Books (old and some brand new) about discerning God’s guidance, about calling and vocation – ALL ON SALE

In our last BookNotes newsletter I listed a few books that might make nice gifts for college graduates. Naturally, I promoted my own book, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99 // our sale price = $11.19) I and my fellow authors may not get any royalties from it, but I believe in it. 

Last year somebody bought a bunch for high school graduation, saying that he was going to tell his students going off to college or technical schools that the college commencement inspiration in the book was the “end game.” He wanted them to read it before going to college so they could imagine being the kind of people taking their faith seriously enough in these critical years so that, a few years later, they would be reading to serve God in their careers and vocations. I was honored, of course, and inspired that a church would be having these kinds of conversations with their rising young adults, including offering guidance on living faithfully in the future in their jobs and civic lives.

In David Kinnaman’s book Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon (Baker; $21.99//our sale price = $17.59) he and his co-author, Mark Matlock explore some data gleaned from young adults who have remained active in church and ways churches that retain their young adults do so.  One of the chapters— that mentions our bookstore work helping folks think well about their life in the work-world, by the way — notes that high-school and college-age young adults are not likely to stick around a church that doesn’t address their most passionate concerns, including finding meaningful work, discerning a calling, leaning into the language of vocation.

I circle back to this line of thinking from time to time here at BookNotes and observe that too few bookstores (and, frankly, too few churches) help people think Christianly about work by offering books about this topic. We are glad you care and invite you to learn about more resources than can inspire you and yours.

We hardly use the word calling well these days except, of course, for pastors or those going into para-church ministry or missionary work. Or the equally religious-sounding word, vocation.  Media study majors? Future English teachers? Engineering students? Those going into the trades — electricians and mechanics and landscapers? Chefs, coaches, truckers? Yes, these careers are all avenues of rewarding and fulfilling service as God calls ordinary people to be salt and light and leaven in each sphere of society. These “offices” and stations and workplaces are all holy spaces to which God sends us. They can be more than mere jobs, but holy vocations. Churches that don’t offers this missional vision routinely as part of their worship, preaching, and education, will — Kinnaman pretty much documents it — lose their young adults and, I think, hamper their other adults as well, who, also, are called to work (as unto the Lord) in these complicated places in these hard economics times. Does the church not care?

In his fabulous read, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway; $17.99 // our sale price = $14.39) explains how he missed much of this when he pastored, calling his own blind spots “professional malpractice.” Eventually he learned to come alongside his people in their various vocations — teachers, architects, nurses, parents — and bless them, empowering them to see themselves as God’s workers in the world. There are so many other great books on this topic (see here for a list of many of my BookNotes lists announcing lots of good books on work.)

 

Discipleship with Monday in Mind by Skye Jethani & Luke Bobo (Made to Flourish; $9.99 // our sale price = $7.99) is a one-of-a-kind, fabulous little volume that shows some of the broad reflections (and practical ideas) of what many churches are doing to reject the “sacred vs secular” dualism and “privatization” of faith while helping mentor people towards Monday faithfulness. That is, these are ideas congregational leaders can apply immediately to re-imagine a whole-life sort of discipleship and an intrinsic relation between congregational life and public life. Buy a handful and start a little study group among your leadership team and see how you might amplify your own ministry to equip folks to live out their faith in their work lives.

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy by Matthew Kaemingk & Cory Willson  (Baker Academic; $29.99 // our sale price = $23.99) comes with a great forward by Nicholas Wolterstorff. who has written deeply about liturgy and worship and holds a great concern for Christian fidelity in the workplace. (He has an excellent chapter in Serious Dreams, by the way, a great message delivered as a graduation speech at his own Calvin University.) Work and Worship is considerably thicker than many of the titles shown here and is a significant, rich, resource that a church can draw on for years to come. I am sure you know how we have promoted it in the past, naming it as one of the Best Books of the Year a couple of years ago. It remains a one-of-a-kind, magisterial volume, offering both theory and practice, so to speak, essays about the relationship of labor and liturgy and plenty of actual worship aids — prayers, hymns, litanies and the like — for creatively raising up work in our worship services..

Reintegrate: Your Vocation with God’s Mission by Bob Robinson (Good Place Publishing; $14.00 // our sale price = $11.20) is my favorite small group Bible study on these themes — it is ideal for those new to this “all of life redeemed” worldview and excellent for those already in the work-world. There is simply nothing like it and I’m always happy when folks discover it and take the plunge into forming small groups being intentional about this common-place but often ignored ministry arena. 

There are bunches of books these days developing Christian perspectives on work (I listed a few recent ones here.) We’ve got more books on this than you can imagine.

However, all of this — circling back to that list I did for college grads — sort of assumes that God might be calling some people to certain careers. That we have been gifted by God with certain abilities and talents that equip us to serve in places God has appointed for us (as it says in Ephesians 2:10.) Yet, how does one know? Isn’t it a little late to give a college graduate a book on discerning one’s vocation after she has spent years preparing to be a nurse or journalist or chemist?  Indeed.

AND SO…

To wit: here, then, are some books on thinking about calling and vocation, about discerning God’s will, about hearing and being guided by God’s Spirit. This is tricky business, actually, and I don’t want to overstate this — clearly God doesn’t whisper into everybody’s ear just what we are supposed to do in life. It doesn’t work that way, usually. I do not want to create what singer-songwriter Mark Heard once called “another good lie.” But having some theological notions and some spiritual practices in our tool kit, so to speak, under our feet and in our bones, can help. I’ll list a bunch — some simple, some more complex, some rather theoretical and some quite practical. I hope they are helpful.

BOOKS ON DISCERNING THE GUIDANCE AND WILL OF GOD 

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will Kevin DeYoung (Moody Press) $11.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $9.56

Simple, edgy, cool, solid, non-nonsense advice from a young, conservative, Reformed preacher who sets us free from hyper-spirituality and hocus-pocus. This has sold like a zillion copies and yet too many people still haven’t heard that it just isn’t that complicated. As Oswald Chambers wrote a century ago, “Trust God and do the next thing.”

I like the long subtitle on the cover: “Or: How To Make a Decision Without Dreams,Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.” This is a nifty little book for those that need it.

Reimagine the Ignition Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day Mark Thibodeaux (Loyola Press) $12.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $10.36

This is a powerful, delightful, and very useful little guide to the old “examen” spiritual practice from Saint Ignatius. Fr. Thibodeaux is a Jesuit and a great writer who offers us a flexible bit of prayerfulness to cultivate the art of spiritual discernment of God’s hand in the ordinary things of our lives. I really appreciated this a lot and recommend for nearly anyone. Thibodeaux has explored the topic of discovering God’s will in greater detail in his bigger book,  God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will which we also have.  

The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and Confidence Jerry Sittser with a foreword by Eugene Peterson (Zondervan) $15.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.79

This is one of the very best books on this broader, less sensational way to live with purpose and peace, seeking God’s Kingdom as a way of life. Gerald Sittser has gone through much (including tragic loss, explored in A Grace Disguised) so he is an experienced and mature guide.  In Peterson’s foreword he notes that Sittser’s writing is fresh and good but that he isn’t saying anything all that novel — which, for Eugene, is a big compliment. He notes, though, that we live in a time when the air is full of careless comment and commentary on the will of God.” Peterson continues, “Unfortunately too many of these comments have neither biblical footage nor theological integrity.” He applauds Sitter for his “unassuming modesty” and the “unpretentious conversational style that never descends to banality.” I call Sittser winsome; Peterson calls him companionable.  Peterson says such time with such a companion is so valuable that we should read The Will of God as a Way of Life twice. 

How to Hear God: A Simple Guide for Normal People Pete Greig (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.19

This is very new, a follow-up to his greatly appreciated How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People and it looks very clear and very helpful. It is quite new and I haven’t read it yet,but wanted to announce it here.

Here is what John Mark Comer says about it:

Pete has simply written the best book I have ever read on the most important thing you will ever do: learning how to hear God. Pete calls this book ‘a simple guide for normal people.’ It is, but ‘simple’ is not the same thing as simplistic. This book is disarmingly wise, deep, insightful. With his extraordinary grasp of the church down through history and across the globe, Pete transcends the Christian tribalism of our day. He is rooting us in something far more ancient, unchanging, timeless. And hearing God’s voice is the key to everything.

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God  Dallas Willard (IVP) $22.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $17.60

I hope BookNotes readers know of our affection for Dallas Willard and our respect for his many books of philosophy, spirituality, discipleship. This book first came out decades ago as In Search of Guidance and was ahead of its time. Once he became better known (and evangelicals, especially, learned to embrace more historic, contemplative spirituality through the words of Willard’s colleagues such as Richard Foster and Ruth Haley Barton) it was reissued with this succinct title. It is an exceptionally penetrating book, wise, challenging, highly recommended.

Now, it has been reissued again as part of IVP stellar “Signature Classics” series of some of their best books that have stood the test of time. It has an impressive new foreword by James Bryan Smith.

Richard Foster calls Hearing God, “The best book on divine guidance I have ever read.” 

The Discerning Life: An Invitation to Notice God in Everything Stephen A. Macchia (Zondervan Reflective) $22.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $18.39

This is a very new book, released last month on the recent “Reflective” imprint of Zondervan books and two of my favorite evangelical mystics have nice endorsements on the back. Gary Thomas calls it a “new spiritual classics” and Ken Shigematsu, author of God In My Everything, says it is “wise, winsome, and worship-evoking,” and will “awaken you to the wonder of God’s presence.” Indeed. This book makes clear the idea that spiritual discernment is more than a “how-to guide” for making good decisions, but a posture and habit of attentiveness to God’s presence. It is not only for churches seeking to call a new pastor (when the lingo is often invoked) or some super spiritual way to discover God’s will for every little choice we make. This offers a biblically based vision for a lifestyle of “practicing a preference for God.”

There is, also, an appendix of 40 days worth of reflections by Reuben Jobs (with a few others) offering practices and exercises. 

Rhythms for Life: Spiritual Practices for Who God Made You to Be Alastair Sterne (IVP) $16.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.80

Oh my, friends, I’ve been wanting to mention this for a while — it is a perfect book to highlight here as it is a very nicely done reflection, inspiring and formational, offering an astute combination of two major trends in Christian writing — the contemplative stream of those wanting spiritual disciplines to help train them in the reflective life and questions about our identity and calling in Christ. In a way, this is a very practical book, but it is noticeably grounded in a sense of God’s work in the world and our call to follow Jesus in all areas of life. This is not about the spirituality of work, as such, but it invites us into habits and lifestyles which allow us to take up habits that give space for God as we discern how we serve God in the world. 

It doesn’t do justice to this rich study, but to summarize it offers four aspects of our spirituality — I’d call them vibes that make up the rhythms — that point us upward to God, inward to self, with-ward in community, and outward in mission. It makes sense as Sterne is a church planting Anglican, his heart strangely warmed, I suppose, at Asbury, but now studying intercultural missions at Fuller. He lives in Vancouver, BC and is passionate about helping people flourish by living in community for the sake of missional engagement in the marketplaces of the world.

My friend Steve Garber knew him at Regent College in Vancouver, and writes this thoughtful recommendation to take up the book:

All theology should be applied theology, at least that was the argument of one of the best teachers I know, and the insight is ancient. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, ‘The reason you don’t understand is that you don’t do the truth.’ That disconnect is a perennial problem, even when we yearn for more integrity. Alastair Sterne has written a book for all of us, but specially so for those who want to understand the integral relationship of what they believe with the way that they live. In Rhythms for Life he has woven together theology and experience with a rare wisdom born of his years of loving people who long for more flourishing in their lives for the sake of their cities.

The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making  Elizabeth Liebert (WJK) $20.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

Dr. Elizabeth Liebert has been a professor of the spiritual life at San Francisco Theological Seminary, a PC(USA) seminary, so she is rooted in a broad and generous theological movement and writes seriously with nothing cheesy or sentimental. This book (along with the sequel, for church use, The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions) has been very well received and is a staple in many spiritual direction programs. 

As one reviewer put it, speaking of the profundity of The Way of Discernment:

Unlike ordinary decision making, it requires prayer and the accountability of a faith community to help us know which way to go. Drawing on Christian thinkers through the ages, from Ignatius of Loyola and Jonathan Edwards to Frederick Buechner and Thomas Merton, Liebert teaches that discernment is both a spiritual gift and an acquired habit that can be honed through regular practice. To that end, she provides extensive exercises to help readers identify and work through discernment issues in their own lives. Readers should plan to take time with this book, because the exercises yield their richest rewards through careful and slow implementation—ideally over a period of 11 weeks. While the author cautions that absolute certainty is rarely possible, a diligent practice of discernment can lead to confirmation. Liebert’s wise spiritual counsel will aid many seekers as they determine their next step.

BOOKS ON A THEOLOGY OF CALLING & VOCATION

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson) $17.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.39

When I celebrated the updated anniversary edition of this a few years ago I wrote — after a whole bunch of setting the stage about the role of Dr. Guinness’s work on my own life and thinking, and how much I value this book, I wrote some of the following. 

I want to remind you that The Call was one of the first contemporary, popular level books that developed the implications of this most important (but routinely misunderstood) theological doctrine, that of “calling” (and its related theme, “vocation.”) There is a huge renaissance of books on faith, calling, discernment, vocation, work, and serving God in varying spheres of society these days, and nearly all owe their moment to a series of talks Guinness did in the 1990s (including at First Presbyterian Church of York where we hosted him before the book came out) and the celebrated release of this seminal book in 1998. I do not think I am alone and I do not think I am wrong to suggest that the faith and work movement, the rise of marketplace ministry courses, the popular spread of conferences and workshops using the language of vocation and Christian views of work-a-day routines owe their existence in our time to how God was pleased to use this book as it was embraced by key leaders within the thoughtful end of the evangelical world.

The chapters are fairly short, though eloquent. They cover all sorts of ways in which a quest for a purposeful life is part of what we do as humans and how searching for some meaning, listening to a Voice, is essential. He tells amazing stories from literature, art, history, politics, and his own extraordinary life and offers a simple prayer at the end of each moving, informative chapter.

I love the core chapters where Guiness explains how the Protestant reformation blew apart the sacred/secular dualism of the medieval world. Monks and nuns were the only ones, in those dark ages, who were allowed to say they were “called.” Indeed, Martin Luther said “the men making the beer barrels and the women milking the cows are as important to the Kingdom God as the priests and the nuns.” They wanted to arrest him for such talk! William Tyndale, years earlier, was burned at the stake and one of the reasons was because he dared to say ordinary folks could use the language of vocation, that their work mattered to God. Guinness’s chapter about a Dutch monk that locked the doors of the church so folks wouldn’t obsess with liturgy, but take faith into daily life, called “Locked Out and Staying Out”, is worth the price of the book.

His central chapters “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything” and the follow-up “By Him, To Him, For Him” and the often-cited “The Audience of One” chapter are all simply unforgettable.

For anyone guiding others in vocational discernment, this solid teaching about calling (both our primary calling to follow Christ and our secondary callings to various offices and tasks) is crucial. “Be What You Are” is the sort of eloquent wisdom that will clarify much – and there is much to be clarified these days, with everybody from MBA programs and edgy entrepreneurs and church preachers insisting everyone must make a difference and find zeal in doing all kinds of spiffy stuff, finding your bliss and whatnot. This is sturdy, level-headed ballast, and exceedingly helpful as we think through things like jobs and happiness and occupations and retirement and such. That is, he reminds us not to overly identify our callings with our jobs. In a world as fallen as ours, in a culture arranged as ours, we may not find that our callings and careers are the same. If we’re lucky, it might be somewhat so.

For those in mid-life or beyond there is much assistance here, too; there is even a chapter on “Fighting the Noonday Demon” which is profound for those struggling with depression or what the ancients called sloth, or despair.

His bit about time is excellent, and, for those with curiosity about such things, his reflections will make you wise about the pressures of the modern world. It is, as I said, a remarkable book, learned and inspiring, insightful and enjoyable.

The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work. Lee Hardy (Eerdmans) $26.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is a philosophical, historical, theological, and practical exploration of work from an evangelical perspective, highlighting the Christian concept of vocation as articulated by Luther and Calvin, and making relevant applications for today. Written in the late 1980s, it was one of the early books helping kick off the avalanche of books on this topic over the last decades and has remained in print for these many years for good reason. It still is one of the best.

As one of the publicity description put it years ago, Dr. Hardy, who teaches in the philosophy department at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI, “looks creatively at the meaning of work according to Greek, medieval, Renaissance, Marxian, and Freudian perspectives, then at Luther’s view and subsequent Calvinist development and modification, concluding with contemporary Roman Catholic convergence. The second half of the book applies the theory to personal career choice and social job design; it then reviews seven management theories and ends with perceptive remarks about combining people-oriented choices and profit choices.”

Interestingly, at least to me, is that Dr. Hardy lived in Pittsburgh during PhD work when we did and came under some of the same (Kuyperian, among other) influences. Now he writes good books and we try to sell them. Thanks be to God! The Fabric of This World is highly recommended for those wanting some of the best “inquiries” into this topic.

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation edited by William Placher (Eerdmans) $32.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $25.60

This is a big volume, a remarkable compendium of many of the great writings that have influenced the church through the ages. For better or worse, ancient leaders preached and taught and wrote about calling as they understood it, sometimes, for instance, exclusively for those called to monastic life or priesthood. (And from this we can learn how not to think about this stuff, but, yes, also, some good principles that might be applied more wholesale to others of us as well.) From the church fathers to Augustine, from the high middle ages to Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Baxter and others, to modern era writers as diverse as Bonhoeffer, Simon Weil, Howard Thurman, and Dorothy Sayers, this volume is extraordinary.

Here is how the publisher once described it:  

What am I going to do with my life?” is a question that young people commonly face, while many not-so-young people continue to wonder about finding direction and purpose in their lives. Whether such purpose has to do with what job to take, whether to get married, or how to incorporate religious faith into the texture of their lives, Christians down the centuries have believed that God has plans for them.

This unprecedented anthology gathers select passages on work and vocation from the greatest writers in Christian history. William Placher has written insightful introductions to accompany the selections — an introduction to each of the four main historical sections and a brief introduction to each reading. While the vocational questions faced by Christians have changed through the centuries, this book demonstrates how the distilled wisdom of these saints, preachers, theologians, and teachers remains relevant to Christians today.

Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing Michael Berg (1517 Publishing) $12.95                     OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $10.36

I have written a bit about this before and a few knowing friends complimented the book with great enthusiasm. It explores the deepest questions behind and underneath the “vocation” question — namely, what does it mean to be human and what is the nature of the good life? As Luther often explained, once we are free from the burden of self-justification we can take on our various callings — masks, he called them, although perhaps these days we’d talk about wearing different “hats.” These are ways God equips us to love others, to care for the world God has placed us in. Ordinary life takes on a new hue. God frees us, then uses us to help craft a social order in society that reflects God’s great grace. Work and other cultural obligations become deeply spiritual avenues of worship and service.  This is a great little book, clear and inspiring. Who knows, it might even make a Lutheran out of you! 

Mission: Rethinking Vocation John Stott; edited and with a foreword by Steven Garber (Regent College Press) $9.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $7.99

You know that I often cite the remarkable, profound, beautifully written volumes of Steve Garber. A few years ago when Steve was teaching a grad course in leadership and marketplace theology at the great Regent College in British Columbia he put together this small booklet excerpts from Stott’s historic Oxford lectures, published in the mid 1970s as Christian Mission in the Modern World. It includes the seminal portion where he so vividly reminds us that we all have a mission and, in the modern world, especially, this must include a sense of holy vocation in the work we do. To be salt and light with a whole gospel for the whole person in the whole world is an extraordinary calling, and Steve’s lovely introduction offers this small bit of Stott’s wisdom for us all. 

What Is My Calling? A Biblical and Theological Exploration of Christian Identity William W. Klein and Daniel Steiner (Baker Academic) $21.99                     OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $17.59

This is an amazing new book, important and helpful. It is firm in its critique of many books about calling, showing how we’ve not been clear about what the New Testament teaches regarding our calling unto Christ, using the word so widely that it can mean nearly anything. The pair are hard on everybody from Os Guinness to Frederick Buechner, and I get it. I wish they’d have lightened up a bit, but they are convinced that this appropriation of call language to one’s own passions or convictions or interests in jobs (call it “vocation, if you must” they begrudgingly say) bears less than helpful fruit. Anybody who teaches or writes or speaks about this simply must grapple with this book and heed at least most of its warnings. Those searching for guidance about one’s vocation might read other good books first, get the vision and the earnest help other’s provide, and then pick up this to have our lingo fine-tuned. It’s serious, uncompromising and an important contribution, especially for those of us offering leadership in this arena.

Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential  Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $20.00                  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

I have reviewed this before, highlighted it at conferences, and we keep it on hand here at the shop as a staple on our shelves about vocation and calling. It’s nearly a classic, mature but not overly heady. I thought I would just share with you what the publisher says about it, cribbing from them so you hear how they pitch it:

God calls us first to himself, to know and follow him, and also to a specific life purpose, a particular reason for being. This second call or “vocation” has implications not only for our work or occupation, but also includes our giftedness, our weaknesses, our life in community and what we do day to day. In this book Gordon Smith invites you to discover your vocation by listening to God and becoming a coworker with him.

  • What is my calling?
  • How do I live it out in the midst of difficult relationships or moral challenges?
  • Will my vocation change as I enter a new stage of life?
  • With competing needs and demands, how can I craft a balanced way of living?

Smith addresses these questions and many more. This new edition has been revised and updated throughout with two expanded chapters and a new chapter on four specific areas of calling. Here is rich insight for all who long for the ears to hear and the courage to follow God’s call.

Your Calling Here and Now: Making Sense of Vocation Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $18.00                  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.40

Wow. This is a brand new book and I wondered if Smith, who has written two books on this already, had anything more to say. His other two are great — he has a tremendous, important paperback volume (see above) called Courage and Calling and a short, practical one on praying about vocation (see below) called Consider Your Calling. Does anybody, really, need to write more about this? Well, he sure does have more to say and it is excellent. 

Gordon T. Smith is President of Ambrose College and Seminary in Calgary, Alberta, and he has been praying and pondering and studying and talking with young students and older faculty for years, now. He has written about “thinking institutionally” (see his 2020 masterpiece, Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization) and about contemporary leadership (Wisdom from Babylon) and he has written a fairly big book about the Holy Spirit, a small one about giving spiritual direction, a major one about Christian formation into Christ-like character (see his hefty, helpful Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity.) Over and over he has shown himself to be a life-long learner and a life-time teacher. Here he comes back to his theme of helping us (as one of the chapters puts it) being “stewards of our lives.” Nice, eh?

In this brand new one, Your Calling Here and Now, Smith comes back to a common refrain in nearly every section. He asks us to ask a simple question:”At this time and place, who am I meant to be, and what am I call to do.” Yes, it is exceptionally grounded theologically and biblically, but he offers reflections and practices to help us discern all this. Over and over he asks what we are called to be and do.

I like his groundedness — the “in this time and place, what…?” question. Such an approach, you will discover, includes a sense of place and the community God has put you in. He tells stories of the complexity of this (especially as a leader of an institution of higher learning) and how we are sometimes called to do certain things that simply must be done. If we do not do them, they will not be done. Is God speaking to us to do these things? Perhaps they are just in front of us, and we simply have to step up.

Our vocation, he notes, helpfully, is “the outworking of how God has made us.” That is, “it is not a goal on the horizon but a present reality that we are called to discern.”  He is deeply spiritual in insight, but his writing is often upbeat. One reviewer called him “felicitous.”

This process need not be as elusive as it sometimes feels. This book can help. As Mark Buchanan — a wordsmith I love (his last one was about walking, called God Walk, but his classic is on the sabbath, called The Rest of God) — puts it, Your Calling Here and Now “is both primer and compendium.”

I absolutely loved Your Calling Here and Now. Full of brilliant insights and poignant vignettes, this book will give you the courage to show up for your life and inspire you to fulfill the purpose for which you were made.  — Ken Shigematsu, pastor of Tenth Church, Vancouver, BC, and author of Survival Guide for the Soul

What’s Your Call: What Are You Doing Here? Gary Barkalow (Cook) $14.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $11.99

I like this upbeat book, a broad examination of all sorts of senses of calling. It is pretty inspiring, energetic, inviting us to “discover God’s destiny and design” and live alerted to the “choreography of God.”  It talks about story, about the assaults against our sense of calling, and ponders if call is a “job or a role.” The author works with men and women through The Noble Heart, and this carries an enthusiastic endorsement from Len Sweet, who says that, “Gary believes your calling makes you an artist. Read this book to discover the beauty of your art.” Fun!

I think it may be useful for beginners to serious Christian reading or for graduating high school kids, even. They’ll enjoy it.

The Preaching Life Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley) $17.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.36

In a previous list that I did years ago at BookNotes — more than one person liked the clip of James Taylor singing “Millworker”, I wrote about this, and wanted to share about it again, here. The first half of this is a beautifully rendered memoir of Taylor’s conversion to faith, her sense of calling to ministry, and her eventual vocation as an Episcopal priest, preacher and writer.  There are a few extended passages from which I sometimes read out-loud in workshops and talks — beautiful prose about God speaking to her through creation, the role of sacraments, the significance of the ordinary (themes she unpacks wondrously years later in her beloved An Altar in This World.) Her beautifully told reminder of how everyone’s workplace can be a place for sacramental experience of God’s goodness and grace is worth the price of the book!  A few of these pages mean the world to me, and I had to list it.

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life  Gene Vieth, Jr (Crossway) $14.99                  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $11.99

I like this a lot – Veith, who has written vividly about everything from postmodernism (he’s agin it) to country music (he’s for it) to the spirituality of the cross (he’s Lutheran, so he gets it) and and he brings a git of his conservative Lutheran flavor to this study of all the ways God uses humans to do the work God wants done in the world.  You may know Vieth (he writes for World magazine) as a writer that teaches how Christ’s Lordship affects all of life. I like his insistence that we are not called to just one thing, but have various callings and offices — “masks” as Luther called them. Vieth even calls them “God’s hiding places.”  Very clear, comprehensive.

Calling in Context: Social Location and Vocational Formation Susan Maros (IVP) $24.00 OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $19.20

In some ways, this is the book I’ve been waiting for, that many of us who have been inspired and energized to help people discern vocations and think Christians about their careers and public lives have realized was necessary. It invites those thinking about spiritual formation and whole-life discipleship to consider notions of calling as shaped by the mental maps we assume to be true, to realize our “coming from” view colors and shapes how we see and think and live into our faith. The author is conscientious and explicate about her terms, about how (as a cisgender white conservative evangelical — perhaps with some Pentecostal experience, in seams) has had to learn from her BICOP students and international students and what some call “nontraditional” students, often from less privileged backgrounds, under resourced, as they say. Yes, Calling in Context clearly and helpfully  guides us to see the many ways gender and class and ethnicity and nationality and so forth influences our worldviews (a word she doesn’t use) and thereby informs our attitudes about notions of God’s call on our lives.

I am not alone in celebrating this new contribution to our important, evolving theology of calling.  Jane Lancaster Patterson, professor emerita of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, and director of the “Communities of Calling Initiative” at the Collegeville Institute, calls it “creatively critical.”  She continues: 

Calling in Context, fills a much-needed space in the literature on Christian vocation, engaging ways in which gender, racial and ethnic identity, economic status, and social class shape people’s vocational possibilities and practices of discernment. The book challenges individualist and idealist assumptions present in dominant North American understandings of vocation, inviting readers into richer conversation and vocational practice that is more attuned to the variety of ways in which vocation is experienced globally, more faithful to the range of biblical narratives of vocation, and more attentive to God’s interaction with human beings over time.”

There are several very important things going on here, including Dr. Maros’s narrative about her own work in caring for college students and preparing people to flourish by helping them learn how to join God’s work in the world. She has been significantly influenced by global mission leaders (hence, some of the amazing insights from cross-cultural anthropologists and missiologists) and by leadership development scholars, most notably, the excellent work of Robert Clinton, formerly of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies. Anybody interested in what the critical scholars call “intersectionality” applied to Christian mentoring, leadership development, and spiritual direction, would do well to spend considerable time with Marks and her amazing summaries of data, her great footnotes, book suggestions, discussion questions, and the like. It is handsomely designed by IVP and is a book worth having. 

I may say more later about this fascinating book, but even though I want to give this unique volume two large thumbs up, alas, there are just a few small things that might annoy some discerning readers. She has lots of sidebars that offer call stories — making the good point that for most of us, there is no one-time, burning bush moment, but that we grow into our sense of our purpose or call and how that may or may not line up with given vocations and jobs. This is good. And, most of those voices are themselves from women and men of color, some from poor or marginalized backgrounds. Again, this is very good.  But too many are about the call to ministry; even those not called to conventional pastoral work are a bit removed from the ordinary work-places of most ordinary people. For instance, in a great story about a soundboard engineer, she affirms her technical craft, but she is working the board in her church. A professor is a professor “in the practice of ministry” as a seminary. A CPA didn’t mention at all how she balances the books, but how she is a marketplace “minister.” A Latina photographer had very moving story, but didn’t mention photography; not once. An impressive lawyer is doing vital political advocacy but his narrative was about his struggle not with his challenging job but with his journey as an Asian American. I’m bringing my own presuppositions and social location to bear in even saying this, of course, but, golly, I’d have appreciated a few butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers to fill out her otherwise very moving testimonials.

Rarely do experts on calling urge people to consider how God’s action in our lives is shaped by race, gender, class, and much more. In honest, profound, and biblically informed prose, Susan Maros opens up a whole new horizon on calling, revealing its complexity and brilliantly translating complicated concepts into everyday language so that all of us can grapple with vocation in more culturally sensitive and faithful ways. An invaluable addition to literature on calling!  — Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair and Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture, emerita, Vanderbilt University, and coeditor of Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation Throughout Life’s Seasons

Before the end of the introduction you will discover why Dr. Susan Maros is one of Fuller Seminary’s most respected and popular professors. By the end of the book, you will realize that almost all your assumptions about how God calls a person will be challenged. Filled with biblical reflections that will cause you to reconsider what you think you know, and stories and studies that will encourage you to rethink what you believe to be settled about the way vocation is formed, this book disturbs and deconstructs, and then provides wisdom and a way for reconstructing perhaps the most personal moments in a Christian’s life. I heartily recommend it.  — Tod Bolsinger, Fuller Seminary and the De Pree Center for Leadership, author of Canoeing the Mountains

Roots & Routes: Calling, Ministry and the Power of Place Randy Litchfield (Abingdon) $29.99          OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is a book that seems to be motivated by some of the same concerns about social location — “place” as Litchfield puts — as the above title, Calling in Context.Yet, Litchfield’s story is different and he tells it as a mainline denominational seminary educator. He was an engineer and team manager at a GM plant and eventually studied Christian education at a seminary; he is the Browning Professor of Christian Education at Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio. As one who has been in various denominations — Nazarene, Disciples, almost a Roman Catholic, United Methodist — he has quite a story. He has studied and been shaped by the influential pedagogies of the last 20th century, citing liberationist critical scholars and process theologians and faith development thinkers like James Fowler (who he says, rather oddly, I think, influential in conversations about vocation, which I frankly don’t observe.) 

Not every book on discerning a sense of calling — and reflecting on all that that may mean, theologically, Biblically, and existential — is so attuned to these fluid and intersectional considerations and few engage place theologically as he does. (He draws considerably on Mary McClintock Fulkerson’s Oxford University Press text Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church.)

I like that he uses the phrase “vocational imagination” and, as the publisher puts it:

“Failed vocational imagination obstructs the effectiveness of individuals and the church as a whole in fulfilling their mission of partnership with God’s creating, redeeming, and sustaining work in the world.”

And, as Litchfield himself puts it, ”Place is the fabric of the drama itself.”

