Advent and Christmas books for children — ON SALE 20% OFF

Most years we enjoy sharing some of the beautiful children’s titles that are shown in our holiday display here at the shop. Some are new this year; some are older classics. We have others, too, of course – from the tender and gorgeous The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (by former Yorker Susan Wojciechowski and those marvelous illustrations by Irishman P.J. Lynch) to a family favorite Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect to the wildly dazzling art of Julie Vivas’s The Nativity (where the robed angel wears army boots and we get a glimpse of the holy buck-naked baby Jesus.) We have handsome versions of The Gift of the Magi and some beautifully mature picture books telling the story of the famous World War I Christmas truce; and don’t forget great read-alouds like The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever and so many more. So call us if you need suggestions.

We will do another special BookNotes highlighting non-seasonal children’s books in a day or so, so watch for that. We are glad that many people still enjoy giving quality children’s books as gifts this time of year. Even when many are cutting back and spending less on themselves – see the book and DVD The Advent Conspiracy for a great example of this faith-based movement to worship well and serve others, spending less on our own materialistic Xmas extravagance – there is something simple and right and good about sharing a book. Wrapped up easily, it’s almost a perfect gift. Kids may be confused at first, though, when they realize you don’t have to plug it in to recharge it!

These are all 20% off while supplies last. We may or may not be able to quickly order more if we run out so don t delay. Use our secure order form page by clicking on the order link below.)


That Baby in a Manger Anne E. Neuberger, illustrated by Chloe E. Pitkoff (Paraclete Press) $15.99 I believe this is our favorite new Christmas book for children. It’s colorfully done in nice watercolors, soft and yet somehow rich, mostly conventional with a few touches of whimsy. There is a bit of a story here and it is so touching it will move you deeply by the surprising ending, I’m sure. Your children will, I hope, want to read it over and over.

Here’s the basic story: It is a few days before Christmas and children from a school are visiting their Roman Catholic Church. They see that the baby Jesus figure is not yet placed in the crèche and wonder why he will look like. One girl tells the priest that she knows for sure what Jesus looks like and describes a white baby with blond curls (looking like herself and her favorite doll.) An older Latino gentleman is sitting the sanctuary and overhears and sets in motion a project to help the children realize that Jesus, actually, didn’t look like that. But then something else transpires and the way the nativity is told by way of this Catholic congregation’s Christmas Eve Mass and the role of their children (and their various, multi-ethnic dolls) is a sight to behold. A lovely, tender, faithful book that is fun and touching.

The Night Before Christmas in Bethlehem Cheryl Wagner, illustrated by Carol Salomon-Bryant (All-In Publishing) $24.99 This is one of the most lavishly illustrated books we’ve seen this year, with gold foil on the rich cover and the full color oil paintings, with lots going on, a lot of allusions and symbols and intentional signals pointing to deep truths. (There is a guide to the back for each page helping children and grown-ups, too, understand each page and the Biblical texts that inform it.)

The author and illustrator go to great effort to show the Messianic nature of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection (which then circles back to the birth narrative) complete with artwork depicting classic white and pale blue prayer coverings on the Jewish men, almost magical straw that winds around, in one scene, to subtly create a Star of David. The inside flyleaf is an actual reproduction a manuscript of the scroll of Isaiah.

It might strike some as an unfortunate re-make of the classic Christmas poem, complete with rhymes. Granted. Still, there is something compelling about the intensity of the story. As it unfolds it moves to the drama of St. John’s Revelation and the artists use Holy Spirited verve to illustrate the cosmic reign of Christ over all. There’s a hint of the multi-ethnic implications of the Kingdom and there’s a few remarkable images of the 21st century.

The Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story Sally Lloyd-Jones, paintings by Alison Jay (Zonderkidz) full children’s hardback – $16.99; board book – $7.99 We have promoted this gem as often as we can since it came out three years ago as we love it! What a great, perfectly realized book, combining fabulous art, creatively portrayed but with an antique edge, and a simple, poetic, text that faithfully reminds us that all of creation gets in on this redemptive moment. How refreshing to see whales and lions and angels! You know Sally Lloyd-Jones from her many, many children’s books, but mostly The Jesus Storybook Bible and Thoughts That Make Your Heart Sing both which we adore. But this simple telling of the Christmas story showing the glory of God, the goodness of creation, the grace of the gospel is wonderfully crafted, told with eagerness and wonder, all helping us appreciate anticipation. Highly recommended.

The Littlest Watchman Scott James, illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez (The Good Book Company) $14.99  I am less fond of this kind of artwork that seems perhaps computer generated but I am told that kids today love this style – it is the sort one would see in the expertly done animation of the Disney films. It is bright and cartoony.

But here is why I highly recommend this – it is a fable, to be sure, and teaches at least two essential Biblical truths.

The story is about a boy who is given the task in his generation of being “The Watchman” who is called upon to watch for a green shoot to emerge from a dead tree stump. The boy’s father was a Watchman and has passed the calling on to his young son, enfolding him into the story, into the promises, into the responsibility. And herein lies a great truth: we can be people of hope, trusting the promises, hanging in there while we learn to wait in expectation. The boy in the story realizes how tempting it is to be distracted, to walk away from the task, to give up hope.  It’s not a very exciting job, staring at a dead stump. But then something happens!

