AFTER LABOR DAY SALE — 30% OFF and a FREE BOOK (five days only.)

POST LABOR DAY SALE AND A FREE BOOK WITH EVERY ORDER                                      God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Vieth, Jr.

FIVE DAYS ONLY – EXPIRES 9/30/22

30% OFF (WHILE SUPPLIES LAST)

We don’t usually tell our customers what to do with their purchases, but, ya know, I think I might be a bit pushy and suggest something. We’re a few weeks past Labor Day Sunday and I know more than one friend was a bit perturbed that there was no mention in their church about work or labor, no prayers for people at their jobs, no honoring of nurses, teachers, factory workers, engineers, unionists, or businesspeople. The proverbial butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers just don’t get much recognition in most churches, not even on Labor Day. 

So, why not share with your pastors and preachers a book or two, now while the memory is still fresh? It is likely they have never read anything like this. You could wait until next summer, I suppose, but, ya know, I think the time is now. We have a few at 30% off (for five days only) and we’ll throw in a free book we have a batch of, while supplies last.

We do not suggest being too pesky about it, of course — certainly there is no call to be unpleasant, even if you deeply long to be told that what you do matters to God and that your job site really is a venue for your own discipleship and spirituality. I know that there is some pain about the routine apathy towards your work life that you experience in church; I get it. So here’s a chance to gently educate your pastor, preacher, worship leader, educator, spiritual director, youth pastor, campus minister, or others on your congregation’s leadership team. We’ve selected a handful of great titles that we happen to be able to sell a bit more cheaply now and we’re happy to offer these resources for you or yours.

THE EXTRA 30% DISCOUNT EXPIRES FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2022. After that they revert to the typical BookNotes 20% off.

I won’t go into great detail about them here since I’ve reviewed most of those at BookNotes before. If you have any questions, hop on our inquiry page and ask away. We’re here to help. (I’ve done some Zoom conversations with groups about these very sorts of titles and could do some show and tell with your adult ed committee if that would be useful.) In any case, check these out and order a few pronto. We only have a few of some of these and the extra discount is while supplies last.

Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $13.99 

I’ll admit I adore this book and so respect Comer and his several good books. I have joked before about how hip and cool he is and how even the page design (with short sentences, a certain contemporary font and lots of white pace) appeal to younger readers. But his conversational tone and snark is one thing: his profound insight and solid help framing the topic of work and public life (and rest) by the large question of what it means to be human is, frankly, nothing short of brilliant. It’s a great read (nicely setting the stage, perhaps, for Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Colling by Andy Crouch, another personal favorite) and is very highly recommended.

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway) $17.99       OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

We rave about this because it is written by a pastor who came to realize he was almost engaging in pastoral malpractice by getting everybody to sign up for church work and not faithfully equipping them to live out their faith in their workplaces. This is the story of how that church grew, with stories by a variety of congregants about how they think Christianly and serve God in their own career areas.  It’s really a very fine book, good for pastors or ordinary work-world folk. 

 

Living Salty and Light-Filled Lives in the Workplace Luke Bobo (Resource Publications) $16.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.20

I like this little book and really respect the author. Luke is a strong African American leader who worked for a while at Made to Flourish (an organization Tom Nelson founded to equip churches to minister well to their congregation in the work world and to steward their gifts to help make a difference in their communities.) We’ve all heard about being “salt and light” from Matthew 5 but few have spelled out the challenges of obeying Christ’s call in those 90,000 hours that we spend working over the course of our lives.

This small book — with a great forward by Jerome Barrs — helps both  blue-collar workers and white collar professionals to imagine how to live out faith in the workplace.  There are good discussion questions and the whole book is just under 100 pages. Nice.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work Timothy Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Penguin) $18.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

I have long admired Tim Keller as an astute, evangelical pastor in New York, but his co-written here, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, is, similarly, nothing short of brilliant. She worked in the serious world of a global business corporation and came to faith in mid-life. Eventually she took over the innovative (and at the time, nearly groundbreaking) Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. She led them to create classes, professional groups, industry specific book lists, discussion guides and a Fellows program to train thoughtful young Christians to be faithful leaders in their various work venues. This book is still the gold standard on these things and every pastor should have it. There is a blurb on the back from Comment magazine’s review which, come to think of it, I think I wrote. I’m a fan.

Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World Michaela O’Donnell (Baker Books) 19.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $13.99

This is a 2021 release and is certainly one of the best books in recent years on this topic, inviting to a “path toward more more meaningful work that makes an impact.”  There are three main sections of Make Work Matter that starts off with “Where Do You Want to Go?” And shifts to several chapters under the heading “Who Will You Become?” leading to the final section, four profound chapters on “How Will You Get There?”

Dr. O’Donnell is executive director of the De Press Center for Leadership (at Fuller Seminary) and is not only an entrepreneur, teacher, leadership coach and sought-after speaker, she is a great writer. She helps hold out a dream of “closing the gap between what you’re doing now and the life-giving work you desire.” Ordinary pastors should be helping parishioners chart a way forward into this kind of discernment about their callings and careers, so this book could provide a model for many.

The recommending blurbs on the inside offer raves and come from some of the best people in their field, from Redeemer’s legendary Missy Wallace to the aforementioned Luke Bobo to great leadership writer Roy Goble (Salvaged: Leadership Lessons Pulled from the Junkyard), our old Pittsburgh pal Lisa Slayton (CEO of Tamim Partners and associate at Denver’s Institute for Faith and Work), Denise Daniels (Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work), Tod Bolsinger (Canoeing the Mountains), and, importantly, Dave Evans of Stanford, co-author of Designing Your Life. When this many good authors and leaders endorse a book, you know it’s worth having.

Daniel M. Doriani (Presbyterian & Reformed) $12.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

This thin book, in some ways, is a practical sequel to his more major volume, Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation.)  In just a bit over 100 pages he has given us a great introduction to the topic, laden with stories, case studies, examples, and a passionate clarity that is nearly unsurpassed. Inspired by Tim Keller and his New York Center for Faith and Work, Dan starred the Center for Faith & Work St. Louis. 

If you’ve ever wondered how you can best serve God and your neighbor faithfully in your work, this study provides welcome encouragement and guidance. Discover what makes your work both good and strategically valuable — the develop a concrete plan to make a difference in your corner of the world. 

For the last year, my friend Dan Doriani and I have empowered twenty-five multicultural leaders through weekly cohorts on Work That Makes a Difference. These meetings and Dan’s book are transforming communities with hope. I highly recommend Dan’s book and invite you to join the team of faith-and-work disciple makers that ‘walk the talk’ by living the love of Jesus daily in the marketplace.–Brad Wos, Multicultural Director, Evangelical Free Church of America Central District

God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal Dr. Stephen R. Graves (KJK Inc.) $10.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $7.00

I love this little book that, among other things (like its solid, lively content) is one of the nicest designed books in this list. Handsome, graphically arranged, well made with some handsome pull quotes and near blank pages. It is clear-headed, offers a very faithful wholistic vision of the full gospel unfolding towards the redemption  of all things, but also has some down-to-Earth strategy stuff about embedding the gospel in organizational health and development. Very impressive.

 

Discipleship with Monday in Mind: How Churches Across the Country Are Helping Their People Connect Faith and Work Skye Jethani & Luke Bobo (Made to Flourish) $8.99    OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $6.29

If you are taking me up on the suggestion to gift some books to your congregational leaders — or if you are a congregational leader — you really, really should consider this. It’s nearly pocket sized, compact and only about 90 pages. It is a great little book about which we can easily say there is simply nothing like it in print. (Yes there are some bigger and more complex books on mentoring people into marketplace ministry and the like — see, for instance, the fabulous Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in they Work: A Guide For All Who Make Disciples by Tom Lutz & Heidi Unruh.) But this is short and sweet and has lots of great examples to offer encouragement. It is a short guide to expanding pastoral practice, attending to corporate worship and including all this work-world stuff into our spiritual formation and disciple-making programming. There is even a bit on including this in our mission and outreach work. Fantastic!

Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and Liturgy Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson  (Baker Academic) $29.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $20.99

I remain so enchanted by this magisterial work — see my early review of it at BookNotes HERE or HERE — and am pleased to offer it here for those who want to share it with their worship planners and preachers. With the brilliant foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff you might realize it is mature and somewhat sophisticated and it is. But, importantly, as Wolterstorff highlights in his foreword, they see that the breach, the gap, the disconnect between faith and the works world can be healed not only by a theology of work and encouragement to see career’s as holy callings, but by integrating, naturally and regularly, our theology of work into the worshipping life of our gathering faith communities. That is we must sing it, pray it, recite it. There must be a more explicate connection between liturgy and labor and in this regard, this book is one-of-kind. It does not bring me joy to say that there is nothing like it in print, but it is also exciting. This simply must be on the shelf of every worship planner and worship leader, regardless of denomination of worship style. It is urgent.

Happily as many have said, Kaemingk and Willson know what they are doing. They are robust in their knowledge of a theology of work and a theology of worship. They are uniquely skilled to bring these things together and they offer tons of resources, litanies, prayers, hymns and songs, and more to help congregants worship well. 

Here, finally, is the book that will take the ‘faith and work’ conversation to new depths of intentionality. With theological clarity and real-world accountability, Kaemingk and Willson mend what we have rent asunder. Advancing scholarship in theology of culture, it is also a must-read for those who lead worship for workers–which includes, of course, everyone. This should become a standard textbook, for the sake of the church and for the sake of the world. — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; author of You Are What You LoveOn the Road with Saint Augustine, and How to Inhabit Time

Kaemingk and Willson make an inspired contribution to the underdeveloped connection between work and worship in Christian life. They do not take the predictable approach of beginning with a theology of work and applying it to worship; rather, they come at it from the opposite direction, proposing that when references to labor are faithfully represented in the liturgy, it forms us for the work we ultimately present to God in all vocations. — Constance M. Cherry, Indiana Wesleyan University; author of The Worship Architect

Born of years of deepening commitment and maturing insight, the great gift of this groundbreaking book is its remarkably rich study of Scripture and history, showing that the deepest, truest witness through the centuries comes from an understanding of liturgy and labor–which is surprisingly seamless. Work and Worship is a gift to the church. — Steven Garber, senior fellow for vocation and the common good, Murdock Charitable Trust; author of The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work  Steve Garber (IVP) $20.00   OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.90

Those who follow BookNotes know that I highlight this from time to time, a book of short essays that I simply adore. These pieces are tender and passionate, short and sweet. They are, in a way, reports from Steve’s amazing travels, teaching about the connections between work and worship, weaving together (as his earlier book put it) belief and behavior. What does it look like to be a person of profound integrity, whose life holds together, seamless? He’s no idealist and he is aware — deeper than almost anyone I know, I sometimes think — that the world is broken and that are all implicated. Sure, he’s a bit intense at times. But he usually writes with a lovely, light touch. This handsome, compact sized hardback has full color photos and a great feel in the hand. I love this book and we’re so glad it hints at the deep integration that relates worship and work, living deeply with visions of vocation. It mostly shows rather than tells, with good storytelling. Somebody you know will love it.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew B. Crawford (FSG) $17.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.90

Okay, this is the only one on the list not written out of an overtly theological perspective, although the insight and wisdom of Matthew Crawford is solid and lovely. You may know his much talked about book (a bit philosophical but a must-read, called Shop Class As Soul Craft in which he tells the story of his getting tired of his obtuse white-collar professional job and starting up his own motorcycle repair shop. It’s a great screed against the “information age” which fails to appreciate skilled workers, shop class, craftspeople.) This one is a “brilliant and searching new work of social criticism” which follows up his previous rumination on the ethical and practical importance of manual competence. If Shop Class extolled mastering our skills of working in the creation, this explores our fractured mental lives, the forces that seem to distract and disrupt us.  

This is not just a screed against computers or automation but he does argue that we must reckon with the way “attention sculpt the self.” He looks at the intense focus of short order cooks and ice hockey players, the “quasi-autistic behavior” of gambling addicts, the slow craft of building pipe organs. As it says on the back, “He shows that our current crisis of attend is only superficially the result of digital technology” because it really is a deeper question that pervade how Western culture understands humans in the world. This has radical implications, he insists, about how we raise children, design public spaces, and arrange democracy itself.

This cogent, analytic, book makes a strong argument and the attitudes we have about our life in the world, include our callings and careers, our work (and worship) might need to be reconsidered after reading it. It isn’t only about work, but it includes some cool stories of workers who use their skills well. I wanted to offer it here on this short list of key titles. Enjoy.

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7 More Brand New Books – 20% OFF at Hearts & Minds

7 MORE NEW ONES – 20% OFF

Some folks seemed to appreciate the quick listing of 15 brand new books in the most recent BookNotes. I didn’t want to overdo it, but I had thought of listing these new ones as well.

So, here ya go, a postscript to the BookNotes from the other day — seven more that are quite new and in some cases brand new. I have hardly opened the pages of some of these (although a few I’ve read in advanced manuscripts form which the publishers were kind enough to share with me months ago.)  Here we go, announcements of new books about which I’m sure you would want to know. Send us an order to Hearts & Minds today. Use the secure order form at the end, and we’ll take care of the rest, deducting the discount with a smile.

Interpreting Your World: Five Lenses for Engaging Theology and Culture Justin Ariel Bailey (Baker Academic) $21.99 OUR DISCOUNT PRICE = $17.59

Yes, this is on the excellent Baker Academic imprint, but not all on that imprint are hefty textbooks. This is a bit serious but for any educated reader and anyone who wants to nurture their holy calling as culture makers it will be, I am sure, a excellent resource. As one reviewer put it, it is “equal parts innovative, surprising, and enlightening, this book sings.”

Interpreting Your World just came so I can’t say for sure, but I am guessing this book about a theology of flourishing is going to be stunning, something I’m going to savor through the fall and draw on for years to come. This is the broad book about a deep hunger for meaningful living — clearly in response to the triune God of the sacred story in Scripture — that seemed between the lines of Justin Bailey’s early heft volume on fresh ways to think about the art of apologetics, Reimagining Apologetics. For those aware of the nuances of various sorts of Reformed theologians, you might get a kick out of knowing Bailey teaches at Dordt University in Iowa. 

Here are two spectacular endorsements:

Bailey offers readers a profound gift. With clarity and skill, he introduces us to the dynamic ways theology and culture intersect. Rejecting simplistic and reductionistic Christian understandings, this book introduces us to the complex field of human action and divine grace that we call culture. — Matthew Kaemingk, Richard Mouw Institute of Faith and Public Life, Fuller Theological Seminary, co-editor of Reformed Public Theology: A Global Vision for Life in the World and co-author of Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy

Justin Bailey’s theology is a theology of flourishing, a theology that understands an artist’s heart. His discourse enters into culture not just to engage it but to liberate it. This is a theology that is integrated and quite beautiful to behold. Interpreting Your World offers a lens for cultural goodness and for the sanctification of our imaginations; it is an invitation into new creation. — Makoto Fujimura, artist and author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making and Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life

I’ve glanced through the discussion questions at the end of each chapter and they are provocative and interesting, making this ideal for a study group. His appendix on discerning the nature and meaning of cultural artifacts by way of the five lenses itself is extraordinary. Highly recommended.

The Church After Innovation: Questioning Our Obsession with Work, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship Andrew Root (Baker Academic) $27.99  OUR DISCOUNT PRICE = $22.39

Oh man, I’m so excited about this. It just came and I can’t say much about it, but you may know that Root has been doing a whole series of very mature reflections on the nature of the church in these times, in this secular age. Yes, earlier works in the series put congregational life (and one on pastoring) into conversation with the likes of social critics and intellectuals like Charles Taylor.  

In each of these stimulating volumes — the previous one came out about a half a year ago, entitled Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age — Root brings fresh analysis of the ways our Western culture and our contemporary trends have shaped and influenced how we presume churches ought to work and wonders, with great theological awareness, how authentic and faithful spirituality might mitigate these deforming influences. 

There are tons of amazing quotes on the back of this brand new book. Some are saying it is the best one yet — “perceptive and engaging, a godsend for leaders and pastors.” The back cover explains the book like this:

The call for pastors and congregations to be innovative can have a dark side: an obsession with contemporary relevance and entrepreneurship that lacks theological depth and promises burnout and exhaustion. The Church After Innovation shines a light on the problem and offers a treatment.

I like what Brian Brock (now at the University of Aberdeen) says, “There’s something satisfying about a story that is this big, bold, and revealing about how our cultural presumptions came to be — especially when so beautifully told.

“There’s something satisfying about a story that is this big, bold, and revealing about how our cultural presumptions came to be — especially when so beautifully told.”

And part of that big story, apparently, is going to be how chasing church innovation (often for the sake of numerical growth) may be rooted in our tacit assumptions — the air we breathe — learned from consumerism and late modern capitalism. Richard Beck puts in succinctly:

With penetrating analysis and prophetic force, Root exposes how the false idols of capitalism are being smuggled into the church through the Trojan horses of innovation and entrepreneurialism. A bold, necessary, and urgent book. — Richard Beck, Abilene Christian University; author of Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age

Learning Our Names: Asian American Christians on Identity, Relationships, and Vocation Sabrina S. Chan, Linson Daniel, E. David de Leon, and La Thao (IVP) $20.00

For decades and decades, the thoughtful, evangelical campus ministry InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been shaped by their many Asian-American students, many who have risen to leadership within the large organization. For decades their publishing division, one of our favorite publishers, IVP, have released books about the identity and unique struggles of Asian Americans, espeically for college age young adults. 

For instance, the classic Following Jesus without Dishonoring Your Parents or Tom Lin’s Losing Face & Finding Grace: 12 Bible Studies for Asian-Americans; Invitation to Lead Guidance for Emerging Asian American Leaders by Paul Tokunaga, More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith edited by Nikki A. Toyama-Szeto and Tracey Gee, and Growing Healthy Asian American Churches edited by Peter Cha, S. Steve Kang, and Helen Lee, among others. Although more academic, I am very excited to see the forthcoming  Doing Asian American Theology: A Contextualized Framework for Faith and Practice coming in November 2022 by Daneil D. Lee. Send us a pre-order today!

Learning Our Names (which opens with a rumination by Sabrina Chan on the various itineration of her name in Mandarin and Cantonese) is a fabulous, excellent, new collaboration by four IVCF staff or former leaders — part of families from Hong Kong, India, Philippines, and the Hmong people group. Chan is the national director of IVCF’s Asian American Ministries, working out of Durham, NC, Daniel is now a pastor of a multi ethnic church in Dallas, de Leon is a doctoral student at Fordham (in NYC) and Thao works on campuses in Wisconsin. What a diverse and delightful set of contexts! Skimming the chapter titles and topics and discussion questions makes me want to read this soon. Kudos to this unique team for the gifts they’ve offered here and for the publisher who so handsomely designed it.

This book is, I suppose, firstly for Asian American persons and faith communities as the authors offer  up to the minute insights and guidance for navigating the unique waters of our times, looking at spirituality and discipleship, interpersonal relations, vocational calling and family and ethnic identity. Solid Christian perspective for those living in the “multiple tensions” of being Asian American Christians, coping with pressures of being seen as “the model minority” or the “perpetual foreigner.”

A timely and expansive exploration for both Asian Americans and those who want to learn by entering into the stories and experience of Asian Americans. — Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director, Christians for Social Action

They Came For Mine: Healing from the Trauma of Racial Violence Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts (Westminster John Knox) $19.00  OUR DISCOUNT PRICE = $15.20

This is brand new and I cannot say much other than it is humbling and moving to even it hold it in my hands, skimming the footnotes, seeing who this brave author draws upon and recommends, a bit about her story, her journey, her rigorous scholarship and her audacious commitment to the ongoing freedom movement. As you might guess, the title is an allusion to a riff she does on Martin Niemoeller’s famous speech about the need to stand up for each other. The book is, as the wonderful writer and lively thinker Dante Stewart (of Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle) puts it:

Part memoir, part mediation, part manifesto, this work has the character and skill of poetry, the brilliance of grace, the mystery of Black wisdom, and the illumination that the world we have been given is not all that there is to life.

If the book we’ve highly recommended for several years on this topic, Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe (with a foreword by Soong-Chan Rah) remains our first go-to selection on this complex topic, They Came for Mine may indeed be the natural follow up. It, too, cites the exceptionally moving My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (by Resmaa Menakem) and, of course, the must-read volume on trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. There is some overlap, I suppose.

But I gather that the new Lewis-Giggetts is (as you might expect from WJK) from a more liberationist perspective, with citations from James Baldwin, intersectional scholars, Toni Morrison, and a cadre of anti-racist workers.

The blurbs on the back are compelling. Two that illustrate the authors orientation, by significant writers in this radical tradition — Chanequa Walker-Barnes (professor of Practical Theology and pastoral Counseling at Columbia Theological Seminary and author of I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation and Jacqui Lewis, who is described as a public theologian and the first Black or female senior minister at the progressive, multicultural Collegiate Church in Manhattan. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Drew University, she is the creator of the MSNBC online show Just Faith and the PBS show Faith and Justice, in which she led important conversations about culture and current events. Jacqui is the author of Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World. 

As you can see, this volume stands in the robust tradition of womanist and activist black theologians and is clear about the ongoing trauma of inhabiting a black body in a culture defined by white supremacy. If you get that, this book will be a valuable guide to deeper awareness and deeper healing admist our racist society. If you are suspect of this claim, I invite you to consider it. It reminds us of why we must #SayHerName, sadly, over and over. This stuff is not going away, so we need serious resources like this. Please check it out.

Tracey Michael Lewis-Giggetts is author of the 2020 release, Choosing Your Lens: How White Christians Can Become Better Allies and is the founder of HeARTspace, a healing community that uses storytelling and the arts to serve those who have experienced trauma. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Essence Magazine, Oprah Daily, and more.

When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse Chuck DeGroat (IVP) $18.00 paperback                     OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I do not have to say much about this new paperback release as we have reviewed it before. It has been much discussed and really appreciated by many since it first came out in hardback — yep, in mid-March, 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was hitting us all. Not a great time for a book release, although, oddly, an important title for those very times. Maybe the know-it-alls didn’t “come to church” in person, but they were around. Not a few churches had hard fall-outs with strong personalities demanding this or that. 

One is tempted to cite The Talking Heads song and sigh, “Same as it ever was.” Yes, pride and stubbornness plagues any human organization and churches have plenty of oddballs and bullies. Maybe more than some organizations. We need to know how to handle such hard stuff.

When Narcissism Comes to Church is really good for any sort of congregation, and good for anyone to read even for other contexts, it certainly is a must for any congregational leader. It does focus on this particular diagnostic disorder: narcissism. DeGroat is a pastoral counselor and knows his stuff. He shows how these tendencies are around, all over many of our best churches and para-church ministries; he explores in wonderful prose how the narcissism disorder itself can show up. And what to do, with goodness and grace.  

There are, I might add, importantly, a couple of very good chapters on the narcissistic pastor.  Yup; that’s a thing.

Why does narcissism seem to thrive in many churches? This is a vital book, perhaps the only thing of its kind, trying to answer that. Blurbs on the back are from Dan Allender, Curt Thompson and Nancy Ortberg.  A great forward is written by Richard Mouw which says a lot. As Dan Allender puts it, When Narcissism Comes to Church is “a landmark work of wisdom, tenderness, honor, and hope.”

Now this landmark book is in paperback. It’s now a couple of dollars cheaper and you could buy several at our discounted price. It’s worth working through (as are, by the way, his other good books.) Congratulations, Chuck! 

Against Liberal Theology: Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity Roger E. Olson (Zondervan Reflective) $18.99

This is a book I tore through, eager to read and absorb, and I liked it a lot. Mostly. We are happy to commend it. Let me explain, too briefly.

I’ll just say three quick things. 

Firstly, this is not a book about what sort of social implications we think the gospel carries, what kind of public ethic we work for, how we ought to be people of justice, creation-care, racial reconciliation and the like. He favors that sort of robust Kingdom theology that sees — perhaps somewhat like the theologically impeccable friend of his, the late Ron Sider — the Bible relating to all of life and the Lordship of Christ over culture and its deforming idols. He’s thoughtful and, frankly, not conservative, theologically, and certainly not politically.  No worries there. This is a book about theology as such, and he goes to great lengths to be clear just what he is worried about (and what he is not addressing.) Don’t misunderstand the term “liberal” or “progressive” as having anything to do with politics as that isn’t his topic.

Secondly, although he is greatly concerned about a trajectory among some that for perhaps even understandable reasons, is moving towards deconstructing and eroding fairly classic, standard, historic doctrines of orthodox faith, he is not mean-spirited, not a fundamentalist, not judging motives, or fixating with nuances of small disagreements. He is no-nonsense in a way, just naming clearly what he sees and backing it up with quotes that alarm him (from the late Marcus Borg, say, or Brian McLaren or Doug Ottati — three gents I have met and, like Olson, can happily respect; Brian is an old friend who I very much appreciate.) Olsen is wanting to be clear and candid although his book isn’t quite as terse as, say, the classic Christianity and Liberalism written by the former Princeton professor J. Gresham Machen in 1923 — almost one hundred years ago.

Thirdly, while I am not totally in agreement with his assessment of the dangers of some liberal theology, he is, I think, mostly correct, in both his analysis of contemporary trends and his critique of older, classic, theological liberalism. He goes a good job, though, drawing on the magisterial volumes by Gary Dorrien, especially The Making of American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity, 1950-2005 and, naturally, shows the detrimental impact of the likes of Friedrich Schleirmacher, Adolf von Harnack, and Paul Tillich, up to John Spong, for instance.

Roger Olson has written many good books. Interestingly, in Against Liberal Theology he speaks of working for two mainline denominational churches — one pastored by a disillusioned Baptist, the other by a mainline liberal Presbyterian — so he has seen this lack of gospel-centered clarity play out in congregation life, in preaching and Christian ed, family ministry and mission. I see, now, why he wrote the very interesting Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church (Abingdon Press.) I really liked his concise paperback, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God, co-written with his own rather postmodern friend, the late Stanley Grenz. His largest volume is the wonderful clothbound, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (IVP Academic.) Perhaps most germane to this new book is his 2008 release, How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative (with a forward by Scot McKnight.) It is out of print — ahh, if only it had sold more! — but we have a few left, natch.

McKnight endorses this one, too:

Roger Olson’s Against Liberal Theology is a courageous and calm definition, examination, and evaluation of the collapse of authentic, orthodox Christian theology in the minds, hearts, and hands of one liberal (not progressive) theologian after another. In their own words, Olson often shines a bright, piercing light on their own criticisms. This is a vintage example of Olson being Olson: he knows the literature, he is candid, he is fair, and he is unstinting in criticism of the pitfalls of liberal theologians. And he examines only those who overtly espouse ‘liberal’ in their theology. Those most attracted into progressivism and then into liberalism will benefit from a humble reading of this book. — Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary, author, most recently, of My Theology: The Audacity of Peace

Zero Hour America: History’s Ultimatum Over Freedom and the Answer We Must Give Os Guinness (IVP) $23.00. OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40

It is never a bad day when a new Os Guinness book shows up. He is always my teacher, a long-time supporter of our family-run bookstore, and an admirable example of a Christian leader who speaks often in secular, scholarly circles — think tanks, study centers, action groups, professional organizations, civic projects, even the United Nations. His book The Call is on my short list of all-time favorite books. He is best known in evangelical circles, known for his astute observations, his impeccable, note-less speechifying, and his wise, non-partisan call for God’s people to be in but not of the world around us. He is sometimes known as a public intellectual, sometimes a cultural critic, often as a passionate evangelical preacher. His PhD is from Oxford where he studied the work of the significant Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger. Os describes his own inspiration drawn from the three scholars who most influenced his thinking and life in the wonderful Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Those three influences, mentors of sorts? C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Peter Berger.

In Dr. Guinness’s last major book, the 2021 volume The Magna Carta of Humanity, he added a fourth to his list of most appreciated mentors, the beloved and highly respected late Rabbi of London, Jonathan Sacks. In that volume Guinness conscientiously showed connections between the Hebrew God and consequent Biblical worldview — shaped by ordered law and virtuous freedom — that so formed the best of Western views of civic life and certainly the framers of the US Constitution. As a Brit living in the US, Guinness feels a certain responsibility to honor his American guests by sounding the alarm at the dangers he perceives threatening our almost 250 year-old Republic.  (In 2012 he wrote a book called, notably, A Free People’s Suicide.) He has several books on what he once called “The American Hour” and is a globally respected voice on religious pluralism and sustainable freedom. He may be one of the best — if not best known — of democracy’s allies that the contemporary world may now have. That he has experienced the ravages of communist terror (he was born and lived his earliest years in China and lost loved ones to the Most takeover) is itself a poignant matter of personal credibility.

As he says throughout his Magna Carta book, and in many stirring lectures given in recent years, it is imperative that we reflect on the differences between the awful French Revolution of 1789 and the momentous US Revolution of 1776. Some of you may be old enough to recall that scene in Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live film (or book) showing the implications and historical consequences of these two vastly different revolutions, one leading to mass totalitarianism, the other to a flawed but beautiful vision of freedom for all.

It grieves me to say that I was not sure what to make of Zero Hour America since he had just published the weighty The Magna Carta of Humanity last year. I figured this was, perhaps — to use an image from the days of rock and roll recordings — a collection of outtakes, alternative versions, unedited extras, bonus tracks for the true fans. I think I was mostly right. And, as with those quirky CD releases, some of the newly released material from a previous recording session might have come from the cutting floor, stuff that didn’t make the first release. Or fiesty reworkings of some of the same stuff, maybe making it even more compelling; true fans will probably think they’ve heard some of this before, but with a new sort of reverb and some louder kick drums.

Perhaps this is wrong of me, and I do not mean it to be unkind. But Zero Hour is a slimmed down, passion-driven, cry of the heart — Os’s plea for us to wake up before it is too late. For careful readers, there isn’t much new, although, yet, every page has new quotes, new citations, new examples, re-saying much of what has been said before, underscored. He draws on such a wide array of sources, citing with approval ancient scholars from around the globe, seeming to particularly appreciate of the likes of Arnold Toynbee. And, of course, the great Abraham Lincoln. HIs working knowledge of global writers and the philosophy of historiography is a intellectual joy to behold.

As I said in my reviews of his previous book, I am in disagreement with him in his assessment of the nature of the threats to democracy. He, perhaps like Rod Dreher (just for instance) acknowledges the threat from the far right, but worries more about the Gramscian long march through the institutions by the so-called Marxian left. He alarms us about the “post-democratic, one-party technocratic elite that have emerged in America to replace American democracy with America’s newly forming authoritarian oligarchy.” I don’t exactly know who that is, or how they are doing that and he doesn’t say. He seems to think it is mostly “the elites” who opposed viscerally the former President Trump. That’s just odd. He condemns the “proto-authoritarians in the political sphere who are blind to their creeping authoritarianism”, now “marching under a banner…” and I guess he means Democrats, but is trying to be courteous in not saying so. That he worries about Black Lives Matters and woke businesses and postmodern professors and Foucault’s disciples isn’t so bad — he makes a fair point — but that he doesn’t talk about the insurrection of January 6th and former President Trump’s big lie, hoodwinking a major part of the American people into distrusting our modern elections, is a nearly unforgivable omission in a book like this, published in the last half of 2022. It is almost as if he wrote this a decade ago, before the notable horrors and massive disinformation of the last few years. 

Which is not to say we don’t need to read this book. In fact, those who are likely to be frustrated, as I am, with the direction and tone of the last few books by Os, may need it the most. People who are by constitution conservative and by principle Republican may not need this reminder, although they will be impressed with the balanced, thoughtful, faithful exegesis of our nation’s deepest impulses and ideas. He is not alt-right and has no particular partisan loyalties. Such readers will be fired up by Zero Hour, understandably so. 

Importantly, such conservative readers need to be reminded, by a spokesperson they can trust, that, indeed, slavery and racism remains an unreckoned with injustice that cries out to heaven for redress. Guiness is not a fan of the historical assumptions of, say, the 1619 Project (although he never spells out why) but make no mistake: he cares about social justice and has a Biblically-inspired vision of justice for all, each living “under their vine and fig tree.” He has an entire chapter called “Righting Wrongs.” He cares about the abuse of power.

However, again, it may be those of us who are in the center or who tilt left and who remain outraged at the chicanery of the Trumpian movement and the rhetoric of the MAGA idols, who need reminded of some very basic stuff, found — emphatically — here in the latest from the real Dr. Os.