The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age Daniel Grothe (Thomas Nelson) $25.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $20.79

This is not directly a book about discerning God’s call on our lives or stepping into our various vocations, yet, as Litchfield shows in the rather dense read above, Roots & Routes, our sense of place is key to who we become, our own sense of purpose, and the stage on which our discernment of God’s guidance unfolds. (Heck, I say this in the introduction to Serious Dreams, I’m proud to say.) And so, I invite you to this recent work, one of the most delightfully interesting, challenging, helpful books on this topic in recent years. Like others these days, he uses the Benedictine notion of stability to help us resist the restlessness of mobility. (See, for a new discussion of this, Stability: How an Ancient Monastic Practice Can Restore Our Relationships, Churches, and Communities [Paraclete Press; $16.99] or the older Paraclete Press gem Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by the important author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove [$17.99.])

There are so many important writers on this topic, from Simone Weil to Wendell Berry to Kathleen Norris.  Start with The Power of Place by Daniel Grothe. It will offer solid ground below your feet (tee-hee) as you lean into this earthy topic of vocation. And I’m sure you’ll have a blast reading it. Hoooray.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $20.00        OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

You may tire of me recommending this, although I’m sure you don’t grow tired of seeing that wonderful Van Gogh piece of the cover with its gloriously honoring illustration of the dignity of (dare I say?) the glory of, hard labor.  The book deserves this artful cover as it is profound and melancholy, like the painter, even as it beams goodness. I cannot do justice to Steve’s big vision and serious scholarship and mature assessment of things and I ought not summarize it so simply, but one way to explain some of this book is to say it is about keeping on. About enduring setbacks, making peace with what is, even as we can be inspired by what can be, and what, someday in God’s timing, will be. 

Visions of Vocation reminds us through real life stories, reflection on great novels and contemporary films, how some have found the grace to endure, knowing well how broken the world is and learning to love it anyway, as God so does. Can we appreciate what some Reformed thinkers called “common grace”? Can we give ourselves to engage in workplaces and families, governments and businesses, institutions of all sorts for the sake of love? From Dickens to Bono to Les Miserable, Steve points us to common goodness, graces, really, to give us the stamina and hope we need to continue to pursue our vocations and live into our calling. It isn’t a systematic teaching about the doctrine of vocation, but it is one of the most evocative and lasting books unpacking the implications of it all. 

Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons edited by Kathleen A. Catalan & Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Eerdmans) $20.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

What a unique and interesting book this is. The short version is that it asks and plumbs the question of what notions of vocation means in various ages and stages of life? What is the vocation of a child? A student? The seriously aged? 

Dorothy C. Bass has been a leader of the conversations around topics of vocation (and co editor of the amazing book Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be) through her work at the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith. That she appreciates this volume should come as no surprise. Listen to this, an endorsement that also explains the book quite nicely:

Calling All Years Good brings a genuinely new and remarkably helpful set of perspectives to today’s lively conversation about vocation. By focusing on the distinctive character of vocation in different seasons of life, the authors help us to understand and appreciate the gifts and challenges of each. Their work will inform and inspire those who minister with a specific age group, such as children, youth, or the elderly. Further, it will encourage intergenerational communities of faith—especially congregations—to cultivate relationships across age-group lines, strengthening the capacity of all to respond to God’s call.”

Listen also to Douglas J. Schuurman, of St. Olaf College and author of Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life. He writes:

Calling All Years Good develops an insightful and theologically rich understanding of vocation, a nuanced and textured interpretation of the stages of the life cycle, and a brilliant fusion of the two. Cahalan, Miller-McLemore, and other leading scholars combine the best social-science research on the stages of life with cutting-edge practical theology focusing on vocation to create a volume that is must reading for pastors, church leaders, and thoughtful Christians. There is no other book that treats this subject with such excellence, clarity, and insight.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work Kathleen Norris (Paulist Press) $9.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $7.96

Not sure why I wanted to list this here, now, except that Kathleen Norris is a stunning memoirist and renowned, ecumenically-minded spiritual writer who here invites us to think about the ordinary stuff, the relationship between liturgy and life, and “the sanctifying possibilities” of everyday work. Given as the Madeleva Lectures at a Catholic women’s college, in the mid 1990s while famous for books like Dakota and The Cloister Walk, this little volume is esteemed by many who seek a spirituality of the commonplace and who are in the faith-in-the-work-world movement.

BOOKS ON DISCERNING ONE’S CALLING(S) AND VOCATION(S)

The Person Called You: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life  Bill Hendricks (Moody Press) $15.99                       OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.79

We have a number of very plain spoken, easy to understand, helpful guides to doing some self-assessment, helping readers become more reflective about who they are and what they are to be about. This book will help you or a young person you know realize who and what and why they are here. Hendricks has written about faith and work before so knows that world well, and he knows the Scriptures. I’m very big on this nice little book.

Listen to Cherie Harder who is President of the fantastic, thoughtful, significant organization The Trinity Forum:

The Person Called You is a deeply insightful, conversational, and welcoming guide to discovering one’s giftedness, identity, and vocation. Hendricks distills his practical wisdom from years of counseling and coaching to help readers not only identify and realize their own God-given giftedness, but in understanding its significance, impact, and obligations. A wonderful help for those struggling with their own sense of calling and purpose.

You On Purpose: Discovering Your Calling and Create the Life You Were Meant to Live Dr. Stephanie Shackelford & Bill Denzel (Baker Books) $19.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.99

As you know, we have long desired to help people of faith live out their convictions in every area of life, particularly with a sense of calling as God’s agent of change in the world, including in their professional or vocational lives. That is, we want people to say, “Thank God It’s Monday!” instead of the dismissive TGIF.  As some of these good books are quick point out, though, our offices or responsibilities or vocations (what some might call callings) include more than our jobs. Having helpful theological language about all this and a Christian world-and-life view broad enough to be a foundation for thinking Christian about the relationship of worship and work, Sunday and Monday, is so very important.

I say all this to suggest two things about You On Purpose. Firstly, this is by two authors who have had their feet in this stream and their ears to the ground about this conversation for a long time. Ms Shackelford and Mr Denzel are, it seems to me, very astute observers and interpreters of this big passion of ours —and yours, I trust —to empower ordinary Christians to integrate their faith and their work (or avocations, as they say) living for God’s glory in all things. This very well-designed book gets this big insight that we are here for a purpose and that our calling to follow Christ must be  embodied in the real world. They know that people need to ask (that some cannot help but ask) what David Kinnaman in the foreword calls “Life’s Big Questions.”

However, secondly, and most importantly as I commend this fantastic read about living with purpose, Shackelford and Denzel have done the research, offering new data (from Barna) on this quest for meaning, for discovering calling. The subtitle explains the book’s value and even if it sounds a bit grandiose, it delivers.

You on Purpose is a simple, practical guide to helping you discover your God-given calling and gifts. This book enables you to redefine what you want your life to be about to help you live a purposeful life.  — Rebekah Lyons, author of Rhythms of Renewal and You Are Free

Stephanie Shackelford and Bill Denzel have done a fantastic job outlining a clear, faithful decision-making framework that will help a generation get out of career paralysis and the angst that comes with not knowing what to do with your life.  — Carey Nieuwhof, speaker, podcaster, author of Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences 

Another vey nice feature of this helpful and inspiring guide are the tools and “field guide” questions. There are journaling exercises to help apply what they present from research they’ve done. Step by step they walked readers through the work. It’s jam-packed with great info, some of it presented in a creative and colorful infographic style.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass) $18.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.16

If the above book is conversational and instructive with good stories and lots of data and a plan of application, this book is meditative, reflective, and offers beautiful rumination on one central notion: listen to your heart. Let your life speak. I suppose you know the wise and gracious Quaker writer Parker Palmer who is known not only for being a bit of a spiritual master but a social and civic activist — people who read Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen or Howard Thurman or Joan Chittister or Richard Rohr, say, like him.  But many know that he worked as a young man in higher education (I have some rare documents rewrote up about the relevance of faith in higher education in the turbulent late 1960s!) One of his best selling books is the beautiful Courage to Teach that emerged from his philosophical reflection on the spiritual meaning of knowing and teaching (To Know as We Are Known.) Parker has said that he was seriously inspired by the sense of calling so many passionate teachers had (as he was writing his Courage to Teach books) that he was led to write about this notion of calling, or what he nicely calls “the voice of vocation.” 

Written with an economy of style that is clean and calm, Palmer plainly tells about his own journey towards the Quaker adage that makes up the title, showing that this notion that vocation is “a gift, not a goal.” There is something very, very impressive about this which is why this tender book is a favorite of many. I wonder if it is useful for younger readers? Perhaps it isn’t for most happy-go-lucky 18-year olds, but it might be a book they will revisit a decade later. In any case it is a lovely, lovely, little book. 

The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, & Practice Drew Moser (Falls City Press) $18.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.19

I have endorsed this book before, written with enthusiasm about how I wish it was more widely known. And I’m not even that interested in the enneagram, which, as the author admits, has become a bit faddish. Dr. Moser is a certified enneagram teacher and a beloved college professor at Taylor University, so is surrounded by young adults trying to figure out their lives, their majors, their careers, their callings. He knows these conversations well.

One of the big themes of The Enneagram of Discernment is that he believes the enneagram-talk in many circles is mostly about telling you who you are. (Or, they might say, giving you the tools to help you discover who you are.) Not unlike Myers-Briggs, say, it has been seen largely as a personality type test but in this fine book it becomes a map towards a discerning life. It is wise and helpful, not satisfied with reducing a person to a type but using the enneagram as a resource for a journey into a more discerning life.

For what it’s worth, enneagram rock stars like Suzzanne Stabile and AJ Sherrill Clare Loughrige have given rave reviews (calling it “essential” and “brilliant.” 

Here’s one of our best pastoral care guys, a counselor from Western Theological Seminary, Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Drew resists the faddish enneagram-talk that tells people who they are, instead inviting each of us on a journey of discernment, exploring every obstacle to becoming our true selves, uncovering our unlived lives, and discovering our hidden vocation. This immensely practical gift holds the possibility of transformation, for yourself and for a hungry and hurting world. Savor it!

Consider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation Gordon Smith (IVP) $17.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $13.60

I will say this: you should read the books of Gordon Smith who is one of our great thinkers and writers about the spiritual life. I trust him and appreciate him — some compare his work to Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson, a no-nonsense evangelical who cares about our interior lives and has written thoughtful stuff about the classic spiritual disciplines, about deeper Christian growth, about seeking God’s guidance, about the Holy Spirit. In recent years he has written about leadership, about institutional change, about higher education. I like him a lot.  Perhaps you have noticed, above, his very important book Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential which I think is one of the top few in this whole genre.

Consider Your Calling: Six Questions is a short, compact-sized book that clarifies six things to pray about as you discern your own vocation. It is rich and thoughtful, mature and thoughtful, somewhere between Os Guinness and Parker Palmer, if you will. Rooted in a robust, evangelical vision of vocation, he here gives pastoral guidance for how to be reflective, self-aware, intentional, and prayerful in seeking God’s guidance. There is nothing so wise or clear on the market. Short and rather serious, really good for those who might want such an approach.

Your Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose Deborah Koehn Loyd (IVP) $16.00 OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.80

This. This is the one. This is the one I most often recommend to younger adults — college students, say —about how to enter into a season of discernment about one’s vocation. It has all the zippy stuff I want in a book about vocation and calling and making a difference by finding your sweet spot of purpose and so forth. It invites us to consider our story, to live into God’s story. I love it. However, it gets very, very practical (and, at times, pretty funny, even while at other times powerfully poignant.) I recommend this because of ho engaging Deborah Loyd is as she shows how to develop a “vocational credo.”

As with the other books in this list, it is not primarily about finding a job. A job emerges, hopefully, out of one’s deepest sense of calling that, in turn, has come from one’s sense of vocation and the “credo”one develops. In her hands this statement she helps us craft is more than a mission statement, not quite a full-throated manifesto, not as boring as a rule of life. I happen to think the cover art does not capture the joy and energy of this transformative work, although it tries. It is energetic and colorful, like the book.

The book is hopeful and yet honest. It includes a section about one’s griefs and sorrows because those laments and hardships also play a role as we form our vocational credos. There are a handful of great “self-help” books that are both visionary and compelling and very, very practical. This is a favorite and I highly recommend it if you or anyone you know wants to take up her invitation. 

How do we make sense of our stories―that odd collection of puzzles and pain, risks and dreams, gifts and passions that make up our lives? In Your Vocational Credo, Dr. Loyd leads readers through a series of questions to craft their own vocational credos. Readers will not only be able to articulate their own why, but also who on earth they are here for. This book is a sure guide to anyone wanting to live with meaning.— Loren Kerns, associate dean, director, doctor of ministry program, George Fox Evangelical Seminary

In a world and church where many men and women of all ages and experiences settle for less and go through the motions of a job or ministry and doubt their passions and gifts, we are in desperate need of guides, mentors and encouragers who will help us get unstuck and find our way forward to live out who God made us to be. Dr. Deborah Koehn Loyd is exactly the right companion and catalyst for this journey. Packed with wisdom, real stories, biblical grounding and practical exercises, Your Vocational Credo is a much-needed tool for individuals, groups, churches and organizations. I know it will call many to life. — Kathy Escobar, co-pastor of The Refuge, spiritual director and author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart and Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World.

A Sacred Voice Is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience John Neafsey (Orbis Books) $24.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $19.20 

I wonder how many here know the famous and lovely line by Frederick Buechner who, in )))) describes vocation as “where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”? And I wonder how many of us actually get to live that. (And, further, how, finally, this may not be an adequate view calling, anyway.) Still, I mention this well-known aphorism, because it does hold up the notion that what we chose to do with our lives, what work we do in the world, ought to somehow meet some real need, contribute in some way to bettering the world, loving our neighbors as it were.

Neafsey ratchets this up a bit and I am grateful. Both eloquent and spiritually enriching, this exploration of what it means to find and follow our personal calling given this obligation to “social conscience” as he puts tin the title. I wish more of the books on vocation and the faith-work conversations included a bit more of this prophetic edge.  How do we distinguish between the “still, small voice” of our authentic vocation and all of the other competing counterfeit voices in our hearts and the needs of our world?

I admire Sharon Daloz Parks whose work on higher education and “the critical years” I studied in graduate school; she later wrote an impressive, scholarly book on mentoring young adults in their search for meaning called Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. That she endorses this Sacred Voice Is Calling should matter to some of our BookNotes readers. Perhaps you, too, need this book about “personal vocation and social conscience.” 

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Suggestions for Gifts for College Graduates 2022 – ON SALE NOW

I can hardly believe it is May. We have been getting a few requests for ideas to give as gifts for college students. Many of our customers know of young adults graduating and a very special book would be a great sign of care and encouragement. Some churches give gifts to honor their graduates and these are some great ideas. (Let us know if you have grad students or PhDs you are honoring; perhaps we could find a book to offer Christian insight into their particular field.)

For ordinary undergrads, any of these sorts of titles would be great for a church to share, helping honor college grads for their special accomplishment. It’s a big time in the life of a graduate: the church should somehow say that God cares and that they are there in this important transition.

We will suggest some high school gift ideas, soon.

Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

Most years I announce this, always with a little trepidation, since, well, yes, it is my book. I pulled this together a few years ago and got it very handsomely designed by Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books because we just didn’t have anything to recommend that was ideal for Christian graduates that amplified visions of vocation, the dream to make a difference, the call to take callings seriously, to be faithful in all of life. There just weren’t many books like that, written for the post-college transition. These are a handful of very lively commencement addresses (one by me, but even better ones from the likes of Amy Sherman, Richard Mouw, John Perkins, and more) so it is perfect as a gift for a college grad. There are some reflection questions and a pretty powerful introductory chapter. Frankly, there is nothing like it on the market. I could autograph them for you, too, even personalizing them if you thought that would make it extra special.

Read a longer review and the backstory of this little volume here. Read the introduction here.

After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

We are so, so glad to recommend this stellar book by our good friend Erica Young Reitz. (Erica has a very nicely written, quite practical afterword in Serious Dreams by the way.) When she did full time campus ministry with CCO at Penn State University she ran a semester-long mentoring program to help zealous Christian students prepare for their transition out of college. It was exceptionally well put together and important in the lives of young adults coming out of the college experience with their faith intact. Word got out and she was asked to write a book sharing some of her good content and telling some of the stories and lessons learned. It is very good, especially for evangelical students who have been involved in some kind of religious programing on campus… Again, there is nothing like it in print. 

Dream Big:  Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I hope you know the incredibly energetic and visionary speaker and author Bob Goff. Maybe you gave his zillion-selling Love Does out as a high school graduation gift. If so, you know about his winsome style, his outlandish capers, his poignant stories.  This book is fabulous, inspiring and helpful guidance that emerged from the popular “Dream Big” workshops he does. It is both fun, engaging, inspiring, and yet very practical. Highly recommended.

 

Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose. Rediscover Your Joy.  Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Yes, yes, this also would make a terrific gift for a young adult in this post-college time of transition and new beginnings. In a way, Undistracted is a sequel to Dream Big, exploring the obstacles that are often in the way as we are distracted from our ambitions and goals. Naturally, he gives us great stories and examples and principles for overcoming these distractions and recovering a sense of purpose. 

 

Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365 Day Journey Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I often list this when customers ask for suggestions for a daily devotional — especially if the reader is not one who is used to the holy habit of reading a bit each day like this.  Goff is fun and funny and yet this is overtly Biblical, with solid Scriptural storytelling and lots of modern-day application. This works as a good gift for all sorts of recipients.  It’s a solid hardback without a dust jacket — very nicely done.

 

Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions  Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Rev. Dr. Rutledge writes in a different style than the whimsical Goff (above) as she is a no-nonsense, elegant and eloquent Episcopalian pastor, theologian and legendary preacher. This beautiful hardback includes 52 exquisite, thoughtful sermons so a reader can work through one a week for a year. Or gulp them down, and then revisit them over and over. This makes for a very classy gift.

 

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

I have a blurb on the inside of this, insisting that it is one of my favorite collections of short essays I’ve ever read. I stand by that — Garber has a way with words unlike any writer I know and he weaves together stories and profound insights, examples of people living well, doing good, embodying the vision of what he has called “common grace for the common good.” Who doesn’t want a life of inner and outer cohesion, of integrity, of seamlessness? These captivating, thoughtful, wise ruminations are accompanied by full color photos, offering in a handsome, compact sized hardback. Even the dusk jacket is a bit textured. Perfect.

This modern life often feels fragmented. Steve Garber’s new collection of words and writings, The Seamless Life, gently weaves coherence and grace from the far corners of vocation, friendship, and spirituality. A skillful storyteller, Garber puts himself forward effortlessly. The Seamless Life is like good conversation, and it reads as if you are sitting with an old friend across the table. These chapters can be savored daily, as each page is filled with sacred questioning, wisdom, and hope. —Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and recording artist

The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authenticity  Steven Denny (ACTA Publications) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

It isn’t every day that a conversation I share with somebody ends as a footnote, but it’s fun to see here my story of an older friend who knew Tom Merton. Much more importantly, this book is a groundbreaking work, reflecting on how the famous “Merton Prayer” influenced the author in his own struggles and complex journey in life. Somewhat like the more famous “Serenity Prayer” many people know the basic gist, but not the full prayer and backstory. Steve Denny explains the spirituality of Father Merton when he prayed for the grace to desire to follow God’s will, even though it isn’t fully revealed. This “unknowing” can be a comfort, as Steven explains, and forms us in the deep art of listening and trusting.

In each chapter of The Merton Prayer Mr. Denny offers the Biblical basis for and some personal stories about each phrase of the prayer. I hope to write about it more but wanted to suggest it here, now. Let’s face it —many college grads, especially these days, have no idea what is coming next. This could help.

Congrats to my friend Steve Denny for getting this book published and to ACTA for doing such a nice job — glossy paper and all. Kudos.

Here is the prayer itself, taken from Merton’s book Thoughts in Solitude.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

By the way, for real fans or those wanting to give a somewhat nicer edition, we can order this also in hardback. It goes for $24.95.

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

If the literary and mystical Thomas Merton, above, isn’t quite your style, how about this? Gentle and Lowly is an exquisitely produced hardback that has become one of the top selling religious books of the last two years. If you know The Gospel Coalition or Crossway books you have heard the remarkable testimonies of those who have been blessed by this gentle study of the mercy of Jesus and his heart for those weighted down. It is fairly intense, a bit deep, and draws almost exclusively on the God-drenched piety of the Puritan intellectuals and preachers. Crossway has published a little journal to go with it and even released a leather-bound edition of the book. It means a lot to a lot of folks although, granted, it may not be the sort of thing most young adults are used to.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society Eugene Peterson (IVP) $18.00                                OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Not as intense and spiritually pious as Gentle and Lowly and not as raw about personal brokenness as The Merton Prayer and, although lively, not written with quite as much joie de vivre as Goff, Eugene Peterson is, yet, some unique combo of the best of these kinds of contemporary authors. He is deeply Biblical, authentically spiritual, full of missional energy for down-to-Earth, long-haul, real-world discipleship. Nothing is simple, things take time, we are on a joyous journey with others moving along the way, awake and aware of this stuff God is up to.

A Long Obedience, now part of the classy “Signature Classic”series of IVP, is truly one of the great books of its kind, a classic reflection on the Psalms of Ascent by one of our all-time favorite writers. This is always a richly literate and thoughtful gift and the title seems perfect for such a time in one’s life. Even if Eugene swiped it from Nietzsche.

Waymaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of Ann Voskamp (Thomas Nelson) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is brand new and, again, the title speaks volumes to a nervous graduate wondering if God will make a way. Voskamp is a moving, gushy writer — she’s written a lot and her beautiful One Thousand Gifts remains a go-to gift book for many, younger women, especially — and this handsome hardback (with a die-cut design on the cover) would make a great gift. It is for those who may be discouraged, facing what seems like insurmountable odds. A great, passionate, tender reminder of God’s great love.

Young, Gifted, and Black: A Journey of Lament and Celebration Sheila Wise Rowe (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I fully believe that any of these books listed would be fabulous for anyone of any race or ethnicity. Still, sometimes it is helpful to know of something designed specifically for the unique experiences of people of color. We have promoted this excellent book before (and have often recommended the author’s previous work Healing Racial Trauma.) Rowe is a sharp, Christian, black therapist and knows the research on resilience and success. This book is highly recommended for any reader, but it is, as the line from Nina Simone’s popular 1960s anthem that has become the title for this, it is ideal for those young, gifted black leaders looking to make their way in the world.  There is some hard, honest talk here, good suggestions that, in the blurb from Juanita Rasmus, offer “embodied practices that become like lief preservers on uncharted waters”  Rowe is a trauma-informed leader, as they say, but this offers stories, reflections and tools. for moving on and through towards celebration.

The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction Justin Whitmel Earley (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have promoted this among college students and in other young adult groups and, believe me, Justin is a hero among many who have heard him. Other churches have given this out and formed study groups around it (and, also, the sequel, written for families, called Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms.) It is a winner.

The Common Rule invites us to be intentional about our habits and use time. It uses some colorful charts and lists, also with online applications, almost like a hip and fresh application of the old monastic vows of stability and “a rule of life.” This book is user-friendly and helpful for anyone, but certainly when a recent graduate is going off to a new job, a new place, perhaps finding new friends and a new set of life rhythms, it is an ideal time to be purposeful about lifestyle habits. There are things we should monitor and do less of (using devices, for instance) and some things we need to embody more — daily, weekly, monthly. It’s a fun and wise book, very cool and could even be, as the author’s own dramatic story explains, life saving. 

The Great Quest: Invitation to an Examined Life and a Sure Path to Meaning Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

Perhaps your college graduate isn’t the sort of person who would appreciate an overtly religious book, cool as they may be these days. Perhaps you still do not want to let this moment pass without offering some friendly advice and encouragement to live well. This book is a systematic, thoughtful, step by step riff on that phrase by Socrates about how “the unexamined life” is hardly worth living. Guiness knows that not everyone these days wants to live the examined life but he makes a case that a good life is considered, reflective, honest about seeking satisfying answers to the deepest questions. If your recipient longs for a more intentional life asking the classic questions about why we are here and now we know, this invites readers on the quest. It is not pushy; it is not apologetics, it is an earnest call to be serious about universal questions and the pursuit of meaning and purpose. It is a fairly thin paperback but has some gold embossing making it a very suitable gift.

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times  Os Guinness (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

I have reviewed this before and applauded it loudly; in many ways, it is a long-awaited sequel to one of my all-time favorite books, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life. It uses the popular language of “carpe diem” and asks what it exactly means — from a Christian perspective, framed by the eternal truths of Scripture and a Biblically-informed view of calling, purpose, time, and historical relevance — to actually do that in this harried, modern world. How do we faithfully live with robust gusto, relevant and timely, but not fall prey to passing trends or shallow analysis? Life is short and there is much to consider.

I like how the publisher puts it when they say that Dr. Guinness “calls readers to consequential living, reorienting their notion of history not as cyclical nor as meaningless, but as linear and purposeful. Christians can seek to serve God’s purpose for their generation, read the times, and discern their call for this moment in history.” 

Oozing wisdom, this is a book that I suspect will get deep under the skin of readers, inspiring them for years. Os Guinness helps us amid our busy-bored culture to think hard about the time we have. If we do that, he shows the rewards are immense: we can live meaningfully and with unassailable hope.  — Michael Reeves, author, Delighting in the Trinity

Every Moment Holy  Douglas McElvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard  (Rabbit Room)      leather-bound hardback; $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00                                      compact-sized, flexible leather; $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I sure hope you know that we carry these rare, remarkable prayer books. They include prayers for all sorts of moments and activities, allowing for a prayerful liturgical moment through the day. There are striking linocut illustrations, two-color ink, ribbon markers. Both the very handsome leather-bound hardback (which is just a tad larger than  9″ x 7″) and the compact sized soft leather one are exquisite gifts and send a vital message — that there is no moment in which God is not present and that we can honor that reality with these prayers. There are prayers before morning coffee, for before viewing movies, before shopping. There are many that are for two or more readers (some for husbands and wives.) Some are about hard stuff, sickness, death, lament. The prayers are curiously down to Earth and yet lyrical — Douglas McElvey is himself an artist and song-writer so has a gift. (We also have, by the way, Every Moment Holy Volume 2 which includes liturgies and prayers of grief, lament, and hope, also in a larger leather-bound hardback and a flexible, soft leather version in a compact size.)

Angels Everywhere: Poems  Luci Shaw (Iron Pen/Paraclete) $19.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

I’ll admit that not every college graduate would appreciate a volume of poetry as a gift. But some would, so do consider that as a way to honor their academic achievements and their new season of life. Luci Shaw has been an admired writer and acquaintance and we so appreciate her wise, good words. This new one was written during the pandemic so is especially timely. The theme of God’s sacred presence in all times and places — well, who doesn’t need an allusive reminder of that! Angels Everywhere is arranged in three main sections, “Out of Darkness”, “Through Shadow”, and “Into Light.” Sounds like how many graduates may feel, finally. 

Call Us What We Carry: Poems  Amanda Gorman (Viking) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Many young adults (and many older ones, too) were mesmerized by Amanda Gorman’s moving recital of her poem “The Hill We Climb” during the inauguration of the new President in 2021. She became a bit of a sensation — a young, black woman, a rising poet, a new voice.  This first major book of her collected work came out this fall and it is a solid, potent collection of socially relevant verses, poems for our time. Much is about the grief of the losses during the time of Covid; as one reviewer put it, “At once heartbreaking and deeply healing, Gorman’s collection calls readers to their best selves…”

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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 hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in April 2022. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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MORE BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS: “Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children” (Bustard, Bustard, & Rosenburg) // “Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before” (Wooten & Stratton) // “Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just” (Atcho) //  “The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry” (Party)

Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before edited by Jessica Hooten Wilson & Jacob Stratton (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Thanks to those who commented on or ordered books from that BookNotes post a few weeks ago highlighting four wonderful new books on reading and appreciating the arts. We truly loved The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints by Jessica Hooten Wilson with the great forward by Lauren Winner (and published by the always impressive Brazos Press, still 20% off) — how could we not, a book about books? Like a car buff going to an auto show or a sports fan at a playoff game, this is the sort of book that book lovers adore. That it showed ways to grow in spiritual maturity through reading what she creatively called “literary saints” makes it all the better. Spread the word about this tremendous read.

Since that BookNotes review and the excitement around the release of Scandal of Holiness, Dr. Hooten has yet another new book with her name on it — Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before which she co-edited with Jacob Stratton, a poet and Dean of Humanities, Bible and Arts at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  It just came out this week!

Scandal is a wondrous work making a case that we can grow by reading mostly contemporary novelists. Learning the Good Life is in that same sort of genre — a book about authors — but is (a) an edited collection of primary source stuff and (b) about the virtues we can develop as we study history’s grandest teachers whether they are Biblical or not. Yes, some in this book are novelists and some are poets or playwrights. Others, though, are nonfiction scholars, philosophers, public intellectuals, statesmen and women of note, journalists and essayists. This really is a dip into some of the great thinkers down through the ages.

Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before invites us into this classic conversation, deepening our own questions (and answers) about the meaning of the good life. Good pieces are offered by authors such as Confucius, Augustine, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Flannery O’Connor, Simone Weil, Marilynne Robinson, Wendell Berry and more. They explore topics as diverse as vocation and calling, the quest for meaning, suffering, beauty, wonder, community, critical thinking, virtue, reflection and more. What a book this is! Where else can you see excerpts of David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” and Jonathan Edwards “Personal Narrative” and Gregory of Nazianzus “On My Own Verses” and selections from Confucius, right next to Bonhoeffer and Edmund Burke? Kudos to Zondervan for including the likes of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and the mystical prose of Margery Kempe and a personal favorite —an excerpt from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

It seems to be designed for students — it would make a great graduation gift for a smart students heading off to university — and there is an appendix offering prayers and liturgies for learning. (In keeping with the nature of the book, the prayers are from all sorts of Christian sources down through the ages, from Irenaeus to Bonhoeffer to Howard Thurman, from the Orthodox Prayerbook to Every Moment Holy.

And here is what is also so helpful: each primary source excerpt is preceded by an overview and introduction by a contemporary scholar. For instance, you have Paul Pastor on Lao Tau, John Skillen on Gregory the Great, Beth Allison Barr on Margery Kempe, Louis Markos on John Milton, Gina Alfonzo on Dorothy Sayers, Jeffrey Bilbro on Thoreau — and, so fabulous for some of our readers, our very good friend Dr. Collin Messer sets the stage for a piece from Frederick Douglas. The insight of these authors into the pieces Wilson and Stratton selected helps us appreciate them. 

David I. Smith, professor of education and director of the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin University and author of several books on the intentional integration of faith and learning, has a fascinating foreword to Learning the Good Life. He reminds us that connecting our growth in discipleship and ongoing learning leads to fresh practices, about how we live in the world. “It is the gratitude and wonder we cultivate or neglect… such questions are more than academic. Enjoy the company as you look for answers.”  

Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos Press) $19.99             OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99 PRE-ORDER

Speaking of that previous post about the power of reading and “the narrative arts”, what a joy it was to help promote our friend Mary McCampbell’s new Fortress Press book Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy; we announced it a bit early, but last week on the release date, I got to join with a bunch other fans of Mary McCampbell on Facebook to celebrate and discuss the book. My bestie pal Ken Heffner and I kicked it off, and throughout the day she had guests from Mako Fujimura to Steve Garber to African American lit expert pastor Claude Atcho. You can watch them all here, in fact, to see what others were saying about the book and about their own sense of how the narrative arts can help us love our neighbors.

