in loneliness. I, for one, am interested in both senses of the term. I am curious about loneliness, and I am involved in loneliness, affected by loneliness, implicated in loneliness. I am companioned by it; I want to get to know it better.

And here is the big, big thing: as Lauren suggests in that first sentence of the foreword, Donlon doesn’t try to cure you loneliness. She doesn’t even quite want to give you tools to cope with it. The question is, how can we enter into it more honestly, fruitfully, growing from it without merely bemoaning it.

Of course, she is not glib nor simplistic — her mature faith and sophisticated sense of our interior lives wouldn’t permit anything cheap or piously cheery. No — not unlike Tish Warren’s nigh-time prayers, or McLaren’s doubts, or Gruver’s pained companions in depression — Donlon realizes we dare not cover this stuff up. It can be soil for growth, for deep and human and lasting spiritual transformation, but it will not be easy. The Great Belonging really is a lovely, little book, but it ain’t easy.

Those who read in the field of spiritual formation will see the layers of meaning in the phrase “the great belonging.” It sounds like Merton, doesn’t it? Shades or Richard Rohr, maybe, or at the least Phyllis Tickle?  But, it seems (and I am not done with this book yet, and I am sure it is not yet done with me) she is drawn also to authors like the great Covenant College prof Kelly Kapic, whose book, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering she cites. She references the Book of Common Prayer and talks about doubt and depression. (You can see why I had to include this brand new release with these other soon-to-be-released titles.) She quotes Kevin Twit of the Indelible Grace hymns project (yes, on songs of lament in the old hymns.) She sees loneliness is big terms and sees the sort of “belonging” it can point us to in a broader scope than you might expect. She has a section about cultivating connection with our places and there is a chapter called “Suffering, Resilience, and Our Hope for Shalom” on which she riffs on Nicholas Wolterstorff and his extraordinary neo-Calvinist book Until Justice and Peace Embrace. 

Did I mention that the chapters are short? The are mostly brief but always nicely written, some very anecdotal, some more like reflections. They are substantial and thoughtful, but not lengthy or tedious.

I won’t spoil the fun and fascinating of reading this book by writing about it all, covering as much ground as it does, and complicated as the anguish may sometimes be as it invites us to dwell in our aloneness and loneliness. Just believe me — there is a lot going on here, and a lot of really interesting insights along the way.

She is happily married, by the way (and has two brief chapters about sex — one about not having sex, and one about having sex — which are frank and important for married couples, I’d say.) She has children, and writes about them, and, also, about her mother. It hardly needs saying, but I will: The Great Belonging is not only for single people or those who seem to not have friends or family or community. Many of us who are embedded in caring families and who are active in vital faith church bodies still, at times, yearn for deeper connection, for belonging.

No, this is for all of us, truly. (I think of the popularity of another recent and very good book entitled Belonging: Finding the Way Back to One Another by Sharon Hersch and, naturally, one we reviewed here a month or so ago, the excellent Wait with Me: Meeting God in Loneliness by Jason Gaboury, another book that does not intend to “solve” your problem with loneliness.)

Here is something, again, to say that is extraordinary about The Great Belonging. Not only is Charlotte Donlon a great writer and a versatile thinker and a good storyteller, she really does believe this stuff about our loneliness pushing us to connect with the world beyond us. Not just with others, with self, with God, but with the world, it’s glories, its needs. She has a good bit about coming to meet yourself more, but also about being aware, more attentively and spiritually, of creation around us. There is a whole section about connecting and belonging by taking in great art. She has a handful of chapters and mediations on that theme alone — a chapter describing “portraits of loneliness” and another on the notion of Visio Divina.

In the fabulous large appendix that offers all sorts of Bible texts and prayers and quotes and hymns and ideas for spending time alone facing up to our aloneness, she has a excerpt by Daniel Siedell, a piece where Dan talks about view art in a museum as prayer and a wonderful quote by Mako Fujimura. And then this prayer that intrigues me, for going to a museum:

Lord, open my eyes to notice the colors, lines, shapes, textures, skill. Open my soul to your wonder, beauty, vastness, glory, and mystery. May I see the works of art with clarity, and may they see me.

The book was just released by Broadleaf Books which is a recent imprint of Fortress Press / 1517 Media. We stock most of their books. Here is how they describe The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other:

What if it is a current that leads us deeper into belonging — to ourselves, to each other, and to God? In The Great Belonging, writer and spiritual director Charlotte Donlon reframes loneliness and offers us a language for the disquiet within. Instead of turning away from the waters of loneliness for fear they will engulf us, she invites us to wade in and see what we find there. In vulnerable, thoughtful prose, Donlon helps us understand our own occasional or frequent loneliness and offers touchpoints for understanding alienation. We can live into the persistent questions of loneliness. We can notice God’s presence even when we feel alone in our doubts. Ultimately, Donlon claims, we can find connection that emerges from honesty, and she offers tools, resources, and practices for transforming loneliness into true belonging.

You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column — 20% off, too. Thanks for your support.


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ADVENT 2020 — All on sale, 20% off, from Hearts & Minds, Dallastown, PA

Often I open our Hearts & Minds newsletter, BookNotes, with an opening paragraph. I was going to say I’m not going to do that this time, just to be funny (because, uh, such a paragraph is, after all, an opening paragraph. Ha.) Sometimes I try to frame the list, but this one hardly needs an introduction: it is nearly the start of the new Christian year — Happy New Year, Church! — and we start the liturgical year in this Advent season of waiting.

Some books emphasize what many Protestants understand; we are counting down the days to Christmas, eagerly waiting for that song, that prayer, for Christ to be “born in us today.” We anticipate the celebration of the coming of the Baby King, the inauguration of His reign, the climax of salvation history which brings joy to the world. All of the books advise us not to jump to Christmas too soon — it is good to sit in this time of waiting, forming the habits of patience and trust and hope that the calendar demands. In a way, I’m glad that because of the tragedy of Covid many churches aren’t doing those Christmas cantatas in the middle of Advent, which disrupt the very spiritual formation of waiting that Advent is to form in us. Maybe this time of quarantine will give us some space to figure out how to do actual Advent cantatas, or, the full-blown Christmas  pageants so many love during the 12-Day Season of Christmastide. Next year.

However, as the must-read collection of sermons by the Rev. Dr. Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans; $30.00; OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00) makes clear, the deeper point and meaning of the Advent season is not the countdown to Christmas but a season of getting in touch with our longings for the second coming. Those that follow the Revised Common Lectionary know that the Advent texts are often about judgement and repentance and revealing of truth known as apocalypse. (Again, nobody helps us deepen our seasonal longing for the hope of the restoration of all things promised as the fulfillment of all of history than my favorite Episcopalian preacher, Fleming Rutledge. Her book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ remains one of my favorite books. We’ve promoted it each Advent season since it came out three seasons ago, and again wanted to start this Advent 2020 resource list by naming it.)

As the best Bible study about Advent that I know of, The Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations by Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, and Mark Vander Vennan (Wipf & Stock; $12.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39), nicely explains, the Advent Old Testament texts are set amidst political intrigue and military alliances and coups and social injustice and idols; there is promise of hope, liberation from exile, homecoming. Like Lent, it is a damn serious time of year, despite the attempts of many churches and the mall and Hallmark to tame it.

Nobody views Lent as a happy count-down to the number of days until Easter (do they?) but see it as a necessary spiritual season to engage in practices of self-denial that heighten our awareness of the need for the cross and resurrection. We enter into those Lenten practices on their own dark terms, not merely as preamble to the joy of Easter. Similarly, Advent can be a season experienced not merely as a prelude to Merry Christmas, but as a month long cry of Maranatha! 

So here are some good resources, mostly new, but with a few oldies added in. ALL ARE 20% OFF. You can order easily by using the “order here” link at the bottom. Hit the “inquire” link if you just want to ask us a question; we’ll get back to you personally and promptly. Of course, we have other titles — BookNotes only highlights a few items of our large in-store inventory. Thanks.


And, a reminder: we are closed for in-store browsing due to the public health concerns about not spreading Covid (or having our staff overly exposed.) We are doing backyard service and curb-side pick up. Give us a call if you want to stop by. We’d like that.

Awaiting the Already: An Advent Journey Through the Gospels Magrey R. deVega (Abingdon Press) $12.99  || OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

I start off the list with this one because it is a four chapter study, lovely essays on each of the four gospels that either describe or pave the way for the coming of Christ. This has Scripture to look up and conversation questions so it is perfect for your Zoom Bible studies, on-line Sunday school, or any other sort of small group sort of gathering. (Please, no face-to-face meetings as the virus is spreading so quickly this month!) We love the title of this — worth having that phrase laying on your coffee table face up, eh? Awaiting the Already was released a few years back and happily brought back with a great new cover. deVega is a well respected United Methodist pastor (who got his degree at United in Dayton, Ohio.) Nicely done.

Imagining a New World: An Advent Devotional Terri Hord Owens (Chalice Press) $3.99    ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $3.19

We list this one early on the list here because it, too, has a special feature.This booklet-like piece does have daily readings for each day of Advent but it also has four short Advent Candle-lighting litanies that you can do at home. Rev. Owens is  is the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) Her leadership in that mainline denomination has included a theology of reconciliation, cultural intelligence, and helping develop inclusive and multi-cultural congregations.  This is nicely written, by the way, and is in a series done by Chalice, it seems — last year’s inexpensive booklet was the fascinating I Am Mary by Carol Howard Merritt.

Let Us Go Now to Bethlehem: Daily Devotions for Advent and Christmas Todd Outcalt (Upper Room) $13.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

Upper Room always does lovely, spiritually enriching books, and Todd Outcalt has published many. He is the senior pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, near Indianapolis. This is pitched as “heartwarming” and an invitation to “discover something new in the story of Jesus’s birth.” I’m not sure it is new, but it is good — and, as he puts it, “The way to Bethlehem is saturated with starts and stops, with both darkness and light…” He’s the guy who wrote Blue Christmas described below, so he gets the human-scale drama that includes terrifying angels and rough-neck shepherds.

Here’s what really cool — while it isn’t a National Geographic study or pilgrimage memoir, the author has been to Bethlehem a couple of times and he invites us to walk along him as he recalls some of what one might learn going there. So that’s a nice device and organizing theme.

Also, there are 28 daily devotionals for Advent, 12 for Christmas, and one for Epiphany. I mention it here at the top of the list because it also has a study guide for a six week small group discussion. You can use it personally or in your family, but an on-line group or Zoom class would be able to use it, too. Nice.

Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson Publishers) $19.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Good old Max Lucado is one of the most popular inspirational writers of the last 50 years for a reason. He has solid, gospel-centered, simple content, explained with moving prose. Man, can he turn a phrase. He’s not dense or terribly literate (he won’t be confused with Frederick Buechner or Barbara Brown Taylor or even Eugene Peterson) but he is a uplifting writer who communicates with passion and clarity and a reoccurring theme of God’s great love for us, for God being with and for us, in and through Jesus the Christ. There is nothing unusual here except how very personal he makes it. Lucado is a great speaker and communicator and we should be glad for his many books that meet the needs of many.

This is a fabulous book that is both a daily devotional and has in he back a four-week study guide, making it ideal — everybody reads the daily devo meditation and then comes together on line) to talk about it together. For each of the four weeks (and an entry for Christmas day) there are not only reflection questions, but practices, Bible verses, a hymn and a prayer. We appreciate this dual purpose (individual and/or small group) resource and  happily recommend it.

Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas Adam Hamilton (Abingdon Press)

hardback book $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
4-session DVD $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
Leader Guides $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

So many folks like Adam Hamilton (and he has done several book/DVD projects on Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, among many others.) He is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible mainline churches in the country. We carry all his books and DVDs.

Incarnation is the brand new one, and the nice, hardback book is a fine, stand alone read. There are four chapters and a short, fifth epilogue. The reflections are largely oriented around the names of Christ. The nicely made DVD offers four sessions (each around 15 minutes, more or less, set in his nicely decorated living room, in front of a blazing fire.) It seems to me that this is one of his best — Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas is strong, fast-paced, solid, with some good application to our lives today. He’s a good communicator and offers inspiring, no-nonsense Bible explanations.


Searching for Christmas: What If There’s More to the Story Than You Thought J.D. Greear (The Good Book Company) $5.99                       ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $4.79

This is a short, six chapter book and even without discussion questions, you could use it in a weekly (virtual) Bible study group or Zoom book club. Greear is President of the Southern Baptist Convention and has stood his gospel ground against those confederates who hated him (!) for denouncing racism. He’s a good evangelical, pastor of a big church, who has a vibrant heart for evangelism, missions, disciple-making and the like. It seems to me that this book is not only a good refresher for any of us about the truths behind the characters and stories of Christmas, it almost could be shared as an invitation to the unchurches.

Want a handsome little paperback that gets us underneath the plot to the real messaged. As Paul Tripp notes, Greear as given us “a winsome book by a great storyteller.”

A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas Kathy Escobar (WJK) $13.00.                    || OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

We have long been grateful for churches that hold “Blue Christmas” services, holiday services for those who have lost loved ones, whose grief makes it hard to be cheerful. In the last few years we’ve sold Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness by Todd Outcalt (Upper Room; $11.99) for those who find the holidays difficult. It also features additional prayers, and a “Blue Christmas” worship service.

A Weary World is clearly along these lines, but, if I can generalize, the helpful, gentle Outcalt book is for those who need devotions about coping with their personal sadness, grief, anxiety, depression and the like but the Escobar book is more for all of us, all who are aware that the world is not what it ought to be. Some of us are more deeply aware of this now more than they have ever been in their entire lives, and we realize, indeed, we long for the ability to sing “the weary world rejoices” and mean it. A Weary World was written before Covid but it feels as up to date as anything. It is for those who are hurting and who want to be honest about what is happening in our lives and in our culture

Escobar is a progressive faith leader who we respect. She is co-pastor of The Refuge, a congregation in Denver, and author of Down We Go (about servanthood, sacrifice, and what Henri Nouwen called “downward mobility”), Faith Shift (with the subtitle, “Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart”) and, recently Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World which is excellent. She has helped lead “Blue Christmas” services at her church for years and, yet, a year ago, needed it especially herself as she and her family experienced the sudden death of her college age son to suicide. As the back cover promises, “Escobar helps us honor our struggles during the holidays.” Oh yes, it sure does.

But, again, this is not just for those who have memories of personal loss during the holidays, although it is that. She understands the nearly painful longing for renewal that is Advent at its deepest. She longs for a world made new, understands the hoped for shalom of new creation. She knows that the beloved community of the church is a refuge, and maybe even a harbinger of the good news coming.

A Weary World has prayers and spiritual practices. There are extra digital content (for worship or online study groups) at www.wjkbooks.com/AWearyWorld.

Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-With-Us Then, Here, and Now Scott Erickson (Zondervan) $18.99 ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Please note, the publisher ran out of these before sending us our shipment. We had them on order but they sent their whole big batch to Amazon. We would deeply appreciate your ordering this through us and we hope to get them out within a week, even though we do not have them here, yet. Thanks for supporting indie bookstores and the uphill battles we often face.

Talk about eagerly awaiting, longing to see something, patience? I’ve been waiting for this book for a year. Scott is a pal who shows up at the CCOs Jubilee Conference every February doing creative workshops on the life of an artist, using the creative process to enhance the spiritual life, and serving the conference by spontaneously painting along with the main stage keynote talks, creating new large paintings captures the conference themes of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

He and our good friend Justin McRoberts conceived the idea for doing a book together (which led to another) right in the book display at Jubilee a few years back. Those two books — Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer have been best sellers and Scott’s graphic designy, silk-screenish, art pieces enhanced Justin’s brief, allusive prayer prompts. Or, maybe, Justin’s words opened up even more of Scott’s striking images. This new Advent book has that sort of look and feel, and there is simply nothing like it.

In Honest Advent, Scott is doing the words and the images, offering an invitation to ponder with profound honesty the call to image the consequences of God becoming human, of this divine act of solidarity with we feeble humans. God with us? Here, now? It is such a mystery, such a glorious wonder, that words are hardly adequate. Having an artist invite us to this meditative process during this time of year is such a gift. That its a guy as fun, creative, honest, raw, and at times tersely prophetic, makes this book, with these artful designs, a remarkable gift. That he is candid about the feminine aspects of much of the Christmas story is extraordinary. Wow.

There is something so enticingly refreshing about the perspective and conversation of Advent through the feminine lens. Scott Erickson’s reflection of the Advent season through the connection of the misrepresented women in the Savior story not only is healing and restorative but also brings us back into the story, where the feminine and the divine have always been.– Arielle Estoria, poet, author, speaker

There are so many things I love about Scott Erickson, and this Advent book brings them all together. I sense that he is always doing his own work, learning how to live in the body and mind he’s been given, making sense of the world through all of the means–psychology, sociology, art, science, spirituality, and wonder–so that when he turns his lens toward something, anything, out come these well-formed, beautifully connected scenes. This lens, turned toward Mary, Jesus, and incarnation, helps me break through the incredibly solidified narratives of Christmas into something that moves me again and helps me connect with the real earth, the blood, sweat, and tears–this happened here, on this earth, in our way, through human birth.                                    — Sara Groves, recording artist, advocate
Readers on a quest for information can sometimes find themselves devouring books too quickly without taking time to chew, not fully tasting the words and their meanings. Scott Erickson’s drawings force us to slow down and open up to truth in a new way. Advent is a season for slow contemplative reflection, and this book will be a tasty treat to savor and to help us reflect on the greatest wonder of all–God becoming one of us. Peri and Brian Zahnd, authors of Postcards from Babylon

Scott Erickson’s iconographic works serve as portals to the ‘kingdom of heaven within us.’ In this collection of art and reflection, we’re reminded what makes our hearts that heaven–the God who comes nearer than we are to ourselves. I’ll be opening these doors with wonder and gratitude. Thanks, Scott, you’re such a good doorman!             — Brad Jersak, author of  Incarnation & Inclusion, Abba & Lamb

Unto Us a Child Is Born: Isaiah, Advent, and Our Jewish Neighbors Tyler D. Mayfield (Eerdmans) $19.99 ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This one is not a daily devotional or weekly study, really, but a serious, ten-chapter book that studies the classic Advent (often messianic) texts from Isaiah, but read with a sensitive and well-informed double vision, in light of Jewish and Christian interpretations. The first chapter puts it nicely, “Isaiah through bifocals.” (Ahhh, if you are interested in this, ask us about the brand new major hardback by Amy-Jill Levine entitled The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently.)

Unto Us a Child is Born explores  well known passages (at least most of them, I would hope are well known.) As the back cover puts it,

Whether through a hymn, Handel’s Messiah, or the lectionary reading, the book of Isaiah provides a familiar voice for congregations during the season of Advent. So how do we create faithful, Christian interpretations of Isaiah for today while respecting the interpretations of our Jewish neighbors?

Integrating biblical scholarship with pastoral concern, Tyler Mayfield invites readers to view Isaiah through two lenses. He demonstrates using near vision to see how the Christian liturgical season of Advent shapes readings of Isaiah and using far vision to clarify our relationship to Jews and Judaism–showing along the way how near vision and far vision are both required to read Isaiah clearly and responsibly.

There is, as you might expect, a great forward by Walter Brueggemann. It’s only a few pages, but don’t miss it.

Preparing Room: An Advent Companion Russell J. Levenson, Jr. (Church Publishing) $16.95                    ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56

Levenson is a respected and beloved Episcopal priest who has served parishes in Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Florida, although he now serves as rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. Episcopalians seem to know how to help us understand Advent, and this daily devotional is quite nice. He’s a good, reflective writer. (His friend Max Lucado says, “Whenever Russ speaks or writes, I listen or read. He has the heart of a pastor and the skill of a poet.”)

He’s interested here in the various sources of the Christmas story — Matthew and Luke, of course, have lots of Older Testament references but John harkens back to Genesis. Christmas is part of a larger narrative and this book reminds us of the Biblical stories that fall into place. He is wide-ranging in his reading and citations, but is faithful (and relies a bit on the British evangelical John Stott.)  There are black and white art pieces and some occasional illustration. He gets practical, too, with clear-eyed insight about how God’s grace can be life-giving.

Russell Levenson wants to connect faith to living. I am sure that anyone reading and using this Advent book will find their walk closer to Jesus, the one we anticipate this season.” –The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, Dean and President, Virginia Theological Seminary

Into the Heart of Advent: Twenty-five Conversations with Jesus Penelope Wilcock (SCPK) $15.00 || OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

We so enjoy featuring each year some of the books we can import from the UK publisher, SPCK. (Thanks, IVP!) They are often exceptionally interesting, well done, not too pricey, usually, either. This one looks to be no exception, a fabulously fascinating set of conversations. Imagine meeting up with Jesus for coffee and some heart-to-heart conversation. They entice you with this very question: What you say to him? What might he say to you?

As it says on the back cover,

Penelope Wilcock invites you to listen in on twenty-five conversations she’s had with jesus about the Christian journey and the meaning of Advent.

They delve into many areas: children and families, gifts and graces, angels, homes, homelessness and hospitality — and more besides.

Penelope Wilcock can do this nicely, by the way, because her main job for many years has been to be a storyteller. We loved her “Hawk and Dove” novels that were first published decades ago by Crossway here in the states, and later re-issued and imported. So she’s a fine writer, an imaginative thinker, this creative seasonal devo will please many who like something just a little different.

Adverbs for Advent: Quiet Reflections for a Noisy Time Marilyn McEntyre (Resource Publications) $9.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

This is not new this year, but I so wanted to remind you of it, since we raved in the last BookNotes about her remarkable recent book about lessons learned about “caring for words” by paying attention to good writers she admires, the one called Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. Ms. McEntyre has a few eagerly anticipated ones in the pipeline — a book about being a medical patient and a Lenten devotional — but this one is lesser known, it seems. Maybe you’ve read her lovely and interesting What’s in a Phrase?: Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause; this is sort of an Advent version of that in that is it literary and allusive and generous, but it is dissimilar, too, because it is not based on Biblical texts. It offers short ruminations on these action-rich adverbs, including pieces entitled “Live Boldly,” “Live Patiently,” “Live Harmoniously,” and “Live Repentantly.” Oh, there are so many others, calls to “Live Beautifully,” and “Live Healthily,” and “Live Playfully.”

Some of you, especially clergy and preachers, may recall a review I did of a book by the Rev. Dr. Russell Mitman, a liturgically-wise UCC clergyman and retired Conference Minister, Preaching Adverbially.  Marilyn McEntyre’s lovely, short Adverbs for Advent reminds me of that excellently and playful homiletics book. Let’s hear it for Adverbs!

A Light Has Dawned: Meditations on Advent and Christmas The Best of Christianity Today (Lexham Press) $28.99  || OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Oh my, what a great collection of devotionals and essays, another one of these recent Lexham volumes that draws from the decades of published CT pieces. And what rich stuff there is here. This really is “the best of the best” (as Leland Ryken, Emeritus English prof from Wheaton College put it.) It starts with a very nice introductory essay by singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends. (She, by the way, released a few years ago a specifically Advent album with the title, borrowed from Madeline L’Engle, “The Irrational Season.”) Carolyn has another piece in the volume, too.