In a rumination on Deuteronomy 17 where the Hebrew king was called to study the covenant “all the days of his life”, Guinness imagines how US Presidents might be called to lead well beyond their swearing in.

Like the great Jewish leader Moses or like Winston Churchill with his immense grasp of history, your task is to guide the destiny of the American republic with a profound and ever-growing understanding of the ideas and ideals of the American republic and the best and worst of the American past. To ‘make America great again’, Mr. Trump, and to ‘restore the soul of America’, Mr Biden, you must address what made America great in the first place.

I wonder if this, icing on the cake of The Magna Carta of Freedom, and its lively prelude volume, Last Call for Liberty, make a trilogy that might help us all clarify what our nation might be about. It is interesting that, in fact, Os calls for such a project to help us recover — or at least clarify — what freedom is within the American experiment.

Guinness writes, “What The Federalist Papers did for the Constitutional Convention, a fresh and powerful restatement of the founding character of America needs to do for our time.” 

“What The Federalist Papers did for the Constitutional Convention, a fresh and powerful restatement of the founding character of America needs to do for our time.”

It may not be read as widely as a major release on the international stage, but this could be the very sort of clarification some need.

Guinness’s big themes are reviewed in a final powerfully concise chapter called “Zero Hour America” which is pitched (as is most of the book) as a dire ultimatum. Yet, he is (as he puts it) “fired by hope” and insists that “a warning is not a prediction.”

Yes, he says, “America will fall — unless.” And in covenant hope, therein lies the call. That great “unless.” We may fine-tune what that entails, but he is surely right. We are in a kairos time. I have never heard Os so urgent, so passionate, so fiery.  Agree fully or not, this book is a grand summary and reminder, a manifesto of what we must do, soon.

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15 new books, briefly explained — 20% OFF at Hearts & Minds

Thanks to those who ordered that marvelously enjoyable Stories of My Life by the great children’s writer and advocate for literacy, Katherine Paterson. What a joy to also send out books like her Great Gilly Hopkins and Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved. Not to mention our friend’s great book that we featured again last week,  Square Halo Books’ recent Wild Things and Castles in the Sky which we can’t say enough about.

This BookNotes is going to be a relatively rapid-fire listing of 12 new books we got into the store here within the last week or so. (Or in some cases, just yesterday!) I will try not to say much about them, other than that we ordered them months ago because we knew they’d be of interest to you, our peeps. We are glad you are so supportive of our efforts here at Hearst & Minds as we craft a somewhat different sort of Christian bookstore.  Enjoy these varied new releases – and send us an order, soon. We are eager to serve, happy to help.

Be sure to scroll thru to the end where you will find the secure “order” links. We are glad for your commitment to support small business. We’ll be sure to follow up personally. It’s what we do.

Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters Bob Smietana (Worthy) $27.00                                     OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

You may (or should) know Bob Smietana as one of the most respected writers on the religion beat. He is currently a national reporter for the wire service Religion News Service. Blurbs on the back include raves from the Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey and the important Ryan Burge (author of The Nones.) He’s been at this for decades and this is his description of our times, skillfully helping us see the trends, get the picture, understand the data, and sense our place in these complicated and serious times. A key concern is why people are leaving the church and what we might wisely do about it.

This is brand new and important. Don’t miss it.

Low Anthropology: The Unlikely Key to a Gracious View of Others (and Yourself) David Zahl (Brazos Press) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Oh my, I’d like to tell you a lot about this – I’m part way through and find it a hoot and a half. The cover is weirdly funny and the title may be a bit obscure. Anthropology means a view of the human person (not necessarily cultural anthropology which studies, at least in our mind’s eye, rare tribes and far away people groups.) This, rather, is asking what we should think of ourselves, and other members of the pretty stupid (and grand) human race. It has been called perceptive, funny, subversive, nourishing. Zahl’s father, Paul, was a sober-minded and thoughtfully gospel-centered Episcopalian theologian (you should order his old Eerdmans book that we keep on hand, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life.) David founded the uber-cool Mockingbird Ministries and is the chief editor of the “Mockingbird” blog. Not long ago he wrote (and then expanded in the paperback version) the deep but really great Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It.) We’re fans.

This excellent, witty new study of human nature and how it influences our expectations (from friendship to work to politics to marriage) is a thoughtfully Christian study, but is deeply human and humane. It is liberating, really, to, well (and this is a bit simple) lower our expectations. As an old comedy album from 1971 put it, “We’re All Bozos on This Bus.” Do I hear an Amen to that?

And – dang, I like this! – this may be the only book on which Nadia Bolz-Weber and Mike Cosper both have endorsements. Nadia says “This is the book I have been waiting for: an antidote to all the self-help nonsense that weighs down our bookshelves and our self-regard.”

Liturgical Mission: The Work of the People for the Life of the World Winfield Bevins (IVP) $20.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Allow me to quickly say that I admire this author a lot. He is passionate about how evangelical and sacramental worldviews overlap and is convinced that many of our youngest, postmodern rising adults are drifting not from true faith but from a consumeristic and entertainment model of worship and church life. We really liked his book called Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation And think he’s mostly right. We can hope so.

This new one now takes the author out and broadens it not just to a “new generation” but to all of us longing to reclaim ancient practices for everyday life and mission. As a Wesleyan, he gets a warm-hearted friendship with God, he preaches the gospel, and he has a robust cultural analysis and social engagement. He cares about reaching the world and he cares about congregational life. He knows that worship is formative and vital.

In this book he is, writing from his seat as director of the Center for Church Multiplication at Asbury Theological Seminary, showcasing his passion for mission and for a wholistic, missional mindset. We’ve got a million books on being contextualized and missional these days, but this is really fresh, bringing a liturgical awareness of the work of the people, for the sake of the world.

There is a lovely forward by Justo Gonzalez which should be greatly valued.

Christine Pohl weighs in, saying,

Rejecting common bifurcations of sacraments and justice, ancient creeds and current relevance, worship and mission, Bevins argues persuasively for a fresh integration of them in contemporary church life.

That’s really it, eh? No bifurcations! If only we could say it in Latin or something. What an invitation this must be. Can’t wait to study it and spread its wisdom.

God Is Mallory Wyckoff (Eerdmans) $21.99             OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I heard from our great Eerdmans sales rep that we’d like this, and he got me some early pages. Wow.  I knew of Mallory from her work at Preemptive Love (which is high praise in my book, especially given some of their recent struggles.) Her DMin is from Lipscomb University (in “missional spiritual formation”) and she has done an advanced dissertation on the impact of sexual trauma on survivors theological perceptions and spirituality. Anyway, she is a young and rising star in Kingdom work and has been called “a trusted voice for people seeking to navigate their spirituality with curiosity, honesty, and courage.”

There are fabulous endorsements, too – Ian Morgan Cron, the great author (and, now, enneagram guru) says, “I urge you to accept my friend Mallory’s invitation to expand the ways you think about the Divine and live into a better, truer, story.”  From Richard Beck to Catherine Meeks, wise people have noted that this study of the nature of God written out of the author’s own experience is (as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove puts it) “something both beautiful and disorienting.” This is authentic stuff, poignant and helpful.

Strength for the Fight: The Life and Faith of Jackie Robinson Gary Scott Smith (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Yes!  This is the second book written by a friend and customer on the great Jackie Robinson. (I reviewed Michael Long’s 2017 Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography commending it heartily. Now he commends this one, saying it is “meticulously researched” and both “insightful and uplifting.” Further, Mike says “Strength for the Fight situates Robinson’s faith in wider society and culture as no other book does. It’s a significant contribution not only to our understanding of Robinson but also the growing field of religion and sports.”

Gary is an excellent and esteemed historian, now retired from years teaching college. (He did two massive volumes about the faith of American Presidents published by Oxford University Press which indicates his sophistication.) He happens to have a Christian passion for the poor and underserved and has done good work in personal service in multicultural settings in Western PA. In any case, it makes sense for him to tackle this icon; it stands as one of the best in the prestigious Library of Religious Biographies that Eerdmans happily continues to publish. This one is surely a must-read. Congrats, Gary!

Practice of the Presence: A Revolutionary Translation Brother Lawrence; translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Broadleaf) $25.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

It brings me great joy to recommend this, a fresh and inviting translation of this beloved classic. I have gotten a lot of mileage using the basic storyline of Nicholas Herman, better known as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, and his learning to pray while doing the dishes. His experience buying communion wine – exchanging filthy lucre, as they say, with heathens, no less, outside the walls of the French monastery yields a cosmic sense of oneness that rivals the famous passage of his vision in St. Louis told in Thomas Merton’s memoir. In any case, it preaches well, but I have to admit I haven’t truly adored the little book. Like many classics in the Renovare handbooks, I’m sort of like Jana Riess in her fun Flunking Sainthood. Yup; that’s me. But this handsome compact hardback with an excellent introduction to the life of Brother L, well, it just might be the book to bring his “spirituality of the ordinary” into our day and age. So far, I’m loving it and you just might as well.

Richard Rohr assures us that it is a “careful, comprehensive translation” and that it “beautifully captures Brother Lawrence.”  Others who pile on the praise include the staid and deep Martin Laird and the lovely Barbara Brown Taylor and even Jamie Smith, who colorfully notes that to get this book you just have to “imagine Mr. Rogers as a mystic.” Exactly.

More of You: The Fat Girls Field Guide to the Modern World Amanda Martinez Beck (Broadleaf) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is not brand, brand new, but I’ve not given it the shout out it deserves. Amanda Beck has written well about body image and weight issues and a spirituality of self-care in other books, including the very good Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me. She is the co-creator and cohost of the “Fat and Faithful” podcast. She has received a lot of traction at her Instagram account which just indicates the remarkable need for resources like this. Beck’s passionate writing has been featured in various outlets, from the evangelical Christianity Today to the thoughtfully Jesuit America. Right on! It is an honor to care such vulnerable, thoughtful books.

A devotional author we like, Jessica Kantrowitz (365 Days of Peace) notes that,

Beck sets out to give the reader a knapsack of tools to navigate a world that is often unsafe and unjust for fat people. She emphasizes her signature line, “All bodies are good bodies.” This is a must-read for anyone with a body.

Elusive Grace: Loving Your Enemies While Striving for God’s Justice Scott Black Johnston (WJK) $19.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

The cover of this isn’t as classy as I’d wish – it really deserves to be an elegant hardback with deckled edge pages. With the lovely forward by Barbara Brown Taylor you are alerted that this is fully thoughtful and quite eloquent. Blurbs on the back are from great preachers such as Thomas Long and Cleophus LaRue, professor of homiletics at Princeton.

Yes, it is a bit provocative and yet delightful. (Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “In what other book can you find Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Franklin in the same sentence?”) It is a sweet call to intentional patterns of Christian community that form us and it is about civic-minded, public life. It is about “reclaiming virtue” and “retraining our hearts.” There is a lot about the church and there are study lessons and discussion questions making it ideal for small groups, adult classes, book clubs and such within your church.

Elusive Grace is filled with hope-filled guidance and it’s rightfully critical of much going on in our polarized society. He brings a lot of voices into conversation with Holy Scripture, from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Emily Dickinson to Mister Rogers. I could go on with other fun pop culture examples, but you get the drift.

Scott Black Johnston is Senior Pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. In the PC(USA) that’s not too shabby.

Creating Cultures of Belonging: Cultivating Organizations Where Women and Men Thrive Beth Birmingham and Eeva Sallinen Simard (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This is brand new but we’ve been cheering for it for a year. As Mimi Haddad (President of CBE International) puts it, it is a “thoroughly researched, courageous critique of organizational practices and their impact on women and human flourishing. A must-read for women in Christian organizations.” I hate to admit it, but I know some who really need it, now.

The quote puts it clearly – it is a book inviting Christian organizations (from churches to mission agencies, nonprofits, schools, ministries, and parachurch groups) to reflect the diversity and justice of God’s Kingdom. Many of our best organizations desire to have women in positions of leadership, however this sometimes (for a variety of reasons explored here) sometimes proved difficult when the organizational culture is one that isn’t open. Sometimes the organizational culture silences women or even penalizes the unique giftings that women bring to the table. Obstacles are real, even in this day and age, and, sadly, a book like this is just what is needed – good data, important research, and lots of upbeat stories and solid guidance.

This guidebook is commended by organizational guru Tod Bolsinger and the wonderful writer and immigrant activist Karen Gonzales. (Karen has a new book coming in mid-October from Brazos which you can pre-order, naturally — Beyond Welcome: Centering Immigrants in Our Christian Response to Immigration. She serves as the human resource director at World Relief.)

Beth Birmingham is an NGO leadership and organizational consultant, development researcher, trainer and former college professor. She works with TearFund USA and is involved in the status-quo disrupting organization Christian Alliance for Inclusive Development. Eeva Sallinen Simard is director of an international health project at World Relief and has more than fifteen years of experience working with missional NGOs. She is co-convener of the Wheaton College Network Initiative for Development, Gender, and Christianity.

Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down: A Guide for Parents Questioning Their Faith Bekah McNeel (Eerdmans) $26.99                                      OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is a beautiful, complex, rare, and interesting book. I don’t often say loudly that there is no such book on the market but this seems true to me – there is simply nothing like this out there. It is a true story, an evangelical church woman who got burned out when hurt by a seriously toxic situation and simply drifted from church and, perhaps, from faith. She was, as they say, deconstructing.

I will write more about this in an upcoming BookNotes (eventually) about this very topic of those drifting from faith and deconstructing their older beliefs, for better or worse and will naturally name this. For now, know this: this combines her earnest grappling with what she and her husband believe and how all that changed when she had children.

As it says in the introduction:

This book is about the various places and ways that uncertainty shows up for parents who, having left or altered the faith they once knew, and now must decide what to give their kids. It’s about church attendance, Bible memorization, school choices, and sex talks. It’s about forging new paths in racial justice and creation-care while the intractable voices in your head call you a pagan Marxist for doing so.

I like the books of Cindy Wang Brandt (such as her lively, lefty Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness.) Her long, good endorsement where she raves about this starts, “I’m biased because I wrote one, but I love parenting books. These books answer the question: where do we go from here as a human civilization?” Or, I might say, they at least try to. If you wonder, too, Bekah’s book, she says, is for you, mostly as stories to consider. I

Silencing White Noise: Six Practices to Overcome Our Inaction on Race Willie Dwayne Francois III (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We have more books on racism and justice and multi-ethnic ministry and reconciliation and the like that it is hard to know what makes any new ones necessary. But this. This. Oh my, this is mature and solid and important. I hope to write about it more. I’ve had an advanced manuscript and have been waiting for this day when it arrives, as it did a day ago. Congrats to Dr. Francois (with a DMin from Candler) who is senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville NJ and seems boundlessly tireless. He teaches liberation theology at New York Theological Seminary and has created Public Love Organizing and its PLOT (Public Love Organizing Training) program, doing anti-racism work all the while teaching at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

The rave endorsements on the back of this are from well known scholar activists, from Oberty Hendricks to Jennifer Harvey. Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard Divinity School says it is “an unflinching look at how the white noise of racism keeps us stalled out on the road to a true multiracial democracy and a call to cultivate practices that can get us moving.”

This is Biblical and theological but aimed at actionable steps. Kudos to Brazos, as always.

Necessary Christianity: What Jesus Shows We Must Be and Do Claude Alexander, Jr. (IVP) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

Another brand new one that I’ve hardly looked at, but can assure you is solid, clear, poignant, and powerful, is this, Necessary Christianity. Bishop Claude Alexander, Jr. is the well-respected, black senior pastor of the Park Church in Charlotte NC and serves on the boards of numerous evangelical organizations (including the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities and IVCF.) This is, according to Mac Pier – who has written mighty books about prayer, by the way – “a brilliant exposition on the life of Jesus… by helping serious people of faith discover the “musts” of our followership of Jesus.” As Mac notes, Rev. Alexander helps us “live consequentially. Every major decision needs to be evaluated through the lens of Jesus’s musts on each of us.”

In other words, as Russell Moore puts it, this book is for you if you have trouble focusing on what really matters. This is about Christian maturity, about following Christ, about his cross and Kingdom. A few things are simply not optional, but necessary. This book explores what we do, day by day, and how to live with a sense of divine necessity, as he calls it. Nicely done.

There are six chapters and what looks to be a very good discussion guide in the back.  Hooray.

A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing Amanda Held Opelt (Worthy) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

This came out a bit ago and I’ve mentioned it before but I just have to announce it again. It is, quite simply, a beautiful walk through 12 different grief practices. Amanda is the bereaved sister of the late Rachel Held Evans so it starts with her coping with that sudden loss. She writes well, includes some humor, and the book feels like a clever cross between a memoir of sorrow and an anthropologist’s survey of what might seem like oddball practices to the uninitiated.

There is so much here – it’s a great read. From fairly common habits (sending cards) to the nearly superstitious (covering mirrors) to the nearly amusing (see “funeral games” – who knew?) to the beautiful (like coping with fear through “telling the bees”), there is something here for everyone. Join Amanda as she sits shiva or as she takes in the beauty of funeral food. You will laugh, I bet, and you may cry. It’s a great book.

The fine writer Jen Pollock Michel says it “invites us to put our aching bodies in motion, to glimpse at the surviving we can all do.” Other fine raves on the back are from Sarah Bessey, Jeff Chu, Michael Card, and K.J. Ramsey, all authors we’ve commended here. Trust us – A Hole in the World is well worth having.

The Other Side of Hope Danielle Strickland (Nelson) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Oh my, there’s a lot to explain about this but I promised I’d keep it quick. I’ve read several books by this heroic and outspoken leader who has worked against trafficking for the Salvation Army in Canada and has served in a large church (which she left in solidarity with abuse victims that were not being taken seriously until their pastor was arrested.) She doesn’t always do the courageous and heroic thing, according to this fabulous read (which is nearly like a memoir, each chapter telling about episodes of her journey.) But, wow, how God has shown up, claimed and empowered her. I still recall her fabulous talk at the CCOs Jubilee conference a few years back and appreciated her podcast with the ever-upbeat Bob Goff. Diana gets around and is an author you should know.

Here’s the fun thing: half of this book is stories of her slowly finding hope in her ragged, rugged situations. It is hard to put down and I kept saying to myself “I’ll just read one more” and on and on I went, turning pages, until…

Well, until you have to turn the book over and start over from the back, with an upside-down new start. The designers imagined this way to get to “the other side” of hope and the second half is described as “flipping the script on cynicism and despair and rediscovering our humanity.” I suppose we could say we start with stories and then get to the theory, but even this second section is laden with examples and stories of folks she’s met on her walk on the wild side. What hard won hope! Flipping the script, for real.

If the front of the book sort of looks like a classy museum painting, the back is the backside, the dirty canvas, the wooden frame and wires. Cheers to Hannah McNeilly for this original package design. And thanks to the candor and hope of this broken servant of the Lord, Danielle Strickland. Buy it today if you like good stories, hard stuff redeemed by a God who is there.

Following Jesus in a Digital Age Jason Thacker (B+H) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

Jason Thacker is an amazing young scholar and this recent, compact book, while succinct, is weighty, full of substance and a bit of gravitas. It is a fine companion to one of our favorite reads of this year, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological Age by the remarkable Andy Crouch. Jason Thacker isn’t as charmingly eloquent but he’s solid and exceptionally sharp.

His first book (The Age of AI) carried an excellent forward by Richard Mouw, by the way, and this new one is less specific and looks at the broader scope of our technological age. He heads the ERLC Research Institute, researching technology and its impact. He is no Luddite but he is worried and here he calls God’s people to “step into the challenges of the digital age from a place of hope and discernment.” It’s a good perspective, a helpful way to lean into all of this, since most of us are nearly like the proverbial fish in water asking, “what’s water?”

Thacker invites us to pursue wisdom, truth, responsibility, and identity in our post-truth, curated, polarized age. Highly recommended.

In the Shadow of His Wings: 40 Uplifting Devotions Inspired by Birds Rosylnn Long (Bethany Publishing) $17.99                          OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This doesn’t take much to describe but I wish I could put it into your hands to open it and gaze at the beautiful, full-color pictures. It isn’t overly artful or eccentric, just solid faith-building devotions illustrated with wonderful, inspiring photos. One friend of the store recently said she read through three or four devotionals straight through — they were that good. Designed for a 40-day journey, maybe you, too, will breeze through, and then come back to ponder. But half the fun is enjoying the photography.

Rosylnn Long’s photography has been featured in Birds and Blooms magazine, Minnesota Weatherguide calendars, and other Minnesota publications. (So you can guess where she’s from.) She loves God and God’s creation and her study of birds has given her this unique opportunity to dwell with God in His creation, observing. Check out her prints at lynnlongprintscom. This handsome hardback makes a nice gift, eh? Order one today.

++++

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PLEASE READ AND THEN CLICK ON THE “ORDER HERE” LINK BELOW.

It is helpful if you tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be slow. For one typical book, usually, it’s about $3.69; 2 lbs would be $4.36.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.35 if it fits in a flat rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $8.95. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

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

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading again; rates are rising Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

We are doing our famous curb-side customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday.

 

“Stories of My Life” by Katherine Paterson ON SALE NOW – 20% OFF

One of the books I praised most heartily earlier this year was Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children edited by Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard, and Thea Rosenburg (Square Halo Books; $29.99 – OUR BOOKNOTES DISCOUNT PRICE = $23.99.) It is one of my favorite books about books and certainly on the top of the list of books parents should have to inspire them to read widely to their kiddos. I like these kinds of books and whenever the opportunity presents itself, we recommend The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin; $20.00) and the lovely, updated Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt (Zondervan; $21.99)

Recently we’ve gotten into the store the terrific book called Mothering By the Book: The Power of Reading Aloud to Overcome Fear and Recapture Joy by Jennifer Pepito (Bethany House; $16.99) that comes with a lovely foreword by the great Sally Clarkson. We shouldn’t forget the wonderful work of Sarah Mackenzie (founder of “Read Aloud Revival”) and her book The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids (Zondervan; $18.99.)

I like more reflective books on kid’s books as well. I can’t say enough about the stunning Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls by Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf; $24.99.) You really should read it!  Recently, I’ve been dipping in to my old copies of the marvelous Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy (Simon & Schuster; $17.00) and the somewhat eccentric and deep Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children’s Literature by Jonathan Cott (University of Minnesota Press; $19.95.) There is in the new edition a forward by the ever brilliant (and perfectly suited for this nearly mysterious project) Maria Popova, founder of the weekly email newsletter, The Marginalian. As Jerry Griswold wrote about it in the Los Angeles Times Book Review,

“This book is a serious, even profound study of complex writers and the depth concealed under the hard-wrought simplicity of their stories.” 

Perhaps that is what some of the myriad authors in Wild Things and Castles in the Sky are getting at, which is why I loved it so. There is so much going on in “hard-wrought” simple stories that end up being not so simple after all. Co-editor of Wild Things, educator Carey Bustard, offers her kid’s lit reviews in her chapter framed by notions of goodness, beauty, and truth.  Artist and songwriter Matthew Clark’s piece mentions fantasy novelist George MacDonald and how he “gently scratches the surface to release the delicious fragrance of goodness.” Joy Strawbridge’s entry on Middle Grade Fiction is called “Growing Holy Imagination.” That’s it, isn’t it?!

In a chapter on suffering called “Cracks in the Creation”, Ashley Artavia Novalis writes wisely about various sorts of kid’s books that approach this tender topic with great empathy. Recalling a memorable Mister Rogers’ episode about the assassination of Robert F Kennedy she tells how Mister Rogers offered “a masterclass in how families can help children grieve and serves as a prime example of one of Mister Rogers’ key philosophies behind the neighborhood: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”” 

“In the same way,” Novalis continues, “good stories of adversity provide a language for suffering.” 

Which brings me to…

Stories of My Life Katherine Paterson  (Westminster John Knox) $22.00                                                 OUR BOOKNOTES 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $17.60

Which brings me to one of the great patron saints of 20th century (and early 21st century) children’s literature, the extraordinary Katherine Paterson. Had I been asked to do a chapter in a book like Wild Things and Castles in the Sky I’d have surely told of my own learning to love children’s books as an adult while reading (or listening to) Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Jacob Have I Loved, three of the most esteemed and honored of Paterson’s dozens of books. I will never forget the spectacular talk she gave at the 1998 Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing on the role of the imagination, the best of the keynotes that year, sandwiched between Elie Weisel and John Updike. She tells about that lecture, and staying in the Grand Rapids home of the legendary writer (and Calvin prof) Gary Schmidt for that weekend, when she got the phone call saying she won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, in her new book of memories, Stories of My Life. It is utterly magnificent, touching, and I found it captivating — a gentle but absolute page-turner!

I was very moved by this sprawling set of memories from her life, including what she has learned about parents and grandparents on her side of the family — she was a Womeldorf; her mother came from a grand Southern family, the Goetchius’s. We learn a bit about the colorful stories of her late husband — he was a Paterson (“with one t” she noticed, quickly) whose own father had very colorful years of, among other things, serving in World War One, being gassed, losing a leg, and being treated for TB. It is very nicely written with a calm and no-nonsense style. It was truly lovely, without being luminous, engaging without pretension. She says firmly in the beginning that it is not a memoir. It is, as the title sensibly proclaims, a set of stories from her life.

And what a life she has led. I can hardly say enough about this wonderful read about a wonderful Christian woman whose contribution to (and fame in) the world of contemporary children’s literature is nearly unsurmountable. She is, certainly, one of the great children’s writers of these times.

How can I persuade you to order this handsome volume full of entertaining and edifying stories of a life well lived? If you do not know that she was born in China (her parents were medical missionaries) who fled as a little one during the Japanese invasion, and who returned, only to be exiled again (mostly due to tensions with the communists that time) and you do not know that she herself was a Presbyterian missionary in Japan, if you do not know her moving stories like Bridge to Terabithia and her several nonfiction books about the role of the imagination and of faithful but not overtly religious storytelling, I hardly know where to begin. Any good library would have her many out of print children’s titles and now you can easily learn about her life and times.

Here are just a few fascinating and enjoyable moments you will encounter if you order Stories From My Life.

Firstly, you know you are in for a treat (and will be walking among the gods of stories) when you open the book to find a fabulous short intro by none other than Kate DiCamillo. She highlights a key moment of vulnerability in the narrative when she alerts us to Katherine’s story of being a child (home from the Chinese mission field, wearing second-hand clothing, a bit shy, and seemingly not welcomed into her new school) and not receiving any Valentine Day cards in school. Kate notes that Katherine writes that she told her mother many years later about this and she was, of course, aghast. Mother wondered why Katherine never wrote about the hurtful incident. As DiCamillo recalls, Katherine “answered her by saying, “All my books are about the day I didn’t get any valentines.”

And then, in her own great gift, the great Kate DiCamillo says:

This book is a valentine.

It is Katherine’s Valentine to her parents and to her children. It is her Valentine to life and to stories.

It is her valentine to us.

Kate Dicamillo also has badgered Katherine to include the story of Maude, a relative of her grandfather’s who was the last person to kiss Robert E. Lee, who, in turn kissed little Katherine. DiCamillo loved the story so, she threatened to write it up herself if Katherine didn’t write it down. So, yes, here is the bit about Lee, although, personally, I enjoyed the episode about her brother and the bones of Lee’s famous horse, Traveller. You will have to read it to discover that yourself.

The second foreword is so endearing and masterfully written and insightful that I’ve read it twice — it is by writer Nancy Price Graff and she tells of the twosome’s weekly lunch at a diner in their town in Vermont. For over twenty years the women have grown old together in their regular Naugahyde booth. Paterson has written 40-some books in fifty years, performing what she calls “the fragile magic” of spinning stores for children and young adults. But she doesn’t talk about her writing or much about her fame. 

“Week after week,” Graff writes,

…one of the great storytellers in the world has told me the story of her exceptional life. Diners no more than three feet away, deep into their meatloaf, are oblivious to the presence of the former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, the winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. It would never cross their minds that the gray-haired woman sitting two booths over, wearing a turtleneck and a pink sweater, might have had dinner last week with the librarian of Congress or the empress of Japan.

The stories are not exactly chronological and in fact, starts with a good piece responding to “Three Frequently Asked Questions.” I was hooked. In one of these early pages she tells of being at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. (Now known as Union, it was started when there was a need for theological education for women headed to the mission field or into educational tasks since the Presbyterian churches were not yet ordaining women so women were not as likely to attend a seminary like Princeton, say.) One of her favorite professors stopped her in the hall — he has been reading her exam —and said in made her wonder if she ever thought of being a writer.

Now I, the lifelong reader, the summa cum laude graduate in English literature, knew what great writing was, so how could Dr. Little imagine, on the basis of an essay on an exam, that I could be a writer? ‘No,’ I said primly. I had no intention of being a writer because I wouldn’t want to add another mediocre writer to the world.

Well, the prof pushed back, wondering if perhaps that was exactly what God was calling her to do.  Katherine tell us simply:

It was hard to imagine that God needed a lot more mediocre writers in the world, so I didn’t become a writer or movie star. I became a missionary.

Her first piece of writing, by the way, was a great Sunday school book for middle school age kids published in 1966, Who Am I?, which is still in print from Eerdmans. She was by then home from her Japanese mission experience (1957 – 1961), had married John whom she had met at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and was teaching in Pennington NJ, while John attended Princeton. By ’66 they had moved to Tacoma Park, MD.

One of the opening questions in that long opening chapter was “How does it feel to be famous?” Children and others ask this at book readings and interviews and it is a question she is not fully comfortable with. She tends to be shy, although has learned to be brave. She tells of being at very fancy dinners at a head table and being ignored. She has been shunted here and there on book tours and speaking engagements and sometimes mistreated. She reports that she’d come home whining to her husband that she is not treated “like a human being.”  This reveals both her insecurities, it seems, and her life’s overarching principle — that people, made in God’s image, should be treated with understanding and kindness. This matter of being uncared for comes up over and over and I found it quite gripping. Near the end of Stories… she admits that she wrote The Great Gilly Hopkins after pondering a question of how it would feel to be considered disposable. 

The Paterson’s have adopted two children, one from Hong Kong and one an indigenous Native baby. She and her husband were great parents, it seems. They have been foster parents, too, and it was painfully difficult. “After The Great Gilly Hopkins was published, I realized, belatedly, that I had put two foster children in the story. I might not have been Gilly. I might well have been William Ernest.”

She was an honorable child, usually, it seems, but playful and adventurous (and a good reader, bored with early school book readers.) There are stories of family in China, and of being back in the US, a “home” she did not know, of course. (Today we call this phenomenon being “third culture kids.”) Her parents loved her dearly, even though there were harrowing times of her dad being on Chinese riverboats trying to smuggle life-saving medicines and supplies to Christian hospitals for the Chinese people. There were times when he’d to travel undetected for remarkable distances, keeping away from the Japanese invaders and the young communists and certain military officials. What a story!

(Her parent’s backgrounds were fascinating themselves. She is somehow distantly related to Mark Twain. After WW I her father was cared for by a Mrs. Lathrop Brown, whose husband was a special assistant to the Department of Interior, high up in the Wilson administration. She had been a New York debutante and her husband had been Franklin Roosevelt’s roommate at Harvard. As a disabled veteran, he was fortunate to have her as a caregiver and she stayed in touch with her parents until she died. In fact, she sent boxes of children’s books to little Katherine in China. When they were exiled from China and spent an awful time in 1938 as refugees, she had arranged for a chauffeur to meet them at the boat in New York harbor.)

Katherine’s time in Japan is explained and there are a few memorable stories. It doesn’t take much —she’s working that ‘fragile magic’ — and I was in tears at a going away party which had a Japanese pastor reading Ephesians 2:14 (a personal favorite, about the dividing walls being broken down in Christ) and Paul’s revolutionary words in Galatians 3:28. It is especially powerful knowing that Katherine had admitted that she had trained to return to her native China. Going there on mission was not to be and when she was assigned to Japan — the feared and despised enemy that had attacked China (and perpetrated atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking in 1937) — it caused turmoil in her soul. Of course she went and then, knowing the language and caring for the people, a Japanese pastor says,

Katherine is young, I am old. She is a woman, I am a man. She is American. I am Japanese. When she was the child of missionaries in China, I was a colonel in the occupying army in Manchuria. She comes from the Presbyterian tradition, I come from the Pentecostal. The world would think it is impossible that she and I should love each other. But Christ has broken down the barriers that should divide us. We are one in Christ Jesus.