Speaking of Mary’s friend Claude Atcho, we have been taking a few pre-orders for his soon to be released Reading Black Books coming out on May 17, 2022. We very highly recommend it. In a way, although the aforementioned Learning the Good Life is socially, religiously, and ethnically diverse, and Atcho’s book is more focused on black literature, yet they both come to us with similar ideals — namely, that readers will want to expand their diet of reading habits and learn about authors they may have heard of but have not studied. Books that through what some call common grace have significant religious themes even if the authors are not necessarily theological or even Christian.

Atcho is a remarkable author for this volume and even those of us who may know a bit about African American literature and its glories and insights, will learn much. And, happily, from the perspective of and within the context of a thoughtfully Christian worldview. Atcho is a pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has taught African American literature at the collegiate level and is a regular writer and podcast contributor for Think Christian. He has written for Christ & Pop Culture, The Gospel Coalition, and The Witness: A Black Christian Collective.

I like very much how the publisher describes this, reminding us that we ought not merely listen to snippets or soundbites of African American voices. We should dive in, as they say. This book will help. Here is how they explain it:

Pastor and teacher Claude Atcho offers a theological approach to 10 seminal texts of 20th-century African American literature. Each chapter takes up a theological category for inquiry through a close literary reading and theological reflection on a primary literary text, from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Richard Wright’s Native Son to Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. The book includes end-of-chapter discussion questions.

Reading Black Books helps readers of all backgrounds learn from the contours of Christian faith formed and forged by Black stories, and it spurs continued conversations about racial justice in the church. It demonstrates that reading about Black experience as shown in the literature of great African American writers can guide us toward sharper theological thinking and more faithful living.

I don’t know about you but I am familiar with most of the ten, but not all of them. And I have not read in earnest most of them. This guide will help.  I like that he gives a short theological phrase to frame the discussion of each; for instance, sin (Native Son by Richard Wright), salvation (Moses, Man of the Mountain by Hurston), lament (a piece by W.E.B. Du Bois called “The Litany of Atlanta.”) Atcho shows that Ellison’s Invisible Man is somewhat about “the image of God” and Margaret Walker’s “For My People” is about hope. His exploration of Jesus through two poems by Countee Cullen’s (“Christ Recrucified” and “The Black Christ”) was stunning.

It will not be a surprise to those who know a bit about some of these authors that most did not have a conventional religious faith or an explicit theological agenda. In the introduction, Atcho admits, “the theologizing emerges from my reading of their literary forms and themes as a literary-minded pastor-theologian. This means,” he continues, “that chapters are a blend of close reading, theological reflection, and a Christian proclamation and application.”

I’m sure you you will appreciate his interesting introduction, including his own hopes. He obviously loves stories, loves literature, and loves the gospel. He hopes…

…that as you generously give of your time to read and engage this work, you will find your own love enflamed and increased both for these texts and for the Word who became flesh to interpret all stories and embrace all peoples.  May we lean in together, listening by reading, and in the process may our faith be made more whole and just, to the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Do I hear an “Amen”!?

The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry Austin Party (Eerdmans) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Here is another new book about books and reading, a fabulous book that I can hardly be more excited about. I highlighted this book in a Zoom book talk I gave the other day that wasn’t a gathering of clergy, but, as mainline denominational church leaders and Christian workers, I insisted that it was still ideal for them and both enjoyable and helpful. I wish I had time here to tell you more, but I can at least share a few of the topics in the three main sections.

“All The Reading We Don’t Remember” looks at reading for formation, on developing wisdom, how books can help us in learning to love. Clearly, we read not just for “information but for formation.”

“Not Just a Luxury” is a section with chapters on reading for pastoral care, for preaching, for vision casting, for leadership.

“For Whatever Reason” is a unit of chapters on reading “as” a pastoral visit, a spiritual discipline, and good pieces on reading with a proper spirit, choosing what to read, marking and filing our reading, and the like.

As he explains, six months into his first senior pastorate, Austin Carty sat in his office reading—not the Bible, not a commentary, not a theological tract, but a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. As the minutes turned to hours, while he sat engrossed in this book, he noticed something: he began feeling uneasy. And then anxious. And then guilty. What would someone think if they opened the door and caught him reading fiction?

You may recall some of the explicit teaching about this by Eugene Peterson. Or even the very inspiring book by Cornelius Plantinga called Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (which I also recommend widely, even to those who are not preachers.) This new one by Carty, The Pastor’s Bookshelf, is in that great company.

There is a fabulous forward by Rev. Thomas Long, in which he says: “One remarkable feature of Carty’s writing in this volume is how much of it is done in conversation with others, particularly parishioners and others who are on the receiving end of ministry. Carty hopes to encourage pastors who read, but not merely as a form of gratuitous self-improvement, but reading done among, with, and for the people of God.” Nice, eh? Perfect for anyone interesting in books, reading, and conversations stimulated by the printed page.

Check out these other great endorsements:

Christians are a people of the Word, yet we are formed more and more today by wanton, careless words. Those who will lead the church well will be those who are formed by good words—those who know the power words have over our hearts and minds. Those who read good books well will be such leaders. Pastors who read and live by the wisdom in this book will be changed, as will their ministries and the people to whom they minister. This book belongs on every pastor’s shelf.
— Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

Reading is crucial for ministry, not as a mine for anecdotes and illustrations, but as an apprenticeship of the imagination. In this warm and wise book, Austin Carty invites pastors to develop capacious reading habits, as wide and curious and wonderful as the world in which they serve. I hope this book is an occasion for many pastors to build new shelves of poetry and fiction, biography and memoir, all of them adventures in understanding humanity.
— James K. A. Smith editor in chief of Image journal, author of You Are What You Love

I am gobsmacked by this book’s threefold beauty: its writing, its erudition, and the author’s deep commitment to what true reading can give not only pastors, but us all.
— Maryanne Wolf author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children edited by Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard & Thea Rosenburg (Square Halo Books) $29.99                                     OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Beth and I have pondered how to best explain this rich, wonderful resource, sharing our enthusiasm and gratitude for its presence in the world. This book is a gift, a treasure, more than merely lovely, nearly glorious. It is needed and fills a great niche in the “books about books” shelf as well as in the parenting and teaching genre. So many of the entries are autobiographical that it nearly could be put with memoirs, offering inspiring glimpses into the lives of others who have cared for children well by reading the best books to them or with them. As with most titles published by our friends at Square Halo Books, it is exceptional, artful, valuable. It is a book we are honored to stock and eager to tell you about.

For starters, I should say that while I am convinced it does indeed fill a need in the genre of books about books — there really isn’t anything quite like it in the marketplace — there are others that are somewhat similar. Over the years we have consulted and recommended Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt and we are pleased that Zondervan has kept it in print, updating and expanding it (most recently last fall.) What a grand and helpful book!  And where would we be without the essential Read-Aloud Handbook by Saint Jim Trelease (now in its Eighth Edition.)

It’s a little eccentric with its romantic sort of worldview, but we were happy to order the updated re-issue of Pipers At the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children’s Literature by Rolling Stone and New Yorker writer Jonathan Cott as he tells of his encounters with children’s writers Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Astrid Lindgren, P. L. Travers and more; the new edition has a fascinating forward by the erudite and passionate Maria Popova (author of Figuring and A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.)

And, again and again, we must mention Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls by Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf; $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99.) We have loved this wise and moving study of “seven timeless children’s novels for adults living in uncertain times.” We were delighted to be sure that Leslie Bustard knew of this as she was working with her team putting together the eager-awaited Wild Things and Castles in the Sky and she was so taken with it that she got Mitali to offer a contribution to this new collection (“The Wells of Souls and Memory: Writing for Children.”)

The subtitle of the new Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children is important since this really is a user’s guide to what to read next, how to choose the “best books” sharing discernment and guidance and so forth. It is a resource replete with fabulously interesting annotated lists by experienced parents, teachers, curriculum developers, and writers, in each of nearly 50 categories. (Which leads me to say what we might as well acknowledge — this useful 300 page book is nearly underpriced; for all that you get it is a great bargain, offering a ton of content that will last you a lifetime.)

Allow me to also suggest this, however: even if one is less needful of the recommendations and the annotations and each author’s list of book suggestions, the book is still a treasure worth every penny. As I hinted earlier, Wild Things is not only a jam-packed resource of reading ideas but it is an engaging and captivating collection of pieces on why reading to children or giving books to children or teaching literature to children matters. Some of the introductory pieces, quite apart from each author’s own lists, make for spectacular reading. 

Kudos to Leslie, her daughter Carey, and co-editor Thea, for bringing together a diverse and curious roster of readers willing to tell their stories. We have a breathtaking, poignant piece by a father telling of reading to his son with Down’s Syndrome; we have a woman of color describing her experience with white literature; we get Matthew Dickerson offering insights about “sorrow and grace” in Tolkien’s works (and a list of other books that evoke healthy tears.) What good words from musician, artist, writer, and mom Katy Bowser Hutson offering a chapter called “Imagination Boot Camp” which explores the role of fairy tales. From Pahtyana Moore writing about virtue in her piece called “The Heartbeat of Humanity” to “Why Should Children Be Given Old Books” by Anne Kennedy who makes the case for antiquarian books to Junius Johnson’s reflection on fantasy in his chapter called “A Dragon in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush”, this collection offers hours of fun reading for any book loving adult, and deep wisdom for any person wanting to read widely for the sake of living well in the world.

To see chapters that are written by serious classical educators next to a chapter on graphic novels is a delightful surprise and shows the breadth and diversity Wild Things brings. To have a piece on “the transcendentals” (which is what fancy pants classical scholars, drawing on medieval scholasticism, call the Aristotelian virtues of truth, goodness, and beauty) in a lively chapter about picture books is a blast. To get to read several pieces by Latina writers — Araceli Cruz tells us about “mirror books” in her chapter called “Si Se Puede” and the respected homeschool blogger Erendira Ramirez-Ortega gives us a fine overview of Latino literature in “A Beautiful Word Beautifully Said” is a great gift. 

There is very helpful chapter called “In His Image” on valuing diverse characters in children’s books, written by children’s book authors of color, Dorene Williamson, Tina Cho, and Dorian Lazo Gilmore-Young. You have got to read a chapter on race called “Symbols on the Doorframe” by Shanika Churchville — a Sri Lankan woman from Lancaster Bible College who is married to an African American man and who knows black literature well.

There are some helpful, observant, instructive chapters about different genres and various age groups. There is one on toddler books which is excellent. We get a piece on “classic picture books” and another on “contemporary picture books.” There is one on “chapter books” and yet another on “chapter books with pictures.” Naturally there are ideas for middle school and high school readers.  There is a good chapter offering discernment on Newbery Books. Many will love the chapter on poetry, the one on music, and the one on allegory by Quantrilla Ard. There is a chapter on adapted and introductions to Shakespeare which I suspect will be a real assist for some.

Besides these marvelously interesting chapters serving as good guides to various ages and genres, there are topical pieces scattered throughout — I truly adored some of these and eagerly await dipping in to more, soon. For instance, these are essays and stories about what is going on when we read or invite children and youth to read. Rebecca Becker has a piece on “narration” called “Connecting with Stories” and there are remarkable entries on enchanted places, representation, telling stories, and a great one on “family reads” called “The Grandchildren’s Library” by Andi Ashworth.

Many Hearts & Minds customers and BookNotes fans will be delighted to see an essay called “Finding Joy in the Everyday” by the book-loving grandmother (and memoirist) Margie Haack on what she calls “quotidian books. Annie Nardone has a great chapter on books about art appreciation (“Ordering the Soul.”) Artist and musician Matthew Clark has a piece on “goodness” entitled “The Fragrance of the Blessed Realm.” 

So many of these authors are, I believe, shaped by the best sorts of values and perspectives, living into a faithful sense of common grace and the goodness of this broken world.  They do not only recommend overtly Christian books, of course; mostly not, actually. But they care about the deepest ways of God’s Kingdom anyhow books can be avenues for deepening our imaginations for abundant Kingdom living. Square Halo has done other such anthologies (in fact, one is in tribute to us here at Hearts & Minds called A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why where various friends and leaders offer writerly essays about the best books in various fields, sort of a world-class homage to BookNotes.) We trust this new anthology and while we may not know every author and his or her suggestions, the overall frame of the project is righteous and good.

For instance, in a chapter on cultivating the imagination through stories (“Enchanted Places”), Elizabeth Harwell cites our friend Jamie Smith, from his book Imagining the Kingdom with a nod to a line from Calvin Seerveld:

Christian worship needs to be an incubator for the imagination, inviting us into the “real world” by bringing us aesthetic olive leaves from the kingdom that is coming, helping us to envision what it would look like for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

Anyone who says that that is why they do what they do has my attention!

Finally, here is another helpful contribution in Wild Things and Castles in the Sky. There are several useful indices in the back. One lists all the books that the various contributors recommended in order by grade level which is a boon. Another is a fabulously fun and very useful list of holiday books by Carey Bustard. And, this: the three editors had to weigh in one last time naming some of their favorite reads for kids. You can imagine book lovers like them pouring over the hundreds of recommendations, the rich, short essays, the ardent annotations, and then thinking — wait, what? We have to at least name a few final titles and authors. What a joy. Thank you, Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard, Thea Rosenburg. You’ve inspired this old bookseller with renewed passions, some new ideas, and even more previously undiscovered authors.

Listen to poet Luci Shaw who wrote a wonderful introductory chapter:

For any parent or grandparent, any aunt or uncle, this generous guide for What to Read Next to your beloved is a heartwarming, mind enlarging, appetizing pathfinder to the wide range of available kid-lit.

And listen to this great reminder by singer-songwriter Sarah Groves: 

Children’s books are never just for children. They are also for anyone who remembers what it means to be childlike. Children’s stores return us to the heart of things as little else does, and gives us language to talk about the bigger things. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky is a sweet reminder of why literature for children is essential for us all. You will find friends here in these pages. 

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The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World (Andy Crouch) -AND- Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society (Amy Sherman) – ON SALE NOW 20% OFF

I sometimes celebrate what I call a perfect nonfiction book. Such books are well informed and impeccably researched but not academic; they are captivating and helpful, intelligent but with captivating stories. Such extraordinary reads are well written, even beautifully so, but not so lush that we are distracted by their poetry. They are elegant, if you will, and exceptionally done, but not dense — such volumes can be almost as gripping as any thrilling page-turn from the fiction shelf.

You know there are piles of inspiring books that are helpful as far as they go, but are simply not that profound or lasting. (How many times have we said that the content of a book would have made a fine Readers Digest article or was probably first a great sermon on keynote talk, but didn’t need to be expanded to a full-length book?) Our favorite books are wise and insightful and offer something fresh and new to what may be an on-going conversation but, again, are not arcane or scholarly. They stand on good shoulders and take us happily further down the road; they may be instantly transformative or may leave their mark subtlety as we ponder their words for weeks or months.

The two brand new books I want to tell you about here are those kinds of books, both written by authors we very much admire and whose previous books we have celebrated before. These are by authors that are whip smart and culturally astute, very deeply Biblical and theologically aware, and help us all think well about living well in these times.

Andy Crouch offers reflections on what he calls “the life we’re looking for” and Dr. Amy Sherman has given us an exceedingly important missional study of “the flourishing life.” Welcome to two of what will surely be described as among the best books of 2022, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationships in a Technological World and Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society.

The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationships in a Technological World Andy Crouch (Convergent) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Andy is an elegant and careful writer, always offering interesting insights that set him above most authors of what I might call profoundly Christian cultural studies. But the genre of “cultural studies” doesn’t exactly capture the nature of his work which is notably personal as well. For instance, his book (one of my all time favorites) Culture-Making is about the human vocation to make things, to shape culture, to better the world —“recovering our creative calling” as the subtitle puts — so while it is in some ways about culture, informed by remarkable Bible study and a uniquely Christian world and life viewpoint, it isn’t essentially cultural criticism or social analysis; it is an invitation to a better way of life in and for the world.

It’s the same with his exceptionally important book on using power, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power where he makes an impeccable case that, like other things in God’s good but fallen world, institutions and organizations and influential leadership (that is to say authority and power) can be misused but, with great intentionality and care and prayerful innovation, can be exercised with grace and justice. His third small but very popular work is called Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing and it is a coda or afterword (or so I like to think of it) to these first two manifestos. He loves his 2 x 2 charts and shows how we are most alive and faithful when we are “up and to the right” square, embracing this paradox of living out reasonable risk, willingness to suffer, and yet exercising our gifts and influence. It doesn’t suggest a medium halfway point between demoralizing suffering and self-righteous power, but a radical blend of weakness and strength, vulnerability and agency. Again, it is wondrously written, keenly perceptive about society and cultural dynamics, but yet is a very practical book for ordinary, educated people wanting to deepen their discipleship with human and humane ways of leaning into life.

The Life We’re Looking For is brand new and after a lovely season of writing a very small and practical book about using smartphones and computers well in a family setting, Crouch has returned to offer another major work. It comes to us in a slightly trim-sized hardback so even though it is 226 pages (including the intriguingly exquisite footnotes) it isn’t too long or hefty. It is mature and stimulating in his most gracefully crafted style yet. Tech scholar Sherry Turtle of MIT raves about it, calling it a “personal meditation” written with “warmth and erudition.” That’s what I was trying to say!

Already in the pocket sized Tech Wise Family Crouch explored what it does to us when we are shaped — our habits, our inclinations, our desires, our sense of how the world is to work — by our devices. (He doesn’t note James K.A. Smith’s notion of “secular liturgies” in the new one but he surely could have.) The Life We’re Looking For goes a lot deeper and in different directions than Tech-Wise, inviting us to reflect on the meaning of being human, the importance of being made in God’s image, and how to exercise our capacities (even drawing on self-help neurological studies about “flow” and the like.) He is trying to consider what we really want — what Tish Warren in her back cover comments calls “the most vulnerable longings of the human heart.” He knows that we have a primal need to be seen, to be “embedded in rich relationships.”

As we all know, one-click ordering from faceless corporations, is designed to be seamlessly smooth and very efficient. And, as we should know, these algorithms and  bureaucracies are damaging us, eroding community fabric and molding our attitudes. His brief rumination on not knowing the UPS and other delivery drivers in his neighborhood anymore, since Amazon has gig workers is telling. 

Do we really want this shallow connection; quantity over quality? Do we want devices to make everything easy (even if they could) as we become consumers, but less adept at using our bodies, playing instruments, cooking our own food?  Do we want to be tethered to multi-tasking and regularly speed-speed-speed through increasingly impersonal environments? Do we want rugged individualism or do we long for communities of care, extended households, even? Andy’s chapters on the formation of such households — a countercultural move to subvert the individualism and even loneliness brought on by technocracy — were simple and radical and moved me to tears. 

If you read my BookNotes reviews a day or so ago you will recall my highlighting the work of Brian and Sylvia Walsh in their Russett House homestead and their seriously Biblical engagement with the likes of Wendell Berry; many of the tribute chapters in A Sort of Homecoming in honor of Brian would resonate well with Crouch’s The Life We’re Looking For. Similarly, I reviewed a new book called Practicing the Kingdom about the life and books of Christine Pohl (Making Room and Living in Community, among others) which, again, would be excellent to read alongside Crouch’s new one.

In an otherwise very positive review in Publisher’s Weekly they worried that The Life We’re Looking For was uneven, and I sort of understand why — Crouch covers a lot of ground. There are sections which include a bit on the history of technology, a look at alchemy (with a nod to Harry Potter), a good bit on artificial intelligence and “boring robots”, a powerful reflection on money/Mammon and nature of capitalism, his wife’s use of instruments in her scientific research, and an admitted excursion in what calls an “intermission” on a very moving story from the New Testament as a remarkable reminder of the early church’s presence within first-century Roman Empire. (I couldn’t help but think of Walsh & Keesmaat’s Romans Disarmed in that party the way.) All of that, and more, could be seen as tangents, but, trust me:  they are not. The chapters weave together and reward the patient reader as connections are made and insights circle back and layer on one another, bit by bit. We all know these are confusing and contradictory times (“we love it, we hate it, ain’t that life?” the late, great Mark Heard sung so powerfully in “Nod Over Coffee.”) Andy’s book helps us navigate in healthy and even beautiful ways, the tensions and trade-offs of these days.

Especially if you are familiar with his other terrific books, I don’t have to say much more about this. I think you will be delightfully surprised at how easily (but yet uniquely) he builds a case about recognition and what we seem to be “wired for.” (Now there’s a metaphor emerging from our times, eh? I suspect he may not approve — he kindly warns us against using words unthinkingly, such as his commends on the ubiquity of the word “impact” (as a verb) and that page is worth the price of the book, even if somewhat of an aside It is, by the way, impactful.)

To glean the evocative style and deep wisdom of this book, ponder (and be enticed) by just a few of twelve chapter titles, paying close attention to the helpful subtitles:

  • The Superpower Zone: How We Trade Personhood for Effortless Power
  • Modern Magic: The Ancient Roots of Our Tech Obsessions
  • From Devices to Instruments: Truly Personal Technology

None of this is bombastic or heavy-handed (as passionately concerned as he obviously is.) The book is not overly polemical nor alarmist. It is often gentle, even a bit quiet, in a way that seems proper for the human-scale ecology he is inviting us into. In a chapter called “From Charmed to Blessed” he tells a story that you will long remember as he calls us to “the community of the unuseful.” In the telling about our New Testament friend Gaius and the odd, diverse community under Roman rule of which he was a part, he describes them as “fragile.” He follows that with reflections on own ancestry and I found it very tender.

This lovely, thoughtful book offers plenty of well-researched information and teaches us much, even a bit, as we’ve noted, on AI and computer science, which is enlivened when he mentions his Roomba and how he sneakily alludes to a dishwasher as a computer. He observes a bit about how our the human-scale texture of our lives when we give ourselves over to automation. (Which is, by the way, one of the reasons we always reply with a personal note acknowledging orders here on line, trying in our small way to redeem the online buying experience, inefficient as that may seem.) Naturally, the book includes poignant stories (and some fun ones, for instance about his own bike riding habits and his driving habits as well.) In the second portion, Crouch offers “redemptive moves” — new postures and habits to “help us begin, right now, to live more fully human lives.” I am convinced that it just might. I am sure reading it will help us cope with  — you’ll have to read it to get the full irony — “the loneliness of a personalized world.”

As he says early on, on page 18:

We do not have to accept our technology’s default settings — they can be adapted, and eventually redesigned, to serve a new and better set of purposes. 

As Andy so nicely invites us to move away from “ever-increasing isolation” and create homes “that become creative centers far more consequential than the refuges of consumption and leisure have let them become” he also pushes unto include the outcast, the unwell, the unproductive, the overlooked.

And he is hopeful:

The great news is that there are already examples of these redemptive moves — some seedlings, some saplings, some beginning to bear widespread fruit — and we all have a part to play in helping them grow.

Quiet and reflective as it may be, finally, again, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationships in a Technological World is not a gentleman’s armchair treatise. It is a reformational manifesto, calling us to renewal, change, redemptive efforts, to become agents of the shalom God wills for us all. Or at least a bit more sane in this fast-paced, digital world. It is a wise and wonderful book. 

Alan Jacobs is one of the prominent essayists of our time, and knows a thing or two about the implications of our shift to machines in the middle of modernity. (Read his spectacular Year of Our Lord: 1943 for a particularly in-depth study of what five important Christian thinkers were thinking about these very things.) Here he says this is Andy’s best book yet:

The Life We’re Looking For is, and this is saying something, Andy Crouch’s best book: a deeply moving meditation on the human need to find true personhood, which means, among other things, to know as we are known. Strong and cogent critiques of Mammon’s empire–which, as Crouch shows, is where we live–are not unheard of, but a book that goes this deeply into the heart of things, into the heart of God, is a pearl of great price. — Alan Jacobs, author of How to Think and Breaking Bread with the Dead

Listen to Tish Harrison Warren, who writes so well about so much herself:

As I read this breathtaking book, I was surprised to find myself tearing up often, not because it is a book about tragedy or loss, but because Andy Crouch, perhaps more than any other writer of our day, perceives and names the deepest and most vulnerable longings of the human heart. The Life We’re Looking For describes the confusion and contradictions of our cultural moment in clear and resonant ways and, more important, offers hope that we might find a beautiful way of living amidst them. –Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society Amy L. Sherman (IVP / Praxis) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Again, this strikes me as just one of those wonderful, wonderful, nonfiction reads that is nearly everyone might want in a book like this. It is well written, clear-headed, exceptionally well-informed, full of solid data and lots of interviews which translates into motivational stories and inspiring case studies. It is very theologically informed — neither eccentric or stuffy, I would say it is creatively generous and solidly orthodox.  There are footnotes galore and even though it weighs in at a heft 340 pages, it is a delight. (Truth be told, I haven’t finished it yet, and some of it needs to be not only savored but worked on a bit, considered. So it is going to take a while.)

I am not being the least bit snarky when I say the title alone pushes all my buttons — in a good way!  Increasingly, many of those we admire most who are contributing to the conversations about the missional church and Kingdom visions and whole-life discipleship and cultural reformation and wholistic social renewal are using the notion of flourishing. It is useful as it draws on and points to the multi-dimensional Biblical vision of shalom (without being, well, a Hebrew word that is mostly used by old hippy peaceniks like me.) I love that she uses the word agents, which conjures up 2 Corinthians 5 and the high calling of being used by God to accomplish cosmic reconciliation. “Every corner” almost sounds like Abraham Kuyper’s “every square inch” of creation being claimed by the Lord Jesus; for those who are most rigorously missional (and Sherman is one of them, drawing, for what it’s worth, on Leslie Newbigin and Michael Goheen and Kuyper himself) there are no square inches or corners of this world that God doesn’t not care about; there is no primordial dualism between the sacred zones and the so-called secular areas. Christ’s Kingdom is renewing and restoring all human life and every aspect or sphere of society. So, I appreciate the winsome and freighted title and love the agenda of this major volume. The always energetic Reggie McNeal (author of Kingdom Come and currently a city coach with GoodCites) says is a “masterful tome…for those who want to get in on what God is up to.” 

You may know Amy Sherman (who has a PhD in international economic development and lived in the developing world for a while) from her masterful and brilliant survey of various ways practitioners can think about and deepen their own sense of integrating faith and work, living out various vocations as they move from Sunday liturgy to Monday labor. (That wonderful resource is Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good and incomes with a vital introduction by Reggie McNeal and a splendidly written afterward by Steve Garber; perhaps not the first book for those reading about calling and vocation, work and career, but certainly one of the most important.)

Maybe you know her for her lovely chapter she graced us with in the book I edited about such things for college graduates, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life. I have more than once told people to read her chapter first as it is one of the most lively and inspiring commencement addresses in the book, first delivered at Malone College in Ohio. Like her Kingdom Calling book, she reflects on Proverbs 11:10, asking why a community would rejoice (as the Proverbs says they will) when the righteous prosper. Obviously, these are the not the wealthy rich who are extracting wealth from a community, faceless Amazonians making billions while local neighborhoods suffer and local infrastructure is abused. No, if the community is rejoicing because some are prospering, those prospering must be doing so with integrity, as partners with the local community, embedded in economies of mutuality. It’s a great little speech inviting graduating students to take up jobs in the world that reflect this kind of commitment to community empowerment and genuine human flourishing.

So, we respect and enjoy Amy who is so appreciated everywhere she goes. And this book is, I’d say (even though she has published with the world-class Oxford University Press, and, well, that Square Halo one that Borger edited) the best book she has yet one. Wow.

Here are four things you should know about the benefits of Agents of Flourishing:Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society.  

Firstly, although it obviously can be and should be read by any educated person who cares about developing a faith-based and balanced, Biblically-inspired view of society and culture (that is not motivated by culture wars animosity from the Christian right nor primarily about social justice issues from the left), it seems to be aimed firstly at pastors or Christian leaders or parachurch agencies or street level urban activists who are eager to deepen their involvement or get good guidance about their involvement in wholistic ministries for the common good. It is not only for pastors, but pastors should read it.

It has been our experience that clergy are not the primary readers of the many provocative and cutting edge books we sell about the missional church. It is remarkable to me how many sharp congregants and social entrepreneurs and Christian citizens who just care about their city or town (and maybe are agitating their local parish to be more involved) read the standard books about missional engagement and intregal mission. I suppose it makes sense that the chair of a local mission committee wants to read about neighborhood outreach in ways that busy pastors may not have time to do. Still, this book is important for clergy, I think. That it was published by IVP in their Praxis line (about congregational life) in partnership with the great organization Made to Flourish speaks volumes given that MtF (founded by Tom Nelson, himself an author of a book on work and another book on how churches can help local economic development) exits to encourage and equip pastors to lead well in these Biblically-based missions for the common good, helping congregants serve God as Kingdom salt and light wherever they find themselves outside the walls of the church.

Secondly, Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom…, while clear about the many reasons for community ministry, doesn’t rehash what has been said in many ways by many authors and activists. It does root its overall vision in sturdy insights from church history, making a case that churches of various sorts in many times and places have nearly always agreed that wholistic, caring, outreach, including even efforts for structural change and institutional reform, has been intregal to their gospel witness. She shows how she stands on the shoulders of others without repeating the obvious. Helpfully, though, she shows how this impulse for wholistic mission aimed at cultural reformation and social improvement — for normative, wholesome flourishing and all that that implies — can be updated and applied in fresh ways in our 21st century North American contexts. Call it ancient-future if you wish, but she has an expert and clear-headed awareness of the best ideas and practices of the past as they may inform our very contemporary, even post Christian, postmodern times.

Thirdly, one of the things that makes Agents of Flourishing very interesting and exceptionally helpful for anyone wondering how to begin or tweak or sustain their work of common grace for the common good is that it is partially based upon goodly amounts of interviews Sherman did with all kind of folks in various places who are doing good and lasting work. (I gather some of these are folks she has worked with through Made to Flourish or her own think-tank, the Sagamore Institute and their Center on Faith in Communities.) These are not sweet but quick allusions to fly-by-night inspiration episodes, but come from detailed interviews and studies of admirable, thoughtful projects that have lasting influence. She knows the research and data and she knows the streets and agencies and missional endeavors, so she knows to asks about assets and goals and obstacles and funding and and faith and all kinds urgent matters that are instructional for readers. In this regard, it does even better what she did in her popular book from nearly two decades ago, Restorers of Hope which offered well researched case studies of those reaching the poor with “church based ministries that work.”

Just for instance, she spends some time reporting on a small cadre of folks at a CRC congregation in Grand Rapids (Church of the Servant) that has done some good study of “mass incarceration” and injustices in the criminal justice system. (Oh, the painful irony that as I type this, that city is reeling from what seems to be yet another horrific shooting of an unarmed black man by a white policeman.) Perhaps this makes it that much more poignant to read, and good, knowing that there have been relational, social, and civic networks development around prison reform and multi-faceted ministry among those who are imprisoned (and those getting out of jail, needing support, looking for work, etc.)

That is only one case study among many exploring what we can learn from those who have been at spiritually-based, culturally-savvy, and institutionally-committed projects that help the Kingdom of God break in just a little bit in a given locale.  Each could inspire you to some sort of new venture, perhaps, but I believe the value is more learning about the process and procedures, the translation of vision to action and sustainable cultural renewal. We can learn much from each of the case studies regardless of your specific interest in their unique, particular social ministry innovation. There is a lot of shalom being shared in a lot of corners. Agents of Flourishing introduces you to so much, networks you in waist help you march on.

Fourthly, you will love the wonderful way the book is arranged (and her suggestions about how to use it if you want to skip around a bit or focus on the most germane parts for you and your group.) She has these chapters that I might call visionary followed by two more application chapters offering strategies and examples moving towards implementation of that value or virtue. The visionary chapters include considerations of the true, the good, the beautiful, the just and well ordered, the prosperous, and the sustainable. Fascinating. Solid. Well-developed.  