A Light Has Dawned has great articles (starting at Advent and up to January 6th) from the history of CT so it goes back to the 1950s and 60s by the likes of Billy Graham, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Addison Leitch, and Frank Gaebelein.

Others that became famous authors later in the 20th century are well-represented. There are substantial pieces by Eugene Peterson, the theologian Helmut Thielicke, Walter Wangerin, Philip Yancey, Elizabeth Elliott. There are highly liturgical authors like the late Tom Howard and those from non-denominational backgrounds. There are artful writers like Alice Lawhead and Wendy Murray Zoba and a rare one by Mike Mason, whose books we adore. I love that there is a 1996 piece by environmentalist writer/activist Bill McKibben, and a fiesty contribution by Brazos Press founder Rodney Clapp — “Let the Pagans Have the Holidays.”  I’m eager to read the one by the late Stan Grenz.

And there’s a classic (in my memory, at least) is included by David Neff, who wrote “Misreading the Magnificat” with the subtitle, “It’s hard to find hymns that embody Scripture’s sharp critique of the rich.”

There are several chapters by fairly recent writers, too. Of course Katlyn Beatty is included, and we have a great one by Tim Keller. I’m eager to read Jen Pollock Michel’s piece “Not Yet Home for Christmas” and Kent Hughes’s “The Magi’s Worship.”

This may be destined to become a classic, perhaps in league with our perennial best seller, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas from Plough Publishing.

Approaching Christmas Jane Williams (Lion-Hudson Press) $16.95                                       || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56

Do you remember that in the last few Advent BookNotes columns the last few years we’ve highlighted The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany published by SPCK? We love that book and it has always sold nicely. We have it this year, again, of course. That little paperback was by Jane Williams — the art historian wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, by the way. Well, we recently discovered this one, an earlier book she did that includes lovely seasonal meditations each accompanied by classic artwork. This is a small hardback with glossy paper, and lots of full color art and photography. 

The chapters of this handsome book focus on the things we all associate with Christmas, such as making lists decorations, gifts, Christmas trees, music, food and family. However, in the hands of this woman who is a tutor in Theology at St. Mellitus College, London, and a Visiting Lecturer at Kings College, this is no trivial pursuit. She weaves stories and spiritual reflections, Biblical observations and imaginative theology to help us deepen our awareness of the riches of the season.

Keeping Christmas: 25 Advent Reflections on A Christmas Carol Allison Pittman (Baker) $16.99        ||  OUR SALE PRICE $13.59

Some of our faithful Hearts & Minds friends joined us and Plough Publishing a while back as I interviewed on Facebook Live our friend Gina Delfonzo, who this fall released The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works  (Plough Publishing; $18.00.) Along with Karen Swallow Prior (author of On Reading Well: The Good Life through Good Books) the two women taught us about the value and joy of reading the often complicated stories of the great Charles Dickens. In that virtual launch party we all agreed that this holiday season we would do well to take up the famous (but not always read) A Christmas Carol. 

Well, this is the brand new tool you could use to walk you through that, a devotional based on the legendary novel. Allison Pittman is herself a novelist (including Stealing Home, Loving Luther, and The Seamstress.) She has won a number of awards and teaches high school literature at a Christian school, “illuminating the Christian worldview found in all manner of literature, both sacred and secular.”

This lovely volume as a purple padded cover and the entries seem both upbeat and entertaining  (she is an energetic and colorful writer) and, yet, contemplative, thoughtful. As it says on the back cover, this entertaining read,

…is the perfect companion for those dark winter nights as we eagerly await the coming celebration of Christmas when, like Scrooge, we are given the gift of reflection, repentance, and life anew.

The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations Howard Thurmond (Friends United Press) $14.99 || OUR SALE PRICE =$11.99

This is not new and it is not the first year we’ve stocked it, but I wanted to be sure folks knew about it. Perhaps you saw my little video announcement on facebook highlighting some titles I was excited about this fall where I gave an enthusiastic shout out to the new biography of the great black contemplative leader, entitled How Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography by Paul Harvey (Eerdmans; $28.99.) We are glad a number of folks these past hard months have ordered Thurman’s own classic, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book Dr. Martin Luther King often carried with him as a personal favorite. One of the greatest compliments someone once paid us was when they asked if we named our store after Dr. Thurman’s 1980s autobiography With Head and Heart. Not quite.

The Mood of Christmas was first released in 1973 by Harper Brothers (who had done some of Dr. King’s books.) It includes over 150 entries, some pieces longer than others, and some seasonal poems. It of course has much to do with the Biblical narrative, but he moves in a radical direction of inclusion, embrace, hospitality, unity, fellowship. His famous “I Will Light Candels This Christmas” goes like this:

Candles of joy, despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year.

At the time of his death in 1981, Thurman was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel, Boston University. Previously he had served Morehouse College in Atlanta and was famously at Howard University. We stock almost all of his many books.

Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas Ace Collins (Zondervan) $14.99 ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Do you know Ace Collins’s fun other books? He is a master of this genre of telling the back stories behind songs and hymns. He’s also a colorful novelist and apparantly born storyteller. A year or so ago a number of our customers enjoyed Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas which included the fascinating stories and origins behind Christmas traditions such as the colors of red and green, the Christmas tree, caroling, nativity scenes, the Yule log, gift-giving, stockings, advent wreaths, mistletoe, holly. What fun!

This new one offers31 short pieces explaining what was going on as the song-writer penned songs as diverse as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” (noting where the comma is, btw) and “Angles from the Realms of Glory” and Isaac Watt’s powerful “Joy to the World.”

Some of us need to know the mysterious origins of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” It’s interested to hear Mary Lowry talk about “Mary Did You Know?” and even the background of tunes like “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.”  Nice.

The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season Barbara Mahany (Abingdon Press) $19.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We did not know this author until we brought in the book Motherprayer which we liked a lot. Also, the devotional The Blessings of Motherprayer. We really liked Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door. She’s a nuanced and thoughtful writer who has honed her craft of the short essay through her work as journalist and writer for The Chicago Tribune. There, in that esteemed venue, her revered page-two columns have shown her heart and as she told her stories and the stories of her family’s life that have drawn in thousands of readers for decades. As her bio says, “Bracingly honest and heartachingly daring, she explores the sacred mysteries with a voice recognizable and clear. Barbara is a sought-after speaker, retreat leader, writing teacher.”
This is one of those books that isn’t exactly a Biblical Advent study or a Christmas book, really.  It is billed as “a spiritual guide to winter.” One of the reasons I was drawn to it and wanted to share it with our customers is because it sort of brought to mind one of our best sellers of recent years, the lovely and artful (yes, it even has art pieces) book called All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss and illustrator David Klein (Paraclete Press; $18.99) which is about hibernating animals, and the equally wonderful Lenten reader Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing (Paraclete; $19.99) which draws on the crisis of animal extinction. Those two books are unusual and powerful and evocative of so much. I’m guessing that The Stillness of Winter by Barbara Mahany is similar. 

The Stillness of Winter is a smallish compact sized hardback. It is handsome and would make a nice gift, especially for one who may not need a directly Biblical Christmasy book. There are some nice illustrations and drawings in maroon ink, and a rich, wine-colored ribbon marker. It does have some activities, even recipes.  Despite the shorter days and darker nights, this could be fun.

Here is a link to last year’s Advent 2019 BookNotes.                                                Here is a link to the BookNotes Advent 2018 list. Some good ones!


We recommend you also take a look at this previous BookNotes from last year (Advent 2019 – kids list) that lists some good books for your little ones. You can use the search box at the website to find other topics or titles from past BookNotes that I might have reviewed.

We will be doing another BookNotes recommending children’s books about the holiday in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred Traci Smith (Chalice Press) $12.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

This is a nice holiday companion to the popular Faithful Families: Creation Sacred Moments at Home. It offers 100 nifty ideas, some pretty ordinary that anybody would do, some a bit more extensive that are thoughtful and good, and a few that are a bit, uh, unique. Not everyone will “get” each one, granted. Even if you do a few of these or ponder a few others, this book is worth its inexpensive price. Give it a try.

In each of these simple, hands-on practices, Smith gives families the tools to slow down, wait, and focus on all that Jesus coming into the world means.  — Karyn Rivadeneira, author, Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible

A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99                               || OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

 What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives. I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says to “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!”

May you know Barbara Reaoch’s pervious book from 2018, A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas; this is arranged very similarly and is a great company to it.

It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel’.  There is a helpful question and even a space for journalling. (Unless you have a huge family, each member can share this space, which could be fun.)

Here are what some stellar folks have said about it:

This is yet another outstanding family devotional book for the Christmas season by Barbara Reaoch. If you’ve been blessed by any of her previous books, you’ll enjoy this one as well. She has a knack for starting with something interesting to children and quickly turning it to Jesus and the Bible. This one will appeal both to younger and older children, and parts of each chapter are directed to both groups. The book is imaginatively interactive as well; not just something for kids to listen to. Best of all is how she conveys 25 core truths about Christ in a simple way to show the children how Jesus is Better Than Anything.  –Donald S. Whitney (Professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. Author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Praying the Bible, and Family Worship.

In a world where Christmas is more commercialized than ever before, it is all too easy for parents to drown in the noise of it all. Barbara Reaoch’s A Better Than Anything Christmas is a welcome and refreshing opportunity for parents to zero in on what is truly important: the gospel. The daily advent readings and questions make for excellent family discussions around who Jesus is and why He came. We loved Barbara’s A Jesus Christmas for how it offered our children an opportunity to grapple with big doctrinal ideas in a way that was easily digestible, even cross-culturally. I look forward to sharing A Better Than Anything Christmas with the family this Christmas, most especially for how it promotes theologically robust discussion and a deepening and enduring understanding of God’s Word. From toddlers to teens, this devotional offers far greater value than even the most beautifully wrapped packages beneath the tree.    –Taryn Hayes (podcast co-host, The Gospel Coalition Australia’s The Lydia Project: Conversations with Christian Women)

Christmas is Coming! But Waiting is Hard! Family Activities and Devotions for Advent Karen Whiting (Abingdon Press) $16.99  || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This book is not new but we wanted to highlight it for you; some of our customers are looking or useful resources that have basic lessons and conversation-starters and crafty type little activities for young ones. This author used to work for Focus on the Family and has developed curriculum for others who want to share basic Christian insight for children. (She was a producer and host of a puppet show on public TV in Miami — yay!)

Besides the reading, each day’s entry includes a prayer, discussion questions, explanation of a Christmas symbol, some reproducibles to help with the symbol activity, and suggested activities to put the Scriptures into action.

The 25 Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional to Help You Celebrate Jesus James Merritt, illustrated by Connie Gabbert (Harvest House) $19.99                  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This was a big hit a couple of years ago not only for its solid, Biblical content but for the rich artwork, nice cloth hardback feel. It’s 9 x 12, so bigger than most (although not thick.)  It will be a keepsake edition. Merritt is a Southern Baptist pastor and co-host of a TV show. He’s written bunches of books.

The 25 Days of Christmas has a story to read aloud each day and an activity — things to do, discover, apply.

The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas Dean Meador Lambert (Abingdon Press) $17.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is an old classic that originally came out in the mid-1980s. We used to sell it widely and encouraged folks to do this great project of creating ornaments that each are related to an Old Testament text that lead up to the Christmas story. What a great way to teach the history of redemption and the unfolding drama of salvation history. It has a new hardback cover, now. The writing here is a bit old-fashioned, the black and white illustrations even more-so; they were old-fashioned when they were in the first edition. Vintage, eh? Still, the idea is solid. We enjoy letting people know about this. These are devotions based on the Biblical texts and symbols but not a craft book to make the symbols for the Jesse Tree.

(Let us know if we can help you with that; there are several.)

By the way, Concordia Press (who do the beloved “Arch Books”) has a new paperback kids book this year called Jesse Tree: Jesus’ Family Tree ($3.49) which should be here any day. I’m sure it’s nice.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99          ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is a contemporary classic, beloved and used by many. It is colorful and excellently made. It is playing on the old Jesse Tree custom. It has vivid, full-color illustrations, downloadable ornaments, and moving scenes from the Bible.  As the publisher says, “Person by person, story by story, retrace the lineage of Jesus. Fall in love with Him all over again as you experience God’s plan of salvation for us–from the Garden of Eden to the manger and beyond.” This is a an oversized hardback, like a coffee table book, a real keepsake.

The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent  Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $34.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99                                                                                                                                            We’ve exclaimed about this before, a beautifully designed, big, lavish hardback with pop-up features and lots of extras that serves as a contemporary take on the old Jess Tree tradition. There’s a little devotional by Voskamp for each of the ornaments. Here’s how they describe it:

  • 13-inch 3D pop-up tree
  • Devotional booklet with 25 family devotions written by Ann Voskamp
  • 24 Christmas tree ornaments with hangers
  • Star-shaped tree-topper

Based on her bestseller Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp expands her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree with this beautiful keepsake that can be handed down and enjoyed for generations.

Each December, families can celebrate the coming of Jesus by opening the book to see a stunning 13-inch, three-dimensional Jesse Tree pop up from the page. At its foot are 25 doors, one for each day of Advent, which hide meaningful, beautifully detailed ornaments–including the Christmas star–that are ready to be hung on the tree.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season inspired by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago, narrated by David Suchet (ZOnderkidz) $24.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Oh my goodness, we’ve saved the best for last. We are so excited to tell you about this. It will be the lead title when we do another BookNotes post soon that features nice books to give to children this holiday season. This Sally Lloyd-Jones Christmas Collection, though, really is one to use during Advent so we wanted to announce it here, now. It is, of course, at our 20% off sale price.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season is one of those great books that is oversized and handsome and has a battery/computer gadget thingie that speaks or plays music when a child presses the button.  There is narration, and there are excerpts of four Christmas carols that fit well into the appropriate pages. Kids love these interactive books and we are so happy about this. That it spreads out widely in the lap is great, too. Kudos, Zonderkidz!

They say this is for ages 4 – 8 but I can imagine a slightly older kid reading it herself. And a slightly younger one could press the buttons and smile at the music, so I’m going to suggest this, being a bit optimistic, for ages 3 – 10.

There are key moments to “press the button” throughout and it will bring hours of pleasure and spiritual formation for children and families using this very cool new product. We’re excited. And the art is cool, whimsical without being silly or sentimental.

You should know that we adore the Jesus Storybook Bible and while there are other children’s story Bibles that we like a lot, we are especially fond of the creative art and excellent writing of this one. And the framework and theological perspective — “Every Story Whispers His Name” — shows the interconnectedness of the Bible stories that unfold and point to the promises fulfilled in Christ. It’s really good. And Advent is the perfect time to plumb those obvious interconnections.

This new edition has new content that is explicitly Advent themed.  Highly recommended.


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Books for moving on, from “Tempered Resistance” to “Speaking Peace” to “American Harvest” and more. 20% OFF

This has been a very hard time for many of us, from the staggering sadness of the spreading Covid virus (and the polarization it is causing, in part due to Mr. Trump’s minimizing the dangers and not offering public empathy to those who have lost loved ones. Yes, I am bitter.) The election has been hard for most of us, and we were biting our nails here in PA, believe me. I’ve spent a lot of time these past few weeks in long and detailed debates via email and it has been terribly discouraging. I’ve not been at my best, always, but even while saying directly that I seek nuance and fairness, I have been accused of being a brute. We knew we’d lose customers over our Biden sign (although we didn’t expect  to be cussed out by a charismatic lady or receiving what can only be characterized as hate mail.) I did not expect to lose friends I have known for three decades, but there it is. These are sad times for all of us.

Perhaps you are pondering, maybe in lament like Jeremiah in this Rembrandt piece, painted, we are told in 1630.

Besides the wildest, funniest authors you can find to enjoy, what might we be reading this season to shape and inform us to be better peacemakers, repairers of the breach, forthright and honest but civil, at least? How can we be wise leaders in this new era of American life? What resources might help us understand, at least a bit more, and, as the kids say, “speak into” this hot mess?

I’m glad you asked. Here is my list of 21 good ones. A few of these I’ve highlighted before, most I have not. May these help us all be the kind of people we ought to be, appealing to, as Lincoln said in his first inaugural, “our better angles.” Buy a few and spread the good words. Maybe kickstart your process by creating a small reading group with some friends on Zoom. (Tell them to order their books from us!)

Thanks for your support of our family biz here in Dallastown, for caring about the printed page, for being among those who still believe that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Republic of Wrath: How American Politics Turned Tribal from George Washington to Donald Trump James A. Morone (Basic Books) $32.00     OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Okay we’ll start here, just for fun. Fun and maybe enough history to save you from developing an ulcer or having a heart attack. Really — I started this several weeks ago and the long and very informative introduction gave me enough to chew on to allow me to stop fuming at least a little bit. Republic of Wrath is written by one of our esteemed, premier historians and here he offers more in-depth history from across the American centuries than you could imagine. This guy is so amazingly fluent in so, so much, it is a grad school course in one stimulating, 400+ page book. Morone reminds us that, if I may paraphrase, “we’ve been here before.”  We’ll get through this.

Yes, what one author has called our “enduring cleavages” (such as black vs white, native vs immigration) have become “dangerously revivified in the present era” so this is not trivial. Partisan tribalism has been bad and it getting worse in our lifetime. Morone combines history and political science to help us understand where we’ve been and what to do about it. Some of the stories in our past are pretty outstanding, if you like the WWF. Who knew?

The reviews of this have been stellar and I want to show you several because they prove how esteemed this author is, how good this book is, and why I want to recommend it as a valuable history lesson. I think it could be, as Eric Alterman put it, “an important intervention at a pregnant political moment.”

“With deep learning, uncommon historical range, and a vibrant analytical voice, James Morone displays how contentious party divisions in the United States have long been charged by outrage about race, immigration, and gender. What is new, his Republic of Wrath persuasively explains, is how political barriers that divide configurations of passion about identity presently have become ever more absolute.”— Ira Katznelson, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
“James Morone has written a grand, eloquent, and consistently insightful narrative of the conflicts over race and immigration that have always been central to politics and governance in the United States. Republic of Wrath is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the deepest and darkest sources of our partisan discontents.”— Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History
“I am among many who rely on Jim Morone to offer insightful and provocative perspectives on our politics and history by way of pushing us to be better — more open to each other, more democratic in our practice, more honest about our problems. In Republic of Wrath, he does it again with great candor about our enduring struggles over racial injustice and immigration. And his solution to the problems of democracy is real democracy in which everyone can vote without obstruction under fair rules — and in which partisans who don’t pretend to be anti-partisan but rather embrace their principles and ‘take them to the voters.’ A refreshing take on the way forward.”– E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country

Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change Tod Bolsinger (IVP) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

(There is an 8-week study guide as well, for $10.00; our sale price for the leader’s booklet is $8.00. If ordering this from us, please indicate if you also want the study guide.)

I would suspect that many who follow BookNotes know that Tod Bolinger’s previous book about Christian leadership, Canoeing the Mountains, was a hugely popular book in many quarters. It was discussed in churches, businesses, para-church ministry settings, nonprofits and was excellent for anyone who wanted to be more wise about navigating challenging terrain, or, as the subtitle put it, “uncharted territory.” (Yep, Lewis and Clark expected to be able to use those canoes and had no idea they’d have to carry them over mountains unlike anything they’ve ever seen. No wonder it was such a winner of a book in our fast-changing years of the new millennium.)

And, now, this. Polarization like we’ve never seen, alt-right militias on the rise, protests in the streets, Covid, a sizable portion of our fellows believing the President’s claims that an election was rigged. What in the world does in look like to canoe the mountains, now? Even if we are eager to be creative in creating fresh and nimble organizations for these uncharted times, what kind of leaders can hang in there, doing that? Our moment demands what is called “adaptive change.” What are the qualities of adaptive leadership, especially within churches and nonprofit organizations? Even beyond those who are leaders of their local churches or other organizations (who will find this useful) I think any of us who care about the public square and want to be some kind of influencer in the world around us, Tempered Resilience is going to be significantly helpful.

Bolsinger writes: “To temper describes the process of heating, holding, hammering, cooling, and reheating that adds stress to raw iron until it becomes a glistening knife blade or chisel tip.” A the publisher notes, “When reflection and relationships are combined into a life of deliberate practice, leaders become both stronger and more flexible. As a result, these resilient leaders are able to offer greater wisdom and skill to the organizations they serve.

Tempered Resilience is brand new, the eagerly awaited sequel to Canoeing the Mountains. Spread the word that we have it at 20% off and hope we sell ’em. Folks need this, Here are just two quotes from the many early reviews :

“Tod Bolsinger has written another gift for the church and her pastors and leaders. As the world around us rapidly changes, churches are faced with their own adaptive challenges. The toll that change takes on a leader has the potential to shape the leader for the better. With a pastor’s heart and a wealth of experience, Bolsinger tells us how resilient leaders navigate change with grit. Every church leader needs this in their library!” –Tara Beth Leach, senior pastor of PazNaz, author of Emboldened and Radiant Church 
“This book stands apart from many others on leadership because it has a strong beating heart of love and hope. There is love for organizations, baffling and stubborn as they can be, yet there is hope that they can grow and heal and transform. It is a book that roots down deep into a biblical and theological bedrock and then branches out into possibility. It is seasoned with realistic, even mournful acknowledgment of the difficulties and griefs of leadership. But for leaders who are discouraged and exhausted, this is, ultimately, a joyful book.”  –Leanne Van Dyk, president and professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary

Good Posture: Engaging Current Culture with Ancient Faith Tom Becker (Square Halo Books) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

We have told you before about how we so appreciate Rev. Tom Becker and his cool Row House mission in Lancaster, PA where he embodies civic engagement, culture-making, hospitality and creativity by artfully hosting what he calls Forums —  programs, conversations, events, creating space to build friendships over shared concerns from sustainable farming to enjoying popular culture. In Good Posture, Tom backs up and shows his theological and cultural perspective that serves as the framework for his creative programing. He’s wise and helpful (and loaded with good stories) of how to have a good posture, leaning in to artful cultural engagement, being a faithful presence and (as it says on the back cover) “embracing wonder in a cynical world.” Our reflexive posture doesn’t have to be leaning out, being judgmental, being fearful, being holier-than-thou. We can offer wonder and grace.

Do you see the old-fashioned picture of the tightrope walker on the cover? What a hoot! I’m sure some of us who are trying to bridge political and culture war divides feel like that guy up there, getting blasted by the winds coming from several directions at once. It takes some special lessons in good posture to be able to walk that tightrope and this book not only reminds us, but shows us how to do it without falling off either side to certain disaster. I thought I was pretty good at it, actually, but these days have proven otherwise. Most of us need Tom’s help. This is a fun little book, packed with guidance about communicating well with a culture that just might be hungering for this kind humanity rooted in the deepest truths of ancient faith. There is a great discussion guide in the back and a few solid reading suggestions for each unit. I like this primer a lot and it might inspire you and your community to try some new approaches to being missional and engaged with good posture in your own community.

