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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Listen to what author James Bryan Smith says of it:

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

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

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


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

release date – January 5, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not bad, eh?

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

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

Doubt as Descent
Doubt as Dissent
Doubt as Love

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

release date – November 24, 2020

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

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

Here’s what I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

release date – available now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it says on the back cover,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are what some stellar folks have said about it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Sharon Harper writes of it that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meacham continues:

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

Listen to these other endorsers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondly, Garber’s book, without being melancholy or negative, includes an honest lament for the state of the world. Without being partisan, he knows and cares deeply about the wounds of history, about our own shame and hurt, how we are all, as Schaeffer put it, “glorious ruins.” Here’s the point: God loves us anyway. And, therefore, we must somehow take God’s own cue and find ourselves also loving the world (as it is) as God does. Can we accept our own human responsibility to mirror God’s mercy in a world of need? Can we be gracious and good toward it, knowing what we know? Can we be honest about our own responsibilities, knowing we are (as he fleshes out in a remarkable chapter) “implicated.” This is a major contribution for those of us wanting to embrace this work, and Visions of Vocation is a primary text to help us. Many have told us it is the most important book they have ever read.

Thirdly, Garber invites us to run with joy because we do hear God’s voice — vocare is the Latin root of the word “vocation” — and therefore, we can have hope. We do not have to grow jaded. We do not have to yield to cynicism. We can love as God so loves and thereby be people of hope. He says it so well, with such nuance and eloquence and intellectual substance, and that’s one of the sturdy, strong points. Who among us who cares about this world has not been tempted to cynicism or worse?

Here is a bonus point, a key takeaway in one chapter that some say is worth the price of the whole book. Steve talks about what he calls “proximate justice.” That is, we do not have to be “all or nothing” utopians. We must learn to live with some approximation of goodness and beauty, pushing always for the actualization of God’s many desires for the world, but not demanding more than our time in history can embrace. That is, he shares an insight of the old Dutch Christian statesman, Abraham Kuyper, who did not favor revolutions that tossed out too much with too many ideological hopes that then become their own soon to topple idols. That is, we must be visionary and hope for the best, but learn “how the sausage is made” and move as best we can, seeking God’s ways, glad for any move in the right direction. Such an understanding replaces optimism with hope and allows us to be grateful for small victories. Again, I am paraphrasing and you simply must read VoV for yourself to grapple with ideas such as “proximate justice.” It will help you not only survive, but find you own voice in these trying times of rebuilding and renewal.

American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland Marie Mutsuki  Mockett (Graywolf Press) $28.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

If some of the cultural crisis we face these days come from the difference between what some pundits call the coastal elites and the heartland, between urbane sophisticates that are largely anti-Christian and rural and small town folks who are, in fact, deeply religious, how can we get over these huge divides. (I’ve previously reviewed at BookNotes a small book that packs a wallop of insight called Not From Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us, and How We Can Move Forward Together by Brandon J. O’Brien (published by Moody Press; $13.99) that offers uniquely Christian insight to the complexities of how our places effect us.) If we want to find new abilities to have better conversations about the things that matter most in this big land that is home to so many different kinds of people, this large story might point us towards real, live examples.  American Harvest was one of my favorite books of 2020 and I can’t say enough about it in this small space, here.

(If you subscribe to The Christian Century you might have been fortunate enough to read the April 2020  book review of American Harvest penned by Valerie Weaver-Zercher which was one of the most beautiful book reviews I think I’ve ever read. It is unfortunately behind the paywall at CC but it was a fabulously, insightful, and gorgeous piece of writing.It was such a good review it discouraged me from trying to explain why I loved American Harvest so much.)

Another fine review that explores the heart of the book was in the Los Angeles Times a piece entitled “Meet the Heartland Evangelicals Who Feed America.” 

Here is this summary of this memoir-like, creative non-fiction, journalistic report by Marie Mutsuki Mockett and why I think it carries hope for our polarized world. Mockett is an urban elite, intellectual, urbane, concerned about GMOs eats organic, un-religious, science-based, progressive, multi-ethnic. Her family has owned a large wheat farm in the mid-West which other peopel care for. For a variety of reasons he decided to go along with the migrant wheat harvesters who sweep with their giant combines from Texas to Montana each summer, living on the road,learning what these modern-day farmers do as they harvest the giant wheat fields. She embeds herself with a group of mostly young harvesters and learns their way of life, taking in rodeos in Texas, hunting wild pigs, eating at diners, fixing the machines, and doing hard, hard work in the extraordinary fields of Kansas and Nebraska and more.

What more, you ask? She goes to church with them. You see, the outfit that she embedded herself with is a group of mostly conservative Mennonites from Lancaster County, PA. They are more or less kind to her, and she to them, and she is befriended, surprisingly, by a few who aren’t as fundamentalist and strictly plain as some conservative Mennonites are. They get her tuning in to The Liturgist podcast and she listens as they debate the theology found in Rob Bell books. (Nope, I didn’t see that coming!) These are socially conservative men and women who know the land and have little awareness of why city-slickers would care about eating organic. She can’t believe some of them take Genesis literally. She is distressed by what she sees as religious arrogance among some of the preachers they encounter.  As person of color of Asian descent, she is sensitive to matters of ethnicity but rarely sees people of color anywhere in the months they travel. She is surprised at how warm and caring the harvesters faith community can be, but is alarmed at their misunderstandings of issues of great concern to her friends back in California. She’s a hard worker (and a fine writer) and has produced a remarkably American book.

Three cheers for these Red-state, God-fearing, country-living, farm women and men, on the road in the mid-West. Three even bigger cheers for Ms Mockett for stretching out of her comfort zone and opening her mind and her heart to these Christian blue-collar folk. Three cheers for American Harvest for grappling with politics, gender, race, economics, religion, Native American history, agriculture, ethics, and friendship amidst huge differences. All of them sweating under the same blazing sun and hosting the same fearsl that the crops this year might not be profitable enough, united them in a way. Their desire to understand each other was not naive. As one reviewer said, the book is “an extraordinary feat of empathy.”

That so many have raved about this beautifully written travelogue makes me think that many hunger for an experience of cross-cultural friendship of this sort. The places it has been reviewed are diverse and the sorts of reviewers are fascinating to me. On the back cover alone there are lovely endorsements from Annie Dillard (who calls it a “doozy”) and Francis Spufford and Susan Cheever.

Enjoy these good words about this good book:

Marie Mutsuki Mockett has the kind of deft touch with the English language that would make me read a book by her, no matter what it was about. . . . At the end of the trip, Mutsuki Mockett bemoans the fact that she wants her ‘old self to reappear’–but it won’t. The Midwest has changed her. That, perhaps, is her greatest talent: the willingness to examine, even abandon, her own biases before she casts stones. That’s a lesson in empathy that we can all learn from, in the time of coronavirus, in the time of presidential elections–and beyond.” Financial Times

“A patient, radiant, kindly book that in its own way determinedly adds a brick to the shining city on the hill where Americans will understand each other.” –Francis Spufford

“Marie Mutsuki Mockett describes the American plains as having ‘a subtle gradation in topography that suits a ruminating mind, ‘ and the same can be said of her stunning new book. . . . Her insights are ones we could all stand to learn from right about now.”– John Jeremiah Sullivan

“In the best tradition of travel literature, American Harvest is a discursive odyssey, an exploration of self, others, faith, and a landscape of terrible beauty.” –Randall Balmer

“Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s American Harvest is a book about this country unlike any other. Mockett’s account of the harvest is riveting, and the way she navigates her own plural identity as she travels with the combines is brilliant. This is a stunning, astonishing accomplishment.” –Susan Cheever

“An extraordinary feat of empathy set against a land of reds, whites, and blues, American Harvest doesn’t just speak to the great divide–it dares to bridge it.”     –Marlon James

The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good Don Everts (IVP) $17.00                                     OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

This splendid, little hardback is the third in a series, preceded by The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations and The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors both which were funded in cooperation with The Lutheran Hour and were lively, upbeat summaries of research done by the Barna Group. The first showed that there is data indicating that folks aren’t necessarily opposed to spiritual conversation and offered insights about how to best engage in these sorts of conversations about deeper things. The second offered the data from surprising research showing that the most happy homes are the ones that are the most hospitable — and, in fact, messy. According to the findings shown in, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, extended families and house guests and complicated living arrangements can be generative and good. These were short reads with good charts and infographics and sidebars alongside a solid, engaging narrative. We recommend them both.

This new one, The Hopeful Neighborhood, though, is really, really great. Barna head David Kinnaman writes in his great foreword, “This book does such a beautiful job of preparing us for life on mission with Jesus in the place where we live and with the people who live near us, in our neighborhoods.” It is something many of us think about and we surely are thinking about it more now in November 2020. Everts is a really clear and compelling writer, a great storyteller (and he tells some good ones!) Drawing on original research from Barna, The Hopeful Neighborhood shows just what people are thinking, worried about, hoping for when it comes to community engagement.  Informed by a solid missional theology, this gets down to brass tacks and would make a great study book for your civic group, Bible study, or Sunday school class.

The first chapter “Pursue the Common Good” invites us to “the shared work of all humans” and lays a great foundation. I love the “Use Every Gift” slogan that serves to invitee us to the process of blessings our neighborhoods. Chapter three insists that we “Love Everyone Always” and explores “the power of grace in tough seasons.” Of course we “give God glory” as we promote Christ’s ways; the last section is on experiencing “the hope of uniting around a common good” which they call in upbeat lingo, “joining the revolution.” As you might guess, I like this a lot.

Are we going to bridge the divides that have polarized our land, find some higher ground and work as salt and light in a fractured world? This little book invites us to care, and to care for our own places.

The Hopeful Neighborhood is a critical read for anyone desiring to rebuild the social fabric of our communities. Change won’t come from institutional leaders but from those on the street willing to do the hard work of listening, honoring our commonalities, and advancing good. — Gabe Lyons, president, Q Media, author of Good Faith.


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“The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump” (Peter Wehner) AND “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation” (David French) ON SALE NOW

I saw two yard signs yesterday, one that made me chuckle and the other that made me smile and then shake my head, just short of an eye roll. The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me.

The first looked just like the ubiquitous, red, white, and blue ones and it looked so real. It read, “Giant Meteor 2020.” Another version out there says, underneath, “Just end it already.” Ha.

The other one that made me glad for a moment also looked real, but was no joke. It said, “Jesus 2020: Our Only Hope.” That’s true and good news, but, in a way, it frustrated me. Let me explain.

Beside the obvious quip that Jesus isn’t running in 2020, this beautifully well-intended sign says, by announcing this true truth — Christ is our only hope, a truth I hold as dear now as I ever have — as an alternative to the signs about which candidates to support, seems to imply that somehow we who believe in Jesus are above the fray. That because we know the ultimate hope and believe in the good news the Bible proclaims we are somehow exempt from the messy choices to be made this side of the new Jerusalem.

(Insofar as it serves as a timely reminder that neither party can provide ultimate hope and resists the overstatement of near messianic claims from the parties and candidates, I’m glad.)

As an evangelical myself, I’m always happy when people bear witness to the salvation offered by the cross, blood, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the true King. I mean that. (As long as the witness happens in a context of care and dignity, sensibly and kindly shared, of course.) So the sign made me smile, glad for a family that wanted to use the opportunity of putting out yard signs to put one out to point others to Jesus. I get it.

But, in the context of this custom of putting out political yard signs it seemed to maybe carry an implied message that this political stuff isn’t all that important, that Jesus is all that matters. It almost seemed to encourage political disengagement, poking at those who care about Biden or Trump or any number of local folks running. At least the cynical meteor one was a joke.

In the early ’70s we had a saying, inspired by a powerful gospel song by the late, great Andre Crouch. His song was “Jesus Is the Answer” and, like the “Jesus 2020” sign, it speaks true truth.

But then I learned another, harder, question, a necessary reply. It came from a black evangelist who marked my life in life-changing ways, Tom Skinner. Skinner cried, “If Jesus is the Answer, What Are the Questions?” That is, our faith dare not be reduced to cliches or slogans or inspirational bromides, no matter how pious or true. Like the way Jesus Himself is God incarnate in the world, we, too, have to live out God’s Answer in the world. Incarnational faith answers the question, “so what?” It offers real answers to real questions. Saying Jesus is the answer just isn’t enough.

In a way, that was part of the conflict between Jesus and the super-religious faith leaders of the first century. You study the Scriptures, he says to them, but don’t even know what they mean. You sound all religious, but don’t get the point. You want Messiah to come but you ignore me and my teachings. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus explained to these religious right leaders of his day what they were missing, the “weightiest matters of the law” — justice and mercy and fidelity.

Look it up if you don’t believe me. And then ask how the modern day religious leaders who lead people into voting for a white supremacist sexual abuser not known for honesty, let alone justice or mercy, might reply to Jesus. I guess their desire to take over the courts and “own the libs” is more important than hearing Matthew 23:23.

Historian John Fea has explored how and why this came to happen in his book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans; $18.99; our sale price = $15.19.) It’s a must-read, I think, but he doesn’t explore this part too much — that many of the most vocal supporters of President Trump simply have not offered any Biblical or theologically coherent argument for their enthusiasm for him. Perhaps those arguments can be made, but Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham and Eric Metaxas and Paula White are simply not fluent in anything approximating Ron Sider’s cautious methodology (described  below) of how to develop a Biblically-informed political opinion. Heck, Jerry Falwell, Jr. went out of his way to say bluntly that Jesus does not inform his politics! None of them seem to care about a Christian view of the state as spelled out in Skillen’s The Good of Politics or James K.A. Smith’s Awaiting the King or Oliver O’Donovan’s The Ways of Judgement. They don’t seem to represent any of the five views debated back and forth in Amy Black’s Five Views on the Church and Politics. Why is that? Why don’t our evangelical folk demand more from their leaders, from themselves?

(For what it is worth here is one thoughtful debate between two conservative evangelicals, David French and Eric Metaxas, on whether faithful Christians should vote for President Trump. It is spectacular to listen to, but neither offers a very robustly Christian political philosophy.)

As a trusted bookseller — at least trusted by some — it feel it is part of my job to lay this out there, to invite people to read and study and learn. We can respect one another’s differing views on any number of things if we’ve shared the process of being intentional about thinking through the issues from an overtly Christian orientation. I do not say that those with whom I disagree are evil or have been influenced by the devil. That is what many prominent religious right leaders have said about some friends of mine like Richard Mouw and Ron Sider and Brenda Salter McNeil when they created Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden. Read Ron’s moving piece about church unity amidst disagreements in his blog post “Jesus Weeps.”

So we need a Christian perspective on voting and civic life that is intentionally shaped by a balanced and full reading of Scripture and church teaching and wisely applied with some conscientious commitment not driven by loyalty to either party or any political philosophy or movement that isn’t connected to the great Christian tradition. It’s pretty simple, really; I am reminding us of the coherence and integration that my dear friend Steve Garber ruminates so beautifully upon in his recent book A Seamless Life. Or, as he puts in the subtitle of his first book, Fabric of Faithfulness, we must “weave together belief and behavior.” Right?

At least that’s my take and what was implied in the last BookNotes post listing what I believe to be thoughtful, balanced, Biblically-responsible books about nurturing the nonpartisan, theologically-informed, Christian mind on matters of political responsibility. Christians need to remember that we vote Coram Deo (before the face of God) and that means doing some intentional consideration of what the Bible really says about the government and what Jesus actually wants. That WWJK isn’t a bad thing to ask at a time like this.

Again, I hope you saw that last BookNotes that listed a whole bunch of good books that offer insight into these perennial questions of what it means to be a Christian citizen, to cultivate the Christian mind and perspective on foundational topics about what the government should be about and to discern a Biblically-shaped view of issues and topics, causes and policies. The one I featured most energetically in that list is the one that a few have ordered this week: The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor by Kaitlyn Schiess. It’s so good and I do think it would make for a great on-line study group or book club or Zoom Sunday school class.

In that BookNotes I reminded readers that the Bible is clear that we dare not hold idols, and contemporary ideologies about the state and about the government are often grounded in ideas that may be somewhat true but are elevated to become the “only” thing and thereby function like an idol.

A book that I didn’t mention last time, but could have, is a deep Biblical study of idolatry and the ways idols take shape in public life and in politics. See the brand new paperback, “Here Are Your Gods”: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times by Christopher J.H. Wright (IVP; $18.00; our sale price = $14.40.)

The first half is drawn from and is a somewhat expanded version of the portion on idolatry from the author’s magisterial, thick, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Wright, the publishers, and some readers felt that this was just a needed section that it could be lifted out a re-published as its own monograph. It is very, very good for anyone who wants to understand this theme in the Bible and how it helps us cultivate a more missional vision.

The second of “Here Are Your Gods” is exactly what is needed now, a reflection (first done as a series of serious lectures) on how our contemporary politics is often defined by idolatrous ideas. As the international director of Langham Partnership in the UK, and a globally respected Bible teacher, Chris Wright was asked to lecture on idols and ideology in the years following the staggering Brexit debates and the election of Donald Trump. There are some chapters on “Political Idolatry Then and Now” and some more general chapters on being a people shaped by the living God in a way that helps us “follow Jesus in turbulent times.” It is simply remarkable stuff.

Blurbs on the back include rave reviews by Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman — who calls it a “must read for Christians as they engage in the political process” and Duke Divinity School Bible scholar and eloquent preacher, Ellen Davis. Even John Inazu, author of Confident Pluralism and editor of Common Ground says it “packs a punch for our time.” Idols are, as Inazu puts it, “ciphers within the true created order” and “capable of great harm and destruction.” Indeed, it is why we need to discern our latest found of false gods and repent of our allegiance to them.

As the publisher puts it, Wright, “calls us to consider connections between Old Testament patterns and today’s culture and invites us to join God in the battle against idolatry as part of his ongoing mission to be known and worshipped by all people.”

(And, by the way, there is a full page footnote offering an annotated bibliography on this theme that will be very helpful for anyone doing further research into the theme of idolatry. Wow.)

See, also, by the way, my remarks last week about David Koyzis’s heady Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies to explore all that in greater detail. The liberals and conservatives, the libertarians and the populists, the Marxists and capitalists all start with some grain of truth, of course. When they overstate that insight and turn it into a movement, connecting it to hope and progress, that’s when we get hints of idolatry and it doesn’t end well.

Our deep allegiance to ideas of individual freedom, say, that we should be free do what whatever we want and that the government is a fundamentally bad institution which oppresses us illustrates, I think, the captivity of our minds to less than Biblical ideas. So we need to listen to Christian scholars who have explored the Bible and the history of theology to get our heads and hearts (and our voting habits) in line with a more coherent Christian perspective. I think this will often look like something other than the typical Democrats and Republicans. So it’s vexing.

It is vexing, but we dare not opt out of being “in but not of” the world. Again, I wonder if that Jesus 2020 sign encouraged being a-political. It doesn’t offer a hint of a Christian perspective on politics and we can’t tell if those who put it up have a comprehensive (or even partial) policy agenda that is informed by what the Bible says on a wide range of issues. Whoever put up that sign — God bless them — maybe should also read a couple of books that I highlighted last time such as The Bible and the Ballot (by Bible scholar Tremper Longman) or The Good of Politics by Christian political scientist James Skillen or at least Vincent Bacot’s little The Political Disciple. 

Or, consider a favorite of mine, the exemplary Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement by Ronald Sider (Brazos; $24.00; our sale price = $19.20.) It clearly outlines a method of thinking Christianly, a process of formation and discernment firstly informed by Christian views of society, a wholistic hermeneutic that allows the Bible to illuminate and reform our general assumptions and attitudes about public life and social institutions (for instance, what is the task of the state?) Next, Sider shows, we need to do a fairly comprehensive study of all the relevant Biblical material on a topic — abortion, creation care, racism, capitol punishment, taxation, warfare, and the like. (This one takes some time since, for instance, we must read the Bible as it itself unfolds and not take texts out of context or fall into cheap proof-texting. And, on some topics, there is a lot of material — there are literally hundreds of verses about poverty in the Bible, many with direct relationship to government. Frankly, given how many verses and how much teaching there is about this, Sider could be stronger in critiquing the Republican platform that seems deaf to these texts, but he restrains himself, offering the process more than weighing in as much as he does in other books.)

Dr. Sider carefully walks us through the steps of thinking Christianly, learning the Bible (on the foundational stuff about society and statecraft and on specific issues) applying it in relevant ways, and then — having done that, studying up on both sides of what social science or political pundits say about the details of this or that side of this or that policy. The goal is to evaluate honestly, through the lens of our Christian worldview and social ethics. It is the cost of discipleship, it seems, to have to do more work than our secular neighbors do, because we are to be informed by our faith, the Scriptures and church teachings, and apply them fairly and conscientiously and honestly to the issues of the day.

After all that, Ron says, we must be humble, since chances are, we missed some insights of theology, missed or misunderstood some Bible texts, failed to understand the consequences of certain policy proposals. Good people can disagree, but we should help hold one another accountable to the process of thinking well about what it means to be stewards of the gift of citizenship. We owe it to God and our neighbors and our great country to be that kind of prudent and responsible salt, light, and leaven who have done our homework.

And so, two signs. Both make us smile as most of us are tired of all the noisy rhetoric and the right-wing or left-wing signage. One invites cosmic disaster, one seeks ultimate hope, but neither help us much this week. If Jesus is the Answer, what are the questions?

I hope that some of our past book recommendations help. And, certainly, I hope that last one and its many links to other book lists on politics and faith would be a resource for you.



There are two books I wanted to announce in that same list of books about faith and politics and Christian approaches to citizenship that I posted the other day, but they are written to a more general audience rather than to those wanting a Biblically-informed perspective on faithful Christian politics. I just wasn’t sure they fit that list.

Both are incredibly informative, serious-minded without being dry or obtuse, and both are written by men who have served in public life as principled conservatives, as Christians, and as Republicans who have now renounced their loyalty to a party that no longer seems to stand for conservative principles. They are making, each in their own way, exceptional cases for why conservatives and all good, patriotic Americans committed to the first things of our great land, ought not support Donald Trump. I think the first I will tell you about is a bit more lively; the second is a deeper dive into the Founders and especially James Madison. But both have lots of passion to heal the polarization and fraying fabric of our cultural moment, and both are hugely important.

No matter who you vote for, these are both very valuable reads and I highly recommend them both. Many of our bookstore fans will find them fascinating and you should read them soon, or later. They are not about the election as such.

Despite their nearly legendary service in the trenches for the GOP and conservative social issues (Peter Wehner as an experienced Republican operative and eventually a staff member of the Reagan and both Bush White Houses and David French in Iraq with the Army Reserves and in famous religious freedom and anti-abortion litigation) they have recently both received horrific death threats, as have their family and children, because they have spoken out as conservative Christians against the President. Let that sink in.

Wehner and French have seen and worked with a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle, and have collaborated, often combatively, with many of the most significant political players of our day. They are self-aware and mature in their own spirituality and faith and they know the call to serve in the rough and tumble of real political life. They both mistrust President Trump’s character and virtue, his temperament and maturity, his policy understanding and leadership styles. They don’t believe he has it in him to attend to the hard work of governing well.  Wehner writes more in his book about this while French is more general about the stress and polarization his movement is exploiting and deepening.

I’m sure many of our readers who tilt conservative on many social issues have heard these arguments from some of the smartest writers of the right — along with the likes of Michael Gerson and David Brooks and Jonah Goldberg and Colin Powell and (maybe) Ben Sasse  and Condoleeza Rice. There are conservative leaders who have considered American greatness, current political options, how social and cultural change happens, the trends and forces of the parties, and the price paid to get some policies passed that may be consistent with a conservative agenda and still they have concluded that the Trump-Pence ticket must be resisted. Their ticket, in the view of these conservative “never Trumpers” is not helpful for their party, for the causes they care about, and it is not helpful for the country.

Agree or not, these two surprising books are simply must-haves for anyone who likes reading about contemporary politics and the landscape of modern cultural/social/civic renewal efforts. These are more important than any number of best-sellers like Rage or The Room Where It Happened or Blitz and I very highly recommend them to anyone wanting wise, deeper insights about our civic duties and values. They are great for any political science junkies or public affairs nerds.

Secondly, I recommend these two books to Republican readers, especially if you are concerned about Christian and/or conservative values. These two men are gentleman and scholars, serious Christians who have earned the right to be heard because of their years of hard-ball experience in the world of Republican politics and in the worlds of media and journalism and public affairs. They are demoralized and frustrated by the way their party and even, in some cases, their political movement, has abandoned the higher ground won in other eras of conservative public contributions and lament the way Trump and Fox News have degraded discourse and the intelligence of conservative principles.(Of course they would say this about the the other side as well, but that is not their primary concern in these books; they are writing mostly to their own tribe.) They make a good case, I think, and conservatives owe it to their movement to ponder why these leaders say no to the current status quo within our political class and the citizens who follow them.

Thirdly, I recommend either of these to those of us who tilt left by instinct and who have open minds to hear the best conservative thinkers and their appeal for patriotic values, conservative approaches, wise and prudent policy directives. Agree or not with their deepest convictions or policy ideas, you will benefit from spending time with these men who I believe have earned the right to be heard after years of pondering this stuff and contending for their positions in the public square, US congress buildings, the White House and courts. You know I’ve suggested similar sorts of books like A Time to Build by Yuval Levine and The Decadent Society by Ross Douthat. I’ve written of my admiration for Os Guinness and are glad we’ve sold a few of his Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat. As a Jewish rabbi from the UK, Jonathan Sacks isn’t exactly an American conservative, but we’ve commended him (including his brand new Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.)

Among all of these sorts of eloquent books by respected and respectful conservative thinkers, I think Peter Wehner and David French deserve your consideration. Buy their books. I have read them both and am better for it. And I am more deeply convinced that my opposition to the current incumbent isn’t just my old hippy partisan self kicking in or my gut instinct of being so appalled by President Trump’s ugliness and deceit. It is right to oppose him; French and Wehner coming not from the left but from the right, make that abundantly clear.


The Death of Politics: How To Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump Peter Wehner (HarperOne) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

If you are unsure about who to vote for, listen to this author who has spent more time in the West Wing and the Oval Office than probably anybody you or I know. He worked in the Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. He is a legend of integrity and deeply respected as a solid, moderate, evangelical Christian (he gives a shout-out to Phil Yancey for helping with one chapter and he has co-written a book with Wheaton grad Michael Gerson, so is Reformed and evangelical) and is known as a force for good within civic life. The book’s back cover has blurbs from everyone from Jon Meacham to Karl Rove, from Monah Charen to Mark Noll, David Axelrod to Joe Scarborough. Even James K.A. Smith has a nice blurb, hoping the book is widely read.

I will let you discover the joys of Wehner’s own story — he is the son of German immigrants and is deeply, deeply loyal to American values. He tells of some pretty dramatic moments (including being in the White House, serving as a speech writer, the morning of 9-11.)  He thinks there are times he got things right; he knows he got some things wrong. He tells of some great regrets (his reflections on the war in Iraq is candid and fair) and explores policy efforts and campaigns within administrations that failed to deliver promises. He laments the hype and spin and “withering polarization” that is deeply harmful to our country. And yet, he is hopeful. One reviewer says (as I cited before when I recommended this months ago) he is like a literary Paul Revere, “raising his lantern in this urgent work.” The work is what we all have to do to renew our democracy and help repair the mess we are now in.

To do this, we need the wisdom in his chapter “In Praise of Moderation, Compromise, and Civility.” I have views that are not particularly moderate and I’m not a fan of compromise, especially on the biggest moral issues. But he is correct. You can read that intersting chapter that includes some social science and some brain studies and some American history and some stuff about the friendship of Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis and tell me if he’s wrong.

And, we need to know a bit about what politics even is; what’s the government for and what should we expect of those who create our laws and policies? Early on in the book he does go into the foundations of a high view of statecraft, starting with Aristotle and on to John Locke and Abe Lincoln. (If that’s not your thing, hang in there. It’s a political philosophy class made as clear and interesting as possible.) The next chapter, then, is about faith and politics and for many of our BookNotes readers it will be a lovely refresher course, fair and balanced and thoughtful and in some ways even inspiring.

Further in within a very compelling chapter he shows how we have to care about words, about truth, about persuasion. Mr. Wehner has a whole chapter on this called  “Why Words Matter” and it brings to mind Marilyn McEntyre’s  Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies about stewarding words well. Wehner documents over and over how the current Trump administration disdains the habit and art of using words well, and in his words, “wages war on the culture of words.” (This includes, importantly, of course, the world of ideas, the ideas words convey.)  Such a “war against words” and the world of thought leads to devaluing truth, to Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theory nonsense about fake news. As Rudy Giuliani asserted during an interviews with NBC, “Truth isn’t truth.” Wehner continues, “Another of the president’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, when called out for making a false clam to defend Mr. Trump, replied, “facts develop.””

Wehner continues,

Comments such as these might be excused as mere slips of the tongue, if not for the fact that the president and all the presidents men and all the presidents women act as if truth were merely subjective, utterly pliable, and completely in the eyes of the beholder. The modus operandi of Trump World is this: If facts exist that are incriminating to Mr. Trump, dismiss the facts. Label them fake news. And go on lying.

This, remember, is coming from a Republican leader who has served in esteemed conservative administrations and been a thought leader for the right for decades. This is an author about whom Karl Rove says “Agree with his prescriptions or not, the reader will finish this book having met a man of faith, integrity, and patriotism.” His call for the patriotic process of persuasion and compromise and civility is good, good stuff. With these virtues he thinks citizens really can help heal the breach. Amen!

If you are undecided about who to vote for, I would highly recommend that you read the last chapter of The Death of Politics first. Even the first handful of pages of that last great chapter about hope, starting on page 189 are vital. He draws on themes from the first chapter which remind us that entering public service and being a political worker is, in fact, a noble calling. Biblically and theologically speaking, he is right about that and I think it needs saying, especially in this day when we tend to think all politicians are crooks or sell-outs or power-mongers and the whole business of how the sausage is made is unsavory at best.

But here is where he goes with this in this important last chapter. I cannot quickly summarize it in a way that does it justice, but I’ll try.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was part of a larger trend (started, largely by the Watergate fiasco, but also part of the even larger cultural revolution in the 60s) of Americans distrusting institutions and particularly political institutions and politicians. We get to weigh in on them, vote for or against them, sound off about them, but statistics show that most of our fellow citizens distrust and in many case despise those who are trying to do their best in a complicated world, trying to solve big problems that most of us want solved. From clean water to good roads, from human rights abroad to health care at home, from religious freedom to freedom from crime in the streets, there are tons of civic stuff that we need the government to do (or at least to help with.)

Nobody, by the way, thinks government is the only answer or even primary conduit of social renewal. Nobody thinks “throwing money” at a problem will solve it. That, in my view, is a cheap shot by those who favor smaller government trying to delegitimize the proper role of proper government; we need debates about the principles and polices about “how much” government intervention in any particular sphere or arena is needed — Wehner, again, was shaped as a Reagan Republican, so he’s not always congenial to bigger government — but this nasty critique of government isn’t helpful and Wehner is correct to insist on a more honorable sort of debate. We must resist the cynicism that breeds anger and finally a nihilism about our commonwealth and public institutions.

(I digress a bit from Wehner, here, but I appreciate the quip of Stephanie Summers, Director of the Center for Public Justice, who says that the solution to bad government isn’t necessarily small government. The solution to bad government is good government.)

But here’s the thing: we increasingly mock and distrust those public servants who have tried their best (and often, against great odds, did some very good things, many things we take for granted) and now — with anti-political sentiment at perhaps an all time high — we elect a guy who ran on this very platform, this notion that expertise doesn’t matter, that knowledge about policies is silly stuff, that there is some nefarious deep state that is only about power, that real political achievement just happens because he will will it to be so.  (“It’ll be so great,” candidate Trump regularly says. “It’ll be so easy.”)

But, as The Death of Politics shows, the current President doesn’t know much about laws (sometimes not even the ones he is trying to get passed; he has been known to tweet against a legislative initiatives he proposed because he heard something bad about it on Fox News. I kid you not.) He doesn’t seem to know quite so much about the Constitution, either, but, again, you don’t have to take my word for it, or the spicy tell-alls from his former, fired staff. Peter Wehner doesn’t overstate things, but he is greatly alarmed. Here is a President that mocks government, that hates philosophical theory, that enjoys just being a bully. He came to fame by uttering the words “Your fired.” And that captures something of the cynicism that is common to our times and was preached further in his slogan about draining the swamp.

You see, this is what many mean these days by the word “populism.” It’s not a decent concern for the little guy or the common person or localism or the great mid-West, but a movement of people who perceive themselves disaffected by the government who lash out against it and can be lead by a demagogue. (Think of George Wallace, if you are old enough to remember him. Mr. Wehner cites Wallace’s daughter and it is striking to ponder the comparisons with our current President.)

Listen to Wehner:

Populism needs enemies, lots of them, and especially elites who — the narrative goes– are selfish, greedy, insulated, and power-hungry. The out-of-touch elites are viewed as enemies of the people and they needed to be treated as such.

One of the most disturbing books I read about President Trump this year, by the way, was Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America which chronicled years of mistreatment of journalists by the President, written by White House correspondent Jim Acosta; the book title is the name of what the President called him, which is a dangerous thing, if you think about it. It is what authoritarians do, sow seeds of hatred against the media. And it is flat out wrong. I couldn’t put that book down! So, yes, populists need enemies, and Mr. Trump is known for hating so many — naming them, calling them goofy and sometimes hateful names. (And in Acosta’s case, inciting violence against him, mob violence, even.) It isn’t just rude, which it is, but it feeds into this populist narrative in ways that are deeply dangerous for the health of our nation, evoking anger and rage and deepening polarization. And furthering our distrust in our elected officials and laws and political processes.