Besides the good lesson of learning patience, learning to wait, learning to be faithful, is the second, bigger lesson: that God is faithful, that this odd little promise of a green growth coming from a dead log is a huge part of the background to properly understand Christmas. Advent is a good time to learn to wait, and it is a time to explore the Older Testament texts that promise the Coming. In many ways this book is itself hope-filled, and will – as David Platt says of it – “encourage your children and the child in you!”  Here is a lovely and well-made video trailer promoting the book. It’s really nice and will explain what’s behind the book. Check it out and think of a child you could share this with!

Mary’s Song L. Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn (Eerdmans Books for Your Readers) $17.00 This is not, I should note, the Biblical song of Mary as recorded in Luke – we need a kids books doing that for sure – but it is one of the most lovely books you’ll find, a soft look, a gentle cadence, poetic and charming and good. I hope you know Lee Bennett Hopkins who is a very esteemed children’s author. The art is intricate and done, I presume, with pastels or colored pencils. Very nice.

Goodnight, Manger Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz) full sized children’s picture book – $16.99; padded board book – $8.99 There are a few reasons I love to show this one. First, it is just happy. There are some tellings of the nativity story that are too happy, zany, light-weight, which end up, in my view, being a glib distraction from the story. But, still, this is just pleasant and it’s fun. The folks look natural. There is a lot of orange, and it feels fun. But, it is helpful that the characters look Middle Eastern and multi-ethnic. Again, most of the silly, upbeat ones are pretty goofy, where he the pleasant art touches reveal some reality. There is one scene, though, where the joyous angels seem to look like dark-haired, olive-skinned men (playing instruments, including one with a small accordion – how ‘bout that?) Anyway, this cheery story has animals and shepherds and astronomers and all the rest, but it’s a cheery, colorful version for little kids.

Saint Nicholas & The Nine Gold Coins Jim Forest, illustrated by Vladislav Andrejev (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press) $20.00 Okay, this isn’t directly a Christmas book but it is one of the several books we have about the early church Bishop who became known as Saint Nicholas. Yep, Sinterklaas, himself (as the Dutch called him.) Jolly old St. Nick. I suppose you know that the real Nicholas grew up Patara, in what we sometimes call Asia Minor. He learned about life and faith and quiet service to those in need from his uncle (who had himself been a bishop and had a ministry with the poor, and especially with sailors from all over the world, there in their seaport town.)

This colorful book, published by a Russian Orthodox publishing house, is written not only by an Orthodox convert (Jim Forest had known Merton and Dorothy Day, by the way, and has been a life-long peace activist) but is illustrated by a fine art illustrated raised and trained in St Petersburg. His own search for deeper meaning lead him to become an iconographer and these pictures for this story of the early life of Nicholas almost looks like icons. (Andrejey has teamed up with Forest previously for a great book, also on St Vlad’s, called Saint George and the Dragon.) This is classy, rich, lavish, even, and not at all silly. It is a book about virtue, about charity, a story of service and sacrifice, set in an ancient sea town, where Nicholas drew up and as mentored by his uncle. As Nicholas’s uncle taught him, there are many ways to be on an adventure, and following the gospel is one of the biggest adventures one can have.

There are a nice few pages in the back that offer more details of what happened to this lad who grew up and became a bishop, known for his passion for Christ, for miracles and compassion and wise church leadership.

For what it is worth, we have other books about the real man behind Santa Claus. One that also beautifully captures the realities of the ancient church but also exclaims the legends from around the world is The Legend of Saint Nicholas by the award-winning illustrator and author, Demi (Margaret McElderry Books; $21.99) which is fantastic.


A Christmas Promise Alison Mitchell, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99  I believe I might have said last year that this was our favorite Christmas kids book of 2016. It has a whimsy and playfulness to it that is hard to not like, but the flow of the Biblical story and Christ’s coming within that big redemptive narrative is similarly hard to miss. Too few books really show the big picture, and The Good Book Company’s handful of gospel-centered kids books do this very well. We love this great telling of the big story of the Baby King come to restore the planet.

The pictures are wacky and surprising, with a eye-popping design (including the integration of some photos making it so interesting. Still, the content and message couldn’t be more solid. Highly recommended, along, then, with other great kids books from this evangelical publisher that gets it right.

A Cold Night: A Christmas Fable Emanuele Bertossi (Spark House Family) $14.95 This is a fairly large-sized hardback with modern-esque illustration; I believe this book was first released in Italy. There is lots of sparse space in this text and the haunting illustrations are odd, evocative. The plot is simple – several animals notice how cold it is and observe a man and a woman looking for lodging. A star appears after their baby is born and, again, it is cold and quiet and peculiar. The strength of this unusually creative work is how empathy emerges,  with so few words, and how much it leaves unsaid; it is sparse and cannot be accused of being preachy. Parents can discuss what else is happening in the story, which makes it very useful for conversations.

Messy Christmas Lucy Moore & Jane Leadbetter (IVP) $14.00  I hope you saw my longer description of this when we did a post about Advent devotionals a month or so ago. As I explained there, this is a new supplemental book that follows the new Americanized version of the popular Messy Church curriculum from the UK. Ideally, this is for congregations wanting to do an experimental worship programming, perhaps offering a fresh expression of a faith community, inviting non-church guests to a creative, inter-generational arts and crafts activity. People have found it really exciting to use and some smaller churches have used it as a VBS type thing on a weeknight, say. Of course, any family can adapt it to their own use, so why not give it a try with your extended clan? This offers three complete sessions and a treasure trove of ideas for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. We’ve got the new Messy Lent, now, too.