Speaking Peace in a Culture of Conflict Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $21.99                                OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

It is hard for me to do a talk on the power of books and the spirituality of the reading life without citing Marilyn’s nearly classic 2009 release, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Eerdmans; $19.99) where she offers what she calls “stewardship strategies” to help us steward words well. It is a gem of a book, a little masterpiece and it reminds us that being careful about words can help us resist hype and spin and propaganda. More literary and offering more elegant joy than the rigorous (but also must-read) How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs, say, Caring for Words is a book I highly recommend, often, to nurture the Christian mind.

And then, this summer, Eerdmans released what seems nearly to be a sequel to Caring for Words, namely, Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict and it is wondrous. This is not your typical book about civility — I will name a few of those momentarily — as it really isn’t only about peacemaking or reconciliation efforts. Some of the chapters are fairly directly about that (“Quit Trying to Win” for instance) but there are other themes developed in chapters with captivating titles such as “Unmask Euphemisms”, “Embrace Your Allusive Impulse”, “Complicate Matters”, “Remind People of What they Know.” In a way, it is about “speaking the truth in love” as the Bible says, nearly a handbook for speaking up well.

Indeed, there is a chapter called “Articulate Your Outrage” and another called “Find Facts and Check Them” and, then, one called “Laugh When You Can.” It almost sounds like it is for those of us who do get in heated conversations a lot, or who feel the should. (At moments, it made me think of the very helpful Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang.) Still, it is artful and literary and so enjoyable for anyone who loves good writing. Poets among us will love her reflection on “telling it slant” and will cheer for the chapter, “Promote Poetry.” Speaking Peace… is a bit more fiesty than some books about resisting conflict with civility and even a bit more passionate about public life than what was already heavy Caring for Words… Speaking Peace is a book we need, now, now more than ever. Marilyn McIntyre is a model and wise guide, an ally.

And here is one thing that is fabulous: McEntyre does all this by drawing on exemplary authors, writers she likes, lines she loves, books and essays and poems that have given her endurance and voice, that serve as models for what we are talking about here.

Who wouldn’t want to know which great writers are considered commendable by somebody as expert as lit prof Ms McEntyre? Who couldn’t benefit by having her tell you who to read and why? For lovers of words, book lovers, those who care about reading wisely, this book is a gem. But more, it is equipping us all to the vocation of using words well for the common good.

We have quoted this wonderful back cover blurb by Leslie Leyland Fields before, and I’ll share it here, again, hoping it inspires you to want to sit under the tutelage of this wonderful little book. I need it. Do you?

It’s commonplace to lament the loss of civil discourse, but few do anything about it. For years, Marilyn McEntyre has been quietly shepherding us toward God’s intention of language as a gift rather than a weapon. She’s done it again. We need her brilliantly crafted words more than ever to show us again how to speak, live, and act in accord with the beautiful gospel.
— Leslie Leyland Fields
author of Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life

Them: Why We Hate Each Other — And How to Heal Ben Sasse (St. Martin’s Griffin) $17.99           OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I know there are some of my left-leaning friends (heck, even moderate, centrist friends) who think Senator Sasse voted with President Trump’s revolutionary right agenda way too often. And, because he has called for civility and decency, some Trumpers think he’s a weak-kneed sell out. I don’t like Mr. Sasse’s voting record, but I love listening to his reasonable rhetoric and I love reading his fine books. Like him or his other books or not, Them is a great, great read, and it offers true insights and important things to consider if we are to move forward.

Look: our precious image of ourselves — those of us who don’t see ourselves as hostile or ideologically extreme, as decent and civil and persuasive — isn’t going to cut it. I began to realize that when we got death threats from the KKK decades ago. It’s a complicated and hard world and aw-shucks, good-natured idealism and even Jesusy charm, are not enough, especially not now after this very close election. We really do have to understand each other more and we need to realize our significant malaise and what is often behind it. We need more than to reach across the aisle, we need to pay attention to real places, to our rootlessness. We have to explore the loneliness crisis, ask why folks find themselves  so alienated. We have to dig in — buy a cemetery plot, Sasse suggests — and connect with our communities.

This book will help us along the way to a more civil society. But it is a more sustainable, lasting solution, not just being nicer in public. Sure, more tolerance and better manners wouldn’t hurt, but this is trying to get at deeper issues and part of that is our rootlessness.

Sasse is an excellent writer, unpretentious, thoughtful, and at times, quite funny… even if you disagree with some or all of what Sasse writes, it’s an interesting book and his arguments are worth reading — as are his warnings about what our country might become. -NPR

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them Joshua Greene (Penguin) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This is a hefty and serious read, now out in paperback, that came recommended to me by a splendidly thoughtful Christian friend who is a doctor, health-care policy wonk, and active Christian citizen. I likened it at first blush to the important The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (who, like Greene, weaves together stories and research, combining political science, sociology, and brain studies.) Greene is, himself, a neuroscientist. Here is the pathbreaking thesis described in a pithy way on the back cover: Moral Tribes… “reveals how our social instincts turn “me” into “us,” but turn “us” against “them” — and what we can do about it.

Greene assumes that our modern times have had an unsettling impact in forcing the world’s tribes into shared space, resulting in “epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities.” That is, “as the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling.” Why do we fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming?

I am not at all sure this guy is right — heck, I’m not sure my skim-through allowed me to fully understand it. He offers maxims for “navigating the modern moral terrain” and offers this as a practical road map, so to speak, showing us a wise sort of use of our reasoning abilities. He brings in a lot of philosophy (which he seems to know well) and psychology and proposes sort of an evolutionary morality. (Yikes, I know.) Please, fellow Christians, don’t jump on me for suggesting this: it’s a fascinating read, called “superb” by the Wall Street Journal and “Surprising and remarkable” by the Boston Globe. Seven Pinker likes it as does Peter Singer (just saying.) Listen to this blurb:

A masterpiece.. a landmark work brimming with originality and insight that also happens to be wickedly fun to read.”   –Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness

Why We’re Polarized Ezra Klein (Avid Reader Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I’ve been wanting to read this big book during our hard winter and summer and then in the fall of our discontent but just haven’t gotten to it. It seems wonky and complicated to me, but yet some reviewers have insisted it is accesible and quite readable. One notes that is it like the “Explainer” series at Vox which Klein co-founded. Even Oprah gushed about how much she learned. Emma Levy of the Seattle Times explains it thusly: “By weaving together a composite of group psychological theory and political history in the trademark, rigorously logical style of Vox’s Explainer series, Klein traces the path of polarization from a time when the Republican and Democratic parties were virtually indistinguishable from each other to today.” Chris Hayes (author of A Colony in a Nation) says that you will argue with it, you won’t forget it, and  it is “absolutely crucial for understanding this perilous moment.”

Others have raved — from Krista Tippitt to Francis Fukuyama to Fareed Zakaria — about this thoughtful exploration of the history of American political tensions and how journalism works in tandem with political shifts; it is working to do what we want it to, Klein says, drawing you in to see what he means.

Listen to what Jonathan Haidt says. (Haidt, who I mentioned above, is the professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University and coauthor of The Coddling of the American Mind and the author of the very relevant The Righteous Mind.) He says of Why We’re Polarized,

Something has gone terribly wrong with American politics in the last decade or so, and Klein gives us the clearest and most comprehensive analysis I have seen. He shows how we entered the realm of political ‘mega identity politics,’ and how feedback loops between our tribal psychology and our rapidly evolving media ecosystem may be driving our democracy over a cliff. The book reviews so many studies that in lesser hands it would earn the label ‘wonkish,’ but Klein’s writing is so good that it is a joy to read, even as you experience a range of negative emotions from what you are reading.”

This is the kind of stuff, I think, we will have to more deeply understand if we are going to help repair the breach and offer healing insight in the midst of our current cultural moment. Looks important, eh?

Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse Timothy Carney (Harper)  $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is one of the most important books in this genre that I read all year — I couldn’t put it down. It’s a really great read, interesting, captivating, even, at times. Carney is asking, through crunching lots of numbers and citing lots of sources, why it is that when factories close or hard times hit (and he explores several key places, including a Western Pennsylvania rust-belt town near where we used to live as the mill started closing in the early 1980s) some communities are able to thrive and some do not. Some communities are resilient and some aren’t.

The answer that he explores is not just about how areas form community and cultivate resilience but is also backstory to the rise of the sort of populism that fueled the early days of the Trump campaign (among those who did not experience that sort of community and resilience.) The answer provides a healthy vision of hope that comes from friends and connection and civil society. That is, those places that are able to thrive even when factories close are those that have some strong social fabric; again: friends, connections, institutions, places and things to care about. Most people don’t have much “social capital” these days since they don’t get involved much in the way of civic engagement and, as Robert Putnam famously showed, people are “bowling alone.” This is part of Carney’s realization, just how right Putnam still is. But there is more.

Over and over Carney’s narrative takes us to hard scrapple places and the one place where community and support and the experience of “third places” are robust, where people find solace and encouragement and social capitol and learn the capacity for resilience, these days, is (get this…) in communities with churches. That is, those communities that tend to have good and healthy faith communities are more stable, even when hard times hit. (He does not mean it in a shallow or glib way, but he quips that social scientists and community leaders should worry less when a factory closes and worry more when a church closes!)

Alienated America takes us to a lot of towns, but Carney hangs out at several and invites us with him as readers to join him at the local diner, the bus stop, the shop floor, the downtown bar, the church potluck. It is enlightening as he learns that poorer towns, like a largely Lutheran village in MN and a Dutch Reformed one in Iowa and Mormon communities in NV, made up of conservative Republicans, in the 2016 primaries did not vote for candidate Trump. Why? They didn’t like his talk about the American Dream being dead. That is — get this! — they had hope, even though they were in devastated communities.

He notes that if we want to know how financial struggles and poverty hit people we should care as much about church closings as factory closings, and learn more about social capitol and friendship networks. (And, again, in an era when we have less involvement in grange and unions and social clubs and PTO and Little League and Rotary and scouting, church is the one place for live-giving relationships to be nurtured, mentors to be found, friends to be discovered, families to be formed.)  He works for the American Enterprise Institute so is an ethically minded, morally serious, social conservative and draws on Putnam, Murray, et al. I liked this book a lot as a glimpse into real towns and places and how they are coping. Alongside other ethnographies and memoirs about hard times in America, this is a great glimpse of a multi-dimensional answer based on more social capital through renewed civil society. (Another book that I read recently in this sort of genre is a study of a coal town in the NW edge of central Pennsylvania, We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America by Jennifer Silva (Oxford University Press; $24.95.) It’s a bit more scholarly, but fits with the theme of the much-discussed, beautiful book set near Lake Charles, Louisiana, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (New Press; $17.99.))

A key takeaway at least in the years of his research early in the Trump era he found that religiously oriented (that is, parts of what we now refer to as “white evangelicals”) Republican voters disapproved of Trump early on, but not mostly because he was a divorced New York playboy, as you might think, but because they didn’t resonate with his anger about American. They did not live with an existential sense of alienation even if they were facing economic hardships. Again, this is one slice of the research, one lesson to learn, focusing on the social benefits of faith communities, the need to avoid purely materialistic analysis, and to explore where people live, their sense of place. This is a very entertaining and valuable work.

A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream Yuval Levin (Basic Books) $28.00               OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Back in February or early March, when the snow was still on the ground and we hadn’t yet closed our store, I began this book and was awestruck with its wisdom and how it seemed, as Peggy Noonan put it, “exactly what American needs right now.” It is, she says, “A moving call to recommit to the great project of our common life.”  Well, little did we know how bad it was about to get, with deepening polarization, the Covid crisis, the death of George Floyd, the legitimate uprisings and the terrible looting, the (mostly) white pushback, and the President in the thick of it all, using pepper spray and worse to clear away protesters so he could take a picture of himself holding a Bible. Oh my, things went downhill fast and if Yuval Levin’s reasoned voice as a moderate public intellectual was needed early this year, his book is nothing short of a Godsend, now.

A Time To Build is a bit of a manifesto, a guidebook sequel to the more incisive and intellectual The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. Levin knows well the different philosophical streams running down through American history. (An earlier book was The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.) His conservatism is not the sort of a know-nothing Jerry Falwell or mean-spirited Franklin Graham nor a Trumpian power monger who doesn’t think twice about re-tweeting messages from the alt-right and KKK. No, this is an exquisitely thoughtful and perceptive sort of traditionalism that wants to renew institutions and help communities flourish. It cares about the first things of our Republic and honors some of the best ideals of the American experiment.

One may not agree with all of his proposals, but to read a call to be involved at the local level, to enter into community projects — from supporting local schools and local politics to charities and nonprofits –and to care about your own actual neighbor is so inspiring. It is not the full story, but it is a good aspect — rebuilding and repairing our social architecture.

List well to Bruce Reed (himself chief of staff to former Vice President Joe Biden):

Yuval Levin stands athwart the wrecking ball of anger that is smashing a democracy in desperate need of rebuilding and repair. A Time to Build sets forth an ambitious blueprint for how Americans can work together to strengthen broken institutions we cannot live without.

Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy Eric Liu (Sasquatch Books) $24.95                                OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

I want to say something important before I commend this inspiring collection of sermons of civil religion. I oppose civil religion. I hate any idol that attempts to replace Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, Jeremiah and Jesus. Nothing can stand against the Kingship of Christ. I am not fond of Christians overstating our loyalty to any political party and have been confused that some have  recently accused me of “baptizing” some secular humanistic party (as if they aren’t all pretty much secular and humanistic.) No, I’m not a fan of what we call civil religion, which is a weak alternative to Biblical religion.

In a pluralistic culture, justice means making room for all, so I’m deeply committed to pluralism and celebrate earnestly the goodness of the American ideals and (some of) the ideas of the Founders. But let’s be clear: for followers of Jesus, no religious-like commitment to any good ideology (environmentalism, radical reconciliation, Federalism, capitalism, conservatism, progressivism, Americanism) should become an idol. Lovely American idealism is a great thing, but we dare not wrap our Bibles in the flag or allow patriotism to distort our faith in Christ’s teachings. And we Americans, oddly, have a problem with this temptation more than most people who do not live in such an impressive Empire. (I have heard that most Christians all over the world are appalled that their brother and sisters in Christ in the US actually put their national flags in their sacred worship spaces. I agree with them: it’s a weird and dangerous custom.)

Having said that, I so, so enjoyed this book and was deeply moved by its thoughtful author and his work at what he calls Citizen University. Eric Liu is, I guess it is fair to say, a progressive patriot and he has created this movement to bring folks together in bookstores and libraries and union halls and granges to honor our uniquely American principles and values. They started out at programs he called “Civic Saturdays.”  Is it possible for us postmodern, jaded cynics to believe in democracy again?

Here’s how it works: Liu started up doing a secular “worship service” (well, not exactly) where the gathered would sing an American song and read some American text and listen to a “sermon” (yep, he calls it that) about civic life, about American values, about finding common ground around common principles, about freedom and responsibility. This book is a collection of stories based on those services and the sermons preached. They started at the legendary Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle in the complicated years following the 2016 election. Now you can join in and read along.

If you can get over Liu calling the talks given at these civil religious gatherings “sermons,” you will be really inspired, I think, to dig more deeply into the great stories of our nation.(I’m writing mostly to American, here, and invite our international friends to bear with us, here. Maybe even you’d enjoy reading these eloquent, earnest talks.)

Each “sermon” riffs on an excerpt offered (something like the “sacred Scripture”, so to speak) which includes excerpts from formal American documents to letters and poems and stories and speeches ranging from the founding articles to the early Founder’s teachings to all sorts of great stuff that transpired during our years of struggles to clarify and embody and reform our American dreams, Becoming American shares writings of the greats — from George Washington to Woody Guthrie, from Terry Tempest Williams to Ida B. Wells, from to the Articles of Confederation to writings of Frederick Douglass. Each short reading is followed by a message, often by Liu, but sometimes by others. Message after message, it’s really good stuff about the meaning of citizenship, the art of citizenship.

Liu was a White House speechwriter for Bill Clinton and now is executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity program and he is eloquent and generous. He has done powerful TED talks on power, voting, and civics. He’s a cheerleader for involvement and although tilts lefty and progressive, no matter your partisan tendencies, I think you’ll enjoy this collection of excerpts of great American documents and reflections on them. Check out Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy.

Virtue and Voice: Habits of Mind for a Return to Civil Discourse edited by Gregg Ten Elshof & Evan Rosa (Abilene Christian University Press) $24.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Oh my, just when I thought there were enough books on civility there is this. Wow.  I’ve often said one hardly needs more than Richard Mouw’s splendid Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP; $20.00; our sale price at 20% off makes it $16.00.) I still think that Mouw is indispensable for anyone wanting to grow in convicted civility. It makes a great reading group study.

Virtue and Voice, though, is simply amazing, a major contribution, one of the most important books in this genre that has come out in years. It is a collected anthology of authors with a variety of angles of vision — they are ethicists, philosophers, historians, theologians and thought leaders of various sorts. Many of these (including the aforementioned Rich Mouw) have spent long years working on this topic and speak from both personal and professional experience and expertise.

The editors themselves are remarkable and remarkably astute in curating this volume for us. Gregg Ten Elshof wrote the fabulous, little I Told Me So: Self Deception and the Christian Life (not to mention a good book on Confucius for Christians.) Mr. Rosa is the assistant director of public engagement at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture where he works with Miroslov Volf.

The pieces here acknowledge that the current climate of contentious and ineffective civil discourse is troublesome but they also show how “the cultivation of intellectual virtues can renew our voices and heal the broken state of our public discourse.”

I am not sure that academics in a rare volume like this — vital and beautiful as it is — can heal the culture at large. But this is what philosophers and thought leaders do at their best; they become public intellectuals and use their scholarly chops to helps us dig deeper and learn some important stuff. It is a gift, a tool, a resource to help us think and cultivate some deeper approaches.

The important stuff on offer here is a deeper way to think about civility by linking it to virtue and, then, to this notion of intellectual virtue, drawing on Augustine’s notion of “rightly ordered affections.” Some who have heard me lecture on the formation of the Christian mind may recall (okay, it’s a long shot, but you might) that I love a book called Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development written by Philip Dow (IVP; $20.00.) This new recent one, Virtue and Voice moves that notion further along in a very generative way. Our intellectualism has to be virtuous (shaped by traits such as honesty, curiosity, humility) and, here, these virtues must shape our public voices. Can we be public intellectuals that invite humility? Can intellectuals who speak out to influence the day also be marked by respect? Can we use our strong ideas in a way that invites people to a hospitable conversation?

The authors here range from Robert Audi to Christena Cleveland, from George Marsden (who here writes on C.S. Lewis) to Robert Roberts. There are people of various specialities, men and women, from evangelical Christian colleges and universities (Biola U., Grove City College) and Roman Catholic institutions (Notre Dame, Loyola at Marymount) and from secular state university settings. You’ve got to see Linda Zagzebski’s (of the University of Oklahoma) reflecting on “intellectual virtue terms” and linguistics and semantics.

I think I liked Christina Cleveland’s piece the best, but these hefty, intellectual essays are all astute and often inspiring. How we cultivate intellectual virtues both in the academy and the wider culture is an urgent question which should capture some of our BookNotes readers. We recommend Virtues and Voices: Habits of Mind for a Return to Civil Discourse and celebrate its contribution to the ongoing maturity of our witness.

Listen to the ever-wise, virtuous Lutheran leader and church historian and public journalist Martin Marty, who wrote a lengthy review. He notes,

Every day, hour, and minute, our personal experiences and the media demonstrate the incivility of public discourse in moral, political, and religious life. Not content merely to report on the public scene, these essays demonstrate the value of curiosity, attentiveness, open-mindedness, intellectual carefulness, and intellectual thoroughness… Civil discourse can make a refreshing difference. Virtue and Voice creatively dedicates itself to such discourse, and readers of this book who put any of its contributions to work in the larger society will find fresh ways to be intellectually virtuous.

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt Arthur Brooks (Broadside Books) $27.99               OUR SALE PRICE = $ 22.39

In July 2019 I did a BookNotes column highlighting several books on civility. This was one of the strong ones on that list and I want to remind you of it here, now.  This is an edited version of my remarks from that previous BookNotes.

Wow, this subtitle alone should capture your attention and inspire you to want to start a book group, right?  I have heard Mr. Brooks (no relation to David, by the way) at a Q Gathering once and know him to be kind and eloquent and thoughtful. The New York Times recently reviewed this in their Book Review section which indicates its seriousness and its importance. With great endorsements by Simon Sinek and Ben Sasse, cofounder of AOL Steve Case, and important and eloquent Roman Catholic author, Bishop Robert Barron, you might realize that this will appeal to readers from across the political and religious and cultural spectrum. When he warns us not to “weaponize” the values of others that we disagree with, but to treat them with understanding and respect, he’s speaking boldly and wisely. When he says we have more in common than we realize, he’s surely correct and, as you might guess, I love hearing that good news about common ground and such. (Alas, he seems to almost under-play our most serious differences, though. In fact, some of us really don’t have much in common. I appreciate the line from Os Guinness who years ago spoke of learning to live “with our deepest differences.”) Kindness and grace are hugely and urgently needed, now.

Love Your Enemies offers a grand proposal, warm-hearted and witty, patriotic but not ideological. It is a great read, and helps us learn to “disagree without being disagreeable” as the old saying goes. Can the sorts of values and virtues that shape decent folks actually play a role in the hard-scrapple world of legislation and activism? Can we be kind in our Facebook debates and still be taken seriously? Can we set aside our increasingly toxic contempt? These are really important questions and you will be a better person, I’m sure of it, by spending some time with this inspiring book. I think I need to re-read it now, post-election 2020 as my heart is broken from the rancor. Maybe, you, too, need these wholesome stories and this thoughtful reminder.

I find myself drawn to these elders from the right who perhaps now realizing they (yes, Mr. Brooks’s own think-tank) helped create some of the rancor in recent decades and might have some regrets about that.  But Love Your Enemies isn’t a policy book, it is a thoughtful reminder for ordinary folks to “put our contempt aside and work together again.” He does it with a light tough, with joy even. Maybe this upbeat book will help us all be a bit unusual in this fractious environment, by being more warm-hearted and friendly. It’s not easy. This book can help.

Stop Taking Sides: How Holding Truths in Tension Saves Us From Anxiety and Outrage Adam Mabry (The Good Book Company) $16.99                          OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I’m going to say right from the start that I don’t like the title. I suspect it is inviting us to some pretty profound insights — drawing on science and psychology, ancient wisdom and Bible instruction, grace and gospel — and I am going to read it. The publisher does consistently clear-headed evangelical books (often from the UK.) Good folks have raved about this one with folks like apologist Rice Broocks calling it “startling” and Linda Allock (author of Deeper Still) saying it is “challenging stretching, and in some places quite uncomfortable.”

That is, this is not a simplistic call to kumbaya or even some neutral common ground. It is embracing a surprisingly refreshing solution to suspicions that plague so many of our heated discussions. It is, Mabry says, the key to growing in joy and virtue as we deepen our embrace of a Biblically authorized tension.

Stop Taking Sides emerges out of a solid, gospel-centered congregation in Boston (Aletheia Church) and the author is seeking, clearly, to help us love others well. It is, it seems, mostly a fairly in depth study of a theology of paradox, of balance, of tension. The Word and Spirit speak and in community we learn to hear God’s complicated through and to each other as well, not by siding quickly for and against, but with open-hearted humility. Of wanting both/and rather than either/or. (These are my simple ways of explaining it, although I’m not sure Mabry puts it that way.)