After her own sermonizing just a bit, she notes how the influence of Japan is evident in all her work. “My first three novels are set there, as well as the beautiful picture book The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, whose illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillard garnered a Boston-Globe-Horn Book Award.” She has translated some Japanese folk tales, as well, illustrated by the award-winning Suekichi Akab. She quietly notes that she wouldn’t be the writer she is if it were not for her four years in ministry there. “To be loved by people you thought hated you is an experience I wish everyone could have.” 

“To be loved by people you thought hated you is an experience I wish everyone could have.”

She loved her job as a teacher, then, first in 1955 reading aloud to poor rural kids in a one-room school in Virginia. Oooh, was she irritated that these kids were all said to be dumb because they supposedly had done poorly on IQ tests. These kids were not dumb! (And she henceforth distrusted standardized tests.) She doesn’t think she was much of a teacher but she gave them good experiences (including a trip to the National Zoo in DC that, trust me, was a great episode to read about.)

What I lacked in pedagogical skill, I made up for by reading aloud — everything fromThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Huckleberry Finn to Shakespeare. Macbeth was a class favorite — all that gore. I’m sure I skipped and explained airway through several pages of the play, but they had a taste of greatness anyhow.

I choked back tears when she tells of going to visit the little school in Lovettsville years later while passing through the region. It was now a community center so she found the newer building. School had just closed but teachers were there, cleaning up as they do on their last day. Katherine marveled at the well-stocked library. Nobody had time, really, to chat until it became evident that she used to teach there and some old-timer had some recollections of people she had known decades beforehand they realized who she was. Oh, were they pleased, confident that Bridge to Terabithia’s Lark Creek was based on Lovettsville. The current sixth grade teacher said that he tells their students that each year and they never believe him. She assured him that he was right. 

She also taught for a while in a Methodist boys school, teaching the Bible. There’s a great story there about a boy complaining about how all the kings of the Old Testament seemed to be getting killed and how irrelevant that all was. Before she could even answer, the classroom door was thrown open. “The history master was standing in the doorway, ashen faced. ‘The president has been shot,’ he said.”

She comments,

Without a word, we filed out into the common area where there was a large television set and watched in horror until Walter Cronkite finally announced the news that Kennedy was dead. The boys didn’t try to argue about the stupidity of the ancient Hebrew ever again.

This is a typical passage — casually reported yet full of pathos, poignant, even, and sort of sly. There are some fun laughs in the book —her young married life was hard and she had four young children (two of two different races) and yet she and her husband made do and did well. It’s a glorious part of the book, hearing about their married life and her efforts as a parent. 

One of the most moving stories comes at about page 270 as she tells of her son, David, finally getting a good friend; Katherine had been diagnosed with cancer and worried about her children, but David, especially, needed a good pal. And then one day he met Lisa. Who — to cut a tender story short — was suddenly killed, struck by lightning at Bethany Beach. This was, of course, the genesis of the tragic story of a boy/girl friendship and the way youth cope with death that became Bridge to Terabithia. (You may recall that in that story they read The Chronicles of Narnia together.) She hardly wanted to finish writing the story and tells of putting off doing the chapter when Leslie Burke would die. 

And to think Bridge to Terabithia has been maligned and banned! To think we have been criticized for carrying it!  

It is fascinating how Katherine Paterson has often written about serious things. Her story of struggling with her first novel, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum, comes to mind. It is nicely told and she tells us much, but she offhandedly observes that she was doing a juvenile novel set in 12th century Japan (with a storyline of ancient civil strife, poverty, and which included trafficking and a brothel) at the same time that the nation’s number one best seller of adult fiction was a calming, almost silly narrative about a seagull named Jonathan. If you are a baby boomer, you know what she means.

There are fun things to learn while reading Stories of My Life. She has a whole chapter called “Pets” and it involves more than their beloved dogs. Yes, the great Gilly Hopkins is named after Gerard Manley Hopkins. Jacob Have I Loved came out of thorny ground and a difficult time — her editor, the famous Virginia Buckley, had to push and pull to get her to develop it suitably. She missed the first Newbery Award press conference when a plane couldn’t land —Peter Spier was the only one who made it and he “single-handedly charmed the press and the American Library Association, melting the heart of blizzard-bound Chicago.” The story of what she allowed her kids to do with the first Newbery Award check —one thousand dollars was the prize amount and it was the most disposable income they ever had —is cute and made me chuckle. Her “self-effacing humor and extraordinary humility” (as the Publishers Weekly starred review put it) shines through over and over.  

Early on Paterson notes that there were stories she heard growing up as the family did the dishes together. She wondered why many of these stories were not passed on to her own now grown children and grandchildren. You never told us that, they’d exclaim. (The answer is easy — they had a dishwashing machine which eroded such family time.) In a way, this book was written for her own loved ones. She set about finding diaries and letters and researched things in far away courthouses and museums to get more information behind the anecdotal stories she grew up with. She added much from her own life, her writing career, her travels around the world as an internationally known figure promoting children’s literacy and the imaginative arts. 

We still have a copy of Gary Schmidt’s great 1994 biography — her Flip Flop Girl  had just come out, I think — simply called Katherine Paterson. Now, in Stories of My Life we have her own amazing story, told in her own way and in her own voice.

I will not spoil the last two chapters but they are tender and touching. The very last is short but she ponders that one famous reviewer said, looking back over her work, said that she is a writer of hope. Indeed. But there is something behind that, she insists, and it is the Biblical doctrine of grace. She cites the words to the hymn Come Thou Font of Every Blessing. She is now 90, doing well, and active at the First Presbyterian Church in Barre, VT, where, as she puts it, she has “experienced the true communion of the saints.” It is a lovely ending to a marvelously entertaining book.

++++

TO PLACE AN ORDER

PLEASE READ  AND THEN CLICK ON THE “ORDER HERE” LINK BELOW.

It is helpful if you tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders.

The weight and destination of your package varies

but you can use this as a general guide:

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be slow. For one typical book, usually, it’s about $3.69; 2 lbs would be $4.36.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.35 if it fits in a flat rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $8.95. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

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

– DON’T FORGET TO LET US KNOW WHAT SHIPPING METHOD YOU PREFER –

BookNotes

Hearts & Minds logo

SPECIAL
DISCOUNT

20% OFF

ALL BOOKS MENTIONED

+++

order here

this takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want to order

inquire here

if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313
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“Red State Christians” by Angela Denker and other books to help us understand… ON SALE NOW

This isn’t the BookNotes I was going to share this week, but a few conversations — with a devout Trump devotee, with a conservative skeptic, and with a radically Christian part of the resistance — has me in a bit of a funk. Why do we know so many different people, and like them all, mostly? How do smart, Biblically influenced people end up with so many different perspectives? And what’s wrong with all you people who don’t agree exactly with me on everything!  Seriously, though: why are things that I think are just cut and dry — like that the FBI (compromised as they have been in many ways in recent years) was right to insist that the former President be held to the facts of the law. That Trump is a dangerously dishonest, bad person; that seems self-evident, but yet…

One answer to some of this, as an aside, is found in a very important, forthcoming book on what sources of information and media outlets we trust and how we — especially as Christians — discern true truth from error and propaganda. We’ve already urged BookNotes readers to send us pre-orders for Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community by Bonnie Kristian (Brazos Press; $24.95 – our sale price = $19.99.) It releases October 11th but we hope to have it a bit early.

A current book, somewhat more scholarly, on, among other things, what the author calls “troll epistemology” is The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch (Brookings Institutions; $27.99 – our sale price = $22.39.) We need to be thinking through the deeper questions behind our current polarization.

So. I’m thinking about so-called Christian nationalism and those who see current events through the lens of this broad sense of  extreme American exceptionalism, alt-right history, and contemporary aggrievements. 

How do those of us who are not part of this deeply angry, MAGA worldview understand it? How should we think about friends, neighbors, and family who are entrenched in it as a serious ideology?

How we talk across political differences and how we cultivate a distinctly Christian view of the government and politics has been a much-discussed topic, here, and we’ll just refer you back HERE or HERE to BookNotes columns written with good book suggestions for those wanting a nonpartisan Biblical orientation on Christian politics. (Some of those books that I reviewed then were in hardback but have since come out in paperback and are less expensive then shown there. Give us a holler if we can help with any of that.) 

Here are some that are more current, less about Christian politics in theory and more directly about the rise of Christian nationalism and extreme Red-state ideologies. I mostly want to tell you about this first one, but then I’ll list a few more to round out this urgent BookNotes, two that are by those who might identify as conservatives, by the way, and two specifically for church leaders.

Red State Christians: A Journey into White Christian Nationalism and the Wreckage It Leaves Behind Angela Denker (Broadleaf Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I loved this book. I’ve mentioned this before, announcing that it seemed to be a good read, but now that I’ve read it, I’m wanting very much to recommend Red State Christians heartily. It’s unlike many public affairs and current events books in that it is written nicely, with lots of interesting stories of this Lutheran pastor with middle American roots (and a evangelical mega-church past) travelling around the classic sites of red-state religion. From a hip mega church in Orange County to deep south Pentecostal Trumpers, from conservative Lutherans in Missouri to conservative evangelical intelligentsia in DC, she travelled for more than a year conducting first hand interviews and writing about it in lovely prose that puts you in the place, with lots of local color and flavor. She was a working journalist before her call to ministry — in fact, was a pretty well known sports-journalist (as can be seen from her vivid and insightful chapter set in Florida called “Winners and Losers: Trump, Football and Christianity” which could have been a human interest piece in Sports illustrated.) She isn’t afraid to meet people and get behind the scenes for the story.

Here’s three things to know about the book.

Firstly, I think it is somewhat mis-named. It’s done by a publishing house which is mostly progressive and I think the lingo about “the wreckage” is fair enough, but the book shows more sympathy for the people embracing the right wing that such a title suggests. She truly was trying to figure out how the evangelical voting bloc helped the Trump presidency and she did so with grace and appreciation. She disapproves of aligning faith with far right politics, and she is writing for a more liberal audience, to be sure, but, still, she is often talking about her own people, her tribe, in some cases her own older friends and family members. She has a very nice touch and while her goal is to expose as inappropriate the unabashed loyalty to Christian nationalism and Trumpian politics, she is fair-minded and kind. 

She addresses this in a passionate new chapter in this edition. She was more eager to build bridges and find common ground back when she wrote the first edition (that carried a less loaded subtitle.) The persistence of the big lie, the politicalization of Covid and the January 6th uprising has made her less calm and her coming to grips with insatiable racism is painfully explained in that new ending.Still, even there, there are a few remarkably tender scenes and signs of hope; Had to when away tears from my cheek as I read. 

Secondly, she observes that not all conservative evangelicals are equally happy about Trump’s demeanor, policies, or the Republican Party’s recent support of his extremism. For instance, she meets in a swanky Orange County megachurch some people of color who are helping their congregations struggle with questions of diversity and racial justice— not an easy task in the OC. ) That chapter, called “Bibles and Boob Jobs: The Money and Influence of Orange County Christians” was careful and really interesting.  A world away was a great chapter of her own family roots, set in the soil of rural, Midwestern faming communities where she described kids from the local Lutheran church as “free thinking” if rather pro-Trump. 

There is another riveting chapter called “Less Conservative, More Consequential: Rural Rust Belt Red State Christians in Appalachia and Central Pennsylvania.” I won’t say much more, but, dang — she’s a good writer,  stopping off at an Eat ’N Park and focusing a bit on a young Christian lawyer from Altoona, doing her best to celebrate light and life in that rugged part of the Keystone State. (Note to Angela, though: we here in central Pennsylvania, North and South of Harrisburg, view Altoona as almost Western Pennsylvania. Just saying, sister.)  In yet another chapter Denker nicely explores conservative Roman Catholics who are harder on their current Pope than they are their beloved candidate. Fascinating. 

Thirdly, I think this book, easy to read as it is, generally gracious and open-minded as it may be, is still a wake-up call to many of us in the faith community to be aware of how deeply odd these times are. What are we to do in our churches when congregational leaders deny that Jesus’s words are important for civic life, when pro-family leaders rave about a pussy-grabber and conservative theologians support a regime unhinged from typical faith traditions of public theology? How odd that many seasoned politicos trusted a corrupt business tycoon with no political leadership skills, only to regret it when it was way too late. 

In any case, Red State Christians in its new, expanded edition, is a book I’ve been waiting for, a good guide to thinking helpfully, written in an anecdotal, journalistic way, about the complexities of our faith these days and what to think and do about the diverse American religious and political landscape. It really is a travelogue and exploration of people on the ground — she is neither cynical nor jaded, even as she brings her mainline denominational theology and spirituality into her honest evaluations of the interviews.

And while she was doing journalism and storytelling, not exactly research-based social science, she has a good eye: the Central/Western PA folk, while mostly churched, were not the same as the pro-life Pentecostals in the South. The Lutherans in the Midwest had a different vibe — and different reasons for their support for Trump — than, say, the slicker Lutherans in  Southern California. From Texas to Florida to Minnesota, she helps us realize that the religious MAGA movement is not at all monolithic

And, be prepared for some fascinating surprises. She almost liked Paula White, who insists she does not preach a “prosperity gospel” heresy and is deeply committed to racial unity. She dresses up, sure — in a leather jacket — but her church is not glitzy and her people are much less fancy than other Southern megachurches Denker visited. White insisted that she wasn’t that interested in Trump’s politics, but wants him to grow in faith in Jesus, as any good pastor would. Anyway, in a brutal and important chapter on #metoo and #ChurchToo, “Evangelical Women and Donald Trump: Who’s Grabbing Whom?” (including a tangential but powerful interview with Rachel Denhollander) it was a helpful and interesting contribution. From “Red-State Arabs: Christians, Muslims, and Evangelicals in Houston” to “On the Border: Donald Trump and Latinx Christians” we see the conflict in specificity. In a chapter primarily about abortion and another about gun rights, we see the complexity.  She tells the story of who the mostly — but not always — far right Red State Christians are. In the new conclusion to the 2022 edition she is more outraged than most of the book indicates, because most of the book is a beautiful testimonial of good storytelling, sociological insight, immersive journalism. It’s a great read.

The new ending includes her being graciously called upon by Red-State relatives to preside at a COVID-death of a relative, her husband’s 43 year-old brother. It is full of pathos — sadness and outrage, aware that some of the politicians and pastors who shunned vaccines and minimized the threat of the pandemic were to blame. This is not theoretical, folks, or distant. This book helps us understand much that we need to understand. Order it today, please.

The Psychology of Christian Nationalism: Why People Are Drawn In and How to Talk Across the Divide Pamela Cooper-White (Fortress Press) $21.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

I’ve reviewed this already and wanted to give it a mention here, again, It’s a bit more academic, but quite readable and heartfelt. Cooper-White is an Episcopal priest and professor of Psychology and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in NYC (and her husband, Michael, has served as President of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg.) She has just three chapters, chapters that have been called “incisive” as she explores the troubling reality of Christian nationalism, its deep roots, and what to do about it. 

Specifically, after documenting the connections between white supremacy and Christian nationalism (and the longing for power) — all of which she calls “Unholy Alliances” — she explores cogently “why people are drawn in by extremists beliefs” which includes “conscious needs and unconscious lures.” Yep, there is some sense that for some, there deepening and unquestioning views are almost showing cult-like tendencies.

There is a lot packed into this chapter, some of it fairly basic (exploring “the need for belonging”) and some of it is fairly sophisticated. All of it is illustrated with stories of people she knows, friends and acquaintances, and stories of her travels into the far right. She mentions being at a biker rally in the summer of 2021, hosted by State Senator Mastriano here in central Pennsylvania. She compares and contrasts the gun-shooting ads of Marjorie Taylor Green and the Eliza Griswold New Yorker article about Shane Claiborne (and his book Beating Guns…) Beyond values and policy questions, she explores the nature of narcissistic leaders and the fascinating psychology of those lured by them.

It covers a lot of ground and we recommend it for one good survey, trying to imagine what is really going on.

This brilliant and courageous book is the best treatment we have of the complex psychological dynamics of the dangerous Christian nationalist movement in America. Without losing sight of the humanity of even the most racist and sexist of our fellow citizens, Pamela Cooper-White has given us a powerful and needed text on just how close we are to losing our democratic experiment.  — Cornel West, author Race Matters and Democracy Matters

The Flag + The Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy Philip Gorski and Samuel L. Perry (Oxford University Press) $21.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.56

Again, I’ve named this before, but wanted to list it again. Academic press volumes are peer reviewed and often scholarly, but this is, if deeply researched, still (as Kristin Kobes Du Mez says) “immensely clarifying. She calls it “sobering”and says, “Anyone who cares about the fate of American democracy should read this book.”

I’m very struck by this insightful comment about it by Beth Allison Barr, Professor of History at Baylor University and author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood:

Gorski and Perry make sense of the seemingly senseless January 6 uprising. Built on powerful evidence, they show how white nationalism wove itself into the very fabric of modern conservative values. By making visible the creation of white nationalism, this book gives me hope that we can unmake it. 

Barr notes that they “make visible the creation of white nationalism” and by that she means not only the updated and previously unpublished data on the 2020 elections, but, more importantly, the old, old story — going back to the late 17th century. It’s succinct but very helpful. Highly recommended.

Philip S. Gorski, Professor of Sociology at Yale University, is a comparative and historical sociologist who writes on religion and politics in early modern and modern Europe and North America. His work has been featured and discussed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and other national media outlets. He is the author, most recently, of American Babylon: Christianity and Democracy Before and After Trump (2020) and American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present (2017).

Samuel L. Perry is a sociologist of American religion, race, politics, sexuality, and families and serves as Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma. He has written for outlets like The Washington Post and Time Magazine, The New Yorker, The Economist, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He is the author or co-author of Growing God’s Family (2017), Addicted to Lust (Oxford 2019), Taking America Back for God (Oxford 2020).

The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism Paul D. Miller (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

Leave it to IVP Academic to write what one observer calls “a compelling vision” and what the always balanced and insightful Amy Black (of Wheaton College) calls, “A refreshingly different approach.”  Even the impressive sociologist (see above) Samuel Perry says it is “Beautifully written from a conservative Christian perspective. Miller shows us all a better way.”

“Beautifully written from a conservative Christian perspective. Miller shows us all a better way.”

Many thoughtful scholars — from Karen Swallow Prior to George Marsden to John Inazu — have endorsed this with glorious recommendations. So have public activists like Michael Ware. 

I have only begun this magisterial work but here is some of why it is considered different: Miller is trained as a conservative political scientist from Georgetown University. (That in itself might give a hint since that department is known as rigorous and not liberal.) His most recent academic book is on Cambridge University Press, entitled Just War and Ordered Liberty and before that he wrote an important work rejecting calls for American restraint in foreign affairs (entitled American Power & Liberal Order: Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy,)The scholar knows a bit about this stuff as he has had boots on the ground. He has been the Director of the Afghanistan and Pakistan departments of the National Security Council and served as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. So there’s that.

Not all Christian nationalists are extremists involved in Trump’s big lie or complicit with January 6th insurrection tragedy. But if they care about the constitution and, more importantly, a Biblical sense of prudence and justice, they should read this book. It brings a sober tone for all of us and I’m impressed so far.

The Religion of American Greatness is a superb and essential book―engaging and fair minded, thoughtful and accessible, and oh so timely. It both explains and challenges an increasingly widespread, malicious movement―toxic Christian nationalism―that is doing great harm to America and to the Christian witness. The Religion of American Greatness is powerfully argued, honest, and never ungracious. It’s just the book we need, and Paul D. Miller is just the person to write it.  — Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, author of The Death of Politics

A much-needed and astute analysis of a major reality in the United States, a reality that challenges the very heart of this nation and of Christianity. Dr. Paul Miller brings to bear years of political experience, a deep commitment to Christian understanding, and a wellspring of scholarly comprehension to help us see what ultimately is wrong with Christian nationalism. A must-read.  — Michael O. Emerson, professor and Sociology Department head at the University of Illinois Chicago and author of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

I’ll be recommending this book to every thinking Christian I know who’s looking to understand why nationalism, and Christian nationalism in particular, is such a danger for the church and American democracy. Beautifully written from a conservative, Christian perspective, Paul Miller carefully engages the arguments for both nationalism and Christian nationalism, and shows them to be sorely lacking. Christian nationalism is illiberal, antidemocratic, and ultimately for Christians, unbiblical and inconsistent with authentic gospel witness. Miller shows us all the better way  — Samuel L. Perry, coauthor with Philip Gorski of The Flag + The Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy

Paul D. Miller, a politically conservative, patriotic, old-style Republican, offers a thoughtful Christian critique of the most recent versions of Christian nationalism and its antecedents. Conservative Christians who suspect he may be wrong should at least give him a hearing. More progressive Christians can also learn from this balanced and constructive approach — George Marsden, author of Fundamentalism and American Culture

Cold Civil War: Overcoming Polarization, Discovering Unity, and Healing the Nation Jim Belcher (IVP) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I wrote about this before and now seems an ideal opportunity to remind you of it. Jim is an old acquaintance, a man and scholar I admire. (He has worked as a pastor and a Christian college President but his PhD is in political philosophy from Georgetown.) This is a major, thoughtful work and few could have written anything like it.

It is a different sort of book than the others listed here, deeper, really, and it will annoy some (many?) Hear, hear.

As I noted in my earlier announcement of it, I am not sure I love it. We are indeed in a cold civil war and we do indeed need to overcome polarization. But this is not a “let’s find common ground and come together” sort of invitation to gracious deliberation. It is neither Parker Palmer’s generous Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit or Harold Heie’s ambitious Reforming American Politics: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation although he should have cited it. (And while I’m mentioning Harold Heie, you should know his wise little volume done just last year, Let’s Talk: Bridging Divisive Lines Through Inclusive and Respectful Conversations that has nice little contributions by Richard Mouw, David Gushee, and Stan Gaede.) Anyway, the hefty Cold Civil War just isn’t that kind of book.

It is a serious study — and the footnotes alone, complete with lots of video links and website citations are well worth the price of the book for anybody wanting to study deeply in various sides of American political ideology. And it is a more theoretical approach, trying to get deeply at what sorts of varying players are leading the debates, and who is behind it. In this sense, Belcher offers a major contribution (even if I’m not sure he is always correct in his connecting the dots to these scholars, thinkers, intellectuals.)

He is somewhat in the vein of a book I often recommend, the heady but vital Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis and it seems to inform Dr. Belcher’s “pox on all their houses” attitude. And, with insights from Yuval Levin and Patrick Deneen and natural law guy J. Budziezewski (from a book I bet I sold Jim at a conference years ago), he develops a fascinating four quadrant chart that places thinkers on both a left/right and up/down grid. It’s really the heart of his fascinating project.

Jim studied with Father James Schall (who taught him Plato and Aristotle) and as an evangelical, he linked those historic thinkers with the public theologies of Luther and Calvin and the like. In Cold Civil War his esteemed and serious background and lively faith is evident, even when he’s citing Tucker Carlson or Jim Wallis, Rod Dreyer or Jemar Tisby (not to mention Michael Sandel or Deidre McCloskey.) By the end of his ambitious assessment he argues for a “new vital center” which is somewhat of a synthesis, it seems. Naturally, he draws on DeTocqueville. He believes to get beyond and through all this the church must be heroic. It’s serious stuff, well worth pondering. We’ve got it at 20% off, so if you want a serious work that moves to new ground, order it today.

What Do We Do When Nobody Is Listening: Leading the Church in a Polarized Society Robin W. Loving (Eerdmans) $19.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is a very good book, useful for sober-minded, thoughtful, Christian people who want the church to bear witness — to be! — a community of moral seriousness and candid discourse. It is an astute work, not breezy or light, but not academic, either. There is a good discussion guide implying that the author and publisher hopes it might be used in small groups, book clubs, adult Sunday school classes or forums. It is trim size and five chapters make it ideal.

The first two chapters are about the problem, studying divisions and polarization. The first chapter explores general cultural polarization and the second is on the church. Along with an excellent, inspiring foreword by Adam Hamilton (who tells of getting to very opposing, both bluntly discouraging emails the same day by angry parishioners calling him either too conservative or too liberal. One said she would never come back, the other substantially decreased their giving) the problem is described and evaluated. This is important.

The next three chapters are aligned under the rubric of “Listening.” We are charged to listen to the Word, to the world, to those who are not heard.  The good extra ending chapter invites us to “take up space” and live with a certain sort of gravitas.

Calmly reasoned analyses of our sharply divided society are hard to come by. But Robin Lovin has a gift for summarizing complex cultural movements with a clarity and dexterity that others may only aspire to. Here’s an ethicist and theologian who brings light and hope to dispirited people frustrated by tense and even fighting times. Every pastor interested in helping a faith community stick together should be devouring these pages. — Peter W. Marty, editor The Christian Century

Lovin’s new book causes me to consider the question, ‘How is my congregation taking up space and serving as a witness to our overwhelming reality of God’s love and justice in what too often feels like chaos?’ I am thankful for the way Lovin frames our current reality and for his challenge to be a kind of witness that is different. — Shannon Johnson Kershner, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Robin Lovin graciously reminds us of some things we’d forgotten: that liberal means nothing if it doesn’t mean generous, that conservative means ensuring we never move on from Jesus, that disagreement is the source of most creativity, that faithfulness is tested by entering the marketplace of ideas rather than withdrawing into our bunkers. Crucially, he highlights the question, ‘Who are you listening to?’ as a test of both wisdom and renewal. It would be ironic for any reader coming to this book to require it to confirm ideas already fiercely held. Only read this book if you want to be transformed into becoming a blessing to the stranger who was once your neighbor. — Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, author of Humbler Faith, Bigger God

Preaching to a Divided Nation: A Seven-Step Model for Promoting Reconciliation and Unity Matthew D. Kim and Paul A. Hoffman (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE= $19.99

Oh my, I wish I had time and energy to review this book in greater detail as it is so very interesting, learned, and helpful, rooted, as it is, in a thoughtful, evangelical theological context. Preachers from other faith traditions (especially mainline Protestants) will learn much, even if, at times, the rhetoric is plainspoken and full of admonitions to prayer, to be guided by the Word, and so forth. Nothing disagreeable there, really.

What will be surprising to some who hold certain assumptions about the alleged monopoly of right ring politics or white supremacist attitudes within evangelical churches is just how radical and visionary this stuff is. 

Kim (who is of Korean family heritage and tells a heart-rending story about coming to greater insight about that) and Hoffman, who is white (a New England Quaker, no less) each have written previously about racial justice and the like. Professor Kim has an excellent book called Preaching with Cultural Intelligence and Hoffman has a book I’ve highlighted before entitled Reconciling Places which illustrated his public activism for the common good and the sorts of public theology that informs his efforts as an agent of reconciliation. Both of these guys are astute and their footnotes, the sources they draw from and the books they recommend, are excellent.

For instance, they draw wisely on the Oxford University Press paperback by Emerson Divided by Faith, they cite John Perkins and Brenda Salter McNeil, they use the work of Jamie Smith and Sheila Wise Rowe and Tish Harrison Warren. They quote Bible reference tools galore, commentaries, articles on homiletics.

Also, they draw on seminal works from Abraham Heschel and other theological classics, and when discussing standard-fair theology they use Donald Bloesch, J. I. Packer, Leslie Newbigin and John Stott, just for instance.  And yet, there are surprising citations and cutting edge mainline scholars represented as well. In other words, they are very well read, delightfully ecumenical, but tilting towards common-sense, evangelical sensibilities. It makes for a solid read.

In a way, I see this as a brand new companion volume — written with a slightly different focus and tone — to the excellent Alban Institute resource from a few years ago entitled Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide by Lutheran scholar and preacher Leah D. Schade (Rowman and Littlefield; $26.00; our sale price = $20.80.) It gives astute training for her fairly complex plan of a set of sermons shaped, in part, by congregational “deliberative dialogue” sessions.  If Kim and Hoffman draw on Timothy Keller and Peter Scazzaro, she draws on the likes of Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (of Yale Divinity School) and her book Prophetic Preaching and John McClure’s Roundtable Pulpit.

The useful framework in Preaching to a Divided Nation, the seven steps, is used to show how to preach to a politically divided congregation, and is attentive to various “isms” — classism, sexism, racism, ableism, and the like. It’s informative but never arcane; it’s nearly a practical field guide to real-world preaching and offers real encouragement for pastors wanting to be more candid and even prophetic in their preaching, They are attentive to these polarizing and fractious times, well aware how careful we must be. They encourage pastors to read widely and listen carefully and to speak judiciously. (That they have to remind preachers not to use racial and ethnic slurs struck me as odd, but I suppose they want to be very, very practical.)

The goal here is not just to sound off on hot topic issues or even to speak more prophetically in the pulpit, but to draw the Body together to a common vision and the mind of Christ. It has a big vision, a healthy view of the scope of redemption and knows that congregational growth and maturity is founded upon the redemptive work of Christ and the lively power of the Spirit. The goal of the book is to help pastors confront the divisions and work towards gospel reconciliation and real transformation in the congregation.

There are little charts and helpful tools to equip you who preach and teach to do it better — and lots of great information about what comes prior to writing the sermon, and what comes after. I’m no preacher and I loved it! It isn’t simplistic but it is clear and I think quite attainable. I think you’ll enjoy it, too, as there are lots of inspiring (and some honest) stories. They admit to learning some of this “the hard way” and that they are still growing as public theologians working for unity in the local church.

To flesh out their approach they not only have sample sermons and ideas and tools, there is an appendix with four excellent sermons, two by Hoffman, one by Kim, one by Sandra Maria Van Opstal, and one by Rich Villodas. There are several other helpful appendices included such as a brief rumination on critical race theory, a sample homiletical integrity covenant, a sample guide for a multi-church prayer and unity service and a helpful book list by topic.

I like the blurb on the back by Glen Packiam (and Indian-American preacher) who I admire greatly:

A stunning, scholarly, current, and critical guide for preachers to take seriously the complexity of preaching in a rapidly changing world.  — Glenn Packiam, pastor, New Life Downtown; author of The Resilient Pastor

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation Imani Perry (Ecco) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE= $23.19

I close with this suggestion even though, technically, it is not about the Red-State / Blue-State divide, the alt-right, or offering Christian insight into navigating our differences regarding white Christian nationalism and the like. But, somewhat like Red State Christians, it is a travelogue, memoiristic and at times a deeply impressionistic glimpse into 16 different American regions (and a bonus of her trip to The Bahamas and Havana.) From Annapolis to Memphis to Atlanta to North Carolina to Mobile to Louisville to Florida to Birmingham and more, her chapters are long, with first hand color and local interest with lots of backstory and serious history. It is, as the impressive and reliable Isabel Wilkerson says, “an elegant edition on the complexities of the American South — and thus of America.” 

“An elegant edition on the complexities of the American South — and thus of America.”

It is indeed elegant; I will name it as one of my favorite books of 2023, doubtlessly, but not only because it was mostly enjoyable for its fine and at times lush writing. More, it was because she introduced me to so much black history that I had only heard of in spurts or only knew a slight bit of. From the experience of blacks in Appalachia to the racism in her town of Princeton NJ to the glories of Fisk to her ruminations on the deeper south, South to America is eye-opening, amazingly full of truth and love. 

And yet, as a few reviewers have noted, she speaks of our “land of big dreams and bigger lies.” Uh-huh.

I have previously highlighted South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation and tried to assure readers it was well done, entertaining, even — Oprah called it “radiant” — but exceedingly important. I will do so again, listing it here as an anecdote to our failures to understand others. Here, Dr. Perry is writing about race and, as one of the great public intellectuals working today, she has much to teach us, regardless of your race. Most white folks, especially, I think, will be sobered and informed and be taken up in its good prose and vivid, instructional storytelling. As Natasha Trethewey (of the intense memoir Memorial Drive) notes, it is “part pilgrimage, part elegy, and a clarion call.”

South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read.” — Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

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

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading; rates are rising seriously. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

We are doing our famous curb-side customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday.

 

 

CCO, worldview studies, and FOUR BOOKS ON EVANGELISM by York Moore — up to 30% OFF // One Week Only

SPECIAL SALE — ONE WEEK ONLY

Buy any one book at 20% off, as usual.

Buy more than one at 30% OFF

Offer expires August 23, 2022

You may recall that earlier in the summer we reported here that we once again did an off-site event, the first such face-to-face event since the start of the pandemic. We are still concerned about the implications of long-Covid and the high rates at which the virus continues to spread, so it was a big deal for us. 