Wehner continues,

The result is this: many Americans are drenched in a distaste for the actual practice of politics, and among activists in the Republican Party in particular there is an unspoken sense that the activity of governing is somehow illegitimate. This is one of the fundamental differences between the American Right today and the conservative movement that shaped me. It helps explain how Mr. Trump seized on deeply anti-political feelings and leveraged them to his advantage, why Republicans so devalue any focus on policy during the 2016 election, and why Mr. Trump was not penalized but rewarded for his vast ignorance on matters of public policy.

He he brilliant in noting this:

During the 2016 primary I could not understand how it was that a man who in debate after debate proved he couldn’t string together three coherent policy statements kept getting stronger rather than weaker. The answer is that such as approach can only work with people who disdain the craft of governing. They were looking for “outsiders” who gave voice to their frustrations and rage, even if they had never governed in their lives. Remember, they were (and are) operating on the assumption that governing is simple, lawmakers are foos and knaves, and the system is throughly and endemically corrupt. The federal government is “the swamp” while the political class and civl servants are part of the “deep state.” They system is “rigged.” As a result, the village needs to be (figuratively) burned to the ground. Donald Trump was the appointed arsonist.

Mr. Wehner is correct, both as an experienced leader and as a principled Christian, to say this is “wildly misguided and naive.”

By the way, Mr. Wehner has made it very clear in the book, but for those who need to hear it, he admits:

As I’ve already noted, in many respects government, especially at the federal level, is performing poorly. It is often antiquated, unresponsive, and failing to meet the needs of the citizenry. The unhappiness with government is therefore understandable and to some degree justified.

But the solution isn’t to elect people who are inexperienced, inept, and contemptuous of governing.

And Mr. Trump is contemptuous of governing.

In this rousing chapter, Wehner invites us to “choose citizenship over cynicism.” I think that is exactly right. (By the way, when did we start primarily identifying ourselves as consumers and not citizens?) For the long term sustainability of the American experience, this populist contempt for governing just isn’t helpful. It isn’t right. As he puts it, solving national problems is a “delicate art” and we need those who are sincerely called to the noble vocation of statecraft. And who know how to put together a knowledgeable, pleasant, effective staff to at least try to get things accomplished.

It seems to me that it is in that context that we can have good debates as citizens, all willing to admit the good intentions of the other. Now, in the chaos and contempt and fraying and the lack of any real coherent argument for specified policies, we can hardly have coherent political debates. All we can do is despise the elites or hate the hater. I think I get why Wehner calls his accessment “the death of politics.”

Mr. Biden may not be the candidate I’d prefer and the Democratic platform isn’t as I would want, but after reading this chapter it sure seems to me that we cannot afford more the sloppy politicking, the contempt for expertise, rhetoric of making things great by only being negative. Biden is, in my view, a bit older school politics as normal but it is better in my view than the revolutionary zeal of Mr. Trump and his populist followers.

The rest of the last chapter outlines a number of times this positive approach to statecraft has happened well, not idealistically, never perfectly, but with hope and compromise and some success. He notes some failures. We may want to add other pieces to his quick overview, but he names some things like welfare reform, tax reform, President Bush’s massive foreign assistance program to fight AIDS in Africa, Obamacare. Some of these happened under Republican administrations, some under Democrat ones. He tells a moving story about RFKs trip to visit South Africa during the worst years of apartheid and how it was so consequential.

He describes how we need to now resist the “bread and circuses” approach of politics as theater, as WWF-like entertainment — what did we expect when we elected a reality show star? — and move back to a sense of “the importance of politics, a respect for the craft of governing and the value of competence and excellence.” We must stop denigrating the high calling or public service and recapture a sense of seriousness about the common good. I think this book, The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump, will help.


Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation David French (St. Martin’s Press) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I once sent out a tweet disapproving of something I thought David French had written in the National Review and I called it weird. I realized when a friend called me on it that I was totally confusing him with somebody else. As a pretty far right conservative involved in or supportive of Republican administrations that I resisted in many ways, I am guessing I might have thought his views somewhat disagreeable, he was no weirdo. He was, I realized, a good leader and conservative activist and Christian public intellectual.

As I followed him more closely and as he increasingly spoke about his deepest heart and why he wasn’t sure the Republican party and the right wing movement was adequate for these times, or consistent with his own faith in Christ, I realized I had to pay attention. Like Michael Gerson, say, or Peter Wehner (see above), he became known as a principled voice against the oddity of President Trump being chosen in the 2016 primaries, and then, even more oddly, being so eagerly endorsed by a lot of fairly flamboyant fundamentalist and charismatic Christians. French has served in the US Army in a foreign war — he only has a few lines about his tour of duty in Iraq but it is harrowing — and was one of the chief litigators in religious freedom cases and in pro-life causes. Although I am not a Republican, I generally agreed with his views on those projects and know, in fact, some of the sharp and thoughtful Christian folks he has worked with. Like him, I valued much of the insight of Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae. I came to respect him as a principled conservative ethicist and now as a “never Trumper.”

Divided We Fall may help conservatives decide not to support President Trump’s re-election, but it is not about that, mostly. It is, rather, an analysis of the different worlds we seem to inhabit, our mutual narratives, red vs blue, right vs left, Fox vs MSNBC, and an astute study of what to do to repair the breach in a manner consistent with the political philosophy known as Federalism. If French opposed Mr. Trump in 2016 and, now, in 2020, it isn’t because he’s become a lefty, let alone reneged on his pro-life concerns. (In fact, he wrote a very impressive little column in Time magazine insisting that Mr. Trump is hardly anti-abortion and is simply not pro-life. See Donald Trump Is Not Pro-Life.) This from man known by nearly everybody involved in the national level of right-to-life stuff, who not only litigated pro-life court cases, but had the hutzpah to start a pro-life chapter at Harvard Law School when he was a outnumbered conservative student there.

As an aside that will be of interest to some of our readers: French and his wife have adopted black children from Ethiopia, I believe. When he spoke out — again, as a leading voice in conservative organizations, as a former Marine, as a leader in the right wing of the culture wars — he was mocked, humiliated, and he and his wife got the most vile emails and letters imaginable. He was written a bit about this horrific and painful episodes elsewhere. To get a glimpse into the alt-right followers of President Trump (who he never disassociates himself from, by the way) read this gut-wrenching, awful report, about the price French and his wife have paid to oppose Trump in their circles. The article documents others who have been harassed, alt-right activists photo-shopping pictures of the offenders (like French, his wife, or his children) into racist pornography, and even showing up at their homes. There are vile and awful people on the far left, of course, but to hear of allegedly pro-family and pro-life Trump supporters engaging in such evil trauma-producing stuff was jarring. That even some who were once comrades in arms in the struggle for conservative principles have turned on him is an indication of how deeply ideological and frayed our culture has become, how hot these culture wars are, how our divisions are deeper than maybe many of us realize. A quaint call to public manners, to civility and decency just isn’t enough. This book, perhaps in a manner akin to Os Guinness’s Last Call for Liberty, goes deeper than just lamenting our lack of etiquette.

Divided We Fall isn’t overly breathy, isn’t alarmist or dramatic. Heavens, given what he and his family have gone through — he only gives occasional glimpses and asides in this book — I’d think he’d be writing prose that was fraught and passionate. Yet, it speaks to his character and conservative instincts, I think, to press forward the deepest ideas that matter and to show a moderate and civil tone rather than lash out with rage and prophetic denunciation. It is the sort of book that one reviewer called “admirably measured.”

But French does speak plainly and powerfully. He believes that we must resist the conspiracy-minded rhetoric from both sides and get beyond what Founding Father James Madison addressed in Federalist No. 10: “the violence of faction.””

Yep, French is one of these smart guys that says that kind of thing.  He continues:

to understand how to go forward, we must go back — to the wisdom of the Founders, men who knew that factions could tear America apart and conceived (at least in theory) that a solution that must resonate today…

I liked this page when I read it and later realized it is the copy they chose for the back cover.

Allow me to share it with you:

I grew up in rural America, I’ve lived in the heart of Trump country. I’ve lived in America’s bluest precincts. I’m no longer a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. And I’m in neither tribe in large part because I feel that I understand both, and I believe both tribes can and must rediscover a sense of shared community and shared citizenship. But I don’t think it’s inevitable that they will. Simply put, we now face a renewed threat to our national unity. We’re stumbling into the very state of being that James Madison addressed in Federalist No. 10: ‘the violence of faction.’

Madison’s answer is not to pretend we all get along. We do not. His answer, nor is French’s, is not to try to have one side win the culture wars; that will demolish us. (Which is why, if I may add an aside, I do not approve of the recent one-sided polemic by Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, or the alarmist one-sided jeremiad about secularism by Albert Mohler, both men I respect, both with new books that only feed “the violence of faction” without a bit of the insight hard-won by Mr. French.)

The answer is a deep and respectful pluralism. In a way, this book provides an antidote to factionalism. It is a political reply to the loss of civil society and social capitol and healthy communities (as documented by books as different as the now nearly iconic Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam and Coming Apart by Charles Murray and the extraordinary Alienated America by Timothy Carney.) He explores the cultural divides and political differences in our land and he realizes we must learn to love, among other things, the First Amendment as it applies to organizations and institutions, allowing them to flourish, making space in a pluralistic society to and for all. As is often said, the freedom of religion clause, allows for freedom for and freedom from religion. The must be no legal coercion, on way or the other.

Early on in the book French tells about a piece in First Things called “Against David French-ism: by an author named Sohrab Ahmari. I remember it. As he notes, “The essay went viral, triggering months of debate in virtually every conservative publication in America.”

Ahmari insists we are in a culture war and his side must win. French, even then, was arguing for civil liberties, classic liberal order, and pluralism. Ahmari says French wants to retreat and to invite defeat of the values he holds.

Here’s David French on page 24:

To put things more bluntly, I recognize pluralism as a permanent fact of American life and seek to foster a political culture that protects autonomy and dignity of competing American ideological and religious communities. Ahmari and many of his allies on the right seek to sweep past pluralism to create (and impose) a new political and moral order, one designed according to their specific moral values — and to the extent that individual liberty conflicts with the “common good” or the “Highest Good” it must be swept away.

That’s a vision for domination, not accommodation. It’s a vision directly contrary to the spirit of Federalist No 10, and it’s a vision that ultimately unattainable. Indeed, as I’ll explain in the pages that follow, the quest for moral, cultural, and political domination by either side of our national divide risks splitting the nation in  two (or in three or four.)

Listen to this:

Embracing pluralism means embracing the lessons of history and understanding that not even our great nation is immune to the forces that have fractured unions older than ours. Our nations angriest culture warriors need to know the cost of their conflict. As they seek to crush their political and cultural enemies, they may destroy the nation they seek to rule.

To do this, we have to understand a lot of stuff about the recent demographics, about how we sort ourselves and are shaped by both our geography and our worldviews. He has a chapter on our fears, our violence, our situation in the context of the global world situation. (He looks at Brexit a bit, and a chapter on California, too, which was fascinating.)

And then he tells us about James Madison.

I need to ponder this a lot more. I’m not sure if I’m convinced or if I’m a Federalist, and which kind, really?  I’d love to hear what folks at the “Front Porch Republic” have to say about all this. (What’s wrong with secession, authors like the fascinating Bill Kauffman ask in books like his Bye Bye Miss American Empire? The colonies left England, after all. He’s a lover of this land — just read the collection Poetry Night at the Ballpark — and would be sad to see a state leave, but on what moral principle do we want to prevent secession? Maybe that’s an answer more plausible than pluralism… but then, I’d guess the culture wars would evolve even in those bright red or bright blue new states. Hmmm.)

Here is how the publisher describes this complex and thoughtful work:

Two decades into the 21st Century, the U.S. is less united than at any time in our history since the Civil War. We are more diverse in our beliefs and culture than ever before. But red and blue states, secular and religious groups, liberal and conservative idealists, and Republican and Democratic representatives all have one thing in common: each believes their distinct cultures and liberties are being threatened by an escalating violent opposition. This polarized tribalism, espoused by the loudest, angriest fringe extremists on both the left and the right, dismisses dialogue as appeasement; if left unchecked, it could very well lead to secession.

An engaging mix of cutting edge research and fair-minded analysis, Divided We Fall is an unblinking look at the true dimensions and dangers of this widening ideological gap, and what could happen if we don’t take steps toward bridging it. French reveals chilling, plausible scenarios of how the United States could fracture into regions that will not only weaken the country but destabilize the world.

But our future is not written in stone.
By implementing James Madison’s vision of pluralism–that all people have the right to form communities representing their personal values–we can prevent oppressive factions from seizing absolute power and instead maintain everyone‘s beliefs and identities across all fifty states.
Reestablishing national unity will require the bravery to commit ourselves to embracing qualities of kindness, decency, and grace towards those we disagree with ideologically. French calls on all of us to demonstrate true tolerance so we can heal the American divide. If we want to remain united, we must learn to stand together again.
One of French’s units, or parts, is called “The Relentless Momentum of our Mutual Contempt.”
In one memorable chapter — it moved me to tears, twice — he asks “Can Moments of Grace Make a Movement…” and he tells of the famous reconciliation (short lived, perhaps, as it turns out) between SNL comic Pete Davidson and Texas Republican congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw. Davidson had mocked Crenshaw’s eye patch, maybe not knowing it was from a war wound from when Crenshaw was maimed in a horrific IED attack in Afghanistan.

It’s worth having the book just for this story and you may know what happened next. Saturday Day Night Live called to apologize. They wanted Crenshaw on the air the following week, and he agreed. He has some good natured fun at Davidson’s expense. But what happened next is what French called “the act of grace heard around the nation.”

Crenshaw explained the meaning of the words “Never Forget” that are sometimes said to vets. He said that “when you say ‘never forget’ to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them.” The book continues:

Then he addressed his next words to Davidson: “And never forget those we lost on 9/11 — heroes like Pete’s father. So, I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.”

Davidson’s father was a firefighter. He died trying to save others when Davidson was a young boy. Crenshaw not only honored a true hero but also softened America’s hearts towards Davidson, casting him in a new light. He’s a man who carries his own pain.

Listen to how French puts this. And although French doesn’t say it directly here, I think it is valuable to remember as we ponder voting this week that Mr. Trump has on several occasions mocked the unfortunate, sullied the reputation of good people, made fun of the handicapped and the poor. In this, he does not honor conservative virtues or express  empathy, let alone Christian compassion. I sort of wish a guy like Crenshaw was running. As French puts it:
It was a Biblical moment. Crenshaw paid tribute to a man who could have been his political enemy. He was kind to a man who had been cruel. And no one could call this Navy SEAL’s actions “weak.” He had proved his courage. In fact, he showed a different kind of courage. He directly defied the prevailing partisan pressures.

A different kind of courage, indeed.

I liked the last chapter of this serious-minded book. It is entitled a “Call to Courage” and Mr. French reminds us that his argument here “is not a call for political moderation.”  That’s not quite it. But he does call us all to be more considerate, virtuous, gracious, patient, kind. It was a convicting chapter for me to read in the heat of this current campaign, inviting us to help create a better ethos in the culture, a better political class, a better vision of citizenship and being American. We need, he says, a new kind of patriotism that is driven by care for the common good and is shaped by a humble effort for “cultural repair” and not “toxic politics.

French wonders why in recent years in American politics those who are most engaged and vocal, the committed few, are the ones who get most involved.

(They) have been disproportionately drawn from the ranks of the angriest and most vindictive Americans. The people who truly drive American political polarization represent a small slice of the overall population, but they set the tone for national political discourse.

I wonder if that is true. He ends with a hope and prayer “that the cry for a better way comes before our national bonds are irretrievably broken.”


I think the books I’ve mentioned last week (and in the “review” section at the top of this column) are most helpful and important, going forward, as we say, for this on-going project of learning to think Christianly and care properly and be engaged faithfully in public life.

I think that the Peter Wehner book, (The Death of Politics, is also one of that sort, but aimed at a reader who is perhaps conservative but wanting to move us away from the polarization and know-nothing ineptitude of the Trump movement. He talks about his faith and his faith informs his work, but it isn’t written overtly for a religious audience. He calls for a higher view of the noble calling of being an elected official and insists that we citizens honor that with less cynicism and more hope, not by doubling down on the revolutionary, negative spirit of the populists; not only by resisting President Trump’s foolishness, but by weeding out the bad attitudes about government that many of us have. We need to learn to be better citizens, locally and nationally. As I said, if one is undecided about who they are voting for next week, read ten pages in the last chapter and I think it will be helpful as you discern your own views.

The David French book, Divided We Fall, is going to be urgent in the months after the election. His explanation of Federalism, his admiration for James Madison, his focus on robust pluralism, is wise and insightful. Yes, he is concerned about polarization and anger and cynicism, and yes, he’d blame the alt-right and the current administration for some of that. But this book is going to be enduring as a long-haul strategy to recapture the best of American freedom and unity. He is worried and this is his best effort to show us how to heal the ills of severe, hostile partisanship.


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Recent Books on Faith and Politics (and links to some old ones, too) URGENTLY ON SALE NOW

Those BookNotes friends that have followed us for a while know that I have often offered lists of titles on Christian perspectives on politics, government, and, more generally, public life and civic engagement. We have run BookNotes columns on civility (for instance, here) and we’ve attempted (not always successfully, some might say) to be fair and balanced, holding forth the lofty idea that we as church folk who follow Jesus are not to be unequivocally loyal to any political party. As black preacher Tony Evans says, when Jesus comes back, he won’t be riding a donkey or an elephant. Right?

And yet, as every missional book puts it these days, we are called to be involved in the world, secular saints, so to speak. Among my favorites of this sort these days are Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World by Paul Williams (Brazos Press; $19.99) and The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World by Michael Goheen & Jim Mullins (Baker Academic; $22.99.) They are strong, serious reads, well worth working through.

Maybe you saw the video I posted at facebook (both my own, and the bookstore group’s page) last week (which was fun) and you’ll recall I announced the brand new book by the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, who just released The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul (B+H; $22.99.) That’s part of it, finding God’s courage when we are anxious or fearful to speak up. It isn’t new but we often recommend Kathy Khang’s Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up (IVP; $16.00.) Just a few weeks ago we got the new paperback edition of a book I recommended nearly a year ago by Jim Wallis, Christ in Crisis: Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence (HarperOne; $17.99.) Of the many books we’ve highlighted lately about racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry, several pushed towards greater involvement in social affairs. For instance, I highly recommend the latest by Brenda Salter McNeil Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now (Brazos Press; $21.99) and the recent one by Dr. Drew G.I. Hart, Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance (Herald Press; $18.99.)

One of the most popular books we’ve been selling this past month or two is Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND CAMPAIGN’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement co-authored by Justin GIboney, Michael Ware, and Chris Butler (IVP; $22.00.) It is extraordinary for a number of reasons and we’re glad to continue to get the word out about it. You can see my quick review of it here (and cash in on the 20% discount, too.)

One of the shortest and simplest and most balanced (and so useful!) calls to political holiness is a small book by Dr. Vincent E. Bacote called The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life (Zondervan; $11.99.) You could get a few and give ’em out to those just starting to think about this.(You can see my review of this little treasure here.) Allowing the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom to shape our approach to public life and God’s love to motivate us to be more eagerly involved in society as God’s salt and light and leaven has been a theme here in many, many columns.

I now want to highlight just a few recent books on political life as such that I think are useful and important for us as citizens. Along the way, I will share some links to previous columns and older books that I highly recommend as well about this process of relating faith and our  calling to good citizenship. For now, though, I want to help you focus on our political moment.


Right now and continuing strong in the months following the election we will be inundated with punditry and preaching from various corners of the public square. For some of us, we have already grown numb from it all, soured for sure. Having a book or two nearby that reminds to to think Christianly, to hear and filter and be discerning about the controversies of the day through the lens of Christian truths and God’s grace in Christ will be for many of us a lifeline to sanity. I recommend it as a spiritual discipline. For many of us, such reading might not only be a happy counter-balanced to the spin and hype, hostility and cynicism, roiling around us, but it will be part of the cost of discipleship — using books as tools to help you be intentional about nurturing within your heart and mind, God’s views, God’s mind and heart, receiving and keeping a Biblically-shaped imagination, worldview, orientation, perspective. Books can remind you of that task and can help you do it.

The Bible tells us to “test the spirits” (I John 4:1) and warns us to be careful not to get tossed around by the waves or blown around by every wind of ideology (Ephesians 4:14.) Indeed, Paul tells us not to be “taken captive” by un-Christ-like ideologies (Colossians 2:8.) We are called to be “conformed” to the ways of the world around us and we can show that we are free of the culture’s pressures by seeking “the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2.) These books will help you apply these Biblical admonitions. I believe that. I bet you sense the need for some help in this. These books could be a part of your regimen for Christian political health in the weeks and months ahead. They can help.

Unlearning or qualifying our often primal loyalties to our political parties and philsophies, or learning to inhabit new (Christ-like) attitudes around political life will take some time and effort. Most of us don’t have too much support in such a project, not even in church, I suspect. I believe buying a book or two is a major step to deepen your commitment to “taking every idea captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) even in our lives as citizens. Reading them prayerfully just might help you adjust the longings of your heart, working their faithful way to reform your desires, your hopes, your dreams, your social imagination. These books will help you pull that lever in the voting booth (or send that ballot in the mail) with the prayer “Thy Kingdom come.”

Recent books on faith and politics. Every book mentioned 20% off.                        Please tap on the ORDER tab at the end which will take you to our secure order form page.

Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics  Eugene Cho (Cook) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

That last line of mine above, that suggested that even as we vote we pray that somehow it doesn’t just advance our own party’s agenda, but that, more deeply, it points as a signpost towards the Kingdom coming?  That our vote is a prayer “They Kingdom Come”? I suppose it could be said that that is what this book is about. I highlighted it at BookNotes a month ago because I am a fan. (The author, Eugene Cho, has written a previous book about poverty issues and now is the new Director of Bread for the World (BFW), one of our favorite and I think most important Christian groups for voters who want to be informed about legislation that matters, that can literally save lives.

What I had written about this book previously at BookNotes took a cue from the playful title, suggesting that it is mostly about political civility. How we can be passionate without being mean-spirited. We need that right now, of course, and, I am afraid, will need it even more so next month, no matter who wins the Presidential election. This idea that we can find points of agreement with others and work for the common good is so important and this book is really helpful about that very matter. Cho’s stories about real-life congregations that have done just that is inspiring and offers good models to emulate. Mutual respect, cooperation, common ground can be found a real-life friendships can emerge from what could be disagreeable circumstances. I’ve seen it in my own activism and take heart from some of the stories in Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk. But, again; brace yourself. If you care about stuff one way or the other, your going to have to be reminded of some of this.

As much as I might promote this book as a guide to civility and mutual respect and common ground in an age of polarization, it is also a primer on Christian political thinking. Cho does insist that our citizenship is a gift from God which we must steward faithfully. We are not, as followers of Christ, supposed to just vote for anybody that we like or anybody that will help us, but we must seek higher motivations and deeper principles. We can learn to see our citizenship as an expression of our discipleship and we can — we must — take into consideration the most vulnerable and needy. We care, also in our politics, for others. The Bible says over and over that the task of the state is to establish justice for all, and that includes the poorest and those who are marginalized by societal forces.

Along with chapters on building bridges and living our our convictions appropriately, Cho shows us how to deepen our perspective, to have more depth in our analysis. He has a chapter about not lying, about not getting played or being manipulated. (Yes, this is the rough and tumble of real citizenship and real politics.) We can love others, trust God, and testify that Christ is still the King of kings.

I like this book a lot. It’s a breezy read, good for citizens starting to think faithfully and generously about the common good and political involvement. And Cho is a talented and experienced leader.  It is a bit weak on the question of what the Bible actually says about government and what might be considered a Christian political philosophy or the call to wise statecraft. For that, you really need a book like James Skillen’s weighty The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (BakerAcademic; $22.99) which I reviewed at length here. There are some other good ones mentioned, too in that old column.

Even if you are unsure that Skillen is fully right about government in Christian perspective, it is still the flagship book to read on this, the magisterial overview of the subject we need. But for a fuller debate of five different viewpoints by five different sorts of Christians, see Five Views on The Church and Politics edited by Amy E. Black (Zondervan; $19.99.) Compare and contrast differing views of our political calling from Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, Mennonite, and a black church perspective. I described it at greater length here. And don’t miss the other titles I mention in that BookNotes column, too. Click through but be sure to come back.

One very recent one along these lines of big but foundational studies that has gotten rave reviews is by an author who offers critique to Skillen’s Kuyperian-influenced vision, David VanDrunen. It is called Politics After Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World and has been called groundbreaking and brilliant.

Politics After Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World David VanDrunen (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is not the place for me to go into detail, but I think I have my beefs with Dr. VanDrunen’s “two kingdom” theology, but many have said this book is a must read. It is serious, hefty, almost tedious. But his ideas are very, very important. For instance, Calvin Theological Seminary thinker John Bolt says, “This clear and thoughtful work is a game changer.” Wow.

Or consider this, by Christian legal scholar and historian, John Witte, Jr. of Emory University:

This volume is a brilliant capstone to David VanDrunen’s project on Reformed political and legal teachings. It again features probing exegesis of biblical teachings and their reception history; creative retrieval and reconstruction of natural law theories, Two Kingdoms ontologies, and covenantal theology; and a bracing engagement with enduring questions of authority and liberty, justice and mercy, custom and community, rights and resistance. This volume and its prequels have earned VanDrunen a place high on the honor roll of law and religion scholarship and of Reformed political theology.

Jonathan Chaplin is a brilliant British political scientist (a member of the Cambridge University Divinity faculty) who for a while was at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. He is partial to Jim Skillen’s book, above, neo-Calvinist that he is. He has a blurb on the back of it, in fact. However, his remarkable comment here about VanDrunen’s book is generous:
This pioneering and provocative work, David VanDrunen brings to impressive completion his longstanding project of retrieving neglected themes in classic Reformed political theology –‘natural law,’ ‘Two Kingdoms,’ and the ‘Noahic covenant’ — and deploying them for our pluralistic post-Christendom context. It is the most substantial biblical and theological case for what the author calls a ‘conservative liberalism’ to have appeared in many years, and future debates about Reformed political theology will not be able to bypass it. Even those unpersuaded by some of the book’s core theological and political judgments will be enriched by the author’s erudition and argumentative vigor and in turn challenged to come up better arguments for their own positions.
Consider these words from Jonathan Leeman, author of Political Church and How the Nations Rage; he doesn’t even fully agree with it bust insists it is “the starting point for anyone who wants to lay a foundation on the Bible” and is his “top recommendation in the field.” Wow.
Two problems bedevil nearly every Christian political theology, whether you encounter it in an academic’s tome or a nonacademic’s water-cooler opinions. First, Christians too often begin with ideological or partisan foundations. Second, they build on those foundations with a favorite biblical prooftext, often one meant for ancient Israel or the church but wrongly applied to nation-states and their governments. Therefore, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of building our political theology on the whole Bible’s covenantal structure… Whether you count yourself a Two Kingdoms theologian or not (I don’t), every political theologian needs to follow VanDrunen precisely here. To put it simply, I believe that VanDrunen’s emphasis on the Noahic covenant is the way forward for Christian political theology. Other books offer helpful emphases or counterpoints, but Politics after Christendom offers the starting point for anyone who wants to lay a foundation on the Bible. It just moved into pole position for my top recommendation in the field.

Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians Lee Camp (Eerdmans) $19.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Well, if you want to skip some of the heady, deeply Biblical studies of the nature of law, the task of the state, the ways in which Biblical truths can or cannot be applied in a pluralistic democracy, if you are less interested in Skillen overview of how various Christian thinkers down through history have or have not developed a sturdy, sound, view of statecraft, but want a bit more practical application, this is semi-scholarly, lectures given in a church setting, offered as 15 fiesty propositions. It’s punchy. Each proposition is described in a long paragraph opening each chapter, and there is a (black and white) art piece which he uses to explore and further unpack the implications of each particular proposition.

Camp is a good writer, erudite and pleasurable for those who like crisp, elegant, provocative prose.  It is a manifesto, after all, so it is not particularly nuanced. He doesn’t quite write the political essay the way Wendell Berry or even Marilynne Robinson might, but it is incisive and probing. David Gushee calls his writing “astringent.” Each chapter is maybe 10 or so pages but you won’t breeze through them quickly; Scandalous Witness is what one reviewed called “tart and sassy.” I think it’s good stuff, shocking to some, perhaps, as he does go after some pretty sacred cows.

The orientation of Scandalous Witness emerges from the assumption that the gospel is, in fact, a “scandal” to the world as it is described in 1 Corinthians 1:23, and we have lost that edge because of our accommodation to the powers that be. Camp writes with fierce conviction, against being shaped or formed or, heaven forbid, loyal to any political party. He’s somewhat Anabaptist in this sense, with a strong view of the tension between the church and the world, Christ’s Kingdom and the partisan ideologies of the culture. He takes big pot-shots at the religious right, but he also is not particularly happy with the mainline church and its seeming comfort with the Democratic party. He is what Scot McKnight has called “an equal opportunity critic.”  Ha.

Here are just a few of the many rave reviews he has received:”

“With characteristic intelligence, humor, and grace, Lee Camp argues that the American church today has earned itself the curious distinction of having largely ‘destroyed its own witness.’ But Lee is not just a prophet of doom. He proposes an alternative. It may be a scandalous one, to be sure, but it is a courageously hopeful one as well.” Miroslav Volf
— author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good

“It’s impossible for me to read Scandalous Witness without a growing awareness of the ways I’ve conflated the Gospel with nationalism. I love my country, but I belong to Jesus, and that belonging frees me and calls me to share in the costly suffering love that takes precedence over all else. Lee has outlined clearly and beautifully all the ways, large and small, we Christians abandon our first love and turn to national interest–which in the end is another form of self-interest.”  Ashley Cleveland — Grammy-winning gospel singer, author of Little Black Sheep

“With a scholar’s eye and a storyteller’s knack for narrative, Lee Camp exposes the current inability of American Christianity to bear witness to the gospel. We are asking the wrong questions, taking the wrong turns and pledging the wrong loyalties. Both parts contrarian and constructionist, Camp finds himself in the family tree of St. Paul, Augustine, Hauerwas, Davison Hunter, and others, challenging those who call themselves Christians to rearrange our bastardized version of the faith towards a more prophetic, historical and theologically courageous imagination.”  Drew Holcomb
— Magnolia Records recording artist

The Liturgy of the Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor Kaitlyn Schiess (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE =  $13.60

Of the many books I’ve read on this topic — and I’ve read a lot — this is absolutely one of my all time favorites. I found myself nodding in agreement over and over and rejoicing that I was actually seeing these words on the page, turning page after page, delighting in the goodness and wisdom I was encountering. How could such a young writer not only learn to sparkle as a writer and storyteller and teacher, but be so widely read, and be wise enough to draw on such interesting, generative, even surprising sources? I kept flipping back to the endnotes, over and over, as they were themselves a delight (especially for this book nerd who so appreciates when a somewhat rare or lesser known author shows up. And with helpful quotes from James K.A. Smith, Jurgen Moltmann, and Martha Nussbaum, Kate Bowler, James Skillen and Richard Mouw, Richard Middleton, Fleming Rutledge, and Willie James Jennings, I kept nodding and grinning. Where did she find all these good books? How does she integrate so many interesting, interesting influences? It is the mark of a good author, in my book, and The Liturgy of Politics is a very good read.

I announced it briefly in a previous BookNotes and a few who pre-ordered it have given us fabulous feedback. I’m not alone in thinking this is a fabulous and important book.

Here are two key things Kaitlyn Schiess is doing in this recent work, and therefore two different reasons to read it. It is about political life and it is about church life. And which rubs off on the other, how that works badly and how it could be otherwise. It is both a lament and critique as well as a constructive project to help us improve. It’s for political nuts and churchy folks. If your both, this book is screaming your name!

Firstly, she is asking the deep question about what story we are living in, what social imaginary, as some all it, what value-system or worldview shapes our engagement with political concerns? She is — as are most of the authors above (especially Lee Camp)  — greatly distressed that we in the churches have allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked  — captured to use the language of the Bible — by ungodly ideologies that then open us to be used and manipulated by the partisan powers that be. This is particularly egregious in evangelical churches who are part of the religious right, as her people were growing up and as she experienced first hand at Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University when she was an undergrad there.) The legendary oddity of the recent religious right getting so zealously behind somebody so inconsistent with a Christian perspective/demeanor as Mr. Trump is only one example of how we have been shaped in our deepest thinking and desires by the ways of the partisan political forces. That is, she is wondering how we arrive at our political loyalties and our public theology and our voting habits. And it isn’t good.

My friend Michael Ware (author of Reclaiming Hope, about his years in the Obama White House and now co-author of Compassion  & Conviction, the book of the AND campaign) wrote a forward that is only a few pages but worth the price of the book. He sets the stage for Schiess’s work by reminding us of our call as Christians to be involved by not co-opted, bringing Christ’s ways into the public square. He says she writes as a voice of a new generation that sees spiritual formation as key to discipleship, but always for the world. And, that, similarly, if we are going to be involved in public life, we will need the Holy Spirit and congregation’s influence. It’s a beautifully written and very important foreword.

So the first part of the book is about this call to “think Christianly” about politics, and she reminds us that, indeed, there is a history of thought about these things and we dare not ignore the Bible or the church’s great tradition of coherent and intentional Christian theologizing. As one who has gone to seminary she is herself, she tells us, a book nerd and loves studying this stuff. (No wonder I linked her so!)