There are some charts and diagrams –a circle, wheel illustration that is in from time to time — that show out of the foolishness of saying nothing matters or resisting truth, to the unhelpful hardness of judgmentalism. It looks really good for those that want to think through the options and instincts, our ways of dividing up into tribes and sides. Scriptures often call us to hold things in tension and in this book, the author shows us how it’s done.

Becoming Brave: Finding Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now Brenda Salter McNeil (Brazos Press) $21.99. OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

As much as I wanted to share the evangelical wisdom from The Good Book Company, above, about the art of holding various truths in tension, as I noted, I’m not sure fully agree with the title of that one. (Having not read it yet, it may be that the author nuances that admonition a bit. And, it may be that he means in side-talking schisms like church splits over doctrinal disputes. It is clear, though, that Biblical ethics and sound public theology leaves us no doubt that there are issues where we must take sides. We are called to love our neighbors and advocate for the poor and oppressed. And so, must be prepared to be wise allies of any who are marginalized or mocked (and it is clear that there is a lot of that going on these days, from some liberals dismissing those of conventional conservative values and our President mocking, well, almost anyone he doesn’t like.) Now is a time to learn how to stand up and speak out. Which, for some of us, will take the virtue of courage. This book by one of our fine evangelical leaders, known for books on evangelism and grace, reconciliation and multi-ethnic friendship, here moves us away from passivity to action. Becoming Brave is a powerful, generative, helpful study of the Biblical narrative of Esther.

Lisa Sharon Harper writes of it that

Becoming Brave declares that the Christian call to do justice cannot and shall no longer be guided, shaped, and defanged by sensibilities more loyal to white people’s comfort than to God.

Wow. This book is a must-read (as we have said before at BookNotes). This is an exceptionally important book and we highly recommend it. Order it from us today!

Look: racial injustice is a real problem (even though different folks, include different people of color, understand the problem differently and advocate for different sorts of solutions. There are many issues pressing upon us these days, and few think that this particular aspect of brokennes in our culture is the only one. But it is central to much that is wrong these days which is why we continue to promote many, many books on racism, white privilege, and the like. If you are going to read one title on this topic these days, this is an excellent choice, and will help you grow not only in awareness of the issues of race in our day, but will help you understand the book of Esther and help you fine yourself in the story of God’s redemptive work in broken, secularized cultures.

Redeeming How We Talk: Discovering How Communication Fuels Our Growth, Shapes Our Relationships, and Changes Our Lives Ken Wytsma & A.J. Swoboda (Moody Press) $14.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

It is my conviction, and I hope yours, too, that in this post-election season, after months of serious allegations and draining debates (in the media and in our own personal circles) we now need to turn to the task of regaining trust, renewing goodness and beauty, repairing some things that have been damaged. In this BookNotes I’ve highlighted mostly recent books that might help us understand some of the demographics and philosophical issues in our current polarization. I’ve offered some books about speaking well in a climate of conflict, about living well in a time of fear. A few of the books have been heady and deep, others energetic about social repair. This is one that is as simple as it gets, but — like the best books we tend to most eagerly promote here at the shop — it is not cheesy, it is grounded not only in solid cultural awareness and Biblical theology. It is, so to speak, a self helpy sort of practical book that is reliable and wise and really, really useful. Further, I trust these authors — Wytsma has written excellent books as an evangelical on the topic of justice and he wrote one of the best books available on the topic of white privilege (The Myth of Equality.) (He has also written a fun little book on creativity and a wise, deeper one on the paradoxes of faith.) A.J. Swoboda, a hip pastor in urban Portland, is also a writer we adore — I’ve read his many books, including good work on eco-theology, his stellar book on Sabbath (Subversive Sabbath) and a luminous book on dark and doubt to be read during Holy Week. If anybody is going to be trusted to write a simple, self-help book that is reliable and deeply wise, it would be guys just like this.

And so. Are you, they ask on the back cover, “Tired of all the ranting?” In this little volume they offer a compelling case to stop the ranting, already, but to enter meaningful conversations. They lament the discord that seems as prevalent as ever — even online bullying and a sad sort of isolation that many experience.  Redeeming How We Talk is a gem of a book that guides us to allow God’s own grace to shape and reform how we use our words. This a a strategy book, a reflection, a sermon on godly speech.

The book is arranged in two main units or parts. The first third is “The World of Words” and invites us to ponder what we mean by creativity, about propaganda, about the challenge of connecting in the digital age. They have a (very) brief history of information that is fascinating, and they offer colorful warnings (“Here Be Dragons”) to guide us well.

The next two-thirds are about “The Words of God” which asks what Godly speech really is, about wisdom in our use of words, about speaking a better word. This is Christ centered and Biblically-informed and yet offers really practical stuff — one chapter is called “The Mechanics of Hearing Each Other.” My, my.

Words can be harmful and words can carry blessing. This book is right in wondering if language itself is getting lost and is wise in inviting us to redeem it to its God-given beauty and healing purposes.  With insight about silence, even, Redeeming How We Talk is loaded with really useful advise and faithful insight. It’s no wonder there are bunches and bunches of endorsements and raves from great folks who commend it. We do, too. Order it today.

In a world where we have tribalized ourselves into identity groups of disagreement, true conversation and dialogue are becoming obsolete. We don’t have conversations anymore; the dialogue is predetermined and reinforced in the echo chambers of media. A. J. and Ken have given us not only a history of how we got here and a theology of communication, but wisdom and practical guidance in how we talk to one another. It is time for us to leave our polarized islands of finger pointing and truly learn to ask the deeper questions, gain understanding, and yes, speak to one another in a way that reveals the love and wisdom of God. This book will give you the tools to heal our fractured world one conversation at a time.  –Rick McKinley,  Pastor of Imago Dei Community, Portland, OR, author of Faith for This Moment: Navigating a Polarized World as the People of God

What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what’s on our hearts. At a time when our discourse has become more coarse and when it’s easier to back into corners with our opinions, rather than engaging with those with whom we may disagree, this book offers a way for us to rethink the importance of civil discourse, and humility and openness in communication. This book comes at a right time when perhaps all of us need a fresh reminder to guard our tongues and our hearts in a way that would honor Christ.  –Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief, author of Welcoming the Stranger

We have become a people all alone, together,” assert Ken Wytsma and A. J. Swoboda in Redeeming How We Talk. Mass communication is more like a corporate cacophony. Few are listening, few speak what’s worth hearing. We just keep missing each other. Is there hope of recovery from the current crisis? Is there hope for the kind of communication that recovers the lost art of community? Wytsma and Swoboda blaze a path out of all the noise that moves toward honest, thoughtful communication where we can listen, hear, and thoughtfully respond.  –Jerry Root Professor, Wheaton College author of The Neglected C.S. Lewis

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $27.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Well, if the upbeat Americana texts and sermons of the above-mentioned Becoming America doesn’t do it for you, maybe this more deliberately Christian book — offered by a public leader, increasingly known outside of his Episcopal church where he serves as Bishop — will be inspiring reading in these complex days. It is my sense we all need a boost, a reminder of our first principles, a call to reflect on what really we can do to help heal our broken land. Let me be clear: Curry is insistent: love is the answer. And we love because God first loved us. If God is love and the great commandment is to love others, well, the good Bishop is right: love is the way. Can we believe it?

Many know that Rev. Curry is a passionate and eloquent preacher. (Did you see that sermon he preached at the Royal Wedding a few years ago? Whew!) Here, he offers what Jon Meacham says is “a profound an essential book.”

Meacham continues:

At once personal and universal, intimate and sweeping, it frames the great question of our time–which is, really, the great question of all time on this side of Paradise–with passion and eloquence. Michael Curry, priest and bishop, plays the prophet in these pages, drawing on his own remarkable life to show us the way we might make our own lives, and the lives of nations, warmer, better, and nobler.

Listen to these other endorsers:

‘Perfect love casts out all fear’ (1 John 4.18). In this beautiful and moving book, Bishop Michael Curry reflects on the nature of God’s love and the reflection of that love in human lives. Drawing on his own life and experiences he shows us that, time and again, when love is threatened by circumstances — be it poverty, racism, violence, injustice or the abuse of power –t hat same love has the power to shine through. Two thousand years ago Jesus called together a small band of disciples to follow him in preaching the good news of God’s love. The movement we now know as the Church started off simply as ‘the way.’ Bishop Michael is convinced that, just as then, love and the message of love has the power to transform our world.– The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Michael Curry believes in love. Not the kind of love that sidesteps and softens our response to the most brutal realities of our deepest, racist, economic, and human oppression. But rather, like Dr. King and, more importantly, Jesus said; the kind of radical love that may be the only thing that can finally overcome such radical sin. On a personal note, Michael is and does what he says about being a follower of Jesus and the way of God’s overwhelming and overcoming love. Love is the Way is moving, heartfelt, and extraordinarily important. In this fearful time, more than perhaps ever before, the world needs this book because, as Michael says, ‘Love dreams visions.’– Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

Following Jesus In a Culture of Fear: Choosing Trust Over Safety in an Anxious Age Scott Bader-Saye (Brazos Press) $17.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Funny, I picked up this new edition of a book we sold in 2007 and noticed that my friend Derek Melleby had a nice endorsing blurb on the inside. I pressed back the page gingerly to take a picture to show Derek his little moment of fame endorsing the first edition of this book drawn from a review he wrote in a journal called Engage. And then I noticed, right under my thumb, there was a blurb by me on the inside, too, from the Hearts & Minds Bookstore newsletter BookNotes, circa 2007. I raved about it then, and I can do so again, now.

In the years after 9-11 there were many fears — some legitimate and some overblown — that many held do. To counter that there were, among other voices, ads that said to “Live Fearless.” I still think that is dumb when I see BlueCross saying that on billboards to entice you to their healthcare plan. In a dangerous fallen world, there is much to be aware of.

As Bader-Saye explains, there is a timely and appropriate, faith-fueled view of fear. He’s not with the “fear not” camp of many Pentecostals and rather simplistic preachers. He’s not a hand-wringer, though, either. This book wonderfully explores a balanced and wise alternative to those two extremes. Interestingly, he is aware, now more than he once was, that it is in a sense an experience of white and middle class privilege to assume that many fears are overblown. As he says in the preface to this new 2020 edition, it struck him powerful as he was lecturing about the first edition of the book at a Mosque and he realized many of these Muslims were, in fact, not imagining that many hated them, that their lives were endangered. Most American’s in most cities were simply not under attack my jihadists. Most Muslims in American lived in fairly real fear.

And so, the author’s take on fear, what is reasonable and responsible, has evolved even as our culture has changed the scapegoats and names of those whom we fear.  Fear now, the author realizes, has “taken an outsized role in our current cultural and political context.”  There is more going on beneath our culture wars and each side, these days, fears the others. Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear is needed now and I am grateful for this updated revisioned version.

And yet, even in this freighted time and this updated edition, the book is very nicely down to Earth. He talks about movies, about parenting, about courage and recklessness, drawing from novels and lots of real life episodes and illustrations. It even has discussion questions to help groups work through it together.

I am not alone in this. Listen to this thick comment by Walter Brueggemann:

“Bader-Saye has written a timely and provocative book concerning Christian resources of faith in a culture besot by fear. His diagnosis of a pervasive system of anxiety, rooted in Enlightenment reductionism, is on target; but more important is his assessment of the capacity of communitarian courage to act as a transformative alternative to fear. Bader-Saye draws upon compelling contemporary cases of such courageous action but shows, with equally compelling articulation, how such courage finally is deeply rooted in God’s providence. His book is a bold theological exposition that has immediate and rich pastoral derivatives, all in the interest of an intentional church community acting congruently with its confession of faith.” —Walter Brueggemann

“In a culture consumed by anxiety and divided against itself, Scott Bader-Saye’s Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear couldn’t have come at a better time. Bader-Saye tackles the most pressing moral challenges of our day: the dangers of American exceptionalism, of stoking fear for profit, and of manufacturing fear of the stranger in our midst. Bracing in its honesty and inspiring in its call for a risky faith, Bader-Saye’s book offers readers biblical wisdom and well-founded hope for our turbulent times.”  —Joy Ann McDougall, associate professor of systematic theology, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Sacred Endurance: Finding Grace and Strength for a Lasting Faith Trillia J. Newbell (IVP) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I hope you know this popular writer, a black woman who has been sharing a gospel-centered hope for racial unity and Kingdom living through many good books. Her book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity came out in 2014 and she has done many since then. This summer she released a volume she edited, speaking about diversity and culture and friendship among a group of evangelical women friends — Beautifully Distinct: Conversations with Friends on Faith, Life, and Culture that shows her heart of crossing divides and building bridges, at least within a somewhat broader tribe. She is perhaps most well known for the spectacular kids picture book in the “Tales That Tell the Truth” series, God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family. We already have some pre-orders for her February 2021 release Creative God, Colorful Us (Moody; $12.99.)

All this to say she has a heart for doing the hard work of racial reconciliation and has spoken well into the largely white evangelical subculture. One can imagine that this is draining at times, hard and sometimes painful work. She has learned, perhaps the hard way, what it means to take up the gospel call of sacred endurance. This book is a guide to what some might describe as the call to “keep on keepin’ on.”

There are chapters here about running God’s race, about Christ Himself in the “cloud of witnesses” and what sort of motivations we need to finish the race well. She is teaching about discipleship, spiritual formation, character formation and more, all to get us across that finish line without giving up. One great chapter tells how it happens: “The Heart Needed, the Strength Supplied.”  Another excellent chapter is apropos for our cultural moment, called “Broken and Contrite.” Are we? Should we be?

I liked a chapter called “Enduring and the Mind.” The middle chapter six is called “Enduring in Society and the World.” She knows what it means to struggle and trust God, to (as with most serious races) “falling and getting back up.” She advises not to “go it alone” and she offers baby steps towards practical discipleship.  Ms Newbell has learned to “look to the prize.” As a person well aware of the civil rights movement and other justice efforts rooted in the black church, she knows the layers of meaning of that very (Biblical) phrase. The first story on the first page of the book is one that is not as well known as it should be — about how Mahalia Jackson on August 28th 1963  encouraged MLK during what started out as a fairly tepid speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Yes, she has a deep awareness of the black church’s contribution to understanding our call to a race. As an evangelical writing a book about “pressing on” as described in Philippians 3:14, she shines, inviting us all to a full-orbed and robust sort of culturally-engaged discipleship.

I believe some of us need gospel hope and an extra reminder to keep our eyes on the prize, to run the race with endurance, to find through God’s grace the strength we need to keep at our various tasks in God’s Kingdom. Civic responsibilities and efforts for cultural renewal are part of that for most of us, and a book of basic Christian living with some solid teaching on endurance just might be what the doctor ordered.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steve Garber (IVP) $18.00          OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I find myself telling people about this book quite often as it is one of my all time favorites. I’m glad so many people this year ordered his smaller collection of short pieces — essays and reports from his travels and missional teaching all over the world — called The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work (IVP; $20.00) as it is a beautiful and lovely and potent collection of Steve’s thoughtful reflections. It is an amazing little book and I can’t say enough about it. That phrase (“a seamless life”) says so much and perhaps in this season of rethinking our public lives and our cultural situation, a desire to be people of integrity — living out the same virtues and values and faith in our work-world as we doing in our worship, living out the same virtues and values an faith in our political lives as we do in our prayer lives — may be a starting point for a more coherent and integrated life.

That great notion and those essays in A Seamless Life came about (or so it seems to me) from the work Steve was given to do after he published his extraordinary Visions of Vocation. He went on the road, speaking at conferences, mentoring seekers, visiting particularly creative projects from San Diego to Beijing, from Eastern US to Eastern Europe. From years of seamless visioning consultations with folks as diverse as The Art House in Nashville and the Mars Corporation in Northern Virginia and The Murdoch Trust in the Pacific NorthWest and the Telos Group (working for peace in the Middle East) and the Made to Flourish Network to the Gotham Fellows out of Redeemer Presbyterian’s Center for Faith & Work, Steve has offered his heart and soul to projects and organizations he wants to encourage. All, it seems, name Vision of Vocation as a key book in their own growth into more coherent Kingdom living and a key resource for their own institutional longevity.

I think Visions of Vocation is important for a few key reasons right now. I have written about it often here at BookNotes so I will be concise. Three things about it call out to me now, compelling me to invite you to consider it in this cultural moment.

Firstly, Visions of Vocation does explain and value “the common good” so it is a book about loving our neighbors well, about working for the renewal of the social architecture of our culture, for institutional reform and Godly repair of our hurting world. His vision as a “mere Christ” influenced early on by Francis Schaeffer, is that God cares about every area of life and every aspect of society. He gets it that in God’s common grace, God upholds our fraying social fabric and cares about the whole of creation. I like so much that Steve refuses to compartmentalize faith as if it is private or only personal. If we are to endure as breach-menders, we have to have that sense of a call to the world, for the world.

Secondly, Garber’s book, without being melancholy or negative, includes an honest lament for the state of the world. Without being partisan, he knows and cares deeply about the wounds of history, about our own shame and hurt, how we are all, as Schaeffer put it, “glorious ruins.” Here’s the point: God loves us anyway. And, therefore, we must somehow take God’s own cue and find ourselves also loving the world (as it is) as God does. Can we accept our own human responsibility to mirror God’s mercy in a world of need? Can we be gracious and good toward it, knowing what we know? Can we be honest about our own responsibilities, knowing we are (as he fleshes out in a remarkable chapter) “implicated.” This is a major contribution for those of us wanting to embrace this work, and Visions of Vocation is a primary text to help us. Many have told us it is the most important book they have ever read.

Thirdly, Garber invites us to run with joy because we do hear God’s voice — vocare is the Latin root of the word “vocation” — and therefore, we can have hope. We do not have to grow jaded. We do not have to yield to cynicism. We can love as God so loves and thereby be people of hope. He says it so well, with such nuance and eloquence and intellectual substance, and that’s one of the sturdy, strong points. Who among us who cares about this world has not been tempted to cynicism or worse?

Here is a bonus point, a key takeaway in one chapter that some say is worth the price of the whole book. Steve talks about what he calls “proximate justice.” That is, we do not have to be “all or nothing” utopians. We must learn to live with some approximation of goodness and beauty, pushing always for the actualization of God’s many desires for the world, but not demanding more than our time in history can embrace. That is, he shares an insight of the old Dutch Christian statesman, Abraham Kuyper, who did not favor revolutions that tossed out too much with too many ideological hopes that then become their own soon to topple idols. That is, we must be visionary and hope for the best, but learn “how the sausage is made” and move as best we can, seeking God’s ways, glad for any move in the right direction. Such an understanding replaces optimism with hope and allows us to be grateful for small victories. Again, I am paraphrasing and you simply must read VoV for yourself to grapple with ideas such as “proximate justice.” It will help you not only survive, but find you own voice in these trying times of rebuilding and renewal.

American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland Marie Mutsuki  Mockett (Graywolf Press) $28.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

If some of the cultural crisis we face these days come from the difference between what some pundits call the coastal elites and the heartland, between urbane sophisticates that are largely anti-Christian and rural and small town folks who are, in fact, deeply religious, how can we get over these huge divides. (I’ve previously reviewed at BookNotes a small book that packs a wallop of insight called Not From Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us, and How We Can Move Forward Together by Brandon J. O’Brien (published by Moody Press; $13.99) that offers uniquely Christian insight to the complexities of how our places effect us.) If we want to find new abilities to have better conversations about the things that matter most in this big land that is home to so many different kinds of people, this large story might point us towards real, live examples.  American Harvest was one of my favorite books of 2020 and I can’t say enough about it in this small space, here.

(If you subscribe to The Christian Century you might have been fortunate enough to read the April 2020  book review of American Harvest penned by Valerie Weaver-Zercher which was one of the most beautiful book reviews I think I’ve ever read. It is unfortunately behind the paywall at CC but it was a fabulously, insightful, and gorgeous piece of writing.It was such a good review it discouraged me from trying to explain why I loved American Harvest so much.)

Another fine review that explores the heart of the book was in the Los Angeles Times a piece entitled “Meet the Heartland Evangelicals Who Feed America.” 

Here is this summary of this memoir-like, creative non-fiction, journalistic report by Marie Mutsuki Mockett and why I think it carries hope for our polarized world. Mockett is an urban elite, intellectual, urbane, concerned about GMOs eats organic, un-religious, science-based, progressive, multi-ethnic. Her family has owned a large wheat farm in the mid-West which other peopel care for. For a variety of reasons he decided to go along with the migrant wheat harvesters who sweep with their giant combines from Texas to Montana each summer, living on the road,learning what these modern-day farmers do as they harvest the giant wheat fields. She embeds herself with a group of mostly young harvesters and learns their way of life, taking in rodeos in Texas, hunting wild pigs, eating at diners, fixing the machines, and doing hard, hard work in the extraordinary fields of Kansas and Nebraska and more.

What more, you ask? She goes to church with them. You see, the outfit that she embedded herself with is a group of mostly conservative Mennonites from Lancaster County, PA. They are more or less kind to her, and she to them, and she is befriended, surprisingly, by a few who aren’t as fundamentalist and strictly plain as some conservative Mennonites are. They get her tuning in to The Liturgist podcast and she listens as they debate the theology found in Rob Bell books. (Nope, I didn’t see that coming!) These are socially conservative men and women who know the land and have little awareness of why city-slickers would care about eating organic. She can’t believe some of them take Genesis literally. She is distressed by what she sees as religious arrogance among some of the preachers they encounter.  As person of color of Asian descent, she is sensitive to matters of ethnicity but rarely sees people of color anywhere in the months they travel. She is surprised at how warm and caring the harvesters faith community can be, but is alarmed at their misunderstandings of issues of great concern to her friends back in California. She’s a hard worker (and a fine writer) and has produced a remarkably American book.

Three cheers for these Red-state, God-fearing, country-living, farm women and men, on the road in the mid-West. Three even bigger cheers for Ms Mockett for stretching out of her comfort zone and opening her mind and her heart to these Christian blue-collar folk. Three cheers for American Harvest for grappling with politics, gender, race, economics, religion, Native American history, agriculture, ethics, and friendship amidst huge differences. All of them sweating under the same blazing sun and hosting the same fearsl that the crops this year might not be profitable enough, united them in a way. Their desire to understand each other was not naive. As one reviewer said, the book is “an extraordinary feat of empathy.”

That so many have raved about this beautifully written travelogue makes me think that many hunger for an experience of cross-cultural friendship of this sort. The places it has been reviewed are diverse and the sorts of reviewers are fascinating to me. On the back cover alone there are lovely endorsements from Annie Dillard (who calls it a “doozy”) and Francis Spufford and Susan Cheever.