The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent Ann Voskamp (Tyndale House Publishers) $34.99 This fabulously interesting interactive book is the third in a series, all which are stellar, wonderfully produced and substantive.

First there was The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas ($19.99.) It is a lovely hardback offering ways to do the Jesse Tree tradition in your home, which is a great set of symbols tying Old Testament texts to Christ. We like the Jesse Tree a lot, and glad that Voskamp has been introducing it to so many. (Here is a precious, beautiful 4 minute video of Ann and her children doing it and you can see her remarkable paper-cut ornaments.) Well, after that fine book, there was the very nice, lavish, larger-sized hardback gifty edition called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas ($24.99.) We are very fond of that and it is a great value for how substantial and artful it is.

Now, this year, we are happy to tell you about a stunning pop-up edition with ornaments. tucked in to an calendar type board. Here is what the publisher says about this big beautiful book, The Wonder of the Greatest Gift:

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 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. Also inside is a simple devotional book with a reading for each ornament. Create precious holiday memories with The Wonder of the Greatest Gift pop-up book and recapture the sacredness of the Advent season as you celebrate the epic pageantry of the coming of the Messiah.

I really like how one of the editors at Tyndale explains it shows the various components and the complex pop-up art. Although we are obviously already well into the Advent days, most parents don’t mind playing some catch up, doing several of the brief activities on the same day. That’s fine. (Or get it on sale now and give it as a gift so a family you know can use it next year.) Enjoy this video little explanation, here.



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Friends and customers often tell us that they are intrigued by how we set up large book displays at so many different events, curating a selection of books that might help participants from each group in relating deep faith and interesting reading with their particular vocations and contexts.

From pastors and congregants at a retreat for small churches to a sophisticated arts event, from a jam-packed conference for mostly conservative Christian lawyers to an academic conference of mostly UCC pastors studying Mercersburg theology, from our regular involvement in the solid CCO campus ministry training to a “cookie walk” at a local Lutheran church, Beth and I and our staff try to find just the right resources for just the right crowd. Trying to get it right (not to mention sneaking in books we believe in that we think would be good for them) really keeps us on our toes.

For each group we take classic theology, maybe some stuff that pushes them outside of their comfort zone, books about spirituality and books about social concerns from racial justice to environmental care to global poverty. There are a few authors whose books we take nearly everywhere and there are specialty titles (some may say weird) that we trot out once a year for this or that annual gig, just to impress that particular tribe.

Once we were doing two concurrent events and I took books for the death and dying event to a gathering where we were mostly selling children’s books. And (yep, you can see where this is going) some of the cheery kids books ended up at the hospice event. Sometimes we really have to scramble…


We just got back from a conference for Episcopal clergy who serve in mostly urban and suburban parishes in the greater Philadelphia area. It’s a pretty standard mainline denominational crew, it seems, with some pastors pretty far to the left on the theological spectrum, and others more moderate. Some are nearly Anglo-Catholic in their highly liturgical style while a few are experiencing some renewal in ways that are nearly charismatic; there are radical social activists, a church that keeps bees as part of their environmental stewardship calling, a few that are predominantly made up of ethnic and racial minorities. What joy to meet priests from the Church of South India who tell me of their friendship with their old bishop, Lesslie Newbigin.

Of course each of these diverse clergy’s own understandings of faith, formation, and ministry are deeply influenced by their own theological history (and the seminaries from which they came are all over the map) and their emphasis on sacramental worship. We enjoy learning about their life as (somewhat conflicted) members of the broader, worldwide Anglican communion and their top-heavy ecclesiology. Their recent Bishop is a good man and it is a privilege to serve them.

We’re still not clear on all their ecclesiastical nomenclature — Canons and Vergers and Ordinaries – but we know enough to bring a ton of their own denominational publishing houses (Church Publishing, which consolidates storied publishing ministries such as Morehouse and Seabury) and Forward Movement and the like.

If we were with Lutherans, we’d be heavier on Augsburg and Fortress; when we serve UCC folks we take more Pilgrim Press titles; the PCUSA publishing house is called Westminster/John Knox and the official United Methodist one is Abingdon, although Upper Room is one of their affiliated spiritual formation imprints that is delightfully ecumenical.) Serious religious book lovers should know these names, even if you are drawn to more independent, evangelical publishing imprints like Zondervan, Tyndale or Crossway. Of course we always take a mix of all sorts of publishers – heavy on the ecumenically evangelical, always thoughtful, Eerdmans, IVP, and Baker/Brazos – including Herald Press which is Mennonite and a whole cavalcade of Catholic and even Orthodox publishing houses. Not to mention books by quality indie and boutique publishers like Square Halo Books or Urban Loft or Kalos Press or Falls City Press or so many more.

And of course, we carry many scholarly titles from academic presses and tons of books by mainstream, general market trade publishers that do so many worthwhile books by secular authors and by Christians of all sorts. From the brand new Barking at the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle (Simon & Schuster; $26.00) to the much-discussed best-seller The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Penguin Group; $25.00) to The Book of Joy co-authored by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama (Avery Publishing Group; $26.00) and the large backlist of authors such as Kathleen Norris, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Timothy Keller, Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamotte, Madeline L’Engle, Wendell Berry, Richard Foster, and so many of the older spiritual classics, the so-called “secular” publishers offer rich, rich, religious titles and we are happy to promote them.