To recap:  Ms. Sherman has developed this resource primarily for pastors, clergy, missional activists, local mission committees and neighborhood leaders. It is not merely saying what has been said before about why we must serve the poor or resist social injustice or work for racial reconciliation; it offers, instead, theological grounding and direction based on ancient faith and church history, making connections between the past and the present. And it is full of stories, thoughtful, carefully evaluated and presented case studies from lots of folks doing lots of good work. These educational stories bring practical weight to the visionary values she extols, dreaming, as she does, dreams of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, sustainability, and the like.

In the very beginning of the book Amy generously affirms and shares how she loves seeing the “seek the peace [or welfare] of the city” verse from Jeremiah 29 emblazoned on banners and mission statements and newsletters and church buildings and community centers. I recall preaching on that text decades ago when one might assume that the audience would be taken with it, not having heard it before. I still get fired up speaking about that text. In many circles, though, it has become a go-to verse, cited often, and commonly preached (well or not so well). She shows none of my “been there, done that” bad attitude and has no “it’s about time” tone. She relishes what God is going in the world, glad to know about what is increasingly happening in churches large and small, in cities and small towns.  She notes how that verse given to God’s people while in hostile exile centuries ago has resonated with many believers lately here in what sometimes feels like a bit of our own Babylonian exile. 

Yet, she realizes (and if you are honest, you most likely do, too) that there is often a bit of a gap between our vision and our action. Either we talk a good game but don’t do much, or, more likely, we do what we can in sporadic and ad hoc ways, not particularly purpose-driven, not particularly strategic about long-term public health and wellness, which is to say, not exactly agents of genuine, sustainable flourishing. We might be putting band-aids on wounds, putting out fires, loving our neighbors the best we can without much serious consideration of best-practices and lasting transformation or even the qualities of good neighborhood and a flourishing city. This book is a clear roadmap out of that pattern, a plan for reducing the gap between good talk, good intentions, but ineffective strategies.

When history looks back on the church in America at the start of the twenty-first century, it won’t be a pretty sight. Division, scandals, unbelief, materialism, individualism, theological drift . . . the list goes on and on. We’ve simply lost our way. Fortunately, this latest work by Dr. Amy Sherman provides a road map to help us get back on track. Amy rightly focuses our attention on the central message of Jesus–the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43)–and provides readers with helpful prompts to improvise this story in their cities and neighborhoods. Miraculously, we are to do this–not by exercising worldly power but from a posture of humility, grace, and sacrificial love. This is the way of King Jesus, and it needs to be the way of the church once again.  — Brian Fikkert, president and founder of the Chalmers Center, coauthor of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor 

The flourishing of the whole creation, including the entire life of humanity, is the purpose and intention of a good and generous God. Our sin has corrupted and polluted every aspect of creation leading to curse instead of blessing, but one day God will restore that blessing fully. Until then we are called to be agents of God’s original intention. Sherman has offered a wonderful blueprint for what that flourishing might look like in our time. What I really laud is her attention to the rich creational diversity of human flourishing–marriage, justice, art, education, business, and more. In a time when idolatry is destroying the witness of the church in America, these words are welcome and timely.  — Michael W. Goheen, professor of missional theology at Covenant Theological Seminary and author of The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology

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“A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh” AND “Practicing the Kingdom: Essays on Hospitality, Community, and Friendship in Honor of Christine D. Pohl” AND “Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now” ON SALE – 20% OFF

Thanks to those who responded to our last two BookNotes offering some extra sales on Lent and Good Friday and Easter books. It is such a central few days in the church calendar, we were glad to offer some resources for attending to it well.

In a Zoom Bible study I help with we’ve been studying the Epistle to the Hebrews. It struck me on Wednesday how the last few chapters seemed so appropriate for Holy Week, reminding us to consider Christ’s great sacrifice and suffering and then to run the race inspired by those who “by faith” knew the power of the gift of our great High Priest. Several times it takes a turn to the practical, reminding us that because of this great grace offered by God and recalled during our Holy Week commemorations, we are to encourage each other, help the hurting and show hospitality, even to strangers. We are to visit prisoners and work for peace. Like so much of the best theology in the Epistles it moves from the grandest of themes to the most direct action. 

On Maundy Thursday Jesus starts with a grand performance of key moments of the Old Testament — the Exodus of passover and liberation, covenant and captivity, promise and deliverance — then picks up the towel and kneels down. Love one another, he says. Serve others. I’m sure you heard sermons this week about both the large theological claims and the clear, if radical, mandates.

What books might help us better understand and actually live this way, kindling the spark you may feel to want to go deeper and live more faithfully? Some books are exclusively theological, and that’s fine. Some are all about personal morality and we need that, too. Some are highly rigorous and academic, and some are breezy and inspiring in a practical sort of register.  We’ve got all sorts, so do reach out to us if you have inquiries or need help or ideas.

Here are three that combine robust theological insights and serious consideration of the implications of it all. These are resources that are a special sort of blend of serious scholarship and compelling, creative writing to help move you to deeper discipleship and more faithful living as one who follows the enigmatic, suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

Maybe by the time you read this you’ll have moved into Easter joy, ready for what I sometimes call resurrectionary reading. This side of that first Easter, every day and every season is ultimately resurrectionary, so rejoice in that. But still, I wanted to name these books here in this darker mood of these darker days where it may still be “Friday” (even if “Sunday’s coming.”)

These three are not books about the Triduum (order A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda if you want a thoughtful but accessible one about that, or Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan Lewis if you want something even deeper.)

These are books about living out Christian faith that I was inspired by the Maundy Thursday mandates to tell you about. They are about community and hospitality and discipleship, about suffering and hope and enduring joy, inspired by three particular authors.

Since the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us to encourage one another, it seems there is something to be said about holding up a few living examples of the “great cloud of witnesses.” These three books are what are sometimes called festschrifts — books done in honor of a scholar or teacher, a book about their work. Honoring Brian Walsh’s work in campus ministry and in the streets and fields (as urban activist and farmer), we have A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh, one of the most interesting and unique collections of essays I have read in decades. Regarding the most important books on hospitality and community written in our lifetime, those by Christine Pohl, we have a book exploring her work put together by friends and former students, Practicing the Kingdom: Essays on Hospitality, Community, and Friendship in Honor of Christina D. Pohl. A similarly arranged book exploring the excellent work of Scot McKnight on discipleship and ministry in the way of King Jesus, that came out this fall is Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now edited by Nijay K. Gupta & Tara Beth Leach and others.

These three books offer remarkable chapters that are profound reminders of a whole-life, missional approach to discipleship, explained and teased out, sometimes with prophetic bite, sometimes with some playful winsomeness, in each of the three, by way of telling about the work of these three important scholar-practitioners. Walsh, Pohl, and McKnight deserve much acclaim and their biographies are fascinating, but these are not biographies but are more academic or polemical pieces designed to engage their work, explore their teachings, explain their books, and wonder, together, how to live out the implications of their public witness in the world. (There are more stories about Brian Walsh in the one that honors him than in the other two, by the way, which are mostly in conversation with the authors’ published books.) While I have more personal connection to the first (Brian is a friend and he has been to our store) each of these volumes are spectacular. They deserve to be known and discussed. Sadly, they are most likely not in most Christian bookstores or church libraries. It falls on us, good friends of Hearts & Minds, to buy the books and spread the word about them. They will (to swipe the language of whoever wrote Hebrews) “strengthen the tired hands and weak knees.”  

A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh edited by Marcia Boniferro, Amanda Jagt & Andrew Stephens-Rennie (Pickwick) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

I don’t know if it is exactly right to put it this way, but it seems to me that Brian Walsh, who this book honors, likes, or at least appreciates and values more than many, Lent and Holy Week. I’ve been wanting to write again about this book which honors him and now feels like the right time now when we are pondering this counterintuitively “good” story that feels so bad. When Brian was a CRC campus minister at the University of Toronto, pastoring a group called “Wine Before Breakfast”, he would send out a pastoral letter about the importance of, the hardships of, and the possible healing and renewal that comes from following Jesus in this complicated and disorienting road towards the cross. If we are followers of Jesus, the New Testament says over and over, we share the hope and joy of His Kingdom coming but, paradoxically, we enter into that, as Jesus did, through suffering. I have told before about Brian’s sensitivities to the world’s great sorrows and how he was one of the first — perhaps channeling Walt Brueggemann — who taught me about the Biblical basis for lament. His emailed Holy Week newsletters to his “Wine Before Breakfast” companions were passionate and honest and raw and the best stuff I’ve ever read on why contemporary Christians should pay attention to the part of the Jesus story that starts on Palm Sunday.

Many of the chapters in A Sort of Homecoming are tinged with this upside-down spirituality of sadness— not highlighting a religion of power and success but of brokenness and humility — and some are brilliantly about just that.  For instance, Richard Middleton’s excellent chapter “Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Lament Psalms” is worth the price of the book and don’t miss James Olthius’s creative essay, “The Wit(h)ness of Suffering Love.”

But yet, after Maundy Thursday and the Stations of the Cross and the Seven Last Words (it was Brian who I first heard name the cross and crown of thorns for what it is: a coronation) and the silent mystery of Holy Saturday, there is resurrection joy. It seems to me, however, that to keep this glory from being taken over by maudlin sentimentality (or co-opted by commercial pleasantries) we need to think in fresh ways about what is going on in our confident, Easter affirmation of resurrection. 

(In the last BookNotes I suggested N.T. Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Began, as one way into this topic; if renewing and restoring the whole creation is the “end game” of the cross and resurrection, how might that hope of “creation regained” inform how we understand, interpret, and preach the texts about the cross? I might suggest, by the way, that it is likely that Tom would say he learned at least some of how to think about this as he does from his interactions with his friend Brian Walsh forty some years ago… that Wright’s magisterial The New Testament and the People of God is dedicated to Brian is itself quite a tribute! Tom wrote the foreword, too, to Brian’s amazing, short, but powerhouse book, Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Dangerous Times.)

One of the remarkable contributions Brian and his circle of friends have made for those of us wanting all the Biblical help we can get in describing the death and resurrection of Jesus, who want faithful fresh language for our faith and for our life in God’s Kingdom, is seeing Christian salvation in terms of homecoming. 

Naturally rooted in a vital understanding of the meaning of humankind’s task in Genesis 1 and 2, and perhaps drawing on the wondrously rich language of returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, and Jesus’s own appropriation of that language, Brian (and co-author of Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Steven Bouma-Prediger) introduced a way of getting the big picture of the Biblical drama by using language and rhetoric that goes like this: the shalom of creational home / the alienation from place by exile / the joy of creational homecoming. (Astute readers will see that this is no Woodstocky “got to get ourselves back to the garden” sentiment but mirrors the popular Biblical summary of the interconnections of creation/fall/redemption.) Sylvia Keesmaat — who also studied with Tom Wright and is married to Brian — has also used this language generatively in her own work. You see it in all her published chapters and classes and, in her powerful call in her chapter to resist colonization by way of Leviticus and Luke.

Both Steven and Sylvia have unforgettable chapters in A Sort of Homecoming and they each stand up to repeated readings. Steven’s chapter is called “Holiness and Homemaking: The Christian Doctrine of Creation Performed” and Sylvia’s is entitled “Home Is Where the Wild Rice Is.”

Another layer of what is integral and not incidental to this approach to redemption as homecoming and renewed homemaking is radical hospitality. They realize that if we are busy building the Lord’s place, if we are to be a new Jerusalem (that is, a “city of shalom”) we must wonder about who is included (and who may be excluded.)  Miroslav Volf’s heavy, stunning Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation has echoes of this, as does the work of Christine Pohl, such as her Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition; Brian in his “Wine Before Breakfast Group” and during his time as a “theologian in residence” at a homeless shelter, and then at the “Russet Farm” ecological homestead that he and Sylvia steward, explored questions of such hospitality. What does it mean to offer a safe haven — a home, even — in a world of exclusion and exile? It makes sense that early on in his ministry of transforming visions he worked to include those who are often marginalized — native peoples, the addicted and abused, the poor, LGTBQ+ persons, folk who had been rejected from conventional Christian churches.

Indeed, one of the very impressive chapters in this collection (by Rachel Tulloch) is “Hospitality as Hermeneutic and Way of Life.” What a tribute to Brian that, in the start of her essay, she notes,

“What stands out to me about Brian’s academic career is how difficult it would be to talk about Brian’s work without talking about his life.”

Those who know his amazing Wine Before Breakfast devotionals (John Before Breakfast and Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament and Hope) know how beautifully diverse their community of inclusion had become. Many saw this explored in his and Sylvia’s mind-blowing and much discussed Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. It comes to even fuller fruition in Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice. Rarely does one find such robust and serious Bible study with such insightful cultural analysis and such curious application as in that amazing, creative “un-commentary” on Romans.

Homemaking. Hospitality. Feasting. Farming. Caregiving. Sabbath. A bit of Wendell Berry agrarianism and some liberation theology and a nod to a sort of Dutch neo-Calvinism. Prayer and politics and a rowdy soundtrack from the best of rock music, from Cockburn to Cohen. And always the Bible, the whole story of God for the whole people of God. Brian loves the Bible.

For what it is worth, Brian and Sylvia are friends with the very important writer Norman Wirzba. I know putting together a book like this on a quick timetable with a rag tag committee of eager friends doesn’t always allow for a perfect production, but I missed a chapter by Wirzba in here; it would have been icing on the cake. This year Wirzba released the beautiful and rich This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World (Cambridge University Press) and University of Notre Dame announced the August 2022 release of the must-read Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land. (We are, of course, taking pre-orders.)

A few of the folks who did contribute are somewhat famous (Biblical scholars N.T Wright and Andrew Lincoln) and a few have done major books — besides the previously mentioned Steven Bouma-Prediger and J. Richard Middleton, we’ve got here Matt Bonzo, who co-wrote an early book on Wendell Berry, and the prolific Rodney Clapp, now of Wipf & Stock. One of the contributors who has written a few books is Greg Paul, of inner city Toronto’s Sanctuary Ministries, who has an incredibly moving chapter, about Brian sharing his bereavement over the death of homeless friends and their affection for hard-up guys like Frenchy, Dana, Iggy, and others who were a part of their community. Greg’s chapter is “Iris and Nereus here and now” and if you’ve read Romans Disarmed, you will get the references. It is a heart-rending essay, and a good tribute to Brian’s care for his friends at Sanctuary.

When I wrote about this remarkable book almost two years ago, I said,  “This may be one of the books released in this hard year of our Lord 2020 that I feel as close to as any.” That remains the case. I saw it in early manuscript form, but I was sworn to secrecy about it because it really was a true festschrift — a surprise collection of essays and contributions surreptitiously published in honor off Brian’s retirement from campus ministry. They kept him in the dark for most of the publishing process even though there were folks all over the world in on it. I am truly impressed by the brilliance of some of these pieces, and am time and again struck by the fruitfulness of this metaphor of homemaking.

As I wrote in 2020, “It is an honor to help celebrate Brian’s ministry and writing and for his friendship with us as he encourages us in our work.”

Here, in fact, is something I sent them as an endorsement and blurb for their own publicity:

It is fabulously fun that a book in honor of author, chaplain, activist, and scholar, Brian Walsh is cribbed from a U2 song; Brian has exegeted popular music (including the boys from Dublin) in all of his work, scholarly and pastoral, for 40 years or more. Most of these contributors in this surprise festschrift are not musicians but their writing here sings, rocks, even, as it amplifies the good work of Walsh, offering creative, brilliant chapters about the things Brian has taught us to care about. And what a book it is, deliciously filled with essays on faith and public life, theology and place, justice and passion, city life and ecology, the church of Jesus the suffering King and its mission to include the outsider, the excluded, the ignored, the hurt. And the Bible; always the Bible, speaking wild and free to those with ears to hear. This book will open your ears to the hope and homecoming embedded in the Scripture’s story, with a chorus of voices serving as an encore to the vivid work of Brian Walsh. You should take in this show, and then read it again. It’s that good. And that important.

Seminary prof and author Christopher James put well.

Be forewarned, this collection will leave you with a case of holy homesickness. This bouquet of contributions explores a range of themes in Brian’s work – eschatology, empire, ecology, and exegesis  – held together by a robust thread of home. Poetry, places, and stories make it more than a festschrift; it’s an ode to the beauty of home and a prayer of longing to be at home–with God, one another, and all creation.  –Christopher B. James, author of Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil

There are so many good chapters in this book, each helping us name the brokenness and sadness in our lives and in this world, and each helping us develop a prophetic imagination that sees differently, that embraces God’s vision for what might be. Holy homesickness, yes, but pointers and guides showing us the way home. There are chapters on caring for the homeless (see, especially, the fabulous piece by Alan Graham) and on the arts (see “The Reconciling Power of Public Art in a Broken Home” by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin and Jonathan Chaplin, both working in the UK.) A literature prof (Deborah Bowen) ruminates very nicely on her own attentiveness to creation about her, and how places shape us.

There is a spectacular chapter by Stephen Martin who is fluent in the reformational worldview tradition of Brian’s earliest networks (not to mention the music of Bruce Cockburn, one of Brian’s great loves.) It is called “Springtime in Cape Town: The Sacramental, Prophetic Imagination of Desmond Tutu” and it brings together much of Brian’s own work, his own deepening into a “sacramental worldview” and a “prophetic imagination.” With a lovely but somehow remarkably astute bit of insight about Tutu, he shines a light on Walsh’s books and work. It is, I think, a central chapter.

Don’t miss Andrew Stephens-Rennie’s inspiring and honest piece called “Revillaging the City” about how “one congregation transformed its charitable food ministry into an agent of shalom.” And if you like good Biblical scholarship, you’ll be intrigued by several outstanding chapters. I loved the work of Wright on 2 Corinthians, an intriguing bit about jewels in the apocalypse by Grant Lemarquand, even Hendrik Hart’s dense piece about Jesus as the Face of God in John. One of my favorite chapters was by Beth Carlson-Malena, who told of how Brian and the Wine Before Breakfast community encouraged her to do a queer sort of church plant in Vancouver; the chapter is like a sermon, called “Of Tents and Temples” and it works just a bit with 1 Corinthians 3.

I like this description on the back cover. In this week after Holy Week, I really want to commend A Sort of Homecoming to you. It offers fresh images for faith and life and radical ways to be shaped by the grace of the gospel, even amidst what Paul calls in Romans a “groaning creation.”

We live in a culture of collective fear over climate change and mass migration, and we experience increasing intense personal anxiety and despair. How might the Bible’s themes of homecoming and homemaking address our physical, emotional, and spiritual displacement? This collection of essays honors the academic and community work of Brian J. Walsh upon his retirement as Campus Minister at the University of Toronto Christian Reformed Campus Ministry. The collection is a stunning mosaic at once academic and personal—representing the many elements of Brian’s life as pastor, theologian, professor, farmer, mentor, and friend. In an age when “home” feels physically and spiritually elusive for so many, this volume reawakens our imaginations to the foundational biblical themes of homecoming and homemaking. Academic, pastoral, personal, and timely, this volume honors Brian’s career and equips readers to engage the fear and anxiety of our age with the hope of the gospel.

By the way: Brian wrote another of my all time favorite books, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. Brian is teaching an on-line course on Cockburn’s work and for those interested in how this particular artist has given voice to Biblical ideas over the course of an evolving career, you should consider signing up. . Mr. Cockburn will be making an appearance in the class, by the way, so it is going to be very cool. Get out your Bible and sign up. Scholarships are available.  Here is a truly beautiful video of Brian explaining what’s going to happen and how to participate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVdvtr_-XAE

 

 

Practicing the Kingdom: Essays on Hospitality, Community, and Friendship in Honor of Christine D. Pohl edited by Justin Bronson Barring & Maria Russell Kenney with a foreword by David P. Gushee (Cascade Books) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

The back cover of this great volume says it nicely. “Throughout her academic career, Christina D. Pohl has helped the church rediscover practices that used to be central to its life, like hospitality, community, and friendship. Perhaps best known for her groundbreaking Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, she has also contributed significantly to discussions on Christian community, feminism and the academy, and the practice of friendship. Yet behind this lies a lifetime of “lived theology” that informs her life and her work, both inside and outside the academy.”

Besides the aforementioned “groundbreaking” and must-read Making Room Pohl’s Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us is in a class by itself. Not too long ago I reviewed at BookNotes her very inspiring recently released (co-authored) book called Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful Discipleship.

One can immediately sense, like with the tributes to the seamless life of Brian Walsh (above) we have here with Christine Pohl, a person whose life illustrated her teaching and her academic writing and books grew organically from her own life of integrity. I gather that her work was perhaps a bit less colorful than Walsh’s, but there is nonetheless a nice similarity. This festschrift is a book of tribute, thoughtfully compiled by former students, colleagues, friends. The opening piece about how available and gracious Pohl was to a student — now an adult and colleague — illustrates the way a life well lived can have such influence on others. She has had a profound influence on many through her vibrant life and ministry (apart from the groundbreaking book, whose historical impact cannot be underestimated.) This is a book that is both challenging and incredibly inspiring.

Practicing the Kingdom does more than honor Christine Pohl, a person worth imitating. In these essays, one is reminded of the urgency of the challenge each generation of Christians has to live lives that provide a glimpse of the reign of God in a culture desperate for hope, honesty, and hospitality. Those who read this book will be challenged to embody the biblical ideas of community that are a preview of the kingdom of God.  –Joy J. Moore, Luther Seminary

I could spend an hour describing chapter by chapter this very good collection. There are more than a dozen chapters in 220 pages. Some are by well known scholars who you should want to read —Richard Mouw (on “intellectual hospitality”) and Miroslav Volf (on “a religion of love.”) Most of the contributors are authors — some more academic, some having done important work on new monasticism and community and missional service. All are down to earth in their thoughtfulness, practical in their erudition.

There are four main “parts” or sections including several chapters within each. The first part has pieces about hospitality (don’t miss the lovely chapter called “Making Hospitality Ordinary: Living into Liturgical Seasons.”) The second part is about community, the third about friendship. The fourth set of four chapters is called “Practicing in Context: New Alliances and Good News.” It includes good stuff about disciple making, extending mission, an important chapter on feminism, and other insights about “practicing the Kingdom of God.”

This is a very readable book and includes plenty of tender and inspiring stories. Yet, most of the authors are scholars and there is plenty of creative, substantive, writing. One chapter on friendship is called “False Centers and Shifting Margins: Lamenting the Poverty of our Friendships” while another (by Justin Barring, one of the chief editors) is called “Transgressive Friendships, Subversion, and Fluid Hierarchies.” As you can guess, one of the themes of her writing has also been about cross-cultural friendships and authentic ministry partnership of mutual collegiality, not “us” helping or befriending “them.”

One especially poignant chapter is by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, whose work with the most vulnerable is well respected. (He has a book about community and Kingdom living in light of St. Patrick, and another drawing on St. Francis.) In “The Gift of Vulnerable Community” he writes about his own PTSD and depression and how his “Little Flowers” community became a safe space for him, eve as his the authentic nature of the relationships allowed for healing. And inclusion of others with complicated lives and deep needs. One can vividly sense the resonance here between the ethos and communities described in A Sort of Homecoming and in Practicing the Kingdom.

Even if most readers do not live in intentional commutes as described in a few of the chapters in Practicing the Kingdom — that is, not quite like Reba Place or Bruderhof or L’Abri and the like — the stories of doing life with others are striking and memorable. (Maria Russell Kenney, a prof at Asbury Theological Seminary, has an excellent piece which she calls “A Critique of Idealism”, which explores how concrete spiritual practices “ground life in community.” Tim Otto, a pastor of Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco, writes seriously about “the interdependence of individuality and community” in a chapter cleverly called “Resisting the Borg.” For anyone in families or close neighborhoods and certainly in congregations, this stuff is all very helpful.

Jesus, on the night before he was killed, gathered with his friends. Some of them struggled (John, later that night with the famous sword to the ear episode) with the ethics or way of life demanded by his holy mandate to love, always. Some of them, years later, were extolling the pastoral practices that made for lively and enduring communities of faith.  Practicing the Kingdom is the kind of book that can help us all work out the implications of our own journeys of faith, offering hospitality, building community, giving ourselves to the work of lasting relationships. We are very glad to recommend it now.

Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now edited by Nijay K. Gupta, Tara Beth Leach, Matthew Bates & Drew J. Strait (Cascade Books) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Wow, this book, a tribute to New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, is so full of solid chapters of solid Biblical insight about what it means to follow Christ today. As the title suggests (and drawing on, or at least alluding to, the lovely, accessible book by McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited) you can tell this isn’t a narrowly understood, truncated, minimized gospel “of asking Jesus into your heart” but is a fully Biblical gospel of the Kingdom and our lives as citizens under this reign of God. It invites us not just to believe but to follow, not to cheap grace but, as McKnight put it in another of his many books, to living out “The Jesus Creed.” It is asking us what kind of Kingdom vocation Jesus and his followers once had and how that might be embraced today. 

As Jeannine K.Brown (professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary) puts it, this book, in McKnight’s honor:

“offers fresh and compelling applications of Scot’s winsome vision for understanding the New Testament, church history, and ministry practice. Its cadences are both familiar and refreshingly insightful.” 

And, naturally, as McKnight explores so well in his One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, the gospel of the Kingdom calls us to realize that all of life, all aspects of our daily lives, are to be informed and shaped by our faith in Christ. We don’t have some separate “spiritual life” alongside some other public or “secular” life. We just have one life. And we follow Christ and live by His grace in all sides of that life and in all spheres of society and culture. So, yep, this “King Jesus gospel” presses us out into a quite robust, missional adventure. (That McKnight has done a commentary in the “Story of God” commentary series on the Sermon on the Mount ought not surprise us. As an Anglican, he sure seems to have some Anabaptist influences. Indeed, his soon-to-be-released small manifesto in the “My Theology” series will be called The Audacity of Peace. You should pre-order that asap.)

Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now is arranged in three major parts. The first part includes 7 chapters in over 100 pages about the New Testament’s teaching on this theme. You’ll read essays by lively (and much discussed) authors such as Michael Bird, Drew Strait, Matthew Bates, Lynn Cohick, Nijay Gupta, Dennis Edwards and Dana Harris. 

The second section of this ongoing conversation with McKnight’s work is called “Christian History and Tradition.” There are pieces here on how the church fathers viewed the nature of Christian living, a chapter on the Orthodox way, one on the liturgical renewal of the reformation churches, and a chapter on how the Anglican tradition might view the King Jesus Gospel, using the Book of Common Prayer as a formative tool for whole life discipleship and Kingdom living. 

The final part (about 75 pages in five great chapters) explores “Christian Life, Discipleship, and Community Today.” From David Fitch (one of the essential chapters comparing and contrasting various views of the gospel) to Nancy Ortberg with a delightful message about “small things” to the chapter by Dave Ferguson & Tammy Melchien (“Living the Gospel as an Apprentice to Jesus”) there are wise essays on how the gospel influences or shapes us. This is mature and thoughtful stuff. And then there are some that are more specific, from Derwin Gray (author of the new How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation) on the multiethnic church to Becky Castle Miller (on caring for abuse survivors.) (Ms Castle Miller, by the way, put together a few years ago a great collection of Bible studies and discussion guides that explore Scot’s work called Following King Jesus: How to Know, Read, Live, and Show the Gospel so she knows his work well.) That this collection ends with this sort of invitation to consider the implications of the Kingship of Jesus for our various gospel ministries is significant. It’s almost like the book ought not be over yet. Indeed, it isn’t. The next pages are written by us.

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LENTEN BOOKS ON SALE — 30% OFF // ONE WEEK ONLY – HOLY WEEK & EASTER BOOKS 20% OFF

LENTEN BOOKS ON SALE — 30% OFF // ONE WEEK ONLY.

HOLY WEEK BOOKS ON SALE – 20% OFF                                                               EASTER BOOKS ON SALE – 20% OFF

WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.

As always, please use the order link at the end of the column which takes you to our Heart & Minds secure order form page. Once there, just tell us what you want and how you want it shipped. You can safely enter credit card info or we can send a bill for you to pay later. We will reply promptly and send your order out well wrapped from our central Pennsylvania shop. 

Here in this first section are a few great Lenten books that we need to move out, which means we’re doing this one-week-only clearance sale. While supplies last we have these at 30% off. The 30% off sale ends April 15, 2022.

LENT BOOKS — 30% OFF

A Busy Parent’s Guide to a Meaningful Lent  Maria C. Morrow (Our Sunday Visitor) $16.95  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $11.86

This is a lovely book we highly recommend for busy parents. It was written for Catholic families, but, with the exception of a few uniquely Roman devotional notions, it is fine for anyone to use, offering quick and easy resource that starts the day off with Scripture, reflection, prayer.  One reviewer complimented the author’s “contagious confidence.” 

The author is fascinating, is a professor at Seton Hall University and wrote a book called Sin in the Sixties: Catholics and Confession 1955-1975. There’s a nice endorsement by the lively Mike Aquilina from KWTN. Nice — 30% off, while we have some left.

A Book of Days for Lent: Daily Reflections for the Seasons of Lent edited by Steven Moore & Fr. Richard Ganz  (Seedbed) $12.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $9.09

Produced by the excellent M.J. Murdoch Charitable Trust, this is an exquisite hardback full of short devotionals written by leaders of nonprofits and innovative ministries, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Murdoch does remarkable funding of charitable work, some overtly Christian, some more of what one of their colleagues calls “common grace for the common good” projects. A few of the writers are authors BookNotes readers will recognize (Steven Garber, A.J. Swoboda, Cameron Anderson, Brian Doyle) and others are unsung, but esteemed for their generous servant leadership. This is a handsome hardback with some full color art, and wonderful companion to  their equally solid A Book of Days for Advent. 

Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $23.99    OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $16.79

This author is exceptionally popular among many of our customers, who appreciate his clarity about how the gospel works, transforming out lives from the inside out as we trust the work of the cross to sanctify us into Christ-likeness. The history of redemption is an unfolding story with Christ at the center of the plot, and the cross at the center of his saving work. This “journey to the cross” is a handsome hardback with serious, Christ-centered, reflection.

As Ruth Chou Simons (of GraceLaced and Beholding and Becoming) says, 

Paul Tripp has once again led us past feel-good platitudes and into focused, Christward reflection. Through tension and tenderness, lament and thanksgiving, the Lenten season will transform us when it leads us to the cross of Christ.

The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent Aaron Damiani (Moody Press) $12.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $9.09

We’ve mentioned this more than once in past Lenten lists and it is a regular seller for us here at the shop. It seems two sorts of folks most appreciate this handsome paperback: first, those who have never really paid attention to giving things up for Lent or who don’t know much about Lenten practices at all.  It is a great (albeit conservative Protestant) introduction to this pivotal time in the church calendar and why it is good to spend a season being a bit more self-reflective and aware of our sins and foibles, needs, and desires.  I love the title and the subtitle, and Lenten-aware or not, it’s a great read. Secondly there are those who do, indeed, practice conventional Lenten habits and want to be into it. But yet… we need some help, some guidance, some reminders. Aaron Damiani is a good writer, a helpful sherpa on the Lenten way. He is the lead pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. 

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter edited by Charles Moore  (Plough Publishing) $24.00  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $16.80

One of our great Hearts & Minds event of the last year was the great opportunity given to us by Plough Publishing to help launch Charles Moore’s incredible book of readings from all across church history and theological traditions on the Sermon on the Mount (entitled Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together.) We did a well-attended Facebook live interview with Mr. Moore about his love for Biblical and spiritual teaching and his nearly encyclopedic awareness of great Christian literature from across the centuries. Well. Besides that robust anthology, we discovered (no surprise, really) that he was the editor behind two of our all-time favorite books, the Advent reader Watch for the Light and the Lenten anthology Bread and Wine. These are treasures — devotional books you can read and ponder over and over (in any season of the church year.) Having Bread and Wine here on sale is a great opportunity. While supplies last, as they say. A word to the wise.