Enjoy these good words about this good book:

Marie Mutsuki Mockett has the kind of deft touch with the English language that would make me read a book by her, no matter what it was about. . . . At the end of the trip, Mutsuki Mockett bemoans the fact that she wants her ‘old self to reappear’–but it won’t. The Midwest has changed her. That, perhaps, is her greatest talent: the willingness to examine, even abandon, her own biases before she casts stones. That’s a lesson in empathy that we can all learn from, in the time of coronavirus, in the time of presidential elections–and beyond.” Financial Times

“A patient, radiant, kindly book that in its own way determinedly adds a brick to the shining city on the hill where Americans will understand each other.” –Francis Spufford

“Marie Mutsuki Mockett describes the American plains as having ‘a subtle gradation in topography that suits a ruminating mind, ‘ and the same can be said of her stunning new book. . . . Her insights are ones we could all stand to learn from right about now.”– John Jeremiah Sullivan

“In the best tradition of travel literature, American Harvest is a discursive odyssey, an exploration of self, others, faith, and a landscape of terrible beauty.” –Randall Balmer

“Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s American Harvest is a book about this country unlike any other. Mockett’s account of the harvest is riveting, and the way she navigates her own plural identity as she travels with the combines is brilliant. This is a stunning, astonishing accomplishment.” –Susan Cheever

“An extraordinary feat of empathy set against a land of reds, whites, and blues, American Harvest doesn’t just speak to the great divide–it dares to bridge it.”     –Marlon James

The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good Don Everts (IVP) $17.00                                     OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

This splendid, little hardback is the third in a series, preceded by The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations and The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors both which were funded in cooperation with The Lutheran Hour and were lively, upbeat summaries of research done by the Barna Group. The first showed that there is data indicating that folks aren’t necessarily opposed to spiritual conversation and offered insights about how to best engage in these sorts of conversations about deeper things. The second offered the data from surprising research showing that the most happy homes are the ones that are the most hospitable — and, in fact, messy. According to the findings shown in, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, extended families and house guests and complicated living arrangements can be generative and good. These were short reads with good charts and infographics and sidebars alongside a solid, engaging narrative. We recommend them both.

This new one, The Hopeful Neighborhood, though, is really, really great. Barna head David Kinnaman writes in his great foreword, “This book does such a beautiful job of preparing us for life on mission with Jesus in the place where we live and with the people who live near us, in our neighborhoods.” It is something many of us think about and we surely are thinking about it more now in November 2020. Everts is a really clear and compelling writer, a great storyteller (and he tells some good ones!) Drawing on original research from Barna, The Hopeful Neighborhood shows just what people are thinking, worried about, hoping for when it comes to community engagement.  Informed by a solid missional theology, this gets down to brass tacks and would make a great study book for your civic group, Bible study, or Sunday school class.

The first chapter “Pursue the Common Good” invites us to “the shared work of all humans” and lays a great foundation. I love the “Use Every Gift” slogan that serves to invitee us to the process of blessings our neighborhoods. Chapter three insists that we “Love Everyone Always” and explores “the power of grace in tough seasons.” Of course we “give God glory” as we promote Christ’s ways; the last section is on experiencing “the hope of uniting around a common good” which they call in upbeat lingo, “joining the revolution.” As you might guess, I like this a lot.

Are we going to bridge the divides that have polarized our land, find some higher ground and work as salt and light in a fractured world? This little book invites us to care, and to care for our own places.

The Hopeful Neighborhood is a critical read for anyone desiring to rebuild the social fabric of our communities. Change won’t come from institutional leaders but from those on the street willing to do the hard work of listening, honoring our commonalities, and advancing good. — Gabe Lyons, president, Q Media, author of Good Faith.


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“The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump” (Peter Wehner) AND “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation” (David French) ON SALE NOW

I saw two yard signs yesterday, one that made me chuckle and the other that made me smile and then shake my head, just short of an eye roll. The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me.

The first looked just like the ubiquitous, red, white, and blue ones and it looked so real. It read, “Giant Meteor 2020.” Another version out there says, underneath, “Just end it already.” Ha.

The other one that made me glad for a moment also looked real, but was no joke. It said, “Jesus 2020: Our Only Hope.” That’s true and good news, but, in a way, it frustrated me. Let me explain.

Beside the obvious quip that Jesus isn’t running in 2020, this beautifully well-intended sign says, by announcing this true truth — Christ is our only hope, a truth I hold as dear now as I ever have — as an alternative to the signs about which candidates to support, seems to imply that somehow we who believe in Jesus are above the fray. That because we know the ultimate hope and believe in the good news the Bible proclaims we are somehow exempt from the messy choices to be made this side of the new Jerusalem.

(Insofar as it serves as a timely reminder that neither party can provide ultimate hope and resists the overstatement of near messianic claims from the parties and candidates, I’m glad.)

As an evangelical myself, I’m always happy when people bear witness to the salvation offered by the cross, blood, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the true King. I mean that. (As long as the witness happens in a context of care and dignity, sensibly and kindly shared, of course.) So the sign made me smile, glad for a family that wanted to use the opportunity of putting out yard signs to put one out to point others to Jesus. I get it.

But, in the context of this custom of putting out political yard signs it seemed to maybe carry an implied message that this political stuff isn’t all that important, that Jesus is all that matters. It almost seemed to encourage political disengagement, poking at those who care about Biden or Trump or any number of local folks running. At least the cynical meteor one was a joke.

In the early ’70s we had a saying, inspired by a powerful gospel song by the late, great Andre Crouch. His song was “Jesus Is the Answer” and, like the “Jesus 2020” sign, it speaks true truth.

But then I learned another, harder, question, a necessary reply. It came from a black evangelist who marked my life in life-changing ways, Tom Skinner. Skinner cried, “If Jesus is the Answer, What Are the Questions?” That is, our faith dare not be reduced to cliches or slogans or inspirational bromides, no matter how pious or true. Like the way Jesus Himself is God incarnate in the world, we, too, have to live out God’s Answer in the world. Incarnational faith answers the question, “so what?” It offers real answers to real questions. Saying Jesus is the answer just isn’t enough.

In a way, that was part of the conflict between Jesus and the super-religious faith leaders of the first century. You study the Scriptures, he says to them, but don’t even know what they mean. You sound all religious, but don’t get the point. You want Messiah to come but you ignore me and my teachings. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus explained to these religious right leaders of his day what they were missing, the “weightiest matters of the law” — justice and mercy and fidelity.

Look it up if you don’t believe me. And then ask how the modern day religious leaders who lead people into voting for a white supremacist sexual abuser not known for honesty, let alone justice or mercy, might reply to Jesus. I guess their desire to take over the courts and “own the libs” is more important than hearing Matthew 23:23.

Historian John Fea has explored how and why this came to happen in his book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans; $18.99; our sale price = $15.19.) It’s a must-read, I think, but he doesn’t explore this part too much — that many of the most vocal supporters of President Trump simply have not offered any Biblical or theologically coherent argument for their enthusiasm for him. Perhaps those arguments can be made, but Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham and Eric Metaxas and Paula White are simply not fluent in anything approximating Ron Sider’s cautious methodology (described  below) of how to develop a Biblically-informed political opinion. Heck, Jerry Falwell, Jr. went out of his way to say bluntly that Jesus does not inform his politics! None of them seem to care about a Christian view of the state as spelled out in Skillen’s The Good of Politics or James K.A. Smith’s Awaiting the King or Oliver O’Donovan’s The Ways of Judgement. They don’t seem to represent any of the five views debated back and forth in Amy Black’s Five Views on the Church and Politics. Why is that? Why don’t our evangelical folk demand more from their leaders, from themselves?

(For what it is worth here is one thoughtful debate between two conservative evangelicals, David French and Eric Metaxas, on whether faithful Christians should vote for President Trump. It is spectacular to listen to, but neither offers a very robustly Christian political philosophy.)

As a trusted bookseller — at least trusted by some — it feel it is part of my job to lay this out there, to invite people to read and study and learn. We can respect one another’s differing views on any number of things if we’ve shared the process of being intentional about thinking through the issues from an overtly Christian orientation. I do not say that those with whom I disagree are evil or have been influenced by the devil. That is what many prominent religious right leaders have said about some friends of mine like Richard Mouw and Ron Sider and Brenda Salter McNeil when they created Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden. Read Ron’s moving piece about church unity amidst disagreements in his blog post “Jesus Weeps.”

So we need a Christian perspective on voting and civic life that is intentionally shaped by a balanced and full reading of Scripture and church teaching and wisely applied with some conscientious commitment not driven by loyalty to either party or any political philosophy or movement that isn’t connected to the great Christian tradition. It’s pretty simple, really; I am reminding us of the coherence and integration that my dear friend Steve Garber ruminates so beautifully upon in his recent book A Seamless Life. Or, as he puts in the subtitle of his first book, Fabric of Faithfulness, we must “weave together belief and behavior.” Right?

At least that’s my take and what was implied in the last BookNotes post listing what I believe to be thoughtful, balanced, Biblically-responsible books about nurturing the nonpartisan, theologically-informed, Christian mind on matters of political responsibility. Christians need to remember that we vote Coram Deo (before the face of God) and that means doing some intentional consideration of what the Bible really says about the government and what Jesus actually wants. That WWJK isn’t a bad thing to ask at a time like this.

Again, I hope you saw that last BookNotes that listed a whole bunch of good books that offer insight into these perennial questions of what it means to be a Christian citizen, to cultivate the Christian mind and perspective on foundational topics about what the government should be about and to discern a Biblically-shaped view of issues and topics, causes and policies. The one I featured most energetically in that list is the one that a few have ordered this week: The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor by Kaitlyn Schiess. It’s so good and I do think it would make for a great on-line study group or book club or Zoom Sunday school class.

In that BookNotes I reminded readers that the Bible is clear that we dare not hold idols, and contemporary ideologies about the state and about the government are often grounded in ideas that may be somewhat true but are elevated to become the “only” thing and thereby function like an idol.

A book that I didn’t mention last time, but could have, is a deep Biblical study of idolatry and the ways idols take shape in public life and in politics. See the brand new paperback, “Here Are Your Gods”: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times by Christopher J.H. Wright (IVP; $18.00; our sale price = $14.40.)

The first half is drawn from and is a somewhat expanded version of the portion on idolatry from the author’s magisterial, thick, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Wright, the publishers, and some readers felt that this was just a needed section that it could be lifted out a re-published as its own monograph. It is very, very good for anyone who wants to understand this theme in the Bible and how it helps us cultivate a more missional vision.

The second of “Here Are Your Gods” is exactly what is needed now, a reflection (first done as a series of serious lectures) on how our contemporary politics is often defined by idolatrous ideas. As the international director of Langham Partnership in the UK, and a globally respected Bible teacher, Chris Wright was asked to lecture on idols and ideology in the years following the staggering Brexit debates and the election of Donald Trump. There are some chapters on “Political Idolatry Then and Now” and some more general chapters on being a people shaped by the living God in a way that helps us “follow Jesus in turbulent times.” It is simply remarkable stuff.

Blurbs on the back include rave reviews by Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman — who calls it a “must read for Christians as they engage in the political process” and Duke Divinity School Bible scholar and eloquent preacher, Ellen Davis. Even John Inazu, author of Confident Pluralism and editor of Common Ground says it “packs a punch for our time.” Idols are, as Inazu puts it, “ciphers within the true created order” and “capable of great harm and destruction.” Indeed, it is why we need to discern our latest found of false gods and repent of our allegiance to them.

As the publisher puts it, Wright, “calls us to consider connections between Old Testament patterns and today’s culture and invites us to join God in the battle against idolatry as part of his ongoing mission to be known and worshipped by all people.”

(And, by the way, there is a full page footnote offering an annotated bibliography on this theme that will be very helpful for anyone doing further research into the theme of idolatry. Wow.)

See, also, by the way, my remarks last week about David Koyzis’s heady Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies to explore all that in greater detail. The liberals and conservatives, the libertarians and the populists, the Marxists and capitalists all start with some grain of truth, of course. When they overstate that insight and turn it into a movement, connecting it to hope and progress, that’s when we get hints of idolatry and it doesn’t end well.

Our deep allegiance to ideas of individual freedom, say, that we should be free do what whatever we want and that the government is a fundamentally bad institution which oppresses us illustrates, I think, the captivity of our minds to less than Biblical ideas. So we need to listen to Christian scholars who have explored the Bible and the history of theology to get our heads and hearts (and our voting habits) in line with a more coherent Christian perspective. I think this will often look like something other than the typical Democrats and Republicans. So it’s vexing.

It is vexing, but we dare not opt out of being “in but not of” the world. Again, I wonder if that Jesus 2020 sign encouraged being a-political. It doesn’t offer a hint of a Christian perspective on politics and we can’t tell if those who put it up have a comprehensive (or even partial) policy agenda that is informed by what the Bible says on a wide range of issues. Whoever put up that sign — God bless them — maybe should also read a couple of books that I highlighted last time such as The Bible and the Ballot (by Bible scholar Tremper Longman) or The Good of Politics by Christian political scientist James Skillen or at least Vincent Bacot’s little The Political Disciple. 

Or, consider a favorite of mine, the exemplary Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement by Ronald Sider (Brazos; $24.00; our sale price = $19.20.) It clearly outlines a method of thinking Christianly, a process of formation and discernment firstly informed by Christian views of society, a wholistic hermeneutic that allows the Bible to illuminate and reform our general assumptions and attitudes about public life and social institutions (for instance, what is the task of the state?) Next, Sider shows, we need to do a fairly comprehensive study of all the relevant Biblical material on a topic — abortion, creation care, racism, capitol punishment, taxation, warfare, and the like. (This one takes some time since, for instance, we must read the Bible as it itself unfolds and not take texts out of context or fall into cheap proof-texting. And, on some topics, there is a lot of material — there are literally hundreds of verses about poverty in the Bible, many with direct relationship to government. Frankly, given how many verses and how much teaching there is about this, Sider could be stronger in critiquing the Republican platform that seems deaf to these texts, but he restrains himself, offering the process more than weighing in as much as he does in other books.)

Dr. Sider carefully walks us through the steps of thinking Christianly, learning the Bible (on the foundational stuff about society and statecraft and on specific issues) applying it in relevant ways, and then — having done that, studying up on both sides of what social science or political pundits say about the details of this or that side of this or that policy. The goal is to evaluate honestly, through the lens of our Christian worldview and social ethics. It is the cost of discipleship, it seems, to have to do more work than our secular neighbors do, because we are to be informed by our faith, the Scriptures and church teachings, and apply them fairly and conscientiously and honestly to the issues of the day.

After all that, Ron says, we must be humble, since chances are, we missed some insights of theology, missed or misunderstood some Bible texts, failed to understand the consequences of certain policy proposals. Good people can disagree, but we should help hold one another accountable to the process of thinking well about what it means to be stewards of the gift of citizenship. We owe it to God and our neighbors and our great country to be that kind of prudent and responsible salt, light, and leaven who have done our homework.

And so, two signs. Both make us smile as most of us are tired of all the noisy rhetoric and the right-wing or left-wing signage. One invites cosmic disaster, one seeks ultimate hope, but neither help us much this week. If Jesus is the Answer, what are the questions?

I hope that some of our past book recommendations help. And, certainly, I hope that last one and its many links to other book lists on politics and faith would be a resource for you.



There are two books I wanted to announce in that same list of books about faith and politics and Christian approaches to citizenship that I posted the other day, but they are written to a more general audience rather than to those wanting a Biblically-informed perspective on faithful Christian politics. I just wasn’t sure they fit that list.

Both are incredibly informative, serious-minded without being dry or obtuse, and both are written by men who have served in public life as principled conservatives, as Christians, and as Republicans who have now renounced their loyalty to a party that no longer seems to stand for conservative principles. They are making, each in their own way, exceptional cases for why conservatives and all good, patriotic Americans committed to the first things of our great land, ought not support Donald Trump. I think the first I will tell you about is a bit more lively; the second is a deeper dive into the Founders and especially James Madison. But both have lots of passion to heal the polarization and fraying fabric of our cultural moment, and both are hugely important.

No matter who you vote for, these are both very valuable reads and I highly recommend them both. Many of our bookstore fans will find them fascinating and you should read them soon, or later. They are not about the election as such.

Despite their nearly legendary service in the trenches for the GOP and conservative social issues (Peter Wehner as an experienced Republican operative and eventually a staff member of the Reagan and both Bush White Houses and David French in Iraq with the Army Reserves and in famous religious freedom and anti-abortion litigation) they have recently both received horrific death threats, as have their family and children, because they have spoken out as conservative Christians against the President. Let that sink in.

Wehner and French have seen and worked with a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle, and have collaborated, often combatively, with many of the most significant political players of our day. They are self-aware and mature in their own spirituality and faith and they know the call to serve in the rough and tumble of real political life. They both mistrust President Trump’s character and virtue, his temperament and maturity, his policy understanding and leadership styles. They don’t believe he has it in him to attend to the hard work of governing well.  Wehner writes more in his book about this while French is more general about the stress and polarization his movement is exploiting and deepening.

I’m sure many of our readers who tilt conservative on many social issues have heard these arguments from some of the smartest writers of the right — along with the likes of Michael Gerson and David Brooks and Jonah Goldberg and Colin Powell and (maybe) Ben Sasse  and Condoleeza Rice. There are conservative leaders who have considered American greatness, current political options, how social and cultural change happens, the trends and forces of the parties, and the price paid to get some policies passed that may be consistent with a conservative agenda and still they have concluded that the Trump-Pence ticket must be resisted. Their ticket, in the view of these conservative “never Trumpers” is not helpful for their party, for the causes they care about, and it is not helpful for the country.

Agree or not, these two surprising books are simply must-haves for anyone who likes reading about contemporary politics and the landscape of modern cultural/social/civic renewal efforts. These are more important than any number of best-sellers like Rage or The Room Where It Happened or Blitz and I very highly recommend them to anyone wanting wise, deeper insights about our civic duties and values. They are great for any political science junkies or public affairs nerds.

Secondly, I recommend these two books to Republican readers, especially if you are concerned about Christian and/or conservative values. These two men are gentleman and scholars, serious Christians who have earned the right to be heard because of their years of hard-ball experience in the world of Republican politics and in the worlds of media and journalism and public affairs. They are demoralized and frustrated by the way their party and even, in some cases, their political movement, has abandoned the higher ground won in other eras of conservative public contributions and lament the way Trump and Fox News have degraded discourse and the intelligence of conservative principles.(Of course they would say this about the the other side as well, but that is not their primary concern in these books; they are writing mostly to their own tribe.) They make a good case, I think, and conservatives owe it to their movement to ponder why these leaders say no to the current status quo within our political class and the citizens who follow them.

Thirdly, I recommend either of these to those of us who tilt left by instinct and who have open minds to hear the best conservative thinkers and their appeal for patriotic values, conservative approaches, wise and prudent policy directives. Agree or not with their deepest convictions or policy ideas, you will benefit from spending time with these men who I believe have earned the right to be heard after years of pondering this stuff and contending for their positions in the public square, US congress buildings, the White House and courts. You know I’ve suggested similar sorts of books like A Time to Build by Yuval Levine and The Decadent Society by Ross Douthat. I’ve written of my admiration for Os Guinness and are glad we’ve sold a few of his Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat. As a Jewish rabbi from the UK, Jonathan Sacks isn’t exactly an American conservative, but we’ve commended him (including his brand new Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.)

Among all of these sorts of eloquent books by respected and respectful conservative thinkers, I think Peter Wehner and David French deserve your consideration. Buy their books. I have read them both and am better for it. And I am more deeply convinced that my opposition to the current incumbent isn’t just my old hippy partisan self kicking in or my gut instinct of being so appalled by President Trump’s ugliness and deceit. It is right to oppose him; French and Wehner coming not from the left but from the right, make that abundantly clear.


The Death of Politics: How To Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump Peter Wehner (HarperOne) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

If you are unsure about who to vote for, listen to this author who has spent more time in the West Wing and the Oval Office than probably anybody you or I know. He worked in the Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. He is a legend of integrity and deeply respected as a solid, moderate, evangelical Christian (he gives a shout-out to Phil Yancey for helping with one chapter and he has co-written a book with Wheaton grad Michael Gerson, so is Reformed and evangelical) and is known as a force for good within civic life. The book’s back cover has blurbs from everyone from Jon Meacham to Karl Rove, from Monah Charen to Mark Noll, David Axelrod to Joe Scarborough. Even James K.A. Smith has a nice blurb, hoping the book is widely read.

I will let you discover the joys of Wehner’s own story — he is the son of German immigrants and is deeply, deeply loyal to American values. He tells of some pretty dramatic moments (including being in the White House, serving as a speech writer, the morning of 9-11.)  He thinks there are times he got things right; he knows he got some things wrong. He tells of some great regrets (his reflections on the war in Iraq is candid and fair) and explores policy efforts and campaigns within administrations that failed to deliver promises. He laments the hype and spin and “withering polarization” that is deeply harmful to our country. And yet, he is hopeful. One reviewer says (as I cited before when I recommended this months ago) he is like a literary Paul Revere, “raising his lantern in this urgent work.” The work is what we all have to do to renew our democracy and help repair the mess we are now in.

To do this, we need the wisdom in his chapter “In Praise of Moderation, Compromise, and Civility.” I have views that are not particularly moderate and I’m not a fan of compromise, especially on the biggest moral issues. But he is correct. You can read that intersting chapter that includes some social science and some brain studies and some American history and some stuff about the friendship of Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis and tell me if he’s wrong.

And, we need to know a bit about what politics even is; what’s the government for and what should we expect of those who create our laws and policies? Early on in the book he does go into the foundations of a high view of statecraft, starting with Aristotle and on to John Locke and Abe Lincoln. (If that’s not your thing, hang in there. It’s a political philosophy class made as clear and interesting as possible.) The next chapter, then, is about faith and politics and for many of our BookNotes readers it will be a lovely refresher course, fair and balanced and thoughtful and in some ways even inspiring.

Further in within a very compelling chapter he shows how we have to care about words, about truth, about persuasion. Mr. Wehner has a whole chapter on this called  “Why Words Matter” and it brings to mind Marilyn McEntyre’s  Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies about stewarding words well. Wehner documents over and over how the current Trump administration disdains the habit and art of using words well, and in his words, “wages war on the culture of words.” (This includes, importantly, of course, the world of ideas, the ideas words convey.)  Such a “war against words” and the world of thought leads to devaluing truth, to Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theory nonsense about fake news. As Rudy Giuliani asserted during an interviews with NBC, “Truth isn’t truth.” Wehner continues, “Another of the president’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, when called out for making a false clam to defend Mr. Trump, replied, “facts develop.””

Wehner continues,

Comments such as these might be excused as mere slips of the tongue, if not for the fact that the president and all the presidents men and all the presidents women act as if truth were merely subjective, utterly pliable, and completely in the eyes of the beholder. The modus operandi of Trump World is this: If facts exist that are incriminating to Mr. Trump, dismiss the facts. Label them fake news. And go on lying.

This, remember, is coming from a Republican leader who has served in esteemed conservative administrations and been a thought leader for the right for decades. This is an author about whom Karl Rove says “Agree with his prescriptions or not, the reader will finish this book having met a man of faith, integrity, and patriotism.” His call for the patriotic process of persuasion and compromise and civility is good, good stuff. With these virtues he thinks citizens really can help heal the breach. Amen!