But here’s the big thing: she has learned well from James K.A. Smith and Tish Harrison Warren and Stanley Hauerwas and Robert Webber — as Smith puts it, you know, “we are what we love,” That is, our ideas about proper Biblical politics are not as important as what stories and dreams and hopes and values and symbols and images have formed our hearts. She realizes that the subterranean affective questions are most deeply religious: what do we feel about politics, what are we afraid of, what do we loathe, what do we want, what have we pledged allegiance to? Using Jamie Smith — You Are What You Love and his entire “cultural liturgy” trilogy but, of course, especially the third in the trilogy, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology — she shows that our civic attitudes and beliefs and behaviors may most deeply be shaped not by thoughtful analysis of issues, but by the tug on our hearts and dispositions. That’s just how we humans work, it’s what the Bible says about our hearts. How we vote is not only about our heart’s longings and desires, our virtues and character, but it is most likely more that than the level headed arguments we hold or the high-sounding principles we claim. Those are preceded by what habits of heart we’ve embraced and who we’ve become. As Andy Crouch has quipped, the things we do (“secular liturgies”) do things to us. We are shaped, for better or worse, below the surface, subconsciously, and we can be sucked into the gravitational pull of an ideology within a political party, without even really knowing it. The first several chapters of The Liturgy of Politics explores this as well as anything I’ve seen and I highly, highly recommend it.

This call to ask probing questions about our deepest thinking and even more about our desires — about why we are apolitical or a zealous partisan (it works either way), or why we are angry about this or that issue or candidate,  to ponder what sort of things we’ve made ultimate in our lives, and why that is, is so very important. Her own story is shared, she draws on some of the best writers on this question of how we learn and what shapes us most, and invites us to discern what direction our lives are unfolding, especially when it comes to our political lives. This is simply brilliant stuff, intersting, breezy, well informed, challenging but not at all shaming or overwhelming. Young or old, I highly recommend this first part of the book.

The second thing, though, is also important. This is where the subtitle of the book becomes more important. Like Smith before her, Schiess searches for deeper (thicker) liturgies and stories to supplant and transform the ones we’ve embraced (or that have embraced us) from the world. If you’ve been unhelpfully captured by the stories and images of the idols of a political party, where you start to mirror their ideology and assumptions, even if they are not necessarily consistent with a Biblical vision, what can possibly undo that? A few attack ads from the other side? No! We need a better story, a deeper spirituality, our deformed desires need re-ordered. We need a gospel-centered, Biblically robust, thick sort of worship and Christian liturgical spirituality that can shape us and reshape us in a faithful political direction.

Yes, that is the answer to the deformed politics that come from our accommodation to the ways of the world: we need to be reformed and we need to find ourselves in a new story, with new values, and new desires, new imagination shaped by the Kingdom of God. By Christ-likeness, be compassion and justice and wonder and grace. So the second half of the book is about how the church can influence us to be more caring neighbors, socially engaged in public life for the common good, better citizens for the sake of all our neighbors as love would have of us.

The church can do this not mostly by teaching us about politics, per se, but by developing the pregnant meanings and implications in the formative power of the liturgies we already employ. The simple example I often us: in what ways can passing the peace and pronouncing a blessing on folks at church each week make us into peacemakers in the world? Many have explored the relationship between the holy rituals of bread and table in Eucharist or communion and how that might make us more hospitable, maybe even more sensitive to food issues. (She wisely draws on Alan Streets’ good work.) People who celebrate a Savior who invites us to eat just might vote in a way that cares about hunger, eh?

Yep, and the chapter is called “Ekklesia: The Church as Training Ground for Political Engagement.” If you are interested in Christian politics, this book is a must. If you are a pastor, worship minister, youth mentor, or congregational leader, or campus ministry worker who influences others in their faith development, this is a resource you must have to help you realize the power of what you do as you shape God’s people for life in the world.

Kaitlyn Schiess plumbs this stuff beautifully in ways I hadn’t even considered; one chapter is about “time, music, confession” and explores the calendar of the church year and the practices of sabbath. Another chapter is on “spiritual disciplines and political formation” and yet another is on how we read the Bible with an eye to public and political formation. (“A Story to Live Into” that one is called.)

The hour is late for me here and I feel like I am not scratching the surface of how valuable this lovely, thoughtful, stimulating book is. I learned much, was reminded of things I perhaps needed to be reminded of, and reveled as Ms Schiess connected dots all over the place. Her chapter on Augustine, by the way (“A Confession City”) is a great overview, drawing on the best Augustine scholars these days, including Eric Gregory and Charles Mathewes and Olliver O’Donovan. This gal knows her stuff and shares just enough to whet our own appetites.

So, this accesible, winsome book is about how the influences of modern politics shape/deform our attitudes and habits about citizenship (not to mention our very souls, so to speak) and how our church lives might undo some of that, training us in deeper ways to be the kind of people that would relate faith and citizenship in a more Christ-like, coherent, faithful way.  And the church does that in subtle, often symbolic ways. Just think of how Tish Harrison Warren describes her “practicing the presence of God” hour by hour through the day because of how she draws upon the practices of liturgical worship in The Liturgy of the Ordinary. I have my tongue in cheek as I say this, but The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess is sort of Tish Warren for an election year. Ya know?

I’ve said over and over in BookNotes past that I think James K.A.Smith’s You Are What You Love is one of the most important books in recent decades. Others in that constellation, it seems to me, include Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak. Again, Schiess is drawing on this generative, seminal volumes and using them to articulate this project of her, a project that she started in earnest a decade ago as she struggled to wonder why it was that so many of her evangelical friends thought about politics as they did. After much reading and writing and praying and learning (and, it seems, involvement in a very good local church and worshipping community and some degree of civic activism, too) Schiess has given us the fruit of her pondering, a volume that is unlike any other book on faith and politics I have read. It is, in a way, one of the ones we most need, pioneering, groundbreaking, wonderful. Thanks be to God.

Don’t believe me, alone. Here are a few great recommendations by those who have endorsed it:

“This is the book I have been waiting for! There could hardly be a more important topic for our cultural moment than the connection between Christian formation and politics. Kaitlyn Schiess persuasively and powerfully argues that Christians are being deeply formed by the political currents in which we swim, although we don’t often realize it. She then casts a beautiful biblical and theological vision for intentional Christian formation that, by God’s grace, shapes us into disciples who love God as we attend to the life of the world. While giving detailed attention to how and why we practice prayer, Bible reading, worship, Sabbath, and the sacraments, Schiess casts a sweeping and winsome vision of the Christian life, including political engagement and so much more. This book will itself be deeply formative for all who read it. It needs to be read by pastors, youth ministers, worship leaders, small groups, college and seminary students, and all who care about faithful discipleship and formation today.” –Kristin Deede Johnson, dean and professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary, author of The Justice Calling.

“This is a powerful challenge from a young heart and a mature mind. Schiess seems to touch every unexamined habit of Christian thought, work, leisure, and worship. With a wide sweep of life’s liturgies and church liturgies, of spiritual formation and political responsibility, of Bible reading and communication with others, Schiess goes straight for the heart in relaxed conversation that packs a prophetic punch about our complacency, ignorance of Scripture, cultural conformity, and more. Her urgent message is for communities of Christian faith to repent and turn ourselves over entirely to God, as disciples of Jesus Christ have always been called to do. It is hard to imagine how this young woman has been able to read so widely and think so profoundly about so much of life. Here you’ll find fresh insight and compelling hope that will renew your labors for the coming of God’s kingdom. Young people, old folks like me, and everyone in between, read this book now!” — James W. Skillen, author of The Good of Politics, former president of the Center for Public Justice

“How should Christians vote? In the last several years, this question has become a dividing line in the church, polarizing the people of God into opposing camps and fracturing the Christian community along worldly fault lines. With wisdom beyond her years, Kaitlyn Schiess recognizes the folly of centering on this question and instead focuses on a better one: What sort of people are we being formed into? With biblical grounding, theological depth, and the spiritual urgency of a next-generation leader, Kaitlyn lays the groundwork for a better, more faithful approach to political engagement. After finishing this book, here is the one thing I know for sure: we have not seen the last of Kaitlyn.” — Sharon Hodde Miller, author of Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked And How God Calls Us to More
“Many young evangelicals–weary of politics and the culture wars–have begun to disengage from political life. Tired of the narrow-minded politics of the right and left, these evangelicals long for something more–something beyond ideology and sound bites. Kaitlyn Schiess has answered her generation’s call. Drawing on Scripture, history, and contemporary political theology, she offers a robust and accessible political ethic that avoids the old pitfalls of the Christian right and left. She deftly explores how worship and spiritual disciplines can not only liberate evangelicals from destructive political ideologies but actively move them into God’s alternative political mission of public justice and shalom.” — Matthew Kaemingk, assistant professor of Christian ethics and associate dean, Fuller Theological Seminary author of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear and Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy.

Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies Second Edition David Koyzis (IVP Academic) $33.00        OUR SALE PRICE = $26.40

I realize this second edition of this book has re-issued last year, so it isn’t brand new. But it was out of stock for a while and when Tim Keller recommended it, we got a few calls from far way, folks hearing that we had a few. We did, and now we have more as they are back in stock again. So let’s list it here as if were a new one.  Ha.

In the above book reviews I’ve mentioned idols and ideologies. The best book on the subject idols these days is the brand new Here Are Your Gods: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times by Christopher J. Wright (IVP Academic; $18.00.) Wright is a keen Biblical scholar and one of our most reliable authors in Scripture studies. This new paperback takes a major section (“The Living God Confronts Idolatry” from his magisterial The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bibles Grand Narrative, releasing it in a new form, which is essentially the first half of Here Are Your Gods. The second half is still meaty, but a bit more practical as Wright describes the way idols drive various political ideologies. He explores the Scriptural notion of “the nations” and looks at “God in the Political Arena” then and now. It is worth getting this book and reading that middle part this very week, I’d say. The third portion of this deep little book invites us to consider what it means to be God’s people in idolatrous times.  It is both a scathing indictment and a hopeful guide away from our communal idols and the spirits of the age.  I will write more about this later, I’m sure.

More specific to this post about politics, though, and of the ideologies that are diving both the right and the left in American political culture is this older book by David Koyzis that I’ve tried to sell repeatedly in these pages. (For instance here, or here.) Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, as I mentioned above, was expanded and updated and reissued a year ago. It has some new material on populism and nationalisms (and has a lovely, wise foreword by Richard Mouw.) It is very important, I’d say and I sometimes get a bit breathy and enthusiastic pushing it, believing in it as I do. (Maybe it is because I know I need this book and dip into it regularly. You see, I find myself drawn to the best ideas of some of these disparate traditions, sometimes saying I’m a liberal conservative or a conservative liberal or some fusiony admixture, making me wisely eclectic or terribly undiscerning, depending who you ask.) Here, though, is how the publisher fairly plainly describes the book: “David Koyzis surveys the key political ideologies of our era, unpacking the worldview issues inherent to each and pointing out essential strengths and weaknesses.”  Oh yeah, he does, with wisdom and insight and some occasional wit!  Come on!

As Professor Koyzis walks us through chapters on liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democracy (or democratism?) and socialism, he then invites us to transcend the ideologies by “affirming societal pluriformity.” He offers two faith traditions who have a worked out perspective on this, explaining in detail the Roman Catholic view of subsidiarity and the notion of sphere sovereignty that was central to the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Christian democratic movement in Holland. These two historic Christian approaches are his alternative, so to speak, to the wrong-headed and possibly idolatrous ideologies of the left and the right, none of which are able to honor real pluralism and thereby do justice to all the differing people and organizations and institutions in a diverse society. In the midst of excursions into terrorism and racism and helpful contemporary examples of the abuse of power, this long-haul, bigger picture is a book that gets to the root of things and is thereby an exceedingly important contribution to our ongoing repentance and renewal as we seek political faithfulness from a Christian perspective.

Listen to David Guretzki, executive vice president and resident theologian, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

Few could have anticipated the major political upheavals witnessed since this book first came out in 2003. Yet Koyzis’s book has stood the test of time, ranking, in my opinion, as the best introduction to modern political thought from a Christian perspective. This updated edition is welcome in its inclusion both of newer literature and fresh examples to recent political developments. As a politically engaged theologian, I’m especially thrilled to see the addition of the ‘Concluding Ecclesiological Postscript’ that could very well serve as kind of theo-political compass for church leaders wanting navigational guidance on how churches should–and should not–engage in political action.”

Here is a helpful reminder of how important this is by Mary S. Van Leeuwen, professor emerita of psychology and philosophy, Eastern University, author of Gender and Grace.

“David Koyzis introduces readers to the range of political theories that have emerged and competed for dominance since classical times. He carefully and respectfully separates wheat from chaff in each of them in terms of a Christian worldview, and in a style that is clear, irenic, and persuasive. The second edition helpfully updates the first in terms of major political events of the past two decades. In an increasingly polarized world, this kind of book is essential reading for concerned citizens of all political and religious leanings.”

You could “google” David Koyzis and find a number of interviews and videos with him talking about worldviews and “religious”-like convictions that shape our lives. For instance, my friend Bob Robinson interviewed Koyzis at his (re)integrate podcast. Enjoy it here.

The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Divisions Tremper Longman (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

We got another one of those stupid voters guides put out by a well-intended Christian family organization in our state, all red white and blue, with checks of where candidates stand on this or that issues. They are a little more coy than they used to be but many of these simply mimic the positions of the Republican party whether they have any Biblical or even theological principles that are evident for that view or not.  Why does a pro-life, pro-family group imply that a big defense budget is what true Christians want?  For what reasons do some conservative Christian groups oppose environmental regulations, as if that’s an unbiblical thing on the face of it? Who says an anti-immigration policy is “pro-family,” let alone based on the Bible? (Geesh, folks, get out a concordance why don’t ya?) Who gets to say a certain tax policy is or is not “Biblical.” (It was to his embarrassment, in my view, that the otherwise thoughtfully conservative Bible scholar Wayne Grudem wrote a whole chapter in a book of his on (so-called) “Christian politics” supporting a conservative tax policy based on one half of a single Proverb. I hope his department chair tool him aside and gave him a brush-up Biblical Interpretation 101 review on how that’s a sloppy no-no. (That his publisher let him get away with it, misguiding the people of God like that, is also disappointing.) But when ideologies rule — as Kaitlyn Schiess explains in the above mentioned The Liturgy of Politics more graciously than I do — even well intended readings of the Bible get distorted and used for a partisan agenda.

Enter Biblical scholar Tremper Longman with a book that is a resource we really, really (really) need now more than ever. I admire Tremper, have met him, and know a person who was influential in his life as a student half a lifetime ago, so I am disposed to trust him a lot. His work is almost across the board stellar and he has written or edited dozens of serious books, mostly on the Old Testament. A few he has done with his old pal Dan Allender, too.

The Bible and the Ballot is about this project on how to use the Bible, or be instructed and informed by the Bible, on our views of political issues. Because it is what it is, it doesn’t go into the multi-dimensional questions that Kaitlyn raises about how we are actually formed in our political imaginations and desires. It doesn’t go into the ideologies behind the political philosophies that use or misuse the Bible, one way of the other. It not a volume on a Christian political option. It is, though, a summary of key Biblical passages that relate to contemporary social issues that are addresses in various political platforms. So, it is of limited use as we think about the development of a profound and coherent Christian political philosophy, but for a non-partisan handbook to Bible texts written by a Biblical scholar, this is very useful.

Here are two small criticisms which should not dissuade you from buying this asap.  It isn’t as comprehensive as I might wish, and on a couple of issues, there are a couple of verses that I was surprised to not see show up in Longman’s overview. Understandably, the book is already 300 pages, so he couldn’t be comprehensive. Fair enough. Secondly, his sidebar summary of the key teaching from each unit was a bit bland for my tastes. I suppose this in intentional, not trying to be breathy or zealous or at all partisan. So he keeps it fairly straight forward, not polemical, just documenting core Bible teaching on topics ranging from war to racism, from abortion to poverty, from criminal justice and capitol punishment to the environment to same-sex marriage. One of the helpful topics is nationalism and patriotism and another I found very interesting was his foray into religious liberty. In each of these topics he shows relevant Biblical material and tries to wisely suggest ways those texts might inform a policy position that might approximate something we night say is “Biblically informed.”

Unlike those right wing or left wing voters guides that tend to be shallow, partisan and sometimes alarmist — ye gads, look how the “other side” is violating What The Bible Says — Tremper Longman’s new The Bible and the Ballot is reasonable and coherent, honest before the complexities of the texts and which texts influence or help us form faithful views. He believes we should be influenced by the Biblical texts but we must be honest about what they actually say and how to interpret them. As we say these days, it’s messy and it is hard to have much integrity as a reader of the Bible if we insist on taking some of our preferred passages and shoehorning them to prove the righteousness of our political agenda.

Therefore, the first quarter of this Bible and the Ballot book offers some overarching principles of Biblical interpretation, especially when trying to interpret the Bible for modern day social issues. This is thorny ground and good people may disagree about the methodology (what is also called hermeneutics) that shape our philosophy of interpretation. That is, you know you just can’t take some verse from Leviticus or some episode from Kings or some waring Jeremiah and willy nilly apply it today. Some find it complicated to even do that with plain teaching from Jesus, but we sure can’t do it easily from, say, a battle in Joshua, as if our military policy should be circling around a building with trumpets or our agricultural policy should be a strict application of Leviticus 25.  Anyway, while it may be obvious (at least in some cases) when we ought not apply the Bible story verbatim for our modern social policy, there surely are principles to help us see divine patterns, learn how to be guided by God’s ways in the world as applied prudently to todays context.

Longman’s keys for reading the Bible well are helpful for any of us (about any issue about which we seek the Scripture’s illumination and guidance) and his interpretive principles are very useful. Part three of The B and the B offers “essential Biblical/theological themes” that will be carried throughout the book. This is all before he gets to specific issues. The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions is not the only book we need as we become more intentionally wise about our civic posture and positions. But it is a great tool, a gift offered by a wise lover of God and one committed to the authority of God’s Word.

God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth To Power Today N.T. Wright (SPCK) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I’m so glad to list this even though it isn’t new, so I’m sort of cheating a bit here. But I bet it is new to many, even many Tom Wright fans. We import (through a US distributor) from the UK where is is published by a thoughtful, interesting publishing house there. These are essays former Bishop Wright gave to listeners in several locations in the UK and he starts off by noting that in both his academic training as a historian and New Testament scholar and in his ministerial training for being a parish priest there was this assumption that the Biblical gospel of Christ’s Kingdom is mostly for the church. Or maybe the scholarly guild. Neither Biblical scholars nor pastors and priests are adept at speaking about the world, let alone in the world. And then, as a Bishop, Wright became a member (as the state church has it in Great Britain) of the House of Lords. Oh my. By those years he already was learning to speak out about Biblical truth for contemporary culture and was eroding the unbiblical dualism that divides life into sacred and secular. (His first book published in the US, by the way, in the 1980s, was very much about culture and the modern society. By 2014 he had given enough public lectures about creation care, the arts, economics, science, justice and the like that HarperOne released Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. It’s very good.)

This imported British volume, though, is fabulous to be added on to this list about faith and politics. It is about power and justice (one was a lecture he gave at the London School of Economics.) As Wright became more convinced that his calling as a Bible scholar equipped him to serve the church and the culture, he increasingly had opportunity to weigh in on justice issues, on social causes, and on actual policy proposals. This book is an example of some of his visionary, Biblical teaching that has some application and traction in the world of public affairs.

There are 10 chapters, almost 185 pages. There are lectures on Pilate and Caesar and their encounter with Jesus in John 18-19; there is a chapter on the nature of law; there is a chapter about global terror and questions of war. In many of the chapters Wright is pushing back against secularism, those that might suggest that people of faith have no right or at least little to say of enduring worth as they bring a faith perspective to bear on the idols and issues and topics of the modern world.  One chapter looks at postmodernism in public life, another looks at some of the idols of modernity still reigning in the power structures of the big empires.

One good chapter was a presentation entitled “God’s powerful foolishness in a world of foolish power” which of couse, takes its cue from “folly and wisdom, weakness and power: the gospel in Corinth.” One of the lectures (“Christian Virtue in Peace and War”) was actually given at the Royal Military Academy.  Wow.

The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity edited by Ronald J. Sider (Cascade) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I have already mentioned this book in a BookNote last summer. I invited folks to pre-order it and said that there are contributors here that I think very highly of and a few who I count as friends or mentors.

As Termper Longman says of it, “My hope and prayer is that all Christians, whatever their present political leanings, will be open to the case made in this book.”  As Ambassador Tony Hall,  one of the great US Congressman who was so known for his advocacy for the poor and the starving (as he served in the US House) says, “I commend this book to anyone struggling to align their faith with their choices at the ballot box.

Let’s just say it bluntly. Almost anyone but the most partisan ideologies would admit that there are very good reasons to be troubled by the character and the behaviors and many of the policies of President Trump. From his chronic dishonesty to his antagonism with opponents and journalists to the weird disdain for science and truth and refusal to distance himself from racist and violent supporters, to his ill-informed, confused, and sloppy management within the Administration itself (decried by so many that once worked with him and could do so no longer — has there every been a President in US history that has had so many people quit or be fired?) More, there are the large character flaws — did he really pay off a porn star to silence her? Did her really call some poor nations “shithole” countries? Can you imagine what Jeremiah would say about tear-gassing peaceful citizen protesters so he could stand in front of a church and hold a Bible up, a Bible he doesn’t read. That some flamboyant religious right leaders love him is just inexplicable.

This book has significant and sometimes leading evangelicals weighing in on the anguish of having this dangerous man as the leader of our nation. A few chapters are biting; many are relatively gracious. Most are hard hitting with painful truth as they authors see it.

The Spiritual Dangers of Donald Trump is divided up into three main parts.  The first part is on Mr. Trump the person. We have among others, pieces by Mark Galli and Vicki Courtney. There is a chapter by a Christian psychologist about God’s hatred for “a lying tongue.” Chris Thurman is another evangelical psychologist whose is well loved for his wise book about self-delusion called Lies We Believe. It’s good he is in here. One helpful chapter is “10 Reasons Why Christians Should Reconsider Their Support of Trump.” You could copy it and use it, I’m sure, if you are so inclined. We hope you get this book and share some of these chapters with those who need to wrestle with the matters.

One of the scholars, by the way, who contributed to this is Dr. Bandy X. Lee. She has advanced degrees in both psychiatry and theology and now practices through the Yale School of Medicine. She was so concerned about behaviors she saw exhibited by Mr. Trump that she edited a best selling volume called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President which inspired this more theological collection. In an earnest forward she tells of her own sense of being led by God to begin the process of this book, which she soon turned over to the impeccable Ronald J. Sider.

The second section is on “Evangelical Support of Trump.” This is lead off by long time right wing political operative Peter Wehner with an essay called “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.” Oh my, this is important, whether one is an evangelical or not. Ron Sider has an important piece called “Will The Evangelical Center Remain Silent in 2020?” He loves the evangelical world and he deeply wants to call the church to Jesus. He knows the Scriptures and he cares very much about the testimony we offer to the world around this campaign. I like how he draws on the significant, balanced method and agenda for evangelical social engagement “For the Health of the Nation” created by the National Association of Evangelicals. If only those self-appointed leaders of evangelicalism who are the loudest cheerleaders for the current President knew about this significant document created after painstaking work by evangelicals of various social and theological orientations. You can learn more about it in a big book Ron co-edited (with the late Diane Knippers) with bunches of significant evangelical thinkers and leaders doing chapters in 2005 entitled Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation  (Baker; $25.00.) It is a historic document and offered the sort of deeply theological framework we need today.

There are several other amazing pieces in this section of The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump, from Stephen Haynes (a Bonhoeffer scholar) and a chapter co-authored by several evangelical leaders from the global evangelical community.  Several of these pieces are very probing, analyzing the cognitive dissonance many evangelicals feel when they think about this unlikely partnership of conservative religion and the brutal Trumpian style. The famous African- American sociologist and Christian Dr. George Yancey has a very powerful piece, too. I really hope you buy this book and read it right away.

Part three in this anthology is what they call “theological, historical, and constitutional issues regarding President Trump.” This is sharp stuff, with serious chapters by Miroslav Volf and James Skillen and Joh Fea and others.

Steven E. Meyer is in here who is known as a thoughtful scholar of diplomacy who has served in the CIA and as an upper level manager at the Department of Defense. I mention this not only because his work is valuable and often compelling and because this chapter is excellent, but to show that these contributors are often fairly mainstream thinkers — not wild radicals, not even Sojourners or activists of the left.  It’s been used before, but perhaps rarely so urgently, but the title of Meyer’s piece is “Quo Vadis, America?”

Julia Stronks has a chapter on constitutional questions — she is a Christian lawyer who teaches politics and history at Whitworth College. She calls for greater forbearance and toleration and observes that the Presidents style (the tweets, for instance) and his public statements and many of his actual policies and executive orders have eroded a sense of democratic values. It’s a strong piece and I recommend it.

I am glad for Ron’s closing sermon, a plea to return to Christ. He does invite us to listen well to each other and to pray together, no matter who wins the upcoming election. As he often does, he lists a handful of ways to take next steps, both visionary and hopeful as well as practical and admonishing. No matter what, he wants to to deepen our discipleship, live out our faith in a Christ-honoring way. As a book of his puts it that we still stock,  I Am Not a Social Activist: Making Jesus the Agenda. Ron is a reliable thinker and earnest faith leader. I am glad he edited this volume and I commend it to you, urgently, now. Send us an order today, please.

Dual Citizens: Politics and American Evangelicalism edited by Timothy Padgett (Lexham Press) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I applaud Lexham Press for doing a series of books like this, a handsome, trim sized hardback set called The Best of Christianity Today. They have anthologized all sorts of stuff from the earliest days of Christianity Today until today. One volume was from a several year series they did on evangelical theology and it is simply amazing. Another is various pieces written by John Stott. They are doing one soon to be released that is a collection of older Advent devotions that appeared in the magazine (some old, by the likes of Billy Graham.)

This new one may be one of the most valuable for anyone charting the early days and evolution of American (mostly white) evangelicals and their political posture, their public theology and their social positions. Of course, keep in mind, while evangelicals tended to be socially conservative, the phrase become popular in the 20th century (with CT their flagship journal) as a voice of Biblically orthodox but socially moderate Protestantism. That is, they were created to be an alternative to the fundamentalists. Until recently, there was a sharp divide between fundamentalists and evangelicals, although now the media lumps them together in unhelpful ways.

Here is how the publisher describes the value of this historical account of wrestling with the issues.

American evangelicals are often assumed to be a monolithic political force absolutely unified in their (right wing) priorities. This collection of articles from Christianity Today originally published between 1956 and 2016 tells a different story. Evangelical engagement with politics has been more complex than is often remembered. Dual Citizens reveals a variety of evangelical thought towards political developments over the past few decades. As such, it offers a real window into sixty years of evangelical political engagement

Here are a few historians and other public thinkers who compliment the volume:

At a time when evangelical Protestant presence in public life has come under significant criticism –including ridicule — this collection of essays from Christianity Today will enable insiders and observers to put the religious right in perspective. –D. G. Hart, Hillsdale College, author of American Catholic: Faith and Politics during the Cold War

This book is valuable to everyone interested in how evangelicals have thought about public issues and how they have acted in the public square. I also believe Christians will find it edifying as a reminder of the value of a faithful Christian witness, and a God who is working in history for his glory. –Michael Wear, author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America

The book offers a priceless resource for historians as well as rank-and-file students of contemporary religion…. Edited volumes come and go — mostly go. But not this one. It will stand for years as a standard reference for understanding the inner texture of one of the largest and most influential Christian traditions of modern times. — Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Christian History, Duke Divinity School

The first chapter or unit is on CT writing about US Presidents. This is fascinating and for those of us who lived through any of this it will be very interesting. It has an early piece from 1956, a 1960 piece about the possibility of a “Catholic president” and a remarkable one about Kennedy’s assassination. There are essays about prayer, about protest, about the “political tightrope” from 1966. There were several about Watergate, one about President Ford, and several that are more contemporary. It is illustrative to see the piece about Reagan, surprising to see one by Rodney Clapp; there are well written ones by Philip Yancey and Sarah Pulliam and more. Of couse there is one by Chuck Colson — “How to Confront a President” written in 1994 (although he will show up often, later.) We get to see an early piece by the great journalist Mollie Ziegler Hemingway from 2009. Tony Carnes was the reporter weighing on President Bush after 9-11 and we see the magazine report about “The Bush Doctrine” that launched the Iraq War. There’s several more. And then the final three in this section include a famous 2016 editorial by Ron Sider on why he was going to vote for Hillary Clinton paired with one by James Dobson on why he supported Donald Trump and one by Sho Baraka on why he wasn’t voting for either.

The second part is about both the emerging roles of the Religious Right and a bit about the Evangelical Left. From CT’s moderate assessment of the mean-spirited Carl McIntire (1970) to Carl Henry’s classic “evangelical social concern” program to what were then called “radical Christians” there is a lot. One 1985 article compares and contrasts Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell, and Jim Wallis. There are a number of good pieces here — one written by Nancy Pearcey with Chuck Colson, another by Carolyn Curtis, yet several more by the editorial team on the issues of the day.

The third part includes positions the magazine took and editorials they ran on a wide range of global issues. My head spun when I saw the first one from 1956 penned by J. Edgar Hoover. Yikes. Some of these are remarkable for their historical value and one I re-read to educate myself — a Pearcey/Colson piece from 1999 “Does Kosovo Pass the Just-War Test?” There were missionary writers and Billy Graham weighing in and various pieces about ISIS, the most recent from 2014.

The fourth unit includes editorials about domestic affairs. Much of the writing in this section is about racism, poverty, and economics. It is fascinating to see what some evangelical leaders thought about segregation in 1957 or about Selma in 1965. There was a self-effacing piece about discrimination (in 1968) and a piece called “Race and Economics” by Francis Schaeffer in 1974. Wow.

And, yes, here is the editorial “Abortion and the Court” written in January of 1973.

I was intrigued to see various sorts of insights about the development of the evangelical pro-life stance. There are several. Standouts include Ron Sider’s piece from 1996 about “our selective rage” calling for a more consistently pro-life view. It could have been written last week. Orthodox writer and thinker Frederica Matthewes-Green has a piece from 1999. In 2001 CT weighed in about “changing hearts and laws” and the 2015 editor Katelyn Beatty’s impressive piece “The Power of Pro-Life Women” is included. Glad for that.

The final dozen or so essays range from 1956 to 2014 and there are a variety of editorials on various topics relating to the theme “God and Country.” There is writing on civil disobedience, on civil religion, a piece from 1957 about how government service can be a Christian vocation. (I was surprised to see that, for some reason, using the language of vocation, then.) I liked a number of these short pieces and found myself wanting to revisit a few more.

This book is loaded with good insight (even if often quite contextualized, emerging from its own social location, obviously.) There are some essays that are in my view pretty off-base. A few are brilliant, having stood the test of time. For inspiration and overtly evangelical Christian social and political thinking, Dual Citizens is valuable, if uneven. For historians and any who want to see the roots and fruits of the vision Carl Henry and the others had, hoping to present a Biblically-based, conservative but engaging theological alternative to both rigid and sectarian fundamentalism on one had and often theologically muddled, mainline social gopsel liberalism on the other, it is priceless. To see the somewhat evolving perspectives of this standard-bearer journal (loved by some, hated by others), Dual Citizens is a true treasure trove.

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15 MORE RECENT BOOKS THAT I WISHED I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU ABOUT SOONER. Learn about them now and buy from Hearts & Minds at 20% OFF

I hope you saw a BookNotes column we did a week or so ago lamenting that when we had to furlough some of our staff and we got swamped with complicated mail order bookselling in the worst of the quarantining, we didn’t have the capacity to celebrate important new releases of last Spring and Summer. I announced in the important BookNotes column some of those I really had intended to promote back then, and figured “better late than never.” Please take a look at that BookNotes (they are all archived at our Hearts & Minds bookstore website) and see that list of some of the most important books of the past six months. Better late than never.

And, so, we continue on, naming books that we have big stacks of here; we would have shared these at our off site events, the conferences, retreats, and gatherings we had intended to serve with big book displays a season or so ago. We’ve lost almost half our income having these gigs all (necessarily and properly) cancelled, but we remain steadfast in our calling to tell you about good books.

If you like what you see, maybe you could share it with others, helping us get the word out about these authors and titles and our online sales.

Be sure to tell people that they can order on line, easily, or call the shop.

Our order form page (SEE THE LINK AT THE END OF THIS COLUMN) is certified secure so you can enter credit card information safely. We will reply promptly to confirm everything.

Please tell us how you’d like your order shipped  — USPS Media Mail is cheaper and slower; USPS Priority Mail is more costly but much quicker. Feel free to ask for more details about your own order if you’d like. We’re happy to help.

So, here are some more important releases that are fairly recent, but that we might have promoted more vigorously when the first came out if we had been able. These are not to be missed and we salute the authors and publishers who work to write and release these kinds of great resources for us all.  Buy some books, folks!  Not brand new, but recent. Let’s not let the Covid virus ravage our authors and publishers (and booksellers.) All are 20% off.

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

It was early in the quarantining, shelter-in-place season when this brilliant book entered our store and nearly every day I wished I had the capacity to write about it and send it out via our BookNotes newsletter. Few books seemed as urgent, as apropos, as needed. Yet, the season drug on and we were working 15 hours straight keeping up with our mail out orders without our team on board. As you know, I didn’t write much, save an Easter blog or two. And so, now, truly, in the “better late than never” category is this winner: a book written before any lock-downs and stay-at-home orders, before the big increase in loneliness among many of us. I know many who knew of this wise and thoughtful work commented on how it was very important resource for many of us.