It was an event with our good friends and colleagues at the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach.) Some of you know that I remain an Associate Staff with them, helping with new staff training, speaking at some events. Beth and I serve them the best we can with book displays at staff conferences and some student events. It was our time working full time in campus ministry with them more than 40 years ago that inspired us to start our bookstore in 1982. Their annual Jubilee conference — inviting college students to think Christianly about the integration of faith and every aspect of life, including academic life — is a highlight of our year, and the best place in the country to see missional, vocational, whole-life discipleship evoked with gusto and grace and a whole lot of fun. 

(You can still visit our adjunct, virtual Jubilee Conference on-line bookstore that we created with about 60 categories of books, to see the sorts of stuff we suggested in helping students relate faith and their college careers, HERE.)

CCO, “CREATION REGAINED”… AND SO MUCH MORE

At this past CCO staff training event there was —among lots of other things — an hour and a half each day set aside to reflect on the book Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters (Eerdmans; $15.00). Like another seminal book that came out that same season, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP Academic; $25.00), Creation Regained does a couple of very, very important things.

First, it reminds us of the scope of redemption —Christ is actually rescuing this Earth, with salvation truly being creation redeemed, so all of life is, in this potent view, essentially religious, spiritual; that is, there is no dualism between the realm of nature and of grace, no dichotomy between the so-called secular and the sacred.

We need to connect worship and work, closing the gap between Sunday and Monday. Others have said this well of late but in the 1970s, when Al Wolters (then at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto) gave the lectures that became Creation Regained to the CCO, I can tell you, it was exciting stuff. Traumatic for some, evocative for others. To think deeply about rejecting the idols of the age and the presuppositions of our culture’s fixation with metrics and quantity over quality, say, informed how the CCO began to think about its own context as an ecumenical (“trans-denominational”) campus ministry working in the context of higher education. Shortly after those heady years of asking if CCO would truly live out this calling to “take every thought captive” and think faithfully about how we did campus ministry (and, for that matter, why) several CCO staff people wrote books. All of Life Redeemed and At Work and at Play are now long out of print, but they were influential as we doubled down on this worldview-ish sense that we were inviting students to (as CCO even now puts it) “transform the world.”

Of course we never really took it all that seriously and the spirit of mainstream evangelicalism, for better or worse, continued to shape and form the ways in which CCO did its good work. They were instructed in contemplative spiritually by Ruth Haley Barton and racial justice by John Perkins and Brenda Salter McNeil (and, more recently, by Esau McCauley) and Biblical studies from many, including the late Kenneth Bailey. Jamie Smith spoke at a staff seminar and years ago they hosted Ron Sider on wholistic evangelism. From Marva Dawn to Bill Edgar, they’ve had a lot of pretty remarkable influences.

Over the years, CCO became known as a special and rather unique organization. Former CCO staffer Steve Garber famously did two books (Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation) that highlighted the cogency of the CCOs vision for higher education and for work.

Other staff or former staff took what they were learning and created much-discussed books — for instance, you know we have promoted Sam Van Eman’s Disruptive Discipleship:The Power of Breaking Routine to Kickstart Your Faith and Erica Young Reitz’s After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith and, more recently, the marvelously creative This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley. In fact, my own compiled collection of speakers who did great commencement addresses was earnestly dedicated to CCO staff who have nurtured so many students through their college years and helped keep their faith and idealism alive so they could live into Serious Dreams.

Still, over time, some of the passion for taking Al’s work seriously has faded, so the leadership wisely invited CCO outdoor educator (and philosopher) Sean Purcell to reflect a bit on some of the most essential parts of that distinctive vision. Al Wolters, who studied with philosophers like Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven at the Free University of Amsterdam eventually became an Old Testament prof but early in his career, inspired by Evan Runner at Calvin College, he taught the history of philosophy at ICS in Toronto; from his own time there, Sean was able to unpack some of the deeper implications of Creation Regained as a key text for our time, embodied and flexible, more a map than a plan.

LEARNING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

I had a bit of a hand in helping with that, and among other things, I highlighted the importance of Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness by Don Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press; $17.00) which delightfully opens up some of these themes for young students, inviting them to see the very classroom as an avenue worship and service. That Don and Derek both worked for CCO and caught this vision of whole-life discipleship and translated it into this upbeat and readable book says much about how the CCO can be nimble and contextualized. They knew an easy-to-read and witty book would go far in helping students get a meaningful approach to this call to see their studies as central to and a venue for deepening their faith.

Naturally I also plugged Greg Jao’s booklet Your Minds Mission (IVP; $10.00) that I think every college kid should have. And for those wanting something even more eloquent, I suggested Cornelius Plantinga’s gorgeous, moving,  Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans; $16.99.)

I say all this to you now since I know many BookNotes readers will be sending student’s off to college soon. These are gifts you should tuck into toothier going-away bags.

Many other authors these days are promoting a “culture making” vision (to use the title of the marvelous book by Andy Crouch) even if it was nearly revolutionary 40 years ago when Creation Regained hit us like a ton of bricks.

Many now draw on the creation/fall/redemption/restoration flow of Scripture (as Al did, opening those four themes up to show their significant influence in our thinking and imagining.) For instance, just consider the really great overviews of the Bible with this wholistic, institutionally engaged missional sort of trajectory, such as Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World by Paul S. Williams (Brazos Press; $19.99) or the tremendously interesting The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World by Michael Goheen & Jim Mullins (Baker Academic; $24.00.)  Recall the book we highlighted a month ago by the great Amy Sherman, Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society (IVP; $26.00) It’s just so rich, offering such a hopeful, good agenda. 

Or, as I highlighted in my talks to the CCO staff, the compact-sized hardback that is just so very interesting and helpful, eloquent and compelling, A Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work (IVP; $20.00.) Few can say so very much in such short essays, inspiring us to live an integrated life for the Missio Dei. .

So we talked about all that last month with the new and old CCO staff and I wanted to share that with you. Thanks for caring.

MEET YORK MOORE

Here, then, is what I’m also very, very excited to tell you about, if you care at all about this corner of our work.

CCO recently hired a new President/CEO, R. York Moore. While he wisely intuits much of the above, it isn’t exactly his background. York has worked for years with IVCF and has a heart for evangelism which he understands as much more than cheap soul saving; he insists that sharing the gospel with others is an announcement of God’s Kingdom, an invitation from a loving God that demands a response. He is a good and creative writer, too. He’s sharp, strategic, and enthusiastic. Even if you don’t know CCO well, please pray for him as he helps CCO move into a new season back on to campuses after a hard couple of years.

York has four books which we naturally celebrated at the CCO event. Because he has addressed CCO in the past (and even was a main stage speaker at Jubilee a few years ago) many of our older staff have some of his books. Alas, we ended up with a bit too many, so we want to offer them to you at a special discounted deal, now. Help support us as we serve the CCO by taking a few of these four books off our hands.

EXTRA SALE NOW — ONE WEEK ONLY

As is the custom here at BookNotes, most of the titles we highlight are 20% off. But if you buy more than one of these now, we’ll sell ‘em at 30% OFF. That’s a great dea! One week only.

Here they are.

Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away: Telling the Gospel Story with Grace and Passion R. York Moore (IVP) $17.00

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE= $13.60
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off = $11.90

As it says on the back, “Talking about Jesus isn’t just good for the people who hear. It’s good for you, too.”

Yep, if you don’t want your own faith life to grow stale, lose it’s zip, fall into a spiritual rut, just share your path with others. As most of us know from experience (and as York explains) the Holy Spirit energizes you when you talk about God and the gospel with others and can awaken you to experience life in greater fullness.

The book has a couple of good things going for it — it is concise and to the point. It is loaded with stories. It reminds us of stuff we knew but calls us to rely on the Spirit as we find ways to tell the Story of God. 

The first six chapters are as clear about evangelism as any I’ve read and worth the price of the book.  The next seven are about various sorts of folks who God may bring your way and how to talk with them meaningful about God’s redemption and the life God has for them. From enemies to the hurting, those close to us to complete strangers, York offers examples and stories, strategies and plans of how to “meet them where they are” and be stretched to share good news with them. This is really good stuff.

As the publisher puts it, “Rediscover the energy and passion of following Jesus by telling his story. Grown your faith by giving it away.  Warning: the lives God changes may include your own!” Ha. May it be so.

Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice. R. York Moore (IVP) $18.00                                    

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE= $14.40
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off = $12.60

It was nearly a decade ago but I remember it distinctly. I was longing for more good books that were serious about evangelism and were passionate about social change; books that wanted to offer, in Ron Sider’s famous phrase, “good words and good deeds.” Or, in the title of a book by Harvey Conn that was so very important to many in the CCO in the 1980s, “evangelism and justice.” This, I thought, was it.

York was not only a gifted mass evangelist and a passionate communicator of the simple gospel of grace through Christ, he was traveling around the world, observing and helping organizations (like IJM) that were were fighting sexual trafficking and modern day slavery. He was learning first hand not only about the racism and injustice he experienced as a poor kid growing up in Detroit, but global injustices. It seemed like new lights were going off in his head, new recesses being touched in his soul. His Kingdom vision was expanding from these often horrific first hand encounters and he told his unfolding story beautifully in Making All Things New.

Wonderfully, York places the Biblical call to justice within yet even the bigger, even more audacious dream of God’s plan to bring restoration to all corners of this broken planet. The cosmic dream of “all things new” is conjured up in the Bible in part by proclaiming how the will be liberty to the captives, the poor getting a Jubilee-like second chance for real restoration, swords beat into plowshares and the nations reconciled. Could this big picture of the Kingdom coming be what we mean when we invite people to faith? Does evangelism really entail all that?

Indeed. York guides us through Biblical teaching and stories and a passionate (and honest) account of the Bible’s own vision of the last days. There is judgement against evil, there is hope that evil will be smashed. And the meek inherit the earth.

The meek, naturally, need our help. (And perhaps, many of us need their help.) The oppressed and marginalized need our solidarity, at least, and our efforts. And we all need Jesus. 

This powerful book is one of a kind and I’ve read it three times. Each time — perhaps because I was at a different place in my own journey, my own reflections, or maybe my own season or mood — I got something a bit different out of it. (Ahh, the mark of a good book, eh?) I appreciate that York, in his remarkable efforts about educating people about social injustice and his work as a modern-day abolitionist, never gave up his desire to see ordinary people come to faith. He is, as I’ve said, a gifted evangelist. Few books relate the full-orbed Kingdom of God, the resistance to social injustice like modern day trafficking and global poverty, and the call to personal, evangelical faith, the way Making All Things New does. 

Agree fully or not with his big hope for the end times or his reflections on passages from the prophets and the epistles, his blend of judgement and grace, sin and redemption, I think you need this book! To this day there is nothing like it. We are happy to offer it here, glad to share that, indeed, this message resonates with the all-of-life-redeemed worldview that influenced the CCO back in the 1970s. God is good to bring CCO and this former IVCF evangelist together. Maybe you, too, can take inspiration in a book like this, fully clear about the gospel and fully visionary about the true hope for God’s intention to bring justice to the poor and liberation to the captive. 

Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and A Guide to Finding Your Place In It  R. York Moore (Moody Press) $13.99

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.19
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off  = $9.79

Although I suppose it isn’t the main thing, there is something about the many books that Moody Press does lately that have two color ink, nice graphics, a couple of handsome touches. It makes for a beautiful little product and since this book invites us to “do something beautiful” it certainly fits. Kudos to Moody for doing one of the best, simple books on evangelism of the new century.

(Yes, yes, there are recent ones that are heady and important. I’ve said before how fond I am of Models of Evangelism by Priscilla Pope-Levison (Baker Academic; $21.99) and how important the provocative The Invitation: A Theology of Evangelism by Princeton’s Richard Osmer (Eerdmans; $24.95) is. This decade has seen significant work in evangelism and related fields with books like Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James Beitler (IVP Academic; $25.00) and the lovely Mere Evangelism: 10 Insights from C.S. Lewis to Help You Share Your Faith by Randy Newman (Good Book Company; $16.99.) There are so many recent releases in this field, including very thoughtful ones.)

York, though, smart as he is, did something remarkable in Do Something Beautiful. He used what some of us call  —borrowing a term from Abraham Kuyper’s people, as explained in Richard Mouw’s All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight — “common grace” and built a bridge with any who long for a more beautiful world. As he re-tells the big story of God’s good world gone awry, he invites us to a sort of redemption that is good, true, glorious, healthy — in a world: beautiful.

I suppose York (as a former philosophy student) knows a bit about aesthetics, but this isn’t an arcane and high-class rumination on Greek or Roman or Renaissance virtues. It isn’t about art, even, really, but about this multidimensional sense of the ineffable, the luminous, the lovely. In a “world made right” there is more. 

Although the book has a light and appealing tone, he does invite us to consider hard stuff and how God even promises to renew and restore those rough places. As he puts it:

The things that look hopeless in our lives are often used as an opportunity for God to show up and bring life out of death, bounty and beauty out of the ashes, and allow us to dream another dream.

One of the chapters of Do Something Beautiful is about “doing something beautiful together.” (Interestingly, this is the theme near the end of Andy Crouch’s seminal Culture-Making and appears again in Andy’s recent and must-read The Life We’re Looking For which is about technology.) Ahh, but, as York warns, “doing something together is easier said than done. Joining God in His work and initing others to join the work takes time and preparation.

He continues,

It is true that sometimes we “fall into” a community that is doing righteous and beautiful things, but more often, we have to do some work. Understanding where we are, where our home is, where our church has been and is going are all important starting points… (we) “exegete our community, analyzing its contours and content with an aim of understanding where the possibilities are.

This book is, simply, “your guide to the story of everything.” Nobody said York wasn’t audacious and bold. Yet this charming little book, energetic as it is in calling us to do something good and righteous, just and beautiful, is also gracious and inviting. It is both a book about how to do evangelism well and, well, it is a book of evangelism. I assure there are those who read it who find themselves desperately longing to be conscripted into this movement of God’s people, into this faith community, those who live for Jesus and show it by offering beauty to the world. Buy a few and give ‘em away and see what happens!

Seen. Known. Loved. 5 Truths About God & Your Love Language Gary Chapman & R. York Moore (Northfield) $9.99

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $7.99
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off  = $6.99

Again, this is a nicely handsome little book, with three very cool die cut holes on the front and a cover that is a tiny bit off edge, showing forth the strips of color underneath. That Moody Press would spring for this extra touch of a handsome product is glorious and I’m a fan. That York wrote a good chunk of this with the Uber-famous Five Love Languages guru himself, is telling.

I do not know if it was Gary Chapman that realized the evangelistic nature of his various love languages schtick or if it was York who naturally saw the beauty and goodness of adopting those love languages into truths about how God may reach us. Either way, it’s genius!

Others have done this using the Meyers-Briggs personality tests, or the Enneagram, or other personality type theories adapted to prayer or one’s spirituality. Nobody has quite done this, using the Love Languages, and it is a thrill to read. One more tool in the toolkit for people (like you, too?) Who want to share the good news of the gospel with others but rarely know how to bring it up, get into it, actually do evangelism with others. This is one more way into those deeper conversations and it is a blast.

Most basically, it asks: “Could your love language guide you to a more meaningful life?”

The title doesn’t unpack it all, but get’s us started: We are seen. We are known. And we are loved! 

The book’s subtitle offers “5 Truths” and here they are:

  • Chapter 1 – You Are Loved: The Words That Change Everything
  • Chapter 2 – You Are Seen: You Matter and So Do Your Actions
  • Chapter 3 – You Have Worth: The Gift of Being Accepted
  • Chapter 4 – You Belong: Embraced for God
  • Chapter 5 – You Are Known: Experiencing True Togetherness with God

The last little chapter (bringing the whole book to under 90 small pages) is called “Living Into Love.” Yes! As it says on the back cover, “We are all designed to uniquely desire love…”

As York himself puts it on the last page, “We become lovers when we are loved.”  This book can help you and your loved ones understand this more deeply, perhaps even discover it anew. It’s a very nice little volume, short and sweet and perhaps life changing.

++++

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PLEASE READ  AND THEN CLICK ON THE “ORDER HERE” LINK BELOW.

It is helpful if you tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders.

The weight and destination of your package varies

but you can use this as a general guide:

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be slow. For one typical book, usually, it’s about $3.69; 2 lbs would be $4.36.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.35 if it fits in a flat rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $8.95. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

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

– DON’T FORGET TO LET US KNOW WHAT SHIPPING METHOD YOU PREFER –

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SPECIAL
DISCOUNT

20% OFF

ALL BOOKS MENTIONED

+++

order here

this takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want to order

inquire here

if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313
read@heartsandmindsbooks.com
717-246-3333

It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading; rates are rising seriously. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

We are doing our famous curb-side customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday.

New (and older) Books about the Bible ON SALE NOW — AND A FREE BOOK OFFER (while supplies last)

As always, thanks to those who sent orders our way from the last BookNotes. After highlighting wise and balanced basic Christian growth titles I shared some about deeper spiritual life stuff on sabbath, St. Ignatius, the desert fathers and mothers, and the like and we enjoyed the response. Plus, folks are still pre-ordering the forthcoming Jamie Smith book, How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now which releases September 20, 2022. It sells for $24.99 and we have it at the BookNotes 20% off, making it just $19.99. We will still have some of the free little guided journals that Brazos has made available for those who preorder it early. While supplies last, naturally…

In writing about and recommending resources for the transformation of your own interior lives, books such as those from Henri Nouwen and Ruth Haley Barton and that forthcoming one by Trevor Hudson joining the insights of St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard, we were highlighting books that might be called contemplative spirituality. 

However, even the quiet mystics and louder Pentecostals and most who want a true encounter with the living God would be quick to say that one of the classic disciplines of spiritual formation is reading the Bible. It must be read in community, be heard in liturgical worship, used in study and in our more common devotional reflections. Over and over. I’m no fundamentalist Bible thumper but after nearly a lifetime of small group study and Sunday school classes and being shaped by Biblically informed liturgy and sermons, the more open I am to hermeneutical fuzziness; I’ve read enough good commentaries and heard enough astute talks and chatted with so many ordinary folks to know that good people see things differently. But, man, I love studying the Bible, God’s Word that it is.

There’s a continuum, of course, from those who read it woodenly and literalistically (except, uh, when they conveniently don’t) to those who read it almost all figuratively and allegorically or worse. There are strengths and weaknesses of various camps and traditions, but I love the basic insights of Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart’s thoughtful classic How to Read the Bible For All That It’s Worth (Zondervan; $24.99) that insists that different genres of the Biblical literature need to be read differently. Naturally, God’s Word or not, we read a poem differently than a letter. History is different from dreams and parables are to be interpreted differently than epistles. Usually we read much of the Bible straight up, but sometimes it’s sarcastic or ironic and we should take the meaning to be the opposite of what it says. In any case, we read the Bible well if, at least, we read it literarily. 

One very recent book that explores this is by a theologically conservative black woman, Kristie Anyabwile, who helps us all a lot in Literarily: How Understanding Bible Genres Transforms Bible Study (Moody Press; $14.99; our sale price = $11.99.)  It’s short and sweet and good.

Jen Wilken, herself an expert Bible teacher and popular author says:

The power of language rests not just in what words are said, but in how they are said. The words of Scripture are no exception. Perhaps no tool is more useful, or more often overlooked, than a basic understanding of how the Bible speaks. Kristie offers excellent help to those who want to read the Bible as it is written: as a collection of different ways of writing, all telling one marvelous story.

Perhaps more meaty and a bit more literary itself is a recent book by Matthew Mullins, a Baptist English prof, who wrote Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures (Baker Academic; $22.99; our sale price = $18.39.) It’s impressive.

Listen to what James K. A. Smith says of this:

What if reading the Bible is a matter not just of discerning what it says but of attending to how it speaks? Then reading the Bible is more like experiencing a poem than processing a rule book. In this marvelous game changer of a book, Matthew Mullins invites readers to encounter the Bible as literature, not to diminish its revelatory authority but to break open its luminary capacity. I’m so glad this book is in the world. –James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; editor in chief, Image journal; author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

BOOKS ABOUT THE BIBLE, ON SALE —AND A FREE BOOK OFFER (SEE BELOW)

Here are a few other books, some fairly recent and some brand new, that might be useful as you spend summer days reflecting on the most important book ever sold. I assume you have a good translation and a study Bible or two. If not, give us a call right away. And, oh yeah, I’ve got some extra copies of a stunning book to share with our compliments if you buy something from this list (soon.) As always, just use the order form link at the end, which takes you to our secure order form at the website. Or, call us here at the shop. We’re in Monday – Saturday, 10 – 6 and if your in the area, we’re doing backyard customer service and easy curbside deliveries.

The Gospel of Our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian Bruce Riley Ashford & Heath A. Thomas (Baker Academic) $22.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I name this because I believe deeply that the big picture of the transforming vision of the unfolding drama of the Bible is the most important thing to do. Any given passage simply must be seen within the big, redemptive Story, the kind of story in which we find ourselves. There are other Bible introductions and missionally-sensitive readings, but for now, this is a fav. Highly recommended. 

Two of my favorite writes are Craig Bartholomew (a philosopher) and Michael Goheen (a theologian.) Here is what they say about this.

The Gospel of Our King is a sheer delight. This is what happens when you bring together close attention to the Bible as a whole, worldview, and mission, just as they should be, with the overarching focus on the glory of God. A creative, accessible, and eminently practical work. –Craig G. Bartholomew, director, Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

A wonderful book. Ashford and Thomas take us to the heart of the Christian faith. Their writing is engaging and the idols they challenge are timely, making this a book full of insight for faithful Christian living today.  –Michael W. Goheen, Missional Training Center, Surge Network of Churches-Phoenix, and Covenant Theological Seminary

What Is the Bible and How Do We Understand It? Dennis R. Edwards (Herald Press) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

This is a very small book, feisty and well written, by the powerful black author and Northern Seminary NT prof, Dr. Dennis Edwards (whose book Might from the Margins which we’ve reviewed at BookNotes is very good.) It’s part of the great little series called “The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith” which, while not exactly Anabaptist or Mennonite, have the Christ-focused and active bent that that tradition at its best nicely exemplifies. This is a fabulous introduction to basic questions many have about the Scriptures.

Here are the six chapters (each that have great reflection or discussion questions, making this ideal for a small group or Sunday school class.) 

  • What Is the Purpose of the Bible?
  • How Was the Bible Born?
  • What Is the Center of the Bible?
  • What Is the Spirit of the Bible?
  • Who Gets to Interpret the Bible?
  • What Impact Does the Bible Make?

Seven Things I Which Christians Knew About the Bible Michael Bird (Zondervan) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I’m sure I’ve highlighted this before, too, and, again, it is compact sized, not too hefty. Michael Bird is a fun and funny academic, a scholar from Down Under who, as you may know, has co-authored books with the world-class N.T. Wright. Bird is a prolific and important scholar (also online with a popular theological studies blog called “Euangelion” and a clever podcast with Amiee Byrd (called “Birds of a Feather.”) In any case, he’s a tremendous, balanced, honest evangelical. This book is excellent, and, even if basic, vital.

Young scholars as diverse as Dru Johnson and Aimee Byrd and Dan Kimball and Nijay Gupta all say everybody should read it. 

I love Aimee Byrd’s endorsement:

If you want to grow in your competence of reading Scripture and have a crackalackin’ good time doing it, read this book.

Let’s hope crackalackin’ good time is an Australian phrase she picked up on the podcast with Mike. In any case, she’s right — competence and crackalackin’. Order it today!

A Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Scriptural Imagination Kenneth Carter (Upper Room Books) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

If Seven Things is a moderately thick — just over 200 pages — compact-sized book, this is a thin compact sized one, weighing in at about 75 small pages. I suggest it here, though, as there is hardly anything like it. You will cherish it, I bet.

The first handful of pages describes what he means by forming our Scriptural Imagination, and why we need more than information, but immersion.  This is perhaps akin to using the technique of lectio divina but not exactly. In a way, it is less rigorous. In any case, his ruminations about this alone are worth the couple of bucks, good to remind you and helpful for you to share with others. Not everybody gets that, you know?

The heart of the book are four imaginative reflections on four texts which, in Carter’s skilled hands, offers two things. Firstly, he is showing us how to approach Biblical texts well, reflectively and imaginatively and seriously. Secondly, he is not only offering insights about imaginative reading, but, he says, these very texts will help solidify this vision of right brained (or whole brained, perhaps) reading.

The passages he offers us are The Vine and the Branches (John 15), The Sower, The Seed, and the Soils (Mark 4), The Feeding of the Multitudes (Luke 9) and The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25.) He has a small “what’s next” section which lists some places to try this sort of reading and a handful of books, contemplative and Biblical.

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation Richard Foster (HarperOne) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

There are many great books on reading the Bible more slowly, meditatively, with a contemplative approach to actually come to know God and learn to hear the Spirit’s voice. This is a near classic by a delightful, ecumenical, Quaker who is doubtlessly one of the most important Christian writers of the last 50 years. This offers an intimate connection between Scripture and spirituality. 

To show its appeal, besides the “starred review” it got back in the day from Publishers Weekly, check out these three endorsements, from three different places in the big church pew:

Alluring warmth, empathetic breadth, and twenty-twenty perceptiveness, mild on sin but firm on grace, have together become the hallmark of the Renovare books. This pathway into the “with-God life” is a worthy addition to the study. — J.I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College and author of Knowing God.

Foster is a reliable, compelling guide for a life in which God is a defining agent. The news from Foster is good indeed: God is with us! — Walter Brueggemann, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, The Prophetic Imagination

You hold in your hands a very wise book written for anyone who craves a deep, palpable connection to God. If you want to discover new ways of entering the Bible, and letting it enter you, you will find no better guide than Richard Foster. — Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School, Wearing God

Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $18.99                     OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

You may know Peterson’s magnum opus, in a way, his magisterial five part “Spiritual Theology” series. It starts with one of my all time favorite titles, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places published in 2004; Eat This Book is the second in the series although certainly stands alone and is perhaps the best-seller of the five. In it Pastor Pete engages us in a conversation, really, where he talks about reading the Bible, the nature of sentences, even, exegesis, Bible translations, lectio divina, the nature of language, and the like. Lauren Winner says of it,

“Deep, stirring, luminous, even profound — if you are going to read one book about reading Scripture, it should be this one.”

At the heart are three major chapters where he at once makes reading the Bible a bit easier, less complicated, even as he reminds us it is, as he puts it, uncongenial. In several good sections under each he deftly moves from “Scripture as Text” to “Scripture as Form” and on to “Scripture as Script.” Although you’ll love the opening one, “The Holy Family at Table with Holy Scripture.” He tells stories ancient and new, nothing sensational, just common folks spending a lifetime in the Word.

By the way, I hope you know his powerful and important quartet, considered the “vocational holiness” series by the late great Peterson. Designed for serious reading for serious clergy people who want to get back to basics, the four books are Peterson perhaps at his very best. I’m not a clergy person, of course, yet I adored these four volumes. They include Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Working the Angles, Under the Unpredictable Plant and, finally, the The Contemplative Pastor. All are about the formation of the working pastor and that come back, time and again, to Scripture. To eating the book, as his later volume put it.

It may be that Working the Angles is the most fundamental of all. It is the shortest of the four, I think. It shows that, for Peterson, the heart of a pastor’s vocational holiness is to work the angles of three things — teaching people to pray, to read the Bible, and to receive spiritual direction from others. As a review in The Clergy Journal back in the day put it, “Get the angles right and the lines — preaching, teaching, and administration — will take care of themselves.” It is very much about reading, praying, and using the Bible in pastoral work.

For those who don’t feel right reading over the shoulder of a book that their pastor should read, the lovely Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading is a fabulous choice. All of Peterson’s many books are Biblical, but Working the Angles and Eat This Book spell out much of his most basic notions of how and why to read and pray and imbibe the Word of God.

The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today Meghan Larissa Good (Herald Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

For those who want a lively and upbeat and clever and really useful introduction to how to read the Bible well, influenced maybe a bit by Pete Ends, Walter Brueggemann, and N.T.Wright (amounts others) this just sings. It avoids the extremes of fundamentalist wooden readings and yet calls us to understand it well — using insights from the likes of Ken Bailey and Michael Gorman. As it says on the back cover,

Good delves into issues like biblical authority, literary genre, and Christ-centered hermeneutics and calls readers beyond knee-jerk biblicism on one hand or skeptical disregard on the other. 

I love that she calls us to a spiritually alive and intellectually credible communal discernment. She’s convinced there can be “deep and transformative wonder” about Scripture.

The Bible Unwrapped bears untold gifts…Do not let this unique gift pass by unopened and unenjoyed.  — Leonard Sweet, scholar, speaker, author, Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future

How (Not) To Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and Other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture Dan Kimball (Zondervan Reflective) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

There are now bunches of books like this. Some are quite scholarly, some a bit goofy, some written out of exceptionally punctilious views of the inerrancy of Scriptures and some that are, if you ask me, dismissing way to much of the authority of Scripture. There is no doubt that we always need newly fresh answers to this age-old question — see, for instance, Paul Copan’s apologetic in Is God a Moral Monster? and its new followup coming in October, Is God a Vindictive Bully? I appreciate and recommend for basic readers the good books by David Lamb, such as his little classic, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist and Mark Strauss’s companion to it, Jesus Behaving Badly:The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee. I could go on.

This recent book by the energetic and hip church planter with a sense of humor, Dan Kimball, is really excellent for those who haven’t studied the serious stuff. The print isn’t too tiny, there’s some charts and stuff, lots of (ironically dumb) pictures, and it has interesting, and even funny quotes through-out. It isn’t funny, but the first epigram is by magic man Penn Jilette (the talkative one of Penn & Teller) who says, dead seriously, “Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism.”  Is it so?

Many who are walking away from the faith, or deconstructing long-held beliefs, are doing so in part because they just can’t stomach some of the awful stuff of the Bible. If you’ve not been tempted to renounce our high regard for Scripture, maybe you’re not studying God’s Word that much, or you have an undeveloped moral sensibility. Keep at it, though, as God works on you and you become more Christ-like, you will at least wonder about some of this. You must!

As I say, there are more profound and more detailed studies, but this is a good place to start. With plenty of footnotes it’s just our 300 pages. Good paper and two color ink, makes it nice to handle. There’s a sic-session DVD, too, with Dan and his neo-punk haircut, walking you through some of this good material.

Don’t trust me? With recommending blurbs by Margaret Feinberg, rocker David Crowder, and the brilliant Tim Mackie (of the Bible Project videos), it’s obviously a solid start. Scot McKnight says it is “a book full of theological wisdom and pastoral care for honest Bible readers who have genuine and difficult questions about the Bible.” 

Holy Imagination: A Literary and Theological Introduction to the Whole Bible Judy Fentress-Williams (Abingdon) $39.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

There are intro to the Bible books which I most typically recommend. I’m sure you’ve seen me highlight The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen over and over. The easier, shorter version (maybe even good for bright high schoolers) is The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama. I adore Bartholomew’s little The 30-Minute Bible: God’s Story for Everyone, co-written by the extraordinary Bible teacher Paige Vanosky. I’m very glad that NavPress released the introductions to each book of the Bible in Peterson’s The Message as The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible. For a cool young person who is an earnest seeker, I love The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life by Justin Buzzard. These are my go-to volumes, recommended any time I get the chance. 

However, if somebody wants a major volume, a hefty and wondrously-written seminary textbook, this is increasingly the one I think of. Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams is professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria (and before that taught at Hartford Seminary in CT.) She has a commentary on the book of Ruth, too. But this. Wow.

We have only sold a few of these but it is one of those rare books that each time we’ve sent one, the customer voluntarily replied to us later thanking us for selling it to them. How about that? They so loved it, found so much of worth, that they wanted us to recommend it to others.

“Studying Scripture demands dialogue” it says on the back. In fact, one of the assumptions of Holy Imagination is that “the many voices in Scripture form a dialogue with readers, which produces theological truths that are larger than the individual parts.”  Yes, we must know the context, social and otherwise. We must read literarily. But there is theology, emerging from the genres and how the literary characteristics and theological insights merge.

Like good poetry, we must pay attention. As with poetry, we must use our minds and our imaginations, which, in turn, are shaped by the text itself. As she puts it, “we return again and again, with more information and perhaps more experiences. The words are the same, but we are not; for that reason there are always new discoveries.”