No wonder we need so many tables when we do these events!


If you want to order any of these books (and we hope you do) please send us an order using our handy and secure order form page at our Hearts & Minds website. You can easily get there by clicking the “order” link shown below. Just tell us what you want.  Thanks.

ALSO: I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but here is a little etiquette lesson: if you learn about a book here at BookNotes, or are convinced to read it by my descriptions, it is tacky (at best) to then purchase it elsewhere. We offer these reviews to you at considerable cost to our own time and energy and trust that if you see something that you want to purchase, you’ll have the courtesy of sending the order our way. We are grateful for customers world-wide who want to see our bookstore flourish. We thank you sincerely for your support.

Of course we featured and sold books in dozens of categories – from social justice to spirituality, from Biblical studies to memoir and novels, from theology and doctrine to culture and the arts – but here are some that might be of most interest to those who work in mainline church settings, mostly about church life. All on sale, too; we’ll deduct 20% off the regular, shown price.

Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on Love and Longing Frank T. Griswold (Church Publishing) $18.00 We were thrilled that Church Publishing arranged it for us to have this brand new book immediately after it was in their warehouse, making our gathering a launch party for its release. We were the very first place to have it.

The (Retired) Bishop Griswold was the speaker for this retreat and to have his new collection of reflections was a privilege – none of us had read the book yet, of course, but his presentations were precious, mature, thoughtful, kind, full of stories about ministry, about his own interior life, and way prayer and Scripture and self-awareness can help us live lives of fidelity to the gospel. Drawing much from the new book, he shared provocative wisdom and I was impressed. He quoted poetry and Thomas Merton and pointed us to deeper mystery in ways that were interesting and, I think, very helpful. I know some of our readers are suspicious of anything good coming from mainline denominations but if they spent an hour with this esteemed leader I think they’d come away with a different attitude.

The good Bishop wrote a small, lovely book of ruminations and reflections years ago called Going Home: Reflections on Jubilee and a hand-sized prayer book Praying Our Days that we have carried for years. Both are very nice. It was nice to sit under his teaching a bit.

There are rave reviews enhancing this lovely new book, from Frederick Buechner to Ellen Davis, from Peter Hawkins (Professor of Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School) to poet Luci Shaw. We think it would make a lovely gift for your pastor, or for anyone wanting to live into a greater sense of the great, mysterious, love of God. Order the brand new Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on Love and Longing by Frank Griswold today.

Feasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship edited by David Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (WJK) $25.00 Everyone in this crowd knew well the respected, vulti-volume Feasting on the World preaching resources, the set of four-volume commentaries on the lectionary readings for preachers. (That’s four volumes for each liturgical year, making the whole series a 12 volume sets.) They also know the two-volume Feasting on the Word Worship Companion set that is available for each liturgical year that draws on the insights and perspectives of the Feasting preaching aids that help craft lectionary-based, theologically mature but somewhat creative worship services. The Feasting preaching commentaries and the Feasting Worship Companions are standard fare at any clergy event, and are almost always well received.

For this season, though, this tool is really helpful to have on hand — the Advent Companion (like the similar Lenten Companion) offers preaching and worship ideas (including hymns) for the weeks of the season, from the first Sunday in Advent through Epiphany, with extra ideas for mid-week services and Christmas eve services and the like. It’s really, really useful, and helpful for almost anyone putting together classic, lectionary-based services.

Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Resource Year B Part 1 and Year B Part 2 William Willimon (Abingdon Press) $24.99 each If you’ve been part of mainline church life for very long you know the name of Will Willimon. (And, for any CCO campus ministry folks reading over my shoulder here, you may want to smile a bit recalling how Messiah College’s Doug Bradbury – now teaching radical youth ministry at Geneva College – was the playfully boisterous emcee at our collegiate Jubilee Conference a few decades ago and when he brought Willimon to the main stage and got everybody singing in Rasta-reggae style Will-eee, Will-eee Will-eee-mon. I think the dapper Methodist clergyman didn’t quite know what to do.)

Everybody, though, should know that Willimon is a master craftsman when it comes to weaving words into moving sentences, a powerful, moving storyteller, a Christian gentleman from the South who is not afraid to speak out bluntly about racism and poverty, a terse bluntness he maybe learned from his friend and sometimes writing partners, the blue-collar, no-nonsense theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Willimon is known as a preacher’s preacher – at least within mainline sanctuaries – and has written bunches of books about homiletics, about preaching the texts, about using theology in the pulpit (he’s not quite Reformed but is partial to the Reformed giant Karl Barth) and even (in his last, powerful read, Who Lynched Willie Earle? he examines an old Southern sermon about an infamous lynching, asking what we can learn about being direct about racial injustices in the Sunday pulpit.) I could go on and on extolling Willimon’s credentials as a professor of homiletics and as an eloquent preacher (even from his prestigious years as the Dean of the Chapel at Duke University.) But here is what you most need to know: here we have Willimon’s own insights that have over many years been published in his journal Pulpit Resource, offering insights on the weekly, Sunday Lectionary texts, sharing good Bible observations for preachers as they develop a theme, and then actually telling this gospel story and preaching these Biblical texts.