If you are undecided about who to vote for, I would highly recommend that you read the last chapter of The Death of Politics first. Even the first handful of pages of that last great chapter about hope, starting on page 189 are vital. He draws on themes from the first chapter which remind us that entering public service and being a political worker is, in fact, a noble calling. Biblically and theologically speaking, he is right about that and I think it needs saying, especially in this day when we tend to think all politicians are crooks or sell-outs or power-mongers and the whole business of how the sausage is made is unsavory at best.

But here is where he goes with this in this important last chapter. I cannot quickly summarize it in a way that does it justice, but I’ll try.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was part of a larger trend (started, largely by the Watergate fiasco, but also part of the even larger cultural revolution in the 60s) of Americans distrusting institutions and particularly political institutions and politicians. We get to weigh in on them, vote for or against them, sound off about them, but statistics show that most of our fellow citizens distrust and in many case despise those who are trying to do their best in a complicated world, trying to solve big problems that most of us want solved. From clean water to good roads, from human rights abroad to health care at home, from religious freedom to freedom from crime in the streets, there are tons of civic stuff that we need the government to do (or at least to help with.)

Nobody, by the way, thinks government is the only answer or even primary conduit of social renewal. Nobody thinks “throwing money” at a problem will solve it. That, in my view, is a cheap shot by those who favor smaller government trying to delegitimize the proper role of proper government; we need debates about the principles and polices about “how much” government intervention in any particular sphere or arena is needed — Wehner, again, was shaped as a Reagan Republican, so he’s not always congenial to bigger government — but this nasty critique of government isn’t helpful and Wehner is correct to insist on a more honorable sort of debate. We must resist the cynicism that breeds anger and finally a nihilism about our commonwealth and public institutions.

(I digress a bit from Wehner, here, but I appreciate the quip of Stephanie Summers, Director of the Center for Public Justice, who says that the solution to bad government isn’t necessarily small government. The solution to bad government is good government.)

But here’s the thing: we increasingly mock and distrust those public servants who have tried their best (and often, against great odds, did some very good things, many things we take for granted) and now — with anti-political sentiment at perhaps an all time high — we elect a guy who ran on this very platform, this notion that expertise doesn’t matter, that knowledge about policies is silly stuff, that there is some nefarious deep state that is only about power, that real political achievement just happens because he will will it to be so.  (“It’ll be so great,” candidate Trump regularly says. “It’ll be so easy.”)

But, as The Death of Politics shows, the current President doesn’t know much about laws (sometimes not even the ones he is trying to get passed; he has been known to tweet against a legislative initiatives he proposed because he heard something bad about it on Fox News. I kid you not.) He doesn’t seem to know quite so much about the Constitution, either, but, again, you don’t have to take my word for it, or the spicy tell-alls from his former, fired staff. Peter Wehner doesn’t overstate things, but he is greatly alarmed. Here is a President that mocks government, that hates philosophical theory, that enjoys just being a bully. He came to fame by uttering the words “Your fired.” And that captures something of the cynicism that is common to our times and was preached further in his slogan about draining the swamp.

You see, this is what many mean these days by the word “populism.” It’s not a decent concern for the little guy or the common person or localism or the great mid-West, but a movement of people who perceive themselves disaffected by the government who lash out against it and can be lead by a demagogue. (Think of George Wallace, if you are old enough to remember him. Mr. Wehner cites Wallace’s daughter and it is striking to ponder the comparisons with our current President.)

Listen to Wehner:

Populism needs enemies, lots of them, and especially elites who — the narrative goes– are selfish, greedy, insulated, and power-hungry. The out-of-touch elites are viewed as enemies of the people and they needed to be treated as such.

One of the most disturbing books I read about President Trump this year, by the way, was Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America which chronicled years of mistreatment of journalists by the President, written by White House correspondent Jim Acosta; the book title is the name of what the President called him, which is a dangerous thing, if you think about it. It is what authoritarians do, sow seeds of hatred against the media. And it is flat out wrong. I couldn’t put that book down! So, yes, populists need enemies, and Mr. Trump is known for hating so many — naming them, calling them goofy and sometimes hateful names. (And in Acosta’s case, inciting violence against him, mob violence, even.) It isn’t just rude, which it is, but it feeds into this populist narrative in ways that are deeply dangerous for the health of our nation, evoking anger and rage and deepening polarization. And furthering our distrust in our elected officials and laws and political processes.

Wehner continues,

The result is this: many Americans are drenched in a distaste for the actual practice of politics, and among activists in the Republican Party in particular there is an unspoken sense that the activity of governing is somehow illegitimate. This is one of the fundamental differences between the American Right today and the conservative movement that shaped me. It helps explain how Mr. Trump seized on deeply anti-political feelings and leveraged them to his advantage, why Republicans so devalue any focus on policy during the 2016 election, and why Mr. Trump was not penalized but rewarded for his vast ignorance on matters of public policy.

He he brilliant in noting this:

During the 2016 primary I could not understand how it was that a man who in debate after debate proved he couldn’t string together three coherent policy statements kept getting stronger rather than weaker. The answer is that such as approach can only work with people who disdain the craft of governing. They were looking for “outsiders” who gave voice to their frustrations and rage, even if they had never governed in their lives. Remember, they were (and are) operating on the assumption that governing is simple, lawmakers are foos and knaves, and the system is throughly and endemically corrupt. The federal government is “the swamp” while the political class and civl servants are part of the “deep state.” They system is “rigged.” As a result, the village needs to be (figuratively) burned to the ground. Donald Trump was the appointed arsonist.

Mr. Wehner is correct, both as an experienced leader and as a principled Christian, to say this is “wildly misguided and naive.”

By the way, Mr. Wehner has made it very clear in the book, but for those who need to hear it, he admits:

As I’ve already noted, in many respects government, especially at the federal level, is performing poorly. It is often antiquated, unresponsive, and failing to meet the needs of the citizenry. The unhappiness with government is therefore understandable and to some degree justified.

But the solution isn’t to elect people who are inexperienced, inept, and contemptuous of governing.

And Mr. Trump is contemptuous of governing.

In this rousing chapter, Wehner invites us to “choose citizenship over cynicism.” I think that is exactly right. (By the way, when did we start primarily identifying ourselves as consumers and not citizens?) For the long term sustainability of the American experience, this populist contempt for governing just isn’t helpful. It isn’t right. As he puts it, solving national problems is a “delicate art” and we need those who are sincerely called to the noble vocation of statecraft. And who know how to put together a knowledgeable, pleasant, effective staff to at least try to get things accomplished.

It seems to me that it is in that context that we can have good debates as citizens, all willing to admit the good intentions of the other. Now, in the chaos and contempt and fraying and the lack of any real coherent argument for specified policies, we can hardly have coherent political debates. All we can do is despise the elites or hate the hater. I think I get why Wehner calls his accessment “the death of politics.”

Mr. Biden may not be the candidate I’d prefer and the Democratic platform isn’t as I would want, but after reading this chapter it sure seems to me that we cannot afford more the sloppy politicking, the contempt for expertise, rhetoric of making things great by only being negative. Biden is, in my view, a bit older school politics as normal but it is better in my view than the revolutionary zeal of Mr. Trump and his populist followers.

The rest of the last chapter outlines a number of times this positive approach to statecraft has happened well, not idealistically, never perfectly, but with hope and compromise and some success. He notes some failures. We may want to add other pieces to his quick overview, but he names some things like welfare reform, tax reform, President Bush’s massive foreign assistance program to fight AIDS in Africa, Obamacare. Some of these happened under Republican administrations, some under Democrat ones. He tells a moving story about RFKs trip to visit South Africa during the worst years of apartheid and how it was so consequential.

He describes how we need to now resist the “bread and circuses” approach of politics as theater, as WWF-like entertainment — what did we expect when we elected a reality show star? — and move back to a sense of “the importance of politics, a respect for the craft of governing and the value of competence and excellence.” We must stop denigrating the high calling or public service and recapture a sense of seriousness about the common good. I think this book, The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump, will help.


Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation David French (St. Martin’s Press) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I once sent out a tweet disapproving of something I thought David French had written in the National Review and I called it weird. I realized when a friend called me on it that I was totally confusing him with somebody else. As a pretty far right conservative involved in or supportive of Republican administrations that I resisted in many ways, I am guessing I might have thought his views somewhat disagreeable, he was no weirdo. He was, I realized, a good leader and conservative activist and Christian public intellectual.

As I followed him more closely and as he increasingly spoke about his deepest heart and why he wasn’t sure the Republican party and the right wing movement was adequate for these times, or consistent with his own faith in Christ, I realized I had to pay attention. Like Michael Gerson, say, or Peter Wehner (see above), he became known as a principled voice against the oddity of President Trump being chosen in the 2016 primaries, and then, even more oddly, being so eagerly endorsed by a lot of fairly flamboyant fundamentalist and charismatic Christians. French has served in the US Army in a foreign war — he only has a few lines about his tour of duty in Iraq but it is harrowing — and was one of the chief litigators in religious freedom cases and in pro-life causes. Although I am not a Republican, I generally agreed with his views on those projects and know, in fact, some of the sharp and thoughtful Christian folks he has worked with. Like him, I valued much of the insight of Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae. I came to respect him as a principled conservative ethicist and now as a “never Trumper.”

Divided We Fall may help conservatives decide not to support President Trump’s re-election, but it is not about that, mostly. It is, rather, an analysis of the different worlds we seem to inhabit, our mutual narratives, red vs blue, right vs left, Fox vs MSNBC, and an astute study of what to do to repair the breach in a manner consistent with the political philosophy known as Federalism. If French opposed Mr. Trump in 2016 and, now, in 2020, it isn’t because he’s become a lefty, let alone reneged on his pro-life concerns. (In fact, he wrote a very impressive little column in Time magazine insisting that Mr. Trump is hardly anti-abortion and is simply not pro-life. See Donald Trump Is Not Pro-Life.) This from man known by nearly everybody involved in the national level of right-to-life stuff, who not only litigated pro-life court cases, but had the hutzpah to start a pro-life chapter at Harvard Law School when he was a outnumbered conservative student there.

As an aside that will be of interest to some of our readers: French and his wife have adopted black children from Ethiopia, I believe. When he spoke out — again, as a leading voice in conservative organizations, as a former Marine, as a leader in the right wing of the culture wars — he was mocked, humiliated, and he and his wife got the most vile emails and letters imaginable. He was written a bit about this horrific and painful episodes elsewhere. To get a glimpse into the alt-right followers of President Trump (who he never disassociates himself from, by the way) read this gut-wrenching, awful report, about the price French and his wife have paid to oppose Trump in their circles. The article documents others who have been harassed, alt-right activists photo-shopping pictures of the offenders (like French, his wife, or his children) into racist pornography, and even showing up at their homes. There are vile and awful people on the far left, of course, but to hear of allegedly pro-family and pro-life Trump supporters engaging in such evil trauma-producing stuff was jarring. That even some who were once comrades in arms in the struggle for conservative principles have turned on him is an indication of how deeply ideological and frayed our culture has become, how hot these culture wars are, how our divisions are deeper than maybe many of us realize. A quaint call to public manners, to civility and decency just isn’t enough. This book, perhaps in a manner akin to Os Guinness’s Last Call for Liberty, goes deeper than just lamenting our lack of etiquette.

Divided We Fall isn’t overly breathy, isn’t alarmist or dramatic. Heavens, given what he and his family have gone through — he only gives occasional glimpses and asides in this book — I’d think he’d be writing prose that was fraught and passionate. Yet, it speaks to his character and conservative instincts, I think, to press forward the deepest ideas that matter and to show a moderate and civil tone rather than lash out with rage and prophetic denunciation. It is the sort of book that one reviewer called “admirably measured.”

But French does speak plainly and powerfully. He believes that we must resist the conspiracy-minded rhetoric from both sides and get beyond what Founding Father James Madison addressed in Federalist No. 10: “the violence of faction.””

Yep, French is one of these smart guys that says that kind of thing.  He continues:

to understand how to go forward, we must go back — to the wisdom of the Founders, men who knew that factions could tear America apart and conceived (at least in theory) that a solution that must resonate today…

I liked this page when I read it and later realized it is the copy they chose for the back cover.

Allow me to share it with you:

I grew up in rural America, I’ve lived in the heart of Trump country. I’ve lived in America’s bluest precincts. I’m no longer a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. And I’m in neither tribe in large part because I feel that I understand both, and I believe both tribes can and must rediscover a sense of shared community and shared citizenship. But I don’t think it’s inevitable that they will. Simply put, we now face a renewed threat to our national unity. We’re stumbling into the very state of being that James Madison addressed in Federalist No. 10: ‘the violence of faction.’

Madison’s answer is not to pretend we all get along. We do not. His answer, nor is French’s, is not to try to have one side win the culture wars; that will demolish us. (Which is why, if I may add an aside, I do not approve of the recent one-sided polemic by Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, or the alarmist one-sided jeremiad about secularism by Albert Mohler, both men I respect, both with new books that only feed “the violence of faction” without a bit of the insight hard-won by Mr. French.)

The answer is a deep and respectful pluralism. In a way, this book provides an antidote to factionalism. It is a political reply to the loss of civil society and social capitol and healthy communities (as documented by books as different as the now nearly iconic Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam and Coming Apart by Charles Murray and the extraordinary Alienated America by Timothy Carney.) He explores the cultural divides and political differences in our land and he realizes we must learn to love, among other things, the First Amendment as it applies to organizations and institutions, allowing them to flourish, making space in a pluralistic society to and for all. As is often said, the freedom of religion clause, allows for freedom for and freedom from religion. The must be no legal coercion, on way or the other.

Early on in the book French tells about a piece in First Things called “Against David French-ism: by an author named Sohrab Ahmari. I remember it. As he notes, “The essay went viral, triggering months of debate in virtually every conservative publication in America.”

Ahmari insists we are in a culture war and his side must win. French, even then, was arguing for civil liberties, classic liberal order, and pluralism. Ahmari says French wants to retreat and to invite defeat of the values he holds.

Here’s David French on page 24:

To put things more bluntly, I recognize pluralism as a permanent fact of American life and seek to foster a political culture that protects autonomy and dignity of competing American ideological and religious communities. Ahmari and many of his allies on the right seek to sweep past pluralism to create (and impose) a new political and moral order, one designed according to their specific moral values — and to the extent that individual liberty conflicts with the “common good” or the “Highest Good” it must be swept away.

That’s a vision for domination, not accommodation. It’s a vision directly contrary to the spirit of Federalist No 10, and it’s a vision that ultimately unattainable. Indeed, as I’ll explain in the pages that follow, the quest for moral, cultural, and political domination by either side of our national divide risks splitting the nation in  two (or in three or four.)

Listen to this:

Embracing pluralism means embracing the lessons of history and understanding that not even our great nation is immune to the forces that have fractured unions older than ours. Our nations angriest culture warriors need to know the cost of their conflict. As they seek to crush their political and cultural enemies, they may destroy the nation they seek to rule.

To do this, we have to understand a lot of stuff about the recent demographics, about how we sort ourselves and are shaped by both our geography and our worldviews. He has a chapter on our fears, our violence, our situation in the context of the global world situation. (He looks at Brexit a bit, and a chapter on California, too, which was fascinating.)

And then he tells us about James Madison.

I need to ponder this a lot more. I’m not sure if I’m convinced or if I’m a Federalist, and which kind, really?  I’d love to hear what folks at the “Front Porch Republic” have to say about all this. (What’s wrong with secession, authors like the fascinating Bill Kauffman ask in books like his Bye Bye Miss American Empire? The colonies left England, after all. He’s a lover of this land — just read the collection Poetry Night at the Ballpark — and would be sad to see a state leave, but on what moral principle do we want to prevent secession? Maybe that’s an answer more plausible than pluralism… but then, I’d guess the culture wars would evolve even in those bright red or bright blue new states. Hmmm.)

Here is how the publisher describes this complex and thoughtful work:

Two decades into the 21st Century, the U.S. is less united than at any time in our history since the Civil War. We are more diverse in our beliefs and culture than ever before. But red and blue states, secular and religious groups, liberal and conservative idealists, and Republican and Democratic representatives all have one thing in common: each believes their distinct cultures and liberties are being threatened by an escalating violent opposition. This polarized tribalism, espoused by the loudest, angriest fringe extremists on both the left and the right, dismisses dialogue as appeasement; if left unchecked, it could very well lead to secession.

An engaging mix of cutting edge research and fair-minded analysis, Divided We Fall is an unblinking look at the true dimensions and dangers of this widening ideological gap, and what could happen if we don’t take steps toward bridging it. French reveals chilling, plausible scenarios of how the United States could fracture into regions that will not only weaken the country but destabilize the world.

But our future is not written in stone.
By implementing James Madison’s vision of pluralism–that all people have the right to form communities representing their personal values–we can prevent oppressive factions from seizing absolute power and instead maintain everyone‘s beliefs and identities across all fifty states.
Reestablishing national unity will require the bravery to commit ourselves to embracing qualities of kindness, decency, and grace towards those we disagree with ideologically. French calls on all of us to demonstrate true tolerance so we can heal the American divide. If we want to remain united, we must learn to stand together again.
One of French’s units, or parts, is called “The Relentless Momentum of our Mutual Contempt.”
In one memorable chapter — it moved me to tears, twice — he asks “Can Moments of Grace Make a Movement…” and he tells of the famous reconciliation (short lived, perhaps, as it turns out) between SNL comic Pete Davidson and Texas Republican congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw. Davidson had mocked Crenshaw’s eye patch, maybe not knowing it was from a war wound from when Crenshaw was maimed in a horrific IED attack in Afghanistan.

It’s worth having the book just for this story and you may know what happened next. Saturday Day Night Live called to apologize. They wanted Crenshaw on the air the following week, and he agreed. He has some good natured fun at Davidson’s expense. But what happened next is what French called “the act of grace heard around the nation.”

Crenshaw explained the meaning of the words “Never Forget” that are sometimes said to vets. He said that “when you say ‘never forget’ to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them.” The book continues:

Then he addressed his next words to Davidson: “And never forget those we lost on 9/11 — heroes like Pete’s father. So, I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.”

Davidson’s father was a firefighter. He died trying to save others when Davidson was a young boy. Crenshaw not only honored a true hero but also softened America’s hearts towards Davidson, casting him in a new light. He’s a man who carries his own pain.

Listen to how French puts this. And although French doesn’t say it directly here, I think it is valuable to remember as we ponder voting this week that Mr. Trump has on several occasions mocked the unfortunate, sullied the reputation of good people, made fun of the handicapped and the poor. In this, he does not honor conservative virtues or express  empathy, let alone Christian compassion. I sort of wish a guy like Crenshaw was running. As French puts it:
It was a Biblical moment. Crenshaw paid tribute to a man who could have been his political enemy. He was kind to a man who had been cruel. And no one could call this Navy SEAL’s actions “weak.” He had proved his courage. In fact, he showed a different kind of courage. He directly defied the prevailing partisan pressures.

A different kind of courage, indeed.

I liked the last chapter of this serious-minded book. It is entitled a “Call to Courage” and Mr. French reminds us that his argument here “is not a call for political moderation.”  That’s not quite it. But he does call us all to be more considerate, virtuous, gracious, patient, kind. It was a convicting chapter for me to read in the heat of this current campaign, inviting us to help create a better ethos in the culture, a better political class, a better vision of citizenship and being American. We need, he says, a new kind of patriotism that is driven by care for the common good and is shaped by a humble effort for “cultural repair” and not “toxic politics.

French wonders why in recent years in American politics those who are most engaged and vocal, the committed few, are the ones who get most involved.

(They) have been disproportionately drawn from the ranks of the angriest and most vindictive Americans. The people who truly drive American political polarization represent a small slice of the overall population, but they set the tone for national political discourse.

I wonder if that is true. He ends with a hope and prayer “that the cry for a better way comes before our national bonds are irretrievably broken.”


I think the books I’ve mentioned last week (and in the “review” section at the top of this column) are most helpful and important, going forward, as we say, for this on-going project of learning to think Christianly and care properly and be engaged faithfully in public life.

I think that the Peter Wehner book, (The Death of Politics, is also one of that sort, but aimed at a reader who is perhaps conservative but wanting to move us away from the polarization and know-nothing ineptitude of the Trump movement. He talks about his faith and his faith informs his work, but it isn’t written overtly for a religious audience. He calls for a higher view of the noble calling of being an elected official and insists that we citizens honor that with less cynicism and more hope, not by doubling down on the revolutionary, negative spirit of the populists; not only by resisting President Trump’s foolishness, but by weeding out the bad attitudes about government that many of us have. We need to learn to be better citizens, locally and nationally. As I said, if one is undecided about who they are voting for next week, read ten pages in the last chapter and I think it will be helpful as you discern your own views.

The David French book, Divided We Fall, is going to be urgent in the months after the election. His explanation of Federalism, his admiration for James Madison, his focus on robust pluralism, is wise and insightful. Yes, he is concerned about polarization and anger and cynicism, and yes, he’d blame the alt-right and the current administration for some of that. But this book is going to be enduring as a long-haul strategy to recapture the best of American freedom and unity. He is worried and this is his best effort to show us how to heal the ills of severe, hostile partisanship.


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Recent Books on Faith and Politics (and links to some old ones, too) URGENTLY ON SALE NOW

Those BookNotes friends that have followed us for a while know that I have often offered lists of titles on Christian perspectives on politics, government, and, more generally, public life and civic engagement. We have run BookNotes columns on civility (for instance, here) and we’ve attempted (not always successfully, some might say) to be fair and balanced, holding forth the lofty idea that we as church folk who follow Jesus are not to be unequivocally loyal to any political party. As black preacher Tony Evans says, when Jesus comes back, he won’t be riding a donkey or an elephant. Right?

And yet, as every missional book puts it these days, we are called to be involved in the world, secular saints, so to speak. Among my favorites of this sort these days are Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World by Paul Williams (Brazos Press; $19.99) and The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World by Michael Goheen & Jim Mullins (Baker Academic; $22.99.) They are strong, serious reads, well worth working through.

Maybe you saw the video I posted at facebook (both my own, and the bookstore group’s page) last week (which was fun) and you’ll recall I announced the brand new book by the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, who just released The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul (B+H; $22.99.) That’s part of it, finding God’s courage when we are anxious or fearful to speak up. It isn’t new but we often recommend Kathy Khang’s Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up (IVP; $16.00.) Just a few weeks ago we got the new paperback edition of a book I recommended nearly a year ago by Jim Wallis, Christ in Crisis: Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence (HarperOne; $17.99.) Of the many books we’ve highlighted lately about racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry, several pushed towards greater involvement in social affairs. For instance, I highly recommend the latest by Brenda Salter McNeil Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now (Brazos Press; $21.99) and the recent one by Dr. Drew G.I. Hart, Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance (Herald Press; $18.99.)

One of the most popular books we’ve been selling this past month or two is Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND CAMPAIGN’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement co-authored by Justin GIboney, Michael Ware, and Chris Butler (IVP; $22.00.) It is extraordinary for a number of reasons and we’re glad to continue to get the word out about it. You can see my quick review of it here (and cash in on the 20% discount, too.)