At last, an introduction that students will enjoy reading, because it is at once engaging, informative, and eye-opening, as well as completely lucid. Fentress-Williams shows how many books of the Bible reflect the experience of marginalized persons and communities in precarious situations, and therefore how they speak in ways both realistic and encouraging to contemporary readers. Do your students and yourself a favor: adopt this text and get ready for serious conversation about ancient texts that never go out of date.  – Ellen F. Davis,Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School, author of Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, Opening Israel’s Scriptures, and Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible

God’s People Made New: How Exploring the Bible Together Launched Church’s Spirit-Filled Future Rachael J. Powell (Fortress Press) $18.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Many of our best customers are members of mainline denominational churches — once thriving Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal or United Methodist, say, and they have been in steep decline in membership for decades, now. Naturally, they are all seeking ways to steward this new time and new era in their own respective lives, and, many, insist (rightly, I think) that one of the causes of the crisis a few generations ago was a lackluster sense of Biblical authority and therefore a significant decline in Biblical literary. Data suggests, I’m told, that seeker sensitive community churches and many fundamentalist churches, even, are now walking that same dumb ground, failing to equip the community to be people of the Book.

This recent book, published by the ELCA press, is about this very thing. Written mostly as a memoir, actually, God’s People Made New tells the story of Pastor Rachael’s valiant effort to reintroduce her congregation in Albuquerque, to the glories and complexities of Bible study and the good trouble that can come from that.

Here is how the publisher explains it:

“Through the voices of congregants living in crisis and hope, creative investigation of biblical texts, and solid, accessible theological reflection, Rachael J. Powell offers hope for congregations.” They continue hoping that, “Readers will appreciate Powell’s wise pastoral companionship through the often exasperating yet life-giving process of helping a congregation discern who and what they are called to be.”

This is a simple notion — the Word of God matters. She “probes and celebrates” (as David Lose puts it) “the transformation we can expect when we all God’s word to breathe new life and purpose into God’s people,” 

I suppose this book could equally go on a list about congregational life and church renewal. Powells gets us there, by teaching us (with concrete tools) how to be empowered to hear God’s Word well. And, yes, preacher that she is, she calls on preachers to “claim their role in this powerful work.” 

Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew Scot McKnight (with a foreword by Hans Boersma) (IVP Academic) $20.00                            OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I’ve highlighted this before and, with its companion volume (see below) it’ a real winner. I know most common folks aren’t that interested in this in-house debate in the faith-based academy and in seminaries, but, you know, it’s important, and pretty fun. How illuminating to learn why Bible profs (like McKnight) want theologians to get in line, learn some stuff from them, and back off their fancy pants insistence that they hold the keys to the Kingdom. I’m being more pushy about all this than the gracious McKnight is, but, well, that’s what the book is about. Five things everybody should know, but that theological types should take to heart. Get it!  We need this reminder, believe me.

Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew  Hans Boersma (with a foreword by Scot McKnight) (IVP Academic) $20.00                           OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Okay, as I’ve said before (and, well, see above) this book, with its companion volume, is a real winner. I know most common folks aren’t that interested in this in-house debate in the faith-based academy and in seminaries, but, you know, it’s important, and pretty fun. How illuminating to learn why theological professors (like Boersma) want Bible teachers to get in line, learn some stuff from them, and back off their fancy pants insistence that they hold the keys to the Kingdom. I’m being more pushy about all this than the gracious Boersma is, but, well, that’s what the book is about. Five things everybody should know, but that Bible lovers should take to heart. Get it! We need this input, believe me.

Returning from the Abyss: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Jeremiah Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Maybe you will recall my lavish praise on the first, and then the second, book in this ongoing set of adult Bible studies, short commentaries that focus on pivotal moments in the text when much changes. The first two volumes in the series (both also by Brueggemann) were on the much loved but rarely studied exodus narratives and the following desert satires about manna and Sinai.

The titles of those two are evocative: Delivery Out of Empire: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus and Delivered into Covenant: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus.

This new, third one in the series, Returning from the Abyss, is spectacular and accesible, even if it has 27 (short) chapters. Twenty-seven key, even pivotal moments in Jeremiah, eh? You got it. This is just remarkable, fascinating, even, and very usable. There are a few pithy questions after each chapter, making it easy to us. Very highly recommended.

The Lord Roars: Recovering the Prophetic Voice for Today M. Daniel Carroll R. (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I’m not going to lie — it was this new title that made me want to share titles of recent interest about Biblical studies.  It may be the most important and lasting new book on this list — just a stellar brand new title that deserves to be shouted about.

The Lord Roars is complex and a bit academic, but any committed, educated reader can work through it. It was, after all, a set of lectures given, fleshed out a bit. The question on the table is how to hear prophets, whether they are alive today, in some generic sense, but, more specifically, how to hear and appropriate wisely the voices of the Hebrew prophets from the Bible. Danny Carroll taught at Denver Seminary and a few years moved over to the Old Testament department at Wheaton College. He is a passionate speaker, a prolific writer (about the Bible and about immigration issues — most recently see his Bible and Borders.) He is scholar of the prophets (having done a major work on Amos in the prestigious NICOT series.) We admire him immensely and anticipated this book, which arrived less than week ago. I dove right in.

The book announces that it offers “a new way to encounter the prophets” but I’ve not quite figured out what is utterly new. It is fresh and compelling and important. The world today “cries out for a prophetic word to the chaos, unrest, and destructiveness of our times.” Perhaps this book will at least inspire and motivate, if not equip and train many to hear the Word of the Lord.

Dr. Carroll R. (the letter at the end stands for Roeda, his Guatemalan grandmother’s last name) highlights three key ethical concerns of the Old Testament prophets (and he is surely not wrong in this) — injustice, worship, and hope. He shows how they can speak into our world, how we can be trained to be taken up in their questions.

The Lord Roars reminds me vividly of a line I read as a teenager in a book given to me by a friend, a book of poem/prayers by Malcom Boyd in which the priest said that we may read the prophets in church but we wouldn’t recognize one if he were to sit down beside us, which struck me immediately to be obviously true. Many in my  circles disregarded, for instance, Dr. Martin Luther King or Ceasar Chavez, to offer two important examples. But the thing is, Boyd was wrong: we didn’t read the Old Testament much, let alone the prophets, in our churches. In college as I was agitating for better working conditions and wages for mostly Chicano farm workers, an evangelical mentor told me I should read Amos. I’m not even sure I even knew who that was, let alone that he was a “farmer from Tekoa.” To this day, I thank Marilyn Phillips Slemenda and Jennie Korn Geisler for how they pushed me towards the prophets so many years ago.

Now, you can capture not only the heart of the prophets by way of this up-to-date scholar, and his set of important lectures but you can learn to really hear them — apply them, we might say. Or at least be captured by the themes that captured them, including a passion for justice, knowing deeply how failure to love God rightly almost always leads to failure to love neighbor. Yet, given this tragic situation — played out today, still, of course — can there be hope. Indeed, perhaps the most audacious message of the prophets is that there is hope.

The Lord Roars expertly taps three key texts from Amos, Isaiah, and Micah. This is the Word of the Lord, people. Please read these wise recommendations.

Perhaps some of us employ the adjective prophetic hastily or uncritically, but many more of us are reluctant to heed the words of prophets — even the prophets identified in the Bible. Carroll demonstrates why and how biblical prophets speak to a myriad of social issues, including many that we presently face. His rigorous exegesis, historical analysis, and cultural awareness converge to give Bible readers a better understanding of Scripture’s prophetic tradition and how it applies right now.  — Dennis R. Edwards, North Park Theological Seminary, Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice

Carroll, easily one of our best scholars and teachers on the prophets, offers a concise and erudite — indeed, idea l— introduction to these all-important messengers of God. Carroll focuses on selected texts from Amos, Isaiah, and Micah while at the same time engaging everything from Don Quijote and Charles Dickens to immigration, the Inquisition, liberation theology, and much, much more. A masterful treatment. — Brent A. Strawn, Duke University, author The Old Testament Is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment

The Lord Roars has helped me see how the prophetic imagination in the canonical biblical text can orient my motivations to see theologically and work ethically toward a better world. From a hermeneutic of trust, Carroll invites the reader to carefully consider what the word of God offers as a witness to a more just and less violent world conceived through theo-poetic justice. Manifestly, Carroll’s proposal challenges today’s Westernized Christian visions of a world trapped in left-wing and right-wing political ideologies.  — Oscar García-Johnson, Fuller Theological Seminary

Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, The Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I know I’ve promoted this before and I know that some may find it curious but I am telling you, this is one you really should consider. If you want to stay alive to God’s speaking through His Word and you are interested in the most plausible and faithful reading in light of what we know to be true about God and His ways, this, simply, is a must-read. As Brueggemann says of it, it is Bible “interpretation at its most daring and at its best.”

As you might surmise from the title, this carefully argued and very (very) Bible-drenched study says, finally, given what we know about Job and lament and God’s law and covenant, Abraham should have said no! Richard makes a very compelling case that we have misread and misapplied the story of the binding of Isaac. “God desires more than silent obedience in difficult times.” Wow. This is amazing and the implications are vast. 

There are blurbs on the back from serious Bible scholars, for Rabbi Irving(Yitz) Greenberg (the President the Greenberg Institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life) and this from Carmen Joy Imes of Biola (see her excellent Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters) and the often cited (here, at least) Jamie Smith of Calvin:

In this groundbreaking work, Middleton dares to question Abraham’s unquestioning obedience in Genesis 22. His approach is robustly biblical-theological, but his outside-the-box thinking offers an intriguing new solution to two interpretive puzzles: the binding of Isaac and the testing of Job. The pastoral implications of this book make it a must-read for pastors and biblical scholars alike.  — Carmen Joy Imes, Biola University, Bearing God’s Name

I have been learning from Middleton for over twenty-five years. From him I learned that, in the Bible itself, God invites our questions and doubts. He showed me–through the Psalms and Job — that lament is faithful. This marvelous book exhibits the singular combination that is Richard Middleton: a deep and broad attunement to the Scriptures and a keen philosophical sensibility, both wed to a profoundly pastoral concern. A gift for both church and academy.  — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University, You Are What You Love

Voices Long Silenced: Woman Biblical Interpreters Through the Centuries Joy A, Schroeder & Marion Ann Taylor (WJK) $40.00        OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

Let’s get down to brass tacks: if we want to hear the Word in all its prophetic power, we need all hands on deck. We need a community of interpreters, lots of voices, lots of teachers. Obviously, in the history of the church and too often even today, women’s voices are marginalized, if not silenced. This is changing, and this volume is a good illustration of how things are opening up. Joy Schroeder and Marion Ann Taylor have — as Wilda Gafney, professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School says, “gifted us” with a long survey of women’s biblical interpretation and it is “an extraordinary collection and will be invaluable in the classroom.”  But it is not just for the classroom. As Jaime Clark-Soles (New Testament prof at Perkins School of Theology) says, “I am awestruck by this book.”

As Jaimie Clark-Soles continues, importantly:

Spanning centuries from antiquity to today, it features female scriptural interpreters from across the globe from different denominational, class, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Joining them, the reader sojourns through history, learning the names and work of the interpreters, the historical and political contexts in which they operated, the methods they used to interpret, and why it is essential for us to engage their work if we truly desire a faithful rendering of our religious history. I cannot overstate the importance of this book or how rewarding it is to read—not a single wasted word.     —Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament and Distinguished Teaching Professor, Perkins School of Theology

Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope Esau McCaulley (IVP Academic) $22.00                             OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

What an honor it was top be one of the first stores to have this when it came out late in 2019 (having an official publication date of early 2020.) We have been with Dr. McCaulley on two occasions and know him to be a solid guy, exceptionally well-education (in Scotland under N.T. Wright, itself a bit of story as a black Anglican there.) Now teaching at Wheaton College (and sending in the occasional well-crafted op-ed piece to the New York Times) McCaulley’s book has earned the status of being a major contribution to both black studies and Biblical studies.

We carry a number of books about how people of color have historically understood and taught the Bible. This, though, is simply the best of the best, hard-hitting and prophetic, yet measured and fair. A few have dismissed him, but many have been blessed by his good work and we are glad for this book. It is very, very highly recommended.

(Look for a small book coming from him later this fall, releasing in early November called Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal. It will sell for $20.00 but pre-orders will get our BookNotes 20% off, making it $16.00 It is the first in a series heis editing called “Fullness of Time.”)

 

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture Frank Thielman (Crossway) $15.99      OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

We carry all the little books in the serious-minded, “Short Studies in Biblical Theology” which makes the riches of what is called “Biblical theology” available to ordinary readers. This angle invites to ponder the interconnectedness of the big, unfolding story of God and the way themes and notions relate. It’s a great way to see how — as Sally Lloyd Jones puts it in her lovely children’s Bible inspired by this worldview — “every chapter whispers His name.”

This is a good one to start with, but try others in the series such as Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World by Thomas Schreiner; The City of God and the Goal of Creation by Desmond Alexander; From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation by Sidney Greidanus, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer by Andrew David Naselli, or Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom by Gregory Beale. 

For those who like this series, there are two new ones coming in October that you could pre-order: Resurrection Hope and the Death of Death by Mitchell Chase and The Sabbath as Rest and Hope for the People of God by Guy Prentiss Waters., both which will sell for $17.99, but at 20% off they will each be $14.39. 

Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption L. Michael Morals (IVP Academic) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

We carry all the titles in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series edited by Benjamin Gladd. These books do almost scholarly, but quite readable, if detailed study of “central or essential themes of the Bible’s grand storyline” and this one is excellent, if a bit. This ongoing series is limited and seem to be nearly interrelated- they are highly recommended. And we think each enliven our understanding of the whole, and, of course, unlock precious insights into the organic unfolding drama of the whole Bible.

See, also, just for instance, Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator by Desmond Alexander; God Dwells Among Us: A Biblical Theology of the Temple by G.K. Beale; The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law by Brandon Crowe;  Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration by Matthew Harmon; From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God by Benjamin Gladd.

If you like this series and want to keep up, the next one coming arrives in early November and will be called The Hope of Life After Death: A Biblical Theology of Resurrection by Belhaven University scholar Jeff Bannon ($24.00.) You can pre-order it now, of course at our 20% off, making it $19.20.

and commentaries…

Whenever we suggest interesting books about the Bible and how to read it well, the question of commentaries comes up. The needs of different sorts of customers are diverse and we suggest things as basic as the Warren Weirsbe easy-to-read “Be” series to the higher-end, scholarly (and expensive) NICOT and NICNT, Pillar, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament or other academic tomes. Each series has its own stellar ones; for instance, see the outstanding one on Acts by Willie James Jennings in the series Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (WJK; $40.00) or the Luke volume in that series by Justo Gonzalez (WJK; $45.00.) Many preachers like it when we suggest the solid, useful NIV Application Commentary series published by Zondervan and most are really great.  I hope you know the ongoing Story of God commentary series edited by Tremper Longman and Scot McKnight — they are so interesting, fresh, insightful and yet easy to use. I think the series we recommend the most for most folks is the exceptionally useful, paperback Bible Speaks Today series by IVP.  Every volume has the phrase “The Message of…” and they are all tremendous, even with discussion questions in the back, which is rare for a commentary. And, for really succint insight, don’t forget the compact sized, Old Testament for Everyone by John Goldingay and the New Testament for Everyone ones by N.T. Wright.

When useful and moving (!) academic commentaries come up, we always suggest the big two volume set by Frederick Dale Bruner, previously known as The Christ Book and The Church Book but now just called Matthew: A Commentary Volume One and Matthew: A Commentary Volume Two (Eerdmans; $41.99 and $46.99, respectively.) He also has a big one on John (The Gospel of John: A Commentary) which also offers his warm and wise and even profound scholarly but accessible insights. He released a smaller one a year ago on Romans.

four ON ROMANS

The Letter to the Romans: A Short Commentary Frederick Dale Bruner (Eerdmans) $26.99              OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Well, when one of our great scholars known for writing expert commentaries sets out to do a brief study of Romans (in just about 200 pages) we should pay attention. How fortunate the students at Whitworth University have been to have a professor like this in their lives!

“In this short commentary Bruner offers a clear, accessible interpretation of Paul’s account of our deep need of the Gospel and God’s loving provision in Christ. Illumined by a rich array of commentators throughout history, ample biblical cross references, and in language that grabs the heart, Bruner focuses on God’s offer of salvation as sheer gift. Mercifully free of jargon and arcane scholarly debate, but filled with contemporary allusions, the book is perfect for small Bible studies or adult education classes.”  — William A. Dyrness, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This commentary on the premier exposition of the gospel comes from one of America’s premier expositors of the gospel. Dale Bruner’s translation of Romans is fresh and clever, his exposition of Romans is disarmingly straightforward and insightful, and his personal testimonies at key passages illustrate the relevance of Romans for modern readers. This is not a solo commentary on Romans, however, for Bruner enlists testimonies from the Gospels and the confessions of the church to complement Paul’s liberating message, and throughout the commentary he introduces readers to the best insights of the best commentators on what he calls ‘the Fifth Gospel.’” — James R. Edwards, Whitworth University

“Bruner’s two massive treatments of Matthew and John are treasured in the church as reliable, inspiring, comprehensive studies. After a decade of further study, Bruner has done it again. This shorter study of Romans—which Bruner calls the Fifth Gospel—is once more a lucid, well-informed explanation of Paul’s premier letter. Good commentaries explain the text in its original form, provide theological insight into the text’s meaning and value, and then help us make use of the text for our living today. Bruner gets high marks in all three in a casual, personal format that is the hallmark of all his writing.” — Gary M. Burge, Calvin Theological Seminary

Romans: A Theological & Pastoral Commentary Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $39.99                    OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

It is hard to explain the significance of the unassuming servant leader that is Mike Gorman, but his many books are all exceptionally esteemed and he is, simply an author you should know. (To understand his influence, realize that there is, for instance, a book about his work which I raved about a while ago done in tribute to and in conversation with his notions of cruciformity. It is called Cruciform Scripture: Cross, Participation, and Mission edited by Christopher W. Skinner, Nijay K. Gupta, Andy Johnson, Drew J. Strait (Eerdmans; $35.00.)) Professor Gorman, who teaches at the fabulous Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, has a short, basic book on Revelation, several books on Paul, one heady one on John, and more. (And he’s writing again, so next year might see yet another New Testament commentary!)

In this, his most recent, which we announced back in the winter, Gorman offers a serious discussion of Romans, theological (that is, not mere Greek exegesis) and yet, as the title puts it, “pastoral.” I’m not exactly sure what that word connotes for you, but it suggests some practical, formational sensibilities, and I don’t disagree. It is, as Craig Keener says, “theologically rich as well as spiritual inviting and edifying.” 

Michael Gorman’s commentary on Romans faithfully illuminates the Apostle Paul’s complex proclamation of the gospel. While carefully explaining different possible interpretations, Gorman sets forth his own powerful reading of the letter: that it is a proclamation of the life-giving, life-transforming justice of God, as well as an urgent invitation to participate in the new community created by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Gorman, a master teacher, provides a rich historical and theological exposition, never losing sight of the question of what matters for Christian communities today. This commentary belongs on the desk of everyone whose vocation is to preach and teach the gospel.” — Richard B. Hays, Duke University

Michael Gorman is that rare scholar of eminent distinction who is willing to read the Pauline letters as Christian scripture. His approach is ecumenically sensitive, appealing to what Protestants and Catholics hold in common. And his analysis reprises the great themes for which he is justly famous: participation, cruciformity, transformation, and mission. Widely accessible, this commentary will be useful (on the one hand) to scholars, teachers, and preachers, and (on the other) to interested lay readers. — Scott Hahn, Franciscan University of Steubenville

Michael Gorman’s commentary on Romans shows why he is recognized as one of the most distinguished Pauline scholars in America today. Written for a wider audience, it explains the pastoral, theological, and spiritual dimensions of Paul’s most important letter for the church of our day. Eminently readable, always insightful, this commentary accomplishes what few have done: it makes Paul’s message accessible and relevant to the lives of everyday believers.    — Frank J. Matera, The Catholic University of America

Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letters to the Romans  Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.60 

Many know dear Fleming, a long-standing Episcopal priest, working theologian and preacher, most recently from her stunning collection of seasonal sermons in the must-have Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ and her major work, Crucifixion. She has two smaller collection sermons on Good Friday . Many love her Battle for Middle Earth and her magisterial Undoing of Death, Lenten (and some Easter) sermons. There are others, including the recent collection of 52 great sermons, arranged as a once-a-week devotional called Means of Grace. We admire her so much and we’re glad she’s working on yet another manuscript. Pray for her!

Not so many customers order from us her lovely and inspiring and sometimes challenging collection of sermons on Romans, the epistle she calls “theological dynamite.” With dozens and dozens of sermons, this is over 400 pages and is itself dynamite. Highly recommended.

Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh (Brazos) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

This.  Wow. Amazing! I’ve reviewed Romans Disarmed more than once and have commended on it often, in part because of its verve and creative energy and in part because of how very compelling it is. It stands in the great tradition of their interactive, conversational, but deeply informed Colossians Remixed but offers even more — fictional characters, longer excursions into indigenous people’s sorrows, climate change, resisting the homogenizing influences of consumer culture — all deeply connected to the story of Paul’s letter to the conflicted and ethnically divided first century house churches in Rome, there under the boot heel of the ironically named Pax Romana. 

If you want to understand any of the New Testament, this playful but very detailed (just see the footnotes!) study helps put us there, right there. Sylvia earned her PhD in New Testament under NT Wright years ago and has deepened in her powerful exegesis but also in her creative storytelling. She and her hubby Brian take seriously the social context of first century Rome, the injustices, the radical implications of the enslaved being in sibling relationship with the rich and powerful who “owned” them — or didn’t, as the gospel insisted. You want deconstruction? Whew. I dare you to read this.  Gather in the kitchen of the home to listen to this letter from this guy named Paul and feel the tension, the struggle, the hardships and joy. Realize the importance of the women and men named near the end of the epistle and get this new perspective on Paul and his liberating message or real life redemption and the ethic of resistance to the forces of violence around us. 

Their study goes paragraph by paragraph with creative paraphrases and plenty of historical and contemporary cultural studies and radical application. They cite their colleagues N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, Michael Gorman, Chad Meyers and Elsa Tamez, but also Wendell Berry and Steve Bouma-Prediger and edgy social and political activists, all side by side. This is a true commentary, a handbook on contemporary discipleship, an argument for a life and lifestyle of utter grace. Agree or not with all of its conclusions, I cannot imagine a better book, if you are willing, to get you excited about the contemporary relevance of the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom and the subversive imagination it creates in communities that take the Bible seriously. 

Sylvia and Brian are two of my favorite Bible scholars. Whether you’re over-churched or under-churched, they stir in you a fresh curiosity for the Bible. This new book is perfect for scholars and new Bible readers alike, and for everyone in between. They rescue one of the most misused books of the Bible from the hands of colonizers and crusaders. And they help us listen with first-century ears to the anti-imperial love story of Romans. — Shane Claiborne, activist and author, Jesus for President

 

If you want to hear–and experience–Paul’s letter to the Jewish and gentile Christ-followers in Rome as you never have, read this book. And re-read it. Study it in your church circles. Talk about it with your friends. Assign it in your courses. As with their earlier Colossians Remixed, Keesmaat and Walsh have once again interwoven close textual reading of the New Testament (they clearly love the Scriptures!) with its unabashedly Jewish roots and its explosive relationship to the Roman imperial context. Most importantly, they bring the message of Romans into dialogue with our lives today, as we struggle to be faithful to the good news of Messiah Jesus in our own imperial context. — J. Richard Middleton, professor of biblical worldview and exegesis, Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College, author of Abraham’s Silence

 

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Bewondering God’s Dumbfounding Doings: God Talking to Us Little People in the Final Book of the Bible  Calvin G. Seerveld (Padia Press) $15.00  FREE with any purchase while supplies last

I wrote about this with great gusto in a heart-felt review I did when it first came out. It is a handsome paperback (with nice paper and a bit of art) and offers a handful of sermons Cal preached on the book of Revelation.  He’s astute and allusive, creative and majestic, even as he humbly guides the listeners at Toronto CRC into the God’s speaking, alive and well. 

Cal got us some for cheap and we’re happily offering this as a premium thank you gift for those of you reading BookNotes carefully and sending us orders. There’s a great endorsing blurb on the inside by Scott Hoezee, himself a great worship leader and preacher. Enjoy!

As always, if you are ordering more than one title, and one is a pre-order, it is helpful if you say whether you want them sent together, later, or if we should ship one now and one later. You know the drill — tell us how to serve you best. Thanks.

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New books on faith formation including “Embracing the Rhythms of Work and Rest” (Ruth Haley Barton), “Courage for Caregivers” (Marjorie Thompson), “Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers & Mothers” (Andrew Arndt), “Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard” (Trevor Hudson) ON SALE

I suppose I don’t really know what the dog days of summer are, but whatever they are, I think we’re in ‘em. It’s hot here, stifling, at times, and I’m tired. That’s not uncommon but, like many of you, I bet, I fell asleep a few pages into reading a brand new book last night. My head snapped up as it does but I couldn’t get my reading groove back on. I gathered up Beth and we watched some TV. 

Which reminds me that this regular feeling of being exhausted from work and worry about the world is nearly second nature to me, even if it isn’t the formation I’ve longed for. As so many good authors have told us, there are disciplines and practices we can take up to train ourselves towards greater openness to God. Habits of the heart which might yield greater health and wholeness and maybe even energy. Maybe the summertime schedule — dog days or not — can create a thin space for you to hear God speak somehow. Maybe these books can help.

For starters, before I share about four important new spiritual formation books (two not even out yet, two just out this week) I want to name in passing three rather special books about sane Christian growth. At the very least, you should know this kind of stuff. Some “self-help” books are actually incredibly profound, relating spiritual formation themes to our ordinary lives. Do you recall my rave announcement a month ago of The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You to Be by James Bryan Smith? What a good example of putting pretty profound insights about the interior life of spirituality into the realm of daily life and self care! 

Here are just a few more.

Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do Phillip Cary (Brazos) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.5

This has been re-issued with a slightly expanded format, sporting a new cover and a thoughtful new afterword. And (surprise) there’s a blurb by me on the back where I said (in our BookNotes review back when the first edition came out) “Tremendously rich and thoughtful and wonderfully written…This is solid pastoral theology, inviting deeper and more mature thinking about the slogans and cliches we hear to often.”  That is, it’s thoughtful and solid and ecumenical and — get this! — in light of the very truths of the gospel, we are set free from a lot of stuff we are encouraged to do; discipleship is a gradual long-term process as we experience the gospel in Christian community. 

Each chapter is a thing we don’t have to do such as “You Don’t Have to Hear God’s Voice in Your Heart” or “You don’t have to Let God Take Control” or “You Don’t have to Keep Getting Transformed All the Time.”  I liked the one called “Why Applying it to Your Life is Boring.” So there. 

I should note that this isn’t for those with anxiety disorders and doesn’t particularly address the fears and foibles of mental health issues. It wouldn’t be bad for those with that kind of anxiety, but in the title, here, it is more about those anxious about their faith, those fretting about their sin or Christian living, about those poised to buy yet another book which offers the formula for successful Kingdom living. Skip all of those. This rejects techniques and disapproves of simple, practical sermons-lite, inviting, instead, a richer, fuller, entrance into the classic forms of faith in a mature congregation.

Such churches remind us of the gospel.  Dr. Carey is the Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University so this book is a bit demanding. But it is great.

How about this blurb by Andy Crouch:

Yes! No! Whoa! There are so many terrific, alarming, insightful zingers in this book that I agreed, disagreed and, most of all, had to think about something on every page. Graceful and liberating, this book is a word of wisdom and hope that just might convince anxious Christians that the gospel really is better news than we’ve yet imagined.”–Andy Crouch, author, The Life We’re Looking For

The Cost of Control: Why We Crave It, The Anxiety it Gives Us, and the Real Power God Promises Sharon Hodde Miller (Baker) $16.99       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Sharon Hodde Miller is an easy to read and upbeat best seller but she has depth and a thoughtful approach. We are happy to suggest her brand new one. Yep, it sounds like one of these hip new voices insisting they know just exactly what we need to do to grow into Christlikeness, and freedom and health, but, trust me, she is a theologically aware and psychologically sane author, inviting us to loosen the grip of control —or, as Rich Villodas puts in his good back-cover endorsement, “to be freed from the grip of the illusion control.”

Our self-help fascination and basic Christian growth industry is too often based on this very illusion, that we can be in control. As Miller shows, “The problem is, the more we seek the illusion of control, the more it betrays us. In place of certainty, it gives us anxiety. In place of predictability, it creates complexity. And in place of unity, it divides. It’s not just that we cannot control things, it is that we break them even more when we try.”

Hodde Miller is a fresh, upbeat voice but we respect her a lot. She’s got a MDiv from Duke and a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is the teaching pastor at Bright City Church in Durham, NC.

Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us Mark Yaconelli (Broadleaf) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I suppose this deserves a bigger review than I can muster now, but I really want you to know about the eagerly awaited new book by Mark Yaconelli which emerges from his work with The Hearth Community project. I’m excited about the book and glad he’s on Broadleaf.

Broadleaf is a theologically astute— if often quite progressive —mainline denominational press that does a variety of books, but many that might be considered self-help or personal growth or about interpersonal relations. Given their spiritual orientation and justice-sensitive framework, even their psychology books are deeply interwoven with sensible pastoral insights and often are written by those passionate about a Christian life that makes a difference in the world.

Many of our customers appreciate their edgy, mystical-but-practical books like How Not to Be Afraid by Gareth Higgins (Broadleaf; $24.99) or The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change without Losing Your Joy by Karen Warlord (Broadleaf; $26.99) that comes with rave blurbs from Romal Tun and Austin Channing Brown (and, for that matter, her colleague Brene Brown.) I’ve promoted their lovely The Sacred Pulse: Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls by April Fiet (with a forward by Chuck DeGroat) which is a gem of a little book.

This new hardback by storyteller Mark Yaconelli may be the best of their batch this season.

Yaconelli’s last book was the very special IVP title, published in 2016 and one we wouldn’t want to be out of, The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places (IVP; $16.00.) It showed him to be a good listener and a great storyteller. This new one is simply spectacular. As Anne Lamott says in her enthusiastic (and storytelling) foreword, “We need a teacher and a book such as this.”  Yes, he and Anne are long friends and she has written about him before.

Although I had met his famous, funny dad, Mike, a time or two, I have not met Mark. But I love how Anne describes him as she starts of her forward:

Mark Yaconelli is an unusual person, as brilliant as he is plainspoken. He is an activist and a homebody, a contemplative and a goofball, gentle in spirit and charismatic, funny, deeply articulate, and capable of both wonderful compassion and silliness.

And, she says, with a sly grin, I am sure, “He brings all these qualities to his new book.” Of course he does!

This brand new release is full of stories but it is not merely a collection of his colorful and poignant anecdotes. That would be itself worth whatever it costs to plunk down, but this is even better. It is a study of the role of stories, showing how our stories are vital and how knowing them of each other — the speaking and the listening, the telling and the receiving — can help form bridges of understanding. As the epigram from Barry Lopez puts it, it’s really all we’ve got — stories and compassion.

As the publisher notes, ”stories tether unto what matters most: our families, our friends, our hearts, our planet, the wondrous mystery of life itself.”

Yet, Mark says, the stories we’ve been telling ourselves as a civilization are killing us: Fear is wisdom. Vanity is virtuous. Violence is peace. This book is perhaps too elegant to be called a “counter-narrative” but that’s what Brueggemann might call it. Others have called it “an enchanting meditation on the power of storytelling in our individual and our collective lives.”

This is an immersive, elegant meditation, an offering of grace. Mark Yaconelli ushers us into rooms full of authentic stories, where facades fall and suffering and joy are metabolized. — Kirsten Powers, CNN Senior Political Analyst and New York Times bestselling author of Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts

FOUR BOOKS OF SPIRITUAL FORMATION

TWO AVAILABLE NOW, TWO COMING IN SEPTEMBER

Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again Ruth Haley Barton (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

A week ago this book showed up, a bit early, as we were furiously packing our last-minute stuff to throw in the truck as we headed to our first face-to-face off-site thing since early 2020. When I announced it up front to our CCO friends, I quipped —seriously — that I knew nothing about it. At that point I hadn’t even opened the cover, but some of the campus ministry staff in the room knew Ruth and many respect her work. They chuckled to hear me so speechless. For those who know me well, though, they caught my real meaning: I really don’t know much about this topic, even though I can tell you almost every major book published on the topic in the last 20 years.