Of course, Wait With Me was not written with any Covid-caused loneliness and could not have anticipated folks exiled from work and church and entertainment and extended family, but it nonetheless was written about the nature of our relationship with God whenever we are lonely. That statistics were tilting strong in this direction way before Covid — curiously, one of the best books on this epidemic of loneliness is one I wrote about just before the health crisis hit — Three Pieces of Glass: Why We Feel Lonely in a World Mediated by Screens by the brilliant pastor and social critic Eric Jacobsen (Brazos Press; $19.99.) The three pieces of glass are, as I explained in my BookNotes rave review, are the TV screen, the computer screen, and the windshield from our cars. These social realities facilitate a culture of individualism and autonomy and loneliness.

Readers will be glad that Jason Gaboury — a regional ministry director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — understand these things. He gets the big picture and isn’t afraid to talk about our culture and social trends and the habits and practices that erode our experience of authentic community. He cites very contemporary critics and novelists. He’s aware of important ways things like racism and sexism effect our sense of self and may help contribute to alienation and loneliness. He is also part of a robust, liturgical worshipping community and is an Anglican friar, skilled in the arts of spiritual direction, with deeper awareness of deeper truth; he realizes, as his own 70-something spiritual director told him, “To be human is to be lonely.”  Ahh, perhaps, Covid or no, screens or not, we need Gaboury’s insights about the deepest holes in our heart and the deepest hurts in our souls and the realities of our human condition. Which is to say, this book is walking ground along with Merton’s No Man Is an Island and perhaps Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out or The Wounded Healer. Perhaps we need not to run from our inner anguish or our relational sorrows but push on to know God better.

This is not cheap talk or pious sentimentality. It could be the way some writes who say this come across — “Don’t worry if you’re lonely or sad, just be with Jesus,” – with a smiley face or praying hands emoji.  No. This it isn’t quaint or cheap, but it does, yet, profoundly move in that direction, naming and exploring how in our own suffering we find a greater sense of our oneness with Christ’s suffering and thereby our actual humanness. As David Booram (author of the lovely and good When Faith Becomes Sight ) writes, Gaboury in inviting us to this “unwelcomed, unavoidable, yet potentially sacred meeting place.”  It calls us to what author Noemi Vega Quiñones (coauthor of Hermanas) called “vulnerable connection.” With With Me is a beautifully written book, wise and helpful and cool, even if pushing us to some serious self reflection in our often anguished solitude. (He is, by the way, happily married with children and has a job that would be an extraverts dream. And yet.)

This book has gotten great reviews from all sorts of folks of different races, men and women, those married and singles, older and younger. Many think it’s excellent.

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

“It is not easy to find biblical, relevant, practical, and emotionally engaged content that presses us into the tension of existence as opposed to showing us how to manage or get away. This book is not a roadmap on how to escape something that is core to being human but a testament to how rigorous engagement with loneliness can free us to live more fully as people made in the image of God. This isn’t just a book you should buy; it is a book you should read.” (Jonathan P. Walton, poet and author of Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free)=

Digital Life Together: The Challenge of Technology for Christian Schools David I. Smith, Kara Sevensma, Majorie Terpstra, Steven McMullen (Eerdmans) $29.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

I had ordered a bunch of these (pre-Covid and pre-quarantining) because I so respect the work of David Smith, a language arts professor at Calvin University and one who has thought about the distinctives of thinking and practicing Christianly in the field of education as much as anyone I know. Although this was based on a three-year in-depth study of the use of technology within alternative Christian schools, it would be, I figured, ideal for any educator — elementary, high-school, or college, public or private. This big book walks teachers, school leaders and parents through “some of the big ideas that are hidden in our technology habits.” That is they don’t just rehearse the arguments for or against more digital learning and techie stuff in the classroom, but address “the nuanced realities of [Christian] education in a twenty-first century context.”

This book is full of a crisp and enlightening picture of what real classrooms are like and what makes the best Christian school classrooms tick — again, if one teaches in or has children in a public or secular private school, this is still hugely resonant of what good teaching and classroom environment can be. And within that context of good schooling practices and normative, wise visions of education, it invites both creative us of and critique of technology. It encourages best practices even as we equip colleagues and students to deepen their discernment of what values or habits come along as baggage, as unintended consequences.

In this, I must say, our favorite book on these things for daily home use remains the small but fabulously rich volume called The Tech Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch (Baker; $15.99.) And don’t miss, by the way, the sequel to it coming out mid-November by Andy and co-written by Andy’s daughter Amy, now a college student, called My Tech-Wise Life: Growing Up and Making Choices in a World of Devices (Baker; $15.99.) Both of these offer the wise and thoughtful approach that is picked up and used seriously to shape the research done by Smith and his team as they prepared Digital Life Together.

For what it’s worth, the authors used all sorts of qualitative study, and tell here about their focus groups and case studies and classroom observations and the in-depth interviews. As James K.A. Smith (no relation to David Smith, even though they teach together and have written together) puts it, this is “wisdom about the role of technology in Christian teaching and learning that is neither blind enthusiasm nor defensive dismissal.”

We offer a Zoom handclap and Facebook thumbs up and happy email emoji to these authors and researchers and writers (who hale from Calvin University and Hope College.) I wished I had be able to read, review and promote this book months ago, prescient as it has been. It’s not too late, though, as we are in a new wave of a new era for all of our media us.  With 40 short chapters with discussion/reflection questions after each, Digital Life Together is simply the best resource to have right now for anyone who does on-line learning. Order it now at our 20% off, and, while your at it, pre-order the forthcoming Andy & Amy Crouch My Tech-Wise Life at 20% off as well.

The Flourishing Teacher: Vocational Renewal for a Sacred Profession Christiana Bieber Lake (IVP Academic) $22.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

We have a big stack of these and I was stymied writing about it since I hadn’t had time to study it carefully. I would have promoted it as teaches prepped for the “back to school” season over the summer, but the pandemic kept us from doing that well. Although the book cover or title does not say it — grrr —this book is not primarily written for ordinary teachers of elementary or high school ,but it is about being a college teacher. We have a large section in our store about higher education and several about the calling of being a Christian college prof, and I did not realize this one was one of those sorts. Alas, as I shifted my expectations, I soon enough fell in love with this book. Written by a woman who has taught literature at Wheaton College (indeed, is the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English there) but who also has been a teacher in K-12 settings, she knows what educators go through. She believes deeply it is a sacred profession to which some are called. But, as she starts the book (down with the flu and terribly discouraged) she set out to write a book for those who may be burned out by the “relentless pace, the overload of classes, the grading, the advising, the additional committee work.” Sound familiar?

Dr. Lake is a remarkably learned woman. Her stunning, scholarly work Beyond the Story: American Literary Fiction and the Limits of Materialism (University of Notre Dame; $45.00) explores the deepest worldviews and assumptions about life (and the reality of metaphysics) in contemporary fiction. She has a stellar book on St. Flannery, too, called The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’Connor (Mercer University Press; $30.00.) She is a major scholar and has done this high level of academic work, even as she so clearly is a passionate, seasoned professor and teacher.

And, so, The Flourishing Teacher by Bieber Lake offers profound insight and rumination and spiritual reflections and practical advise for any teacher who feels a need to refocus, become renewed, and learn to actually flourish in what can be a draining, hard job. As the back cover promises, she takes on several pressing issues: “How do I balanced work and family time? Where do I fit in time for my research and writing? What particular challenges do female faculty face, and how should they navigate them?”

After an introductory chapter called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”, she offers clever and inviting chapter titles that walk a teacher through a year of life. She starts in August, of course, with that mix of excitement and dread, sadness that the summer zoomed by so fast, and yet eager to get thinking about the new school year. What wisdom she offers, how spot-on and relevant. Get this book for any teacher you know, but especially for anyone teaching at the college level. It might remind them why they teach and help them rediscover a passion for their sacred vocation.

Listen to these endorsing blurbs:

The Flourishing Teacher understands in wonderfully particular and empathetic detail the peculiar rhythms and challenges of the academic year. No matter where you are in your career, you will find winsome and practical advice for thriving in and, as importantly, out of the classroom. Through it all, Christina Bieber Lake is that trusted friend who has successfully navigated scholarship and teaching from whom we all wished we could get advice. Now we can.”  — Jennifer L. Holberg, professor of English at Calvin University, founding coeditor of the Duke University Press journal, Pedagogy

“What a wonderful, invigorating, and encouraging book! I recommend it to anyone committed to the ‘spiritual work’ of college teaching. With honesty and confidence born of long experience, the author shares her vocational journey through the form of the academic year. Along the way, she offers splendid, practical wisdom while sustaining a graced tone of gratitude. The Flourishing Teacher is a vital addition to any professor’s ‘soul shelf,’ but especially those of us who teach at church-related schools.” –Paul J. Contino, Pepperdine University)

Brutally honest, eminently practical, and wonderfully snarky, this book might save your teaching career, your joy in your vocational calling, and even your marriage. It is a true masterpiece of personal, pedagogical, and professional wisdom. I wish I’d had this volume before I completed my graduate degrees. I would have been much healthier, happier, and productive. Read this from cover to cover immediately, and then month-to-month starting before the-month-that-shall-not-be named. Join the company of Eager Biebers!” –C. Ben Mitchell, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University

“Dr. Bieber, as her students refer to her, has given those of us who teach a gift. With wit and transparency, this seasoned professor not only stimulates us to consider ways in which we can teach better but she provides us with specific strategies not only for the classroom but for maintaining sanity throughout the year–with specifics from managing emails to knowing how and when to say no to orchestrating the accomplishment of tasks on the to-do list. This book is not fluff; it is well researched, as Bieber Lake introduces us to resources that provide practical and soul-saving advice. Every teacher should read this book! “–Dennis Okholm, Azusa Pacific University
Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy Cindy Bunch (formatio/IVP) $15.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00
I must admit I’m not particularly drawn to small self-help books that offer little tips for getting over my frustrations and hurts. Perhaps I don’t trust the inevitable cliches or don’t find most calls to self-care that compelling in light of the urgent needs of the broken world and Jesus’s own call to selflessness and downward mobility. Yet, this author is a legend at my favorite publishing house and it is part of the extraordinary formatio line of books about spiritual formation. One of the wisest and best writers about contemplative spirituality and deep practices to nurture our interior lives with God is Ruth Haley Barton and I noticed that she had written the foreword. Maybe Be Kind To Yourself is a different sort of little book I thought. Oh my, yes, yes it is.
Here are the others who have endorsements on the back cover, wise and deep spiritual guides we can trust — James Bryan Smith, Suzanne Stabile, Christine Valters Paintner, Juanita Campbell Rasmus (who recently wrote Learning to Be) and the remarkable Sybil MacBeth who wrote Praying in Color. These are not simple or cheesy cheerleaders but smart and creative spiritual directors. If they say Be Kind to Yourself is “a lovely gift of grace” or that “we need this book right now” or is “a go-to for all who long to stay awake to the beauty and revelations of life” then maybe it is a little book we should promote, share, tell others about. Maybe you should gift some to others. It sure made me give it a deeper look, and I’m so glad I did.
In fact, As Enneagrammer Suzanne Stabile writes of it,
“There is a sweet space where wisdom and innocence meet in the relationship between those who have given themselves to the rhythm of spiritual formation for a long time and those whose commitment is new. Cindy Bunch found it and then set the table for all of us to come together, using the same practices, to explore who we are in God and who we can become.”–Suzanne Stabile, author of The Path Between Us and host of The Enneagram Journey podcast

Cindy Bunch knows lots about the best authors and works in the field of spiritual formation and she understand deeply the stuff about the true self. She knows what it means to attend to “the frustration that bug us in order to identity negative thinking about ourselves or others.” Yep, this is a lovely little volume that is deeply rooted in the old, old work of letting go of sin and false stuff and living into our union with Christ. It is about Ignatius and discernment and self knowledge and Godly inner transformation and deeper, sane discipleship. She cites oodles of great stuff, surprising stuff, and has lots of practical sidebars and prayer ideas and appendices for various types of folks. There are drawings and little charts and art reproductions and few photographs, that are fun and funny. Each short chapter is about a certain thing that may bug you, and how that can lead you, if brought before God and surrendered to Christ’s transforming grace, to wholeness and joy.

So. This absolutely not a simplistic, cheery little self help book about taking care of yourself in a way favored by our shallow consumer culture. Not at all. It is about radical transformation, serious inner work, listening well to your life. But it may be in the guise of a cheery little self help book. What’s not to love — this book is fun and fantastic and I highly recommend it. If only I can get through more of the letting go, and letting God. I’m sure this will help. You too, I bet.

Seeing God in Art: The Christian Faith in 30 Images Richard Harries (SPCK) $22.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Oh my, I just can’t wait any longer to tell you about this book that released here in the States in March 2020. Yes, back then. It is from the UK and we were so excited to promote it at all our various events this past Spring and Summer, we just knew it would be a big hit if people picked it up and took a look. Alas, we can’t slip it into your hands and invite you to behold, so we’ve been waiting to explain it’s glories. This is a great little book, a great price, and very, very formative and informative, for hearts and minds.

Two of our favorite little books and best-sellers for us in their respective seasons are The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany (by Jane Williams) and The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter (by Sister Wendy Beckett.) Both are from SPCK in England ($16.00 and $17.00, respectively.) This new one is sort of like those but bigger in size and has fewer entries, but more text. Let me explain.

What this book does is try to offer what might be called an introduction to Christian thinking, with entries on the basics of Christian theology, each explored by way of a famous painting.  Over the centuries, of course, some of the world’s greatest painters and sculptors have been people of deep faith and their artwork reflected this. (See the forthcoming re-issued 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know by Terry Glaspy for more great examples of that, including music, and literature as well.) So, Seeing God in Art “holds up a lens through which you can enhance your appreciation of Christian art and the wonders of Christianity itself.” Yes, it is less about finding “God” in the art, but deepening our understanding of Christian faith by way of this authors reflections on these paintings.

There are pieces here by Rembrandt and da Vinci and Caravaggio and Fra Angelica, of course. There are modern pieces by Marc Chagall (on the Exodus) and Stanley Spencer’s famous one of Jesus holding the deadly spider  “The Scorpion” from 1939. It is remarkable seeing early church mosaics and 14th century Russian icons and medieval tapestries from Europe next to Nicholas Mynheer’s 2003 vivid “The Spirit Descends to Live within Us” from the Worcester College Chapel on Solomon Raj’s scratchy black and white etchings from 1995. I did not know of Ceri Richards nor his “The Supper at Emmaus” from 1958 but I’ve pondered it on and off for months, now.

The author’s pick of paintings may not be yours, but that is most of the fun. His pick of the thirty things to write about, too, may not be reflective of your deepest theology, although it’s fairly standard stuff. Some will adore his clear-headed, basic sense of God, creation, humans, fall, scenes of the Old Testament and the gospels, Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and scenes of the Spirit come and the church charged with power to serve. I had my own wishes — especially for one last painting reflecting on the cosmic healing of the created order (perhaps at least how Francis Schaeffer described the landscapes (including the rich and poor) in Van Eyck’s “Adoration of the Lamb” in How Should We Then Live.) Nonetheless, Rev. Harries has modeled for us how to see theological truth in mostly pretty overtly religious paintings.

We heartily recommend Seeing God in Art: The Christian Faith in 30 Images. We hope you order it at our 20% discount.

It brings to mind (I must say, in passing) the extraordinary and rare little book that we stock by Calvin Seerveld entitled On Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World (Welch Publishing Company; $6.99) where Seerveld reflects in about 100 pages on both old and some very contemporary art pieces to explore the meaning of being human — created in the image of God, fallen, in need of adoption, made into priests, put into neighborhoods, pregnant with redemptive possibility, and more — including fresh translations of Scriptures (his own) and contemporary songs to joyfully sing, humanly.

The Wisdom Pattern: Order/Disorder/Reorder Richard Rohr (Franciscan Media) $18.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I suppose if you’ve read BookNotes for long you may know that we have found it exceptionally helpful to think of the overview of the major chapters of the Biblical story as what we sometimes call creation-fall-redemption-restoration. Al Wolters in his exceptionally wise introduction to what is meant by a Christian worldview, sort of a pre-theoretical philosophy of life called Creation Regained helped outline this for many. So did Brian Walsh & Richard Middletown in Transforming Vision. Both books were written in and for communities of faith of which Beth and I were somewhat a part in the 1970s. The phrase has been tweaked and nurtured, advanced and explored — in little books and big ones, from lesser known authors to leaders like N.T. Wright. You may know the campus ministry organization that we work with a bit called the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) runs their big Jubilee conference each February and the four keynote presentations are exploring the Biblical doctrines of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. It was somewhat in that context that our friend Lisa Sharon Harper wrote her book The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right in which she brilliantly uses other images and words drawn from Genesis and the subsequent Biblical drama. In her good hands, she writes about shalom/alienation/reconciliation. Faith and Christian conversion is a sort of homecoming, not just a reverse of the curse, but a healing of the alienation. We become agents of cosmic reconciliation in all areas of life.

Well, this is a long way of introducing these familiar themes that find their way in yet another iteration in the recent overview of the spiritual life written by Father Richard Rohr, a contemplative mystic, a social justice-activist and a rather progressive contemporary theologian that has this ancient-future vibe. (See, for instance, his fascinating, if not fully adequate, study of the Holy Trinity in his The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, which I did a long review of when it first came out in 2016.) We respect Rohr a lot and while we have recommended some of his mystical volumes about contemplative prayer (and his ones about justice and cultural transformation) we’ve been unsure of the fidelity to the best orthodox theological traditions in some of his recent works. (I have often said I both love and disagree with much in his recent Cosmic Christ which, though at times theologically sloppy, properly reminds us that Jesus the Christ is not merely a personal buddy or savior of our souls or even only Lord of the church, but the redeemer of all things, King of creation itself, which he made, sustains, and is redeeming, every square inch of it. Yes, yes, yes – just think of the grand hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” and sing Hallelujah.  As a Franciscan, he gets that and some of his eloquent and provocative writing is a gift to the wider church who needs reminded of these basic Biblical truths.)

Which leads us to this new book that I am inclined to like very much as it gets at this gospel-centered “once-good, now fouled up, and being made new” — that is, creation/fall/redemption or shalom/alienation/reconciliation — way to explain the Christian faith. The incarnate Son of God comes to earth to defeat evil so that was once good can be reclaimed and restored. My ears obvious perk up when I hear Roh talking about “order-disorder-re-order.”

It also reminds us of Walter Brueggemann’s helpful summary of the three kinds of Psalms, those of orientation, disorientation, and re-orientation.

Allow our mystical creation-oriented Franciscan brother to lead you through this flow of episodes that keep appearing and reappearing in your life. Things that are orderly get screw up; things that are bad get reformed. We move from order to disorder to a new order often without seeing it, and if we are attentive, we can discern God’s hand in it all. I believe that. Rohr insists that seeing God’s hand in the pattern (indeed in yielding to it) is what it means to be wise. Hence, this is the “wisdom pattern.”

It makes sense. There are those unrealistic who make a fetish out of order, who cling to the old ways, to control, who can’t stomach change or renewal. There are those who are so realistic that all they can do is lament the disorder, stuck in brokenness in ways that lead to cynicism or despair. There are those who want God’s redemption in ways that do not re-order things, but just want God to bless whatever they are used to, no believing Isaiah who says we will “sing a new song.”  So we can and do get stuck (personally, communally, institutionally, culturally) in either of these three “chapters” of the story, these three phases of our life’s episodes.

This may be too mystical for some, or, more likely, like overblown psychobabble to others. But I think he is on to something here, articulating in this helpful pattern, something we know happens, something we’ve experienced, and something that might just make us wiser if we enter into being intentional about it all.

In the introduction, Fr. Rohr says,

“Knowing the full pattern allows us to let go of our first order, trust the disorder, and, sometimes even hardest of all – to trust the new reorder. Three big leaps of faith for all of us, and each of a different character.”

This 199 page book is jam packed with quotes from everybody from Dons Scotus to Carl Jung, from St. Bonaventure to John Calvin, from Francis of Assisi to Peter Berger of Boston, making it creative (if a bit impressionistic, frustrating to serious theologians or historians, I suspect) but ends on the notes of hope, rebuilding, what he calls being a reconstructionist.  Embrace the new order, a healing of the disorder, and be wiser, even as God is working all around us to bring upon us His resurrection new life.

Chasing Wisdom: The Lifelong Pursuit of Living Well Daniel Grothe (Thomas Nelson) $24.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Speaking of wisdom. It’s fascinating to me that there is such a large body of work of books that we have about the wisdom literature in the Old Testament, good stuff (like the new Calvin Seerveld book on reading Proverbs) in the commentary section. But books about just being wise in life, prudent and Biblically insightful, day by day? Not so much. This book has a very different approach and feel than the Richard Rohr one, above. Grothe is a very popular, upbeat, pastor at the multi-site, evangelical community church (New Life in Colorado Springs.) Their senior pastor, Andrew Arndt, just published a great book called All Flame: Entering Into the Life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (NavPress; $15.99) and if Grothe is connected with that guy, I’ll read him.

Some fairly big names in the reasonable, Spirit-driven, moderate, evangelical world endorse this — Peter Greig (of the 24/7 Prayer movement) says it is “fresh, countercultural, provocative, and urgent.” Ken Costa, chairman of Alpha International (who wrote a great book on faith in the marketplace called God at Work and one a little more foundational called Know Your Why) says it is “a compelling read.” He would know. Glen Packiam, another well respected writer who is a New Life pastor says of Grothe, 

A poet with his prose and a pastor who understands the care of souls, Daniel is a perfect guide to the critical quest for wisdom in our age.

But here is something that is more important. He was befriended by Eugene Peterson. You can tell from the footnotes that he is drawing on the rich and deep tradition of the church fathers, the desert mystics, and contemporary folks from poet Mary Oliver to Presbyterian Frederick Buechner. No exactly what we used to expect from megachurch preachers, right? He guides his readers towards Peterson — a sage that means a lot to Grothe — and I believe he knows Eugene’s work well.  Daniel Grothe is a good communicator and a clear, conversational writer. And it offers insight into this topic which we all need to be nurtured in and which there are not an abundance of useful books. This came out in April, and I only wish we could have highlighted it sooner. Don’t miss it now.

Love Matters More: How Fighting to be Right Keeps Us From Loving Like Jesus Jared Byas (Zondervan) $18.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

It seems to me that for those wanting a wise way to engage our neighbors or fellow church members (or family members) it is always, always, wise to realize just what this book says — love is the way to go, love is the answer, the greatest of these is love. Am I right? Of course. God is love, after all. Well, how, then, do we argue, how to we try to persuade others, how to we live in conflict? How does this work out. This book gets at that in a way that is enjoyable to read but, in fact, offers more than a pleasant call to civility. It’s a bit more meaty than that.

The back cover of Love Matters More says this is a “new vision of the Christian life, built not on being right but on loving our neighbors.” Well, (in love) I’d say that’s not so new. But, boy, is it important to be reminded of. No matter what side of the political isle your’re on these days, or what kind of church, or what religion tradition you are in, yes, we simply must take this to heart. We need a witty and strong, and solid author to lead us deeper into a gospel-centered, grace-based view of how to live out the truth in love.

This author is fabulously interesting and very entertaining. That helps. He is cohost of the popular podcast “The Bible for Normal People” and co-author with Pete Enns of Genesis for Normal People. He knows a lot about the ancient Jewish ways of understanding, what some might call the Hebrew worldview. He attends a Mennonite church outside of Philly and and I suppose you’ll dig that he named his kids Augustine, Tov, Elletheia, and Exodus. So there’s that bit of love right there.

Which is to say, as this book makes clear, love doesn’t have to be a least-common- denominator can’t-we-all-get-along session of Kumbaya and white bread. The heart of the Bible is itself a messy, even painful story and it is one about truth. Indeed, truth matters. But — get this, as it is a key to the book — Biblically speaking, truth must be incarnate, lived, real. Drawing on important stuff about the very nature of truth in the Bible — think of his buddy Pete Enns’s Sin of Certainty, which explores the very Biblical notion that God is less interested in correct beliefs than trust and relationship and approaches the complexities of what philosophers call epistemology (that is, knowing) — Byas here explores some great insights for living truth in love. Living the truth in love. Wow.

The back cover says this book is for “anyone who has ever felt forced to choose between truth and love, acceptance and rightness.” It offers a path beyond endless debates about who is right towards a love that matters more. And he does with with a light touch, some signature wit, and, yes, a deep desire to help people experience the truth.

Liberation Is Here: Women Uncovering Hope in a Broken World Nikole Lim (IVP) $25.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Those who know about or follow the work of Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission, one of the first and best of the NGOs fighting sexual trafficking, or Hope International (the Lancaster-based anti-poverty ministry that works in micro-loans and encouraging entrepreneurship in the developing countries) you may know of this amazing woman, Nikole Lim.  She is a visionary, consultant, storyteller, researcher, and cofounded Freely in Hope which describes itself as a nonprofit “seeking to restore dignity to survivors of sexual violence by providing educational opportunities and platforms for women to fulfill their dreams.” She is amazing.

It is said of her own storytelling  that she “shifts paradigms on how stories are told by platforming voices of the oppressed—sharing stories of beauty arising out of seemingly broken situations.” Her heart beats for young women whose voices are silenced by oppression and desires to see every person realize the transformative power of their own story.

Oh, and she is a filmmaker.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Liberation Is Here is a book of stories of women (focusing on just three) from Africa told alongside beautiful photographs and pictures — a visual, artful, multi-medium, telling of stories of women whose lives embody a new found hope, resilience, agency and beauty. These are the true stories of how development and transformation and Christian social chance happens, what it looks and feels like, as women (who are not portrayed as victims) become inspiring heros of God’s unfolding story.  It shows us the personal side of what a more just and good world could look like, and it tells/shows it powerfully. You will be caught up in the drama and glad for these hours spent with these women.

“With unflinching honesty yet gentle compassion, Nikole Lim draws close to women who live under oppression, shame, and gender-based violence. But she also treats her subjects as more than victims. Rather, women like Nekesa, Mara, and Mubanga have something to teach any reader about their own pain and oppression, and show that liberation comes not through avoiding brokenness but by moving through it with the mercy and love of God.”  –Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World
“Nikole Lim allows us to see into a world foreign and distant to many of us. . . . With the telling of every story she allows us to find our calloused hearts loosened. There are no easy answers here, but we find ourselves as in her words, beginning to allow ourselves ‘to love amidst difficult places.’ Thank you, Nikole, for taking us into the places where God can ask us, ‘Where are you?’ This is a profound telling of story, and Nikole’s is a profound work in the world.”–Juanita Campbell Rasmus, spiritual director, copastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church, Houston, author of Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out

“Nikole Lim’s Liberation Is Here is the story of three African women, all of them sexually assaulted as children, and their extraordinary journeys to survival, restoration, and leadership. Their unforgettable stories convey the appalling reality of near-total impunity enjoyed by men who rape children. Ms. Lim finds hope in the breathtaking courage of rape survivors whose suffering has compelled them to advocate on behalf of others.”   –Gary Haugen, CEO of International Justice Mission

“What a vulnerable, deep, and profound book of hope and hidden beauty! Through the lens of an artist, in powerful and beautiful images, Nikole Lim’s Liberation Is Here stewards the stories of women who have survived abuse and sexual violence. Heart-wrenching and full of trauma, the accounts of violations against women are not the end of the story. Rather, Lim walks the reader through a transformative journey of joy and profound pain in the quest for liberation from sexual violence and oppression. Liberation Is Here describes a mutual process of transformation and liberation where our individual freedom is bound up in the stories, pain, and the triumph of others’ quests for redemption and healing. Lim describes how healing and transformation parallel the story of Jesus through joy and pain, death and rebirth. May all who read Liberation Is Here experience the binding power of our common humanity as we hold onto hope and seek mutual healing and justice.”  –Mae Elise Cannon, author of Social Justice Handbook and Beyond Hashtag Activism, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace)

Women in a Patriarchal World: Twenty-five Empowering Stories from the Bible Elaine Storkey (SPCK) $15.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

A new book by Elaine Storkey? Of course we will order it (even though our distributor has to get it in from the UK.) Elaine is a British scholar – activist who has worked with all sorts of organizations and ministries we’ve admired, from Toronto’s Institution for Christian Studies to John Stott’s London Institute for Contemporary Christianity for to our beloved CCO Jubilee conference. She has held posts (as they say it across the pond) at Oxford and Kings and has been a visiting professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

Elaine Storkey is just an amazing person. She was president of the excellent, wholistic relief and development agency Tearfund and has served for decades on the General Synod of the Church of England. As a trained sociologist and philosopher and a journalist and broadcaster she has learned to speak well into the complexities of social disorder and injustice and offer a lively, Biblical, just vision for God’s shalom. Her last book was Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women which was honored in 2019 as a “best book” not only by us here at Hearts & Minds but by Christianity Today.

What can we tell you about this? It is simple, Women in a Patriarchal World is actually a set of 25 chapters, each fairly brief, offering a retelling and exploration of woman from the Bible. There are 11 from the Older Testament, the rest from the New.  As she faithfully teaches from the Scriptures, the last two or three pages from each chapter offers insights about what she calls “Facing Our Challenges Today.” And then there are two discussion questions to ponder about the text and it’ application today. With maybe a little ingenuity with a third or four question, this would make a fabulous book to read through in your small group or Bible study. As her credentials above may show, she’s smart and astute, but these are not academic studies, but sermonettes, reflections, solid but very inspiring. Perfect for personal reading or for groups or classes.

As Henrietta Blyth, of Open Doors UK & Ireland, writes,

In Elaine Storkey’s wise, compassionate and scholarly hands, these familiar stories erupt like gentle fireworks, bringing fresh illumination, excitement, colour, and impact.

Yes, indeed, gentle fireworks!  Except some of the people and episodes may not be that familiar to some readers. That the men who compiled our sacred Scripture included these many women is pretty astonishing, and that they remain God’s Word to us is vital. We’re grateful for Storkey’s work immersing us more deeply into Biblical truth.

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

It’s so annoying to us seeing a big stack of books that we were so enthused about when we ordered them more than a half a year ago, only to realize we haven’t been able to show them off at a conference or hand-sell them to browsers in the store. Our store is a mess with such stacks and one that I’ve been itching to tell you about for a while, now, is this important one by Dr. Dennis Edwards, a professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary. I like his little What is the Bible and How Do We Understand It in the recent The Jesus Way Series (a series of pocket sized books with an edgy Anabaptist-ish perspective.) I used Dr. Edward’s great hardback commentary in the “Story of God Bible Commentary” series when I was co-leading a Zoom Bible study this summer on 1 Peter. That letter, written to exiles, came alive reading the evangelical commentary about it written by this black man. It was helpful, to say the least.

Now Edwards has this new one — well written, provocative, clear-headed, solidly Biblical. Why do we sometimes not notice all the good stuff that happens in the Bible from the margins, the outcasts, the fringes. (I’ve been praying for months, now, the Magnificat (Mary’s Canticle from Luke 1) every Sunday night in a little Zoom prayer service and I wonder when it’s upside down clarity will stop being jarring to me?) Why do we sometimes miss how those who are excluded become vital — just think of the end of Jesus’s first Jubilee sermon in Luke 4 and how the inclusion of the hated outsiders nearly got him killed. What would our hospitality and outreach be like if we were more welcoming of outsiders, of those different and despised?

But, more to the point of Might from the Margins, Mr. Edwards asks us to wonder what the church itself would be like if marginalized Christians helped the church become more transformed?

Nicole Baker Fulgham, founder of a project to help churches help schools with at risk populations (The Expectations Project) and author of Educating All God’s Children, says that this book,

Lays out a much-needed theological framework that both explores and celebrates the power of marginalized communities.

Listen to Drew Hart, professor of theology at Messiah University, author of Who Will Be a Witness? Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance who says it is “A compelling vision forward, grounded in Scripture and God’s delivering presence for those with their ‘backs against the wall.'”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners and the recent Christ in Crisis?: Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence says, quite simply, that Might from the Margins is “A powerful, inspiring book.”

M from the M opens with a chapter on the power of God which is very good — this dude can preach! — and then highlights, chapter by chapter, the power of a diaspora people, the power to discern injustice, the power of prophecy, the power of anger, the power of solidarity, the power of worship, the power of hope, and the power of the Spirit. The last chapter? “The Power of Love.” Amen.

Not Done Yet: Reaching and Keeping Unchurched Emerging Adults Beth Severson (IVP) $18.00. OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

We keep a large section of books about reaching young adults, about campus ministry, about congregational life that is attentive to the “emerging adults” as the scholars call the college and post college age group. Their journey isn’t just beginning, but there is this specific era that is potent– the critical years, some call it — for 20-somethings. And these days, many are called “the nones” (those who check “none of the above” in the census or other surveys when asked to chose a faith or religion. (And then there are the dones who perhaps grew up in church but have moved on, who are so “done with that.”) Why are younger adults increasingly nones and dones? Beth Severson, Director of the Center for Christian Ministries and Practical Theology at North Park University in Chicago, (and previously director of evangelism for the Evangelical Covenant Church), set out to do new research to figure more of this out.

In Not Done Yet — get the title’s allusion? — she shares the insights gleaned from this extensive research and outlines a model for how to engage and retain millennials and Generation Z in the life of the local church.

We have lots of the older go-to titles including 2019’s must-read Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by David Kinnaman (Baker; $21.99) and another that came out in the March 2020, Welcoming the Future Church: How to Reach, Teach, and Engage Young Adults by Jonathan Pokluda (Baker; $17.99) Let us know if you need other sorts of titles on this topic.