These sermons are not, of course, to be stolen and used directly. Professor and (retired) Bishop Willimon says in the introduction how this is more like gathering over coffee with a trusted fellow-preacher or mentor and asking “So, what are you going to preach about this week?” It is a way to start your own thinking, get the sermon going, informed by the diligent work he has done with the texts, the commentaries and the like. Preachers must do their own work, of course, but this guide is a companion. I enjoy dipping into it myself, so for those who just like collections of interesting Christian messages, these sermons are themselves a great resource. Thanks, Willeee Will-eee-mon.

Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99 If there was one book that I wished I had even more time to talk about – although they give me a three very generous time slots to announce books — it very well could be this one. I felt like I didn’t need to say much as the premise is pretty straight-forward: it’s a novel comprised of fictional letters by a down-to-Earth, no-nonsense, very caring and very eloquent pastor to his small-town, a bit cranky and certainly eccentric Presbyterian church. With the blurb on the front from Eugene Peterson (in which he calls it a “tour de force” and says “an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read”) and my assurance that it is captivating, funny, and brilliantly written, I figured I didn’t need to say much more. When I described it here in BookNotes a month ago, again, I didn’t feel like I needed to explain much else. What’s not to love? If it is one of the best books about church life or the life of a pastor Peterson has ever read, you should buy it immediately, no? If I say it’s one of my favorite books of the year – and I have said that often – why not order a handful and start a book group?

Alas, there is so much in this little story that calls forth deep questions and good discussions that I wish I had time to review it in detail. Letter by letter I grew to like Jonas McAnn more and more. As the (not too complex) plot thickens and different folks in the church come out with this or that concern, I felt like it was a mirror to many, many churches of which I am familiar. Granby Presbyterian is a hoot of a place and it rings true to life. These letters are eloquent and moving and fun and will generate lots of stuff to consider, to ponder, to pray about. Love Big Be Well is a great little book, and I very highly recommend it.

A Word to Live By: Church’s Teachings for a Changing World Volume 7 Lauren Winner (Church Publishing) $12.00 I have often said, in workshops on reading as a spiritual discipline, to find an author and stick with her through thick and thin. I name a few authors I have committed myself to read and ponder whatever they write. Lauren is one such writer and I have not yet tired of her good writing, her fascinating stories, her insightful teaching. This very small book is in an ongoing series about key teachings of the Episcopal Church, but it is good for anyone. A Word to Live By is a short introduction to the role of the Scriptures in our lives (and, particularly in the worship and life of Episcopalians) and I commend it heartily.

Winner here reminds us less of a doctrine of Scripture (an important enough task) but rather points us to how to “engage the Word of God with curiosity and confidence.” It is a glorious little book that will make you think whether you are a seasoned Bible teacher or a newbie to the life of Christian Bible reading.

Listen to this endorsement from the Executive Director of Forward Movement:

Scripture engagement is one of the most important catalysts for spiritual growth. Lauren Winner offers ways for all of us, newcomers and lifelong Bible-readers alike, to engage and be transformed by scripture.

Here’s a little word to the wise: the two-page conclusion (“Abundant, Inexhaustible”) based on a poem by George Herbert is worth the price of the book. Her little exegesis of that poem which tells us about Jesus Christ, and how the Bible is always pointing us to Him, is fabulously generative. You can use it in your own teaching and preaching, I’m sure.

The Jesus Heist: Recovering the Gospel From the Church C. Andrew Doyle (Church Publishing) $18.00 This book promises to “flip the script” on Bible stories, “allowing us to hear Jesus’s call to change as one that is directed at us rather than as one we should direct at others.” Fair enough. But this book is more than that, what Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms (and herself a priest) says “is an ecclesiastical breath of fresh air.” As she continues, naming how this book will help those who are bored with church or stuck in their faith:

We can let go of useless structures that don’t lead us to love the world with eyes wide open. We can live again as the motley crew of Jesus who are present in the world, love their neighbors! This book will free you to reimagine how you spend your time, talent, and treasures for the coming Kingdom.

Listen to this blurb from United Methodist leader and retired Bishop, Will Willimon:

Once again Bishop Andy Doyle has put his great, first-hand knowledge of the church in service to the rest of us.  Andy has seen the church at our worst and best and still, out of love for Christ, comes through with a strong call to love and serve the church, not for what the church is (which, as Andy notes, is often a mess) but the church as it can be.  For all of us who love Christ and keep trying to love Christ’s body, this book is a welcomed word and a practical guide for how to help the church keep up with the movements of its living Christ.

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community John Pavlovitz (WJK) $16.00 Pavlovitz is known among younger mainline clergy folks mostly due to his engaging blog “Stuff That Needs to Be Said.” This carries forward the energetic call to be prophetic, full of love and grace, pushing boundaries in ways the prophets, Jesus, and the anti-Empire Paul might if they were around today. It offers “very wise reflections of a pastor with a heart like Jesus” says David Gushee. Pavlovitz calls us to four “marks of the bigger table” which are radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free community.” Not everyone will agree with all of this, I suppose, although the Episcopal group didn’t mind that I named the “Church Must Be Queer” chapter, which is a chapter that draws, among other things, on a brilliant Homer Simpson admission in an old The Simpson’s episode, and the fact that in the early church, the word Christian was first a name of derision.