A Time to Grow: Lenten Lessons from the Garden to the Table Kara Edison (WJK) $14.00  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $9.80

When we announced this earlier this Lenten season we sold a few and I ordered more right away — what a charming and fun book this is, reflecting on — or, I should say, helping us nurture — a sense of the organic nature of spiritual formation, a cultivation of an appreciation for growth. Edison is a United Methodist pastor and an avid gardener, a pastoral counselor and obviously an astute writer and theologian. Here she shows us that from the dead of winter (starting on Ash Wednesday) we long for Spring. Fertile soil and water and light, time and patience, work and trust, are all realties for her as a gardener and become metaphors as well. There are elements that can be used in congregations, there are some liturgies and even altar art ideas for decorating worship spaces. This is a great resource. Buy it now at this great discount and use it next year!

Grounded in incarnational spiritual exercises, this book marks out a Lenten journey of personal growth rather than denial.  T. Wilson Dickinson, author of The Green Good News: Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life. 

Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing Gayle Boss, illustrated by David Klein (Paraclete Press) $19.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $13.99

I know most of our BookNotes readers know of our affection for this kind of book that invites us into what Romans 8 calls the “groaning of creation.” Yes, this is a full-orbed, creation-based, reflection on Lent. It is a companion volume to the lovely, haunting, and wonderful All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (note that the title of that Advent one also has a title directly from Romans 8:19.) Wild Hope takes it’s inspiration telling the stories of animals on the endangered species lists. As poet Luci Shaw puts it, it offers, “Detailed, vivid accounts of an ark-full of wild lives in danger.” As Carl Safina writes, it is a “book pursued by grace on every page.”

Gayle Boss writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan while David Klein is a New York-based, award-winning graphic artist who has done illustrations with the world’s leading newspapers, magazines and publishing houses. We are happy to offer a few at this extra discount.\

Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week Jason Porterfield (Herald Press) $17.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $12.59

This is very much a “Holy Week” study, but we are so eager to get it into your hands, we have it here with our other 30% OFF titles. While supplies last, we’ll send this your way pronto at this extra bargain.

I was very pleased to write a bit about this when I did a list of books about peacemaking and the questions of violence a few months ago which it had just come out. (With the awful war waged by Russia, now, it is that much more relevant and complex, eh?) I noted that Fight Like Jesus was a very good new book, refreshing the arguments for Biblical pacifism and nonviolent resistance. The title should be appealing to all who are Jesus followers if we, indeed, committed to His ways.  We are in His way, after all, and should do whatever we can in appropriately Christ-like ways. And, man, does Jesus ratchet up what that looks like in his last days.

You recall his weeping as he enterer the City of Shalom (Jer-shalom) because they did not know the ways of peace. You remember that embarrassing with zealous John and that gross slicing of the ear, and Christ’s scolding John and healing the wounded guard. (John sure remembered it as he was still writing about it as an old man in his epistle when he said such non-violence was an example for us to follow.) Whew.

I will never as long as I live forget the moment I realized that Peter was an old man writing his first epistle in which he references Jesus’s nonviolence in the garden, saying that we were called to this and it is  an example to follow and how much regret the apostle must have been holding, all these years later, writing about the lesson he learned when Jesus rebuked him at one of his worst moments. 

For another example, many of us have preached — I hope you have heard it — about the implications of Jesus riding a donkey (not a warhorse or royal steed as they would expect) on Palm Sunday to fulfill the anti-war prophecy of Zechariah.

Well, those are just a few of the lessons of Holy Week and to have them and many others explore so forthrightly and tied together in one major book is a treasure. I’m very excited about this new book, glad for its lively readability and its good attentiveness to the Bible in its wholeness. (He has a degree from Fuller, by the way, and there is a forward to this by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight.) I very highly recommend it.

So many well known authors talk and write about the high esteem they have for the Bible (and look askance at those who they think do not) but as far as I can tell, they have never done this kind of solid work on this Biblical material. We all have blinders and miss stuff, so I’m very eager to commend Jason Porterfield for connecting dots, speculating a bit about what it all means, and preaching a full gospel message for those offs wanting to dwell in Holy Week a bit this Lent.  

HOLY WEEK BOOKS – 20% OFF

Seven Last Words: Cross and Creation  Andrew McGowan, illustrated by Bettina Clowney (Cascade Books) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

What a remarkable teacher and preacher Dr. McGowan is. (He is a Professor of Anglican Studies and Dean of the Divine School at Yale; he also wrote, among other texts, the excellent Ancient Christian Worship.) In this small book he reflects powerfully on the classic “seven last words.” There are moving art pieces that go along with each message, done artfully by Philadelphia artist and spiritual director Bettina Clowney (who died just over a year ago.) She attended Tyler School of Art, was trained in spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute, and studied iconography with Vladislav Andreyev. 

This is a moving and thoughtful and inspiring little book, highly recommended.

Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Perhaps you recall our announcement of this a few months back. Here’s some of what we said about it.

Readers of BookNotes know of our appreciation for this Jewish New Testament scholar who has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We have heard her, appreciate her feisty style, commend her books and DVDs full of insights about the nature of first century Judaism, the context in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement got started. I hope you know her book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week which is one of her most popular titles.

With AJ’s famous wit and vast knowledge of Scriptures in their historical context, she’s a helpful, enthusiastic teacher. In this new one, Witness at the Cross, she is studying the history, social context, and substantive views about the cross through the eyes of those who were present.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

Experience Holy Friday from the perspective of those who watched Jesus die: Mary his mother; the Beloved Disciple from the Gospel of John; Mary Magdalene and the other women from Galilee; the two men, usually identified as thieves, crucified with Jesus; the centurion and the soldiers; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Jews and Romans, friends and strangers, the powerful and the powerless, the hopeful and the despairing. In Witness at the Cross, Amy-Jill Levine shows how the people at the cross each have distinct roles to play in the Gospels. For each, Jesus has a particular meaning and message, and from each, we learn how those meanings and messages cross the centuries to any who would come to the cross today.

Praying the Stations of the Cross: Finding Hope in a Weary Land Margaret Adams Parker & Katherine Sonderegger (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE $17.59

It isn’t every day that a major, world class seminary professors and theologians like Dr. Sonderegger does a daily devotional of this sort. (Her first two hefty theological volumes in a multi-book series on Systematics are excellent.) Here she offers deep and thoughtful guidance about this ancient practice that can “strengthen our awareness of God’s healing presence.”

Margaret Adams Parker is also a theological educator and she is also a visual artist and here offers excellent writing and remarkable woodcuts. (She has an afterword about the painstaking process of creating these pieces, some that first started as charcoal sketches.) They are powerfully striking.

The process of these two well-informed, exceptional Protestant theologians collaborating (and some work previously done on their own) is itself a fascinating story. Their introductory chapter on visual art representations of Christ’s crucifixion is great and their history of the practices of “doing” the Stations of the Cross is very interesting, even inspiring. I’ve mentioned this one before, but felt like I should highlight it again. As Bishop Michael Curry notes, “Here, the weary will indeed find refreshment, and those in need of spiritual nourishment will be amply satisfied.”

This is truly a profound and spiritual moving book. The practice of the Stations is opened up and made newly accessible in a fully ecumenical way. The pervading spirit of the Stations is removed from self-absorbed penitential practices and wonderfully enlarged by the mercy of Christ toward the sins and sorrows of the world. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the result is generous orthodoxy in action.       — George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

Three Hours: Sermons on Good Friday Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I’ve recommended all of Rev. Dr. Rutledge’s books before, and most years I’ve shared that I am particularly drawn to her work during the moving time of Lent.

And, I have said, and I suspect most agree, that a small hardback with an artful cover that feels good in the hand and is helpful for the eyes, is just a gift, a precious thing to use devotionally. I cannot say enough about this fine little package, the well made, compact sized hardback, the theologically rich sermons in the grand Episcopalian tradition of this world-class Biblical scholar. Three Hours is an excellent little book, good to read any time, but, certainly, during Holy Week,  Thursday night, Friday or Saturday.

Three Hours isa profound and eloquent meditation on the most inconvenient Christian truth: that unless we reckon fully with the No, we dare not proclaim the Yes. Bold, generous, and force: Fleming Rutledge is a little bit on fire. I will cleave to this book in the uncertain days ahead.  — Charles Marsh, author, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Art of Holy Week & Easter: Meditations on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus  Sister Wendy Beckett (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Certainly one of our best selling Lenten devotions from the past has been The Art of Lent and we are thrilled that there is a somewhat shorter companion volume for Holy Week and Easter.

The thoughtful selections of classic paintings (some you will recognize, some you may not) coupled with a few contemporary ones by modern artists, brimming with Sister Wendy Beckett’s irrepressible wisdom and enthusiasm, this is a fabulous resource for your faith development and devotional life. Like the previous one, this is small, almost square sized (6.2″ x 5.4”) so easy to carry and not too expensive. 70 pages.

As one reviewer noted about the Holy Week one,“This little book explores the spiritual riches to be found in some of the world’s greatest paintings of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. Including thirty full-color masterpieces of Western art, this devotional will help you appreciate all that these paintings convey to the discerning eye.”

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

This is a beautifully packaged, full Lenten devotional with a reflective tone, almost using an abbreviated sort of Lectio Divina. The readings are short and are so eloquent they deserve (and call forth) slow, meditative pondering. But yet, if you are like me, you sometimes like to read several at a time. (I know. Don’t judge me.) I really think you could use these short readings during Holy Week to great advantage. Maybe you’ll come back to it time and again more slowly. But you can start now.

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

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

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

The Undoing of Death Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

Yes, I know. I talk about this book every single year. Like her Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, it is an unparalleled and magisterial collection of remarkable sermons. There is so much in here, sermons that will stead you well for a lifetime. These are mostly Lenten and Holy Week sermons although there are some Easter, Easter week and Eastertide ones as well. From Ash Wednesday messages to Good Friday sermons (including a famous once preached about “The Cross at Ground Zero” dated September 11, 2001) through the whole season, these are the sorts of sturdy sermons we need. A few chapters have art pieces shown that she discusses to very good effect, including one on the “harrowing of hell.”

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering Jesus’s Crucifixion N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I guess most BookNotes fans know a bit about NT Wright’s visionary work about the Kingdom coming on Earth as it is in Heaven, the whole cosmos being redeemed and restored in a re(new)ed creation. Some of us still vividly recall his teaching from the then brand new book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels in our backyard. If that “surprised by hope” and “creation regained” worldview is the end game, so to speak, then what is the death of Christ about and for? Just to blot our our sins? Isn’t there more to it than that? Didn’t Jesus say something about the Kingdom coming? Isn’t the end of Revelation a healed creation? Here Wright looks at every key text in the NT about the cross, the crucifixion, the death of Christ, and exegetes the passages fairly, in view of the “new creation” hope.  I think Adam Hamilton could be right when he says that this is “One of the most important books on the cross ever written.”

The Crucified King: Atonement and the Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology Jeremy R. Treat (Zondervan Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I do not have time, now, to throughly describe this, let alone review it in a way that does justice to it, but I can say this: it offers a generative hybrid of rather standard, evangelical Protestant atonement theories and doctrines, and also a “Biblical theology” vision of the unfolding narrative and how the cross fits into the Kingdom vision of a renewed creation. Is it part John Murray and part N.T. Wright and part John Stott? Michael Bird calls it “judicious” and others have called it “provocative and elating.” How does the cross lead to the Kingdom? What kind of King wears a crown of thorns? Can we move from overly abstract systematic formulation and capture the vision of the trajectory of the redemptive narrative? 

A Community Called Atonement Scot McKnight (Abingdon Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I have often said that this is my favorite introductory book on the question of the meaning of atonement because it so clearly shares each of the several main theories of atonement in church history. McKnight is generous, a “both/an” rather than “either/or” approach, which is wise and ecumenical. So informative and inspiring…

Not only does he offer a primer on the role of the cross in God’s saving work in Christ, it insists — as authors like Michael Gorman would pick up in books like Cruciformity — that understanding this isn’t mere abstract theology, but it should shape us, informing the very nature of our congregations and our spiritual lives and our missional purpose in the world. 

Here is how the publisher put the implications of this. 

Christ identifies with humans to call us into a community that reflects God’s love (the church) — but that community then has the responsibility to offer God’s love to others through missional practices of justice and fellowship, living out its life together as the story of God’s reconciliation.

Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday Alan Lewis (Eerdmans) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

I believe this is the first book — okay, except for some Fleming Rutledge sermons, the only book — I’ve read about this remarkable and remarkably overlooked matter. And it was stunning to me, serious, academic, weighty, full of provocation and insight and what felt like a gift at the time. Douglas John Hall called it “a beautiful, sublime, and provocative meditation…”

Read carefully what a review years ago said in The Christian Century:

This is the most remarkable and moving book I have ever read. Every page was written by a dying, saintly theologian who stood in the very presence of God, before whom readers too will find themselves hushed in continuous prayer and deep meditation. As we turn over each page, we are led by the late Alan Lewis on a profound and moving theological pilgrimage from the foot of the cross to the garden tomb and through the darkness of Holy Saturday to the wonderful light of Easter morning. This is a superb book of rich dogmatic and liturgical theology that will bring readers to their knees and lift them up again into the audible presence of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus and the communion of the Holy Trinity. . . Between Cross and Resurrection is a book every theological student and every minister of the gospel should study, use, and cherish.

“He Descended to the Dead” – An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday Matthew Emerson (IVP Academic) $30.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

As the publisher notes: “the descent of Jesus Christ to the dead has been a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith, as indicated by its inclusion in both the Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds. But it has also been the subject of suspicion and scrutiny, especially from evangelicals. Led by the mystery and wonder of Holy Saturday, Matthew Emerson offers an exploration of the biblical, historical, theological, and practical implications of the descent.”

This is a tour de force! Emerson has given us a superbly written, incisively argued volume that makes the case for a doctrine that is often neglected or rejected outright by Protestants, illuminating many facets of its theological, liturgical, and pastoral importance along the way. Not everyone will agree with all the details, but this is an outstanding biblical, historical, and theological survey of Christ’s descent to the dead. I expect it to become the benchmark Protestant account of the subject for years to come, and it also opens up rich and fruitful avenues for further exploration.  — Suzanne McDonald, professor of systematic and historical theology at Western Theological Seminary, Holland MI

RESURRECTION – 20% OFF

Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything Adrian Warnock (Crossway) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This came out a decade ago and remains a much appreciated book for those who want a solid, pious, Biblically, evangelical explication of the point and power of the resurrection.  It is a serious read, but not overly academic. It is full of all sorts of implications of Christ’s victory and I’m sure it will be helpful to many. 

Raised with Christ is wonderfully accessible to ordinary Christians because Adrian Warnock is, in his own words, an ordinary Christian. Those who follow his popular blog will recognize his sincere and straightforward style, as he explains why the resurrection is not merely a dry doctrine about a past event but a promise that the life of the risen Christ can transform our lives today.             — Nancy Pearcey, Author, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity

Finally, a new generation of readers has a clear and highly readable book on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Raised with Christ, Christians are in for a delightful surprise as they grasp anew all the benefits which flow from Jesus’ resurrection–what an awesome difference it can make in our lives, our churches, and our communities! Thank you, Adrian, for helping to open our eyes to all the glories and the blessings of Christ’s resurrection and the power, present and future, which proceeds from it.  — Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder and CEO, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Exploring Its Theological Significance and Ongoing Relevance W. Ross Hastings (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This new release has been hailed as a “brilliant vision of Christ in all His redemptive resurrection splendor.” Hastings is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of a number of books, including Total Atonement, Theological Ethics, and Missional God, Missional Church. He has also served as a pastor in several churches so he is wise about exploring the riches of academic theology for real world discipleship and missional living.

In The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Ross Hastings demonstrates how central the resurrection is to the gospel, to Christ’s identity, and to our identity in Christ. Evangelical readers in particular will have their minds stretched and their spirituality enlarged by the dynamic resurrectional reality to which this book bears witness.  — Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary’s Seminary & University, author of Cruciformity.

Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

I have recommended this book to our BookNotes readers many times, and celebrated greatly when it came out in a handsome, compact-sized paperback (with a forward by Eugene and Jan’s son, Rev. Eric Peterson, himself a PC(USA) pastor.) This is such a great little book, a personal favorite, with three great chapters, each on one of the important post-resurrection encounters Christ had with his disciples. 

In Peterson’s hands, these become emblematic of a wholistic and properly human, embodied Christian life. He invites us to Resurrection Wonder, Resurrection Meals, and Resurrection  Friends. As it says on the back, “God made you for resurrection life.” Highly recommended!

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

It is helpful if you would 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 $3.50.
  • 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.

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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 hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in April 2022. 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.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR EASTER. ONE WEEK ONLY SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF

ONE WEEK SALE ON LENT & EASTER BOOKS FOR KIDS.

And a few other books, too.
ORDER BY PALM SUNDAY at 30% OFF. 

While supplies last.

After April 10, 2022, these items return to the customary 20% OFF we often feature at BookNotes.

STAY TUNED: In a day or two we will have a list of adult books, some on sale, some specifically for reading during the end of Holy Week. 

As always, please use the order link at the end of the column which takes you to our Heart & Minds secure order form page. Once there, just tell us what you want and how you want it shipped. You can safely enter credit card info or we can send a bill for you to pay later. We will reply promptly and send your order out well wrapped from our central Pennsylvania shop. 

A Jesus Easter: Explore God’s Amazing Rescue Plan Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $12.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

Barbara Reaoch served with Bible Study Fellowship as the Director of their Children’s Division so she really knows what she’s doing. This is a wonderfully created devotional by an excellent, gospel-centered, fun teacher, complete with space for family journalling. This Bible study starts in the Old Testament, points us to the Christ, offers key lessons on Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Arranged with adaptable questions in a format of  explore, explain, engage enter in (which is a short prayer), a section of “Jesus Is___” exercises, and space for reflection and considering “answers.” A number of our customers loved her Advent one, A Jesus Christmas.

Bare Tree and Little Wind: A Story for Holy Week  Matali Perkins illustrated by Khoa Le (Waterbrook) $15.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.19

This is my favorite new children’s  Easter book of the year and it is fanciful and allusive, artful, the illustration stunning in a creative way and the telling a bit like a mysterious fairy tale. It isn’t a straightforward gospel narration but tells about Jesus and his death through the eyes of palm trees. We are invited to “join the wind and the trees who are celebrating One who brings life.” Bare Tree and Little Wind is lyrical and imaginative, with a conversation between the palm trees who tell Little Wind that the Real King is coming (but they meet Quiet Man instead of the loud and bossy king they were expecting.) When things go wrong, they wonder if they will ever clap again…

There is a scary bit when Roman soldiers try to burn down the tree garden, and they are scorched —  Jerusalem is darkened and the writer and artist hint at that gloom. (But after the resurrection they start to sprout green again and their seeds spread — an obvious analogy for adults to appreciate but it may take some conversation with children to figure out.)  Perkins is an award winning mainstream YA author and has a book on the Lutheran Broadleaf Books publishing house we have raved about called Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls.) This is a rare and stimulating book by a wonderful due of writer and illustrator. Highly recommended.

The Garden, The Curtain, and the Cross Carl Laferton (The Good Book Company) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

There are nearly a dozen of these very playful, interesting, and theologically robust stories in the “Tales That Tell the Truth” line, most connecting a New Testament story with a New Testament one. (The artist for almost all of them is Catalina Echeverri and she is energetic and whimsical, vivid, but the drawings are often small. What fun!) In this case the “garden” in the story is the Garden of Eden and it describes the goodness of creation, the fall and sorrow that came about, and the long hope for some answer to their mess. Jesus shows up, the story of the cross is well told (with a bit of a side story of the curtain in the temple tearing) and the happy news that we can be one with God again. It is solid and Biblically astute, yet really engaging. I love this series called “Tales That Tell the Truth.” A few have been made into board books, but I think they are abridged a bit…

Goodbye to Goodbyes: The True Story of Jesus, Lazarus, and an Empty Tomb Lauren Chandler, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

By the way, this one in the “Tales That Tell the Truth” series is really useful, too, for yet another way into the story, for young or old. This is about Jesus rolling the stone away from the grave of his friend Lazarus and saying goodbye, an allusive way to explain death. It shows how we all have to say goodbye sometimes. But then when his own death and resurrection are explained (with the disciples sad about saying goodbye) we learn about Christ’s defeat of death. And the celebration that creates. They have Jesus saying, “There is a day coming when we will say goodbye to saying goodbyes forever. Do you believe that?” Goodbye to Goodbyes: The True Story of Jesus, Lazarus, and an Empty Tomb is wonderful.

The Easter Story Brian Wildsmith (Eerdmans) $21.00  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $14.70

Those who collect high quality children’s picture books know the name Brian Wildsmith. HIs artwork combines intricate pen and ink drawings fully and vibrantly colorized laid over with gold, surrounded by often bright and always warm watercolor washes. This slightly oversized volume is excellently done, as you would expect, with a bit of busy whimsy, even (look closely and you’ll notice Jesus on the donkey holding a carrot.) With the vivid colors (and sometimes wings, added) one reviewer says his books are like the set of a grand opera.

‘Twas the Morning of Easter Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Elena Selivanova (Zonderkidz) $17.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

With lovely, conventional watercolors and good realistic art, this nice telling follows the cadence of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I was afraid it might be overly sentimental or cheesy, but I think it works really well. The soft watercolor paintings are excellent, making this a really nice book to enjoy and over.

 

The Easter Story for Children Max Lucado, Randy Frazee, and Karen Davis Hill, illustrations by Fausto Bianchi (Zondervan) $6.99   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $4.89

This great thin paperback book for ages 5-10 is nearly like a graphic novel with so many large, rich cartoons illustrations — it is dark and vivid and beautiful. It is drawn from the bigger hardback children’s Bible that was part of the “Story” project called The Story for Children.  Nicely done.

 

 

Easter Love Letters from God: Bible Stories Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sophie Allsopp (Zonderkidz) $16.99  ONE WEEK ONLY- 30% OFF SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $11.89

We really, really like this, as do the families we’ve sold it to in the past. There are two previous ones, Love Letters from God and one specifically for girls, Love Letters for a Girl’s Heart.) It is a very nice picture book, with great illustrations, telling the whole story of Holy Week but on each page there is a little pouch that looks like (well, actually is) an envelope that opens up with a hand written letter from God in the envelope. So besides the dramatic reading and aesthetically pleasing illustrations, there is this lift-the-flap action. The child gets to open the envelope, retrieve the letter, and read it, making it not only interactive and fun, but personalizing God’s great love. They say ages 4 – 8 but I’d say even a bit older, if they are open to this sweet approach. I think there are 7 “letters”, one for each of the major stories.

The Very First Easter Paul Maier, illustrated by Fransisco Ordaz (Concordia) $8.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – 30% OFF SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $6.29

This is a very nice book, nice paper, very lush, realistic art, a pretty straight telling of the story, sandwiched with a fictional device of a (very white) family having devotions, so it ends with some modern day discussion around the table with mom, dad, kiddos. That’s fine, if pretty traditional. There is a lot of text, so it wouldn’t work to read out loud in one “children’s sermon” I don’t think, as it is longer… But it gets the story told with vivid, conventional art.

A Very Happy Easter Tim Thornborough (The Good Book Company) $4.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $3.49

This is cute and yet sound and uses fairly basic language so it would work for little-er children. One of the fun things is that it says in the beginning to try to make faces that match some emotional words throughout the story. Worried, sad, happy, you know. It’s fun and actually a good way to communicate the impact of the story. Anyway, it would be fine to read out loud and have some fun with…  bright pictures of kids.  I hope you know his other distinctively styled (thanks to Jennifer Davision) Bible stories, including the popular Very Noisy Christmas.

SMALLER BOARD BOOKS

Holy Week: An Emotions Primer (in the “Baby Believer” series) Danielle Hitchen, art by Jessica Blanchard (Harvest House) $12.99   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

We are very fond of this but it’s a bit hard to know who can use it best and how. It is very simple, for toddlers, in a board book style, teaching emotions — joy, anger, sadness, fear, and more and helps them to understand emotions are good and made by God. So each scene from Holy Week offers in larger letters a one world emotion. It is really clear and honest and helpful and good, but is it too intense or sophisticated for the very young? Does the simplicity make it too mature for little children? I don’t know, but it’s a remarkable little book and are quite taken with it. There are a few in this series, teaching colors, numbers, and other things from the Bible.

Make Space for Jesus: Learning About Lent and Easter Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Boyajian (Paraclete Press) $11.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $8.39

Paraclete Press does very nice books, but their wheelhouse (what Roman Catholics might call a charism) is doing thoughtful books on spirituality. When they approach these sorts of themes in books for children, they are often really good. Laura Alary lives in Toronto and is a great storyteller; even though this is a short board book, you can tell she knows how to render the words just so. Ann Boyajian is a lovely illustrator; we have her Paraclete paperback Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children. This new board book, Making Space for Jesus is adapted from their larger picture book Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter.

Jesus Rose for Me: The True Story of Easter  Jared Kennedy (New Growth Press) $12.99

ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

This is a larger than usual board, but it does have those thick pages and just a few words on the page. Really bright, simple colors. It tells briefly the story of Jesus, his life and last week, death and resurrection. Here is how they describe it:  “Jesus is risen, and because Jesus is alive, every day is resurrection day! Jesus Rose for Me by author Jared Kennedy is a board book for children ages three to seven that captures the true meaning of Easter. Help your kids celebrate every Easter so they can learn how Jesus is our King.” I like that, despite the title, it seems to alludes to God’s huge redemptive project, not really just “for me.” But, at least, for me.

My First Easter Storybook Laura Richie, illustrated by Ian Dale (Cook) $8.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $6.29

Many folks liked their previous Advent Storybook and the little My First Advent Storybook. This one is quite small (like My First Advent Storybook) and has very nice art with Jesus and his people looking characteristically Middle Eastern and Jewish. There’s a cute little question with each for baby readers — “How many animals can you find” “Can you point to Jesus?” Nicely done.

 

 A FEW THAT ARE NOT ABOUT EASTER

Little Prayers for Ordinary Days Katy Bowser Hutson, Flo Paris Oakes, and Tish Harrison Warren (IVP Kids) $15.00   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.50

Oh my, even though there are plenty of little prayer books for children, there is nothing quite like this. Perhaps inspired somewhat by Tish Warren’s own Liturgy of the Ordinary or the author’s familiarity with Rabbit Room’s Every Moment Holy, this small book for kids is simple, the prayers short, nothing fancy, but sure and sound and God-glorifying. There are truly prayers for throughout the day, evoking God’s presence into the seemingly secular and mundane. Beth and I respect these women immensely and we are very eager to recommend it.  Perfect for a little Easter basket. Hooray!

The Tiny Truths Bible for Little Ones Joanna Rivard & Tim Penner (Zonderkidz) $12.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

Rather like a board book but more regular sized with a padded cover this is “perfect for little hands and little hearts.” It has twelve stories from the Old and New Testament, pleasantly told and illustrated with lovely, upbeat drawings. Okay, maybe they are a little goofy, but charming nonetheless. (This one matches the equally charming Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible and one called Wonder & Wisdom which retells some Psalms and Proverbs.) You will notice that these happily does not portray the Bible characters — from Moses through Jesus and his followers — as European but as persons with dark skin. Which is not to say (please!) that this is only for African American children. Right? Good for children maybe 4 – 6.

The Apostle’s Creed for All God’s Children Ben Myers, art by Natasha Kennedy (Lexham) $17.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

When we announced this several months back, some folks were just excited to see the thoughtful, theologically rich, Lexham Press entering the children’s book market. Some where glad to see the remarkably good (and remarkably brief) book on the Apostle’s Creed by Ben Meyers (The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism) done for children. And so we raved, glad for such a creatively illustrated, helpful, interesting children’s picture book on this important, ancient document. The explanation is child-friendly and poetic, solid but upbeat. The extra prayers and Scriptures are a real bonus.  Highly recommended.

Go and Do Likewise: The Parables and Wisdom of Jesus John Hendrix (Abrams Books) $18.00  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

You may recall us raving about this talented illustrator and graphic novelist and storyteller. His graphic comic rendition of Bonhoeffer called The Faithful Spy shows up as a classic by anyone’s standards. (His forthcoming illustrated study of the Holy Spirit [The Holy Ghost: A Spirited Comic] is coming next month and we’re excited, for sure!) This is a stunning picture book, but the strong, lavish art —not to mention the thoughtful retelling of the Lord’s stories and teachings — is so captivating, it should be appreciated by a wide range of children. See also his companion volume Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

How Much Is a Little Girl Worth Rachael Denhollander, illustrated by Morgan Huff (Tyndale Kids) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

How Much Is a Little Boy Worth Rachel & Jacob Denhollander  illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski (Tyndale Kids) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

I hope you know the story of — and more, the person — Rachael Denhollander. She was the one who so bravely first exposed the awful sexual abuse of young women perpetrated by a doctor for the USA Olympic Gymnastic team; What Is a Girl Worth? My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics her own adult memoir, her story of learning to love gymnastics, her faith and athleticism, and the terrible negligence of those who should have protected these young women who were routinely assaulted. She is a strong woman of faith, a respected attorney, and a clear-headed but soft-hearted advocate for those who have been hurt. These two picture books (the boys one is brand new this week) are  both lovely and valuable, each reminding children that they are treasured and special, full of dignity and worth. 

Wonder Awaits!  Caroline Hamilton-Arnold (Chalice Press) $16.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.89

Several years ago there was a trend of using full color photography (especially of little children and nature) in kid’s books and it seems that has shifted back to illustration and artwork. It’s fun and striking to see one like this, again, with lots of full color, close up photos of real faces. Little ones will love this, I’m sure!  The words are bright but sparse, inviting kids to be curious, be present, be aware. This is very nice.

Breath: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time Laura Alary, illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund (Paraclete Press) $16.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.89

We noted our fondness for most of the kid’s books of Paraclete Press and the writing of Laura Alary, above. Here is one that would be nice to give at Easter, or sometime thereafter, as it moves us towards what comes next in the story: the Ascension. There are few books on this, let alone a lovely one like this that, in soft and gentle ways, also points us towards Pentecost.  Laura Alary got her MDiv from Knox College at the University of Toronto and her Phd at the University of St. Michael’s College. This juxtaposes a picture from Jesus’s day and a picture from a modern day family, exploring the question of “How can Jesus go away, yet promise to be with us always?” It is really nicely done.

Breathe is an invitation to wonder, delight, and celebration and incorporates breathtaking illustrations along with masterful reflection and prose. True to Alary’s style and other work, Breathe is a must-have for every parent and Christian Educator I know. — Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit  Esau McCaulley, illustrated by LaTonya Jackson (IVP Kids) $18.00  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

Oh my, many have been waiting for this one since it was announced a while back. The fabulous and respected IVP publishing house has launched out into kids books and this is not only fairly unique, but is written by one of their authors, the esteemed Biblical scholar Esau McCaulley (of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.) McCaulley, you may know, got his PhD in Biblical studies under N.T. Wright (I’ve heard him talk a bit about being a black guy from a deep South, black church studying with Anglicans in Scotland of all places!) Dr. McCaulley writes od-eds for The New York Times and one notable piece was about his experience of his wife being away on military service and him being for a season functionally a single dad. I have a hunch he knows a lot about the hair of his beautiful black daughter.

This book, though, is, truly, about Josey Johnson’s hair and about the upcoming celebration of Pentecost. In the story — energetically illustrated in a way that is just full of motion, it seems — Josey has to get her hair done and buy a new red dress as they get ready for the church commemoration. Besides the beauty shop, they visit an art museum, too. Of course there is the question, “What is Pentecost?” And, I might add, “What difference does it make?” Might it have something to do with the claim on the back cover that says:

We’re all different because God is creative. Each one of us is God’s unique work of art.