Not Done Yet: Reaching and Keeping Unchurched Emerging Adults by Ms Seversen really is an extraordinary book. I highly recommend it. It is so interesting, well-written, creative and theological and practical, too. It has gotten truly great reviews. Please, please, read these commendations and then think to whom you could recommend this book. Or better, buy it for somebody at your church who might start a book club or new initiative to explore this good, good material. You won’t regret it.

“Beth Seversen has done her homework. I like her interviews of secular people attending the Burning Man festival. She also highlights various fruitful ‘bright spot’ churches who are doing a great job reaching today’s teens and twentysomethings. Enjoy!”–Doug Schaupp, national director of evangelism, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA
“Plenty have highlighted why the church is losing ground with today’s young adults, but few have studied churches that are reaching them effectively. Dr. Seversen’s groundbreaking work demonstrates that reaching today’s young adults is not a lost cause but is in fact likely if we intentionally engage in risky yet proven practices that connect them to the life of the church. This book will be a seminal text in my evangelism courses for years to come.”–Craig Hendrickson, associate professor and program head, missional leadership, Moody Bible Institute
“The spiritual journeys of emerging adults are dynamic and varied, yet too often churches have reduced their experiences to one (typically negative) narrative. As a result, most churches start with the wrong perceptions and offer emerging adults something far from good news. Seversen’s project is a breath of fresh air that gives ministry leaders a better view for understanding those navigating their third decade of life. Read this book if you want to be informed and if you dare to rethink the ways you are supporting emerging adults in your community.”–Steven Argue, associate professor of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary
“With a pastoral heart for young adults who are disconnected from faith communities, Dr. Seversen helps churches understand the unique spiritual journeys of young adults and how they are seeking a place to belong and contribute. She shares best practices from churches that are effectively reaching this demographic, including how to initially welcome them, incorporate them in the life of the church, and guide them along the path to spiritual transformation. I will continue to reference this book for years to come as I seek to draw young adults into the Christian faith at my church.”–Joyce Koo Dalrymple, pastor of discipleship and connections at Wellspring Alliance Church, Wheaton, IL, and a former attorney

“Beth Seversen has successfully developed a book on evangelism that appeals to the scholar and the church leader. For the scholar, Seversen offers fresh, empirical research that engages with human complexity and refuses to be contained by common assumptions about what evangelism should look like. Her work is worthy of significant engagement in the academy. For church leaders, Seversen is good news to the church! In a North American culture filled with gloomy statistics, she shows there are bright spots where young people are participating in Christian communities and committing to lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. More than this, she shows how local congregations can increase their evangelistic illumination to join these bright spots.”–Mark R. Teasdale, E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

Life Questions Every Student Asks: Faithful Responses to Common Issues edited by Gary Burge & David Lauber (IVP) $22.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Well, speaking of college age folks, the students referred to in this recent volume are not high-schoolers. Although I suppose it might work with those who are mature and somewhat sophisticated in their faith and cultural development. But, no, this book really is designed for those who work with young adults, or to be read by college students. We ordered a bunch hoping we’d be with our friends and colleagues at the CCO sometime this fall, or get to talk about it at some gigs we do some places where there are churches who care about college ministry. We love other para-church groups, too, that work on campuses, like IVCF, Cru, Navs, DiscipleMakers, RUF, the Newman Centers, the Baptist Student Unions, Chi-Alpha, and others. (CCO is pretty unique in that they partner with local congregations since involvement in the institutional church is essential in their model of campus ministry.) Anyway, Life Questions Every Student Asks would be a great read for anyone on staff of campus ministry organizations or church leaders who work with college and career age emerging adults. It would be swell to share with students, themselves since that is who it is written for.

The forward, by the way, is by Mary Hulst, the chaplain at Calvin University in Grand Rapids. Both the editors are themselves college teachers and know college students well; most of the authors teach at Christian colleges or have other direct involvement with college students.

This book covers twelve key questions about faith and discipleship and the chapters are by twelve different thoughtful evangelical leaders; as I’ve said, most are teachers at Christian colleges or universities. A few of the writers have published — Beth Felker Jones does the chapter on sexuality; Margaret Kim Peterson does the marriage chapter. Keith Johnson has the chapter on doubt. Most are authors I don’t know well, but their chapters are beautifully written, thoughtful, engaging, and helpful. As you can see below, it includes practical questions about things like: what does it mean to be in community? How can I discern my vocation? Who do I relate to money and power? What if I doubt my faith? How should I approach other religions?

Overall I give this a big, big thumbs up and a few of the chapters are fantastic.

The twelve chapters include:

1. Community and Friendship – Gary M. Burge
2. Vocation – Ben Norquist
3. Gender Roles – Emily Hunter McGowin
4. Sex – Beth Felker Jones
5. Marriage – Margaret Kim Peterson
6. Church – Amy Peeler
7. Wealth and Power – James G. Huff Jr.
8. Suffering – David Lauber
9. Doubt – Keith L. Johnson
10. Counseling – Elisha Eveleigh
11. Religious Pluralism – David Capes
12. Activism – Matt Vega

“Every conversation in this book I had as a student at Columbia University, except I didn’t have this book to ground and launch those discussions. If you are a college student or work with them, then this is the book to get together to discuss and wrestle with what it looks like to follow Jesus in the face of a dominant culture that calls you to look elsewhere for identity, significance, and satisfaction.”  –Jonathan P. Walton is an area director with InterVarsity/USA and author of Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free
“Every church that sends its kids off to college and every parent who wants their child to navigate the higher education experience as a disciple of Jesus should give them a compass and this book. Both will help the matriculating student stay on course–in the case of this book, not with canned advice, as is so often the case, but with deep wisdom, honest reflections, and practical advice about the most significant questions that often haunt Christian students, whether they attend secular or religious institutions. In any case, every Christian college should make this book required reading during its students’ first semester.”  –Dennis Okholm, Azusa Pacific University, author of Learning Theology through the Church’s Worship
“To have within a single volume twelve different experts, whose own lives and callings have been indelibly shaped by their Christian faith, winsomely and honestly translate their expertise into practical wisdom for following Jesus in the contours, struggles, and questions of everyday life–the result is a pearl of great price, one book worth innumerable other books. I can think of so many Christians navigating the very present questions and challenges that arise over the course of life, from confronting suffering to figuring out if church really matters to engaging in activism, who I would want to benefit from the wisdom of this book. The importance of the topics that are engaged, the ways those topics are shaped by the real-life experiences of those writing, and the clear compassion that permeates the engagement combine together to make this a must-read book for college students, twenty-and- thirtysomethings, and those well beyond.”  –Kristen Deede Johnson, dean and professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary, author of The Justice Calling

By the way, just so you know — if any of you grown ups wish you had a book just like this, fear not. We stock their very impressive Theology Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith in Plain Language (IVP; $20.00.)

Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort and Fear Matthew T. Dickerson (Cascade) $20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE – $16.00

This book came out in early June and given the Covid complications in our supply chains and the publishing world, we didn’t have it right away. But it arrived soon enough, and we were thrilled; just thrilled. Matthew is a distant friend — he was raised working in his parent’s creatively stocked, thoughtfully indie Christian bookstore so he is one of a small network of people who understand us as much as anyone. And we’ve adored his many books — from stellar works on literature (From Homer to Harry Potter) and scholarly tomes on the ecological vision of both Tolkien and Lewis — both on Kent State University Press. He has a few books about fishing and the glories of streams; he has some self published fantasy novels that we stock. His Mind and the Machine was one of the first books Brazos published and was ahead of its time, reflecting on what it means to be human in an age of automation and technology. He’s a reader, a lit lover, and outdoorsman and Christian ecologist. He’s worked with the Christian fellowship group (with IVCF) at Middlebury College in Vermont where he teaches. He has lectured widely on the Lord of the Rings books and he’s does it so, so well. And now, this.

This is a book about what we might call Christian mentoring or evangelical spiritual direction or, as the title puts it, the making of disciples. More loosely, it is about pastoring, about caring, about helping others in their journey of faith. Whether you are a church educator or a campus minister, a teacher or older friend to younger Christians, this is one of the many, many books on disciple-making, many that are very useful and important, but one that is unique. It explores disciple-making as a whole-life project — not just one’s “spiritual” life, but all of life — and it does so quite aware of the idols and ideologies of the Western culture in which we find ourselves.

Ahh, yes, this is it. We need to move ministry from head to heart to hands and feet, realizing we are what we love and our loves must be renewed in the way of Christ. That is, he gets the most profound stuff within the faith-formation literature. And we have to do all this whole-life mentoring under the Lordship of Christ across all sides of life within the culture we find ourselves in.

Do you get the subtitle? Matthew uses his literary and cultural awareness to pin-point for us the stress points, the danger zones, of living in our modern world. There are other idols and obstacles to a faithful discipleship with Jesus, but he focuses on three: our idolatry of power, our need for comfort, and our culture of fear. Oh, my. Nobody has done this and we should be grateful for this contextualized vision of wholistic discipleship. Preachers, teachers, campus ministers, parents, disciple-makers of all sorts should get this book and ponder it carefully.

When my friend Steve Garber recommends a book — and he is discerning about what he so publicly endorses, more than I am, I’d say — it makes it a no-brainer decision to read it. If Steve advises us to read something, we should. Listen to his lovely and inviting comments about Matthew’s book here:

“Like the best words always are, ‘apprentice’ is rooted in the generations before us, making sense of the way we learn. At its heart it is about binding oneself to someone who knows more. In reading Matthew Dickerson we are drawn into his long apprenticeship to J. R. R. Tolkien, the master story-teller whose moral imagination shapes every soul who enters into his world of hobbits and their ways. But the thread that weaves this tale is about learning to learn to follow Jesus — not the pursuit of the power of a ring — and therefore a pilgrimage in the imitation of Christ, of binding ourselves to the truest truths of the universe.”

–Steven Garber, author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good and A Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Work and Worship, 

Whether you love Tolkien as Matthew Dickerson and Steve Garber do, you should consider this important little book. In an age of individualism and consumerism, of temptations and shallowness, we need these kinds of good words. It shouldn’t surprise us that Matt opens the book with an epigram from the late Eugene Peterson from his book The Jesus Way. It is dedicated to the memories of Eugene and Janice.

Created to Draw Near: Our Life as God’s Royal Priests Edward Welch (Crossway) $17.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is yet another book we ordered a good handful of months ago with plans to highlight it at an event, an event that was long ago cancelled. I sure hope some of our BookNotes readers know Ed Welch, author of the powerful Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection, another so many of us need, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, and the popular, punchy book about the idolatry that lurks under co-dependency, When People Are Big and God Is Small. I love the title What Do You Think of Me And Why Do I Care? He is a Bible-based counselor who writes about grace but who some find a bit tough; he knows a bit about anger and fear and shame and addictions and our other all-to-human foibles. (Okay, that’s my word: he calls ’em sins.) But he also knows this: that we were created to rule the creation with Christ, that we are adopted as beloved children of a very good God and turned into His priests!  Yes, yes, this is majestic, glorious Biblical material that we don’t hear responsibly broken open for us very often. 

There are few heavy things going on in this engaging, accesible work. First, yes, God is holy. We are called to be holy. Priests have some work in that arena and as we become priests we mediate that to the watching world, to the whole creation. We are made to be royal priests, wired to be in relationship with each other and creation and God, a God who is holy,

So, we need to understand some of this in order to live into our call to be fully human.  This fiesty book is theologically solid, yet, because it is so surprising to some, it might seem wild, provocative even. Yet, Welch is a non-nonsense writer, workmanlike and reliable. He will deepen (maybe even change) your view of God and thereby will be transformative about your view of yourself. Yep, that’s how it works. Tozer was pretty right, that the most important thing that determines our view of life is, in fact, our view of God. So Welch starts there. And it leads to all sorts of implications of being made in the very image of a ruling, creating, caring, holy God.

Listen to these two different voices saying something important about this robust book.

“You have your grace books and your older holiness books. At times, they exist in two different worlds. Not for Ed Welch. In a book full of rich insights that link the Old and New Testaments, Welch paints a picture of holiness and intimacy with God that makes you want to be holy. He widens our view of holiness, working to craft it into a vision of beauty. You’ll want to obey after reading this book.”
–Paul E. Miller, author, A Praying Life and J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life

“When some writers and preachers today suggest that the gospel is only about forgiveness, Ed Welch reminds us that it is also good news that God brings us into a life of holiness.”
–Gerald R. McDermott, Former Anglican Chair of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School


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IMPORTANT NEWS ABOUT DELAY OF “Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson” AND TWO NEW BOOKS, ONE BY EUGENE PETERSON and ONE BY HIS SON, ERIC — up to 30% OFF for a limited time only

Okay, first, the frustrating news. We have learned that A Burning in My Bones — the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier (to be published by Waterbrook) — has been delayed by the publisher until March 2021. It was to be released next week and we had quite a waiting list who had taken us up on our discounted pre-order offer.

We were shocked and disappointed when we heard of this and it took a while to learn why.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the book. (I’ve read an early manuscript and was interviewed by Winn for the research since Peterson was a customer and friend. It’s really good.) The family is very happy with it as are all involved. No, it is only a clear-eyed marketing decision due to the mess we are in with Covid and the pandemic and the forest fires (and the contention of the election, for that matter.) The publisher concluded that now just isn’t the best time to be sending out such an important book and they want to give it the marketing attention and retail space it deserves. It seems like a long time to wait but I suspect they are right. The publishing world is a hot mess right now.

This is a disappointment but in the long run will be better for the book itself. I’m writing a personal letter to those who had pre-ordered it from us here at Hearts & Minds explaining this delay. In case you didn’t see that in your inbox, we wanted to announce it here, now.

We are sorry for this unexpected situation; we know some of our customers had hoped to give Burning in My Bones as a gift this Fall. I hope more will add their names to the pre-order list (earning a 20% off and some other special perks from the publisher) and those that have already ordered it will allow us to send it next Spring. Please, do let us know if anything changes with your order.
But, now, the good news.

AND A HEARTS & MINDS SPECIAL OFFER, WHILE SUPPLIES: LAST 30% OFF — IF BUYING BOTH. 20% off if you are buying just one. Use the link at the bottom of this column to be taken to our secure order form page. Tell us what you want, we’ll do the rest.

Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son Eugene H. Peterson (NavPress) regularly $19.99 // $15.99 for one; $13.99 if buying both

Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful Church Eric E. Peterson (NavPress) regularly $19.99 // $15.99 for one; $13.99 if buying both

Instead of our customary BookNotes 20% off discount, we will deduct 30% off if you buy them both. You get 20% off for either one if you buy them singularly. That’s $15.99. But if you get both, our 30% off for the pair makes them just $13.99 each. That’s $27.98 for both.

We want to try to redeem this frustrating news that the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson, A Burning in My Bones, by Winn Collier, has been delayed from the expected October 2020 release to a projected mid-March 2021 release date. As I said above, this is not at all due to any problems with the manuscript or author but a wise decision to give the book a better shot at being known and purchased next Spring. These are distracted times and a book this good and this important deserves to be well marketed, and we trust that the good folks at Waterbrook, owned by Random House, know how best to determine these things. We are sad, but glad, that they have the best interest in the book in mind. We are still taking pre-orders for it. It means a lot to many of us, and it means a lot to us.

So we will make you another Peterson offer. Earlier this Spring, in the midst of the shut-down from the pandemic, we got a case of two great books, books I couldn’t wait to lay eyes on. One is a set of letters from father Eugene, then a retired Presbyterian pastor, to his pastor son, Eric. The other is a book — in the form of a set of letters to his own newly formed church — from young pastor Eric. To say these are Peterson-esque is a tongue-in-cheek joke. How could they not be? The are by Eugene and Eric Peterson! Of course they are Peterson-esque.

Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son starts off with this great story: Eric explains that he felt unsure about his pastoral chops as a newish pastor, and wanted some advice from his dad, not unlike the encouragement offered in the Bible by the elder Paul to the younger Timothy. Eric says he was glad that his dad didn’t say, “Well, yes, I’ve already written a number of books about this very thing, the spirituality and practices of being a pastor, and you should read them.” No, his dad took up the task of writing, writing to his son as a Barnabas or a Paul to a sometimes befuddled Timothy trying to find his stride in this hard vocation of being a pastor.

This book collects letters carefully written by Eugene over almost a decade.

So there are two beautiful things, at least, going on it Letters to a Young Pastor. There is the father-son aspect, letters from a Godly man to his adult son. Gene didn’t just send Eric his books. Few of us get to engage in this kind of intentional lovely discourse, and even if we did, most of our dads where not quite like Eugene Peterson.  So there is some tender stuff here, most that are very autobiographical, including fairly typical reports about his life with Jan and news about their other son and daughter. Like good letter writers of older eras, much of this is both mundane and stunningly beautiful. Most is not dramatic, but it is instructive in so many ways. How interesting to eavesdrop on these intimate conversations about Peterson’s own call, his work, his travels, his writing, his days off. I gasped a bit — but, frankly was not surprised — when he told about a book he had just ordered (from us here at Hearts & Minds!) I was glad to see him comment on Wee Kirk, the Presbyterian gathering for small congregations where he on occasion preached and taught. I was happy to read his letters that so affirmed his love and confidence in his adult son.

Of course, another part of Letters to a Young Pastor is Eugene’s conversationally offer teaching points about faith and discipleship, church work, pastoring. These are usually subtle, not forced, usually rooted in a story for his own past. A congregant he encounter, a book he read, a denominational exec he talked with, the aggravation he felt by the pressure to use sales-force lingo and sociology and marketing, the sad ethos of the Christian community.  It is the very early 2000s (and following) when Eugene Peterson was writing these to pastor Eric, so much of this is conjured from rememberance of his earlier Maryland years and yet it feels like a live journal. For the fans of the writing of Eugene Peterson, this is now an essential volume in his body of work. It includes 37 letters, a poem, and is over 200 pages. What a treasure Eric has compiled for us all. It is a gift and we are grateful.

There is so much wisdom here for pastors, so you might earn favor with yours by buying it for him or her. But we who are not ministers will enjoy it, too. There’s so many interesting moments — his telling Eric about a brand new book called Gilead by one Marilynne Robinson or his enthusiasm for the new novel by Leif, Eric’s brother, called Catherine’s Wheels. He talks about meetings with publishers and about lectures he is preparing which eventually become books and he talks about friends who have left the church. He even lists some jokes.

Eric writes,

Eugene H. Peterson was my dad. But he was also the holiest man I have either known or know of. His life formed me to be the person and pastor I am more than I would even venture to guess. I. hope that, in the pages that follow, you will allow the legacy of his enduring spirit to converse with you, as well.  Eric E. Peterson


Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful Church, with a uniform, hardback cover, is by Eric Peterson.This companion book to the letters from Eugene Peterson is also rich, wonderful, and a truly edifying resource for anyone who cares about the integrity of congregational life. As much as I deeply loved Letters to a Young Pastor, to be honest, despite his lack of fame and reputation, this recent book by son Eric is perhaps an even better book. It is simply remarkable to have such a literate pastor who shares the style and tone and much of the orienting perspective of one of our most respected pastoral voices without it feeling like a copy-cat, affectatious, second-hand. No, it is clear that this is substantial and authentic. There are other books like this — pastoral letters written to a local flock — and this is by far the best I’ve read.

(Okay, except maybe for the fictional collection by Peterson biographer Winn Collier, who wrote several years ago a book Eugene loved called Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church which had the benefit of not needing to be stuck in the quotidian of real ordinary life. That is, it was a novel, for Pete’s sake, so it isn’t quite a fair comparison. But those are some great letters, there.)

Eric Peterson’s Letters… is a bit like that novel, actually, and he’s a very fine writer. Like his father, he cares about the ordinary, writes with a plainspoken heft, solid and clear. Funny that he isn’t luminous or elegant but yet is artful and literary. It’s a good style and it suits his voice, as it did his famous fathers. Unlike the fictional church in the Winn Collier novel, but somewhat like Eugene’s earlier setting, these letters are (as the title suggests) written to members of a church plant, a new church development, as some call it. These are letters from the pastor to the people of Colbert Presbyterian Church in Colbert, in the mountains of Eastern Washington state.

In 200 pages this epistolary collection unfolds in four majors sections. The first batch of letters are under the topic “What My Life Is All About” and the second set explore “What God Is About.” The third section is “What the Church is About” while the last set of letters instruct his congregation on “What Following Jesus is All About.” These are not quit sermons, but they are inspiring. They are not quite theological essays, but they are informative and thoughtful. They are pastoral letters, down to Earth, visionary and yet placed. Set in place.

In the very moving introduction, Eric writes of being raised in the church. (Quite literally, too, since his childhood during Eugene and Jan’s early days at Christ our King the worship space for the church plant was their basement, where Eric later had his bedroom, complete with left-over liturgical furniture.) It’s a great little read — don’t miss it. In the final pages of that opening piece, he shares that near the end of Eugene’s life he delivered one of his dad’s lectures for him, at Princeton Theological Seminary. Eric knew the thunderous applause was for his dad, even as he had voiced the words.  And then he writes,

As dementia robbed him of his fertile imagination, I did some ghostwriting to help him meet his remaining commitments. The task of a ghostwriter is to communicate the ideas of another, and to do this in their own voice. I’ll never forget the first time I did this. After spending half a day attempting to “channel” Eugene, trying to get the words and the voice to sound like him, I pushed back from my desk and said to myself, “I no longer know where his voice ends and mine begins.”

I suppose the same could be said for the letters that here follow, and anyone familiar with Eugene’s writing will readily detect his influence on mine. My pastoral voice has developed largely through the many years and many conversations we have shared together to the point where it’s not always clear just where his ends and mine begin. Although Eugene died on October 22, 2018, I often feel as though he is still overseeing my life and ministry.

In death no less than life, he has been both my father and my bishop. With much gratitude, this volume is dedicated to his memory.

These are a very nice and valuable pair of books. We are happy to sell them, as it is what we do, as we did with Eugene. (When he writes in one of his old letters to Eric that a “friend” “put him on” to a certain author, believing that is was me just made me weep.) It’s honorable work, Peterson told me once, and so we invite you now to buy these books.

We have this offer, now, at least, while supplies last. Instead of our customary BookNotes 20% off discount, we will deduct 30% off if you buy them both. You get 20% off for either one if you buy just one. That comes to $15.99. But if you get both, our 30% off for the pair makes them $13.99 each. That’s $27.98 for both.

Please let us know if you’d rather have us send the order the least costly way (US Postal Media Mail) which can be slow. For one or two books that is usually about $3.25; a bit extra for more books, of course. Some people request the speedy US Postal Priority Mail option. For about $7 or so for two books, it is as quick as UPS and a whole lot cheaper.

Do, please, let us know your preference.


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20 Books I Should Have Told You About Before – all 20% OFF

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, friends. Since some of you are quarantining or at least trying not to be out and about much, you may have some time to settle in and read this loquacious BookNotes. Believe me, it’s been long in coming. I’ve literally shed tears over my inability to get this information about books to you.

We actually have stacks of some of these titles that have been sitting here, as if mocking me, since March or April. Many we ordered (shall we say) extras of, in months previous anticipating selling them at this or that event in the Spring, to this gathering or that conference or yet another retreat or off-site bookselling gig. We’ve lost nearly half our income by losing all these on-the-road Borger bookmobile extravaganzas. The books are here. And we’re still closed for in store browsing here at the shop.

We are doing lots of curbside pickup and outdoor book selling in the yard behind the shop. If you’re in central PA, give us a ring — we’d love to visit, with masks, out by our rear parking area.
Please call us at 717-246-3333.

If you are farther away or can’t get out — no worries. You can send us an order for any of these books now (just click on the ORDER link at the end of this column) and tell us what you want and how you want them sent. We’ll get them out at our our sale prices right away.

For those authors who are friends of our store, who have sent customers our way to buy your books, we are especially grateful. If we’re going to survive in this new mode, we have to have more readers discover us, and we’re glad for those who are H&M cheerleaders. We wished we could have done more to serve you and your baby. The publishing world is a hot mess right now, and we are grateful for your patience and support.

For now, here are 20 books that I hope you will consider buying. I feel awful for some of the authors and their publishers who did not expect their work to be scuttled under the tragedy of pandemic and mass illness. I’ll admit even now it’s hard to be too exuberant knowing that we have lost over 200,000 of our fellow Americans this past half a year. (And so many more, worldwide!) Yet, despite all, we read on, and we honor these 20 (or more) authors who have worked hard putting their words down for our enjoyment and growth. Let’s support them by buying a few extra books this season. Maybe you could even buy some for those who might not otherwise pick up such titles or who cannot afford them. Seems like a quiet way to improve our world, to contribute to culture, to steward and spread goodness, sowing ideas of grace and beauty, justice and faith. Spread some book love around, y’all. You’ll be glad you did.

All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Devine Delight  Richard J. Mouw (Baker Academic) $21.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Well, well. This one is first for a reason. It is one of the few books that actually talk about our bookstore and has a fairly lengthy excerpt of something I once wrote at BookNotes. (“We’re even in a footnote!” I shouted to Beth, book nerd that I am.) If I’m being honest I have to admit how very proud this makes us feel and how honored we are that this world-renowned theologian and writer and global Christian leader chose to focus on a story I told about our own past.

It is a story that Mouw knows a bit about, revolving, in part, around a Dutch Reformed, worldviewish, philosopher/social organizer who inspired young people in Western Pennsylvania in the 1970s, out of which came the now famous Jubilee conference run by the CCO in Pittsburgh (as well as other lasting missions and ministries, such as extraordinary Pittsburgh Urban Christian School.) Dr. Peter J. Steen was the star of my little story that Mouw cited although he is only mentioned in passing. Dr. Mouw knew him from his own career in philosophy in those years (then at Calvin College) and while Mouw isn’t nearly as flamboyant as the energetic and colorful Dr. Steen, they read some of the same books (such as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, and Bob Goudzwaard, in Dutch, even) and had a penchant for social analysis that was radical and wide-ranging. They both knew Al Wolters, author of Creation Regained, who perhaps popularized the phrase “reformational” while he was at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, a decidedly neo-Calvinist graduate and PhD institution of higher education. It was Steen that first turned me on to Walter Brueggemann and Peter Berger and it may have been Mouw that first got me interested in John Howard Yoder. And they both read Newbigin early on; they taught on issues like ecological stewardship and Christian political theories and took up the cause of racial justice in concert with a young John Perkins. As conservative Calvinist theologians, neither would have fully approved of the idiosyncrasies of the thought of, say, Brueggemann or Yoder, but they were in those kinds of ecumenical dialogues long before some postmodern-ish emergent church planters took up those authors decades later. Steen’s teaching about the deepest, ultimate concerns that shape one’s life perspective introduced us to the word worldview before any other author or speaker I knew and predicted the insights of the likes of Derrida and other postmodernists who rejected the alleged religious neutrality of autonomous reason.

Just to sort of frame all of this one more time, authors we promote here that you may have heard of who were influenced by this robust teaching about philosophy and the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemption of the likes of Dr. Steen include James K.A. Smith, Calvin Seerveld, Steve Garber, Brian Walsh — each writers that I care about, and who would agree that in one way or another, Steen left a mark in our circles in Western Pennsylvania and which in turn inspired Beth and I to start our ecumenical bookstore in 1982.

Anyway, this renegade philosopher / mentor taught us to think about the Dutch statesman/theologian Abraham Kuyper’s teaching of common grace — that “all truth is God’s truth” as Arthur Holmes used to say — which is a remarkably potent theological doctrine that invites us to be curious about God’s world, to affirm the goodness in many fine things in life, and to appreciate that in which God takes delight, whether those things seem inherently religious or not. It is this doctrine — its controversies and implications, both happy and troubling — that professor Mouw walks us through in this fabulous and wide-ranging book. It is even better than his first fascinating foray into the topic almost 20 years ago, He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Eerdmans; $15.99.)

(I have often said that for many in the mainline and sacramental churches, this common grace stuff goes without saying. By intuition they feel no shame in enjoying sports, R-rated movies, engaging in ordinary civic affairs, reading popular science magazines about evolution.  But my, oh my, the grief we might avoid and the faithfulness to God that we could deepen if we could articulate why it is right and good to be fully engaged in ordinary human activities, to break out of the rather lame orientation described by Niebuhr as merely Christ plus culture. Those in more fundamentalist or evangelical congregations, however, have been more leery– or they used to be, at least — of worldly pursuits and trivial social involvments and, again, my oh my, what great joy it could bring, and what freedom, if the doctrine of the goodness of creation and the common grace offer by a righteous Creator, were known, understood, and well articulated. In other words, Mouw’s teaching here is important for most church folks no matter where you are on the denominational or theological spectrum.)

Anyway, we’d truly love it if you ordered All That God Cares About because what Mouw is doing here (besides quoting me, which really isn’t that important, finally) is foundational to why we started Hearts & Minds in the first place. I don’t need to rehearse this matter too much, but it is true that over the last decades what has come to be called “Christian bookstores” are those shops that are known for not carrying classic fiction, for not offering much by way of poetry or the arts, for refusing to carry much about science, let alone environmental science. You know those Christian bookstores that until recently didn’t have a section in the store about race relations; the revivals of concern about injustice over the past 20 years just passed most of them by because the books they carried and the topics they viewed as proper to a regiment of Christian reading were narrow. They were too often constricted by the narrow range of subjects they carried and the largely ultra-conservative perspective they brought when they did curate books on current affairs or social ethics.

Few Christian bookstores — in air quotes, of course, since we are referring to the conservative evangelical Protestant Christian bookstores; Catholic and Epsiopalian stores existed as well, although not well known among many in the popular culture or wider publishing industry — when we first opened dared to stock Catholic books on Anabaptist books or books by mainstream Protestants. We did and do. They had bumper stickers and Jesusy whirligigs, but little on business or work, the arts, farming, or science. They had books by right wing celebrity stars — books by Ollie North justifying his death squads and lying under oath, say — but not many other books about current events. They just didn’t get it that God cared about all of life and that a follower of Jesus should therefore read widely, caring about what God cared about. And — more to the point of Mouw’s book — that we could enjoy the things God seems to enjoy.

Mouw doesn’t talk about any of that bookstore stuff, of course; I just use it as our own illustration of how his theme of common grace informed us early on and why this new study seems so important to me. Mouw’s argument in favor of a broad-mindedness in thinking and a generous willingness to see some good in most things (from ancient Chinese art to secular science to modern sporting events) is rooted in this unique exploration of “divine delight.” Does God care about recreation or art or fashion design? Can part of our daily discipleship include reading secular novels or watching crime shows on TV or being happy about our favorite hockey team? If God cares and even enjoys human activities, then dare we?  Or, dare we not?

To say yes to this question bears remarkable consequences, for good and perhaps for ill. Mouw is balanced and careful as he walks us through some deep weeds in one particular theological tradition that has grappled with this idea, but he does it so well and explains its implications so clearly that those of us who are not Dutch or Calvinist (as he is) will still want to follow along, learning from the ups and downs of his own religious denominations and social ministries and debates.

I wish someday to seriously review this marvelous book, chapter by informative chapter. I would love to show why this fascinating theological controversy could add heft to our instinct to “practice the presence of God” and find a sense of the sacred amidst the quotidian occurrences of our daily lives. For now, I can only tell you this backstory of why Beth and I appreciate Mouw’s good work, his celebration of God’s concerns about stuff that goes on beyond the boundaries of the church and we think that those who read BookNotes (that would be you, dear reader) would benefit from reading any of Mouw’s books, but especially this recent one. We like his phrase “common grace” and we like how he explains it (as well as how he explains and replies to the objections some have to it, all that he takes judiciously.) All That God Cares About is theology at its best — readable, interesting, fair, informative, inspiring, and with great, great consequence for how we live, day by day, as God’s own children.

Listen to this:

“Vincent Van Gogh once said, ‘The great thing is to gather new vigor in reality.’ This is exactly what Mouw is doing in All That God Cares About. He is gathering new vigor for our undivided attention to the reality of God’s world. Rather than sludging through the embattled history of the doctrine of common grace in our Calvinian camps, Mouw compels us to apprehend and admire the coruscations of God’s glory shed abroad in this fallen world.” — Tim Blackmon, chaplain, Wheaton College

“God takes delight! Mouw has given many of us the gift of that truth through his writing and speaking and very being! In this clearly written book he engages many thinkers to help us know that redemption is cosmic in scope and to help us appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit beyond the boundaries of the Christian community.”
— Katherine Leary Alsdorf,  Global Faith & Work Initiatives, Redeemer City to City

“In this winsome book, Mouw takes readers on an enlightening tour of the theologies of creation, redemption, and eschatology undergirding his hopeful theology of common grace. Irenic but never shy to respond to critique, Mouw gives us a book that will engage and inform readers from a wide range of theological standpoints. A delight to read!”
— J. Todd Billings, Western Theological Seminary

Here is a very short little clip of Mouw delightfully talking about some of these ideas.

Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference Timothy Keller & John Inazu (Thomas Nelson) $25.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Several years ago we met Dr. Inazu (author of Confident Pluralism, a University of Chicago title that argues for a profound and respectful structural pluralism, part public etiquette guide and part political theory about how to create just space for all with a high value on religious freedom.) We are fans. We were glad when the famous Manhattan Presbyterian pastor hosted him at Redeemer in New York (and got the books for the gig from us.) This book emerged from their various conversations, inviting evangelical Christians to write about how the navigate the tensions of serving the common good in a world of great difference. These are well written essays, testimonials, stories and arguments for convicted civility, for engaging well in this era of toxic conflict.