Ruth herself knows this about me and has, in her lovely way, reminded me on occasion that burn-out and spiritual dryness is a serious risk for those in faith leadership positions, and she supposes that includes small town booksellers like me and Beth. She is right; of course she is.

I’ve made some improvements from my most earnest workaholic days although the urgencies of our work (and our financial instability, to put it nicely) sometimes just means we’ve got to do the work at weird hours and 7 days a week. I don’t mean to presume on God’s good grace, but there you have it.

And so, as I pre-ordered this book a half year ago I have to admit — as much as I adore Ruth as a person and as a writer, so would read anything she wrote (yep, she is one of those in my book!)— that I was thinking of our jam-packed sabbath keeping section. We’ve got Rabbi Heschel’s immortal classic, Sabbath, of course, and the must-read Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting. I often start people off with the excellent (and very nicely written) The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. What a book! We still love Dorothy Bass’s eloquent Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time and continue to recommend (and even read from) small portions from the glorious Sabbath by Dan Allender who insists that sabbath is not just about rest, but about play — re-creation. Eugene Peterson liked Matthew Sleeth’s 24/6 and with the brand new Agrarian Spirit by Norman Wirzba, we should revisit his broad and sensible way of life suggested in Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight.  And we have to list Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance. One of the most enduring and deeply spiritual volumes is simply called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Mueller.

Yet, these days, if I am pressed to recommend just one, I’d say — for a heft study with lots of multi-dimensional, radical application — I’d suggest A.J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World. Although, geesh, you really should read Marva Dawn!  And that Rest of God is just so nice.

Which brings us to Ruth Haley Barton who is now on the top end of that list of acclaimed titles. Yes! She brings her lovely style, her honesty and candor, even sharing about her own discovery of the health of sabbath keeping practices even as she was resisting it. It is telling and a generous start to which busy leaders will be able to relate. As these other books mostly say, we live in a frenzied culture, and this stuff is important — in part because God has commanded it, but also because (let’s just be honest) our jam packed busyness is not virtue; our fast-paced hustle is part of the problem of our culture’s disease.

Ruth’s book says on the back, noting how elusive balanced rhythms of work and rest can be, that “this rings especially true for pastors and leaders who carry the weight of nonstop responsibility.” Most know they need rest, she observes, “but might be surprised to find within themselves a deep resistance to letting go and resting in God one day a week.” 

There is reason that activist leaders like Brenda Salter McNeil (Becoming Brave) says this new book is “a prophetic wake up-call.” Black poet and East Village NY pastor Drew Jackson says it is a “must-read for anyone longing for freedom from the tyranny of endless work and overproduction.”

As I turned the pages slowly and pondered her meaning and my response, I felt invited into this journey without pressure or guilt. Or at least not much. My hat is off to Ruth for bringing some fresh words and passion and insights to this much-covered topic; she really is a very fine teacher and writer. If you know this topic well — even if you practice it well — I think you will love this book.  If you are in need of a compelling call to do it (or not do it, as the case may be) this could be it. It offers hard-won wisdom.

There are three things that set this book apart from the others. And they are huge. She gets it right and, again, it makes Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest, so valuable. 

Firstly, it is about the goodness of rhythm. This is a key aspect of creational reality, seasons and such, and we humans need to play our part, respond faithfully to the reality of days and weeks, months and seasons. She roots this in good stories and solid Biblical reflection. It is common sense, but radical, if delightfully phrased. She entices us into this pretty counter-cultural view of the clock. It is about the rhythms of work and rest, not legalistic adherence to a rule. 

Secondly, she invites us into common practices of sabbath and an ethos of sabbath-keeping in our faith communities. No other book is as candid about this and no other book could be as revolutionary for the churches — we are supposed to be doing this together. Or at least in tandem with others. Let’s face it — it is harder to avoid the frantic stuff of shopping and answering emails and being busy on Sunday if we realize few others in our own church or small group give a rip about these things. We feel like some mystic or lone Puritan, and it’s hard.  What if our whole church felt called to this liberating way of a rhythm of life, honoring the invitation to sabbath joy. What if it oozed from our pastors andChristian educators and what if we somehow had these conversations at church? Ruth says all this in helpful ways and the book includes a conversation guide for small groups and communities. 

(She has long been good at this, writing a book on the spirituality of leadership for pastors and those in ministry, then wrote a book on spiritual formation practices for groups, to be explored together, and she has one spiritual discernment practices for faith communities and their leaders.)

Thirdly — and this really makes this book both fascinating and vital. I hope we ordinary folk don’t avoid it because of this, but about a final third of it is about sabbatical. It is about pastoral replenishment and the need for extended periods of sabbatical time. I’m just reading this part now and I am finding it very convincing. 

I’ll admit as somewhat of an egalitarian who is paid much less and works harder than many ministers I know, I’ve never had much sympathy for these long periods off that some pastors get. Some already get exuberant days and weeks off, not to mention study leave. Except for college profs, who else gets such special treatment? Nobody I know.

And yet, they should. I believe that. And this book makes it crystal clear and even maps out ways to do so (without turning into an Alban Institute-type manual.) The subtitle of Embracing… is important: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again.The book is a must for church leaders, but, truly, I think it is for all of us to understand this whole business (and perhaps advocate for your pastor if need be.)

Sabbath, she shows, is “more than a practice.” It’s a way of life ordered around “God’s invitation to regular rhythms of work, rest, and replenishment.”  This means upending some of the way we think about work and wages, time and productivity. But she also is upbeat when she observes that well-rested and spiritually alive leaders are, in fact, better leaders, more fruitful and helpful than if they are exhausted and weary. Right!

In a way, this one is more foundational and perhaps more urgent for most of us, than her last one, but it now makes me want to read that one again, which I only skimmed. Now I want to read it carefully, savor it, maybe put some of it into practice. Like I said — I don’t really know that much about all this. Most of us, I suspect, are novices. Maybe you, too, might try her 2018 very lovely book, Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God.

But, please, for your own sake and for the sake of our churches and our world who needs us all to be well, don’t miss Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. We’ve got it now at 20% off.

I like the invitation of Fuller prof and leadership guru, Tod Bolsinger (author of Canoeing the Mountains and Tempered Resilience) who writes wisely:

“Take a deep breath, be prepared for all that will be stirred up, and then bask in the teaching of this profoundly beautiful book.”

Courage for Caregivers: Sustenance for the Journey in Company with Henri J.M. Nouwen Marjorie J. Thompson (IVP) $20.00                          OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Marj Thompson has a new book!  About Henri Nouwen!  Stop the presses, friends, this is amazing new news and I am sure — whether you want to explore the gifts and challenges of caregiving or not — you will want this lovely new volume. Wow.

Marjorie Thompson gets credit for catapulting contemplative spirituality and a more monastic-type formational practice into the common experience of most church folks. She has served not only as a pastor and retreat leader in the PC(USA) but for a while directed spirituality stuff for the denomination. Her book Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (first released in 1995) is a true classic, a must have resource for both beginners in the deeper spiritual journey and for those well on their way. It even comes in a larger print edition, slightly oversized. That book has a forward by Henri Nouwen (and in the second, newer, expanded edition, also a piece by Barbara Brown Taylor.)

And here is what you may not know. One of Henri Nouwen’s best friends and sometimes-collaborator (from back in their Yale days) was John Mogabgab, who happens to be Marj Thompson’s husband. Which is to say, she knew Henri as a dear family friend, like, forever.

So what is this new book? It draws on the considerable writings and wisdom of Nouwen on the theme of caregiving. It is by Thompson but in each chapter — replete with stories of those giving care and those who are elderly or in hospice and the like — she draws on insights learned from Henri or his books. Ends up that she and John have done this kind of work for quite some time, starting with the era when they were close to Henri (who was writing much about pastoral care and the spirituality of compassion.) There is much more of Thompson than of Nouwen here, so the subtitle is just right: this offers spiritual sustenance for the journey of caregiving in the company of Henri Nouwen. 

(Forgive my aside, but it seems good to note right about here: Flying Falling Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom is a recent biography of the years Henri joined the trapeze troupe, the Flying Roudleighs, which draws considerably on the final, unfinished manuscript Henri was working on when died. It is his “exhilarating true story of friendship and community and the Flying Trapeze.” You learn of his own woundedness and inner anguish and how his lifelong search for wholeness brings what author Lisa Napoli calls “a beautiful, moving story about interconnectivity, interdependence, and life’s rich, beautiful, complicated pageant.”)

Two more things about Courage for Caregivers: Scott Morris, the extraordinary Christian doctor and health ministry advocate from urban Memphis has a hand in this and wrote a brief preface. His nonprofit, Church Health, has long drawn from Nouwen in their gentle caregiving for the poor and this makes the book that much more lovely.

Secondly, while the first 100 pages are beautiful and worthy, there is an extensive leader’s guide and conversation resource making this ideal for training those doing caregiving type work, or deacons or Stephen’s Ministers or others hoping to hold the sacred stories of the hurting. There is even an appendix for a “retreat leader” that would use the book at an event. Further, there is a compendium of stories in the back and another with liturgical resources, stuff for congregations, and a several page biota guidance for congregations wanting to support caregivers. This is a great and useful resource.

There will be another IVP book coming soon, Hope for Caregivers: A 42-Day Devotional in Company with Henri J. M. Nouwen which you could pre-order as it is coming soon! $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80.

It is a stand-alone devotional, of course, but would make a very sweet companion volume to the Thompson book.

 

Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers & Mothers Andrew Arndt (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

RELEASE DATE – SEPTEMBER 13, 2020        PRE-ORDER NOW.

Well, what can I say about this stellar book — due out in September, now, they say — that both invites us into the lives of the early desert Mothers and Fathers and shows that they are exceedingly relevant to today’s world? I need to do a longer review later, but for now, I want to rave about this briefly, highlighting three simple reasons you should order this now. 

First, I’ll get it out of my system — you may not know much about this debate or may not care, but indulge me, please. Others have attempted to divest me of my bad attitude about the desert fathers and mothers, have tried to suggest they have much to offer, but my views have hardly changed much from the days when I said dear Henri Nouwen’s study of these early Egyptian mystics, The Way of the Heart, had more harm than help in it. To put it too simply, I thought — and still do, in some ways — that the desert saints were irresponsible to leave their places of life and worship to seek some early monastic experiences (monasteries as we think of them today were not quite invented yet.) I do not know of any serious Biblical warrant for this escapism, so I have said many a bad word about these Abbas. Further, I feared — and still do — that they were breathing the spirit of the intellectual air of those days which was essentially Gnostic or, at least, dualistic. They thought somehow God cared more about so-called spiritual things — the way of the heart — more than voting or taking out the garbage, play or work or making art. That may be what the pagan Greeks thought and it may be (ahem!) what many church leaders presumed in those days. They rejected the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 and 2 and assumed that the Christian religion was internal, private, and spiritual. It got the church off on the wrong foot and we’ve never fully recovered.

Okay, so I take some of it back. I’ve read parts of many books on these early monks who did miracles and taught prayer and love — one can hardly argue with that! — but none have convinced me that they were mostly right in their pilgrimage to the caves of the desert or that their worldview was sensible, let alone admirable.  Until now. Streams in the Wasteland seems to me to be a book like none other and I appreciate that Andrew Arndt explains these fourth century men and women and their vibrant witness against the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. 

Arndt avoids the deeper questions of whether these guys were really right in abandoning their churches and lives in the cities and towns from which they fled, and he avoids the question of whether any of us should really do that now. Who cares, really (my mind is pretty much made up about that) since this isn’t an academic book, and certainly is not an ideologically frantic and fearful sort of thing like Rod Dreher’s overblown Benedict Option. This just isn’t that kind of book.

Here is what he does do that is so very appealing. He shows how the simple truths (mostly about love) that inflamed these weirdos in the desert can be lived out in our own contemporary lives. He talks about the injustices of racism and he talks about work — it’s a very good chapter, too.  Who knew these desert gurus had it in ‘em? Their insight is fresh and relevant and nearly explosive. I am pondering this book, applying some of its simply truths to my own soul. I’m not sure if Arndt is fully adequate in explaining the creation-regained reality of a full-orbed Christian life in and for the world, but he comes close. As some of the Abbas taught directly, we are to be about the Kingdom of God. The methods of what we have to do to prepare ourselves for the outward journey may vary, but, for now, it sure seems they have a lot to say.

For what it’s worth, a few major books were written in the late 300s about these dudes. John Arndt of Colorado Springs draws a lot on John Cassian of France, whose own work finally was sorted and sifted into two books, Institutes and Conferences. By the way, as John explains, the monastery in Marseilles that Cassian later founded, emerging from his own interviews with the desert folks, became the template, so to speak, for Benedict of Nursia “whose famous ‘Rule of Saint Benedict’ still influences Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monks to this day.” As Ardnt says, “Cassian’s careful distillation of the spirituality of the desert lives on.”

Okay, so he shows how lasting and how relevant and even lively this stuff is. It’s moving and clear and fun. I’m still not a fan of some of the tedious parables the desert fathers told, but I get it. They were profound men and women, some of few words, and their witness led many to deeper, real righteousness. And it can be tapped today. 

Streams in the Wasteland does just that as Arndt weaves into his narrative wonderful stories of his days growing up in a small-town, earnest, Pentecostal church in rural Wisconsin. He tells about people he knew, good people, those willing to be a bit odd for God — “peculiar people” as the KJV puts it. I was not raised in anything like that subculture but in a way it resonated. Or maybe I am projecting backward, wishing that I knew people with the deep kind of Godly love and power he saw graciously enacted as a child. Not sure why, but I was very deeply moved by his good storytelling, and longed for mentors and leaders like the kind he tells about — some from his youth, some from more recent congregations who have lived and struggled and served together.

You see, Streams in the Wasteland shows how the spiritual renewal of these radical Godly oddballs might speak to our own wasteland. He isn’t ideological or pushy, but in earnest, vivid, language and a few powerful stories, he shows that, indeed, many of us are beyond a boring faith or tired of right wing shenanigans — the problem is deeper than that. Our secularizing culture’s cross pressures are part of it (sure, he’s read Charles Taylor, or at least James Smith on Charles Taylor and is a thoughtful cultural critic) but as a pastor, he knows that people are longing for a real faith, an encounter with God, an experience of the Divine that isn’t sensationalized. 

Before Part One of the book is a great graphic announcing this Part One, “Into the Desert with God” which is explained like this:

Here we begin to explore the call to the wilderness: the spiritual horizon that guides our quest; the renunciation of the heart that makes it possible; and the practices that work the life of the Kingdom into us. 

Yes, there is a wild chapter called “The Great Renunciation” but it is followed by a sensible chapter showing the “essential habits for the with-God life.” 

The second major portion offers another graphic and the announcement of the section “Into the Desert with Others.” Oh my, these chapters are rich, full of ancient wisdom for modern churches. The chapter titles are plain enough and belie their profundity — “Called into Community”, “Saved into Community” and “Restored through Community.” The mothers and fathers, as they are called, of the fourth century “great renunciation” aren’t the first or only ones to teach us about community, but Arndt draws on their radical teaching and brings it into today. 

Here he names the local church as “the essential context” of the holy life — “No genuine Christian spirituality grows up without it.”  I am not sure if it is an Abba or Abbas that called this rebuke of self-directed spirituality “a discovery of the redemptive mystery God enfleshes in the church” but it sure is a good line, eh? 

Part Three is “Into the Desert for the world.” These chapters are called “Saving Speech” ( a topic the desert deserters had much to say, ironically), “Sanctifying Work” and “Divine Generosity.” That doesn’t sound weird, does it? Maybe even important for you? I’d say so. 

Here are the nice words on the graphic page setting apart Part Three:

A life rooted and ordered to God in Christ brings blessing to the world: our patterns of speech change, our work is sanctified, our lives become gifts given for the life of the world — living miracles that bear witness to the Kingdom.

Like Andrew Arndt’s previous book on the Holy Trinity — All Flame: Entering into the Life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — he draws on rich sources of old and contemporary writers. Naturally he uses Merton’s book on the sayings of the desert mystics; he uses Nouwen. Significantly, he tells how moving Benedicta Ward’s The Saying of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection was for him. He cites Mennonite scholar Alan Kreider (The Patient Ferment of the Early Church) and Alexander Schmemann (For the Life of the World) and modern authors from Wendell Berry to Eugene Peterson to Ronald Rolheiser. I like that he brings in his  New Life Church colleagues like Glen Packiam’s lovely Blessed, Broken, Given and Daniel Grothe’s important Power of Place. But most of the lengthy bibliography comes from citations of these old sayings and stories of the men and women of the late fourth century. Living in caves in the desert. Arndt has managed to bring what for me is the first convincing book about the wisdom of these “fathers and mothers” and how they might help us be more formed in the ways of King Jesus, even a way that might be considered human, humane, and beautiful.  Wow — I recommend it.

Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard Trevor Hudson (NavPress) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59 

RELEASE DATE – SEPTEMBER 13, 2020        PRE-ORDER NOW

We are happy to get to announce this book — I’ve been carrying around an advance reader’s copy and wondering how to explain how good and rich and interesting it is. (Even if I hate the heavy metal font on the cover and headlines.)

For starters, we can say at least this: there is nothing like it in print. It really is, as the subtitle promises, an invitation to “find another way of life” and it does so by drawing on the ancient wisdom St. Ignatius of the early to mid 1500s and — get this! — the work of the late Dallas Willard who grew in fame at the end of the 20th century and was still alive and teaching just a decade ago. Ignatius was a Catholic reformer and spiritual teacher; Willard was a reasonable philosopher, student of human knowing, and quiet Protestant mystic. (He almost single-handedly convinced Richard Foster to write Celebration of Discipline, having mentored him a bit into the spiritual classics.)

Whether you know much about the famous”Ignatian method” of discerning God’s presence each day (and, throughout the day) or not, no matter. Whether you are drawn to the practical questions of Willard about how people change as they live in the Kingdom and what the renovation of the heart looks like, no matter. This little book brings them into conversation, so to speak, and it is illuminating, for sure.

Further — as if bringing these two giants into comparison, and learning a bit about what each taught as an approach to a life of lived, experiential, spiritual formation wasn’t enough to sell you on this book —  the author himself is a notable leader (some might say a master) of the things about which he is writing. Hudson is a United Methodist pastor from South Africa. As a white ally of the anti-apartheid movement, he is known for clear-headed and outspoken prophetic gestures. But he doesn’t wear that on his sleeve and many may not realize his fairly simple books — like one on the Serenity Prayer, another the Holy Spirit and short devotionals such as Pause for Advent and Pauses for Lent  — are deeply rooted in the inner life stuff of the monks and mystics and of modern day folk like Willard.

Hudson starts the book with the often-heard pastoral comments that people aren’t getting much from church or they wonder if “this is all there is” and the like, hinting, with hardly the vocabulary to say it, that they hunger for a holy encounter with God, a deeper sort of discipleship. This book, he says, is for those who are seeking. In fact, that is the first chapter’s topic — why we should seek, what makes one a true seeker? In our seeking we will discover others who sought after the things of God. In Seeking God Hudson tells about Ignatius of Loyola and Dallas Willard of California, two seekers of God.

This book is not a workbook, but it will appeal to those who like to process stuff. There are countless “seeking God exercises” with Bible scriptures to ponder and questions to consider,  prayers are given and there is stuff to do. This is as it should be as anybody familiar with Ignition spirituality would know.

Willard suggested to Hudson once that he should “guard his mind” and this becomes a powerful part of the exploration. As Hudson helps us towards the “Jesus way of discipleship” he recalls that he himself must watch his words; you see, much of this is quite practical. 

The Spiritual Exercises, especially when practiced with the benefit of a director or guide(or at least a small band of fellow seekers) allows us to see God permeating everything. “God-bathed” as Willard put it. 

William Barry is a lifelong Jesuit — the Catholic order and intellectual movement founded by Ignatius — and he wrote a good forward to the book.  He notes that Hudson “has mastered the inner dynamic that powers the Exercises and that has proven helpful to people for half a millennium.”  It will not just change your prayer life (and Barry has written several good books on that) but will help you “move to a deeper commitment to cooperating with God in the great project begun with the creation of this universe.” 

Much of the study material is done by Gary Moon, an expert in these things. There is even a free video series based on Seeking God and a full study guide by Moon. The book (and the free extras) make an ideal study for your group.

Richard Foster himself says, “I thank God for Seeking God.  I say, “Amen!” Order it today.

As always, if you are ordering more than one title, and one is a pre-order, it is helpful if you say whether you want them sent together, later, or if we should ship one now and one later. You know the drill — tell us how to serve you best. Thanks.

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading; rates are rising seriously. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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PRE-ORDER 12 (at least) FORTHCOMING TITLES — Norman Wirzba, Katelyn Beaty, Wendell Berry, James K.A. Smith, a tribute to Tim Keller, and more. ALL 20% OFF – order now / pay later.

Hey, friends — happy summer to you. A little extra daylight time for outside reading (although, dang, this heat!  A good time to review some of the many eco-care books we’ve featured over the years, eh? Try the frank, enjoyable Our Angry Eden: Faith and Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet by the Presby Reverend, David Williams or the beautifully written Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth by the splendid Debra Reinstra. Or check, here for instance.)

We’ve been away from BookNotes for a week or so because we were prepping for our first major off-site event since the pandemic broke in March 2020. We were with the CCO in a very spacious room with a couple of our industrial-sized, very efficient, hand-made air purifiers (and a professional HEPA one, too.) We’ve been testing every day since being with those 150+ people and we’re still healthy. We hope you are cautious these days — the long Covid thing is painfully real and the ongoing consequences can be serious. For the public good and your own peace of mind, we hope you are masking at church and other inside gatherings. At least for a while, yet…

We were delighted that the CCO (the campus ministry we are affiliated with, still, and our largest overall client) spent several mornings revisiting their commitments from decades ago to draw on the reformational philosophy, or at least worldview, of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, by examining the implications of Al Wolter’s Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis of a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans – $15.00; our sale price = $12.00.) Our great pal Sean Purcell walked staff through — and interviewed me for a rollicking half hour — some of the background of the book. The first edition was dedicated to CCO staff as Al taught the book to CCO staff back in the 1970s. It was transformational then and it remains relevant today. I sometimes say to fans of our store that they should read it to learn more of what motivated us to open the store as we did.

Sean had done some Zoom interviews with Al Wolters, and his old colleague at ICS, Calvin Seerveld, so it was a blast hearing from those friends and mentors as Sean taught about what it means to live into a spacious, embodied, culturally attuned lifestyle of imagining God’s Kingdom in every area of life.

The historic Jubilee conference was created to help students as students (!) and books like Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness by Don Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos – $17.00; our sale price = $13.60) and my own Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books – $13.99; our sale price = $11.19) emerged out of that hope to help students think Christianly and live in reformational ways as they step into their callings, first as students and then as graduates. What a good time talking again with old and new CCO staff who partner with churches to cultivate relationships and mentor students into this full-orbed way of living in the good but fallen (and being fully redeemed) world. 

From old titles like Brian Walsh’s Subversive Christianity (with one hefty, prophetic essay which was first given at a Jubilee conference) to Rainbows for the Fallen World (ditto) to the several heady, radical books by Richard Middleton to the new Amy Sherman title Agents of Flourishing to old classics for CCO friends by former Jubilee director Steve Garber (Fabric of Faithfulness, Visions of Vocation, and The Seamless Life) we had a lot that were german. Naturally, we had lots and lots of books on race and racism and lots of books about what we might call “public theology.” Richard Mouw’s All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight even talks about CCO and Jubilee and our broad, relevant, bookselling efforts.

All of this was right there with devotionals and contemplative spirituality, basic Christian discipleship (and disciple-making), theology, Biblical studies, evangelism, church life, worship, and so much more, from engineering to the arts, psychology to outdoor education, politics to gender studies. It’s fun to spread out and sell so many different sorts of things to those who are actually influencing tomorrow’s leaders. 

WHICH BRINGS US TO…

THESE 12 BOOKS TO PRE-ORDER NOW.  

As usual, we don’t run the credit cards you enter at our secure order form page until we send the books. The release dates are shown. A couple we already have, some are coming very soon, others not for months. If you want them bundled together, please say so. Let’s go!

By the way, you know you can pre-order almost anything from us. There are so many more exciting titles (of all sorts — fiction and nonfiction, children’s, youth, and for adults, religious and otherwise) all coming this season. (Maybe the one I’m most excited for: a forthcoming novel called Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, releasing 10-18-22.)

Let us know how we can help.

A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing Amanda Held Opelt (Worthy Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

JUST OUT NOW

This just released last weekend and we were thrilled to send a few out already. You may know that Amanda the sister of the late Rachel Held Evans and this — oh, my, this! — is her stunning debut. I was hooked with just the introduction. What a wise and interesting (and heartfelt) approach this brings. About, yes, a “hole in the world.”  Basically, each chapter explores a certain grieving practice or ritual (about most of which Amanda was unfamiliar) and how folks using that practice find it helpful. And how it did (or didn’t) help her in her own rapacious sadness from the loss of her beloved sister. She’s not Episcopalian the way Rachel ended up, so even the introduction (about Ash Wednesday services) brought fresh take. 

Included are odd or lesser known customers such as covering mirrors and “telling the bees” to commonplace things like sharing casseroles and sending sympathy cards (a great chapter, by the way.) From her reflection on owning our mortality in “death rooms”  to experiencing the power of mere presence in the chapter “Sitting Shiva” to the candor of wearing black, this book is wonderfully written, nicely done, and at times very, very moving. Highly recommended. 

A Hole in the World is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully written book…It is, in part, an anthropology of grieving, a powerful memoir, and glimpses into a heartbreaking diary. In a world where rituals of grief are slowly vanishing, it reintroduces us to some of the most creative forms from Western culture. Most of the time the book is looking back on the rich history of rituals of pain, from cards to casseroles, from wearing black to sitting shivah. But it also looks forward, preparing our hearts for what will inevitably happen to us all. — Michael Card, songwriter and author of A Sacred Sorrow

A Hole in the World is both generous and generative, a book that tenderly guides us into the fierce landscape of our own losses, because the author has dared to walk there first. Few of us today know how to speak of our sorrows, but in this book, Held Opelt gives us language for loss that is honest, hopeful, and gorgeously human.        — K. J. Ramsey, licensed professional counselor and author of This Too Shall Last and The Lord Is My Courage

The Lost Letters to the Twelve Prophets: Imagining the Minor Prophets’ World John Goldingay (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

JUST OUT NOW

This is another book that we just got in and I’m excited. I have not started it yet but you should know that not only is Goldingay a brilliant scholar (and a prolific one, having turned in the “Old Testament for Everyone” series quicker than it took Tom Wright to finish up the New Testament ones.) He has done exquisite academic volumes and pop level ones as well. This, though — wow! It is curious, fun, even. Get this!

To help us understand the unique setting and context of each of the (so-called) minor prophets he writes a fictional letter to each which kicks off a sometimes furious conversation between the fictional character and the prophet declaring back the Word of the Lord. 

Along the way Goldingay offers background (and foreground) and maps and some context for the lively exchanges.  If you know anything about the theology and tensions of the Hebrew prophets, you can imagine the sorts of questions these letters hold. It becomes, in the words of one early reviewer “a sparkling exercise.” 

Disciplined imagination is a powerful tool in bringing the scriptures to life and John Goldingay puts his well-informed imagination to work here in ways that entertain and educate in equal measure. — Christopher J.H. Wright, Langham Partnership

Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, Matthew Sorens (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

JUST OUT NOW

Well, maybe reading the letters to the Hebrew prophets will help us all lean into the prophetic message a bit more, but if not, this surely will. What a study! Three rigorously evangelical and thoughtful faith leaders, each with a passion for multi-ethnic and cross-cultural ministry, combine to explore how marginalized voices are important —essential, now more than ever! — for the church to regain Biblical fidelity and credibility before a watching world. 

These authors, you may care to know, are not firebrands working out of a progressive worldview or theologically odd. They are conventional, solid scholars and leaders working within the broad coalition of evangelical mission and evangelism folks.  Among other things, they invite us to “decenter ourselves from our American idols and re-center on the undeniable, inalienable core reality of the global, transcultural Kingdom of God.” The guides to this journey are, among others, global Christians and the ancient church and the poor. We simply must learn from their witness.

Our Anglican friend Tish Harrison Warren says, “This is a must-read for all Christians who long to see renewal in American evangelicalism.” Derwin Gray, a black author (of How To Heal Our Racial Divide) calls it “some strong-but-needed medicine.”  I agree. Order it today!

Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land Norman Wirzba (University of Notre Dame Press) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 1, 2022

We have highlighted this before so I won’t say much. The flow of the book is remarkable, though, and I’d dare say there is nothing like it in print. In this sense, it is a must-read for at least three kinds of folks: new agrarians (and Wendell Berry fans), those interested in spirituality and contemplative formation, and, well, those who are not interested in that, because you ought to be.

The first third of the book is a careful, clarifying orientation to an agrarian worldview. He notes, importantly, that this is not primarily a matter of whether one is a farmer or not, or whether one lives in a rural area or not. Obviously, one can be a bad/non-agrarian farmer and one can embrace the fundamental orientation of an agrarian view and not work the land. One can be an agrarian in the city and one can be a rural dweller and have no loyalties to place or sustainable practices. So Wirzba, a farmer and scholar, tells it like it is. His definitions and explorations remind me a bit of his excellent (and under appreciated) Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, if more studious.

Secondly, then, and the heart of this notable work, is how one can embrace a spirituality informed by the agrarian views and practices explored in the first portion of the book.  Given his view of the nature of being human, our human calling and task (and a whole chapter called “The Placing of the Soul”), his elegant convictions about relationships and “agrarian sensibilities and responsibilities” can transform our typical approach to spiritual formation and Christian living.

It is an agrarian spirit that informs the book and it is, yes, an agrarian spirituality that is on offer here. He shows how to embody and cultivate learning to pray (with eyes on God and creation), learning to see (ourselves as creatures, naturally) learning what he calls “descent” and humility and generosity. These are core values of a nonrealistic, deeply creational vision and the spiritual exercises he shares point us, finally, towards “learning to hope.”

I know I shared a few of these lovely endorsements before, but, to inspire you to pre-order it asap, here’s some wise words enticing you to buy and read and ponder this good book. As Bill McKibben puts it, “Norman Wirzba has done it again: this is — literally and figuratively — the most grounded (and grounding) book I’ve read in a long time. It will lead you to contemplation, and then, if you’re lucky, to change.”

This lovely book is full of invigorating surprises. For the many of us who don’t live on farms, Wirzba’s reflections offer an invitation to reclaim in practical ways our relationship with the earth and its creatures who, with us, depend on all that has been entrusted to us for stewardship, for sharing, and for grateful enjoyment. — Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Agrarian Spirit isn’t luddite, nostalgic, or angry. Rather, it’s a gentle, wise, and hopeful call forward, casting a vision for how to live as God’s people in God’s world. I loved this book, and it flooded my imagination with pictures of what the Kingdom of Heaven could be, right now, right in my neighborhood. — Andrew Peterson, author of The God of the Garden

The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 1, 2022

I have not mentioned this widely as of yet because it was, literally, a surprise. It is one of these books that was compiled without the honoree knowing, a festschrift. A copy was sent a few weeks ago, now, to Tim in New York and he and his wife were flabbergasted and impressed. Hooray.

Square Halo Book-meister Mr. Ned Bustard had this dream of honoring Keller. Their first big book, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God has a good chapter by Tim and as Ned explains in his own fabulous essay in The City for God, he has been inspired to do art and steward his gifts of creativity in part inspired by the steadfast, whole-life gospel preaching of the artful Reverend.  And so, as book-makers do, Ned set out to find a whole handful of friends and colleagues of Keller to offer thoughtful chapters in his honor. As a book it is a major success and a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to stand on the shoulders of Keller’s invigorating efforts at Redeemer in Manhattan and his lively City-to-City church consulting and planting ministry.