One of the shortest and simplest and most balanced (and so useful!) calls to political holiness is a small book by Dr. Vincent E. Bacote called The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life (Zondervan; $11.99.) You could get a few and give ’em out to those just starting to think about this.(You can see my review of this little treasure here.) Allowing the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom to shape our approach to public life and God’s love to motivate us to be more eagerly involved in society as God’s salt and light and leaven has been a theme here in many, many columns.

I now want to highlight just a few recent books on political life as such that I think are useful and important for us as citizens. Along the way, I will share some links to previous columns and older books that I highly recommend as well about this process of relating faith and our  calling to good citizenship. For now, though, I want to help you focus on our political moment.


Right now and continuing strong in the months following the election we will be inundated with punditry and preaching from various corners of the public square. For some of us, we have already grown numb from it all, soured for sure. Having a book or two nearby that reminds to to think Christianly, to hear and filter and be discerning about the controversies of the day through the lens of Christian truths and God’s grace in Christ will be for many of us a lifeline to sanity. I recommend it as a spiritual discipline. For many of us, such reading might not only be a happy counter-balanced to the spin and hype, hostility and cynicism, roiling around us, but it will be part of the cost of discipleship — using books as tools to help you be intentional about nurturing within your heart and mind, God’s views, God’s mind and heart, receiving and keeping a Biblically-shaped imagination, worldview, orientation, perspective. Books can remind you of that task and can help you do it.

The Bible tells us to “test the spirits” (I John 4:1) and warns us to be careful not to get tossed around by the waves or blown around by every wind of ideology (Ephesians 4:14.) Indeed, Paul tells us not to be “taken captive” by un-Christ-like ideologies (Colossians 2:8.) We are called to be “conformed” to the ways of the world around us and we can show that we are free of the culture’s pressures by seeking “the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2.) These books will help you apply these Biblical admonitions. I believe that. I bet you sense the need for some help in this. These books could be a part of your regimen for Christian political health in the weeks and months ahead. They can help.

Unlearning or qualifying our often primal loyalties to our political parties and philsophies, or learning to inhabit new (Christ-like) attitudes around political life will take some time and effort. Most of us don’t have too much support in such a project, not even in church, I suspect. I believe buying a book or two is a major step to deepen your commitment to “taking every idea captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) even in our lives as citizens. Reading them prayerfully just might help you adjust the longings of your heart, working their faithful way to reform your desires, your hopes, your dreams, your social imagination. These books will help you pull that lever in the voting booth (or send that ballot in the mail) with the prayer “Thy Kingdom come.”

Recent books on faith and politics. Every book mentioned 20% off.                        Please tap on the ORDER tab at the end which will take you to our secure order form page.

Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics  Eugene Cho (Cook) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

That last line of mine above, that suggested that even as we vote we pray that somehow it doesn’t just advance our own party’s agenda, but that, more deeply, it points as a signpost towards the Kingdom coming?  That our vote is a prayer “They Kingdom Come”? I suppose it could be said that that is what this book is about. I highlighted it at BookNotes a month ago because I am a fan. (The author, Eugene Cho, has written a previous book about poverty issues and now is the new Director of Bread for the World (BFW), one of our favorite and I think most important Christian groups for voters who want to be informed about legislation that matters, that can literally save lives.

What I had written about this book previously at BookNotes took a cue from the playful title, suggesting that it is mostly about political civility. How we can be passionate without being mean-spirited. We need that right now, of course, and, I am afraid, will need it even more so next month, no matter who wins the Presidential election. This idea that we can find points of agreement with others and work for the common good is so important and this book is really helpful about that very matter. Cho’s stories about real-life congregations that have done just that is inspiring and offers good models to emulate. Mutual respect, cooperation, common ground can be found a real-life friendships can emerge from what could be disagreeable circumstances. I’ve seen it in my own activism and take heart from some of the stories in Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk. But, again; brace yourself. If you care about stuff one way or the other, your going to have to be reminded of some of this.

As much as I might promote this book as a guide to civility and mutual respect and common ground in an age of polarization, it is also a primer on Christian political thinking. Cho does insist that our citizenship is a gift from God which we must steward faithfully. We are not, as followers of Christ, supposed to just vote for anybody that we like or anybody that will help us, but we must seek higher motivations and deeper principles. We can learn to see our citizenship as an expression of our discipleship and we can — we must — take into consideration the most vulnerable and needy. We care, also in our politics, for others. The Bible says over and over that the task of the state is to establish justice for all, and that includes the poorest and those who are marginalized by societal forces.

Along with chapters on building bridges and living our our convictions appropriately, Cho shows us how to deepen our perspective, to have more depth in our analysis. He has a chapter about not lying, about not getting played or being manipulated. (Yes, this is the rough and tumble of real citizenship and real politics.) We can love others, trust God, and testify that Christ is still the King of kings.

I like this book a lot. It’s a breezy read, good for citizens starting to think faithfully and generously about the common good and political involvement. And Cho is a talented and experienced leader.  It is a bit weak on the question of what the Bible actually says about government and what might be considered a Christian political philosophy or the call to wise statecraft. For that, you really need a book like James Skillen’s weighty The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (BakerAcademic; $22.99) which I reviewed at length here. There are some other good ones mentioned, too in that old column.

Even if you are unsure that Skillen is fully right about government in Christian perspective, it is still the flagship book to read on this, the magisterial overview of the subject we need. But for a fuller debate of five different viewpoints by five different sorts of Christians, see Five Views on The Church and Politics edited by Amy E. Black (Zondervan; $19.99.) Compare and contrast differing views of our political calling from Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, Mennonite, and a black church perspective. I described it at greater length here. And don’t miss the other titles I mention in that BookNotes column, too. Click through but be sure to come back.

One very recent one along these lines of big but foundational studies that has gotten rave reviews is by an author who offers critique to Skillen’s Kuyperian-influenced vision, David VanDrunen. It is called Politics After Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World and has been called groundbreaking and brilliant.

Politics After Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World David VanDrunen (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is not the place for me to go into detail, but I think I have my beefs with Dr. VanDrunen’s “two kingdom” theology, but many have said this book is a must read. It is serious, hefty, almost tedious. But his ideas are very, very important. For instance, Calvin Theological Seminary thinker John Bolt says, “This clear and thoughtful work is a game changer.” Wow.

Or consider this, by Christian legal scholar and historian, John Witte, Jr. of Emory University:

This volume is a brilliant capstone to David VanDrunen’s project on Reformed political and legal teachings. It again features probing exegesis of biblical teachings and their reception history; creative retrieval and reconstruction of natural law theories, Two Kingdoms ontologies, and covenantal theology; and a bracing engagement with enduring questions of authority and liberty, justice and mercy, custom and community, rights and resistance. This volume and its prequels have earned VanDrunen a place high on the honor roll of law and religion scholarship and of Reformed political theology.

Jonathan Chaplin is a brilliant British political scientist (a member of the Cambridge University Divinity faculty) who for a while was at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. He is partial to Jim Skillen’s book, above, neo-Calvinist that he is. He has a blurb on the back of it, in fact. However, his remarkable comment here about VanDrunen’s book is generous:
This pioneering and provocative work, David VanDrunen brings to impressive completion his longstanding project of retrieving neglected themes in classic Reformed political theology –‘natural law,’ ‘Two Kingdoms,’ and the ‘Noahic covenant’ — and deploying them for our pluralistic post-Christendom context. It is the most substantial biblical and theological case for what the author calls a ‘conservative liberalism’ to have appeared in many years, and future debates about Reformed political theology will not be able to bypass it. Even those unpersuaded by some of the book’s core theological and political judgments will be enriched by the author’s erudition and argumentative vigor and in turn challenged to come up better arguments for their own positions.
Consider these words from Jonathan Leeman, author of Political Church and How the Nations Rage; he doesn’t even fully agree with it bust insists it is “the starting point for anyone who wants to lay a foundation on the Bible” and is his “top recommendation in the field.” Wow.
Two problems bedevil nearly every Christian political theology, whether you encounter it in an academic’s tome or a nonacademic’s water-cooler opinions. First, Christians too often begin with ideological or partisan foundations. Second, they build on those foundations with a favorite biblical prooftext, often one meant for ancient Israel or the church but wrongly applied to nation-states and their governments. Therefore, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of building our political theology on the whole Bible’s covenantal structure… Whether you count yourself a Two Kingdoms theologian or not (I don’t), every political theologian needs to follow VanDrunen precisely here. To put it simply, I believe that VanDrunen’s emphasis on the Noahic covenant is the way forward for Christian political theology. Other books offer helpful emphases or counterpoints, but Politics after Christendom offers the starting point for anyone who wants to lay a foundation on the Bible. It just moved into pole position for my top recommendation in the field.

Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians Lee Camp (Eerdmans) $19.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Well, if you want to skip some of the heady, deeply Biblical studies of the nature of law, the task of the state, the ways in which Biblical truths can or cannot be applied in a pluralistic democracy, if you are less interested in Skillen overview of how various Christian thinkers down through history have or have not developed a sturdy, sound, view of statecraft, but want a bit more practical application, this is semi-scholarly, lectures given in a church setting, offered as 15 fiesty propositions. It’s punchy. Each proposition is described in a long paragraph opening each chapter, and there is a (black and white) art piece which he uses to explore and further unpack the implications of each particular proposition.

Camp is a good writer, erudite and pleasurable for those who like crisp, elegant, provocative prose.  It is a manifesto, after all, so it is not particularly nuanced. He doesn’t quite write the political essay the way Wendell Berry or even Marilynne Robinson might, but it is incisive and probing. David Gushee calls his writing “astringent.” Each chapter is maybe 10 or so pages but you won’t breeze through them quickly; Scandalous Witness is what one reviewed called “tart and sassy.” I think it’s good stuff, shocking to some, perhaps, as he does go after some pretty sacred cows.

The orientation of Scandalous Witness emerges from the assumption that the gospel is, in fact, a “scandal” to the world as it is described in 1 Corinthians 1:23, and we have lost that edge because of our accommodation to the powers that be. Camp writes with fierce conviction, against being shaped or formed or, heaven forbid, loyal to any political party. He’s somewhat Anabaptist in this sense, with a strong view of the tension between the church and the world, Christ’s Kingdom and the partisan ideologies of the culture. He takes big pot-shots at the religious right, but he also is not particularly happy with the mainline church and its seeming comfort with the Democratic party. He is what Scot McKnight has called “an equal opportunity critic.”  Ha.

Here are just a few of the many rave reviews he has received:”

“With characteristic intelligence, humor, and grace, Lee Camp argues that the American church today has earned itself the curious distinction of having largely ‘destroyed its own witness.’ But Lee is not just a prophet of doom. He proposes an alternative. It may be a scandalous one, to be sure, but it is a courageously hopeful one as well.” Miroslav Volf
— author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good

“It’s impossible for me to read Scandalous Witness without a growing awareness of the ways I’ve conflated the Gospel with nationalism. I love my country, but I belong to Jesus, and that belonging frees me and calls me to share in the costly suffering love that takes precedence over all else. Lee has outlined clearly and beautifully all the ways, large and small, we Christians abandon our first love and turn to national interest–which in the end is another form of self-interest.”  Ashley Cleveland — Grammy-winning gospel singer, author of Little Black Sheep

“With a scholar’s eye and a storyteller’s knack for narrative, Lee Camp exposes the current inability of American Christianity to bear witness to the gospel. We are asking the wrong questions, taking the wrong turns and pledging the wrong loyalties. Both parts contrarian and constructionist, Camp finds himself in the family tree of St. Paul, Augustine, Hauerwas, Davison Hunter, and others, challenging those who call themselves Christians to rearrange our bastardized version of the faith towards a more prophetic, historical and theologically courageous imagination.”  Drew Holcomb
— Magnolia Records recording artist

The Liturgy of the Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor Kaitlyn Schiess (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE =  $13.60

Of the many books I’ve read on this topic — and I’ve read a lot — this is absolutely one of my all time favorites. I found myself nodding in agreement over and over and rejoicing that I was actually seeing these words on the page, turning page after page, delighting in the goodness and wisdom I was encountering. How could such a young writer not only learn to sparkle as a writer and storyteller and teacher, but be so widely read, and be wise enough to draw on such interesting, generative, even surprising sources? I kept flipping back to the endnotes, over and over, as they were themselves a delight (especially for this book nerd who so appreciates when a somewhat rare or lesser known author shows up. And with helpful quotes from James K.A. Smith, Jurgen Moltmann, and Martha Nussbaum, Kate Bowler, James Skillen and Richard Mouw, Richard Middleton, Fleming Rutledge, and Willie James Jennings, I kept nodding and grinning. Where did she find all these good books? How does she integrate so many interesting, interesting influences? It is the mark of a good author, in my book, and The Liturgy of Politics is a very good read.

I announced it briefly in a previous BookNotes and a few who pre-ordered it have given us fabulous feedback. I’m not alone in thinking this is a fabulous and important book.

Here are two key things Kaitlyn Schiess is doing in this recent work, and therefore two different reasons to read it. It is about political life and it is about church life. And which rubs off on the other, how that works badly and how it could be otherwise. It is both a lament and critique as well as a constructive project to help us improve. It’s for political nuts and churchy folks. If your both, this book is screaming your name!

Firstly, she is asking the deep question about what story we are living in, what social imaginary, as some all it, what value-system or worldview shapes our engagement with political concerns? She is — as are most of the authors above (especially Lee Camp)  — greatly distressed that we in the churches have allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked  — captured to use the language of the Bible — by ungodly ideologies that then open us to be used and manipulated by the partisan powers that be. This is particularly egregious in evangelical churches who are part of the religious right, as her people were growing up and as she experienced first hand at Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University when she was an undergrad there.) The legendary oddity of the recent religious right getting so zealously behind somebody so inconsistent with a Christian perspective/demeanor as Mr. Trump is only one example of how we have been shaped in our deepest thinking and desires by the ways of the partisan political forces. That is, she is wondering how we arrive at our political loyalties and our public theology and our voting habits. And it isn’t good.

My friend Michael Ware (author of Reclaiming Hope, about his years in the Obama White House and now co-author of Compassion  & Conviction, the book of the AND campaign) wrote a forward that is only a few pages but worth the price of the book. He sets the stage for Schiess’s work by reminding us of our call as Christians to be involved by not co-opted, bringing Christ’s ways into the public square. He says she writes as a voice of a new generation that sees spiritual formation as key to discipleship, but always for the world. And, that, similarly, if we are going to be involved in public life, we will need the Holy Spirit and congregation’s influence. It’s a beautifully written and very important foreword.

So the first part of the book is about this call to “think Christianly” about politics, and she reminds us that, indeed, there is a history of thought about these things and we dare not ignore the Bible or the church’s great tradition of coherent and intentional Christian theologizing. As one who has gone to seminary she is herself, she tells us, a book nerd and loves studying this stuff. (No wonder I linked her so!)

But here’s the big thing: she has learned well from James K.A. Smith and Tish Harrison Warren and Stanley Hauerwas and Robert Webber — as Smith puts it, you know, “we are what we love,” That is, our ideas about proper Biblical politics are not as important as what stories and dreams and hopes and values and symbols and images have formed our hearts. She realizes that the subterranean affective questions are most deeply religious: what do we feel about politics, what are we afraid of, what do we loathe, what do we want, what have we pledged allegiance to? Using Jamie Smith — You Are What You Love and his entire “cultural liturgy” trilogy but, of course, especially the third in the trilogy, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology — she shows that our civic attitudes and beliefs and behaviors may most deeply be shaped not by thoughtful analysis of issues, but by the tug on our hearts and dispositions. That’s just how we humans work, it’s what the Bible says about our hearts. How we vote is not only about our heart’s longings and desires, our virtues and character, but it is most likely more that than the level headed arguments we hold or the high-sounding principles we claim. Those are preceded by what habits of heart we’ve embraced and who we’ve become. As Andy Crouch has quipped, the things we do (“secular liturgies”) do things to us. We are shaped, for better or worse, below the surface, subconsciously, and we can be sucked into the gravitational pull of an ideology within a political party, without even really knowing it. The first several chapters of The Liturgy of Politics explores this as well as anything I’ve seen and I highly, highly recommend it.

This call to ask probing questions about our deepest thinking and even more about our desires — about why we are apolitical or a zealous partisan (it works either way), or why we are angry about this or that issue or candidate,  to ponder what sort of things we’ve made ultimate in our lives, and why that is, is so very important. Her own story is shared, she draws on some of the best writers on this question of how we learn and what shapes us most, and invites us to discern what direction our lives are unfolding, especially when it comes to our political lives. This is simply brilliant stuff, intersting, breezy, well informed, challenging but not at all shaming or overwhelming. Young or old, I highly recommend this first part of the book.

The second thing, though, is also important. This is where the subtitle of the book becomes more important. Like Smith before her, Schiess searches for deeper (thicker) liturgies and stories to supplant and transform the ones we’ve embraced (or that have embraced us) from the world. If you’ve been unhelpfully captured by the stories and images of the idols of a political party, where you start to mirror their ideology and assumptions, even if they are not necessarily consistent with a Biblical vision, what can possibly undo that? A few attack ads from the other side? No! We need a better story, a deeper spirituality, our deformed desires need re-ordered. We need a gospel-centered, Biblically robust, thick sort of worship and Christian liturgical spirituality that can shape us and reshape us in a faithful political direction.

Yes, that is the answer to the deformed politics that come from our accommodation to the ways of the world: we need to be reformed and we need to find ourselves in a new story, with new values, and new desires, new imagination shaped by the Kingdom of God. By Christ-likeness, be compassion and justice and wonder and grace. So the second half of the book is about how the church can influence us to be more caring neighbors, socially engaged in public life for the common good, better citizens for the sake of all our neighbors as love would have of us.

The church can do this not mostly by teaching us about politics, per se, but by developing the pregnant meanings and implications in the formative power of the liturgies we already employ. The simple example I often us: in what ways can passing the peace and pronouncing a blessing on folks at church each week make us into peacemakers in the world? Many have explored the relationship between the holy rituals of bread and table in Eucharist or communion and how that might make us more hospitable, maybe even more sensitive to food issues. (She wisely draws on Alan Streets’ good work.) People who celebrate a Savior who invites us to eat just might vote in a way that cares about hunger, eh?

Yep, and the chapter is called “Ekklesia: The Church as Training Ground for Political Engagement.” If you are interested in Christian politics, this book is a must. If you are a pastor, worship minister, youth mentor, or congregational leader, or campus ministry worker who influences others in their faith development, this is a resource you must have to help you realize the power of what you do as you shape God’s people for life in the world.

Kaitlyn Schiess plumbs this stuff beautifully in ways I hadn’t even considered; one chapter is about “time, music, confession” and explores the calendar of the church year and the practices of sabbath. Another chapter is on “spiritual disciplines and political formation” and yet another is on how we read the Bible with an eye to public and political formation. (“A Story to Live Into” that one is called.)

The hour is late for me here and I feel like I am not scratching the surface of how valuable this lovely, thoughtful, stimulating book is. I learned much, was reminded of things I perhaps needed to be reminded of, and reveled as Ms Schiess connected dots all over the place. Her chapter on Augustine, by the way (“A Confession City”) is a great overview, drawing on the best Augustine scholars these days, including Eric Gregory and Charles Mathewes and Olliver O’Donovan. This gal knows her stuff and shares just enough to whet our own appetites.

So, this accesible, winsome book is about how the influences of modern politics shape/deform our attitudes and habits about citizenship (not to mention our very souls, so to speak) and how our church lives might undo some of that, training us in deeper ways to be the kind of people that would relate faith and citizenship in a more Christ-like, coherent, faithful way.  And the church does that in subtle, often symbolic ways. Just think of how Tish Harrison Warren describes her “practicing the presence of God” hour by hour through the day because of how she draws upon the practices of liturgical worship in The Liturgy of the Ordinary. I have my tongue in cheek as I say this, but The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess is sort of Tish Warren for an election year. Ya know?

I’ve said over and over in BookNotes past that I think James K.A.Smith’s You Are What You Love is one of the most important books in recent decades. Others in that constellation, it seems to me, include Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak. Again, Schiess is drawing on this generative, seminal volumes and using them to articulate this project of her, a project that she started in earnest a decade ago as she struggled to wonder why it was that so many of her evangelical friends thought about politics as they did. After much reading and writing and praying and learning (and, it seems, involvement in a very good local church and worshipping community and some degree of civic activism, too) Schiess has given us the fruit of her pondering, a volume that is unlike any other book on faith and politics I have read. It is, in a way, one of the ones we most need, pioneering, groundbreaking, wonderful. Thanks be to God.

Don’t believe me, alone. Here are a few great recommendations by those who have endorsed it:

“This is the book I have been waiting for! There could hardly be a more important topic for our cultural moment than the connection between Christian formation and politics. Kaitlyn Schiess persuasively and powerfully argues that Christians are being deeply formed by the political currents in which we swim, although we don’t often realize it. She then casts a beautiful biblical and theological vision for intentional Christian formation that, by God’s grace, shapes us into disciples who love God as we attend to the life of the world. While giving detailed attention to how and why we practice prayer, Bible reading, worship, Sabbath, and the sacraments, Schiess casts a sweeping and winsome vision of the Christian life, including political engagement and so much more. This book will itself be deeply formative for all who read it. It needs to be read by pastors, youth ministers, worship leaders, small groups, college and seminary students, and all who care about faithful discipleship and formation today.” –Kristin Deede Johnson, dean and professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary, author of The Justice Calling.

“This is a powerful challenge from a young heart and a mature mind. Schiess seems to touch every unexamined habit of Christian thought, work, leisure, and worship. With a wide sweep of life’s liturgies and church liturgies, of spiritual formation and political responsibility, of Bible reading and communication with others, Schiess goes straight for the heart in relaxed conversation that packs a prophetic punch about our complacency, ignorance of Scripture, cultural conformity, and more. Her urgent message is for communities of Christian faith to repent and turn ourselves over entirely to God, as disciples of Jesus Christ have always been called to do. It is hard to imagine how this young woman has been able to read so widely and think so profoundly about so much of life. Here you’ll find fresh insight and compelling hope that will renew your labors for the coming of God’s kingdom. Young people, old folks like me, and everyone in between, read this book now!” — James W. Skillen, author of The Good of Politics, former president of the Center for Public Justice

“How should Christians vote? In the last several years, this question has become a dividing line in the church, polarizing the people of God into opposing camps and fracturing the Christian community along worldly fault lines. With wisdom beyond her years, Kaitlyn Schiess recognizes the folly of centering on this question and instead focuses on a better one: What sort of people are we being formed into? With biblical grounding, theological depth, and the spiritual urgency of a next-generation leader, Kaitlyn lays the groundwork for a better, more faithful approach to political engagement. After finishing this book, here is the one thing I know for sure: we have not seen the last of Kaitlyn.” — Sharon Hodde Miller, author of Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked And How God Calls Us to More
“Many young evangelicals–weary of politics and the culture wars–have begun to disengage from political life. Tired of the narrow-minded politics of the right and left, these evangelicals long for something more–something beyond ideology and sound bites. Kaitlyn Schiess has answered her generation’s call. Drawing on Scripture, history, and contemporary political theology, she offers a robust and accessible political ethic that avoids the old pitfalls of the Christian right and left. She deftly explores how worship and spiritual disciplines can not only liberate evangelicals from destructive political ideologies but actively move them into God’s alternative political mission of public justice and shalom.” — Matthew Kaemingk, assistant professor of Christian ethics and associate dean, Fuller Theological Seminary author of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear and Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy.

Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies Second Edition David Koyzis (IVP Academic) $33.00        OUR SALE PRICE = $26.40

I realize this second edition of this book has re-issued last year, so it isn’t brand new. But it was out of stock for a while and when Tim Keller recommended it, we got a few calls from far way, folks hearing that we had a few. We did, and now we have more as they are back in stock again. So let’s list it here as if were a new one.  Ha.

In the above book reviews I’ve mentioned idols and ideologies. The best book on the subject idols these days is the brand new Here Are Your Gods: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times by Christopher J. Wright (IVP Academic; $18.00.) Wright is a keen Biblical scholar and one of our most reliable authors in Scripture studies. This new paperback takes a major section (“The Living God Confronts Idolatry” from his magisterial The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bibles Grand Narrative, releasing it in a new form, which is essentially the first half of Here Are Your Gods. The second half is still meaty, but a bit more practical as Wright describes the way idols drive various political ideologies. He explores the Scriptural notion of “the nations” and looks at “God in the Political Arena” then and now. It is worth getting this book and reading that middle part this very week, I’d say. The third portion of this deep little book invites us to consider what it means to be God’s people in idolatrous times.  It is both a scathing indictment and a hopeful guide away from our communal idols and the spirits of the age.  I will write more about this later, I’m sure.

More specific to this post about politics, though, and of the ideologies that are diving both the right and the left in American political culture is this older book by David Koyzis that I’ve tried to sell repeatedly in these pages. (For instance here, or here.) Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, as I mentioned above, was expanded and updated and reissued a year ago. It has some new material on populism and nationalisms (and has a lovely, wise foreword by Richard Mouw.) It is very important, I’d say and I sometimes get a bit breathy and enthusiastic pushing it, believing in it as I do. (Maybe it is because I know I need this book and dip into it regularly. You see, I find myself drawn to the best ideas of some of these disparate traditions, sometimes saying I’m a liberal conservative or a conservative liberal or some fusiony admixture, making me wisely eclectic or terribly undiscerning, depending who you ask.) Here, though, is how the publisher fairly plainly describes the book: “David Koyzis surveys the key political ideologies of our era, unpacking the worldview issues inherent to each and pointing out essential strengths and weaknesses.”  Oh yeah, he does, with wisdom and insight and some occasional wit!  Come on!

As Professor Koyzis walks us through chapters on liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democracy (or democratism?) and socialism, he then invites us to transcend the ideologies by “affirming societal pluriformity.” He offers two faith traditions who have a worked out perspective on this, explaining in detail the Roman Catholic view of subsidiarity and the notion of sphere sovereignty that was central to the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Christian democratic movement in Holland. These two historic Christian approaches are his alternative, so to speak, to the wrong-headed and possibly idolatrous ideologies of the left and the right, none of which are able to honor real pluralism and thereby do justice to all the differing people and organizations and institutions in a diverse society. In the midst of excursions into terrorism and racism and helpful contemporary examples of the abuse of power, this long-haul, bigger picture is a book that gets to the root of things and is thereby an exceedingly important contribution to our ongoing repentance and renewal as we seek political faithfulness from a Christian perspective.

Listen to David Guretzki, executive vice president and resident theologian, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

Few could have anticipated the major political upheavals witnessed since this book first came out in 2003. Yet Koyzis’s book has stood the test of time, ranking, in my opinion, as the best introduction to modern political thought from a Christian perspective. This updated edition is welcome in its inclusion both of newer literature and fresh examples to recent political developments. As a politically engaged theologian, I’m especially thrilled to see the addition of the ‘Concluding Ecclesiological Postscript’ that could very well serve as kind of theo-political compass for church leaders wanting navigational guidance on how churches should–and should not–engage in political action.”

Here is a helpful reminder of how important this is by Mary S. Van Leeuwen, professor emerita of psychology and philosophy, Eastern University, author of Gender and Grace.

“David Koyzis introduces readers to the range of political theories that have emerged and competed for dominance since classical times. He carefully and respectfully separates wheat from chaff in each of them in terms of a Christian worldview, and in a style that is clear, irenic, and persuasive. The second edition helpfully updates the first in terms of major political events of the past two decades. In an increasingly polarized world, this kind of book is essential reading for concerned citizens of all political and religious leanings.”

You could “google” David Koyzis and find a number of interviews and videos with him talking about worldviews and “religious”-like convictions that shape our lives. For instance, my friend Bob Robinson interviewed Koyzis at his (re)integrate podcast. Enjoy it here.

The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Divisions Tremper Longman (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

We got another one of those stupid voters guides put out by a well-intended Christian family organization in our state, all red white and blue, with checks of where candidates stand on this or that issues. They are a little more coy than they used to be but many of these simply mimic the positions of the Republican party whether they have any Biblical or even theological principles that are evident for that view or not.  Why does a pro-life, pro-family group imply that a big defense budget is what true Christians want?  For what reasons do some conservative Christian groups oppose environmental regulations, as if that’s an unbiblical thing on the face of it? Who says an anti-immigration policy is “pro-family,” let alone based on the Bible? (Geesh, folks, get out a concordance why don’t ya?) Who gets to say a certain tax policy is or is not “Biblical.” (It was to his embarrassment, in my view, that the otherwise thoughtfully conservative Bible scholar Wayne Grudem wrote a whole chapter in a book of his on (so-called) “Christian politics” supporting a conservative tax policy based on one half of a single Proverb. I hope his department chair tool him aside and gave him a brush-up Biblical Interpretation 101 review on how that’s a sloppy no-no. (That his publisher let him get away with it, misguiding the people of God like that, is also disappointing.) But when ideologies rule — as Kaitlyn Schiess explains in the above mentioned The Liturgy of Politics more graciously than I do — even well intended readings of the Bible get distorted and used for a partisan agenda.

Enter Biblical scholar Tremper Longman with a book that is a resource we really, really (really) need now more than ever. I admire Tremper, have met him, and know a person who was influential in his life as a student half a lifetime ago, so I am disposed to trust him a lot. His work is almost across the board stellar and he has written or edited dozens of serious books, mostly on the Old Testament. A few he has done with his old pal Dan Allender, too.

The Bible and the Ballot is about this project on how to use the Bible, or be instructed and informed by the Bible, on our views of political issues. Because it is what it is, it doesn’t go into the multi-dimensional questions that Kaitlyn raises about how we are actually formed in our political imaginations and desires. It doesn’t go into the ideologies behind the political philosophies that use or misuse the Bible, one way of the other. It not a volume on a Christian political option. It is, though, a summary of key Biblical passages that relate to contemporary social issues that are addresses in various political platforms. So, it is of limited use as we think about the development of a profound and coherent Christian political philosophy, but for a non-partisan handbook to Bible texts written by a Biblical scholar, this is very useful.

Here are two small criticisms which should not dissuade you from buying this asap.  It isn’t as comprehensive as I might wish, and on a couple of issues, there are a couple of verses that I was surprised to not see show up in Longman’s overview. Understandably, the book is already 300 pages, so he couldn’t be comprehensive. Fair enough. Secondly, his sidebar summary of the key teaching from each unit was a bit bland for my tastes. I suppose this in intentional, not trying to be breathy or zealous or at all partisan. So he keeps it fairly straight forward, not polemical, just documenting core Bible teaching on topics ranging from war to racism, from abortion to poverty, from criminal justice and capitol punishment to the environment to same-sex marriage. One of the helpful topics is nationalism and patriotism and another I found very interesting was his foray into religious liberty. In each of these topics he shows relevant Biblical material and tries to wisely suggest ways those texts might inform a policy position that might approximate something we night say is “Biblically informed.”

Unlike those right wing or left wing voters guides that tend to be shallow, partisan and sometimes alarmist — ye gads, look how the “other side” is violating What The Bible Says — Tremper Longman’s new The Bible and the Ballot is reasonable and coherent, honest before the complexities of the texts and which texts influence or help us form faithful views. He believes we should be influenced by the Biblical texts but we must be honest about what they actually say and how to interpret them. As we say these days, it’s messy and it is hard to have much integrity as a reader of the Bible if we insist on taking some of our preferred passages and shoehorning them to prove the righteousness of our political agenda.

Therefore, the first quarter of this Bible and the Ballot book offers some overarching principles of Biblical interpretation, especially when trying to interpret the Bible for modern day social issues. This is thorny ground and good people may disagree about the methodology (what is also called hermeneutics) that shape our philosophy of interpretation. That is, you know you just can’t take some verse from Leviticus or some episode from Kings or some waring Jeremiah and willy nilly apply it today. Some find it complicated to even do that with plain teaching from Jesus, but we sure can’t do it easily from, say, a battle in Joshua, as if our military policy should be circling around a building with trumpets or our agricultural policy should be a strict application of Leviticus 25.  Anyway, while it may be obvious (at least in some cases) when we ought not apply the Bible story verbatim for our modern social policy, there surely are principles to help us see divine patterns, learn how to be guided by God’s ways in the world as applied prudently to todays context.

Longman’s keys for reading the Bible well are helpful for any of us (about any issue about which we seek the Scripture’s illumination and guidance) and his interpretive principles are very useful. Part three of The B and the B offers “essential Biblical/theological themes” that will be carried throughout the book. This is all before he gets to specific issues. The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions is not the only book we need as we become more intentionally wise about our civic posture and positions. But it is a great tool, a gift offered by a wise lover of God and one committed to the authority of God’s Word.

God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth To Power Today N.T. Wright (SPCK) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I’m so glad to list this even though it isn’t new, so I’m sort of cheating a bit here. But I bet it is new to many, even many Tom Wright fans. We import (through a US distributor) from the UK where is is published by a thoughtful, interesting publishing house there. These are essays former Bishop Wright gave to listeners in several locations in the UK and he starts off by noting that in both his academic training as a historian and New Testament scholar and in his ministerial training for being a parish priest there was this assumption that the Biblical gospel of Christ’s Kingdom is mostly for the church. Or maybe the scholarly guild. Neither Biblical scholars nor pastors and priests are adept at speaking about the world, let alone in the world. And then, as a Bishop, Wright became a member (as the state church has it in Great Britain) of the House of Lords. Oh my. By those years he already was learning to speak out about Biblical truth for contemporary culture and was eroding the unbiblical dualism that divides life into sacred and secular. (His first book published in the US, by the way, in the 1980s, was very much about culture and the modern society. By 2014 he had given enough public lectures about creation care, the arts, economics, science, justice and the like that HarperOne released Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. It’s very good.)

This imported British volume, though, is fabulous to be added on to this list about faith and politics. It is about power and justice (one was a lecture he gave at the London School of Economics.) As Wright became more convinced that his calling as a Bible scholar equipped him to serve the church and the culture, he increasingly had opportunity to weigh in on justice issues, on social causes, and on actual policy proposals. This book is an example of some of his visionary, Biblical teaching that has some application and traction in the world of public affairs.

There are 10 chapters, almost 185 pages. There are lectures on Pilate and Caesar and their encounter with Jesus in John 18-19; there is a chapter on the nature of law; there is a chapter about global terror and questions of war. In many of the chapters Wright is pushing back against secularism, those that might suggest that people of faith have no right or at least little to say of enduring worth as they bring a faith perspective to bear on the idols and issues and topics of the modern world.  One chapter looks at postmodernism in public life, another looks at some of the idols of modernity still reigning in the power structures of the big empires.

One good chapter was a presentation entitled “God’s powerful foolishness in a world of foolish power” which of couse, takes its cue from “folly and wisdom, weakness and power: the gospel in Corinth.” One of the lectures (“Christian Virtue in Peace and War”) was actually given at the Royal Military Academy.  Wow.

The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity edited by Ronald J. Sider (Cascade) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I have already mentioned this book in a BookNote last summer. I invited folks to pre-order it and said that there are contributors here that I think very highly of and a few who I count as friends or mentors.

As Termper Longman says of it, “My hope and prayer is that all Christians, whatever their present political leanings, will be open to the case made in this book.”  As Ambassador Tony Hall,  one of the great US Congressman who was so known for his advocacy for the poor and the starving (as he served in the US House) says, “I commend this book to anyone struggling to align their faith with their choices at the ballot box.

Let’s just say it bluntly. Almost anyone but the most partisan ideologies would admit that there are very good reasons to be troubled by the character and the behaviors and many of the policies of President Trump. From his chronic dishonesty to his antagonism with opponents and journalists to the weird disdain for science and truth and refusal to distance himself from racist and violent supporters, to his ill-informed, confused, and sloppy management within the Administration itself (decried by so many that once worked with him and could do so no longer — has there every been a President in US history that has had so many people quit or be fired?) More, there are the large character flaws — did he really pay off a porn star to silence her? Did her really call some poor nations “shithole” countries? Can you imagine what Jeremiah would say about tear-gassing peaceful citizen protesters so he could stand in front of a church and hold a Bible up, a Bible he doesn’t read. That some flamboyant religious right leaders love him is just inexplicable.

This book has significant and sometimes leading evangelicals weighing in on the anguish of having this dangerous man as the leader of our nation. A few chapters are biting; many are relatively gracious. Most are hard hitting with painful truth as they authors see it.

The Spiritual Dangers of Donald Trump is divided up into three main parts.  The first part is on Mr. Trump the person. We have among others, pieces by Mark Galli and Vicki Courtney. There is a chapter by a Christian psychologist about God’s hatred for “a lying tongue.” Chris Thurman is another evangelical psychologist whose is well loved for his wise book about self-delusion called Lies We Believe. It’s good he is in here. One helpful chapter is “10 Reasons Why Christians Should Reconsider Their Support of Trump.” You could copy it and use it, I’m sure, if you are so inclined. We hope you get this book and share some of these chapters with those who need to wrestle with the matters.

One of the scholars, by the way, who contributed to this is Dr. Bandy X. Lee. She has advanced degrees in both psychiatry and theology and now practices through the Yale School of Medicine. She was so concerned about behaviors she saw exhibited by Mr. Trump that she edited a best selling volume called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President which inspired this more theological collection. In an earnest forward she tells of her own sense of being led by God to begin the process of this book, which she soon turned over to the impeccable Ronald J. Sider.

The second section is on “Evangelical Support of Trump.” This is lead off by long time right wing political operative Peter Wehner with an essay called “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.” Oh my, this is important, whether one is an evangelical or not. Ron Sider has an important piece called “Will The Evangelical Center Remain Silent in 2020?” He loves the evangelical world and he deeply wants to call the church to Jesus. He knows the Scriptures and he cares very much about the testimony we offer to the world around this campaign. I like how he draws on the significant, balanced method and agenda for evangelical social engagement “For the Health of the Nation” created by the National Association of Evangelicals. If only those self-appointed leaders of evangelicalism who are the loudest cheerleaders for the current President knew about this significant document created after painstaking work by evangelicals of various social and theological orientations. You can learn more about it in a big book Ron co-edited (with the late Diane Knippers) with bunches of significant evangelical thinkers and leaders doing chapters in 2005 entitled Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation  (Baker; $25.00.) It is a historic document and offered the sort of deeply theological framework we need today.

There are several other amazing pieces in this section of The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump, from Stephen Haynes (a Bonhoeffer scholar) and a chapter co-authored by several evangelical leaders from the global evangelical community.  Several of these pieces are very probing, analyzing the cognitive dissonance many evangelicals feel when they think about this unlikely partnership of conservative religion and the brutal Trumpian style. The famous African- American sociologist and Christian Dr. George Yancey has a very powerful piece, too. I really hope you buy this book and read it right away.

Part three in this anthology is what they call “theological, historical, and constitutional issues regarding President Trump.” This is sharp stuff, with serious chapters by Miroslav Volf and James Skillen and Joh Fea and others.

Steven E. Meyer is in here who is known as a thoughtful scholar of diplomacy who has served in the CIA and as an upper level manager at the Department of Defense. I mention this not only because his work is valuable and often compelling and because this chapter is excellent, but to show that these contributors are often fairly mainstream thinkers — not wild radicals, not even Sojourners or activists of the left.  It’s been used before, but perhaps rarely so urgently, but the title of Meyer’s piece is “Quo Vadis, America?”

Julia Stronks has a chapter on constitutional questions — she is a Christian lawyer who teaches politics and history at Whitworth College. She calls for greater forbearance and toleration and observes that the Presidents style (the tweets, for instance) and his public statements and many of his actual policies and executive orders have eroded a sense of democratic values. It’s a strong piece and I recommend it.

I am glad for Ron’s closing sermon, a plea to return to Christ. He does invite us to listen well to each other and to pray together, no matter who wins the upcoming election. As he often does, he lists a handful of ways to take next steps, both visionary and hopeful as well as practical and admonishing. No matter what, he wants to to deepen our discipleship, live out our faith in a Christ-honoring way. As a book of his puts it that we still stock,  I Am Not a Social Activist: Making Jesus the Agenda. Ron is a reliable thinker and earnest faith leader. I am glad he edited this volume and I commend it to you, urgently, now. Send us an order today, please.

Dual Citizens: Politics and American Evangelicalism edited by Timothy Padgett (Lexham Press) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I applaud Lexham Press for doing a series of books like this, a handsome, trim sized hardback set called The Best of Christianity Today. They have anthologized all sorts of stuff from the earliest days of Christianity Today until today. One volume was from a several year series they did on evangelical theology and it is simply amazing. Another is various pieces written by John Stott. They are doing one soon to be released that is a collection of older Advent devotions that appeared in the magazine (some old, by the likes of Billy Graham.)

This new one may be one of the most valuable for anyone charting the early days and evolution of American (mostly white) evangelicals and their political posture, their public theology and their social positions. Of course, keep in mind, while evangelicals tended to be socially conservative, the phrase become popular in the 20th century (with CT their flagship journal) as a voice of Biblically orthodox but socially moderate Protestantism. That is, they were created to be an alternative to the fundamentalists. Until recently, there was a sharp divide between fundamentalists and evangelicals, although now the media lumps them together in unhelpful ways.

Here is how the publisher describes the value of this historical account of wrestling with the issues.

American evangelicals are often assumed to be a monolithic political force absolutely unified in their (right wing) priorities. This collection of articles from Christianity Today originally published between 1956 and 2016 tells a different story. Evangelical engagement with politics has been more complex than is often remembered. Dual Citizens reveals a variety of evangelical thought towards political developments over the past few decades. As such, it offers a real window into sixty years of evangelical political engagement

Here are a few historians and other public thinkers who compliment the volume:

At a time when evangelical Protestant presence in public life has come under significant criticism –including ridicule — this collection of essays from Christianity Today will enable insiders and observers to put the religious right in perspective. –D. G. Hart, Hillsdale College, author of American Catholic: Faith and Politics during the Cold War

This book is valuable to everyone interested in how evangelicals have thought about public issues and how they have acted in the public square. I also believe Christians will find it edifying as a reminder of the value of a faithful Christian witness, and a God who is working in history for his glory. –Michael Wear, author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America

The book offers a priceless resource for historians as well as rank-and-file students of contemporary religion…. Edited volumes come and go — mostly go. But not this one. It will stand for years as a standard reference for understanding the inner texture of one of the largest and most influential Christian traditions of modern times. — Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Christian History, Duke Divinity School

The first chapter or unit is on CT writing about US Presidents. This is fascinating and for those of us who lived through any of this it will be very interesting. It has an early piece from 1956, a 1960 piece about the possibility of a “Catholic president” and a remarkable one about Kennedy’s assassination. There are essays about prayer, about protest, about the “political tightrope” from 1966. There were several about Watergate, one about President Ford, and several that are more contemporary. It is illustrative to see the piece about Reagan, surprising to see one by Rodney Clapp; there are well written ones by Philip Yancey and Sarah Pulliam and more. Of couse there is one by Chuck Colson — “How to Confront a President” written in 1994 (although he will show up often, later.) We get to see an early piece by the great journalist Mollie Ziegler Hemingway from 2009. Tony Carnes was the reporter weighing on President Bush after 9-11 and we see the magazine report about “The Bush Doctrine” that launched the Iraq War. There’s several more. And then the final three in this section include a famous 2016 editorial by Ron Sider on why he was going to vote for Hillary Clinton paired with one by James Dobson on why he supported Donald Trump and one by Sho Baraka on why he wasn’t voting for either.

The second part is about both the emerging roles of the Religious Right and a bit about the Evangelical Left. From CT’s moderate assessment of the mean-spirited Carl McIntire (1970) to Carl Henry’s classic “evangelical social concern” program to what were then called “radical Christians” there is a lot. One 1985 article compares and contrasts Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell, and Jim Wallis. There are a number of good pieces here — one written by Nancy Pearcey with Chuck Colson, another by Carolyn Curtis, yet several more by the editorial team on the issues of the day.

The third part includes positions the magazine took and editorials they ran on a wide range of global issues. My head spun when I saw the first one from 1956 penned by J. Edgar Hoover. Yikes. Some of these are remarkable for their historical value and one I re-read to educate myself — a Pearcey/Colson piece from 1999 “Does Kosovo Pass the Just-War Test?” There were missionary writers and Billy Graham weighing in and various pieces about ISIS, the most recent from 2014.

The fourth unit includes editorials about domestic affairs. Much of the writing in this section is about racism, poverty, and economics. It is fascinating to see what some evangelical leaders thought about segregation in 1957 or about Selma in 1965. There was a self-effacing piece about discrimination (in 1968) and a piece called “Race and Economics” by Francis Schaeffer in 1974. Wow.

And, yes, here is the editorial “Abortion and the Court” written in January of 1973.

I was intrigued to see various sorts of insights about the development of the evangelical pro-life stance. There are several. Standouts include Ron Sider’s piece from 1996 about “our selective rage” calling for a more consistently pro-life view. It could have been written last week. Orthodox writer and thinker Frederica Matthewes-Green has a piece from 1999. In 2001 CT weighed in about “changing hearts and laws” and the 2015 editor Katelyn Beatty’s impressive piece “The Power of Pro-Life Women” is included. Glad for that.

The final dozen or so essays range from 1956 to 2014 and there are a variety of editorials on various topics relating to the theme “God and Country.” There is writing on civil disobedience, on civil religion, a piece from 1957 about how government service can be a Christian vocation. (I was surprised to see that, for some reason, using the language of vocation, then.) I liked a number of these short pieces and found myself wanting to revisit a few more.

This book is loaded with good insight (even if often quite contextualized, emerging from its own social location, obviously.) There are some essays that are in my view pretty off-base. A few are brilliant, having stood the test of time. For inspiration and overtly evangelical Christian social and political thinking, Dual Citizens is valuable, if uneven. For historians and any who want to see the roots and fruits of the vision Carl Henry and the others had, hoping to present a Biblically-based, conservative but engaging theological alternative to both rigid and sectarian fundamentalism on one had and often theologically muddled, mainline social gopsel liberalism on the other, it is priceless. To see the somewhat evolving perspectives of this standard-bearer journal (loved by some, hated by others), Dual Citizens is a true treasure trove.

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