This already is a book that is being discussed widely, especially, of course, in more progressive or mainline settings. As he puts in in his blog, there are some things that just “have to be said.”  Agree or not, this is important stuff to get out there, to think about, to take up prayerfully. Check it out.  Or, as the ad slogan for it goes, “Pull up a chair.”

Preaching Adverbially F. Russell Mitman (Eerdmans) $30.00 This book was stacked up in the shop the day we got back from the Episcopal retreat so I didn’t get to announce it there but if it had arrived in time, I would have, for sure. Mitman is a remarkable church leader – of fairly high-church German Reformed heritage, a former Conference Minister in the Penn Southeast Conference of the UCC. He has written several books of liturgical resources (years and years ago he had an creative, faithful one published by Harper and, in recent years, two or three from Pilgrim Press, with endorsements from the likes of his friend Marva Dawn.) So he’s been at this a while, guiding churches to more rich and robust, creative and faithful, forms or worship.

I know this won’t mean much to most readers, but I have to say that Mitman’s well-read sermons have often ministered to me personally, not only because, but somewhat because he reminds me of one of my heroes, Dr. Calvin Seerveld, author of Rainbow for the Fallen World and devotionals such as Take Hold of God and Pull and Being Human: Imaging God. I think I once sold Cal’s very good Voicing God’s Psalms to Rev. Mitman at some UCC conference or worship event.

This brand new book is on the short list of our “Best Books of 2017” in the category of homiletics and/or worship renewal. I’m curious when Mitman says:

Christian preaching obviously entails the sermon, but it reality it involves much more. Preaching happens when the entire worshiping congregations gathers to speak and sing, pray and listen, eat and drink, bless and baptize. Preaching is at root is a dynamic event best capture not in adjectives but in adverbs.

In Preaching Adverbially Mitman uses a handful of adverbs to identify what essentially happens in preaching. After a good foreword by his friend Gordon Lathrop and a short introductory chapter, Mitman dives right in. The chapter titles are Preaching… Biblically, Liturgically, Sacramentally, Evangelically, Contextually, Invitationally, Metaphorically, Multisensorially, Engagingly, Doxologically, Eschatologically.

Is that awesome, or what?

There are some really lovely endorsements on the back that verify how good this is; highly recommended.

Strategic Leadership, Planning, and Management for Christians Peter M. Danilchick (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press) $26.00 Okay, maybe I’m just showing off, or trying extra hard to show that we are ecumenically-minded. St Vlad’s is a very classy, somewhat academic publishing house from the legendary Russian Orthodox Press. They are known for doing handsome trim-sized paperbacks of many of the church fathers. (And, in that same series, some not-so-ancient; they just published a set of previously unpublished pieces by Alexander Schmemann called The Liturgy of Death.)

This new book, Strategic Leadership, Planning, and Management is written by an Orthodox protodeacon who is also a retired corporate executive. It is commonplace these days to hear our best congregational leaders saying that we ought not merely borrow the management theories and practices of the world and adopt them in the church. Whether worldly Wall Street business theories are adequate even for Christians in business is itself a good question, but whether any of that is appropriate for congregational leadership and strategic church planning is equally burning. This author, of course, says mostly no. We must draw on church history, or theology, or spirituality, and the wisdom of the Orthodox faith to frame how we think about parish management and congregational leadership, thinking faithfully about HR management, fundraising, running meetings and such. Not every book on parish life relates – on the back cover in large type, to less! – “the hesychastic fathers” and “compliance with tax regulations.” I haven’t read this yet, and don’t know if Deacon Danilchick is adept at integrating faith and thinking well about this topic. But his angle of vision and his interest in pre-modern ways would give him a leg up on this stuff. I thought the Episcopal pastors would dig this, but maybe they didn’t realize its utter uniqueness in the genre.

Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving Faithfully Sondra Wheeler (Baker Academic) $21.99  It isn’t uncommon to have pastors, or those who supervise pastors, ask for books about what we sometimes call the “human” side of ministry — avoiding burnout, dealing with clergy stress, managing time and demands, holding up under the “fish-bowl” life in a parsonage, and the like.  Maybe one way to get at that is to ask about sustainability; how can one serve the church in a “long obedience in the same direction”? This book is a new one in this genre, and it looks very, very good. One reviewer says it is “a must-read for everyone in ministry.” Hauerwas says it has “unusual good sense and insight.” Pastoral theology is vital to recapture and Professor Wheeler (who teaches at Wesley in DC) has learned much wisdom about what makes for healthy ministry over the long haul. Are there moral dangers to being a shepherd, pastor, preacher? Of course, and she names them. Are tehre pitfalls unique to this calling? Of course.  Wheeler is very astute about much of this stuff — and has a companion volume out, too, which I hope to write about later (called The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership.) Both books bring mature and thoughtful, balanced guidance.

Recovering From Un-Natural Disasters Lauri Kraus, David Holyan, and Bruce Wismer (WJK) $20.00 I have named this here at BookNotes before but needed to highlight it for the gathered clergy and church leaders last week. It is a wise and thoughtful guide for congregations wanting to be prepared for the next tragic mass shooting or arson or outbreak of gun violence or sexual abuse or public suicides and other human-caused disasters. This is a handbook that says what to do, what not to do, how to mobilize public lament, how to offer services and help and more. There are some recommended worship planning guides, song suggestions and such, even a bit about what to do at a one-year anniversary of a man-made tragedy. It’s sad to say, but I think every congregation needs to be doing some advanced planning on how to respond when something awful happens in your community.