Some festschrifts, by the way, are too academic, random collections done in tribute, but not connected to the person or the reader, really, and not very useful. These are often written by next-generation scholars of a professor. This is not that. Others may be nice collections of stories and testimonials, self-published paperbacks offering earnest but often in-house tributes. This book really isn’t that, either, although most chapters have some very impressive stories about Tim and his character and his ministry. The City for God is a good tribute and it does honor Keller but the chapters (and there are some great stories, including the very first in the intro by Russell Moore) are so inspiring and the insights so vivid that I cannot imagine a person of faith who would not be blessed and, hopefully, impressed, by this wide collection of good, good words. In a way, it is a handbook of living robustly in-but-not-of the world. The contributors are teachers and business leaders, novelists and pastors, stay at home parents and working artists, theologians and activists.

Some of the authors are not surprising to see here, esteemed writers in the Keller orbit, from Scott Souls to Mark Bertrand to Katherine Leary Alsdorf (co co-founded with him the esteemed Center for Faith & Work and Gotham Fellows network.) Others are leaders in various arenas offering good insight on how Keller shaped them, and showing the fruit of having paid attention. A.D. Bauer has a piece on prayer; Denis Haack has an excellent piece on “accessibility.” Charlie Peacock (with jazz bassist John Patitucci) has a piece on jazz, actually. We get Jenny Chang on mercy, Judy Cha on counseling, Annie Nardone on apologetics, William Edgar on hope.  Wow. 

The 20 chapters are broken down into three major sections — gospel, city, and vocation.  We have great pieces on everything from rhetoric to creativity, from influence to cities, from work and business and leadership and legacy. 

Like most Square Halo books, The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller is expertly curated, wonderfully designed, and will hold up for years to come, not only as a retirement gift of one Tim Keller, but as a flare sent up into the dark sky, offering light that illumines our day to day lives. This is a wise and inspiring and enjoyable book. Order it today.

Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 16, 2022

Of this list of a dozen good books, this is one that is rightfully garnering some early attention. It may be the kind of book that you may think you understand (and thereby maybe don’t think you need to order it) or you may wait to just watch a video or listen to one of the many podcasts Ms Beaty is on. And, I dare say, you would be wrong. This book is more than you realize, timely and urgent, even, and, finally a call to most of us, to repent of our nonsense, grow up, and live well. Oh yeah — I started this mildly interested in some good gossip about salacious pastors (like Carl Lentz of New York Hillsong) and boisterous bros (like the macho-man Mark Driscoll.) Or some sober discussion of the horror of Ravi Zachary’s or Bill Hybels. The luxury living Lentz isn’t my cup of tea and there already was a whole podcast dedicated to the rise and fall of Seattle’s Mars Hill, so I was only moderately interested, I’ll admit. 

But already in her discussion of 19th century celebrity tools and the distinctions between fame and celebrity and how power plays into that, I was hooked.

I couldn’t stop reading Celebrities for Jesus and not because it gave the gist of the downfalls and poked at the religious rock stars. Rather, this urgent volume is a deeper study on the ways in which celebrity plays a role in who we will hear, who we trust, why we admire and even care about “stars” and the religiosity of all that. It examines how we perceive leaders (and how we often are on dangerous waters because we think more highly of them as we ought, and think about our own intimacy with those leaders more than is warranted.) The book offers sociology and story, wackiness and wisdom, and a firm, balanced exploration of platforms and profits. It reminds us of the seductive powers of media and fame and status.

I suppose I should admit that the chapter on the book publishing world was riveting. Oh my… from the amount paid  (to some) in advances to ghost writing to our own odd desire to see authors on Instagram to the ethics of back cover blurbs (which are themselves sometimes manufactured) it is a vital chapter for anyone involved in the religious publishing world. (Katelyn now works as an acquisition editor for a major publisher, and before that she worked as editor of Christianity Today, so she is well situated to talk about how we outsource our discipleship, always eager for formulas and products, and how money still tends to rule. She knows.) This chapter called “Chasing Platforms” will be crucial for many BookNotes friends.

Naturally, the book says what ought to be obvious: Beaty shows what celebrity is and how it is woven into the fabric of the evangelical movement (her chapter on the rise of Billy Graham, while not as compelling as the brilliant insights Kristin Du Muz in her Jesus and John Wayne, remains an important frame) even as she “identifies many ways fame goes awry, shows us how we all unwittingly foster a celebrity culture, and offers a vision of faithfulness to the Messiah who was despised and rejected.”

Did you catch that promise from the publisher’s pitch? It “shows us how we all unwittingly foster a celebrity culture.” That is, this is not a cheap shot at the obvious failures of the rich and famous. She could’ve been even harder and louder about millionaire pastors and mega-sized churches; I know she happens to prefer quieter and smaller congregations so this isn’t the work of a disillusioned former celebrity wanna be or one who was burned by a disingenuous  megachurch staff. Rather, it is a freighted reflection, inviting us to ask hard questions of our own faith and our own complicated hearts. I found it very, very interesting.

She says stuff like that all this fame and fortune is a “feature, not a bug” of the system. Wow.

The third part is eloquent, under the headline “The Way Up is Down.” She explores “brand ambassadors” and cites the important little Henri Nouwen book on the temptations Christ faced (In the Name of Jesus.) Her call to “ordinary faithfulness” as we follow “the obscure Messiah” is really, really good. Celebrities for Jesus strikes me as a book that is laden with riches and importance for almost all of us, beyond the unpleasantness she uncovers and reports.

Listen to Karen Swallow Prior, herself an author and a bit of a spokesperson for certain sorts of faithful cultural witness. She writes, ”Beaty brings knowledge and insights that will help anyone wanting to disentangle their faith from celebrity culture. But, even more than this, she offers an honest, humble self-examination that is a model many of us in the church need to follow.”

Don’t believe us? Here is what historian Jemar Tisby (author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism) writes:

Stupendously convicting and well-researched. Celebrities for Jesus provides a timely, sober reflection on the toxic culture that often arises when piety and popularity mix.

Happily, there are many others who suggest this book is a fabulously important bit of social criticism and a wise rejoinder to our platforms and movements that too often turn sour.  It got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly which noted that it is a “must read for anyone invested in the fate of evangelicalism.”

And, I would say, it is useful for anyone with stars or celebrities, whether liberal or conservative, mainline or progressive. We all have our in-house shibboleths and our fangirls and boys. We all make a big deal out of this or that. Personas and platforms and profits combine in various configurations, so, please, don’t think this is just for evangelicals or just about snark. It is so much more than that. It is, finally, about the nature of power and the lure of idolatry. 

Here is the table of contents:

Part 1: Big Things for God

1. Social Power without Proximity

2. The First Evangelical Celebrities

3. Megachurch, Megapastors

Part 2: Three Temptations

4. Abusing Power

5. Chasing Platforms

6. Creating Persona

Part 3: The Way Up Is Down

7. Seeking Brand Ambassadors

8. The Obscure Messiah and Ordinary Faithfulness

There is a fun and casual podcast called “Birds of a Feather” which is hosted by Australian Biblical scholar Michael Bird and US Biblical scholar Aimee Byrd. The other day they chatted up Katelyn Beaty about “fame vs celebrity, the role of publishers, influencers, consumeristic discipleship…”  Check it out HERE.

The Gospel of Peace in a Violent World: Christian Nonviolence for Communal Flourishing edited by Shawn Graves & Marlena Graves (IVP Academic) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 16, 2020

Our bookstore may have more books on peace and nonviolence and peacemaking ministries in the world than any store we know of. It has been a passion of ours since before we opened and we continue to stock old and new books on how God’s love pushes us to resist violence and injustice in uniquely Christ-like ways. Nobody buys these books, of course, so we keep a lot of them in our overstock warehouse (otherwise known as our basement.) There has been a good crop of fresh ones these days and we are truly excited about the renaissance that God seems to be bringing with newer and younger writers exploring public justice, Christian peacemaking, and Biblical nonviolence, applied to questions beyond the obvious of war.This major work is the fruit of this very sort of fresh expression of Biblical visions of shalom and it is nothing short of magisterial.

I call it that — magisterial — for two reasons: firstly, it is massive. It’s big book of over 430 pages and contains more than the obvious, — your investment in it will surely be well rewarded. It’s scope is amazing.

For what it is worth, there are four major chapters in the first unit, under the rubric of Biblical reflections (including chapters by Eric Seibert, T. C. Ham, Gregory Boyd and the great Thomas Yoder Neufeld.) Part Two includes fascinating chapters on “Learning from Others” which includes pieces by Randy Woodley, Aaron James and several others. Part Three is about war and violence and there is an excellent piece by Lisa Sharon Harper (which I read first), others by Ted Grimsrud, Mae Elise Cannon, and a chapter on “Christian Peace Practice in the Violence of Central America.” Part Four is on “Race, Gender, and Disability” and includes chapters by Drew Hart, Sheila Wise Rowe, Peter Goodwin Heltzel and others. Chapter Five includes a great piece on our food systems, a chapter on immigration by Marlena Graves, a chapter I can’t wait to read by Jacob Cook (“Trading in Worldviewing for Everyday Faithfulness”) which relates peacemaking and sustainability. Kathy Khang has a chapter on environmental violence. Their hope for communal flourishing and practical steps makes a great closing piece.

Secondly, it is magisterial because it is now perhaps a definitive work. As I survey recent literature, I think that it really ought to be considered classic, award-winning, conclusive, extraordinary for its quality and verve and perspective.

Thanks be to God for Shawn and Marlena for this very good work. They are both such solid, thoughtful folks, bringing together their deep spirituality and this vibrant gospel insight about public life. Fantastic!

Hope: A User’s Manual Mary McKibben Dana (Eerdmans) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 20, 2022

This is a lovely little book, one I have been dipping into these past hard weeks. Mary McKibben Dana is a fun writer, thoughtful and clear; as a younger woman she wrote the excellent Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time, one of the first books I read of this sort, which was a memoir about sabbath-keeping. Later, I enjoyed her impressive God, Improv, and the Art of Living in which she tells her story of taking improv comedy lessons and what she learned as a pastor doing that kind of unusual (and unusually funny) work.  In both cases she was letting us in on parts of her life, going public without fear or shame and telling with verve a bit about her upbeat adventures.

This new one is more substantive although is still mostly conversational in tone. The chapters are only a few pages long (and are followed by a reflection question to ponder and a practice to explore. Yay. Ms Dana is herself a writer, speaker, and ministry coach while she continues to pastor. The book emerged during the worst of the pandemic and seasons of quarantine. What is hope? How can it be resilient enough “to endure crises and crushing defeats without forsaking the here and now.” Having just come from our Bible study in the 20-some chapters of Isaiah, man, I’m telling you, this rings true. We need it.

As they say on the back, “This is a book about real hope” which she define as a “spiritual counter narrative.”  That is, it is not a cheap hope, the sort of culture tends to peddle. It is the more resilient kind since, after all, we need the virtue of hopeful vision exactly when things are bleak.  And, it seems to me, her “counternarrative” vision sets this “user’s manual” apart from some of the more simplistic views in books out there, helpful as they may be at times. This is a deeper dive,without being arcane or obscure.

Here is how Eerdman’s put it:

Hope is not optimism. It’s not toxic positivity. It’s not a promise of future success or progress. And it’s definitely not something that can be reduced to a scripty-font platitude on an Instagram post.

So what is it?

One thing is certain: real hope demands that we do something with it. That we live it out. That we use hope to participate in a bigger story playing out behind the bleak world we see on the news or in our social media feeds every day.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a person of faith, or someone disillusioned with faith, or someone who hardly ever thinks about faith: if you’re a human being who longs for a spiritual counter-narrative to live by, this book points to one resilient enough to endure crises and crushing defeats. If you’re tired of hearing about some heavenly hereafter amid the pressing need for justice here and now, this is a book about hope for this world–not the next.

After exploring what hope isn’t and then what it is, MaryAnn McKibben Dana reflects on the surprising place where hope is often found–in the messiness of our imperfect, flawed, beautiful human bodies. In the second half of the book, she talks about making hope real: sharing hope through stories, cultivating hope through simple practices, and nurturing hope in hopeless times–when only real hope can persevere.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s latest book. You must stop everything you are doing and read it now! Hope: A User’s Manual is a well-researched, thought-provoking, and wise guide to approaching life’s most unexpected and difficult moments. This book will be one I return to often for encouragement and share with many.  — Elizabeth Hagan, author of Brave Church: Tackling Tough Topics Together

Knowledge for the Love of God: Why Your Heart Needs Your Mind Timothy Pickavance (Eerdmans) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 25, 2022

We just got our stack of these in, a bit early, and I’m glad to have them. It is a good book to suggest, especially for those who need some reminder of the balance (so to speak) of hearts and minds. Although it is not a philosophical piece, it is solid; although it is not particularly postmodern, it isn’t merely a logical call to intellectual credibility.  Notice the evocative title again: Knowledge for the Love of God. Doesn’t that sound rich?

As Kelly Kapic (author of You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News) puts it:

“Timothy Pickavance wonderfully avoids the traps of naive gullibility blind faith on the one hand and depersonalized and arrogant rationalism on the other.”

Anyone who can (in Kapic’s words) “ably situate the Christian faith reasonably within [both] scientific methodology and the place stories or testimonies, helping uprightly value knowledge in a way that both resonates with our experience and appropriately leans upon God’s self-revelation” has my ears. We can affirm our minds as gifts from God but we can honor their limits, too. Reason, in this book, is not a god or idol (but certainly not a boogeyman, either.) Let’s hear it for balance and multi-dimensional knowing and deep wisdom!

As the publisher suggests: “The reality is that our formation into Christlikeness relies heavily on our minds and that Christian belief is about thinking more, not less. Far from being a threat, the intellect is central to faith–so long as it is treated as an instrument of worship rather than as the object of worship.”

They continue:

Knowledge for the Love of God is for followers of Jesus needing to better understand the crucial connection between faith and rationality. Timothy Pickavance shows how learning about who God is and what he has done, is doing, and will do draws us closer to him — just as in any relationship. With stories from his own experiences wrestling with this aspect of faith, Pickavance relates a compelling vision of how cultivating the intellect strengthens our Christian worldview, helps us gain freedom in Christ, and enables us to love God with our whole being. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make this a book to be fruitfully shared among fellow believers desiring a deeper faith–one of heart, soul, strength, and mind.

This is a clear-headed and thoughtful call for those who want a solid and well informed faith. The author is scholar in residence in his PCA Church and is a philosophy prof at Talbot School of Theology at Biola. I did wish for just a bit more overt discussion about what facts and true truths are — so I suggest the recent, short volume Post-Truth: Facts and Faithfulness by Jeffrey Dudiak (Cascade; $12.00) to read along with it. This is in the ICS-created “Currents in Reformational Thought” series and in it, ICS grad and current college prof Dudiak explores “the fissures and fractures that vex our”post truth” era, searching for a deeper, dare we say truer, understanding of the cultural forces that have led North American society to become so polarized.” It is a true gem for thoughtful critics of an unexamined view of truthfulness. 

 

How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – SEPTEMBER 20, 2022

When you pre-order this forthcoming release from us we’ll send along a nice little free journal, a guided workbook resource to accompany the volume, compliments of the good folks at his publishing house, Brazos Press. While supplies last.

This is a book that I will certainly want to review more carefully — I have a lot to say about it as I’ve been pondering an early manuscript — but that I can summarize pretty quickly. It is a book, for starters, for fans of the work of James K.A. Smith, who friends call Jamie. I really think he is one of the most important and interesting writers of our day.  His generous and insightful interactions with other authors — from ancient philosophers to contemporary scholars — is notable and his writing is interesting. I mean that, he is always interesting. If you have read You Are What You Love or On the Road with Saint Augustine or his collection of pieces in the Calvin College Press release, Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture you know what I mean.

However, if you are not a fan of Smith, this forthcoming one may not be the first you should take up. In How to Inhabit Time he alludes to other works of his, from the readable and wise Augustine volume (which is highly recommended!) to his early and very important The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic, to the mighty conclusion of his cultural liturgies set, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. There are moments when I was quite glad that I read his overview of the complex Charles Taylor — he was ahead of the trend on that one, for sure! — called How (Not) To Be Secular. At the very least you should know his best-selling You Are What You Love.  Please order that one ASAP if you are one of the few who have not yet had the pleasure. And, to be honest, this does seem to come on the heels of his last trade book, the wonderful On The Road with Saint Augustine. 

Yet, there are those who may want to dive into this not because they are drawn to the author but because they are intrigued with the topic and are taken by the themes. Please, please do. I am a big fan of this, dense as some parts are, complex as it may be. Because I trust him so, and value his voice and writing, I hear him and smile when he warns in the long introduction that citing philosophers (not unlike citing poets and artists) is a chance for the reader to slow down. To ponder and reflect. This is a book which, he says, hopes to draw you more deeply into contemplation. It is, very much, about inhabiting. 

Look: there are other books on the formative power of the liturgical calendar; attending to the themes of the “church year” has become a more popular of late, even among those who are not members of sacramental churches. But How to Inhabit Time, while rooted in a liturgically shaped sense of the seasons, is more (much more) than a book about the church calendar. It is, as the title says, literally about time.

Again, there are good books about using time and even time management. This is not one of them. The second sentence warns, “If it promises guidance on how to inhabit time, please don’t expect formulas or methods or tips for managing your day planner.” (As if we’d expect Jamie to offer such mundane tips.) He continues,

Instead, the hope of this book is to occasion an awakening, a dawning awareness of what pitmans to be the sorts of creatures who dwell in the flux of time’s flow, who swim in the river of history. Knowing when we are can change everything.

Although it waxes eloquent at times about all manner of obscure goings on and explores in detail stuff like “A History of the Human Heart” and “The Sacred Folds of Kairos” or, as that chapter subtitle puts it, “How (Not) To Be Contemporary” it is at times clear and convicting. Very early on, and then several times later, he asserts:

Knowing whether it’s dawn or dusk changes how you live in the next moment.

To wit, he coins an annoying little word he uses throughout, about a debilitating ignorance about not knowing what time it is, or thinking we (and God!) somehow “floats” above it all, not concerned about being in time and in history: nowhen.

This is a book about temporality — which implies an awareness of where we are in history, how we have been generated and how we are to feel about it all; and, he is eager to help us understand the grace of living, appropriately, in a futural manner. The now is pregnant with the future and we live into God’s realm in fresh aways each day.  But first, of course, we must reckon with our past. I really resonated with how he used that word, reckoning.

With examples from the tangible, visible arts to poets and rock singers, with studies from philosophers and social critics, with plenty of Bible and church history How to Inhabit Time is a masterpiece, one of the best books 2022. Even if it is a time a bit arcane, a bit dense, a harder work that his most popular few of recent years.

When I review this more carefully, later, I will describe my reactions to his chapter “Embrace the Ephemeral” (which, happily, starts with a description driving through our local Susquehanna  Valley in late October.)  And I will share how much I enjoyed his “Seasons of the Heart” chapter helping us to “inhabit your now.” (Ahh, his bits about the Grand Rapids community garden are very sweet.) His deeper dive into the classic “a time for…” section of Ecclesiastes 3 (cue up Pete Seeger about here, or Cockburn’s version, if you like — it’s not the first Cockburn allusion) is richer than most of the obvious explication in standard commentaries. His call to discern the times cites Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis’s exhortation on holiness in today’s world and he explores how “seasons are transitory yet focal.” All of this is remarkably rich and very thoughtful and, yes — inspiring. From a Fleet Foxes song to a passage lifted from Proust, we come to see how in harder, quieter seasons we can learn much, even as we are attuned to Scripture differently than before. Smith notes that,

“…a life lived with God through time is a period of incubation in which the Spirit of God is creating the capacity within us to hear the same Word anew and to make the Word echo afresh in the new crevices of our heart.”

We are creatures of time. There are, as he notes more than once, vicissitudes. Jamie is a smart guy with a great vocabulary, but he is also a tender guy, sharing about his own depression, drawing out the contours of his homes, celebrating his marriage, a witness that it is. He is also a philosopher so expect some forays into some deep stuff, but even that is clever and readable. Only Smith calls Huesserl, whom he loves, “a fusty German” and draws on Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger (a student Kierkegaard) as well as Henri Bergson, “the great turn-of-the-century phenomenologist of time (where Proust was the best man at his wedding!)” Who knew?

Yes, you get some cool lines from the Avett Brothers and he cites the moving memoir of Brandi Carlisle and he goes on, righteously, about BLM and Alice Walker’s food revolutions. But you also hear his calm ruminations on Reinhold Niebuhr and other heavyweight thinkers. (Did you see his piece in the Christian Century about Niebuhr? It was quite good.) From Winn Collier’s lovely recollection of Eugene Peterson’s “aha” moment about becoming “unhurried” (as told in Winn’s biography, A Burning in My Bones) to his citation of a beautiful passage on leisure by Calvin Seerveld, he helps us live into the vicissitudes, and hear the “tempo of the Spirit.” I told you it was interesting. 

I’ll say more about this in another review later, but I’m delighted to be challenged to think more about being an eschatological person (or, better, to be part of a eschatological people.) The notion of longing for “kingdom come” is different, of course, than (as he explains beautifully) counting down the days to a rapture; fixation on the end times, he curiously shows, is, actually, rather a-historical, as we wait for God to wipe the slate clean. His vision of God’s renewal of all things is very, very different — nor nowhen.

James K. A. Smith shows us that time is a gift waiting to be redeemed, and a central conviction of this book is that ‘the Lord of the star fields’ is intimately attuned to our haunted, beautiful histories. Dwelling with these lucid, winsome meditations on ‘spiritual timekeeping’ was like listening in on a lively conversation between St. Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Baldwin, and Marilynne Robinson, while Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon played in the background.  — Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament

James K. A. Smith’s inspired work examines time not as hourglass sand running hopelessly through our fingers but as a divine gift that we can capture just enough to recognize the pearl of life that time shapes. A thoughtful and engaging book.  — Sophfronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

As mentioned, pre-order it from us and we’ll send along a nice little free journal, a guided workbook resource to accompany the volume, compliments of the good folks at his publishing house, Brazos Press.) While supplies last.

The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice Wendell Berry (Shoemaker & Company) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE =$19.20

RELEASE DATE OCTOBER 4, 2022

Well, we announced this earlier and have some pre-orders already — thank you. However, they have pushed back the released date of this from early September to early October.  It is going to be well worth waiting for, believe me.

Here are three things you should know, offered as succinctly as I can say.

Firstly, this is truly a major work. It is not a collection of essays, not (as far as I can tell) anything previously published elsewhere. This is a major contribution, one that he says in the forward, he started after being aware in 1969 when he realized the first edition of The Hidden Wound was inadequate for all he wanted (and needed) to say; it was published in 1970 and we might consider this somewhat of a long-awaited sequel.

As I hope you know, Mr. Berry’s perhaps most enduring nonfiction volume came out in 1977, The Unsettling of America, still an essential read. In a very true manner, the forthcoming The Need to Be Whole is bringing together those two seminal volumes, “exploring the themes of racial division and the devastation of land-based communities.”  I am sure I do not need to tell you that Berry sees our country fraught with destruction and disorder.  So this is hugely significant, for Wendell and for the literary community. For many, it may be the publishing event of the year.

Secondly, it is a conversation of hope. Parts seem overtly faith-based, as some of his work is. But he unfolds that slowly and carefully — I didn’t say tediously, but, as I’m sure you know, there are more lively essayists. But this is important and I’m working my way through it, slowly. There is a lot of history, some Kentucky history, citations of civil war and abolitionist stuff.  He has called it “pondering and ponderous.” My advanced reader’s copy that I was lucky to acquire is nearly 500 pages. So, in that sense, it is, again, huge.

Thirdly, just to be clear, it is a study of the “land ethic” of Aldo Leopald and so much more, showing his love of place (and therefore and properly nuanced sort of patriotism) and how racial injustice has afflicted people, even as displacement from the land has hurt us all. Which is to say it is not trendy or breathy; it is more about (or so it seems) the implications of, oh, say, Allen Tate or Robert Penn Warren (and Robert E. Lee, actually) than Ferguson or George Floyd. Berry says the book is bound to offend.  He opens the book with what strikes me as an endearing bit about a meeting with bell hooks and also tells of a correspondence with Eddie Glaude, Jr. That he is fond of Ernest Gaines (and his Gathering of Old Men published in 1983) should be evident. He is less fond, you will find, of the anti-rural snobbery of Paul Krugman. Believe me, you should pre-order this today.

Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community Bonnie Kristian (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – OCTOBER 11, 2022

I wish this book were coming sooner as we hardly have time to spare in getting a handle on this increasingly complex matter, what we know and how we know it, the conspiracies fellow citizens promote and believe and how it is dividing our land and even our churches. While not exactly like the book I alluded to above, Post-Truth: Facts and Faithfulness by Jeffrey Dudiak, it is a practical study of the rippling results of a “truthiness” culture and, now, the odd acceptability of conspiracy theories. Wow. 

A few short years ago I scoffed at QAnon, confident that no serious-minded person would fall for that. Now we’ve got Eric Metaxas continuing towards madness and the Republican candidate for Governor of our Keystone State is enmeshed in exceptional far right weirdness and some of his fans— some posting violent pseudo-patriotic threats— are cult-like in their devotion. We have, indeed, what Bonnie Kristian calls a “knowledge crisis.” 

I know there are many books about polarization, and a few on the untrustworthy situation with many neighbors and friends falling for certifiable nonsense. (Like the claim that former President Trump won the 2020 election, just for example.) This is the first book that I know of that brings a thoughtful Christian perspective to this very question. With an impressive forward by David French, I am hoping this lively book gets plenty of publicity.  We need it.

Bonnie Kristian is a great writer, so that makes this important book that much more fun. Her earlier book was a brilliant doozy — showing for seekers or those in the throes of deconstruction, before it was called that, how there are many sorts of Christian habits and spiritual practices galore, all within an arguable spectrum of orthodox reliability. From Amish farmers to urban PCA hipsters, from Orthodox monks to Pentecostal miracle-workers, A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today had lots of sidebar interviews, good questions to ponder, and offered more truly Christian options for those considering faith than you can imagine. It’s a great read and, if read widely, would do a lot for ecumenicity, since it shows that despite varying faith practices and worship styles, there are a lot of good folks who are followers of Jesus. Our faith — or at least our sense of who is in and who is out — can benefit from a bit of flexibility. And Kristian Bonnie is a great reporter, hearing the stories and framing it out for us in helpful ways.

Although I haven’t noticed in my early review manuscript that she renounces any reasonable sorts of faith, she is clear in Untrustworthy: not everything should be accepted as truthful and not every claim is trustworthy.  Although her extensive journalistic effort putting together the fabulously broad Flexible Faith gave her plenty of experience with what some might consider the fringes of the Christian tradition (monks and mystics, Pentecostals and protestors, etc.) the conspiracy-addled folk she explores here are not another plausible option. This is life and death stuff. There is, she warns, a real crisis of truth in American life, faith, and politics.

I would wade through this like it was the forthcoming serious Wendell Berry book if I had to — it is that important! — but, gladly, it is written with great wit and grace. The chapter titles are mostly one-word phrases, looking at manifestations of the crisis in “media” and “mob.” She looks at “Schemes” and “Skepticism.” There is a move towards “a practical epistemology” and while I’m a geek for epistemological arguments (please read some Esther Meek, starting with the simple and provocative A Little Manual for Knowing) I often advise normal folks to skip books that sounds too philosophical. But not this — Bonnie is a Pittsburgh-based journalist, not a heady academic, and her chapter on emotions and her chapter on experience offers insights into how we develop a wise and watching worldview. Chapter 9 is called “A Building Plan” — don’t miss it.

The blurbs on this speak well to how this book can help us overcome current polarization through meaningful commitments to decent relationships and “building trust across fractured communities” (as Karen Swallow Prior puts it in her soberly raving review.)

Hear Front Porch Republic blogger and author of the wise, slow approach to news and media consumption (Reading the Times), Jeffrey Bilbro, who says this of Untrustworthy:

Many of us have a sense that all we once took for granted is now up for grabs. We are living through a crisis of knowledge, and the result can be a feeling of suffocating uncertainty. Untrustworthy opens a window and lets in a breath of fresh air–and hope. Bonnie Kristian offers a way out of pointless debates and fearmongering conspiracy theories. This book is never condescending and always sympathetic; it is never partisan and always incisive. — Jeffrey Bilbro, author, Reading the Times

Our country’s epistemological crisis is perhaps the greatest threat to democracy. And while it’s tempting to feel hopeless in light of ‘fake news’ and people who speak ‘their truth,’ Kristian offers us ways to move forward. Untrustworthy is an incisive, deeply researched, and personal analysis of our truth crisis. It should be widely read and discussed. — Alan Noble, professor and author of You Are Not Your Own.

The publisher summarizes it clearly: Drawing from her extensive experience in journalism and her training as a theologian, Kristian explores social media, political and digital culture, online paranoia, and the press itself. She explains factors that contribute to our confusion and helps Christians pay attention to how we consume content and think about truth. Finally, she provides specific ways to take action, empowering readers to avoid succumbing to or fueling the knowledge crisis. 

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NEW BOOKS about CHRISTIAN GROWTH — “Good and Beautiful and Kind” by Rich Villodas and more – 20% OFF at Hearts & Minds

We have been thrilled to get to send out books from the last several BookNotes lists — three cheers for those doing some serious summer reading and who have sent their order to us. Thanks for supporting our work here. We’re glad to be of help.

I hope you didn’t miss the one a few weeks back that described the remarkable Charles Marsh memoir, Evangelical Anxiety or the one that followed that on psychology and mental health. Then, I reviewed a recent fav, Bill McKibben’s The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon. Many said they liked the BookNotes post describing some compelling nonfiction studies, history, underdog sports stories, immersive journalism and that kind of narrative writing. Or last week’s post about patriotism, featuring the new Richard Mouw book, How to Be a Christian Patriot (always a good reason for Hearts & Minds to celebrate.) As we sometimes do, I suggest a handful of other similar titles or good ones to read together, with pretty different viewpoints, like when I listed Os Guinness and Jim Belcher next to Diana Butler Bass and David Dark, or Reformed Rich Mouw and Anabaptist Jonny Rashid. It was a good list, I think. Thanks for letting us help you read widely, friends!

After this string of BookNotes highlighting powerful reads on social concerns and public theology and the like, I thought I’d name some recent ones in the genre of “basic Christian growth.” We’ve never had a “Christian living” section in our bookstore [as many Christian bookstores do] since, well, what isn’t Christian living for a follower of Jesus? That always drove me crazy seeing such a dumb category in many Christian bookstores, or publishers saying to stock this book “in your Christian living section.” Like your art and politics and ecology and sexuality and technology sections aren’t “Christian”?

Yet, what does one call books that are not about the inner life of contemplative spirituality, say, or theology, proper, or Biblical studies?  For complicated reasons I’m not fond of the phrase “applied theology” (although I use it sometimes) and the word “discipleship” (as in Bonhoeffer’s significant Cost of Discipleship) suggests to some the process of disciple-making (evangelism and faith mentoring of new believers.) So we sometimes use the phrase basic [not meaning simple, but foundational] Christian growth, even though I’m not sold on the phrase. These sorts of books guide us in foundational habits and practices and help cultivate insights and passions for wisely growing one’s faith or deepening one’s core convictions about trusting God and how to live for His Kingdom. Again, a book about work or grief or racial justice is part of basic living for God, so my semantics are driving me crazy. I hope it annoys you, too. As we often say, after all, we believe in “all of life redeemed” and Christ is making “all things new.” So every category in the bookstore can properly be seen as helping our spiritual growth and discipleship. Right?

Still, we all need a boost sometimes, learning or relearning some basic stuff about fairly ordinary ways to grow in faith, to become increasingly Christ-like, to live into our sanctification. Consider this some informal counsel from your bookselling friend, pastoral guidance, almost about first things. These books are good resources and are fabulous reads that I’m sure would bless almost anyone. Come on, admit it: you just might need some basic rejuvenation.

First up is an eagerly anticipated title that is just now out and is one of the best books of the summer. I had an early copy and could hardly put it down. Hoorah! This author “gets it” — this whole-life, publicly engaged, generous sort of thoughtful vision for faith and real life. I’m talking about Rev. Rich Villodas (whose first book was very popular and is now in paperback,The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.) Allow me to tell you about his brand new one, Good and Beautify and Kind.

You can order these easily by click on the “order” tab at the bottom of this column. It takes you to our secure order form. Enter your info and we’ll take it from there. 20% OFF.

Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World  Rich Villodas (Waterbrook) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I am not overstating this, I sincerely say, when I suggest this is one of the handful of excellent books in this genre that will be talked about for years to come. I don’t know what is happening in the broader evangelical world but as some move into right wing weirdness and ugly politics (and others deconstruct and throw out too much of basic Christian thinking) we are finding a new generation of upbeat and honest, conversational but substantive, pastoral and prophetic writers like Villodas who bring a Christ-centered, gospel-oriented whole life discipleship that helps people really change, really grown, really learn the ways of God’s upside down Kingdom. Rich is a pastor of a large church in Queens, New York and is kind and caring — you can tell from the stories about his faith community and family and such — and yet has done his intellectual homework. He is widely-read and yet there is no haughty, name dropping of fancy theologians to impress. No — as I kept a finger in the back footnotes section, flipping back and forth with delight, I realized he was truly integrating important thinkers and using the poetic phrasing from fine writers to enhance his guidance into what the book promises: learning to experience a life of calm presence within this divided, anxious culture.

But this new book is more than a guide to finding a serene spirit or even about being more gracious in our divided times.  It lives up to its title exploring the way towards goodness and beauty and kindness. They are described wonderfully, we are invited into their virtue, and the interconnections are explored.

Why good and beautiful and kind? (Well, who doesn’t want that, eh?) Actually, the three-fold phrase comes from a poem by Langston Hughes called “Tired.”

Kudos to you if you knew that or connected those dots!  How good to have an evangelical pastor exegeting Langston Hughes.

I’ll share one of my own formational poets, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, who in “Summer Dress” sings,

I’m gonna go where the lights are bright

Where sacred secrets sail like kites

We’ve been sleeping, girl, all our lives

And we never lived we just survived

We never lived we just survived

I think these days there are many of us who are going through the motions, wishing for a place where “sacred secrets sail like kites,” where we do more than just survive. We are trying to be glad that we may be seeing — maybe! — the beginning of a slow down to the pandemic, we’re trying to be glad that maybe the leaders behind the January 6th insurrection will be taken to task and that we will find a way to rebuild within this cultural moment with something like grace and goodness and beauty. Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes worried that we needed to cut hard into our culture to see what was wrong, why we were tired waiting for a culture of kindness. Shawn Colvin names this brave journey towards beauty and hope in this song as stepping into the wilderness.

Villodas gets this. I was in tears reading the first chapters on how we simply must grapple with the problems, the sadnesses, the injustices, the sin of the world.  In the Langston Hughes poem he conjures all of this by calling us to “cut” and discover “worms.” Villodas almost playfully — he is never dour, even when serious — explores the worms of our lives. He’s sensitive to how unchurched friends are reading along, I’m sure, but let’s face it here: he’s talking about a doctrine of sin, and it is incredibly honest and true and freeing. He calls it “the fracturing of reality.” The first chapter there is on “a failure to love.”

There is in this book on kindness and goodness a second opening chapter that I really appreciated. It is on the notion of the “principalities and powers” which is a woefully under-appreciated New Testament key to understanding Christ’s victory. He draws on Walter Wink (as David Dark recently commended to us via twitter, by the way) and looks at both the personal influence of the dark forces around us and reminds us of the socio-political/cultural ways idols and evil spirits can pervade our lives. He quotes Berkhof, for crying out loud, and our old friend Marva Dawn. Thanks be to God!

And he realizes this leads to cultural disruptions and personal traumas. His insight comes from a deep study on his part into the scholars of trauma these days (including, obviously, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and his must-read The Body Keeps the Score and Sheila Wise Rowe and her book Healing Racial Trauma) and others as well. This chapter is called “Hindering the Wound, Holy Wounds.” He puts together “trauma and the hope of the world” as nicely as anyone writing on this.  

Having helped us understand (and not underestimate) the “forces behind the fractures” Pastor Rich guides us through the second central portion of Good and Beautiful and Kind by way of the call to “walking a better way.” This is poetic and mature and thoughtful and interesting. And, importantly, it is helpful. You will be reminded of the problem of prayer and how to be a “contemplative in a thoughtless age.” You will learn about the walls of the false self as he invites us to “humility and lowering our defenses” as one chapter puts it. There are good words on the page and important ideas in the air. Good and Beautiful and Kind is terrific. 

Villodas’s guidance on resisting reactivity (that is, the cultivating the virtue of humility and learning to lower the dial on our defenses) is so rich, thoughtful and, again, useful with plenty of take-away points. Again, he draws on exceptionally good sources and writes so nicely without any pretense or heavy tedium to slog through. This is how a book of “basic Christian growth” can be done and done well.

Best-selling author and guide Ann Voskamp offers in her wonderful forward (where she says the author “speaks the dialect of Jesus”) this advice:

As you read these compelling words, keep a pen in hand and then write down your own words, in the margins, in a journal, because these pages are drawing a pathway to the good, the beautiful, the kind. You will want to trace the way, engage it, listen to the Holy Spirit beckoning and convicting and moving. And you will need to leave your own ink tracks to the good and the beautiful and the kind that you are seeking. Read with attentiveness because attentiveness is the beginning of receptiveness. And this is a book that you fully want to receive — these words will profoundly reorient. 

I am still pondering the third portion of Good and Beautiful and Kind about being “a bridge not a barrier” as we pursue wholeness even in health conflict. This leans naturally to the “gift of forgiveness” and breaking the cycle of offense as he puts it. Can we love in public? Justice and action for public justice is part of the way of following Jesus so even in this lovely book about Christian growth in the ways of kindness, he knows he must help us “go public” with our faith and with our love for those who are particularly marginalized or hurting.  From Howard Thurman to Fleming Rutledge, from James Cone to Scott McKnight, Pastor Rich invites us to a fuller life, a deeply Christian life. Not just walking in the wilderness — just surviving, but flourishing with goodness and beauty and kindness, forging a life with a redemptive kind of wholeness. 

Good and Beautiful and Kind is a peaceful, gracious, and wise formulation of what it looks like to follow Jesus in a world ripping apart by a lack of love, by systemic powers, and by our own woundedness. Give yourself a retreat to spend time with this beautiful book. — Rev. Canon Dr. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, author of A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing

It’s not a secret that we are living in difficult and fractured times. Such times can be reasons for not just helplessness but more dangerously, hopelessness. Thankfully, there are servant leaders like Pastor Rich Villodas who don’t pretend to have all the answers and yet are not afraid to invite us to walk ‘a better way.  — Rev. Eugene Cho, President and CEO of Bread for the World, author of Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics

Having the Mind of Christ: Eight Axioms to Cultivate a Robust Faith Ben Stern and Matt Tebbe (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I would wax exponent about this new one but I will refrain — just trust me that this is one of the best books of this kind I’ve seen in a long while. Tebbe and Sternke are both pastors (connected with Missio Alliance) and serving as coaches in the “Gravity Leadership” group. They have a heart for visionary and missional outreach and they yet want to help equip people with guidance for real honest to goodness change and growth and spiritual maturity.

You may know that we see about four zillion books like this every month (okay, I exaggerate a little) and some are quite good. Many are helpful and the styles run from upbeat and cheery to dreadfully serious, from intense to almost goofy. Most are just okay. To each their own, so sure. Go get ‘em.

This new one, though, shocked me at how wise and insightful and compelling and good it seemed. Firstly, I like the title since having the mind of Christ is an overlooked feature of many handbooks for Christian growth. However, it is not a book I’d necessarily put in our “Christian mind” section as it isn’t primarily about thinking well, taking ideas seriously, or anything about worldviews, philosophy, or learning. So the topic of the title is broadly used but not by dismissing the life of the mind. It just isn’t primarily about that. I love those rare books that are thoughtful but not academic, about ordinary Christian formation but including the life of the intellect. They insist God cares about all of life and redemption includes all of our human-ness (God cares about it even more than we do is one of their axioms, in fact.)  Right on!

Which leads me to another surprise. For understandable reasons for those who know this sort of literature coming out of the deeper end of the evangelical gene pool, I naturally thought this was going to be a Dallas Willard re-do.  Which would be fine; from Jim Wilder to John Ortberg to some of Ruth Haley Barton, to a book called Seeking God coming soon from NavPress by Trevor Hudson relating St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard) we know some of our finest guides to our Christian lives are influenced by Dallas. His book Renovation of the Heart (I announced the 20th anniversary hardback a half a year ago) is a classic in evangelical spiritual formation and shows how inner transformation actually happens. All of Willard’s books are important (many adore The Divine Conspiracy parts one and two although I tout Spirit of the Disciplines as essential after Renovation.) I am sorry to digress because Tebbe and Sternke are not mostly re-gifting the good gifts of Willard. They cite him but in fresh ways and offer new hope even to the disenchanted. 

I love the back cover recommendation by Rich Villodas, who writes:

The work of formation into the image of Christ entails new practices, but unless the deeper assumptions we hold about God are addressed, we will be rich in practices but poor in transformation. It’s for this reason that I’m grateful this book exists. Ben Sternke and Matt Tebbe have done a remarkable job excavating some of the most important questions, mindsets, and beliefs that get in the way of new life in Christ. This book is a great gift to the church. 

I could tell you so much more about these axioms and why I think this is a very important book for our time. I’ll say just two things:

Firstly, they take very seriously that assumption that God is love and that love is the glue that holds the universe together. “It’s all about love” is axiomatic, but we need to hear over and over. Oddly, while serious theologians write in deep language about this truest truth, not as many basic Christian books in this genre draw on it as fully as they ought. These guys do. The first chapter is worth the price of the book.

Secondly, although I’d pitch this to almost anyone of any faith tradition, young or old, happy in faith or frustrated, sitting on the left or right side of the pew, it does seem to be written most keenly out of the authors’ own disillusionment with the pat answers of their evangelical background and with particular sensitivity to what those who use the word “deconstruction” mean by that these days. That is, if you wonder why the Christian life doesn’t seem to be adding up, if it doesn’t work as you thought it would, then this book is for you. One of their axioms is “God Meets Us In Our Messy Realty” which, although often said these days, isn’t teased out as these guys do for us. 

Okay, a third quick observation — they quote some amazing writers, surely making this an artful, good read.  The first footnote is from Anais Nin, maybe a first int this publisher’s history, I don’t know. I appreciated their wide reading and somewhat edgy engagement with contemporary theologians, thinkers, memoirists, scientists, and philosophers.

Listen to these two endorsements by people I trust and you will see why this book is so valuable.

Too often contemporary Western Christianity undermines its own claims of love and good news. Having the Mind of Christ acknowledges the inconsistencies and presses in with a deep longing for integrity, bringing healing as it goes. This book provides language and companionship for those doing the hard work of reimagining a way forward for the church of the twenty-first century, helping us recover from (and repent of) abusive faith practices, restoring us to the life-giving way of Jesus.  — Mandy Smith, pastor and author of The Vulnerable Pastor and The Unfettered Life.

Perhaps we are faithful Christians who have tried Christianity and found it wanting. But what if we were given the wrong lenses with which to view God, the gospel, and life? What if our spiritual eyesight is off? Ben Sternke and Matt Tebbe function as eye doctors offering eight axioms, not formulas, by which to live. These serve as corrective lenses that guide us toward honest and more intimate communion with God and embodiment of the gospel. This book is personal, crystal clear, and especially needed for those of us who long for more, to know and be known by God, and to be disciples of Jesus. — Marlena Graves, author of the Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age Jay Y. Kim (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to grow just a little weary of books that are about something or another “in the digital age.” There are so many good books on this, from Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and the must-read, wonderfully-written meditation The Life We’re Looking For by Andy Crouch to the recent academic ones like Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age and Digital Communion: Marshall McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age. A recent book from Fortress Press by Ryan Panzer is called Grace and Gigabytes: Being Church in a Tech-Shaped Culture which, like, say, the quick reader, Becoming A Hybrid Church (by Dave Daubert and Richard Jorgensen) is very helpful as congregations continue to serve those playing in safe in this not-yet-quite post-Covid era.

But this one, Analog Christian is one I’ve been eagerly waiting for. It is not jumping on a bandwagon: the dude is a tech guy who left the industry to plant a church in Silicon Valley. I’m not kidding — he knows his stuff and I loved his excellent Analog Church which, perhaps ironically, I reviewed right before the pandemic in March of 2020 kept us all at home until we figured out live streaming worship and Zoom Bible studies. Analogue Church was not an anti-technology screed, of course, but insisted on (in normal circumstances) an embodied presence. 

Analog Christian is a natural follow up to Analogue Church but, given our more prevalent enmeshment on digital platforms, now more than ever before, reflecting on discipleship in the digital age sure is needed. This is not cheap or cheesy, not just jumping on the hot topic of the year. I am confident this is one of the best books of this sort this year.

Kim notes that “the digital age is in the business of commodifying our attention.”

The back cover explains:

The technologies of our day are determined to keep us scrolling and swiping at all costs, plugged into a feedback loop of impatience, comparison, outrage, and contempt. Blind to the dangers, we enjoy its temporary pleasures, unaware of the damage to our souls. 

So how do we live before God’s face and involved with others, deepening our character and Christ-likeness in ways that enhance our “contentment, resilience, and wisdom”? This book shows how.  

Brilliant gospel futurecaster Leonard Sweet — who has become a tad more critical of technology in recent decades, it seems (see his marvelous little book called From Tablet to Tables) suggests that this good volume is also helpful for parents as their kids grow up in this digital world. He colorfully writes,

Jay Y. Kim is an ecclesiastical alchemist who shows us how to turn information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into truth. Analog Christian is a book no parent can afford to miss .— Leonard Sweet, author, Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future

And, wow, listen to this from trustworthy Bible prof and eco-ethicist A.J. Swoboda

I can’t express the inner jubilee I am having that this book is finally here. What a marvelous invitation to the primal Christian movement that is solely and singularly focused on Jesus as Lord of all in our fragmented and distracted moment. Analog Christian gives voice to a part of all of us that longs for a day when Christians are known for their fruit over their fame. This work will set Jay Kim up as an enduring voice for the church for this generation. Highly recommended. A must-read. —A. J. Swoboda, author, After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It

Harvest of Hope: A Contemplative Approach to Holy Scripture Mark A. McIntosh & Frank Griswold (Eerdmans) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE =  $18.39

Seeds of Faith: Theology and Spirituality at the Heart of Christian Belief Mark A. McIntosh & Frank Griswold (Eerdmans) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

These two books are just lovely companion volumes and look so good side by side. I’m not sure which to recommend more energetically or which to suggest that you read first. Both are just really fine, elegant reflections that invite you to mature rumination on spiritual practices that will enhance your Christian living in this world.

You may know that Frank Griswold is a retired Episcopal priest who was the former Presiding Bishop of that whole denomination. (He is also the father of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Eliza Griswold, who gets her curiosity, wonder, sense of justice and good writing chops honestly.) Mr. McIntosh is an Episcopal priest and theologian who died just last year as these books were at the publisher. He was the inaugural holder of Loyola University Chicago’s endowed chair in Christian spirituality. He served previously Professor of Divinity at Durham University and canon residentiary of Durham Cathedral, UK. McIntosh was the author or editor of several academic books on the interrelationship of theology and spirituality and a lovely one on Cowley Brothers publishing on Anglican spirituality.

I love how the publisher describes the first one as “an immersive introduction to the Christian faith that illuminates essential doctrines and propels readers beyond abstract knowledge to experience the living mystery who is God.” If you are the sort that reads a bit in mysticism and contemplative sorts of spirituality, it might be good for you to read this, which I assure you that you will enjoy, as it grounds your experience in doctrine and theology. More so, if you are a theology buff, this will wisely, as that quote above said, point you beyond the ideas to the encounter with God.  Nice

And, yes, the one on Scripture pretty much does the same thing, using the Bible as a resource for deepening our spirituality and finding, beyond and through the printed page, an experience of God’s own Spirit.  The publisher introduces it as not only a guide to the texts of the church year and the liturgical calendar, but a handbook on “praying the Scriptures, integrating theology and spirituality and Bible study.

As they say, “When we read Scripture, we learn about God. When we pray the Scriptures, we experience the mystery of Jesus Christ and inhabit his life.”

Drawing on scripture texts from the cycle of the church year, McIntosh and Griswold usher readers into their own interior process of lucid theological reflection woven into prayerful encounters with the Word. Here the disastrous rift that opened up between theology and spirituality in the Western church a millennium ago is healed. Reading this compelling and beautiful book is a grace in itself.  — Julia Gatta, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South and author of Life in Christ: Practicing Christian Spirituality 

The Beauty Chasers: Recapturing the Wonder of the Divine Timothy D. Willard (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I am glad that there are many books out these days for non-specialists on the arts, on what we might call appreciating the aesthetic dimension to life, as Calvin Seerveld taught in his seminal and glorious Rainbows for the Fallen World. We’ve seen in the last year several extraordinary books about how a sense of beauty —not so much art, proper, but an appreciation of the luminous and the awesome and the lovely — can enhance our lives, even our spiritual lives and Christian discipleship. Sarah Clarkson’s wonderful This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks Into Our Darkness was one of our “Best Books” of last year in part because of how she invited us to beauty in times of hardship. Believe me, many of us needed that. 

This new one is by an old acquaintance, a young performing artist turned theologian (with a fancy degree from Oxford where he lived for a few years exploring “northern aesthetics” in the works of C.S.Lewis.) He has written several books with his pal Jason Lucy, including Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society (which has quite a following and has won some awards) and a terribly under-appreciated, really good hardback called Home Beyond the Sun: Connect with God in the Brilliance of the Everyday which we continue to carry in great hope that it will be discovered.)

This brand new one — which the aforementioned Sarah Clarkson calls a “radiant invitation” — is the culmination of much of his recent work and scholarship, make accessible and lively for anyone needing a push into the “brilliance of the everyday.” God can speak through beauty, even though we have often reduced our sense of artful listening to watching TV or be taken up with empty amusement. As he puts it, “We treat beauty as a novelty while despair crouches near. Or we believe it is only for the elite of society — professors, art critics, pop stars.”

I am not enamored with the notion of “chasing” beauty but Tim does not overstate our role in discovering wonder and beauty. Perhaps it might also be described as a posture of attentive reception. Be open and eager. Maybe you don’t mind the title, but if you do, don’t let it keep you from it.

Here is how they put it on the back cover:

Beauty Chasers are thinkers and listeners. They see when the world goes blind. They embody quietness when all the world wants to do is scream. They give life to others when the world seems bent on destruction. Beauty Chasers live to a different cadence. They walk the path less traveled.

If you are interested in deepening your sense of and appreciation for these things, Tim Willard invites you to risk change.  He’s a fun and energetic writer and he tells some fun stories. He has chapters about curiosity and “a place called love” under the section called “Something Stirring in the Deep.” We need love and goodness and beauty and glory — including a “beautify and terrible God.” 

The next several chapters of The Beauty Chasers: Recapturing the Wonder of the Divine explore “holy wayfinding” and invites us to start participating in the “Footpaths of the Park.” Beauty takes our “reverent participation.” (Ohhh, I like that phrase!)  The next unit of chapters are about the mystery of it all (“Footpaths of the Hills” he calls this section) and he has a lovely chapter called “the riches of seeing” which I loved. The next chapter is about making spaces beautiful.

The final four chapters are about “the life-giving mark of beauty” and Willard calls this section “Footpaths of Mountains.” This includes some teaching on spirituality, a reflection on meekness, and, yes, about joy. I haven’t gotten to this part yet, but I am sure it will be a huge encouragement and a good guide for many Hearts & Minds friends and BookNotes readers. As novelist and memoirist Sean Dietrich (“Sean of the South”) wrote, “If this book doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet.” Ha. We are happy to recommend it to get your fire going. 

The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authenticity  Steven A. Denny (ACTA) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I have mentioned this before but it might have been missed as I was suggesting it on one of our BookNote newsletters about books to give to college graduates or maybe in one about deepening our capacities for spiritual discernment. It is such a fine and interesting and informative (and formative) book it fits here nicely on this list. It isn’t your typical Christian self help formulaic book and doesn’t offer jazzy talk about having more faith.

My friend Steven Denny is a former pastor and seminary prof who became a lawyer. Let’s just say he’s seen some stuff, experienced some ups and downs. At some point in his life rediscover the famous one-page chapter in Thomas Merton’s wonderful book Thoughts in Solitude that (you will remember if you’ve seen it) nothing but the prayer. Many know (or maybe have seen a Facebook meme) with a line from it, perhaps the part about not knowing where we are going or not seeing the road ahead. Or maybe the part about not knowing how to please God but how maybe the desire to so actually pleases God. The prayer is honest, searching, clear, and powerful. It changed Steven’s life.

This book looks at the often-cited prayer and, or so it seems to me, makes a valuable contribution to Merton studies because there isn’t anything like it. Merton fan or not, though, it is a tremendous resource to help you explore your own interior life, your motivations, your desires. 

There are professional done photographs to enhance the book and a good section introducing the life and ministry of the Kentucky Trappist. Merton really was a fascinating figure (we have a lot of books by and about him) and you’ll love Mr. Denny’s overview. He wants you to know something about the young monk who wrote the prayer, and then he wants you to embrace it for yourself.

To do that, you learn a bit about Steven’s own journey and how he used and was transformed by this deceptively simple prayer. 

As I noted in my earlier review the book not only includes the artful photos for visual imagery but six Scriptural studies that stood to the author. (He’s a former preacher, a teacher of New Testament Greek and a practicing trial attorney so he knows how to see connections and make a point.) Only such a guy would talk about “exegeting” Merton’s words and get away with it. But exegete them he does, helping us understand and more deeply appreciate their real meaning — as he puts it, “ask and keep on asking about, making your asking a matter of daily habitual behavior.” Keep turning the Rabbi’s used to say.  He even has discussion questions to help you process this or even use it in a small group of trusted friends on the journey.

As artful, spiritual formation writer Judith Valente puts it,

Steven Denny provides us with a long overdue exploration of The Merton Prayer, using a kind of lectio divina — a slow, contemplative, sacred reading — of each phrase. Remarkable.

The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You To Be James Bryan Smith (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Oh my, are we glad for this!  Unlike a number of books on this topic these days that are mostly remedial (shall we say) for those who need to clarity about a Biblical view of self esteem and God’s accepting mercy, offering a Christ-centered sense of identity — as important as they are — The Good and Beautiful You seems to me to be written not primarily as psychological or theological self help, but as foundational, keen and/or insightful every believer. This is very good stuff. I suggest it for anyone interested in a lively Christian approach to self and selfhood and for those wanting a slight dip in the waters of what could be transformational spirituality.

You see, this is the fourth in the series by James Bryan Smith known as the “Apprentice Series” and released in the always marvelous formatio line of IVP. The first three books in this series are all standards that we recommend when asked for books on spiritual growth — The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life and The Good and Beautiful Community. Happily, we’ve got to stop calling them a trilogy!

This new one, like the other, is clearly and nicely written, drawing on the insights of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson and other such clear-headed and down to Earth contemplatives. It may quote the poetry of Theresa of Avila or the mysticism of Thomas Merton or the good theology of Bonhoeffer but it offers the popular phrasing of Buechner or other contemporary, engaging stylists. I love books like this that are clearly substantive without being rigorously academic, that are thoughtful without being arcane, and, in this case, combine good psychology and good spirituality.

Each of these volumes have nearly a devotional tone and there are wonderfully-created exercises after each chapter. There are discussion questions, certainly making it ideal for a small group or class, but these experiences which are offered under the rubric of “Soul Training” pieces are a good way to get more out of the book, to live it. We highly recommend them all. Don’t miss this new one, The Good and Beautiful You about how you can “discover the person Jesus created you to be” — from the depths of your soul to the details of your sacred body! It is what one reviewer described as a “heart-piercing and mind-nurturing journey into redeemed personhood.”

With his signature combination of intellectual rigor, accessible language, and pastoral care, James Bryan Smith has helped thousands of us believe firmly in the goodness and beauty of God. But what are we to believe about ourselves? How do we fit into God’s good and beautiful universe? Merging solid teaching and carefully crafted soul-training exercises, The Good and Beautiful You firmly debunks the false narratives we believe about ourselves and replaces them with life-giving, soul-enriching truth. This book is a treasure. — Richella J. Parham, author of Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison

THREE SOMEWHAT MORE RIGOROUS STUDIES FOR FOUNDATIONAL CHRISTIAN LIFE

Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land Norman Wirzba (University of Notre Dame Press) $29.00                                               OUR PRE-ORDER SALE PRICE = $23.20

AVAILABLE TO BE PRE-ORDERED – DUE AUGUST 1, 2022

I hope you know the work of the remarkable Norman Wirzba who has written or co-written both lovely and accessible books like Making Peace with the Land and Living the Sabbath (both which offer joy and delight) and more academic studies such as one on the “phenomenology of prayer” and another “theology of eating” called Food and Faith and the recent, brilliant This Sacred Life that we touted early this spring. This soon-to-be-released forthcoming volume (due early August) is, curiously, a meaty work but yet very, very readable for educated readers. It is exceptionally thoughtful but not scholarly. He draws on insights of the sort made popular by his friend Wendell Berry and examines what it means to have an agrarian spirit. It is not, he explains, exactly what you may think.

Agrarianism is a certain movement that developed (popularized by Berry) in response to, among other dehumanizing and creation-damaging trends, big agriculture and the unstable placelessness of our upwardly mobile society. It focuses on place, on stability, or real skills and real care, standing even in rooted traditions.(He helpfully brings in some deep thoughts by Simone Weil, here.) Which is to say it is not primarily about being a farmer. As Wirzba explains, one can live in rural areas and be discontent and dislocated from the land; one can be a bad farmer. Similarly, perhaps counterintuitively, one can be an urban dweller with an agrarian spirit. It isn’t about where one lives, but how one lives.

As Grace Olmstead (author of Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind) notes, it shows what means to be “interdependent and embodied.” Nice!

Further, the point of this remarkable book is that this sort of well-grounded lifestyle can evoke a certain sort of spirituality. Not a pie in the sky piety that despises creation, obviously, nor an exceedingly interior mysticism that focuses inward.  I love this creation-based spirituality that strikes me as fully Biblical, rejecting the twine results of dualism, otherworldliness and privatization. I’m not sure if the Duke professor of theology and ethics — of an agrarian sort — who is Dutch thinks of the old theologian from Holland, Abraham Kuyper or not, but his spirituality seems to be what some might call (drawing on Al Wolters’ Creation Regained) reformational. This is a book attuned not only to Scripture and theology and a living, lively faith, but applies it’ll to contemporary needs given our politics, economics, and cultural disarray. He draws in insights from Biblical teacher and like-minded colleague Ellen Davis and an array of social scientists, ecologists, and philosophers I mostly did not know. 

But here is the thing: after three tremendous, sophisticated chapters exploring “Agrarian Fundamentals” there are six long chapters of what Wirzba calls “Agrarian Spiritual Exercises.” I’m telling you, this tells about spiritual formation of the sort you won’t find in most discipleship programs or in typical spiritual direction groups. It is serious, provocative, unique, radical in the best sense. The discerning and always elegant writer Marilyn McIntyre calls it “lovely” and “surprising.”

These smart chapters include Learning to Pray, Learning to See, Learning Descent, Learning Humility, Learning Generosity, and Learning to Hope. I am very much eager to hear how people have received Agrarian Spirit and how we can, as the subtitle invites, become people who are committed to “cultivating faith, community, and the land.”

If ‘incarnate spirituality’ sounds like an oxymoron to you, let Norman Wirzba be your guide to the agrarian arts of faith. This book is the culmination of decades of thinking and writing and work, and there is no writer better equipped to articulate how an agrarian sensibility should shape our spiritual practices.” ―Jeffrey Bilbro, author of Reading the Times and editor-in-chief at Front Porch Republic

Agrarian Spirit isn’t luddite, nostalgic, or angry. Rather, it’s a gentle, wise, and hopeful call forward, casting a vision for how to live as God’s people in God’s world. I loved this book, and it flooded my imagination with pictures of what the Kingdom of Heaven could be, right now, right in my neighborhood.” ―Andrew Peterson, author of The God of the Garden

Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics for Everyone: The Doctrine of the Word of God — A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners & Pros Marty Folsom (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Wow, who knew such a book would ever be done? If you’ve ever pondered wanting to know anything about the serious work of Karl Barth, maybe something beyond the wonderfully interesting Barth for Armchair Theologians by John Franke, this, then, is what you’ve been waiting for. I’ve started and quickly bowed out of more Barth books and more books about  Barth than I should admit. This is the one I’ve been waiting for.

This reader-friendly and upbeat and cleverly designed study of the great German Neo-orthodox thinker is the first in what will be an ongoing series exploring his multi-volume Church Dogmatics.(The second, on the Doctrine of God, will release Spring of 2023.) The Barth volumes are notoriously dense and expensive (and not numbered very sensibly, if you ask me.) So we need all the help we can get.

This paperback is pushing up towards 300 pages but the print is a nice size and there are sidebars and pull quotes and illuminating charts and good discussion questions; it is really nicely arranged. There are introductory points and summary sections.

Not only is this a serious but readable study of “The Doctrine of the Word of God” portion of Dogmatics (incredibly important in both the history of modern theology and for Barth’s overall project) but along with the insight of Marty Folsom (our “tour guide”) other authors show up for small bits. I love the way they have reflections by scholars or leaders saying why all this matters for them.

For instance, we have Douglas Campbell saying why those in Biblical studies might care about all this; Myk Haters does the same as a systematic theologian. We’ve got a pastor, a mental health professional, a director in spiritual formation and a scientist. Calvin scholar Julie Canlis offers a lovely piece on why Barth mattes to ordinary people. Nice! 

The author, Dr. Marty Folson, is a colorful New Zealander, theology prof unlike most, it seems, and is a very fine writer, too. Here is a quote (by Kerry Dearborn, author of Drinking from the Wells of New Creation) describing his good style, taken from the back of a previous book, Face to Face. We’re excited about Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics for Everyone: The Doctrine of the Word of God — A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners & Pros

With lyrical clarity and deep insight, Marty Folsom invites us to live into the rich mystery of the interrelatedness of all of life — life that flows from, and is sustained by, the Triune God, whose very being is self-giving love.

Common Callings and Ordinary Virtues: Christian Ethics for Everyday Life Brent Waters (Baker Academic) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Just the other day I had the chance to again tell a customer about how much I appreciate the new compilation of teachings about all sorts of ethics from the years of classroom teaching by David Gushee, Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today. An honest ex-evangelical and “still Christian” (as his memoir puts it) Dr. Gushee has emerged as a major voice of a certain sort of moderate/progressive, consistent life scholar and activist. 

And then I told him about this one, the new, breathtaking volume by leading ethicists Brent Waters which “offers a theological guide to thinking Christianly about the ordinary nature of every day life.” It may be a one of a kind study. What a book!

I’m not sure where to put this book in our store and I look forward to working through it myself, soon. It isn’t simple and it isn’t simplistic (if you catch my difference.) It admits to much nuance and it is, as Robert Song of Durham University puts it, “richly pondered.” As Sondra Wheeler of Wesley Theological Seminary describes it, it is “a lucid and theologically rich account of the centrality and power of the ordinary in moral life as Christians understand it.” Where do we shelve books about the centrality of the ordinary for the morally serious reader? In Water’s view, our mundane moments are formative and can shape us to be more Christ-like.This is, I’d say, a book about basic Christian growth.  

There is profound reflection here on creation, incarnation, and resurrection, on virtue and vice, or “rituals and the ordering of time and place.” These profound ruminations lead to explorations on neighbors, friends, spouses, children, strangers, citizens and the like.

The final section looks at any number of truly ordinary aspects of life — work (including housework and homework), manners, appearance, eating and leisure. There’s even a bit on “the good of being boring.”

Once again Baker Academic has given us a treasure, a book not just for academics but for all of us.

Listen to Gilbert Meilaender, the exceptionally thoughtful Lutheran ethicist from Valparaiso University, who writes:

I hope Waters will take no offense when I say that this book could not have been written by a young man. Wide-ranging in the topics it takes up, the fruit of much reading and much living, simultaneously respectful and politically incorrect — it cannot fail to provoke thought about the shape of a life well lived.

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Like Meilaender’s promise that the Brent Waters book will “provoke thought about the shape of a life well lived,” I think all of these books will help with that and, further, will help you not just think about life, but live it. Well. These books are gifts, guides, tools. Order some today.

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