You’ll have to get this one to put it all together, but it is an exciting story, a tender story, an educational one for most of us (who may not know that much about Pentecost, actually.) So, yep,  this is a vivid story about a celebration of a girl’s hair and a key moment in the liturgical calendar. If that isn’t interesting to you, I don’t know what is!

The O in Hope: A Poem of Wonder Luci Shaw, artwork by Ned Bustard (IVP Kids) $18.00   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

This magnificent and artful book came out near the end of last year, one of the very first IVP released when they launched their new IVPKids line. We have complimented it before and suggested it to our readers. Of course, who doesn’t love the poetry of Luci Shaw. And who that follows BookNotes doesn’t know how we appreciate Ned Bustard, creative director and editor at Square Halo Books? A clever poem, lined out with colorful visuals, about hope? A very nice Easter gift, we think!  Highly recommended.

The Biggest Story Bible Storybook Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway) $29.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $20.99

We have bunches of children’s Bibles with all sorts of literary and art styles, theological tones, reading levels and prices. We believe families of young children should have several and even when kids start reading, such volumes can helpfully supplement their efforts to read the Bible. There are so many and we love a lot of them.

This one is very new and is understandably getting a lot of attention. It is well made, hefty, the spine sewn, the paper sturdy, and it includes a ribbon marker. The art is edgy and modern and spectacularly colorful. The content, as the publisher notes, “features chapters that are short enough to be read in one sitting and imaginatively retells the biblical narrative in one continuous story, helping kids connect the dots from Genesis to Revelation.”

In fact, the The Biggest Story Bible Storybook is an expanded version of the earlier book, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden. If you ponder the subtitle a bit you’ll note the way that passage from Genesis 3 about defeating evil becomes the earliest promise of redemption and how the whole history of salvation unfolds with covenant and fulfillment with twists and turns towards Jesus and his Kingdom. I liked that colorful book and applaud the publisher for expanding it to this breathtaking, fuller book. With memorable retellings of 104 Bible stories in 524 pages (and a prayer at the close of each story) it’s a keeper.

DeYoung is a pastor formerly of Ann Arbor Michigan, now in North Carolina and has authored many books. He is also a professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.)

Don Clark is an artist and cofounder of Invisible Creature, a widely respected and award-winning design studio based in Seattle, Washington. He has worked with clients such as Target, Pixar, NASA, The New York Times, LEGO, and Apple. Don and his wife, Erika, have three children and live on a small farm just outside Seattle.

Everybody Always for Kids  Bob Goff with Lindsey Goff Viducich, with illustrations by Diane Le Feyer (Tommy Nelson) $17.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

Whenever we are asked for upbeat and assessable books with a great message for elementary age kids, we recommend the children’s version of Bob Goff’s Love Does or, especially, this one, celebrating ways to love everybody, always. This retells Bob’s whimsical stories in Everybody Always (with the help of his daughter, Lindsey Goff Viduccich, who is an elementary teacher.) There are 40 entertaining stories and some colorful illustrations. A nice presentation page, too.195 pages. Fantastic!

TO PLACE AN ORDER

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

It is helpful if you would 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 $3.50.
  • 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.

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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 hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in April 2022. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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4 New Books on Literature and Art — “The Scandal of Holiness” by Jessica Wilson Hooten, “Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves” by Mary McCampbell, “Rembrandt Is in the Wind” by Russ Ramsey, and “The Art of New Creation” edited by Jeremy Begbie and others – ALL 20% OFF

One of the events we were honored to host here at the bookstore a few years ago was an author appearance/speaking engagement and celebration of a then just released book by Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books (Brazos Press.) Still enhanced with those fabulous linocuts by our friend Ned Bustard, it just came out in paperback (now $19.99.) At that event, Karen explained the thesis of the book — that reading classic literature can not only be entertaining and interesting and edifying, but can actually help form within us Christian virtues. The book has sold well and many have loved it. In it, she famously linked a certain classic novel with a certain virtue. It’s what I playfully sometimes call a “two-fer” — you learn both about virtue/character formation and you learn a Christian view of reading. You could even call it a three-fer” because you also learn the basic plot lines and themes of a dozen great works, from Austen to Dostoevsky to Melville to Dickens.

One of the questions I asked Karen was how this actually happens. I know some people that have read most of those great books and, frankly, they can nonetheless be real jerks. Heck, I have read some of those books and I have no illusion that I consistently exhibit these virtues. I read all kinds of good books and it hasn’t rubbed off all that well. I wonder why that is and maybe you do, too.

Dr. Prior shows that living with these great stories can deepen our character; she moves beyond what we can learn from them, to what we can become when we read well. But in that book, focused as it is on certain classic virtues cultivated from certain specific books, she seems a bit less interested in exploring how it happens. I’m still haunted by the question.

Now we have two brand new books that continue this conversation and, I think, help answer the question I posed to Karen. Enter Jessica Hooten Wilson and Mary W. McCampbell, with their two new releases, The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints (Brazos Press) and Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy (Fortress Press.) 

Both help us along by exploring specific stories that can shape us (so it makes perfect sense that Saint Prior endorses them both quite nicely) and both authors tell us a bit of how it happens. They are, I think, perfect for those who read On Reading Well and liked it and are eager for more. They go “further on and deeper in” to this topic, with verve and joy and upbeat relevance. Both are also, I think, good for those who got On Reading Well but didn’t like it as much as they thought they might (if there are any such souls.) Love On Reading Well or not, these are the two to read next. Prior herself says so. They are among my favorite books of this season, and I’m thrilled to tell you just a bit about them. And then I will add two more in the same ballpark, two about the visual arts.

The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Jessica Hooten Wilson is a very accomplished writer, and super-smart scholar with a PhD from Baylor University. She holds a prestigious position as the Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas. Her essays, literary criticism, cultural analysis, and spiritual reflections have been published in Comment, The Christian Century, The National Review, and the Englewood Review of Books. She wrote a major (and award-winning) academic book on “demonic authority in the fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky” which might give you a hint of her interests and tastes. Interestingly, she has another hardback book coming (from Zondervan Academic; $29.99) in May 2022 — we are taking pre-orders now for Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before (which introduces about 35 famous writers from various cultures and genres, ranging from Confucius, Augustine, Margery Kempe, W.E.B. DuBois, Simon Weil, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolfe, David Foster Wallace, through Marilyn Robinson and a poem by Wendell Berry.)

This brand new one, though,The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination…, is very much about fiction writers. Like Karen Swallow Prior, is convinced of and passionate about the formative power of reading. Her goal, rather than extolling virtues (a la Prior’s appropriation of Aquinas, say) is holiness, as taught directly in the Bible. Reading great literature becomes a spiritual practice. The foreword is wonderfully crafted by Lauren Winner. Winner’s opening ends with these lines:

I’ll be conversing with, riffing on, and returning to The Scandal of Holiness for months and years to come, because, although it is not fiction, like the best fiction, The Scandal of Holiness prods the imagination. It opens out. It exceeds itself.

This book is about a key aspect of the formation in holiness that Dr. Hooten invites us to — she shows that “learning to hear the call of holiness requires developing a new imagination.” Yes, this book is about the imagination.

By exploring many novels old and new (and citing all sorts of other writers, from Walter Brueggemann to Buechner to von Balthasar, she explains how “God opens up a way of living that extends far beyond what we can conjure for ourselves.” This is really, really good stuff — I speak about this often, myself, in workshops and classes, and can get rather fiery, but seeing it so eloquently described with so many, many respectable case studies and literary examples, reminds me how wonderful and important this line of thought really is.

As Russell Moore (who is quite an amazing reader, himself) writes of it:

This book will spur you to read more and will show you how to do it. Wilson knows the difference between being well-read and being holy as she calls us to strive for holiness even in our reading. This book illustrates how good literature can stir the imagination and how the imagination can stir us toward holiness. The voice of this book is not of an English teacher asking if you have done your reading but instead that of a smart and humble friend who says to you: ‘Let me introduce you to some friends who know exactly what you’re going through right now.’  — Russell Moore, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul

By the way, as Moore noted, this is not just a literature prof (or bookseller) nagging you to read more, but it is a friend and guide to a better life, a more deeply Christian sort of discipleship, beckoning us to more generous and wise vision of the world. She wants to know God and God’s ways.  In fact, there are icon-like drawings to start each chapter (not attributed, which is odd) and an excellent devotional reflection at the end of each chapter which includes a nice paragraph excerpted from one of the novels she discusses, a short Scripture, and a quote or prayer from church history. (There are also great discussion questions making it even a more useful resource for your devotions, and, certainly, terrific for book clubs.) We have only rarely seen this juxtaposition of fiction and Scripture and reflection, so these brief readings are themselves remarkable.

Here are just a few of the novels (or stories) that Wooten tells us about, showing how they can form our imaginative vision, our world and life view, if you will: Lazarus by Vodolaskin, That Hideous Strength by Lewis, Book of the Dun Cow by Wangerin, Man of the Mountain by Hurston, In the Time of Butterflies by Alvarez, Kristin Lavransdatter by Undset, Diary of a Country Priest by Bernanos, The Violent Bear It Away by O’Connor, The Power and the Glory by Greene, A Lesson before Dying by Gaines, and Last Gentleman by Percy. 

Surveying these and many more I kept thinking that I wish Eugene Peterson could have lived to have seen this book in his lifetime. He was an advocate for reading these very sorts of books (and wrote about their impact in his own life and ministry.) Hooten is certainly right about her thesis that spending time with these great authors and their acclaimed stories and draw us more deeply into the story of God, and can make us holy. Peterson would say it just like that and he would have endorsed this breathtaking volume. (Which makes me think of our friend, novelist and biographer of Peterson, Winn Collier, who has founded, at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. It did not surprise me to hear that he and Jessica are friends and that they are dreaming up some possible collaborations.)

Here, to further entice you to order this wonderful (225 page) book, is the admittedly allusive and suggestion-rich table of contents:

  • Foreword by Lauren F. Winner
  • Introduction
  • 1. Holy Foolishness
  • 2. Communion of Saints
  • 3. Creation Care as a Holy Calling
  • 4. Liberating Prophets
  • 5. Virgin, Bride, Mother
  • 6. Contemplative and Active Life
  • 7. Sharing in His Suffering
  • 8. Ars Moriendi
  • Conclusion

I love the cover, don’t you —the flame emerging from the book? Yes! The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints is quiet fire.

Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy  Mary W. McCampbell  (Fortress Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I think Beth and I first met Mary at her apartment in Grand Rapids a decade ago during the legendary Calvin Festival of Faith & Music, curated by Ken Heffner and his crackerjack team of pop culture savants. I do know she has a very, very nice line about Ken in the acknowledgements, as well as to her friend and colleague, film studies guru Dr. Joe Kikasola, of Baylor’s New York City arts program. These are not inconsequential influences. We love McCampbell’s perspective, her writing style, her wit and grace, not to mention her deep academic knowledge (her PhD is from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. Not bad for a Tennessee gal who has written about distinctively post-secular USA writers like Chuck Palahniuk.)

She ends the book telling of a conversation in a cool coffee shop with indie singer Monique Aiuto, wife of Brooklyn poet and pastor, Vito Aiuto, with whom Monique founded the quirky worship band Welcome Wagon, talking about their song Up on the Mountain which then segues to a line from Dave Eggers What Is the What and ends with a line from a 1957 Dexter Avenue Baptist Church sermon by MLK. It is that kind of fabulous book. 

In a way, Imagining Our Neighbors… is a step even further away from Karen Swallow Prior’s ‘learn virtue from the classics’ approach in On Reading Well than is Hooten Wilson’s The Scandal of Holiness. Yet, as with Jessica’s volume, Dr. Prior likes this one, too. A lot. Here is what she says on the back cover:

Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves will instruct and delight any reader who cares even a little about art, imagination, and humanity. Mary McCampbell is a faithful, loving guide who will teach you things you didn’t even know you needed to know, and this is a book you won’t even realize you needed until you’ve read it.                                          — Karen Swallow Prior, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books

Jessica Hooten Wilson, too, has raved about it, understanding as she does, why this volume is so very important, similar to hers, but different:

McCampbell has given us a vision of a flourishing community: one full of art, music, film, and fiction that tells the stories of who we are and the diverse gifts we bring to the table. Her book will have us opening our eyes to more clearly see those who are different from us — either because of gender, skin color, ability, or political opinions — as our neighbors.                                                                                                     — Jessica Hooten Wilson, University of Dallas, author of The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints

As you can pick up from these descriptions, Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves…is, like Prior and Hooten’s books, about the imagination. About deepening it, using it artfully, cultivating the practice of reading so as to enlarge the heart and set loose our imaginative capacities, all for the sake of see as God might want, even cooperating with God’s work in our lives and in God’s world. You know that promise that “glory to glory” promise in 1 Corinthians 3, showing that God is working on us, transforming us into Christlikeness from the inside-out? This is partially how it happens, with literature and the arts being conduits of virtue and holiness and Christlikeness and, yes, glory. She shows how the arts can be prophetic, even, helping us see the image of God in others, helping us understand a bit of what she calls “Divine hospitality” and motivating us, like the Hebrew prophets, to denounce idolatry and injustice. Such good reading and viewing and listening can give us sturdy hope.  As Mako Fujimura puts it, McCampbell, “paints a landscape of mystery, hope, and splendor for our imagination to be fed and to be nurtured toward the New Creation.”

Although the subtitle on the cover of McCampbell’s book says it is about how “the arts” can shape us, it focuses largely on what she calls “narrative art” (that is, fiction writing, music, TV shows, films, graphic novels, even memoir.) And it makes the very powerful case — a case I often try to make but never as thoroughly or as compellingly as Mary does here — that we become more empathic as we enter in, engaging with the narratives of others. 

Which is what makes this book stand out — it is about empathy. It is about learning to love. It is about what the New Testament calls agape. She actually explores a lot about how empathy works and why it is important for human flourishing, for justice, for fidelity to God’s ways in the world. She easily moves from Graham Greene to the Holy Bible, from Lars and the Real Girl to faithful theology, from The Hate U Give to spiritual formation, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to Pope Benedict, from The Walking Dead to Rectify to Blankets to Magnolia to Better Call Saul to that movie about Mr. Rogers to a quote from Henri Nouwen. Naturally, in the introduction she has a citation from David Dark’s classic Everyday Apocalypse and she invites us all to ponder how all this popular art can draw us into ways of God’s own mercy.

Please note carefully these words of Christina Edmondson, Christian psychologist and cohost of Truth’s Table podcast and author of the brand new Faithful Antiracism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change that we reviewed in a previous BookNotes last week:

McCampbell takes the ingredients of the familiar and invites us on a theological and experiential journey to self and neighbor compassion. In her book, both storytelling and story analysis, from film to Holy Scripture, inspire and equip us to grow what seems so lacking today: empathy. 

I so enjoyed skimming through this quickly (as I did with Jessica Hooten Wilson’s) like a kid in a candy store. But these books are not candy, tasty and fun as they are. Reading these books is important spiritual work; they are good tools for nurturing the Christian mind, resources for our journey towards Kingdom living, opportunities for fascinating faith formation for being thoughtful readers in these days. Christina Edmondson is right about both books when she says of Imagining Your Neighbors, “I’d encourage readers to move through the text slowly, learning from the phrases and insights, and even vicariously from McCampbell’s style of engagement with the arts, to strengthen their empathy muscle.”

Here’s some of your workout if you take up this particular soul-stirring, muscle-building agenda with McCampbell as your coach:

  1. Introduction: The Imagination as a Means to Love
  2. Art as a Model for the Empathetic Imagination
  3. Empathy for the Wretched and Glorious Human ConditionStories as Self-Reflection
  4. Who Is Our Neighbor?
  5. Structured for Empathy
  6. Growing Empathy for Our Enemies
  7. Conclusion — Empathy in the Greatest Story

Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith Russ Ramsey (Zondervan Reflective) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Perhaps you saw this brand new book listed over at our Jubilee Conference special online bookstore, that e-commerce site we set up to correlate with Jubilee 2022. (I explained all that and invited you to that website at a previous BookNotes, here.) Ramsey is a good and clear writer and is pizzzazed, charged up telling us all what he has been learning as he has fallen in love with great art. Like the above books on literature, this one, too, hopes to help us deepen our imagination, live more mindfully aware of the good gifts that artists can bring. He wants to do this “through the eyes of faith,” as the subtitle says, making it ideal for anyone wanting to relate art appreciation with Biblical faith. Because he doesn’t get heavy into aesthetic theory or interact much with the robust conversation that has been going on about faith and art, it is good for, really anyone. There is a very good forward by Makoto Fujimura.

Here is what I wrote about it there at the Hearts & Minds Jubilee bookstore website:

Ramsey is a pastor and preacher and an ideal teacher to help us become acquainted with a handful of the world’s most famous artists and art pieces. Not all of the painters explored here were good people — but all wrestled with God’s goodness and grace and offered stunning visual reminders of the deepest question of life, including matters of faith.

Rev. Ramsey thrills readers with background drama (including a riveting bit about one of the most costly art heists in history, which included Rembrandt’s painting of the disciples of Jesus begging him to calm the seas, which remains missing to this day.) There is Bible study, some basic inspirational teaching, and lots of good info about the artists and their masterpieces. This will appeal to anyone wanting to think about art in relationship to Christian faith — ideal to open up the relevance of our “Jubilee vision” where God can be found everywhere! What a great read!

You know, I read through this quickly (an occupational hazard) and found so much so very interesting. I didn’t ponder the deeper meaning that much (yet!) and still found it fabulously edifying. And then I saw these comments from my friend, novelist Shawn Smucker, who I trust very, very much. Get this:

Russ Ramsey was kind enough to give me an early chapter of this book a few years ago when I was preparing to go on a silent retreat and asked him for a work of art I might spend some time meditating on during my weekend away. Thanks to Russ’s recommendation, I spent hours contemplating Rembrandt’s painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. I was shaken by the depiction of this scene and the disciples’ question to Jesus, ‘Do you not care that we are perishing?’ Russ’s gentle shepherding of my understanding regarding the painting and the Biblical story behind it was a balm in my life just when I needed it. I know that this book will be the same for you.                     — Shawn Smucker, author of Theses Nameless Things, The Weight of Memory, Light from Distant Stars

See?

I might add, here, that besides being a helpful spiritual guide, Ramsey is a very fine writer and did a set of three books that are hard to describe — they are rich devotional reading in a series called “Retelling the Story” starting with The Advent of the Lamb of God, The Passion of the King of Glory, and The Mission of the Body of Christ. (Each is quite handsomely done by IVP and goes for $18.00.) If you know them you won’t be surprised that this new art volume is by the same author, a serious Bible guy, a creative himself, a writer who wants us all to grow in our imaginative worldview and live into God’s ways amidst a broken culture that still offers rumors of glory.

Ramsey also wrote a book that moved me very deeply, about his own human emotions and struggles when he came face to face with death. That memorable, award-winning book came out in 2017 and is called Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP; $16.00.)

In any case, Russ Ramsey is an author we respect, a writer you should know, and we are thrilled to promote Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith here at our 20% off BookNotes special. 

Here’s what I love about Russ Ramsey’s latest project–it understands down deep that Truth is exclusive to no party or sect; that Goodness arrives in the form of the lonely, the ill, and the outcast; and that Beauty, amid the church’s moral twilight, might be the last apologetic that holds. — Leif Enger, author of Virgil Wander and Peace Like A River

The Art of New Creation: Trajectories in Theology and the Arts edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, and W. David O. Taylor (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I must admit, that although this remarkable book may be just a bit of a niche taste, it is one I”m personally very excited about. It is just exquisitely good for those who care about the deep conversation around faith and the arts, Christianity and creativity, Christians in the world of the contemporary visual arts. Because it not only offers a glimpse into so many different artists and art styles (from modern dance to sculpture, classical music to abstract painting and more ) in dialogue with theology and Scripture and missional envisioning,  it is a book that I just want to press into the hands of almost anyone who reads BookNotes. Really, it is, in many ways, a model for thinking Christianly and witnessing creatively that could inspire similar dreams and visions in other fields and careers. I have anticipated this almost more than any other book this year, and we are wonderfully elated to get to tell you just a bit about it here, now. It’s just so very, very good.

Perhaps you may recall a breathy BookNotes we did last November after we had a book display at the wonderful CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) conference in Austin. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we didn’t get to display most of what we had hoped to at that big gig, so we did this big list here. (The 30% off deal is done, but they are still on sale at our BookNotes 20% off.) We had just heard about this book about that time, so listed it then as a pre-order. And now it is out!  Hooray!

I didn’t know the half of it then, but here is what I wrote about it in that November BookNotes art blog:

This forthcoming volume is going to offer great chapters from the breathtaking DITA10 Conference held at Duke Divinity School exploring how our understanding of the relationship between creation and new creation is informed by and reflected in the arts. I have not read any of it yet, but can’t wait. I know the great African American, Pennsylvania artist Steven Prince has a chapter as does the aforementioned Jennifer Allen Craft, here paired with Norman Wirzba, and loads of what look like breath-taking pieces by dancers and poets and visual artists and musicians.

And I shared this great quote which seemed to capture well the importance of The Art of the New Creation:

From music to painting to film, this volume brings theologians and practicing artists together to imagine God’s new creation that, as Begbie highlights, is ‘before us’ but not yet realized. This mind-bending idea begs for embodied expression, and our cultural moment—rife with fear and injustice—needs those who can transform our imaginations for a new world to come. This collection is an enlivening contribution to the theology and arts conversation, which can often be abstract in its conclusions and outcomes. Instead, we are offered perspectives revealing that the integration of theology and the arts can be a vital nexus from which to imagine God’s new creation in our broken world.  —  Shannon Steed Sigler, executive director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Seminary

Isn’t this just remarkable? We don’t hear that many sermons about “new creation”, really, let alone how artists can help us imagine what it means to live towards that vision. And we don’t have that many books, even among all the very, very good ones, about various careers and callings, that ask how this essential Biblical teaching informs our very practices. This really is a stunning idea and our hats are off to the DITA10 folks who put together this event, and the book that happily emerged from it. (DITA, by the way, is the Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts and there were a bunch of DITA conferences and symposia, this one in 2019 being the 10th. Hence, DITA10.)

Kudos also to InterVarsity Press (IVP) who did a nice job with both black and white illustrations and pictures and some full color plates in this paperback edition. This is in their on-going, substantive, “Studies in the Theology and the Arts” series and the cover art reflects the uniform design of that amazing series. I don’t know how an indie publishing house can afford to do these kinds of books that will obviously not be featured in the inspirational kiosks and typical big bookstores (too artsy for the Christian bookstores and too religious for the big secular stores, who would love this, but their religion sections are filled with Joel Olsteen and Left Behind novels.) So here we are, trying to champion this rare and vivid example of a fabulous entry into the world of modern art, in light of the restoration and newness that the God of the new Covenant has promised.

That N.T. Wright did the closing sermon makes perfect sense, and it is inspiring. Thanks be to God.

Here is the splendid table of contents. It’s almost as good as being at the event, even better if you are an introvert. Enjoy being a part of DITA10. Without out any travel costs. Order one today.

Table of Contents:

Foreword by Natalie Carnes
Preface: Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, and W. David O. Taylor

There Before Us: New Creation in Theology and the Arts  Jeremy Begbie
Part I: Soundings
1. In God’s Good Time: Poetry and the Rhythms of New Creation  Devon Abts
2. Sketching the Incarnation: Ephrem of Nisibis on the Theological Significance of the Artist’s Craft  Charles Augustine Rivera
3. Love’s New Creation: Reconciling Two Approaches to Theology and Arts  Daniel Train
4. Transcendence, the Arts, and New Creation: An Empirical Approach  Kutter Callaway
5. The Artist and the Environmental Crisis: A Paradigm for Human Living  Sara Schumacher
6. The White Savior as Diseased Creation: A Theological Diagnosis and Plea Jacquelynn Price-Linnartz
7. Singing Ourselves into the Future: Worship and the New Creation  W. David O. Taylor
8. A Singing Creation: Music Making and Christian Maturity in Colossians 3:16  Amy Whisenand Krall
Part II: Conversations
9. Placemaking for New Creation  Jennifer Allen Craft and Norman Wirzba
10. We Flourish in a Syncopated Peace: Creation and New Creation in Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets  Richard Hays and Micheal O’Siadhail
11. Creation and New Creation in J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis  Malcolm Guite and Judith Wolfe
12. Reflections on Performing: Living into the New Creation  Elizabeth Klein and Shadwa Mussad
Part III: Arts in Action
13. Leah Glenn, Dancer
14. Lanecia A. Rouse Tinsley, Visual Artist
15. Steve Prince, Visual Artist
16. Linnéa Spransy Neuss, Visual Artist
17. Awet I. Andemicael, Musician
The Surprising Faithfulness of God: A Sermon at DITA10  N. T. Wright

Thanks for reading our BookNotes.Thanks for sending orders to our shop in Dallastown. We’d love to get these books known and sent out. We appreciate your support as you help us help you. Like one of Karen Swallow Prior said in one of the quips about one of these books — they will teach you things you may not have even known you needed. We think this is true, and we hope this helps. May be books be a blessing. Enjoy!

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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 common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in March 2022. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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6 More Recent Books About Racism — 20% off

We are grateful for those who read, and even shared with others, our previous BookNotes, that list of what I take to be some important fairly recent books on race and racism that we’ve stocked in the last year. There were some good ones I missed, some I didn’t list because we had already pushed them a bit, and a few that are forthcoming, soon to be released that we will mention soon enough. But it was still a strong, current list.

I want to add this short addendum to that last BookNotes. I feared getting a bit long and I didn’t want you to lose interest so I wrapped it up prematurely. Here, now, is a quickie shout-out to six more important books about this topic that simply must be mentioned. The one I’ll start with is one I’ve already written about (and I even did a little facebook video announcement the day it came, just one month ago.) It is by Cole Arthur Riley, a friend that Beth and I both admire; it is her debut release, and I hope, not her last.

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us Cole Arthur Riley. (Convergent) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Cole Arthur Riley is a very talented writer and has hit a home run with this intergenerational memoir laden with poetic and creative reflections, Bible lessons, personal stories, ruminations on other great literature. It is filled with lament and laughter, too, making it a very compelling read. It do not mean to make it sound cheap like some bodice ripper or pulp fiction but it is a page-turner. She moves from creative reflection to hard, even painful stories of her family, to intimate details from her girlhood — her dad braiding her hair, her ashen knees, her taking up ballet with other little girls but having the wrong color shoes, her weird feelings listening to an overheated and overly graphic preacherman.  She tells of contemporary stuff — eye surgery, her struggle with a chronic illness that has her in a wheelchair during a very special trip to Paris, her husband tying her shoes, her interest in combining a life of spiritual contemplation and rigorous social activism, their re-naming their new property outside of Ithaca which had been named after the owner in 1820 (“we didn’t like the idea of adopting the name of a man who might’ve hated me or my Blackness or our love.”)  

Her gramma is in the book a lot and it is a privilege to get to know her a bit. She treated Cole tenderly and honestly and she has some remarkable spunk. (“Chile, I grew up on Spam and Daniel and the lion’s den” she says when talking about her own abuse and finding some solace in Bible stories. 

In wise lines, Cole reflects on these remarkable insights — not exactly character lessons, but deep wisdom of how things can be — from her gramma; in wondering why God did protect her from hunger (or the abuse from a man in the family, known only as “the man who was not her father”) she writes that “her belief in the existence of God was durable, which did not reduce her anger but enlarged it.” 

Her father is an even more colorful figure than her gramma, and it is worth the price of the book to learn of their relationship. He was a hustler, struggled with some hard stuff, seems to have a heart of gold. The father-daughter stuff here is, in the style good memoir, shown, not told, which is to say she bears witness their life together and the stories — like the stories of her grandmothers abuse (religiously and sexually and socially) — are redemptive. I have post-it notes in my copy of the manuscript citing passages I could quote (or read out loud if I were doing a book talk on it) and many are beautifully told episodes about her dad. I won’t spoil it for you, but you should know that this is curious sort of intergenerational memoir, and one that fiercely believes that stories such as these matter. I made me glad for her vivid memory, for her extended families willingness to tell the stories (it is apparently quite the custom, as many of these tales have been recited often, she notes) and for the hard work (mentioned only briefly at the end) of interviewing family members and getting these oral histories while there was still time. Yes, as she puts it near the stunningly beautiful final page, “stories are our greatest teachers.”

I believe my ancestors knew things about freedom I can’t even begin to articulate myself. Maybe liberation is not as linear as we assume. Each generation may seem more liberated, but there are always new forms of bondage — virtue signals, digital radicalization, activism perfected by a disordered appetite for influence. It is much better, then, to learn what freedom sounds like. Just because you’ve found it once doesn’t mean you will never wander again. We must teach our children and our children’s children what it means to be free. What it feels like to be whole. To exhale. And stories are our great teachers.

This Here Flesh is arranged in a way where each chapter carries a theme. It is not (as with her popular Black Liturgies instagram) primarily a devotional, let alone short quotable for serious inspiration. Nor is it straight memoir. It is a combo of reflection, story, exegesis —of her life, her past, the Bible, her changing faith — and delivered with exquisite lines. 

Most chapters start with what might be considered a creative writing entry. Some will adore these poetic ruminations, these artful word-images that bring to mind what the highbrow lit crit folks call magical realism. Like a good poem, these ought not to be rushed through, and, mystified, I’ve returned more than once to a few. Next comes a story, full of lively lines, great stories, powerful images. But these segue easily into reflections on what Ms Riley seems to think about the world, her faith, her journey towards a deeper, honest sort of spirituality and her own interior life. Much of the book is an interrogation, as the deconstructive scholars say, of standard fare evangelical religiosity.

She has never been a card-carrying, straight-arrow, evangelical theologian (thanks be to God, some of her friends will cry!)  but yet she knows that world well. Some of her most passionate entries — I’d call them tirades but that sounds negative; sermons but that sounds too self-righteous, calling them discourses sounds too aloof — are in reaction to unkind or uncreative ideas and habits she’s noticed within that subculture. (I chuckled when she mentioned hipster guys who use beard oil and read C.S. Lewis. I was less amused when she rightly chastised those in the movement integrating faith and work for being, as most admit, seem to be aligned solely with the well-monied professional class and less interested in poor and blue collar workers or those who are under- or unemployed. And I understood, I think, when she described being in a one-on-one Bible study at McDonalds as a college student and reported that she didn’t want Jesus in her heart, but wanted to meet him in the streets.)

In the pages of this nice hardback there are magically creative moments, very good storytelling, vulnerable self-reflection, and, yes, some rants. She insists — you’ll love it if you agree, but if you don’t, you may be persuaded by her truth telling passion —on much about the value of place, the goodness of the body, the importance of delight, the joy of wonder, the legitimacy of rage, the power of memory, the healing power of joy, the need for lament. I could go on; this young woman is a blessing to behold, as is her fervent commitments to peace and justice, to honesty and dignity, to liberation and freedom.

In a reflection on the story of Hagar (in Genesis 16) — which she admits she doesn’t like as it is mostly cruel — Ms Riley says, after noting that Hagar’s linage would be destined to exist in tension and struggle,

I am learning to attune myself to Hagar’s words in the story. Hagar names God “the God who sees”…Hagar’s story reminds me of the profound healing that can occur when someone is given the liberty to have their story told, their suffering named. To belong to a God who asks, Where have you come from?

Most of us will not have our stories told in such a public way, but reading alongside others, indwelling a bit with them in their own story, so generously told, is a great gift. I think This Here Flesh is just such a gift as we listen in on the family stories shared, as we feel with her her anxiety and regret, as we are offered glimpses into the life behind the popular “Black Liturgies.” We are stimulated as we follow Riley’s sharp mind as she interacts with novelist Alice Walker or theologian Miroslov Volf or mystic philosopher Simone Weil or the well chosen lines of poet Lucille Clifton. It is just such as gift as she tells us of her life, her hopes, her very flesh. 