Saving Images: The Presence of the Bible in Christian Liturgy Gordon W. Lathrop (Fortress Press) $34.00 This is a handsome, solid hardback with Lathrop’s customary passion for both high quality, well-executed liturgical worship and the generative, leading role of the Holy Scriptures. He has done workshops and classes on this for years, and this book is one that I am sure many will say, as Walter Brueggemann did, it is “a wise and remarkable book from which I have learned a great deal.” Lathrop explores seriously how Scripture and liturgy converge and how gathered assemblies of Christians should be shaped by this dynamism. Notre Dame theologian Robin Jensen notes that this new work “urges the faithful to comprehend the Scriptures in multisensuous ways.

Jensen continues:

The Bible is a text we read and hear, but also one we enact, experience, engage, and envision in the actions of communal worship. Lathrop invites us to see and take delight with our eyes as well as our minds, and prompts us to notice and relish the sacred images in our written texts as well as those on walls and windows.

Lutherans and Episcopalians get this (remember the little book I reviewed above by Lauren Winner about the significant role of the Bible even in the Episcopal liturgy and prayer book?) The best Roman Catholics do, too, naturally, but I think this book will help any in those rather liturgical/sacramental traditions to realize more keenly what is strong about their own worship practices and worship spaces. Perhaps more urgently, this will help those in less sacramental traditions, those freer churches (from UCC to PCA, from Wesleyan to Baptist, and, also, most charismatic and historic minority churches) the Bible should be central to their worship.

I heard Lathrop once very kindly critique the fairly standard African American worship experience, a highly liturgical mainline Lutheran telling black pastors that they needed to be more intentional and thoughtful about using the Bible more in their worship services, and it was stunning how the black pastors conceded that he was right: fire and zeal and piety and song and personal testimony may supplant the actual reading of the Bible itself.

This dense book is a rich discussion, worth working through, no matter your worship style or liturgical tradition. And – as a BookNotes aside – if you’ve followed James K.A. Smith’s work (especially the second volume in his esteemed three-part “Cultural Liturgies” trilogy called Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works) you will want to be familiar with Lathrop’s books. This new one, Saving Images, is a great place to start.

Four Views on the Church’s Mission Jonathan Leeman, Christopher J.H. Wright, John R. Franke, Peter J. Leithart (Zondervan) $16.99 I think nearly every church I know is in some kind of conversations – often filled with anxiety and sometimes leading to acts of desperation — about what the church should be about. From the edgiest new church plant to the staunchest old cathedral (and all the quite ordinary congregations in between) there are intuitions that we are not to be keepers of the status quo, and that our task is to somehow equip saints for ministry. Almost no one says we should keep to ourselves, doing the same-old, same old.

But what should we be doing? How does our understanding of our primary calling effect everything else? Are we mostly about worship, about education, about cultural renewal, about social change? Here are four very thoughtful advocates of four classic views. They described themselves as Soteriological mission, participatory mission, contextual mission, and sacramental mission.

Perhaps these can be better understood by hearing the explanatory sub-titles of each chapter: Jonathan Leeman says we should be “focusing on the mission of redemption.” Wright insists that we embrace “the mission of God’s people revealed in the whole Bible story.”

Franke’s contextual approach is framed by the process of “bearing witness to the ends of the Earth” while Peter Leithart argues for an “ecumenical and political missiology.” None of these authors are shallow, each are evangelically-minded, Biblically-grounded. They each respond to the same key questions about how their own Biblical interpretations and theological convictions guide their framework for mission. Of course there are huge, looming questions here about the nature of the church, the work of God, the redemption of the world. What is the gospel, after all, and what is the Kingdom of God?

As with the many other books in this popular series each of the scholars responds with brief rejoinders to the main chapter of their conversation partners, so you get not only the major presentation, but the critique made by the others as well. There is a nice closing piece by Jason Sexton entitled “Recalibrating a Church for Mission” which brings a lot together.

I hope that our mainline friends will trust us that this Zondervan title is one which they could use profitably for re-thinking and recalibrating their own views, and helping their own congregations grapple with one of the biggest questions facing the church today. I think we should admit to our dis-ease and lack of clarity about this, and pursue it forthwith. This book will help.  It’s urgent. Order some today!

Church in Ordinary Time: A Wisdom Ecclesiology Amy Plantinga Pauw (Eerdmans) $20.00 I loved highlighting this to those who are so steeped in the church calendar, who would appreciate how Professor Pauw brings together Biblical wisdom literature with church. congregational stuff. Trying to offer a “Trinitarian ecclesiology that is properly attuned to the church’s life and the realities of today’s world” is daunting; doing it in light of wisdom and the ordinariness of daily life is, well, extraordinary. Rave reviews from Willie James Jennings of Yale Divinity School and worship prof Don Saliers of Candler remind us that this is rich, ecumenical, respected. Amy Plantinga Pauw is a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, has written on Jonathan Edwards, and is the author of a theological commentary on Proverbs as well. This is a thought-provoking book with some genuinely new insights.