There are three parts to this, with four chapters in each: Framing Our Engagement, Communicating Our Engagement, and Embodying Our Engagement. With contributors such as Trillia Newbell, Lacrae, Kristen Deede Johnson, and Rudy Carrasco (not to mention Keller and Inazu) it is hard to pick favorite pieces. I will say, though, that I have read and re-read the chapter by Tish Harrison Warren on being a writer, and loved hearing from singer songwriter Sarah Groves.

I suppose I don’t have to explain how very significant this project is, this 21st century conversation about how to recover a sense of being salty salt and bright light and effective leaven in the loaf. Somehow our churches have become hostile to the watching world or so eager to be seen as not extremist or pushy that we’ve nearly blended into the secular culture with a chameleon faith. These authors tell stores that are both winsome and principled, taking stands but in ways that are gracious and helpful. These are the sorts of people we aspire to be, I think, at our best, thoughtful, intentional, gracious, and innovative, even as we seek to honor God in all we do. Highly recommended.

Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics Eugene Cho (Cook) $17.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Speaking of civility, this is one we all need right now (myself included, for sure!) The witty title and the playful cover don’t do this book justice as it is a serious work by a very serious guy. Rev. Cho, formerly a pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, also was the founder of One Day’s Wages, a grassroots movement of people working to alleviate global poverty. This good work led him to his new job, the Executive Director of Bread for the World, the respected citizen’s lobby organization that inspires and equips people of faith to advocate for anti-hunger legislation. Filling the shoes of heros such as BFW founder Arthur Simon and the previous Director, David Beckman, will be daunting for the younger, more hip and evangelical Cho. But if this fun book about civility and building coalitions for the Kingdom of God and just political policies is any indication, Cho is going to lead Bread into a good new future.

This is a fine book (among many these days) that offer a balanced and Biblically-guided vision and a faithful prophetic imagination to move us towards voting in ways that honor God’s own heart for social justice, even as we stay in friendship and fellowship with others who see things differently than we do. Cho’s friend and mentor Dr. John Perkins says “I have been waiting for this book… we need to hear and embody this message!”

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

Oh my, I hope you know what a good and captivating writer Ms McEntyre is, the good words she has offered for for us in so many beautiful books. I know I’ve raved often about her Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies and many have simply been transformed by the loveliness of her wise, little Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts. I have loved her daily devotional called Word By Word and have quoted out loud from her When Poets Pray in talks I have done about the power of books and words and, yes, poems. She is a writer who you should know and who for many is nearly a patron saint. Back before the Spring I ordered a whole case to promote at our upcoming events. You who attend gigs like EAPCE and the UCC clergy convocations and the Episcopal Bishop’s retreat in Cape May and the CCO staff training institute — I was going to tell you all about this, and I figured you’d love it!

Speaking Peace, you see, is not only a guide to civility in our frayed democracy, not only a resource alongside the likes of Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency or Arthur Brooks’s book about “the culture of contempt.”  In a sense it is closer to the fabulous and insightful How the Body of Christ Talks by C. Christopher Smith. It is less an essay on incivility and the loss of civil discourse, but more, a celebration and manifesto about the power of words. It is about how to use words wisely and well. Drawing on the Biblical line in Colossians 4, it could have been called something like seasoned speech. As Leslie Leyland Fields (herself quite a wordsmith and wise writer) says, “Marilyn McEntyre has been quietly shepherding us toward God’s intention of language as a gift rather than a weapon. She’s done it again.”

As Paula Huston puts it, Speaking Peace is “written with her signature intelligence and poetic flair.” Can we reclaim “the nobility of language and its power to heal”? I assure you, this book will startle you, awaken something within you, and impress you in important ways.

Buy several — please!

Bridging Theory and Practice in Children’s Spirituality: New Directions for Education, Ministry, and Discipleship edited by Mimi L. Larson & Robert J. Keeley  (Zondervan) $22.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Every Spring for many, many, years, Beth and I (and, more recently, our oldest daughter Stephanie) have played a role at the annual Eastern APCE Conference — that’s the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, thanks for asking — and we missed it so badly this year. We miss these humble and often beloved local church educators that love children and adult formation, that study heady stuff about education theory and our social context and broad Reformed theology as it relates to the shelter and nurture of the children of God in the local congregation. We miss their exuberant dedication to children’s books and their love of creativity and their passion for learning. This book, quite simply, would have sold out there, I’m sure of it.

Mim Larson is a professor of Christian formation and ministry at Wheaton, visiting there on loan from her work as children’s ministry catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries in the Christian Reformed Church. They do very good work and she is a fabulous, respected scholar-practitioner. She has served in the local parish, participated in curriculum development and authors books and book chapters.

Robert Kelley is professor of education at Calvin University (and also teaches discipleship and faith formation at Calvin Theological Seminary.) He wrote Helping Our Children Grow in Faith (Baker Books; $15.00) which we have sold well over the years. He’s a lively teacher and good writer.

Putting the two of these leaders together to edit a cutting edge volume about this shift from scholarship to practice, from theory to embodiment, was a stroke of genius. And they pulled together an extraordinary case to help offer a great resource for anyone serious about influencing a children’s spirituality and faith development. As the publisher’s promise, this book will help us “explore the different contexts and methods” that can help us accomplish this. The blend of practical application and theoretical understanding makes this widely appealing, and we are very glad to tell you about it now.

And what a great array of contributors — including a chapter by John Roberto who had been scheduled to be the keynote speaker for our Eastern APCE event. There are chapters here about racial diversity in children’s faith formation, surveys of different schools of thought and theologies of children’s ministry, good stuff about the role of the family and the role of the church. There is a chapter on childern’s grief, a chapter on play, and an important chapter on what do to about “white” spirituality in children’s curriculum. Bridging Theory and Practice in Children’s Spirituality, unlike some similar anthologies, doesn’t have a bad chapter in it. We hope you’d consider getting one for leaders in the children’s ministry in your church.

(And if you are a long-time APCE friend, what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone or send us an email. You’ve got to have this one!!)

Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World Tara Isabella Burton (PublicAffairs) $28.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is one of those books that had I had capacity in the hectic times of the most serious shut-down I’d have read and studied and pondered and critiqued. From dipping in I can say for sure that it is an enjoyably written work, remarkable, really. And it is an oddball book that has caught much attention, surprisingly, I think. Ms Burton is clearly on to something here and she invites us into the story with verve and immersive, storytelling genius. Rod Dreher — himself quite a storyteller — says that with this book, “Tara Isabella Burton establishes herself as her generations’s foremost chronicler of American religious life.” And the “religious life” she is exploring is less the Lutheran liturgies or the Methodist services or the Presbyterian prayers or the evangelical worship gatherings, but the “spiritual anarchy” (as Dreher puts it) that is emerging in practices and communities that are replacing classic Christianity. We are, as a people, becoming both more and less religious at the same time. That is something I heard Len Sweet predict decades ago, and now we are swimming in it.

That is, Burton explores stuff like Harry Potter devotes, ideologies of sex, practitioners of magic, the post-new-age wellness movement, and the like, and notes they are still longing for connections and community, forging new kinds of sacred spaces, searching for transcendent meaning. Ahh, if only they’d read Jamies Smith’s On the Road with Saint Augustine, but I digress.

Just listen to these remarks about the importance of this research:

“A bracing tour through the myriad forms of bespoke spiritualism and makeshift quasi-religions springing up across America.”
―The Wall Street Journal

“An essential work for anyone interested in understanding — or addressing — our rapidly transforming cultural and religious landscape.”
Christianity Today

“A lesser writer and a colder intellect would have been content simply to mock the video-gaming, Soul-Cycling communicants of our “Remixed” Great Awakening. Yet in Strange Rites, Tara Isabella Burton grasps that strangeness entails ecstatic power as well as oddity, and that even folly in search of transcendent meaning merits empathy, not apathy–the difference between a merely lively read and a profound one.”―Giselle Donnelley, Research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road Matthew B. Crawford (William Morrow) $28.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Hey, friends, it’s not too late to go for a joy ride and get in on this one — what a fascinating, fun, read for those who are philosophically inclined and who love the open road. I suppose you know by now that Matthew Crawford is an important name, author of two books that are astute and profround and unlike almost anything you’ve ever read. A lot of our smartest customers really like his work a lot.

His first major release was Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Penguin; $17.00) where he tells the story of being dissatisfied with the feel of pointlessness in his white collar, academic job and how he opened and found joy in his own motorcycle repair shop. That becomes the basis for thinking hard about why we tend to devalue blue collar work these days, why shop classes are on the decline in American schools, and how to ponder more seriously the meaning of education and work. It was, in some ways, the intellectual foundation for much of the contemporary maker movement. It’s still a book we tend to sell a copy or two of almost anywhere we take it.

Crawford’s second important book studied and wrote about workers who are good with their hands. It’s deeper than that, and his exploration of embodied practices — think of a worker trained in the detailed art of repairing large pipe organs or an employee valued because of the “body memory” of what she can naturally do (“without thinking” we say) — has much to offer all of us. These kinds of tasks cannot be mechanized, but in the world of “information science” and automation we are failing to appreciate this deeply human way to be embodied and attentive to the realities of God’s world around us. And so, he wrote the splendid, useful, wise, the World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Farrar, Straus, Giroux; $17.00.) It’s a very good book for all of us, no matter what style of work we do, since we all live in our bodies and in the joys and constraints of God’s real world.

Which brings us to his big, fat, new hardback which is about driving cars. I’m not kidding: if you follow is work, it flows exactly from his other two.  As it says on the back:

As we become ever more pacified in so many domains of life, I want to explore this one domain of skill and freedom — driving — before it is too late, and make a case for defending it.

Is he pushing back against what we lose when we give ourselves over to driverless cars? Yes indeed. Is in a bit in the linage of, say, Neil Postman and his Technopoly? Yep. (He has a chapter called “The Diminishing Returns of Idiot-Proofing as a Design Principle” and calls driverless cars a push towards “moral reeducation.”) Does he make tons of fabulous observations about the joy and art and skill of driving, about being out on the highways? Oh yes, what a fun writer he is! Does he along the way do what we Christians might call an idol out of human freedom, about (as he puts it) “autonomy”? Is it a little weird that he calls driving a sort of “humanism.” Yes, yes, yes. But it’s still a helluva book — with lots about the common good and road rage and feeling the road and the DMV and managing traffic, and bikes, too. I can’t wait to read more of it soon. I’m sure you know somebody who would love it.

Crawford writes ecstatically of driving, evoking the sense of release and agency of flooring it out of the city as “a shady country road reels out ahead in rhythmic curves.” … But Why We Drive is about driving like Moby-Dick is about whaling. … Crawford has something important to say.– San Francisco Chronicle

Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $26.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

What a Springtime it was, with students graduating, college commencements, new seasons for new considerations. I wanted to shout about my own book of graduation speeches for college grads, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life but whenever folks were asking about new stuff that would be good gifts for grads in these past months I found my self wanting to tell them about Dream Big that had just come out in early June. I am a big fan of Bob Goff and his books — his last one was the great year-long devotional Live in Grace, Walk in Love that had 365 new Goff stories, each interwoven with a solid Bible teaching. After Love Does and Everybody Always and the newish devo, Bob needed to shift gears just a bit. So many people were asking him how he did what he did — starting schools in war zones, taking phones calls at all hours from around the world, being supportive of great people and their good causes. He started and took on the road a series of  “Dream Big” workshops that were whimsical gatherings of upbeat encouragement but also serious coaching to help people take steps to do what they really wanted to do in life. Apparently these retreats were life-changing and helped launch into the world all manner of new resolve to do good stuff.

Dream Big: Know What You Want…, then, is the big-hearted, humorous, faith-infused, practical (well, sometimes practical) visionary guidebook to discerning what one might do to get one with one’s life. To be honest, as one who has helped start up some neat projects and who started a business out of nothing, I am not a fan of most of these breathy, you-can-do-it self help books. I might not have read this if I didn’t know Goff would minister to me as a storyteller who points us to Christ.  But ya know what? I loved this. It made me think, helped me ponder some important issues in my own life, and I came away wanting to tell others about it.

Goff is a genius at using inspiring metaphors and examples. In a chapter on “figuring out what is holding you back” he brings up Stockholm Syndrome. He wonders if we are clinging with affection to the very things that are holding us hostage. The chapter is cleverly called “Hostage Negotiation”and I’ve read it three times. He uses an apt image, too, when he tells about a drawer in his house full of keys that they don’t want to discard because they might need them. But, of course, they don’t know what the keys are for, which locks they unlock. (#metoo anyone?) So he reminds us that that box of keys is like the hang-ups in our lives. “They are habits and beliefs and pattersn that may have served us at one point, but don’t any longer. Yet we still hang on to them thinking they might be useful later.”  “This,” he says, “is how limiting believe work.”

And then the next chapter is about what he calls “launching beliefs” that, somehow, through God’s grace, most of us also have floating around in our heads and hearts. They have quite a shelf life and he invites us to be aware of what is going on in our interior lives to hurt or help us. I suppose it’s psych 101, but it’s really well put and I think will be helpful for lots of us.  To make it clearer, just read the chapter “Pick the Vespa” which is classic Goff and just hilarious.

On the back cover Bob says he invites us not to settle for anything less than following our dreams and discovering our deeper purposes because, he insists, “God thinks you’re worth it.” “We need a path,” he says, “and I hope this book provides on that moves you toward you ambitions.” Are you willing to take steps to figure this out and release some amazing things into the world? Dream Big just might help you, no matter at what age or stage you find yourself. Heck, whether it works or not, it’ll be a blast reading it and you’ll surely be inspired to something reflective and new and maybe even exciting. And you’ll have his phone number, too. Buy the book and call him up. Just tell him I said hi and that I’m still dreaming those serious dreams. And then tell him about your own.

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

The textured dust-jacket on this nice hardback immediately feels right and it is good, because this is one of those books that one doesn’t read for new information or a few hours literary pleasure. There very well be new information here and there will be hours of reading enjoyment. But this is a book that feels significant. It feels beautiful. It is a book that — as Paul David Tripp says — “carefully and tenderly displays Christ’s heart.” As Michael Reeves (himself an author of a book on Christ, and another on the Trinity) says “For any feeling bruised, weary, or empty, this is the balm for you.”

Author Dane Ortlund is know in “Gospel Coalition” circles and is the chief publisher at Crossway. Here, he brings his PhD level studies and focuses supremely on this wondrous but beautiful notion: that God’s kindness for us is magnificent, that Christ’s heart is for us, especially when we are weak and broken. It starts with the kind invitation from Jesus, recorded in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

You should know that this tender and gentle book is weighty, not trivial and, in fact, draws heavily on a Puritan writer named Thomas Goodwin. Along the way he cites Jonathan Edwards, of course, and even the rare contemporary thinker such as Richard Baukhaum and Jorgen Moltmann, but the book is drenched in the work and vision of the Puritans like Sibbes, Owens, Bunyan, and his beloved Goodwin. If you’ve never spent time with these authors, this is a great introduction to this stream of Christian tradition and we are happy to recommend this.

God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul: Walking as Spiritual Practice Mark Buchanan (Zondervan) $25.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

It has been a long time since Mark Buchanan (one of my favorite evangelical wordsmiths) has put paper to pen and released a new book. We still recommend his older books, such as Your God Is Too Safe and we regularly sell his The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath (Nelson; $15.99.) I’d suggest him if you want a very fine writer who is thoughtful, serious, but not too stuffy or arcane, maybe like a Eugene Peterson, or even a Max Lucado if Max wrote more deeply, or a less mystical Richard Foster, maybe. So you respect the writing of Philip Yancey? This guy comes close, believe me. I love his colorful images and his tender stories and his clear-headed Biblical study and his keen vocabulary.

This new one is one I’m sure I would have announced at off-site gatherings this summer if we were with our friends at retreats. There is nothing like it and it is so, so interesting. This book is I think the best thing yet done on this topic — the spirituality of walking.

Roberts starts with a reflection on the famous Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama who wrote, famously, The Three Mile An Hour God.  As you might guess, this isn’t exactly about hiking — although outdoor and wilderness lovers will surely enjoy it — and it isn’t so pious as to be about what some call prayer-walking, either, although there is a chapter about prayer. No, it is a fully developed theology of the experience of human walking. And, man, does he cover it. There are 17 chapters, from “waking as friendship” “to “walking as remembering” to “walking as exorcism.” The first couple of chapters are fabulous, on “why we walk” and even the history of walking. He has ruminations on walking with animals, stuff about attentiveness, a chapter “for those who cannot walk.” This is a real modern day pilgrim’s progress as we follow a Lord who walked, the three mile an hour God.  This is lovely and probative and stimulating and fun and, I assure you, enriching to your soul. Walk slowly and order it soon!

“Literary masterpiece, written in prose full of energy and light. Contagiously fresh. Invitingly deep. On and on. The stuff of spiritual classics.”  —Darrell Johnson, retired pastor and professor; speaker; author, The Glory of Preaching;

“Poetic, poignant, and immensely practical, this book will change your life . . . one step at a time.” —Ken Shigematsu, pastor, Tenth Church, Vancouver; bestselling author, Survival Guide for the Soul

Spiritual Care in an Age of #BlackLivesMatter: Examining the Spiritual and Prophetic Needs of African Americans in a Violent America edited by Danielle J. Buhuro (Cascade) $31.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $24.80

Again, this was one of those books that I wished I had the ability to announce to the world a few months ago, but we just didn’t have that many BookNotes opportunities. Now, we are highlighting books that we think you should know about — maybe now more than ever. This is a collected anthology of very up-to-date pieces mostly by people of color, about what we might call pastoral care for at risk and traumatized people of color.  Buhuro is an ACPE Certified Educator/CPE Supervisor at Advocate Aurora South Suburban and Trinity Hospitals in Chicago. There is a significant foreword by Chanequa Walker-Barnes who wrote two other books we stock, Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength (Cascade; $28.00) and I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation (Eerdmans; $24.99.) As far as I know, there is nothing quite like this in print.

This is a thought-provoking book that will be demanding for some readers — yes, it uses critical race theory and it is forthright about the anguishes and angers carried by many African Americans and other minorities, naming them for the trauma that they are. The authors are professionally diverse, including clinical therapists and social workers, caregivers and seminary professors, psychologists and pastors and engaged scholars. It is serious, for professionals in caregiving careers or college professors doing research in these fields. It is fiesty and raw and a vivid call to hear what some who specialize in helping black lives flourish have to say as they analyze their specialty disciplines.

For instance, here are just a few of the 20 chapter — in the first part about “Caring for the Victims of Violence and Social Justice Activism” we have “From Viral to Voyeuristic: When Politic Brutality Videos Turn into Black Death Tourism; Self-care for Black Trauma” by Danielle Buhuro; “Domestic Violence and Pastoral Care in the Age of #BlackLivesMatters” by Sharon ellis Davis; “Creating Circles of Peace: Mindfulness as a Pastoral Response to Health, Education, and Violence in the Black Community” by Marsha Thomas.

In the second section (“Caring for Body and Soul in the Black Community”) there are chapters such as “Rethinking Interpretive Tools for a Liberating Spiritual Care” by Afri A. Atiba; in this section there are several chapters about mental health, about congregations engaged in suicide intervention and prevention, about food oppression in the black community, etc.

Part 3 includes essays under the heading of “Caring for African American Marriages, LGBTQIA Partnerships, and Families.” Here there are chapters about mate selection within the African American community, a moving piece about “The Talk” between black fathers and sons, and then in Part 4 there are several key chapters about caring as chaplains, about institutional settings that may be racist, about the need for CPE among African American clergy. There is a “manifesto” about black spiritual care in hospitals and even an essay about pastoral and spiritual care to African Americans in the United States Armed Forces.

This book isn’t designed for everyone, not even everyone who cares about the trauma of racism and the unique needs of black persons in our culture. But for those who want this kind of fiesty, professional anthology, I don’t know of anything like it.

By the way, I hope to review in greater detail later a new book that is more evangelical in tone, more conventional and less academic, but is another new, rare sort of resource. It is designed to bring the typically very white tradition of spiritual direction to the historic black church and, conversely, to help the typically white contemplative spirituality movement learn from those who embody spiritual gifts from the black church. Entitled Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara Peacock (IVP; $17.00 — SALE PRICE = $13.60) this suggests that “practices of spiritual formation are woven into African American culture and lived out in the rich heritage of its faith community.” I think many of our customers will find it informative and helpful.

As Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (author of A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World) comments about Soul Care… “The temptation of Western theological thought and spiritual formation is to ignore or deny the historical contributions of African Americans. Dr. Peacock does a wonderful job of introducing to some and reminding others of the role African American spiritual mothers and fathers have played in shaping the hearts of God’s people and a nation.”

Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World Paul Williams (Brazos Press) $19.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

As the pandemic spread and the quarantining caused the cancellation of our off-site events, I was asked to do some Zoom and Facebook Live book announcements for groups Beth and I usually serve. From staff training for the CCO to clergy convocations for the UCC to a Bishop’s retreat of Episcopal priests, we have quick shout outs to this at each. This book is so good for so many — drawing on a vivid and largely Reformed worldview that (in the spirit of Newbigin) pushes us to engage culture and think missionally about society, work, economics, and more, if helps us all learn to be “ambassadors of hope in a new Babylon.” This theme of exile is important for all of us in a post-Christian culture, of course, but it is really resonant now, after a period of being exiled from our church buildings, workplaces, favorite social haunts, maybe even our loved ones. The book isn’t about the dislocation we’ve felt this past Spring and Summer but God’s people flourishing on mission even in exile and in hard spaces certain works these days, doesn’t it?

Rave reviews and hearty blurbs on the back are from the aforementioned Tim Keller, our friend Amy Sherman (author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good), and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, co-author of Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work — surely one of the top two or three most substantial books in the “faith and work” movement. Williams taught “marketplace theology” at Regent College in British Columbia and is known for the extraordinary ReFrame video curriculum. I can’t say enough about it, it this short space, but it is an excellent read. Similar to last year’s fantastic Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World by Michael Goheen and Jim Mullins (Baker Academic; $22.99) and along with it, we have now just the absolutely best books for a full-orbed and wholistic cultural theology that is culturally contextualized and sweetly missional, deep, rich, and yet accesible. Highly recommended.

Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are Tim Soerens (IVP Praxis) $17.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

You may recall the wonderful book that Tim Soerens co-wrote a few years ago entitled The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community (IVP; $18.00.) I believe a case can be made that it is more important now, during Covid and the post-pandemic era, than even before. This new one is fantastic as well, offering a deeper dive into some of that hope about caring for place. Everywhere Your Look starts with the (sad but true) necessary reality check for many of us: there will be in the future fresh experiences of church that may be very different than the status quo. Older forms of church may not be sustainable. Lasting congregations, that we now tend to call faith communities, are increasingly being defined by a robust, Biblical ecclesiology that causes us to see ourselves as real communities and as Kingdom agents of what might be called a movement. As it says on the back cover, this book offers “a vision of the church grounded in a grassroots movement of ordinary people living out what it means to be church in their everyday lives.” It is what David Fitch calls “a manifest plea to all who are ready to give up on church” and what Michael Frost (clearly one of Soerens’s own mentors) says is “tender and rousing in equal measure.”

(By the way, I have to say, some of this brings to mind a recent edited collection by some friends of ours, scholars and practitioners of PC(USA) church planting and congregational development called Sustaining Grace that explores “innovative ecosystems” for new faith communities. It was put together by Scott Hagley, Karen Rohrer, and Mike Gerling (Wipf & Stock; $21.00) and we reviewed it in a BookNotes column a month ago.

Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are comes with a solid, several page foreword by Walter Brueggemann and it is nearly worth the price of admission to read that. Tim Soerens, though, is the real deal and it is very good to listen to him — even if you bristle at some of his anti-institutional church biases and are not as hopeful as he is about “building collaborative communities” in your neighborhood. He has paid attention to church life and inter-denominational collaborations and shared ministry efforts and he is a significant voice. Drawing on the likes of Alan Kreider’s The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Soerens guides us towards an agenda that trusts God enough that allows us to be patient, even as we seek the good of our neighborhoods and places and society.

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation Kristin Kobes Du Mez (Liveright) $28.95 – OUR SALE PRICE = $23.16

I would love to tell you much more about this; we respect the author immensely. She is a beloved professor of history at Calvin University in Grand Rapids; she herself grew up in the conservative Dutch Reformed faith community – her father was a theology professor at Dordt College in Iowa. So she is both a scholar of conservative American religion and very much a part of it.

A few years ago, by the way, Du Mez wrote a major, scholarly work on Katharine Bushnell and 19th century Christian feminism called A New Gospel for Women published by Oxford University Press ($34.95.) I once quipped that this new book, Jesus and John Wayne, is in a way a continuation of that story, the 20th century push-back against the dignity of women with the intentional celebration of macho-men and what some used to call “muscular Christianity.” The result has not been good and this oddly American expression of faith has had huge consequences for the witness of the evangelical church in the last few generations. And now, there’s, well, you know.

Of the many books out these days wondering how the far Christian right could have possibly gotten so deeply involved with and excited about a hedonistic, divorced, playboy (who has paid hush money to porn stars) — and there are a lot of books as it is just such a unbelievably breathtaking historical development nobody could have seen coming — Jesus and John Wayne is truly one of the most important. Dr. Du Mez is not just looking at the currentextreme leaders of the Trumpian religious right like the bombastic Jerry Falwell Jr. and millionaire Pentecostal Paula White, but she explores Dr. Dobson, Promise Keepers, the purity ring/purity culture movement, the gonzo macho stuff of Wild at Heart. She offers astute and lively observation of much of the material culture of evangelicalism, from Veggie Tales to the Left Behind novels, the rage in anti-Muslim books after 9-11 and so much more, bringing insight about how all of that white evangelical stuff collided, forming a civil religious nationalism that was more than patriotic, but militaristic and nearly idolatrous.

Agree or not with her assessment or conclusions (and I am not prepared to say either, yet) this is a book for anyone who has lived through the past fifty or so years of evangelicalism. From Christianity Today and Billy Graham’s stance on Martin Luther King, to the impact of the cult-like Bill Gothard, from the  DeVoss family’s Amway to the celebration of Ollie North, from the partnership of evangelicals with Catholic dynamo Phyllis Schafly to the recent popularity of Wayne Grudem and John Piper’s teaching about traditional gender roles, this book offers a truly wide-ranging account of much that influenced the culture that gave us both Anita Bryant, say, on one hand, and Amy Grant, on another; Pat Robertson on one hand and Francis Schaeffer or Ron Sider on other hands. What a movement it has been, and Du Mez knows it well.

And if you are not part of the evangelical subculture, this will be an ideal guide to learning about what makes it tick, where it all came from, and how it got oddly harnessed to a vision of life that isn’t particular Biblical, but nationalist, militaristic, materialistic  and, at worse, racist.

Read these two quotes which capture her thesis and explain why this book is an important bit of American history and why it is so very important now.

Jesus and John Wayne demolishes the myth that Christian nationalists simply held their noses to form a pragmatic alliance with Donald Trump. With brilliant analysis and detailed scholarship, Kristin Kobes Du Mez shows how conservative evangelical leaders have promoted the authoritarian, patriarchal values that have achieved their finest representative in Trump. A stunning exploration of the relationship between modern evangelicalism, militarism, and American masculinity. — Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

Wielding supreme command of evangelical theology, popular culture, history and politics, as well as rare skill with the pen, Kristin Kobes Du Mez explodes the myth that evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in spite of his crude machismo. It turns out that the opposite is true: for generations, white male evangelical leaders and their supportive wives have been building a movement of brazen masculinity and patriarchal authority, with hopes of finding a warrior who could extend their power to the White House. In Trump they found their man. This is a searing and sobering book, one that should be read by anyone who wants to grasp our political moment and the religious movement that helped get us here. — Darren Dochuk, author of Anointed With Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America

To Think Christianly: A History of L’Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement Charles E. Cotherman (IVP Academic) $35.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Before the pandemic and the necessary shut-down this past spring, causing a shift in our business and work flow, we dreamed about having our friend Charles Cotherman do some sort of event, some way we could celebrate this very, very important book that means a lot to us. For many, it is about something that is nearly invisible, an underground movement that you may not have heard of. But for Beth and I, this book captures a stream of evangelical thinking that means very much to us (and is in vivid contrast o the macho militaristic piety described in the book by Dr. Du Mez, above.) It is one of the streams that has made us who we are, and, as I described in detail in the comments exclaiming why we value Richard Mouw’s wonderful study All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight, we may not be here doing what we do at Hearts & Minds if it were not for some of the people and movements described in this new book.

To put the start of the story too simply, Francis and Edith Schaeffer were conservative, evangelical Presbyterians — he of Philadelphia blue collar working class stock, she of a more sophisticated, elite family — who, together, concluded that with the rise of the beatniks and the hippies of the mid sixties, and the intransigent, anti-cultural, world-denying tone of American evangelical churches they simply had to create a better expression of Christian truth. They wanted to create a place that would allow seekers and drifters, drop-outs and disillusioned protestors, to hear the whole truth of the Biblical gospel in conversation with the philosophies of the day and a healthy dose of real community and good art. They started an intentional community and drop-in study center in Switzerland and named it L’Abri, promising “real answers to real questions.” Together they would listen carefully to “Sgt. Pepper” and read Dante out loud and follow the line of despair from Nietzche to the painter Francis Bacon or to art-house French cinema. Some of our favorite authors and friends — Bill Edgar, Nancy Pearcey, Paul Marshal, Sharon Gallagher, Steve Turner, Os Guinness, Steve Garber come to mind — had significant experiences there. (Guinness was actually on staff in Huémoz, one of the great influences there for a time.)

As the place became known and Schaeffer’s interesting lectures blending an overview of Western history and philosophy and a call to a relevant but true spirituality, led to books and speaking tours, others caught the vision for somewhat similar study centers and residential communities to attract the unchurched and strengthen evangelicals in making sense of Christianity to an early 70s zeitgeist. I used to visit one such study center with R.C. Sproul who at the time perhaps fancied his Western Pennsylvanian Ligonier Valley Study Center with his lodges and cabins and gardening and multiple, charismatic, well-educated staff akin to Schaeffer’s Swiss L’Abri. Both stood on Reformed faith, drew upon philosophical and cultural apologetics, and encouraged a serious, if tame, activism for social righteousness and cultural renewal.

Sproul in Western Pennsylvania wasn’t the only Christian intellectual wanting to work within the counter-cultural youth movements. Even before him there was New College of Berkeley, with the energetic, Jacques Ellul-influenced David Gill and the incredibly insightful, evangelical hippy community called the Christian World Liberation Front with an underground paper focusing on “lay theological education” called Right On. Eventually as the times changed, they had a marvelous paper called Radix and, eventually, an intense learning community, inspired a bit by the likes of Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies, called The Crucible.

In Cotherman’s heretofore untold narrative, it is a hop, skip, and a jump from L’Abri and the influence of a reasoned and culturally relevant sort of youthful evangelicalism to learning centers like the New College of Berkeley and The Crucible. And from there, Cotherman connects the dots to the founding of the remarkably generative college in Vancouver, British Columbia called Regent College. To this day it is one of the finest establishments for adult learning out of a mature and balanced evangelical perspective in all the world. With visiting faculty as fabulous interesting as Marva Dawn, N.T. Wright, J. I. Packer, Craig Gay, and so many others, it remains a splendid example of historic faith freshly proclaimed for the living in our times.  As those familiar with the courses offered there know, and as Cotherman’s book explains, it was founded by the extraordinary scholar and deeply pastoral leader (himself a bit of a mystic, well versed in the classics of contemplative spirituality) Dr. James Houston. And, yes, Houston knew Schaeffer. As Cotherman documents, Houston had some concerns about Schaeffer’s scholarship and leadership styles which they talked about in correspondance and face-to-face. Fun fact: when Dr. Houston retired from Regent College, his replacement was Eugene Peterson, who moved to British Columbia to become a professor of “spiritual theology” there.

To Think Christianly advances the plot and continues to show overlap and collaboration with other great chapters in this story — chapters about para-church ministries and organizations that we have supported, that have purchased books from us, even, so much so that we almost feel a part of this story, if only in a secondary way. For instance, there are several fabulous chapters exploring the founding of study centers offering a robust and intellectually credible Christian witness near major, secular universities. From Drew Trotter taking leadership of the renowned Charlottesville Study Center at the University of Virginia to Karl Johnson and his remarkable project founding The Chesterton House on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, these are stories that show how a missionary movement among university students and faculty emerged with the founding of these intellectually rooted residential communities into what is now a network, a consortium, of such study centers throughout the country.

Further, some of the study centers, or local churches inspired by them, then, formed Fellows programs where post-college young adults gather for intensive discipleship and mentoring, being, formed in vocation and marketplace mission. These many Fellows programs are yet another fruit of this loose network and movement (a fruit that Cotherman does not explore, but surely could have.) What a joy for us to have had connections with the Gotham Fellows out of the Redeemer Center for Faith and Work in New York, the Washington area Falls Church Fellows started by Falls Church Episcopal, now Anglican, the great Pittsburgh Fellows program, the Triangle Fellows in Chapel Hill, NC.  These internships and seriously thoughtful Christian formation programs seem to me to be a direct result of the sorts of substantial work documented in this volume.

None of all of this would have existed as they do, Charles Cotherman suggests, rightly I think, if a generation of thoughtful evangelicals — sons and daughter of Issachar, if I can quote 1 Chronicles 12:32 — decades ago, influenced in one way of another by Francis and Edith Schaeffer at L’Abri (and their many books) had not forged into North American settings and founded organizations, networks, collaborations, intentional living houses, study centers and even accredited institutions of higher education.