All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep Andre Henry (Convergent) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

As I write, this book has just released and I have not finished my copy that came a bit early. I  knew a tiny bit about the frustrations (to put it mildly) this guy went through in his short time as the editor of the mostly white Relevant magazine (although there is a story from his time there that so bizarre one wonders what spirit has captured some folks.) I wanted to list this one in that previous BookNotes column, but it was just too new. I can say just the barest bones comments about it, but I believe this much to be true.

This is a powerful, powerful, book. It comes with a “warning” from the author (and from a few of the many who have offered endorsing blurbs.) As an aficionado of back cover blurbs, I sometimes grow weary of those who say a book is going to upset the status quo, that you will never be the same after savoring its pages, warning not to read it if you don’t want to be changed. I am not a cynic, not even about these overinflated endorsements (since, well, I’ve been tempted to be a bit breathy sometimes myself about such things.) In this case, I sense that this is all quite true. This is going to be a book that is easy to read, but hard to handle. He recounts conversation after conversation where white people (and some black friends, too, interestingly) say pretty dumb things, hurtful things. He has grown weary and has become a firm anti-racists with no time for this kind of slander or complicity with racist worldviews. The author, who writes for the Religious News Service, does a newsletter (which you should know about) which is called “Hope and Hard Pills.” He offers hope, to be sure, but there is what we might politely call candor. Or, what some might call some deep shit.

You might catch the theme of the book from the title — it is, in fact, the story of Henry’s decision to stop arguing about racism, to give up the illusion of being nice and forbearing and seeking common ground with gracious civility. (These are my words, not his.) His goal is to offer a proven path forward for people of color and it is not the way of merely getting along. One reviewer, a well known black author, says it is “militant, revelatory, and revolutionary in so many ways the world needs right now.”

Yet, his is not the way of power grabs or violence or inappropriate anger. Henry is, in fact, a student of nonviolence and has deeply considered how state-sanctioned violence (from overbearing police to colonial war-making) must be resisted with unflinching nonviolence. It is unclear to me if he most deeply draws on the traditions and ethics of Biblical pacifism — think of the Mennonites like Yoder or Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, say — or if he is motivated more by the broader movement of moral resistance of black church leaders like MLK, Bayard Rustin, or Vincent Harding. I do not, I’m a little ashamed to admit, know most of the names he cites in his footnotes. (Some of that is a generational thing, I suppose — I’m an old white guy in Pennsylvania, he’s a young, media-savvy LA activist, and is riffing off a dozen important underground journalists, protestors, organizers, artists, and emerging street-level spiritual leaders.) But I’m willing to learn. How this young guy came to a soul-filled political awakening is important to understand, I think, and I am eager to study this carefully.

One very interesting thing about All the White Friends…is how very global Andre Henry is.  Although the book would have been written a year ago, a glance at the footnotes shows that some of his conversation partners are Eastern European — talk about timely when it comes to scheming ways to resist imperial power. One of the scholars he cites is Srdja Popovic of the respected Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (with whom he studied at the Kennedy School at Harvard, btw.)

Listen to this from Erica Chenoweth, author of the Oxford University Press book, Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know

Poignant, urgent, and spot-on . . . In a narrative that is part memoir, part manifesto, and part how-to, Henry brilliantly weaves together his encounters with anti-Blackness and his political awakening with powerful observations about how nonviolent struggle can confront and transform racism. Don’t miss this profoundly important book.

I know that most of our BookNotes audience is white. I know many tilt towards the center, priding ourselves with our sober balance. This zealous book — although I think written mostly for black folks tired of these draining conversations and experiencing trauma from experiencing the news of the murders of names we all know — will be helpful for readers of all social circumstances and races. Writer Lauren Duca (of Teen Vogue, who has been called “the millennial feminist warrior queen of social media”, says it a mix of “memoir and manifesto.” Right on!

Forgiveness and Reparation, the Healing Journey Mpho Tutu van Furth (Fortress) $12.75 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.20

We have mentioned these small, thin, compact sized books in the recent “My Theology” series, before. There are more than a dozen of them — we are fond of Alister McGrath’s Return from a Distant Country and Malcolm Guite’s The Word Within the Words and I intend to read the recent Spirit Life by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. I look forward to “My Theology” released in May by Scot McKnight and Joan Chittister and John Swinton.

Forgiveness and Reparation may be, frankly, the most globally significant of them all. Mpho’s last book was one co-written with her famous daddy, The late Reverend Desmond Tutu. Like the others in this “My Theology” series, the author tells her story, explores how she got to the theological passions she has, and why her theology has the tone and texture it does.  Here, she offers her principal tenets and her vision for reparations as “rightly engaged is part of a spiritual process of forgiveness and reconciliation.” Of course, this leads to questions of atonement and restorative justice and the need for acknowledgment of the damage done to the enslaved and colonized.  As anyone familiar with her work, or Father Tutu’s, this process includes a “restoration of the lost humanity of the perpetrators and the repair of violated relationships.” You will learn the meaning of “Ndicela uxolo” even as many learned the power of Ubunto as a theological concept.

At under 80 pages (and including original poems and prayers) Forgiveness and Reparation, the Healing Journey is a challenge and a clarion call, short, gracious, Biblically-wise and vital.

Recovering Racists: Dismantling White Supremacy and Reclaiming Our Humanity Idelette McVicker (Brazos Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

PRE-ORDER NOW  NOT YET RELEASED // DUE April 12, 2022.

We wanted to highlight this  now, and invited you to pre-order it —it is due out within the next few weeks. I’ve got an advanced copy of this and I am pleased to tell you that it is an amazing, vibrant, challenging piece of work. My goodness, what a story!

Idellete (the name of John Calvin’s wife, by the way, for those who like historical trivia) McVicker is a white, South African Woman and here she shares her journey away from racism, helping us realize that “grappling with the legacy of white supremacy is a lifelong work that requires both inner transformation and society change.” It is, as she puts it, “a long walk.”

After training as a journalist in South Africa, she lived in Taiwan where she wrote for daily newspapers. I think this gives her a certain style — reporting honestly, yes, delving deep as an investigator, yes, but also writing clearly, passionate but concise. Much of this is memoir as she tells her story, describes her own involvement in racial injustices, and how she has come to work for equity and repair.  

She is the founder of SheLoves Media Society (an online forum for Christian women, a SheLoves magazine and the “Dangerous Women” membership community.) Her name might ring a bell for some who have heard of the “Let Us Be Women Who Love” curriculum which is cited in Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist.  Bessey, herself a remarkable writer, says, “Idelette is one of my greatest teachers, and I recommend her work with my whole heart.”

“Idelette has done the work,” says Lisa Sharon Harper in the powerful foreword. She certainly has been earning from the best teachers, reading books by African and African Americans and others who have much to teach us. (In fact, she cites Mpho Tutu and Andre Henry, from his “Hope and Hard Pills” column, and authors as diverse as Ruby Sales to Ada Maria Isai-Diaz to Isabel Wilkerson to Anthony De Mello to Abraham Joshua Heschel to Kaitlin Curtice. I admire her learning, her transformation, and her energy to help us all grow into deeper repentance of our racial assumptions, attitudes, and apathies. I love the subtitle of Recovering Racists  — “Dismantling White Supremacy and Reclaiming Our Humanity.” 

A beautiful, honest invitation to a better way of being human in which we embrace each other fully–I hope you’ll accept it.  — Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

A heartbreakingly honest and gloriously transparent account of the other side of racism, the one most of us deny. I hope and pray that everyone everywhere will read this book. — Danielle Strickland, communicator, advocate, and author of Better Together

An absolute must-read for white people seeking to be recovering racists and anti-racists. — Karen González, immigration advocate and author of The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong

Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World —and How to Repair It All Lisa Sharon Harper ( Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I wrote this a few weeks ago suggesting that this would be a fine book to study during Lent, a reflective, moving, story, inviting us all to repentance and renewal in the work of restoration. It has to be on any list of the best books about this released in the last year or so.  Here is some of what I wrote:

We have announced this a time or two, first inviting folks to pre-order it (thanks to those who did) and then, again, when it came out. I even mentioned it on that little video I did on facebook, the day This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley released. And yet, I’ve still not done it justice. Fortune was a hard book to read in an odd way. It was not gratuitous about the pain of the whip or the fear of lynching that African Americans have felt in their very bodies and it was not even that detailed about the abuses poured upon people of color in the late 20th and today. No, the brokenness this book describes is plainspoken and informative, passionate, yet, but written in a restrained way, getting at the “way race broke my family” in a way that is inviting to all. Who doesn’t want to know something about their family ancestors? Who doesn’t get a bit touched by those Ancestory.com ads? And who doesn’t cheer for an underdog, facing plenty of obstacles in finding the backstory of family heritage. Those of us older enough to remember recall why Alex Haley’s Roots was such a huge best-seller, before and after the much-watched TV show that exposed all America to the hard history of enslaved peoples here in so-called God’s country.

The title of this book is the name of a relative of Lisa’s, one whose story she traces in one of several chapters, each bearing the name of an ancestor. The book is mostly a family story, but it is grounded in the present as Lisa wonderfully describes her journey to archives and websites and museums and follows old roads to find old homesteads and imagine that this, this, this right here was where some relatives once lived. Most of the book is set in the past but she narrates it through the three decades it took her to explore ten generations.

In this way readers are drawn in, eager to know more, almost as Lisa herself was piecing it together, finding this true story, recalling that anecdote, holding on to that family heirloom, discovering these records or those news clippings. It is common enough stuff, but she tells it well. She has us on the edge of our seats in a few sentences about waiting for DNA results.

But — let us speak honestly, here — most white or even non-white Americans who do their ancestry detective work, do not have to consult purchase orders and billing ladings for the purchase of their ancestors. And for black people in America, this damnable fact is true: most family records are smeared and smudged (metaphorically but perhaps literally) with blood. Lisa does not overstate the horror of this, looking up records of who was purchased by whom, and only hinted at how it made her feel to do this particular kind of detective work. It is, though, what makes Fortune a different sort of book than most others who have told their dramatic story of finding their ancient relatives and where in the older worlds they came from. In this sense, Fortune is gut wrenching, not because Lisa is melodramatic or overstated; again, she is not. Still, it is, as they say, what it is.

And some of what it is, is exciting and lovely, learning about great-greats, marriages, travels, and the birth of little ones. She learns of cousins and stories of creativity and endurance. Lisa weaves her family member’s stories in with her own, placing it all in the context of the unfolding history of modern times. Ms. Harper has been through a lot — we have gotten hints of some of it in her Very Good Gospel. There is more revealed in Fortune. The great Ruby Sales has a blurb on the back simply saying that “Harper is a masterful storyteller.” Amen to that.

I had read this in an advanced manuscript, and when the hardbacks came we were delighted, but I had my spiral bound manuscript all marked up and pages dog-eared. So I didn’t open the hardback right away and then I discovered the bonus — there are photographs of some of the people she writes about (Lee Ballard, born in 1836, Phillip Fortune, born in 1835, Reinaldo and Anita Weekes (wearing a great hat), up through a fabulous picture of Lisa’s mom Sharon Lawrence with Lisa as a baby, a picture taken in 1969.) You will actually lay eyes on Hiram, who you have read about, and Richie Lawrence and Willa Belle Jenkins visiting Junias on a military base in Michigan during WWII. I’m not usually a fan of pictures of people we don’t know in an autobiography but these are the people this book is about. I was so excited to see these, and it drew me back into the book for my second reading.

There is some very good stuff as the story draws to a close about repair. Obviously no simple religious “reconciliation” will do without a full account of truth and justice. She explores the meaning of guilt and the nature of forgiveness. She writes helpfully a bit about reparative justice. She cites a few good public theologians and social ethicists  (and of course, tells of Desmond Tutu’s important work in South Africa, citing his powerful No Future Without Forgiveness.) Her message about the beloved community is moving and compelling and not without a challenge to be more active to the work.

Which makes this, my friends, a great book to read any time, but perhaps especially as a Lenten practice, to enter in to the story of another with such intentionality, to learn what she learns, to care, to be challenged.Is if fair to say this is, in some way, part of all of our stories, for better or worse? We owe Lisa a debt of gratitude. She waded in (as Sweet Honey in the Rock sing it, citing Harriet Tubman.) As one writer put it, “Fortune recovers the beauty of her heritage, exposes the brokenness that race has wrought in America, and casts a vision for collective repair.” 

Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God Jarvis J.Williams (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE =  $19.99

When I saw this book first announced last year I was both thrilled and a bit intrigued; what more can be said about this since there are so many books extolling the Biblical and theological value of a multi-ethnic church and how the local congregation, complicated as it may be, should strive for modeling cross-cultural relationships and, obviously, racial justice. Whatever it would bring, I sure liked the title, and any author who thinks of the people of God in that frame — a diverse people, a Kingdom people, needing Biblical theology — is an author I’d want to take seriously.

Well, Redemptive Kingdom Diversity does indeed bring something very helpful to these conversations about diversity in the local parish. Dr. Williams is a professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written some solid, conventional, scholarly works (a commentary on Galatians, a book on the atonement, and one called One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology.) In this book he offers a comprehensive Biblical survey of the diverse people of God (from Genesis to Revelation.) This shows the multiethnic nature of the story of God’s covenant with the people and the multiethnic nature of the gospel itself. As Craig Keener, a New Testament scholar a respected writer (from Asbury Theological Seminary) notes that it “provides a resource for discussing and preaching about Christian interracial unity by explore Biblical questions regarding the identity of God’s people in Christ.”

Here is the Table of Contents so you can see how this unfolds, in under 200 pages:

  1. The People of God in the Pentateuch
  2. The People of God in the Historical Books, Wisdom and Poetry, and Prophets
  3. The People of God in the Gospels and Acts
  4. The People of God in Paul’s Epistles
  5. The People of God in the General Epistles and Revelation
  6. Synthesis: The People of God in the Old and New Testaments
  7. The People of God and Orthopraxy

Jarvis has made clear what many lovers of the Scriptures have always known, that God’s desire to create a multiethnic, just, and God-honoring kingdom for his glory is a truth that bursts forth from every page of the Bible. For those who want a guide that traces this theme as it winds its way through the twists and turns of Scripture, this book is for you.– Esau McCaulley, Wheaton College; author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope

Redemptive Kingdom Diversity revisits the multiethnic nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Scripture within the framework of God’s redemptive purpose throughout both testaments. Its call to inclusion of all races in the church is most timely and urgent as the church continues to battle the age-old sin of racism. — M. Sydney Park, Beeson Divinity School, author of Honoring the Generations: Ministry & Theology for Asian North American Congregations

There is, as you can see above, a good final chapter applying his canonical, Biblical overview to race, racism, and ethnicity today. As a gospel-centered, evangelical black man with strong teaching gifts and (besides being an academic professor) a caring pastoral calling, serving in the South in a largely white denomination, Dr. Williams has much to say that is well worth hearing. As a passionate but exceedingly careful Bible scholar we should listen to him for he allows Scripture to shape our views. As Dr. Anthony Bradley of The Kings College in New York says, “This is the first book evangelicals hold read on race in the church.”

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A big list of recent books about race and racism, racial justice and gospel reconciliation. ALL 20% OFF

Well, friends, I’ve been wanting to offer this list for a while, bringing you up to speed with some of the fascinating and often very important books on race and racism that we have for sale here at Hearts & Minds. We have always had a dedicated section about diversity, racial reconciliation, the history of the civil rights movement, and the like. Maybe that is why we got a very scary message under our door from the KKK one fine day decades ago, a threat that I wear as a badge of honor. Not many people bought these sorts of books (except, maybe, evangelicals involved in campus ministry through IVCF or CCO who have been on the cutting edge of speaking about this stuff for years.) But, like a few other categories of books we enjoy showing off, we have them because we should. And we wish they sold better.

Who knew that in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic and the quarantining two years ago there would be a huge, nation-wide uptick in interest in books by and about black culture, about white privilege, social justice, racial equity, cultural diversity? For a while we could hardly keep some key titles in stock. In 2020 we sold lots of Reading While Black, Be the Bridge, I’m Still Here, My Grandmother’s Hands, Stamped from the Beginning, White Fragility, How to Be an Anti-Racist, The Color of Compromise, Healing Racial Trauma, The Warmth of Other Suns, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, Just Mercy, Me and White Supremacy, Anxious to Talk About It, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and older classics, from authors like John Perkins and Brenda Salter McNeil to Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman and John Lewis to Oscar Romero and James Cone. I could name more. It was an exciting time for booksellers almost everywhere, at least those who cared about these things.

We sold books on the immigrant experience, too — again, we had a section on immigration and refugees since our store opened but interest from publishers and the book buying public and some churches grew noticeably. Within a year or so all sorts of newer authors invited white Americans (including white Christians of all sorts) into their world to read about First Nations/indigenous, Latino, Asian American experience, spirituality, and theology. Non-controversial books like Living In Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity or Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity by David Smith or Gracism:The Art of Inclusion by David Anderson were eagerly studied by church groups who had not previously taken up issues of social ethics or public justice. Those that could, dug a little deeper; some were intentional about framing the conversation by the light of Biblical doctrine while others just wanted to read, listen and learn from others, graciously. We sold memoirs and novels and poetry by people of color. New authors captured our attention — within the religious publishing world, at least; authors like Lisa Sharon Harper, Karen Gonzalez and Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Kaitlin Curtice and Kat Armas and Hak Joon Lee were in demand, and we were grateful.

Those wanting to go deeper worked through Matthew Kaemingk’s Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear or even Willie James Jennings Yale University Press title, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. 

We, here, have much to learn, but we felt like we were somewhat well-positioned to serve a growing interest among our customers. It was a season we will never forget and for which we are grateful.

And, then, the push back began. A few fair concerns and a lot of truly awful nonsense was spread alongside the disinformation about vaccines and the so-called “stolen” election about something called critical race theory. Authors and publishers who should have known better blasted away, often on Fox News or on loud, right-wing websites (although also from more respected sources which did breathy and illogical hit pieces.) These alarmist tirades often came with meager insight and seemingly not much compassion, and the books sold, I’m told, by the tens of thousands.

We’ve been trying to help customers get books they need (and we’ve earnestly tried to serve those on various sides of the culture wars) and we always remind readers to “think Christianly” and to exercise discernment. People of faith should agree in our mutual efforts to be wise and good. We are free, the Bible says, so we can read what we want, but our freedoms should be used for the building up of the community. We should be critical thinkers in generous ways so we can promote the gospel’s healing and hope. As Englewood Book Review founder Chris Smith put it in the title of one of my favorite books, we should be Reading for the Common Good. 

Which brings me back to this new list. We’ve just been too stressed and busy and constrained by the pandemic protocols, and attracted to so many books on so many topics, to get everything done we’ve wanted to. This list is long, but I skipped a lot, knowing I can’t describe all that we have. Here we will share with you a bit about some of the most interesting books in this field to appear in the last year or so. A few are very new.

Forgive me if this seems blunt, but if you, like me, have been properly busy reading widely, and you’ve perhaps fallen away from reading more intentionally into this topic, I invite you to follow through with the stuff you learned two years ago and the commitments you may have made then. Perhaps you feel like you’ve read enough on race and diversity, or maybe you can’t bear any more. I get it. But here ya go, anyway. I invite you to pray and seek God’s face and listen to the Spirit, which may be beckoning you further in. If so, here are some recent titles that might be worth reading and talking about with others who may want to refresh their commitments to learning more about racial justice. As always, thanks for caring.

ALL BOOKS CAN BE ORDERED AT HEARTS & MINDS BY USING THE ORDER LINK AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS COLUMN. 

ALL BOOKS ARE 20% OFF.  

SERIOUS BOOKS THAT STUDY THE HISTORY OF THE PROBLEM

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619 – 2019  edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World) $32.00 hardback // $20.00 paperback  OUR SALE PRICES = $25.60 (hardback) // $16.00  (paperback) 

Ibram X. Kendi wrote two of the biggest selling books in the recent renaissance of contemporary work in this field, the 2016 classic, Stamped from the Beginning and the 2019 polemic, How to Be an Anti-Racist. His co-author here, Keisha Blain, has written a number of scholarly books, including Set the World on Fire on the black intellectual tradition and a great book on Fannie Lou Hamer, Until I Am Free.) Here they have compiled “a chorus of extraordinary voices” — 90 passionate and often brilliant writers and thinkers, offering historical vignettes, vivid analysis, personal stories, fiction, and more. It has a startling array of different perspectives offering a “communal history” on 400 years worth of topics. Some of what they episodes and stories and concerns they write about you will have heard about, some maybe not. There is so much to learn. Some of these authors are famous, some are not. This is an amazing resource; I don’t say this often but we recommend the thick hardback, but we are glad for the less costly paperback.

The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America Joshua D. Rothman (Basic Books) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Much has been written about the international slave trade but less about the uniquely American story told here, about three respected businessmen capturing people from the Upper South and sending them to the cotton and sugar fields of the Deep South. This study of the under-examined US slave trade shows how it was integral to the rise of interstate commerce, the flow of credit, and the establishment of new transportation routes. It is a stunning, devastating, history, essential for anyone wanting to understand  the development of American business, capitalism, or who is speaking about faith in the marketplace. As one reviewer (in Rekon) put it:

In popular culture, we’ve cast slave traders at social pariahs but Joshua Rothman’s book refutes that whitewashed narrative. In many ways, slave traders were celebrated businessmen and he traces the stories of three of the biggest slave traders to show how much the economies of the South and the North relied on America’s original sin.

As Drew Faust of Harvard puts it, The Ledger and the Chain is,

A tour de force of deep research and vivid detail that illuminates big and critical issues. Beautifully written too. Moving, horrifying, unforgettable.

 

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America Clint Smith (Little Brown) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

This has been a significant New York Times best-seller and is being used in book clubs and classes — that a study of how slavery is acknowledged and commemorated has been so widely read is itself fascinating. This new lens for seeing is notable and it is important. Helpfully and gladly, Clint Smith (a staff writer for The Atlantic) is an amazing wordsmith who crafts very moving prose. Matthew Desmond, author of the powerful Evicted, calls it “a work of moral force and humility,” and Annette Gordon-Reed, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author The Heningses of Monticello says it is “beautifully written, evocative and timely.”

It is a vital history, and it once again explores the matter of slavery (and how it is remembered.) But the deep lesson is vital even beyond that. I like these words about it:

How the Word is Passed sheds light on the contested narratives beneath the surface of our collective national identity, inviting us to dig a little deeper, reminding us never to take received histories for granted.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake Tina Miles (Random House) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This unforgettable book earned the coveted National Book Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for a number of prestigious awards, from the Kirkus Prize to one of Publisher Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2021. The hardback was handsome but the paperback, now out, is very nice. 

I needn’t say much, but folks who have read this study of the humble items in this sack and how it was passed down have just loved it. The bag came from an enslaved woman named Rose who in 1850s South Caroline gave her nine-year old daughter Ashley a cotton bag with a few items as she was being sold away. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered the family history on the sack “in spare, haunting language.” It is a poignant story of resilience and, as one reviewer put it, “a testament to the power of story, witness, and unyielding love.”

The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice  Scott Ellsworth (Dutton) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I do not know if many Americans, at least most white Americans who were not from Oklahoma, knew about the horrific, heartbreaking, gripping story of what Rev. Dr. William Barber has called “one of America’s worst racial atrocities.” Searing as it may be, this is an important bit of ground-breaking research, called meticulous and elegant.  There have been books on this, some folks know about it, but most of us don’t.

Why did it take the death of so many unarmed black citizens at the hands of heavily armed police in recent years, and a brave football player who took the knee, and the formant of the BLM movement to create a space for this sort of storytelling to get a hearing? For this sort of horror to come to light, now? We are grateful for books like this, for the coverage NPR and other outlets gave it, and how this story is now acknowledged. 

The good Reverend Barber continues, noting that Ellsworth “shows us how we can uncover our past and come to grips with our future. His literally groundbreaking research and engaging prose pull us toward the call of justice today.”

America cannot address the crisis in which we find ourselves because we are unwilling to acknowledge the road that brought us here. We are determined to look away… Scott Ellsworth is willing to dig and willing to help us to see who we have been in hopes that we will rise to who we must be. The Tulsa massacre of 1921 is one of the most significant and revealing episodes of American history, and one we must confront in order to find our way. The Ground Breaking will rattle you, and it should. It will move you toward a harder wisdom, and it must.    — Tim Tyson, senior research scholar, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, author of The Blood of Emmett Till and Blood Done Sign My Name

Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution John Archibald (Knopf) $28.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I don’t know if the cover design evokes the early 1960s but this author was born in April 1963 in the white part of Birmingham. As he explains, “I never knew, until much later, that as my mother went into labor, the foot soldiers of revolution gathered across the county line, that at the moment of my birth, Birmingham readied for a battle that was long overdue. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not yet put his Dream to words, but he had come to this town to change the world with another masterpiece.” 

John Archibald graduated from the University of Birmingham and won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 2018 for reporting. He has a good eye for detail, is an excellent writer, and tells us here about what it was like growing up in the deep south in a long line of Methodist preachers. Can you imagine reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, maybe in college, and realizing it was addressed to, among others, your own father? To come to understand the nature of silence and complicity?  It is, as they say, a journey of discovery.

The Myth of Colorblind Christians: Evangelicals and White Supremacy in the Civil Rights Era Jesse Curtis (New York University Press) $32.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Dr. Curtis is a professor of history at Valparaiso and is a significant voice in the conversations about history, memory, and the role of religion in American culture. Blurbs on the back of this powerful volume are from Paul Harvey, Jemar Tisby, and Kristin Kobes Du Muz, all stellar historians and popular writers who have served us well with historical acumen offered for educated and open-minded fellow believers and all citizens wanting to learn about white evangelicalism in these turbulent years, and, especially, what some might call the post-civil rights years — the 70s and 80s. I am very aware of some of the stories he tells, including ‘70s-era conflicts at evangelical colleges, from Calvin College in Grand Rapids to Eastern in Philly; the ministry of leaders I admired such as Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner are described and evangelical church conflicts are explored, even as things like “personal kindness” or a focus on the gospel prevented some evangelicals for adopting a more comprehensive, structural understanding of how institutional racism works.  As Du Mez puts it, this is “religious history at its best.” She insists that it is an “immensely clarifying book.”

This book shows how platitudes about equality and not seeing racial differences actually perpetuated the segregated and unequal status quo in many white evangelical churches, colleges, and institutions. It is vital reading for understanding just how salient race remains in some Christian circles. This is the book on the history of white evangelicalism I have been waiting for. —Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism

Witnessing Whiteness: Confronting White Supremacy in the American Church Kristopher Norris (Oxford University Press) $28.95                   OUR SALE PRICE = $23.16

This is another exceptionally valuable book that came out this year that explores how America’s white churches tend to (in the words of M. Shawn Copeland, Professor Emerita of Theology at Boston College) “sacralize… socially constructed whiteness.” In other words, Norris calls on us to figure out how we got ourselves into this mess.

In the words of Jennifer McBride (herself a Bonhoeffer scholar, by the way, and author of the excellent The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness),

This is a stunning book. In captivating and accessible language, Norris argues that white supremacy is not a force in which white Christians are sometimes complicit but it is an invention of the tradition, defining its theology and practice.

Oh my. Could that be true? David Gushee — who has been immersed in various corners of the evangelical world (from working for Ron Sider to Al Mohler) and within more mainline Protestant and ecumenical circles — says Witnessing Whiteness “is a breakthrough work in the project of diagnosing, understanding, and repenting white supremacism in US Christianity.”

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press) $25.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

If I can get a few Hearts & Minds customers and BookNotes readers to buy a Dyson book or two, I can rest; he has a huge following but it is my sense that he is not well known and under appreciated within most white Protestant circles. He’s a scholar, a public intellectual, a media star (not long ago I linked to his witty piece about the best music on Colbert when they were pushing his big collection Entertaining Race) and pastor. This hand sized hardback is a good read, arranged as a set of letters reflecting on what exploded the previous year after the murder of George Floyd. It is eloquent and powerful — Robin Diangelo calls it “a searing cry for racial justice from one of our nation’s greater thinkers and most compelling prophets.” Yes, some put him alongside the likes of Cornell West, and that is very high praise indeed. I mentioned it before and thought I should highlight it again, here.

In Long Time Coming Dyson offers a “brilliant and fiercely eloquent work that traces the roots of racism.” Naturally, he has to explore slavery and Jim Crow and recent police brutality and ask tough questions about where we are today as a nation and a people. It is stuff we need to know, content we need to read about, and read about again — at least most white readers need to. Dyson is a good teacher and we should listen to him.

Michael Eric Dyson is one of the nation’s most thoughtful and critical thinkers in social inequality and the demands of justice. Long Time Coming, his latest formidable, compelling book, has much to offer on our nation’s crucial need for racial reckoning and the way forward. — Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

White Borders: The History of Race and Immigration in the United States from Chinese Exclusion to the Border Wall  Reece Jones (Beacon Press) $25.95    OUR SALE PRICE = $20.76

This is a book that simply needs to be known, making the case with meticulous research and exceptional history —what Pulitzer Prize winning author Greg Grandin calls a “damning inquiry” — that anti-immigration crackdowns, while often said to be about jobs and workers and respect for legal processes, are deeply intermingled with racist ideas. 

Reece Jones guides us through the long, tangled, and still developing history of how the United States came to know itself as a nation through the increasingly strict control of movement across its borders. Jones demonstrates in this assiduously researched and carefully crafted book that the nation’s borders are in fact central to making the state what it is: a key tool in the maintenance not just of white supremacy but of whiteness itself.    Brendan O’Connor, author of Blood Red Lines: How Nativism Fuels the Right

Asian Americans and the Spirit of Racial Capitalism Jonathan Tran (Oxford University Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

I have not read this thick text yet but I have it on my list — serious readers who I admire have ordered it from us and the early buzz has been significant. One person liked its importance to Willie James Jennings’ magisterial The Christian Imagination: Theologies and the Origins of Race. 

Listen to what James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin University (and recent author of The Nicene Option: An Incarnational Phenomenology)  writes of it:

This compelling book is a singular intervention in our current reckoning with racism and contemporary debates about antiracism. At once provocative and measured, Tran’s book is a feat: a careful argument that is also a bombshell. He shows us the insidious way capitalism breeds competition amongst the exploited, but also how Christian theology, in conversation with Marxism, imagines a hope beyond racial capitalism. I am still reeling from reading this.    

I hope this quote from Sarah Coakley, herself a dense and important theologian, illustrates something about this important scholarly work.

Jonathan Tran’s remarkable book breaks new conceptual ground in the analysis of ‘race’, racism and religion in the United States by providing a fearless critique of how standard scripts about racial ‘identity’, even when enunciated by those who claim to be fighting injustice most emphatically, simply reinstantiate what they are claiming to overcome. The problem is that these well-meaning discourses obscure what most needs exposure: the economic substructure which keeps the problematic core racial binary in place, and at the same time relegates those who do not conform to that binary (specifically, ‘Asian Americans’) into a strange place of collusion or further marginalization. But Tran is no standard neo-Marxist, either: through a rich use of comparative ethnographic studies he is able to show how Christianity’s core meanings, when truly activated politically, can still change these narratives and also their outcomes. — Sarah Coakley, Australian Catholic University

For a really intersting review, check out this one from our friends over at the Englewood Review of Books.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together Heather McGhee (One World) $28.00 hardback // $20.00  paperback $18.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40 (hardback) // $14.40 (paperback)

We named this as one of the Best Books of 2021 and while it is a serious read, really, truly commend it to you. Ibram X. Kendi says, boldly, “This is the book I’ve been waiting for.” Wes Moore (of the unforgettable The Other Wes Moore) says, “The beauty and power of this book is blinding.” The extraordinary George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) writes that it is “vital, urgent, stirring, beautifully written.” Chris Hays assures us that “Heather McGee is one of the wisest, most penetrating, most brilliant minds to set herself to the Big Problem of American democracy.”

The Sum of Us is an exploration of the nexus of race, class, and politics. It is written with care, with kindness, with insight, and without turning away from the complex matters of economics, racism, religion, and more. It shows in significant ways not only how we got into the mess we are in; it scrupulously tells the story of how public goods –- from parks and pools to functioning schools -– have become private luxuries… And it offers healthy ways to proceed, to move towards new ground. Some of it — the “solidarity dividend,” for instance — can happen, she shows, in houses of worship.

McGhee does not say all that needs to be said and she may or may not be right in all her analysis although with expertise in economics and policy (and a law degree) I wouldn’t want to argue with her. The Sum of Us is a very important contribution, for its insight, her authority, and the power to change that could come if we heed even some of what she proposes.

Here is how the publisher describes her project:

Heather C. McGhee’s specialty is the American economy – and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. As she dug into subject after subject, from the financial crisis to declining wages to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common problem at the bottom of them all: racism–but not just in the obvious ways that hurt people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It’s the common denominator in our most vexing public problems, even beyond our economy. It is at the core of the dysfunction of our democracy and even the spiritual and moral crises that grip us. Racism is a toxin in the American body and it weakens us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? To find the way, McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Mississippi to Maine, tallying up what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm–the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she collects the stories of white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams and their shot at a better job to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. 

Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm Robin Diangelo (Beacon Press) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Guess what? Maybe folks had had enough of these kinds of books by the time this book released in the summer of 2021 or maybe some had heard (sometimes fairly legitimate, in my view) critiques of Diangelo’s huge seller, White Fragility. I am not sure if it didn’t sell well elsewhere, but my hunch is this is a sleeper — important, slowly gaining respect, a lesser known but significant resource. It shows that good intentions simply are not enough.

Just listen to these serious recommendations:

With the hard-earned insights that come from years of study and leading workshops on racism, Robin DiAngelo captures the strategies often used by well-intentioned white people to avoid the self-examination needed to confront their own unrecognized racism. If you want to get beyond feeling defensive and increase your capacity for effective anti-racist action, do yourself a favor and read this book!  — Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race

In this illuminating follow-up to White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo integrates sharp insight, personal vulnerability, and compassionate guidance with the keen eye of an ‘insider.’ Focusing specifically on the more subtle patterns of white progressives, her work continues to be invaluable to the project of ending white supremacy. — Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

Spectacular! With the precision of a social scientist, Robin DiAngelo dissects and puts under the microscope seemingly benign ‘white moves’ — including her own — in ways that make undeniable how each functions to recalibrate white dominance and comfort again and again. A critical tool for white progressives wanting to know better so we can do better. — Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race

Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America John McWhorter (Portfolio/Penguin) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I have read other books by the provocative, brilliant, black professor of linguistics and have found him exceptionally erudite and entertaining. He has written about language, about truth, about hip-hop and rap, about “words from the gutter.” I am not sure I understand him fully, always, and I know I do not agree with him on some points. Still, for those wanting a thoughtful reply to some of the excesses of lefty woke platitudes, this is a very valuable resource.

He notes, by the way, in the opening pages, what the book is not. It is not against BLM, it is not against protest, it is certainly not against civil rights or the struggle for justice. He is worried about a religion-like ideology that he says, has seduced “New York Times-reading, National Public Radio-listening people who have innocently fallen under the impression that pious, unempirical virtue signaling about race is a form of moral enlightenment and political activism.” He continues that he is “of this world. I read The New Yorker, I have two children, I saw Sideways. I loved both The Wire and Parks and Recreation.” Well, then.

McWhorter has some bones to pick with Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Ibram X. Kendi. This is interesting, perhaps serving in a way Shelby Steele did twenty years ago. If your don’t think you need it, you maybe do. If your cheering, fine — but pick up one of the others on this list, too, to compare and contrast. They are all 20% off, ya know! 

Here is a nice summary of an NPR review that explores the book fairly, I think. I suppose Dr. McWhorter might think this critique might prove his point, but this review sees nothing good about it at all.

BOOKS THAT POINT WAYS TO CHANGE, HEALING AND HOPE

Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation  John Lewis (Grand Central Publishing) $22.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

It seems like cultural ages ago when the fine Christian statesman and veteran civil rights leader was honored in DC, resting in state in the US Capitol. We have enjoyed selling the three part graphic novel / comic style autobiographies (March, Parts One, Two and Three.) As a leader in SNCC he was arrested (and often abused) more than 40 times; he served in Congress for 38 years. 

Carry On is a collection of his pithy paragraphs, good words, stories, sermons, speeches, sort of a page-a-day inspirational reader, a keep-sake reader of one of the great men of our times.  A very nice book covering topics from gratitude to humility, mentors to activism, faith, hope, love.

You Are the Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, And the Black Experience: An Anthology edited by Tarana Burke & Brene Brown (Random House)  $27/00 (hardback) // $17.00 (paperback)  OUR SALE PRICES = $21.60 (hardback) // $13.60 (paperback)

Perhaps you will recall our highlighting this when it came out in hardback — what a powerful anthology this is, excerpts of essays, articles, testimonials, studies, and reflections on African American resilience. For years, both Tarana Burke and Brene Brown have been working, writing, and talking about shame resilience and empathy, both in the context of Tarana Burke’s “me too” movement and through Brown’s research. That they have created a space for black writers to explore and process the trauma of white supremacy and offer “a space to be vulnerable and affirm the fullness of black life and black possibility” makes this a fabulous book to have, to read, to share. Burke says she wants this resources “to be a soft place to land.”

Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures Michelle Ami Reyes (Zondervan Reflective) $22.99               OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

This book is outstanding. The rave reviews and commending blurbs by amazingly respected cross-cultural Christian leaders such as Soong-Chan Rah, Osheta Moore, Irwin Ince, Christiana Edmundson and Dorena Williamson indicate that Becoming All Things is one of the most important books of the season.  It is a road map, a guide book, a fine and practical resource from one who is considered, by everyone who knows her, a gifted and talented teacher and impeccable leader.  The lovely forward by Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile illustrates its fine evangelical clarity.

Michelle Ami Reyes, PhD, is an Indian American writer, speaker, and activist whose work on faith and culture has been featured in Christianity TodayFaithfully MagazinePatheos, and more. She is also the Vice President of the Asian American Christian Collaborative and Editorial Director at Pax. Michelle lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Aaron, and two kids.

Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism George Yancey (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Oh my, a new book by black sociologist George Yancey is always notable and this brand new one looks extraordinary. You may know that he has done scholarly work on ideological bias in the culture wars, on the allegations made by conservative Christians about discrimination in the public square, about racial tensions on college campuses, on inter-racial marriages, on multi-ethnic churches. His academic books have appeared on Oxford University Press, Routledge, Baylor University Press and the like. He’s done popular-level work, too, offering wonderful resources such as One Body One Spirit and the very interesting 2006 Beyond Racial Gridlock. He always is a voice to listen well to, a voice that tends not to be easily pigeonholed.

Here is uses an admittedly simple rubric, but it may be generative, a wise call for somewhat of a third way beyond our impasses in this essential conversation and movement. For Yancey’s purposes here, “Colorblindness ignores the realities of race and the history of injustice. On the other hand, antiracism centers racial concerns and in so doing often alienates people who need to be involved in the process.” Here, he offers an approach where “all parties contribute and are mutually accountable to one another for societal wellbeing.”  As he explains, this work is too important to settle for the impasse; we simply have to find ways to talk to and listen to each other for the sake of justice for all.

Listen to his good friend and colleague (and occasional co-writer) Michael O. Emerson, author of the still essential Divided By Faith:

Our racial division and inequality are extreme. In the midst of such challenges, we shout, we accuse, we point fingers, we divide into camps. And we get nowhere. Dr. Yancey proposes an alternative, rooted deeply in Christian understanding and sociological knowledge. He offers hope and clarity for our times. A must-read. — Michael O. Emerson, professor and head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois Chicago and coauthor of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

There is not a more theologically sound, empirically informed, well-reasoned, or rational voice addressing the complexities of race, class, and culture in America today than that of Dr. George Yancey. In Beyond Racial Division, he navigates nuance and effectively challenges readers to get beyond rhetoric to results in their engagement of diverse others. As did Christ with arms outstretched, Yancey herein seeks to unite motivations and to hold Christ-followers in tension so that we might walk a more productive path for the sake of the gospel, and in so doing lead others away from painful polarization, beyond the crippling distinctions of this world that otherwise divide. — Mark DeYmaz, President of the Mosaix Global Network, author of Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church

If you are well along in this journey, you know this author, I bet, and you will want to get this book. If you are somewhat new to the conversation, perhaps a bit anxious about it all, it is truly a must-read. It is not the final word, but it is a very good start to getting us out of ruts and into an honorable, faithful commitment to deepened responsibility and agency. Why not get this for your next book club or small group or buy it for your church library?

Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations Isaac Adams (Zondervan Reflective) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

When the brilliant Baylor prof and highly respected author and literary critic Alan Jacobs says a book is “sober and strong, wise and practical” what more do you need to compel you to pick it up? Talking About Race is, according to Rebecca McLaughlin (author of Confronting Christianity) a “prayer-soaked, Jesus-honoring, biblically-grounded kick start to better conversations about race.”

Adams had been a pastor at the conservative, DC-area church Capitol Hill Baptist but is now lead pastor of a congregation in Birmingham. He is the founder of United? We Pray, a ministry devoted to praying about racial strife. He offers his call to gospel centered hope with (as Laura Wifler puts it) “gentleness, wisdom, and pastoral care.”

It is always proper and salutary to pray, to root our ideas in the central goodness of God’s grace in Christ, formulated in light of clear Bible teaching. I hope you know what I mean when I say that there are some people who will never enter this conversation — talking about race, as the author puts it — and will be suspicious or dismissive of a public theology with a social ethic unless it is rooted in a piety like this. This is a book to give to folks like that and (who knows?) it could be just the open door they need to learn to care about race and racism and how it violates God’s will.

The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity Shai Linne (Moody Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

You may know Shai Linne as a hip hop recording artist and his conventional, Reformed Baptist theology which comes through his spoken word work. He has come out of (and has returned to) his hometown of Philadelphia, PA and is known in conservative theological circles and edgy, urban ministry circles.

Here he is riffing off his beloved reformation truths — the back cover assures us he loves the five solas — but invites us to this new, diverse, unified community. He truly lives for the glory of God and he offers this broad vision of ethnic and cultural reconciliation. Nicely co-produced by the record label humble beast.

By the way, Shai Linne’s wife, Blair, recently released a moving memoir full of gospel hope, Finding My Father: How the Gospel Heals the Pain of Fatherlessness (The Good Book Company; $16.99.)

Not So Black and White: An Invitation to Honest Conversation About Race and Faith  Reggie Dabbs & John Driver (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

These sorts of books — honest conversations between a black guy and a white guy — are not uncommon not, and I’ve read several. Some are really raw and honest, some are pretty theological, some not that interesting. This one looks to be really solid, honest and astute, showing, as one reviewer put it, “what real dialogue can look like.” These guys are theologically driven, deeply spiritual within the evangelical church movement, but reaching beyond that context. Reggie Dabbs happens to be a very sought-after public school speaker (sharing his own story of tragedy and redemption and hope) and Driver (who has written bunches of books with others) is a former history teacher who is now a pastor at a church in Nashville. 

In this impressive project they hope to equip black and white Christians to come together and fight the evils of racism “within our heart and within our systems.” They hope readers will hear stories of those who have found ways to reach across the racial barriers by learning to listen well, come to a “simple but robust” history of racism and learn to respond to the challenges of racism in your community. As the back cover promises, they help us “identify practical steps to engage bravely in conversations and actions to end racism.”

This book is an answer to prayer. Reggie and John walk the tightrope between honesty and hope as well as I’ve seen in this conversation. — John Onwuchewka, pastor, Cornerstone Church, Atlanta

Faithful Anti-Racism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change Christina Barland Edmondson & Chad Brennan (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I must say that this is one of the books I have been most eager to see, most eager to read, and most eager to promote. If my hunch is right about this, it will be one of the major books in their field for several years to come. The authors have much to teach us and are excellent thinkers and communicators with lots of experience helping Christians of all sorts move beyond talk alone and work to dismantle the deep-seated racism in our lives, churches, and society. Those who feel ill equipped to respond well will appreciate the careful title — this is an invitation to explore faithful anti-racism, that is, a sort inspired by Christ, informed by the Bible, shaped by our best theological truths. They proceed with care but with confidence in the promise of Jesus.

Two very quick comments which I hope help persuade you to pick this up soon.

Firstly, Christian Edmondson is an influential leader, a cohost of the exceptional Truth’s Table podcast and many who admire her have been eagerly awaiting her book. She has several advanced degrees (including in family counseling) and is a mental health therapist; She has served in a variety of roles in higher education including as the Dean for Intercultural Student Development at Calvin University. She is a certified Cultural Intelligence facilitator, public speaker, and a consultant in the areas of ethics, equity, and Christian leadership development. As a strong Christian leader she has written a sophisticated book that her colleague Kristen Kobes Du Mex says “is a gift to the American church.”

Secondly, Chad Brennan is founder of Renew Partnerships, a Christian research and consulting ministry that focuses on diversity and race in faith-based organizations. He is a coordinator of the Race, Religion, and Justice Project founded by Michael Emerson and this new book presents what some are saying is the most comprehensive study on Christians and race since Emerson’s own research that was shared in the 2001 Divided by Faith. This fresh data has immediate use, I am sure, regardless of your context, and we should thank God for Edmondson and Brennan for bringing it to us with such clarity and grace.

Faithful Anti-racism has been called “unparalleled” as it offers what Duke Kwon calls “a brilliant synthesis of current research, scriptural insight, personal story, history analysis, and practical wisdom.”

Called To Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion  Jonathan C. Augustine (Baker Academic) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is a brand new title that we are sure will be a good read for nearly anyone — written by an AME pastor with a JD from Tulane and a DMin from Duke) who is a scholar of reconciliation and an agent for helping others care for “the other.” Yes, this is an interdisciplinary study by an amazing, multi-talented preacher and professor who is a nationally recognized civil rights leader, a theologian, and black church minister.

I think one of the things about this title is that the author is not situated (as many books on reconciliation are) within the white evangelical subculture. As a black lawyer from the deep South, he knows well the demands of social righteousness and public justice. As a law school professor (at North Carolina Central University Law School) Augustine stays up to date with the details of the legal aspects of the struggle. But as a scholar and missional strategist at the legendary Duke Center for Reconciliation, he has a passion for God’s Kingdom uniting people who are at odds. This easy to read but stimulating book is a prophetic call to embrace Biblical reconciliation not as a simple, pious platitude shaped by colorblind ideology, but the hard, gospel-based work, the work of redemptive transformation.

That United Methodist Will Willimon and Episcopalian Michael Curry have essays — a forward and an afterword —in Called to Reconciliation is interesting (especially given Rev. Augustine’s role as a clergyman in the AME Church.) 

With a clear-eyed realism about the ways faith has been distorted to justify white supremacy, Augustine invites the church to face the demons that still haunt our public life and to discover the resources in our tradition for a moral witness that offers humanity a future together. God, grant us wisdom to receive the vision and courage to practice it together with our neighbors.  — Bishop William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach; cochair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

An absolute force of a book, required reading for clergy, lay leaders, and interested citizens alike. Augustine not only makes the case for reconciliation in the church but also lays out a clear road map for anyone who wants to take a step toward inclusion but does not know how. He has done the church, and the world, a great service. — Joshua DuBois, faith-based advisor to President Barack Obama; author of The President’s Devotional

At one of the most divided times in our nation since the Civil War, Augustine pleads with believers from different groups to embrace ‘the Other’ in a mutually beneficial and diverse community. This is truly a must-read.  — Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener, the National African American Clergy Network

Diversity Playbook: Recommendations and Guidance for Christian Organizations Michelle R. Loyd-Paige & Michelle D. Williams (Abilene University Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We have given this a shout-out on several occasions and remain confident that it will be a terrific resource for those working within Christian organizations, from colleges to para-church ministries, nonprofits and mission groups. Churches, too, frankly. We need a play book to guide us into this diversity work and section one of this one-of-a kind resource offers “wisdom for diversity professionals.” There are bunches of plans and projects, ideas and principles, visions and practices that can be applied within all sorts of social organizations. Loyd-Paige is the Executive associate to the President for Diversity and Inclusion at Calvin University (and the founder of a consulting firs providing diversity and wellness coaching services.) Rev. Michelle Williams is a writer, speaker, former seminary dean, and entrepreneur. He passion and positivity come through. This really is a timely guidebook to equip leaders, towards greater institutional commitments to creating a culture of flourishing for all. 

Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege Dominique Dubois Gilliard (Zondervan Reflective) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I have not reviewed this extensively but it has been one we have sold well since it came out late last summer. What a good, good, book it is! The author is a leader you should know; the book is remarkable. Latasha Morrison (who I’m sure you know from her bestselling Be the Bridge) says Gilliard is “a gift to the church.” Authors like Soong-Chan Rah and Jenny Yang and Jemar Tisby all rave.

Dominique DuBois Gilliard is a very fine writer — his first book was Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores published by IVP and it was insightful and vital. He is an ordained minister and serves as the director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church. (He is also on the Board of the Christian Community Development Association.) I simply thank God for him and his gracious commitment to Biblical righteousness in all its fullness and his kind (if frank) exploration of the privilege many of us carry and benefit from.

It is well-grounded in a Biblical perspective (and characters, from Esther to Zacchaeus) and calls us to faithful discipleship. 

The forward by Mark Labberton, now President of Fuller Theological Seminary, is itself very good and sets the stage well for hearing from this black brother as he helpfully explores what we mean by privilege, how to steward it well, what it might look like to “leverage it.”

Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Anti Racist Spirituality  Regina Shands Stoltzfus & Tobin Miller Shearer (Herald Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Well, the work of dismantling racism won’t happen overnight — which is how this realistic and patient book draws you in. It nurtures your sense of this and fosters an attitude that this work is for the long haul. There are no easy answers and we have to open ourselves to new visions and practices. Like anything, it takes time, commitment and… and… God’s help!

This book is unlike many in how it integrates within it’s justice and peace-building, anti-racist work, a tru sense of seeking the Spirit, of being guided by God, of drawing on interracial relationship “to offer a vision for an antiracist spirituality.” 

We have carried and long recommended books by Shearer and we have followed Stoltzfus (a black Mennonite woman with a degree from Chicago but living in Goshen Indiana.) Both are respected anti-racist trainers and mature, wise, followers of Jesus. 

For what it is worth, this truly is an embodied and lively spiritually that they are inviting us towards. It is not primarily one of quietude or contemplation and they are not drawing on sources like Richard Foster or Richard Rohr or Ruth Haley Barton. This is deeply multi-ethnic, Anabaptist, refreshing stuff. 

Giving Up Whiteness: One Man’s Journey Jeff James (Broadleaf) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I’m not sure why I first picked this up — I pay attention to most Broadleaf titles, and there is a blurb on the back by Slot Welch (of Global Bridgebuilders and author of the excellent Plantation Jesus.) Also, there is a blurb on the back by young evangelical pastor and writer Jefferson Bethke, who I hadn’t expected to see here. He describes the book simply saying, “Giving Up Whiteness is a very personal and honest journey through how the idolatry of whiteness has influenced one man, but also hold powerful clues for fighting this ongoing evil.”

Who is this “one man”? He is a fascinating guy, and this story is rooted in his own faith, growing up in West Virginia, living around Philadelphia; there is a scene of him visiting Circle of Hope, a funky house church movement where I have visited and even spoken, years ago. (He attends a Damascus Road racial training event in Germantown, which is, by the way, the ministry founded by the aforementioned Regina Shands Stoltzfus & Tobin Miller Shearer.) It isn’t a straight narrative and there are helpful excursions into all manner of things James learns, but he ends up in Nashville. Is whiteness even a thing? Who came up with this stuff, anyway? 

It doesn’t surprise me, but there is a great endorsement for Giving Up Whiteness by Debby Irving, author of the popular Waking Up White. Nice.

Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace Osheta Moore (Herald Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I reviewed this earlier and have spoken about it in a few Zoom talks I’ve given — I’m a fan of her wit and passion and her candor. This is stuff a lot of us well-intended folks need to consider. It really is a great read and think it would make a great book for a group read — especially if you. have some sympathies for these concerns already.

As the publisher puts it, “Written in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Dear White Peacemakers draws on the Sermon on the Mount, Spirituals, and personal stories from author Osheta Moore’s work as a pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota. Enter into this story of shalom and join in the urgent work of anti-racism peacemaking.”

Osheta Moore’s good friend, the hip hop artists and writer, Lecrae, says it is a “must read for my brothers and sister in Christ.” If you want to feel more equipped to speak into this tough topic and be faithful as an agent of reconciliation, justice and the recovery of shalom in this arena, Dear White Peacemakers is a great guide, honest and good. It covers so much ground, sometimes with hard-hitting frankness and sometimes with snark and joy. What a read.

Osheta Moore has written not only an important book, but what some may consider an impossible book. In Dear White Peacemakers, Osheta calls us to fight racism while remaining true to the peacemaking ethic set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a smart and compelling work, and Osheta’s voice is both honest and hopeful. I benefited greatly from Dear White Peacemakers.”  — Brian Zahnd, lead pastor of Word of Life Church in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and author of When Everything’s on Fire

Anti-Racism 4REALS: Real Talk with Real Strategies in Real Time for Real Change Sheila Beckford & E. Michelle Ledder (Chalice Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Chalice Press is the publishing arm of the progressive Disciples of Christ denomination and has done bunches of upbeat and usable books about public theology and social justice organizing. We have highly recommended their very assessable Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White People Talk Faithfully about Racism (now in its second edition) by Presbyterian seminary prof Carolyn Helsel. This more recent one is perhaps a second (or third) step on this journey. It shouts on the back “How can we dislodge, disrupt, and dismantle racism for real?”

Rev. Dr. Richard Hayes, pastor of the Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church says, “Antiracism 4REALS is an indispensable resource for equipping all who are serious about the work of dismantling racism.” These two women — one black Latina and one white — have years of antiracism training experience. They offer concrete tools to train you to confront racism and bring about real change.

Church in Color: Youth Ministry, Race, and the Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Montague R. Williams (Baylor University Press) $44.95  OUR SALE PRICER = $35.96

Although this is one of those academic, peer-reviewed, scholarly books (with the salty price tag to match) the goofy cover maybe suggests it is casual or super-hip. You should know it is a major work, a serious study, a remarkable read by an incredibly talented young scholar. The author is, interestingly, a Church of the Nazarene guy, now a prof at Point Loma, teaching “Church, Culture, and Society.” He’s got a PhD from Boston University and his study in Church in Color of the future of intergenerational youth ministry in our racialized culture, is extraordinary. Strong black voices like Daniel White Hodge rave about it, as does Abigail Visco Rusert, the Director of the Institute for Youth ministry at Princeton Seminary and Andrew Root who says, “this is a book I’ll be assigning for classroom use.”

Can youth help us with our theological projects? Can they bring their “whole, embodied selves to the Beloved Community?” Can we imagine a fresh ecclesial vision that includes post-millennials with their experience of cultural diversity as a given?

Lewis Baldwin, a Vanderbilt prof and King scholar, says Church in Color is a “clarion call to action.” Dr. Williams knows King’s work well, invites us to draw on its wisdom, and apply it to a multi-ethnic vision of the church as it applies, especially to youth ministry and the role of teens in our faith communities. What a book.

Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength Kat Armas (Brazos Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We reviewed this when it came out early in 2021 — it seems like a long time ago — and yet, this book is still growing in popularity as more people discover its fabulous appreoach. A Latina woman inviting us to study women in the Bible alongside testimonies and memoir of the author and her family. She makes the case that mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters have something to teach us all, and have something vital to offer the project of doing faithful, relevant theology. As Sandra Van Opstal puts it, “Kit Armas masterfully integrates biblical truth with social reality.”

In this sense, it sits on the shelf next to Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence by Natalia Kohn Rivera, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Kristy Garza Robinson (IVP; $17.00) which we have often listen. Hermanas primarily looks at Biblical women in light of the experiences of these women while Abuelita Faith by Armas is a bit broad, more social analysis, more story and moret heological rumination, I think, but they both wonderfully bring the voices of brown women into the foreground.

Armas demonstrates that powerful named and unnamed women, who through the quotidian have affected the outcome of history, fill not only the Bible but also our lives. Let us sit at Armas’s feet that we might gain the wisdom we so desperately need to embody abuelita faith ourselves.
— Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

Young, Gifted and Black: A Journey of Lament and Celebration Sheila Wise Rowe (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Many BookNotes friends have greatly appreciated Sheila Wise Rowe’s previous book, the honest and very important Healing Racial Trauma. This new one is very interesting and inspiring — even for me, a guy who is neither young nor back, and not all that gifted, either, for that matter.  But I get the reference from Nina Simone. Here Rowe goes beyond the more common story that focuses on the success or struggle of black millennials and young adults and, rather, offers themes of celebration and lament, pointing towards hope, joy, and healing. It is a book quite intentionally written to be of encouragement for younger black readers — although it is helpful for others to listen in, learning from what Rowe has learned over her years as a therapist, listening well to those who have experienced great sadness and great joy.

The title alludes to a famous anthem from the civil rights movement from Nina Simone. Three cheers for Young, Gifted, and Black and praise God for Sheila Wise Rowe. Highly recommended.

Gospel Haymanot: A Constructive Theology and Critical Reflection on African and Diaspora Christianity edited by Vincent L. Bantu (Urban Ministries, Inc.) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00 

You may know Dr. Bantu for his work in the serious IVP volume A Multitude of All People: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity. He is a professor of Church History and Black Church Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and has a leadership role in the Meachum School of Haymanot and the Society of Gospel Haymanot. His expertise is brilliant and here he has edited a volume which forges new paradigms for evangelical black theology and public witness.

As it says on the back cover, “Through seven dominant voices in Black academic theology, Gospel Haymanot sheds new light on biblical authority issues, doctrinal orthodoxy, and evangelical theology on justice and liberation, which engage the Black Christian experience.”

If you know any black academics (or anyone in the broader church seeking “biblical orthodoxy and black liberation”) this is an important rare resource. Contributing scholars are Quonekuia Day, Cleotha Robertson, Dennis Edwards, Vince Bantu, Nicholas Rowe, Vincent Bacote and Jacqueline T. Dyer.) The forward, insisting it is a very important book, comes from the honorable Dr. William Pannell, professor emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary. Bill Pannell was the first black speaker I ever heard, I think, and was transformative for me, at the first CCO conference which I attended as a college kid in 1973, an event that eventually became Jubilee. Dr. Bantu did a special “Jubilee Africana” presentation the Friday night of Jubilee 2022. Our CCO friends were thrilled. 

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging Willie James Jennings (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I suppose it is fair to say that there are some of us who found Jennings often cited The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (perhaps alongside Race by Cameron Carter) a bit much. It is serious, dense, and a bit thick. And expensive, on Yale University Press. Granted.

After Whiteness is a short read, colorful and assessable, a study of how seminary education might be construed and re-construed “after whiteness.” It is the inaugural volume of a series started by Eerdmans called “Theological Education Between the Times” (and for or five have come out in the last two years, almost all by people of color, each creative writing about how we might do theology and, specifically, theological education, differently in these times.

If you loved Jennings’s The Christian Imagination you most likely already picked up After Whiteness as soon as it came out last year. We sold a few and it was exciting for us. Perhaps you are one who haven’t gotten around to his bigger volume — if so, this one might serve you well as a way to read something of this important voice and understand his fundamental critique of how there have been great distortions in theology due to whiteness (and its related constructs of masculinity and rugged individualism.)

Drawing on the likes of Saint Augustine and his work on desire (eros) Jennings calls for an erotic theology, for a sense of soul that “denotes the power and energy of authentic connection with God and our fellow human beings.”

This is a powerful little book, potent, provocative, challenging, transgressive, even. 

If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? Black Lives Matter & Biblical Authority Angela N. Parker (Eerdmans) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

For those of us in ecumenical conversations, and certainly for us situated here in our bookstore where we serve all sorts of readers from all sorts of faith perspectives, we know that the discussions about the role and authority and inspiration of the Bible are endless. And, often, not terribly insightful, generating more heat than light. I’m reluctant to add more to those “battles for the Bible” even though I think it is important to read about, to consider and ponder and take the question seriously. I often note — and I will again here — that sometimes those with the most rigorously developed and loudly insisted upon view of the authority of the Bible don’t, in my estimation, live in a way that indicates that they take their Bibles all that seriously anyway. And some who on some days say less than ideal things about the Bible end up being the ones who invite us to stake our very lives upon its vision and promises. Even Jesus warned about this — you remember: the one kid who said he would do the father’s bidding, but doesn’t, and the other, who didn’t say he would, but actually did. So, there’s that.

So it is vexing, but since I’m listing books here that are in many ways knowingly provocative, thought-provoking, challenging and stimulating, let me suggest this, a “challenge to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy that questions how Christians are taught about the way of Whiteness than the way of Jesus.”

How Professor Parker (who teaches New Testament Greek, by the way, at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology) deconstructs white evangelicalism is one good thing. How she relates that to her critique of a toxic authoritarianism that is linked to doctrines of infallibility is interesting and will be compelling for many. (The wise Brenda Salter McNeil highly recommends it!) There are those who will insist that if we are to reframe and understand the Scriptures rightly as texts of social righteousness, offering visions of justice and inclusion, we must value them highly as the Word of God that they are said to be and that Parker seems to be unclear about that. If they are not divinely inspired, then why bother to discern if their vision is egalitarian or not?

But, of course, it isn’t that simple — there are ways to honor the holy breath/inspiration of the Bible without holding to a wooden inerrancy; we can come around God’s Word in reformational ways that are not authoritarian or toxic, not essentially connected to white patriarchy. This, generally speaking, is a remarkable urgent project.

Dr. Parker brings the womanist ethic of resisting racism and sexism to her reconsidering the role of Biblical studies and faithful discipleship and it is passionate and insightful. She is, of course, insisting that our lived experience, our embodied identities will shape our hermeneutic, that we (always) engage the sacred texts as real people in real bodies and in real cultures and we need to acknowledge that. It is exciting, stimulating, a bit scary. 

Listen to Lisa Sharon Harper, author of The Very Good Gospel and, recently, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World — And How to Repair It All, who wrote this in the forward:

What does it mean to follow Jesus when we strip Whiteness and westernness from his skin and the Brown colonized context from which he rose? What happens when those at the bottom read the words of those at the bottom? What suppressed, covered over, hidden, and obliterated meanings rise again? That is the project of the next five hundred years. Angela Parker’s If God Still Breathes takes us one step further on the journey.

I’ve been waiting for this book! If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? brings a fresh perspective to the biblical text that makes it come alive with hope of liberation for all people. Dr. Angela Parker calls us past the superficial into a deep engagement with a contextual theology that is relevant and life-giving. We must rethink how to address the racial and social injustices taking place in the world today, and I am convinced that the way forward is womanist! So if you want to become brave enough to move from being a concerned bystander to an active participant — this book is for you! I highly recommend it. — Brenda Salter McNeil, author of Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now

Kudos to the publishers and their authors who have brought these sorts of hard hitting and even controversial books to the marketplace. For some, this comes with considerable risk of losing customers, losing limited funds. We feel that, too, sometimes, but — golly, if publishers can spend as much as they do bringing these kinds of voices and topics into the world, the least we can do is try to sell a few. Will you join us in this project, deepening our journey into understanding? Thanks for reading!

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