Above, I recommend the powerful Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez which documents much of the macho foolishness and right wing militarism that pervades much of popular evangelicalism and neo-fundamentalism. Happily, the people documented in this amazing book, To Think Christianly, by Charles E. Cotherman, raise up a different sort of expression of historic, evangelical faith. This is a well-written and inspiring account of some of the streams the flow into contemporary evangelical culture, one that has nurtured us and inspired us. We are glad that Charles did this amazing archival research, conducted so many interviews, offers so much first-hand testimony of the connections between L’Abri and Chesterton House, between Ligonier Valley Study Center and the C.S. Lewis Institute, between the New College of Berkley and the important, on-going Regent College in Vancouver.

We applaud these organizations, unique as they each were, disagreeable as they may have been in some areas, wrong-headed, too, at times, for their dedicated efforts to help followers of Christ live out faith in the complexities of the secularizing, modern world. Each emphasized the life of the mind, but usually not to the exclusion of the wholistic vision of embodied faith, caring about neighborhoods and place, speaking out against injustice and serving the poor as they could.

This stimulating history proves that some people were trying to stave off the shallowness of much evangelical thought and were hoping to offer a counter-perspective to those held captive by ideologies of the far left or right. They really did want to encourage students and public leaders to “take every thought captive” and “think Christianly” about all of life (and they still are!) In this, they honor Schaeffer’s hope to offer a “true spirituality” (as one of this books in those years) put it. They honor the historical relevance of Os Guinness’s book about the Kingdom of God being a “third way” between the poles of culture and counter-culture described in the 1970s book that came out of those years, The Dust of Death (newly reissued as we celebrated at BookNotes in March.) As historian Mark Noll notes, “This well-written and compelling book is a sign of hope.”

Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century John Loughery & Blythe Randolph (Simon & Schuster) $30.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

In the late winter into the Spring I was telling anyone I could — which, admittedly was not many — that this was my favorite book so far in the new year. It remains one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. I’ve read a bit about and by Dorothy Day but this filled in so much detail with such good prose it not only made me glad to have learned so much, but it inspired me to turn to a few other biographies, relearning a new appreciation for the art form and the scholarship and the joy of reading a top-class historical biography. I am a huge fan of this book and glad it got some very prominent reviews in major newspapers and journals.

Loughery and Randolph did a superb job in both focusing on the remarkable conversion of this far left social activist in the early twentieth century (who famously cavorted with the likes of Eugene O’Neil and other intellectual and bohemians and artists) into a socially active but devout Catholic, known for her Catholic Worker “houses of hospitality” for the poor and homeless and her world-renown Catholic Worker “penny a copy” newspaper. She was a voracious reader and writer and, eventually, tireless public speaker and while this volume explores her life and faith and piety it does so with a wide angle lens looking at what some call “the American Century.” Yes, Loughery & Randolph are excellent biographers but they are also astute and lively historians. I very highly recommend this big book and assure you that you will learn things, important things, that you did not know, and for many events — strikes in the 30s and anti-war activities in the 40s and Southern civil rights work in the 50s and anti-nuclear weapons protests in the 60s, and on and on — you will have a front row seat. And not just any front row view, but a profoundly religious, decidedly Christ-centered one. From the opening story of Dorthy being arrested as an old woman in solidarity with Latina migrant workers in the fields of California, you realized this is going to be one great read.

I was asked to write a review of this book for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and it was a great honor. There have been CW houses in Pittsburgh and Dorothy herself had a spiritual director who lived there, so she (unknown to most) visited there from time to time. (She had been also there as a young woman to show solidarity and report on the coal strikers and the steel mill conditions early in the century before her conversion and had affection for the scrappy place.) So I wrote this piece, shorter than I wanted, and didn’t tell much about the dramatic last half of the book — Dorothy’s relationship with the Cesar Chavez and the Berrigan brothers, the shift in the communities that formed in her name (some no longer serious Catholics) and the struggles with her dream to have farms, as well, playing a part in a renewal of local agriculture and radial agrarianism. And, oh my, the poignant stuff about her strained relationship with her daughter and grandchildren.  Dorothy Day moves from the epic sweep of history to the tender and anguishing human story of a hurting family, caught up in radical service and church politics, fame and yet no fortune. And now, playing catch up here in this catch-all column of the dozens of books I wanted to review earlier in the year, I must, again, postpone.

This Protestant reader was thoroughly taken with this excellently drawn story of a contemporary Catholic saint. It is without doubt one of the best books of the year and a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the remarkable, daring, one-of-a-kind, Dorothy Day. Or who wants extra insight about the controversies and causes that pervaded the 20th century. Please, please, click on this link and read my short review of Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Send it around to others if you can — I could love to get some orders for this extraordinary historical survey and detailed, thoughtful biography. What a book!

The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom L.S. Dugdale, MD  (HarperOne) $27.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

When this book came out we hardly had time to think, let alone read tenderly wise books about death and dying. Our business was struggling with lack of staff and yet a surge in complicated mail orders, causes us to work long hours. Very late one night I was exhausted, thinking of the worst — praying for people we knew who had died or were dying of Covid-19. Lifting up friends in New York who were devastated. Holding back our fears of our own future as a business possibly reaching an end It is fair to say many of us have been melancholy at best, often worried and sad these hard days. And many of us know people who were sick.

That night I picked up this book about the morbid subject of dying. Written by a doctor, it offers insights discovered, the first pages tell us, from a once popular document created (get this) during the black death; the famous plagues of the 1400s. It was a document on dying well, but, in fact, it is a book about living well. Dr, Dugdale, we learn, discovered the medieval Latin texts on how the living were to prepare for a good death. This notion from the late Middle Ages, was called ars moriendi — the art of dying — and it made clear that “to die well, one first had to live well.”

And with that, I was hooked. As she was as she gleaned much for this ancient wisdom and added what she learned from her best medical training. This is not quite like Being Mortal by Atul Gawande but it is in that ballpark, with a bit of the the writerly grace of When Breath Becomes Air thrown in.

As Siddhartha Mukherjee (the Pulitzer Prize winning scholar of the extraordinary book about cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies) writes, “In this profound and compassionate book about death and its nearness, Dugdale demystifies one of the essential mysteries of our time.” That mystery, it seems to me, is not just about the mystery of mortality, but the question of how and why we have so medicalized life and death that we have lost touch with the very meaning of our lives and the habits of dying well. Why do we do this to ourselves? The opening sequence is vivid and painful as the harsh stuff of prolonging life unfolds with caring family (not to mention dying patient and medical staff) traumatized by the unpleasantness of the extreme interventions. And, within the opening pages, the Christian faith comes in to play. I found out later that this author is, in fact, a Christian believer who is active in her own faith community.  She is known as an extraordinary person, caring and kind. In fact,  Dr. Abraham Nussbaum, author of the wonderful book about reforming medicine, The Finest Traditions of My Calling, says,  “When I lay dying, I hope I will have a doctor like Dr. Dugdale at the bedside.”

Curiously, here in this mainstream book not pitched to a religious audience, is an endorsing blurb by a well known New York pastor and evangelical theologian, one aquatinted with illness, himself, Rev. Timothy Keller:

Lydia Dugdale’s The Lost Art of Dying proves that there is often nothing more relevant to our present cultural moment than the wisdom of the past — in this instance, on the subject of how to face death. The book is based on a great deal of painstaking scholarship but is written in the most accessible style. It will not only be of enormous help to people facing their own death or the death of a loved one, but also to professionals in various fields who attend the dying.

Besides walking us through the various points and teachings of the ars moriendi. She tells lots of stories, offers important contemporary insight, but like Keller says, draws on the wisdom of the past. And she does all this with a deft touch — as poet and Christian thinker, Yale professor Christian Wiman says of The Lost Art of Dying, it is a “lucid, learned, humane, and utterly necessary book.”

One final delight for all of us — and especially for anyone local to us here in York County. Dr. Dugdale brilliantly commissioned an artist to do pen and ink drawings, original creations to go along with each of the chapters. The art pieces that form a wonderful, major appendix to the book, are done by York, PA visual artist Michael W. Dugger. The artwork is modern and yet not odd, moving without being sentimental. (If you know Barry Moser’s work, it has that sort of look, I’d say, which is a huge compliment.) This is good, nuanced art, with each black and white illustration accompanied by a one page reflection/explanation by the artist. It makes a significant contribution to the book and we look forward to discovering more of Mr. Dugger’s provocative work. Well done.

Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age Mae Elise Cannon (IVP) $22.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Over and over as the pandemic season evolved into the seasons of protests, in part over the murder of George Floyd with many people taking to the streets (usually with masks and peaceful) to protest systemic racism and police brutality, I kept wishing I could find a way to announce this book. Why our work flow and limits here precluded that is another story but, sadly, I suppose, the need for this book has only grown in recent months. We need to be informed. We need to amp up our daily citizenship initiatives. We need to live out our faith and better in and for our world. As important as this upcoming election is, politics is more than about elections and voting, and doing justice (as the Bible demands of us) is often more than mere politics. We can be agents of change in so many venues and ways and we can be socially and politically engaged in every season. The current election year drama just makes it that much more urgent that we know our stuff and live out our faith by doing what we claim we want our elected officials to stand for. Help get out the vote, yes. But study up and learn about ways to more actively engage the issues of the day.

Enter Mae Cannon, here with an almost one-stop shop, giving you in one simple book enough information to make you the most informed person in your neighborhood, no doubt. In one place she will help you help others with talking points and ideas for activism on any number of causes, concerns, topics, and issues. This book is a handbook like no other and I very highly recommend it. I really, really hope you buy it.

Mae offers this practical resource which is a bit more in-depth and user-friendly, I think, but a good advanced companion to her 2009 Social Justice Handbook. It emerges out of her growing awareness that for some of us, we think offering a pithy statement on twitter or using a hashtag somehow makes us a social justice warrior. Nope, not quite. Of course, for some of us who are homebound or with exceptional limitations, this may actually be the best way to engage and, heaven knows, we need wise, thoughtful, kind, and well informed people on line and in the social media spaces. So she isn’t disparaging those called to stand for justice in contemporary media venues. She is not against hashtags. But, surely, she is right that most of us must embody our deepest values, live into the work of public justice, actually do something concrete (usually in concert with others) to get policy enacted or reformed. We must get off line and into the streets. Liking protest pictures and hashtags and facebook memes can be part of that, for sure, but we need more. Much more.

But first, we have to know what we think, know some facts about the complex issues, and learn a bit about how the system works. Beyond Hashtag Activism helps us wonderfully.

The first couple chapters are very informative and will help you solve this problem of knowing how to begin. It clearly explains a bit about advocacy and justice work and what that may entail. She looks briefly at different aspects such as prophetic action, social relationships and concerns, economic advocacy, spirituality, and politics, as such. What does it look like to take up “legal advocacy” say, or “spiritual advocacy”? What are the “four best practices” for social change agents? She names them all and while some experienced activist might quibble, or wish for other good points, it is an excellent overview and great starting place. (For those who have started this work, this portion is still a great clarifying reminder of what we might already know, but need to be reminded of. It’s well worth reading and re-reading.) I can’t say enough about her succinct, inspiring and Biblically-informed framework and rubrics, so to speak.

(By the way, Mae has tons of experience — on the streets, doing face-to-face social outreach and service ministry and she has done bigger level organizing and even macro-level legislative advocacy. She has expertise in local issues as well as considerable global connections. She previously served as the director of advocacy for World Vision US on Capitol Hill in Washington and is currently the Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace. Among other volumes, she edited Land Full of God which explores contemporary issues in the Holy Land.)

She doesn’t cover everything in this Beyond Hashtag Activism book, but she offers a lot. Here’s the basic table of contents so you can see what she teaching us; there are great discussion questions after each section to help individual readers or small groups to clarify what they think and to prayerfully discern next steps.

Part 1. Biblical Justice and the Gospel
1. God’s Justice and Prophetic Advocacy
2. Politics and the Gospel
Part 2: Poverty
3. Global Poverty
4. Domestic Poverty
Part 3: Race
5. White Supremacy and American Christianity
6. Racial Violence, Police Brutality, and the Age of Incarceration
7. Global Immigration and Battles at the Border
8. Divisions of Race and Ethnicity Around the World
Part 4: Gender
9. #MeToo, Women in the Workplace, and Women in the Church
10. The Liberation of Women Around the World
Part 5: Twenty-First-Century Divides
11. Marriage and Sexuality
12. The Middle East, Israel, and Palestine
13. Religious Freedom

Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice edited and compiled by Britney Winn Lee (Upper Room/FreshAir Books) $16.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I so wish we could have gathered together at some of our clergy events this Spring — I’m thinking of you, Penn South-East and North-East Conferences of the UCC, at least, and the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, and the conferees of the annual Mercersburg Society — because I know you’d have found this exceptionally useful. It’s one I would have featured in my little up-front announcements. And I would have had some fun reading with great gusto this clever quote from our friend Shane Claiborne, who wrote the foreword.

As Shane Claiborne says,

This is not your grandmother’s prayer book. Or if it is, I would really like to meet your grandmother.

There is a cry for action here, and a comfort for our anxious souls. It is a guidebook full of prayers and litanies and liturgies for all sorts of justice issues and deeply social concerns. It is mostly pretty conventional theologically but pressing our historic convictions into fresh new ways to offer solidarity with the most vulnerable and to evoke God’s guidance as we lament, celebrate, repent and resist. As we lift our hearts to the God who is there, this books helps the socially-active (or at least those who care) to new voice, to express our outrage and longing.

Britney Winn Lee, who directs an arts program in Shreveport, Louisiana that builds community among the hurting, pulls together here remarkable prayers and litanies penned by pastors, activists, scholars and writers from across the Christian community. Contributors includes, among others, Kaitlin Curtice, Rachel Hackenberg, Dee Dee Risher, Austen Harke, D.L. Mayfiield, Osheta Moore, Bruce Reyes-Chow, Brandan Robertson, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Patrice Gopo, and Sandra Maria Van Opstal.

The prayers include good words about topics such as racial and gender inequality, economic disparity, white privilege, abuse of power, violence, mistreatment of migrants and refugees, and prayers for those pushed to the margins of society, including those who identify  LGBTQIA. Some of the prayers are artful and gentle, liturgically sound, and others are loud and raw. Some are quite suitable for a Sunday morning worship service, others are designed for meetings or events.

Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice is done in cooperation with The Academy for Spiritual Formation and we are grateful. I suppose not every prayer will be used by every faith community but it is a very useful resource to have. If you are a worship leader or planner, a small group leader or pastor, you should order one of these right away.

The NIV Bible Speaks Today Study Bible (IVP-UK) $50.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $40.00

We have gotten so many new Bibles into the shop in the past half a year I suppose one of these days I should do a BookNotes just highlighting newly released editions, updated classics like the updated Life Application Study Bible notes in the NLT or NIV and the brand new updated NIV Study Bible, the recent NET Study Bible, the CEB Navigation Bible, the phone or tablet enhanced Filiment Bible in the NTL, the great, new selections of NRSVs and some wonderfully made new Roman Catholic editions. And,of course the never-ended new, excellently crafted editions of the ESV put out by Crossway.

But I was very excited when this NIV Bible Speaks Today study edition came out late last Spring. Let me say why.

You see, when folks write to ask us for our best suggestions for Bible commentaries (go ahead, ask us our favorites on Luke or Leviticus or Micah or Matthew) and we will inevitably suggest one of the paperbacks in the solid and reliable “Bible Speaks Today” series. The title of each in the BST series starts with the phrase, The Message of (enter the book of the Bible) and they are almost always workmanlike and useful, not too academic, but serious enough that you get out of it what you want in a commentary. They are mid-level, so to speak, aware of and sometimes engaged with the critical issues, but with an evangelical tone that wants to respect the text among the gathered people of God, helping us understand the passage’s relevance and how we might hear God speak. There are even discussion questions in the back of each of these books in this fine commentary series. And so, we recommend them often.

What the Bible Speaks Today Study Bible brilliantly does is to take pertinent and helpful excerpts from the many volumes of the commentary series and splice them into the pages of a sturdy NIV hardback Bible. So this is a new study edition that includes helpful insights from the authors of the BST commentaries. What a great idea!

Who are these authors? Fair enough. Many are names you may know not, but it might be useful to know that John Stott was the original chief editor of the New Testament and he did several, and J.Alec Moyter edited the Old Testament. Their authors include balanced British evangelicals and US scholars and preachers, as well. They include men and women from a variety of denominations, all with exceptional training and credentials, authors like Joyce Baldwin, Michael Green, Raymond Brown, Derek Kidner, Christopher Wright, and more.  I am not alone in often suggesting these paperback volumes — Tim Keller is known to have once quipped that they were his own favorite go-to set.

Anyway, this new (white) hardback Bible is a great resource. It is a nicely made, no-nonsense study Bible with some of best evangelical scholars weighing in, page by page by page. And, there are study questions included, making this a really useful tool for personal devotions but also for leading small group Bible studies and conversational classes.

By the way, there is also a nice, black leather edition boxed in a handsome slipcase that sells for $70.00.

Our 20% off sale price on that one makes it just $56.00.



Thanks for caring about good books, now more than ever, we are grateful. Send us an order by clicking on the ORDER link below. That will take you to our secure order form page where you just type in what you want. We’ll reply promptly and confirm everything.

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Join us online to meet Gina Dalfonzo and Karen Swallow Prior as we celebrate the new book “The Gospel in Charles Dickens” (Plough Publishing) THIS TUESDAY – SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 at 7:30 PM

Our BookNotes posts are known for often lengthy reviews and diverse lists of books that we sell here at Hearts & Minds. We curate and suggest different sorts of authors and titles that we think our fairly unique readership would find helpful, or at least interesting. We help you cut through the noise of the gigantic publishing industry to focus on titles we are excited about and think you should know about. We are glad you sometimes share these lists with other book lovers and we’re glad for our readers interest in supporting indie bookstores like ours.

Especially during this time when we are still not open for in-store shopping, we are grateful for our many on-line and mail-order friends.

This time, though, we just want to quickly mention one main thing (and spin off a very few related items.) We want to invite you to sign up right away for an on-line author event this Tuesday, September 22, 2020. (You must pre-register, so click on that link asap.)

We hope you read about this event in our previous BookNotes or saw the announcement at our bookstore facebook page, but if not, please know you can join us (for free) for this virtual book launch party — okay it’s basically an interview with an author and I don’t think she’ll be wearing a party hat, but I suppose one never knows — for her brand new book, The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works, compiled and edited by Gina Dalfanzo (and published by Plough Publishing House.) The Facebook Live event in this Tuesday, September 22, 2020, and I will be the host, allowing Gina to tell us about the book. We will be joined by a very special guest and conversation partner, Karen Swallow Prior who wrote the marvelous foreword to The Gospel in Dickens. 

Here is how Plough Publishing has described this event:

Spend an online evening with Gina, as she launches The Gospel in Dickens, her contribution to Plough’s Gospel in Great Writers series. She’ll be joined by Karen Swallow Prior, who wrote the book’s foreword, and Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore, who hosts the discussion.


In spite of – or perhaps because of – his own failings, Dickens never stopped exploring the themes of sin, guilt, repentance, redemption, and restoration found in the gospel.


In some passages the Christian elements are explicit, in others implicit, but, as Dickens himself said, they all reflect his understanding of and reverence for the gospel.

Celebrate these timeless themes as discovered in the pages of a rich new anthology. All attendees will be entered in a drawing for 5 free books!

You can sign up here:

With these two splendid women, both practiced, wise, readers and writers, my job will be an easy delight as I invite them to talk about the spiritual and moral value of reading the great Charles Dickens. I might try to crack a joke about Mr. Dickens’s penchant for wacky names in many stories (Uncle Pumblechook? Paul Sweedlepipe? Martin Chuzzlewit? Wackford Squeers? The Old Testament characters in Judges or Haggai can’t beat these!) but mostly we’ll allow these thoughtful women to teach us the good stuff. As the publisher promises, in The Gospel in Dickens, Gina “teases out dozens of the most memorable scenes [in Dickens’ body of novels and short stories] to reveal the Christian vision and values that suffuse all his work.” Before each excerpt, by the way, she has a fabulous little introduction to that reading, explaining what book it is from, setting the stage of what is happening in the chosen scene, and a phrase or line about why religious theme is to be seen in this passage. These are brief (the point it to expose us to the real depth of Dickens’s many stories and lively characters,) but really helpful.  Her introduction to the whole volume, by the way, is also outstanding and very interesting.

And Dalfonzo is clearly the one to do this — she is editor of the popular Dickensblog. She also likes old movies and is a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture, so that’s pretty cool. She has been an editor at BreakPoint and Christianity Today. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, National Review, The Gospel Coalition, First Things, and Guideposts.

Sign up right away for this evening of literary analysis through the eyes of Christian faith. The good folks at Plough will be giving away some free autographed books, too. And we have some signed book plates so those that want to order these with Ms. Dalfonzo’s autograph can get them from us now or then. Would make a nice Christmas gift, yes?

As we noted in the last BookNotes that went out a week or so ago, The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works edited by Gina Dalfonzo (Plough Publishing) sells regularly for $18.00 but OUR 20% off BookNotes SALE PRICE = $14.40.


Just so you know, this marvelous book, the release of which into the world we will celebrate on Tuesday night, The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works, is part of a series of other such titles done by Plough.  We stock all of these, which include:

We’ve said it before at BookNotes, but Gina Dalfonzo has authored other books, which are, of course, always available here at Hearts & Minds. We are impressed with her good writing and salute her for One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church (Baker Publishing; $16.00) which  s so good on this topic that it is nearly is one-of-a-kind and deserves to be known among church folks, for sure.

Her very recent Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis is also published by Baker ($16.99.)

Dorothy and Jack just came out mid-August and it is simply a great read, exploring not only good stuff about the extraordinary Dorothy Sayers (see the above Plough volume to dip into a great anthology of her various writings) and the well known C.S. Lewis (who is, II’m afraid, very well known but not read as much as he should be.) But more importantly, this is a study of the relationship of the two, their friendship.

We need really good books on friendship. (I loved Wesley Hill’s good volume, Spiritual Friendship, which includes a wonderful postscript chapter which reviews various friendships in novels. The brand new Friendship: The Heart of Being Human by Victor Lee Austin is excellent.) I think we especially need good models of men and women who are friends, and Gina’s study of Saint Dorothy and Saint Jack really does open up their relationship in a way that models how brothers and sisters in Christ can also be good pals.


What a great move to have Gina’s book on Dickens carry an astute foreword by Dr. Karen Swallow Prior. Prior is Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We stock all three of her books, including the memoir Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T.S. Poetry Press), Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformed, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson) and the exceptionally relevant On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (Brazos Press.) We appreciate one she co-edited, as well (with Josh Chatraw) called Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (Brazos Press) sells regularly for $19.99 but at our 20% off price for our BookNotes readers, it is just $15.99. We named it one of the Best Books of 2018 and enjoyed  hosting Karen here at the store when the book first released that fall.

If you are not familiar with that stellar book, it basically opens with an excellent chapter or two about how reading well written and profound literature can help us grow in Christian virtue. She talks a bit about virtue theory, faith formation, discipleship and growing in one’s faith by way of reading fiction. And then she dives right in, doing a series of excellent book reflections, each novel (or short story) connected to a particular Christian virtue. I say all this to tell you (or remind you if you forgot) that she has a chapter dedicated there to Dickens’s masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities. That’s the one that starts with those famous words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Do you know what virtue she says we can gain as we spend time reading Tale of Two Cities? 


By the way, Plough Publishing is one of the most interesting indie publishing ventures we’ve seen in our almost 40 years of bookselling and we’ve stocked most of their books since they started publishing. They are firmly planted in the intentional Anabaptist faith communities called The Bruderhof and their books and beautiful journal The Plough Quarterly journal are a true delight and a challenge to both hearts and minds. We thank them for their work and witness in the world, for those who have visited here to our bookstore, and for their willingness to allow us to host their virtual book launch event celebrating Gina’s The Gospel in Dickens. Vielen Dank.



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11 books you should PRE-ORDER now. Some of the best, soon to come. 20% off at Hearts & Minds.


Here are two shots of Beth and me in book-themed masks specially made and sent to us by good out-of-state Hearts & Minds customers. Nice huh? Thanks, friends.

We are still not open for in-store traffic here in Dallastown. Covid-19 continues to spread in our area and we just don’t feel right about opening up our space. For one thing, there may not be enough ventilation in some of our several rooms.

We enjoy taking things out back to our yard by the rear parking area, serving you al fresco. We can set up a card table and bring out all kinds of things you may want to consider.

If your in the area and the weather is okay, give us a call at 717-246-3333. As always, we’re here 10:00 am – 6:00 pm, Monday through Saturday.

We are doing curbside pick-up and lots of phone consultations, responding to online inquiries and a large number of mail orders. Even though we miss our off site book displays, we’re glad to be in touch with so many of our on-line customers and mail-order friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Keep supporting small and indie businesses that you appreciate — believe me, they need the business. I know we do. Stay well, support public health efforts, keep safe. In these hard days, read on!


***TELLING US HOW YOU WANT US TO SHIP IS VERY HELPFUL, TOO. AS WE SUGGEST AT THE ORDER FORM PAGE, WE  RECOMMEND EITHER USPS MEDIA MAIL (which for one or two books is usually about $3.00, depending on the weight and size.) THIS IS CHEAP BUT SLOW – OR – USPS PRIORITY MAIL (which for one or several  books is usually about $7.00 or so, depending on how many, but much cheaper than UPS, It is as quick or quicker that UPS.) PLEASE DON’T SAY “US MAIL” AS THAT ISN’T CLEAR. IT IS HELPFUL IF YOU STATE WHETHER YOU PREFER USPS MEDIA MAIL (again, cheap but slow) or PRIORITY MAIL (faster, but a bit more expensive.) WE CAN DO UPS BUT IT IS REALLY EXPENSIVE UNLESS YOUR BOX IS BIG AND HEAVY. THANKS FOR YOUR COOPERATION AS WE TRY TO SERVE YOU WELL.

The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works edited by Gina Dalfonzo (Plough Publishing) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40  Due September 22, 2020

We gave a brief Victorian top-hat tip to this splendid forthcoming volume when we mentioned in the last BookNotes review of Gina’s other new book (Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis) that just released. That one is fabulous and is a must for any fans of the Inklings, of course. But this Dickensonian one?

Well, it is one we are very excited about.

In fact, the good people at Plough Publishing — one of our favorite indie presses created by folks at the Bruderhof community who also publish the wonderful Plough quarterly — have helped us set up a Facebook Live event with Gina which I will host with special guest, literary rock star Karen Swallow Prior. How I’ve been considered qualified to join these two astute readers and writers to talk about one of the most legendary literary figures in all of human history, well, it just baffles me. But I’m foolishly game, so will serve as your intrepid host for an hour or so of conversation, insight, inspirational reading from the great Charles Dickens, and the opportunity to win an autographed copy of Dalfanzo’s brand new The Gospel in Dickens. I have offered to forge Saint Charles’s scribbly signature, but the morally impeccable folk at Plough didn’t go for that. It will be, happily, Ms Dalfonzo’s real signature.

You can sign up for this free on-line virtual launch party by registering at the Plough website:

For those that may not know, Karen Swallow Prior, who wrote the foreword to this one, has written several books, including On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books (Brazos Press; $19.99) which we helped launch in the old pre-Covid days when we had actual in-store events. It will be fun to connect with the Notorious KSP again on Facebook Live. She’s been as busy as Gina these days, having recently edited and annotated beautiful and sturdy editions of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. She also co-edited the very useful Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues which came out about a year ago. She’s especially eager to be in on this upcoming launch event with us because she wrote the introduction to The Gospel in Dickens.

Gina Delfanzo is very fine writer; her Dorothy and Jack, as I mentioned, is quite good and an important contribution to both Lewis and Sayers studies. She has what may be the best book on how churches can effectively and winsomely reach single folks in her 2017 book One By One: Welcoming Singles in Your Church. She blogs and offers other writerly pieces for the great “Christ and Pop Culture” website. And she knows her Dickens. Her choices for inclusion in this new volume illustrate her deep and wide fluency. There will be excerpts that some you most likely will expect. For many of us, though, some of these excerpts will be pieces we’ve never read before. It will surely whet your appetite.

This Gospel in Dickens book, by the way, is part of a larger series that Plough has done; you might be tempted to get the whole set, including The Gospel in George MacDonald,  The Gospel in Dostoyevsky, The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers, The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Gopsel in Tolstoy. There are great touches in these well-edited compilations of meaningful excerpts by the famous author, not least the good introductions (J.I. Packer does the one on Dostoyevsky, altough they included a tribute by Malcom Muggeridge) and in some cases, artwork — woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg enhance the one on Tolstoy. The one with pieces from Dorothy Sayers includes “An Appreciation from C.S. Lewis.” The one that includes selections from the poems, journals, letters, and spiritual writings of Fr. Hopkins has a forward by the former head of the National Endowments of the Arts, Dana Gioia. As you can see, this is a remarkable, affordable, series that carries a certain gravitas alongside the joy of reading some of best literature you will ever find.

And so, we invite you to pre-order this book (by clicking on the “order here” button at the very bottom of this column) and if you are able, join us for a celebration and good conversation with Gina Delfanzo, Karen Swallow Prior and me on September 22nd at 7:00 PM (EST.) We are grateful for your interest and support.

Join us for a celebration and good conversation with Gina Delfanzo, Karen Swallow Prior and me on September 22nd at 7:00 PM (EST.)

Again, to register for the Facebook Live event, click on the link above which will take you to the Plough Publishing website where you can let the know of your interest in attending.

Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin Press) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00   DUE  September 8, 2020

Well, speaking of the role of older books and significant literature, this is surely one of the books I’ve been most eager to see this year. And it is good, so good. About a year ago I had the great privilege of serving an Epsiopalian Church in the Philadelphia Diocese who had brought Alan Jacobs in to lecture on his extraordinary The Year of Our Lord: 1943 which should have won a Pulitzer Prize, in my view. During that morning of bookselling, Jacobs told me about this project he was working on and it was a true joy to hear a college prof (he teaches at Baylor University) reflect with empathy how so many of his students — perhaps more than before — struggle with anxiety and depress, not to mention distraction and a too frantic pace of life. He wondered if and how reading older authors who wrote about these same things (ha!) might help. Jacobs has two other volumes that are sort of in this genre of literary self help books, making a case for serious reading to help us cope with the perplexities of the modern age — The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford University Press; $19.95) and How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (Currenty; $24.00.) We used to take them everywhere we went when much of our business was doing off-site book displays. We will simply have to start mentioning them more here — they are tremendous for lovers of good essays, lovely for those who like good writing, and a life-live for most of us who, in this fast-pace world of social media quips and tweets and links and feeds, need to (re)learn the art of reading well and thinking well. Jacobs is a writerly mentor to us all and we can thank God for his work.

And so, Breaking Bread with the Dead helps us.   As the publisher describes it,

In his brilliant and compulsively readable new treatise Breaking Bread with the Dead, distinguished professor and author Alan Jacobs shows us that engaging with the great writings of the past might help us live less anxiously in the present. Today we are battling too much information, a society changing at lightning speed, algorithms aimed at shaping our every move, and a sense that history is not a resource, only something to be vanquished. The modern solution to our problems is turn inwards, to surround ourselves only with that which is like us. Jacobs’ answer is just the opposite: to be in conversation with, and to be challenged by, the great thinkers of the past. What can Homer teach us about force? What does Frederick Douglass have to say about our difficulties with the Founding Fathers? And what can we learn from modern authors who are doing this work? How can Ursula K. Le Guin teach us to see the women of the canon differently? Breaking Bread with the Dead is a close reading with a gifted scholar of texts from across the ages… By agreeing to a conversation with the past, we can draw on more wisdom than the modern consciousness offers.

Here, now, I can only entice you with a few quick lines from others, hoping it will reassure you that this will be a few bucks well spent and a few hours that might be just exactly what you need — regardless of your age. But if you know any college students, it would make a great gift, especially for them, eh?

Alan Jacobs has given us a toolbox stocked with concepts that balance the pop of a self-help book with the depth of a college seminar. Breaking Bread With the Dead is an invitation, but even more than that, an emancipation: from the buzzing prison of the here and now, into the wide-open field of the past. –Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough

A provocative self-help book that challenges conventional wisdom about why we read and where it can bring us. We are distracted and today our reading, from link to link, has left us light. We need engagement and most of all, we need the grounding and weight from knowing our past. This elegant book moved me, especially when it led me to rethink time with my mentors and how they taught me, to paraphrase Wordsworth, what to love and how to love. On so many pages, I found things I know I will carry forward. –Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, best-selling author of Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together

Alan Jacobs captures the nervous joy of helping students discover that writers of “the long ago and far away” can mitigate the feeling of unmoored loneliness that afflicts so many young people today. Never scolding or didactic, Breaking Bread with the Dead is a compassionate book about the saving power of reading, and a moving account of how writers of the past can help us cope in the frantic present. –Andrew Delbanco, author of The War Before the War

A beautiful case for reading old books as a way to cultivate personal depth in shallow times. Breaking Bread with the Dead is timely and timeless — the perfect ending to the trilogy Alan Jacobs began with The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and continued with How To Think. I’ve stolen so much from these books. So will you. –Austin Kleon, bestselling author of Steal Like An Artist

The title, by the way, of this great new hardback, comes from the poet and Christian convert W. H. Auden, who said that “art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.”  Pre-order this or any other title you want by clicking on the order form link at the very end of this BookNotes post.

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy Matthew Kaemingk & Cory B. Wilson (Baker Academic) $29.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99   Due November 17, 2020

This extraordinary volume isn’t due until mid-November but since I am sending this BookNotes out on Labor Day weekend, I wanted to put this one up here near the top of my list of great forthcoming titles. It deserves to be high on your list, too. What a work of love and Christian scholarship, thoughtful and relevant, powerful and true. We need this book to be widely read and taken to heart. My own advanced reader manuscript — thanks to Baker for providing this to help me do my own job! — is dog-eared and highlighted and your volume will be to, I’m sure. It’s that good. And, to be honest, rare. Few books (even the many, many good ones on a theology of culture, a Christian view of culture, and the many or liturgical reform or deepening our view of worship) accomplish as much as this one does.

Since we serve church groups, pastors and worship leaders of various sorts, I suppose you know we have a large selection of books about church worship, about liturgy and gathered church. From contemporary to ancient (to those that combine ancient-future styles) we have a plethora of books about worship and resources for worship planning. But none do what this book does.

As I said at the Hearts & Minds facebook group yesterday, we are proud that we have done a good number of BookNotes columns offering lists of books about faith and work, about vocation, calling, careers and jobs. I’ve told some of my own stories of work history, offered a video clip of James Taylor singing “Millworker” and, of course, annotated dozens of books, Christian and otherwise. From deep reporting like the incredible Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save and American Town by Joanne Macy to luminous literary reflections like Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy Nordenson to philosophical studies of blue collar work like Matthew Crawford’s remarkable Shop Class as Soulcraft to wise Christian standards like Work Matters by Tom Nelson, Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf, and Kingdom Callings: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman (and so, so many more) we’ve offered more varied resources perhaps than any other store in America. Helping ordinary congregants of Christian churches relate their faith outside of the church walls, even at work on Monday morning, was one of the driving motivations for why we opened Hearts & Minds and curate the sorts of books we do.

Just when I thought we had enough books on this topic with not too much more to say, we celebrated the fun, provocative, insightful must-read paperback by my friend John Van Sloten, nicely called Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God (NavPress; $14.99.) It is laden with delightful insights drawn from John’s workplace interviews, pastoral care offered for his parishioners in their jobs, and sermons he’s done on how various jobs can reveal to us not only good stuff about God’s good world but about God’s own character. I’m telling you, this is the real deal and a great read.

We were delighted to honor Working in the Presence of God:  Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work by Denise Daniels & Shannon Vandkewarker (Hendrickson; $24.95) as one of the best books of 2019 — released last fall, this is, again, a master work by someone who has worked in a variety of jobs and has thought deeply about a theology of and spirituality for the workplace. It’s now on my must-read list for those wanting a library on this growing body of literate and this frutiful twenty-first century mission field because it brings to us a thoughtful guide to work-related spiritual disciplines and practices (think of Tish Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary or Jamie Smith’s books on habits and cultural liturgies.)

The spiritual practices outlined in the book can be seen in these chapter-titles — The Liturgy of Commute, Workplace as Holy Ground, Surrendering the Calendar, Reading Scripture in Your Workspace, Affirmation of Calling, Gratitude for God’s Blessing, Celebrating Success at Work, Confession at Work, Lamenting Work, Solitude: Working in God’s Presence, Prayer of Examen for Work, and Sabbath: Ceasing from Work.

Good stuff, eh? It is a book that could be read in tandem with Work and Worship.

We frame this call to think Christianly about our careers and the practices of actually how to embody our ideas about serving God in the workplace by more general books on vocation and calling — from the likes of the upbeat Garden City by John Mark Comer to the gentle Let Your Life Speak by the Quaker Parker Palmer to the eloquent and profound The Call by Os Guinness to more general works (like, obviously, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good and the lovely little hardback A Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work by Steve Garber, and everything by Andy Crouch, especially Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.)

A uniquely Christian worldview or social imagination undergirds it all, so we routinely promote books like Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton, Creation Regained by Al Wolters, and almost everything by James K.A. Smith.  In the last half of year I’ve been thrilled with fresh conversations about this missional vision of the meaning of public life found in great volumes such as The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World by Mike Goheen & Jim Mullins and, even more recently, the stunning Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World by Paul Williams.

Which brings me back to this invitation to pre-order Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy by Kaemingk and Willson, releasing as a thick paperback in November.  It is simply extraordinary, thoughtful, interesting, deeply aware, inspirational. It has tons of serious footnotes and while rooted in the neo-Calvinism of Kuyperian tradition (see the great foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff) it is widely ecumenical. There are pictures of early church artwork, illustrations from Medieval woodcuts,  sidebars of Puritan prayers, reprints of prayers for the global church, and photos of some modern-day churches that have done artful worship space designs honoring the gifts and callings and tools of the ordinary workplaces of the parishioners. Designed to help us think about how better worship might inspire more fruitful cultural engagement and work-world reform, it is for both professional church folks and worship leaders and those who, like most of us, spend our days outside of the congregational space.

I appreciate that right up front in the introduction,

While this is an academic work of theology, it does not subscribe to the traditional theory-praxis method (theology first, application second.) Instead, it takes the work of the people, their lives and labors, as its starting point for biblical and theological investigation and reflection.

I will surely be naming Work and Worship as one of the Best Books of 2020 and will tell you more about it later, as time allows. There are very few books like it, and none that take up this project as seriously as they do. For now, I offer these great endorsements by leaders in this whole movement of inviting conversation and equipping of folks for relating calling and careers, Sunday and Monday, liturgy and life, faith and work..

Read these endorsements carefully, and send us an order. It means a lot to us to sell books like this and we hope you’ll take us up on this opportunity for a very important reading experience.

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

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

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

“In this beautiful and timely tome, Kaemingk and Willson argue quite persuasively and winsomely how work and worship were meant to be seamlessly coupled. They skillfully and methodically trace the rich biblical, theological, and historical foundation of this work and worship coupling across diverse people groups and cultures, ancient and modern. It is my earnest prayer that this book finally reunites and binds together–forever–these two vital segments of our lives.”
— Luke Bobo, director of strategic partnerships, Made to Flourish

You can order this easily by following the directions at our secure order form page. Just click on the “order here” link at the very. bottom of this BookNotes newsletter. Not much work at all.

The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor Kaitlyn Schiess (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60                        Due September 6, 2020

Well, if the above, ecumenically-minded book rooted in the neo-Calvinist tradition of Dutch Reformed “all of life redeemed” theologian Abraham Kuyper relates the formative power of worship to our understanding of work, relating liturgy and labor, then this book similarly asks what kind of liturgy can give rise to faithful citizenship. In a sense, to maintain my alliteration, it relates prayer and politics.

Like the topic of faith and the work-world, this, too, is a defining topic for us here at Hearts & Minds and I suspect we have more (and more varied) books about Christian views of politics and public life then nearly any Christian bookstore in the country. Again, our passion for seeing Christ’s own Lordship known and God’s own glory offered (done, or so the Bible says, by doing justice and loving others well) has been our motivation to stock books and write BookNotes columns on thoughtful, non-partisan views of faith and public justice, Christian views of statecraft and our citizenship. I’ve weighed in on a lot and you can use the search engine at our archived BookNotes reviews to see many important resources. My lefty friends think I read too much moderately conservative authors and my conservative friends think I’m way off base. As hard as that is (and it is!), we end up where we are often by reading about faithful efforts to integrate a Biblical social theology with the complexities of modern political life. We’ve been mentored mostly through organizations, magazines, speakers, conference, and books that offer this “neither left nor right” but distinctively Christian third way approach. I bet if yoiu are like me, you don’t hear your church telling you to honor God by being something other than what the current political imagination offers. (My own good church does implore us to be kind and socially involved, and I suppose yours at least does that. But we need more, much more.)

I often recommend Shane Clairborne’s colorful book Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan; $19.99) for a healthy dose of Biblical politics but as I sometimes say, Jesus isn’t running this year. Which leads us to harder thinking about social ethics and public theology and — if we want to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthian 10:5) and not be “taken captive” by worldly ideologies (Colossians 2:8) then we have to dig into the deeper political theories that shape the main movements of our time and learn to be discerning about what is consistent with Biblical truth about the nature of things civic. David Koyzis’s Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (IVP Academic; $33.00) is hefty and a bit deep but the go-to book on this very thing. It is exceptionally important. James Skillen’s The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Baker Academic; $24.00) offers a comprehensive look at how different Christian theologians and thinkers and leaders down through the ages have viewed the task of the state; if we want a Christian perspective we have to do this kind of interpretive work about this central matter: what is God’s good gift of government supposed to be doing? I’ve often said that one of the most useful resources to get a process of developing a wise and prudent and Christianly conceived policy platform is Ron Sider’s excellent Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement (Brazos Press; $24.00.) In other BookNotes columns I’ve recommended some that offer debate between those with different views so you can sort through the various options on offer within the Christian tradition, at least being informed of legitimate options.

I share these reminders now because I want you to know what some of the best, most foundational books are in this particular (political) field and to suggest this, too: most of us don’t have pastors or preachers or worship services or prayer groups that are significantly informed by any of this. Congregations I know are mostly a-political, not really underscoring how our liturgy effects life, how our prayers shape us into citizens. Some do have a missional sort of scope of vision but just tend to tilt left while some tilt right; not too many seem very intentional about a deeply integrated Biblical orientation that might give rise to what might be fairly called Christianly faithful politics.

The brand new book by Kaitlyn Schiess fits into this conversation, I think, of longing for a better way to think faithfully about public life and political culture than (as is too often the case) to merely mirror either the right or the left or muddled middle. It calls us to fresh thinking and faithful public witness. One of the chief assumptions is that many younger adults, especially, are just weary of the political legacy they’ve inherited with their churches and they hunger for a better approach. At least that is what it says boldly on the back cover.

The Liturgy of Politics isn’t just a shrill protest about the religious right or the often goofy ways some Christians (without much intentionally Christian insight praise) MAGA and Trumpian power. That is fairly low-hanging fruit and we need more. No, this author is digger deeper, asking why it is that many of us (left, right and center) have adopted values and assumptions and habits of heart and practices about civic life from the political culture itself; we have allowed ourselves to somehow be taken captive and fundamentally shaped in our public views and attitudes by forces other than the gospel. If you’ve read even the first part of Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love you’ll recognize some of her argument. If you appreciate even some of Jim Wallis’s recent Christ in Crisis? Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence I think you’ll see what she is getting at; we resort to political views and parties without much consideration of how the Bible itself and Jesus Himself informs those choices. Our misguided and unfaithful citizenship is an example, she shows, of inadequate spiritual formation. We’ve not lived into the hope of Romans 12: 1-2, and a few motivational sermons to get involved or finger wagging exhortations aren’t going to have the gospel-centered, transformative impact we need.

Of course if you were one of the many who expressed enthusiasm for the (&) project and the recent release of their wonderful Compassion (&) Conviction: The and Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement by Justin Giboney, Chris Butler, and Michael Ware (IVP; $22.00) you will understand more of why we so urgently need to examine our faith and spiritual formation practices so we can become the kind of people who live well in the public square and vote their consciences in light of the Biblical principles of public justice. I think many of us are wishing for fresh insights about the mess we’re in and what to do about it. Michael Wear, in fact, wrote the foreword to The Liturgy of Politics.

Here is what Matthew Kaemingk (author of the forthcoming Work and Worship) says of The Liturgy of Politics:

Many young evangelicals — weary of politics and the culture wars — have begun to disengage from political life. Tired of the narrow-minded politics of the right and left, these evangelicals long for something more–something beyond ideology and sound bites. Kaitlyn Schiess has answered her generation’s call. Drawing on Scripture, history, and contemporary political theology, she offers a robust and accessible political ethic that avoids the old pitfalls of the Christian right and left. She deftly explores how worship and spiritual disciplines can not only liberate evangelicals from destructive political ideologies but actively move them into God’s alternative political mission of public justice and shalom. —Matthew Kaemingk, assistant professor of Christian ethics and associate dean, Fuller Theological Seminary
I love the work of Kristin Deede Johnson who is a dean and teacher of Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary and co-author the the excellent Justice Calling:  Where Passion Meets Perseverance (Brazos Press; $20.00.) If she recommends something, you know it’s going to be good:
This is the book I have been waiting for! There could hardly be a more important topic for our cultural moment than the connection between Christian formation and politics. Kaitlyn Schiess persuasively and powerfully argues that Christians are being deeply formed by the political currents in which we swim, although we don’t often realize it. She then casts a beautiful biblical and theological vision for intentional Christian formation that, by God’s grace, shapes us into disciples who love God as we attend to the life of the world. While giving detailed attention to how and why we practice prayer, Bible reading, worship, Sabbath, and the sacraments, Schiess casts a sweeping and winsome vision of the Christian life, including political engagement and so much more. This book will itself be deeply formative for all who read it. It needs to be read by pastors, youth ministers, worship leaders, small groups, college and seminary students, and all who care about faithful discipleship and formation today.”  —Kristin Deede Johnson, dean and professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary

I hope you get this new book for yourself as a citizen. I hope you suggest it to your Bible study or prayer group. I hope you get it for your preacher and your spiritual director, too, if you’ve got one. If you know any worship leaders, they need it. This really is a key work on the importance of intentional church life, disciple-making, good worship, and spiritual formation practices that are for the world and help us with better engagement with our political system.

I mentioned above one of my mentors in all of this, the brilliant James Skillen, founder of the Center for Public Justice. He says “read this book now!” Jim doesn’t endorse many books, but here is what he nicely says about The Liturgy of Politics:

This is a powerful challenge from a young heart and a mature mind. Schiess seems to touch every unexamined habit of Christian thought, work, leisure, and worship. With a wide sweep of life’s liturgies and church liturgies, of spiritual formation and political responsibility, of Bible reading and communication with others, Schiess goes straight for the heart in relaxed conversation that packs a prophetic punch about our complacency, ignorance of Scripture, cultural conformity, and more. Her urgent message is for communities of Christian faith to repent and turn ourselves over entirely to God, as disciples of Jesus Christ have always been called to do. It is hard to imagine how this young woman has been able to read so widely and think so profoundly about so much of life. Here you’ll find fresh insight and compelling hope that will renew your labors for the coming of God’s kingdom. Young people, old folks like me, and everyone in between, read this book now! —James W. Skillen, author of The Good of Politics, former president of the Center for Public Justice

Skillen is right — she has thought well about a lot and her footnotes are simply spectacular. She’s read a lot and cited all kinds of authors. Wow. This is quite a book. Order it today by scrolling down to our “order here” button at the end of this column. It’ll take you to our secure order form page. Fill in the info. We’ll send your book out right away.

The Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully in the Space Between J.R. Briggs (Zondervan) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99  Due September 8, 2020

Oh, how glad I was to get an early copy of this and be given the opportunity to take a look. J.R. is an energetic church leader, founder of Kairos Partnership, an excellent author of several great books, and a friend of Hearts & Minds. That he wanted to send some of his fans and readers our way means so much. What a great “sacred overlap” between author and booksellers. We are jazzed, honored and energized to think of this simple partnership, an overlap of sorts.

Well, that may be a bit allusive, but here’s my point for saying that, other than to affirm that we feel close to this author and his brand new book. The book is (among other things) about that nearly mystical sense of overlap, of God’s ways and our own, of God’s Spirit and the ordinariness of daily life. It is about embodiment, living in the real world, and yet realizing — on our good days, thanks to God’s active grace in our lives — a holy sense of God’s own presence. We don’t have to choose between the ordinary stuff of the quotidian and the spiritual, say, but can honor the mystery of both/and.

Picture one of those Venn diagrams like on the colorful cover, two circles, maybe think of the Earth and Heaven, or, in common parlance, the secular and the sacred. Think about our daily experiences, fine and bad, meaningful and crappy. And think about God’s realm, glorious and good. Might those two circles overlap? A little? Can we live with one foot in this world and another in the new creation that is yet to come? Might the future break into the present?

Of course, Jesus is the One in which we see the fully human and fully divine combined most clearly. He is the sacred overlap par excellance. And he made this world and is alive and well, reigning over it, even as the promise of newness is yet to be fully seen; we all know in our bones that things are not as they are meant to be, as they someday will be. It’s both/and, Kingdom come and Kingdom yet to come.

Christians at their best honor the glories of creation and the wonder of this good world and want to even affirm that it “declares” the God’s speech, as Psalm 19 puts it. But we are not pantheists; we do not worship the creation, but the Creator. (By the way, I think it is a cheap shot offered by some that those Christians who take seriously the Biblical call to care for the earth, to steward well and even celebrate our oneness with all created things are thereby pantheists; I am confident that most of those Christians working for sustainability and against climate change are not pantheists. We care about creation because God does; one only need recall Psalm 96 or John 3:16 or Colossians 1:16 to be reminded of this. We find spiritual motivation to enjoy the outdoors and to be vigorous in protecting the Earth from those that want to hurt it, but that doesn’t mean we worship it. It’s a cheesy, mean-spirited cheap shot and those that have made it — usually those on the Christian right who claim to believe the Bible but on this score seem not to have read it very carefully — ought to ponder God’s redemptive love for and presence among the creation itself. We attend to the glorious creation and we worship the Creator; it’s not either/or but both/and.

I use this example to suggest that we all could use a refresher course on the relationship of Heaven and Earth, the divine and the commonplace, the spiritual and the mundane, and JR Brigg’s new book is  a unique and fruitful way to accomplish this. The Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully in the Space Between is fun and interesting and learned and missional, it’s firing on so many pistons and raising so many fascinating matters that I cannot think of a reader who won’t enjoy it and be edified by it. It’s a call to wholistic living, honoring both/and approaches and wholistic practices. It will help you “embrace the tensions of living in two worlds” as he puts it

Two worlds? Well, not exactly — we live in one world but our experience is both temporal and eternal, profane and sacred. Jesus said the Kingdom is here, but yet told us to pray for it yet to come in fullness. Some call this the “already but not yet.”

At the very least, to get at this paradoxical truth, we need Briggs’s reminder that a radical trust in God (and a radical love for others) emerges best from a perspective that is less either/or but embracing both/and.

Jen Pollock Michel wrote an award winning book on this exact thing (Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either/Or World) and it’s great to see her lively endorsement on the back of Sacred Overlap. She writes:

To embrace both/and faith is risky—and rewarding— business. It’s risky for those who prefer control to trust, simplification to nuance. It’s rewarding for those who appreciate just how much surprise is involved in following Jesus. The Sacred Overlap will prove immensely helpful for both personal discipleship and corporate mission.

Briggs writes,

Read the gospels and you’ll see how Jesus was committed to crossing cultural, social, political and religious either/or waters, engaging in many and/also activities. He comforted the disturbed and also disturbed the comfortable. He was too religious for the pagans and also too pagan for the religious elites. He hung out with filthy lepers and also dined with the filthy rich. He was alarming and disarming at the same time.

Maybe this “both/and” worldview can help us not only get beyond the debilitation “sacred vs secular” dualism that plagues us, but can push us into the public square with a gracious and ground-breaking, ground-finding mission of reconciliation. We can embrace words and deeds, so to speak. We can become, like Jesus, a “scandalous  misfit” (as JR puts it) “hanging with saints and sinners.”  With wit worthy of one of his mentors, Leonard Sweet, je says we can all “double major” — embracing justice and grace. Our faithful presence, shaped by a realization of a sacred overlap, can perhaps offer a healing balm which our country so badly needs, allowing us to embrace the tension of both conviction and civility. A deep appreciation of a sacred overlap allows us to be surprising, unexpected, refreshing, even. (It is no surprise that the Fresh Expressions church planting movement is part of his backstory.) This rejection of either/or, line-in-the-sand binaries and a creative embrace of “the space between” is bound to bear good fruit, in our own personal growth and in our ministries and public witness.

Here is what author Tod Bolsinger says:

“This book should be read by all those who want to be formed into someone who can personally participate in crossing divides and working for a genuinely restorative common good—and are willing to have their assumptions challenged every step of the way.”

Pre-order this book today by clicking on the order form link at the end of this BookNotes column. If the book is right, it will be a religious experience, with a divine overlap between commerce and spirituality.  And if that is so, who knows where it will all lead. As Len Sweet says of Sacred Overlap, “J.R. Briggs has written the book we have been waiting for.”

I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith Lecrae Moore (Zondervan) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59  Due October 13, 2020 

I can hardly think of another figure in pop culture who represents some of the best impulses these days of culturally-savvy evangelical faith than the writing, speaking, activism, and music (recording and performance) of the hip hop artist known as Lecrae. Lecrae is, to be honest, more thoughtful and well informed and mentored than many Christian pop music stars and celebrity worship leaders, some who wouldn’t read a book if their life depended on it and spout all kinds of bland nonsense on stage and even on their records.) I respect Lecrae and know he has been deeply influenced by some of the very books and theological traditions I’ve mentioned above (see my prelude to the description of Work and Worship, for instance, where I mention Al Wolter’s Creation Regained or Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, etc.) As a black man of informed, serious faith in the hip hop culture (and within the predominantly white, evangelical youth and young adult subculture) Lecrae has navigated things well. His first book, Unashamed is powerful and inspiring in many ways.

I Am Restored, I am told, is every bit as good, perhaps an even more riveting read. It explores his own past, his own experiences of abuse and trauma. (I think of the amazing, unforgettable, vulgar, tender, memoir by Laymon Kiese, entitled Heavy: An American Memoir.) I know Lecrae in his forthcoming book will talk about his own pain, his doubts, his reading of Reformed theology, his involvement with various sorts of religious organizations; he will surely talk about BLM; he will offer insights about his own fears and struggles, about therapy and self-care, even in these hard times.

If you want to get this as soon as it is released, use our order form which is found at the end of this column. The “order here” takes you to our secure order form page where you can follow the directions about safely entering credit card info and we’ll take care of the rest.

Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $27.99   OUR SALE PRICE $23.39  Due October 6, 2020

I have not yet seen this although I will say without hesitation that this should be on the stack of anyone who is a reader of books about our cultural malaise, about how to understand our moment in social history, and, more, about how the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom can offer a compelling and relevant explanation for our world. Certainly if you are into apologetics you need this. If you want good but accesible writing, a serious but popular level apologetic that is astute about society, about the human heart, about the Biblical worldview and about the Gospel of John (especially, in this one) this book is a must-have. You should pre-order it from us today. As much as I truly appreciated his great little volume God and the Pandemic that came out a few months ago (best read in tandem with Walt Brueggemann’s brief but amazing Virus as a Summons to Faith) many of us have been waiting for this particular project for a long time. It is a sequel to his excellent Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense.

To explain  Broken Signposts I should remind you about Simply Christian.

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, you should know, is designed for those who are inquirers to the Christian faith, seekers and skeptics (or, probably more realistically, those who want to enter into better conversations with post-Christian seekers and skeptics.) I have suggested it often as it does, intentionally, what C.S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity, with several unique improvements.

One significant difference, is that the middle portion of Simply Christian is a good overview of the entire Biblical story. Unlike Lewis, Wright is a Bible teacher and the Word is central to his argument that that Story, the drama of Scripture itself, gives an account for and offers meaning into, our own stories, our lives, such as they are.

Secondly, there’s this: C.S. Lewis is famously making an argument from our lived experiences, our longings and desires and wishes and aches. There must be more to life if  we sense some longing; there must be some ultimate Home if we all experience some profound homesickness. He writes in lovely prose about his own sweet home with lots of books and big cups of tea. Don’t we all want to be back to that safe place and is not that exact wistful longing some signal of transcendence? That is, if there is a place we long for, maybe there is exactly such a place. Maybe the call we hear from home is coming from a real Caller. God and heaven are most likely real because we are seem wired for this wishful thinking, this near universal desire for Something, based on some memory wired deep within us..

This is all well and good (and it is!) except here’s the thing: few postmodern, contemporary readers feel about their homes the way Lewis in the early-mid 20th century felt about his. The concern is more complicated than this, but many college-age young adults have told me — I bet they’ve told you if you’ve had this kind of conversation with them, which I hope you have — that Mere Christianity just doesn’t cut it. They do not resonate with it, as some may say. Others are enraged by the assumptions that home was a safe haven and that God is a good daddy; this is not their experience, in their childhood homes or in this culture. Lewis’s elevated prose and classical arguments made with these pleasant images may have worked for certain sorts of readers in earlier times but it is increasingly obvious that many can’t go there nowadays.

Enter Tom Wright with his version of Mere Christianity, Simply Christian, first published in 2010. NT Wright suggests that Lewis (whose books were very important in his own coming to faith, by the way) is correct — we are built for something, we are wired, so to speak, we hear echos of deep meaning coming from somewhere or Someone. But the deep, nearly universal instincts that give us these longings are not about homesickness for our quaint British home with lovely tea; it is our longing for justice. Is that not the cry of every child — “That’s not fair!”? Where does that come from? And it is for our aching loneliness and anxiety — our longing for good relationships.  Do we not all long for healthy relationships? Is this not why debates about sexuality and LGBTQ+ persons, these days, are so tender and wrought — we all long for intimacy and it is so very, very close to the bone for us all. (I suppose it isn’t true for all of us but as the singer of The Head and the Heart sings in the song “Gone” from their album Let’s Be Still, “We wear our broken hearts on our sleeves.”) Another key “signal of transcendence” that Wright explores in Simply is especially powerful after 9-11 and the rise in global terrorism and mass shootings (perhaps now experienced also as a fear of global pandemics) and that is the longing for security. We all want to be safe, free from persecution and war and danger. And then there is beauty. Who among us doesn’t gasp at a beautify sunset or double rainbow or other exquisite scenes that conjure up an innate appreciation for beauty.

These are the signals or signposts that point us to a reality that, in fact, honors these universal human longings and can explain why they are there and how they went so very badly for so many of us. Our very lived lives in the world God has made points us to the plausible truth of the Biblical teachings about a good creation that went sinfully wrong but that is being answered, redeemed, healed, renewed. (Or as Wright often says in his British way, “sorted out.”)

In the words of Dallas Willard, we told that “N.T. Wright is uniquely qualified to convey the enduring substance of Christian life and thought to contemporary people.” J.I. Packer, called this book “brilliant” said “Bishop Wright is one of God’s best gifts to our decaying Western church…”

And, now, in Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World he does it again. I’m told Wright expands his “signposts” to seven (adding longings for and experience of freedom, truth, and power) and insists that every worldview must somehow given an account of these “indicators” that are “inherent to humanity.” Why do we long so for right experiences of these things?  Using the Gospel of John as his main source, he shows how Christianity defines each signpost and shows why we so often see them as being “broken.”  And what good news there is about what can and will be done to “sort it all out.”

As the publisher has promised:

Drawing on the wisdom of the Gospels, Wright explains why these signposts are fractured and damaged and how Christianity provides the vision, guidance, and hope for making them whole once again, ultimately healing ourselves and our world.

Pre-order this now at our discount price using our link to our secure order form page at the bottom of this column. We are grateful.

Nailed It: 365 Readings for Angry or Worn-Out People (Revised and Expanded) Anne Kennedy (Square Halo Books) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39   Due late October 2020

Do you want a daily devotional that isn’t, um, overly sweet and full of religious cliches?  Want a collection of daily meditations that is as messy and complex and (at times) funny as the Bible itself actually is?  Are you maybe tired of the worn sentiments of evangelical faith but need some boost that isn’t off-the-charts sacrilegious. Well, do we have good news for you.

Anne Kennedy, allow me to say, is one heckuva writer. She’s snarky and sarcastic and witty and bold. And, as any reader can tell, loves the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus the Christ. That is, she’s precise and faithfully orthodox in theological concerns that matter most. But let’s face it, sometimes those who are most seriously committed to good theology are nearly insufferable.  And sometimes devotionals can almost make things worse, seemingly unaware of our deep hurts, our anger, and our need for something more real and raw. They writers are often lovely and spiritually mature, but we get bored.

Nailed It was a vibrant collection of Biblical reflections that was previously published by the distinguished by now defunct Kalos Press. Kudos to them for recognizing Kennedy’s good writing and taking a risk or putting out this fiesty anti-devotional.  And Kudos to my pals Ned & Leslie Bustard over at Square Halo Books for seeing something there that needed to be preserved. They bought the rights to this, commissioned her to create new content to make it into a volume with a year’s worth of entries, gave it a striking new cover — the previous drawing of Jael in Judges maybe was a bit much — and we now have one of the great new devotionals for 2020. We hear it will be available in mid-to-late October; with the Covid complications and supply chain disruptions who knows exactly how smaller, indie presses can get their stuff out there?  We invite you to get this in order to support this artful, sound, publisher.

I like this endorsement by Karen Swallow Prior:

If you think the Christian life is one precious moment after another, you should read this book. And if you think the Gospel is all pap and saccharine, you really should read this book. But if you, like me, long for a devotional that is sharpening, witty, and downright real, well then, you simply must read this book. You will never see the story of the Bible-or your own place within that story-the same way again. Karen Swallow Prior, Ph.D., Author of On Reading Well

Don’t ya love the little snipe at “precious moments.” Well done, SKP; you’ve been reading Anne Kennedy, I see.

Anne Kennedy, by the way, has a B.A. from Cornell University and an M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. She grew up in French-speaking West Africa and traveled all over the world, only to find herself now living in upstate New York, where she mothers her six young children and helps her husband pastor a small Anglican church. Anne blogs at

Use our button at the end of this BookNotes column to be sent to our secure order form page here at the bookshop in Dallastown. Pre-order it now at our 20% off discount. Then, after you hit send, cry, “Nailed it.”  Okay, that was dumb. But, let’s face it, you can’t do that part over the phone.

The Monster in the Hollows: The Wingfeather Saga Book 3  Andrew Peterson (Waterbrook Press) $13.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19  Due October 6, 2020

The Warden and the Wolf King: The Wingfeather Saga Book 4  Andrew Peterson (Waterbrook Press) $13.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19  Due October 6, 2020

Oh my, the new editions (Books 3 and 4) of the Wingfeather Saga are soon to be released and many of our early/middle elementary age and older customers have been waiting and waiting. (Some of those awaiting are quite a bit older, actually, as these kid’s fantasy books really do have a wide appeal.) You may know that they were written by the multi-talented singer songwriter Andrew Peterson, the head bunny at Rabbit Room. They were, for a while, done in paperback by the cool and very indie Rabbit Room outfit. (You may know their publishing work best for doing the exquisite and very blessed leathery Every Moment Holy prayer books, the large and the small editions, both which we carry, or the lovely leather bound edition of The Light Princess which we’ve reviewed at BookNotes when it first came out.) Andrew Peterson is a thoughtful and good writer and a great individual and we’re delighted that this major publisher picked up and are re-doing all four of the main Wingfeather books. (The previous Book Five, Wingfeather Tales: Six Thrilling Stories from the World of Aerwiar (which we still have in paperback, by the way) will be reissued in hardback in March 2021.)

As we explained at BookNotes back in the early spring when Book 1 and Book 2 were reissued by Waterbrook (that’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! or Be Eaten) the fantasy-world stories are not changed from the originals. The re-set type font is a bit better, the black & white illustrated artwork, I think, is better, and they are now casebound (sans dust jacket) hardbacks. At the same price as the old paperbacks. Yay. These are great, fun, adventurous reads and we do recommend them. You should have all four!

Just scroll down to below our logo and click on the “order here” button which will take you to our secure order form page. You can tell us what you want and how you want it sent. Easy.

Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography Paul Harvey (Eerdmans) $28.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19.  Due October 27, 2020

I could spend much time typing out for you how important Howard Thurman was (and is) as one of the chief thinkers and spiritual writers that fueled the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Those who know even a little of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will know that Thurman was important to him, King’s own ragged copy of Jesus and the Disinherited often carried with him from study to march, pulpit to hotel, church to protest. It remains a very important book and we are always glad when folks order it from us.

Dr. Thurman was a very significant leader in mid to late 20th century black culture. Ebony Magazine, I believe, named him one of the top 50 most important figures in African American history. Naturally, there are several books about him, including his own autobiography that we carried soon after we opened and still stock entitled With Head and Heart.

This forthcoming one by the insightful Paul Harvey is, I predict, going to become known as the standard, the gold-standard, of biographies of the great leader.

And what a book it is. Thanks to a helpful Eerdmans staff member, I got an early draft of the manuscript and it is excellent. Publishers Weekly raved with a starred review. The author seems to really capture the various sides of the complicated Thurman, known variously as a mystic and activist and theologian and institutional leader. He was the dean of the chapel at  Howard University, a chaplain at Boston University (1953-1965), met with Gandhi, wrote for the Quakers, spoke out in favor of nonviolence, planted an interracial church in San Francisco, became a mentor to King and others, and eventually took other leadership roles.

I appreciate Harvey’s good writing and his sensitivity to these various roles, Thurmans inner life and spirituality, his passion for the poor, his articulate hope for a just and meaningful faith for the modern culture. Dr. Harvey is obviously fluent in this material and has been studying this topic for a long time. More than a decade ago he published the provocative and widely reviewed The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. That he has done this work, now, is a major contribution.  I like what the publisher says:

Few historical figures represent such diverse parts of the American religious tradition as Howard Thurman did. By telling the story of his religious lives, Paul Harvey gives the reader a window into many of the main currents of twentieth-century American religious expression.

Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography by Paul Harvey is part of the very highly-regarded seres of religious biographies published over the years by Eerdmans. The list of this series is remarkable and the biographers are most often historians who are respected in their fields. I’m very excited about this important new release. It will be good for anyone interested in the civil rights movement, the spiritual formation of mid-20th century black intellectuals like King, and, further, for how this living tradition of gospel-based and deeply spiritual lives can motivate and shape those who are servants of the public good, or, as King put it, extremists for love. Very highly recommended. You can pre-order it by clicking on the link that says “order here” below. Thanks.




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