Women’s Voices and the Practice of Preaching Nancy Lammers Gross (Eerdmans) $20.00 We are always glad when we are in communities of faith where many of the leaders and pastors and priests are women. Yet we are infuriated when we hear, even in so-called progressive denominations, of the hardships woman have faced as they have risen to their calling to serve the church. I know of one woman whose Episcopal bishop disapproved of her and when he laid hands on her head to ordain her whispered into her ear “you are going to feel this” and pressed down so hard as to cause a serious disc injury. One just wants to cry out against such cruelty in the church!

One of my own pastors is a woman and she is a great preacher. I don’t know much about how she feels when she’s in the pulpit and although most in our church adore her, there are female preachers who have spoken about how complicated it is being in the pulpit; even when beloved, it’s complicated. Sometimes this is caused by unsupportive members, although it may be that sometimes fear and self-doubt is just inherited from the culture.

“Many women preachers and worship leaders have trouble speaking,” says Nancy Gross. “They struggle to fully use their physical voices.”

Here is what it says on the back cover:

Maintaining that there is often a disconnect between a woman’s self-understanding as a preacher and her own body, Nancy Lammers Gross presents not only techniques but also a theologically empowering paradigm shift to help women embody their God-given preaching vocations.

Women’s Voices and the Practice of Preaching starts off with a study of Miriam, reminds us how instrumental woman have been in the work of God, and tells stories (including her own) of women’s loss of connection to their bodies and physical voices.

Jana Childers, who has written on this topic herself, says this is “Stunningly helpful. Stunningly powerful. Stunningly beautiful.”

Please believe me that I am not just trying to sell more books when I say that I think this one could be useful to men as well as women. Particularly in this season when many of us (men) are trying harder to l listen to women and to understand their hard stories, many of us should take up this book about women’s experience. Further, I suspect some men have a hard time finding their true voice and this constructive resolution (which includes exercises to develop a full-bodied voice) could be useful for many preachers, teachers, and other leaders.

The Art of Transformation: Three Things Churches Do That Change Everything Paul Fromberg (Church Publishing) $18.00 I hope you know the wonderful, energetic, artful memoirist author Sara Miles who came to Christian faith by receiving communion at a church she knew nothing about, the extraordinary St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. Miles has written Take This Bread and Jesus Freak and City of God and they are each among my favorite reads in this genre of spiritual autobiography. She doesn’t cuss as much as her pal Nadia Bolz-Weber, but her passion for an inclusive church, serious worship with creative liturgy, and radical social service in the community is somewhat similar.

Well. If you know Mile’s story, not only of her conversion to Christ but her work starting a food pantry in the worship space at St. Gregory of Nyssa’s, you have already heard much about this creative congregation. (Or maybe you saw the fascinating documentary about them, show-casing their uniquely crafted, multi-ethnic, participatory liturgy) Fr. Fromberg is the eccentric and energetic pastor and rector (who also teaches at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific) behind this wild and holy place. From hip events like Wild Goose and Greenbelt, he’s addressed seekers and artists and church innovators all over the world; he has worked hard at gracious outreach and helping the church offer inviting, radical hospitality (including St. Gregory’s famously open Eucharist.) St. Gregory’s colorfully communicated but classic and often ancient liturgy over which Paul presides is well worth studying, but only makes sense as part of the larger ethos of the community and the spirituality of the parish.

At the Episcopal event last week I pushed them to get this book as it has the ability to challenge and invite transformation for those who may be a bit too conventional, maybe feeling stuck. It is a beautifully written book in many ways, “full of compassion and humanity” as one reviewer put it. The Art of Transformation is animated by community, it is serious about theology and liturgy, but it really does call us to be a part of the life God has for us; it is anything but formulaic, despite the “three things” in the subtitle.

And here’s the funny thing: the cover and subtitle promises an exploration of three things. There are seven, actually, with a chapter dedicated to each. The book tells vivid stories and calls us to explore – with patient self-reflection, in relationship with others, and in a spirit of experimentation with new practices discerning what works – these seven discoveries that bubbled up from their work at St. Gregory’s. Maybe they will inspire you, too.

I realize that most BookNotes readers are not where Farmer is theologically or culturally; I know I am not. Your church can’t start dancing with Ethiopian prayer umbrellas or commission holy icons of your local social activists. And you most likely don’t have Sara Miles as your best friend and church associate. But, still, The Art of Transformation can prod and evoke God’s Spirit among you, then it will be worth every penny.

Incarnational Ministry: Being With the Church Samuel Wells (Eerdmans) $22.00 I was thrilled to get to announce to this group a few new Samuel Wells books (one is called How Then Shall We Live? Christian Engagement with Contemporary Issues where Wells weighs in on two and a half dozen social issues with this characteristic theological acumen and agile mind) but we wanted especially to highlight this new one. I love this “being with” approach and agree with Elaine Heath (of Duke Divinity School) who says it is a beautiful volume, laying out “a path for us to become more fully present to God, self, others, and creation.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says it is a “must read” which I neglected to point out to these gathered Episcopalians. As I’ve said in a previous BookNotes, Incarnational Ministry offers the concept of “being with” in eight different dimensions: presence, attention, mystery, delight, partition, partnership, enjoyment, and glory. It is excellent.

Here’s a little heads-up, too: sometimes people don’t want to give a book to their pastor that suggests they aren’t doing something properly, or that seems too much like a work manual or professional handbook that isn’t delightful enough to be a really nice gift. I get that. There are many great books for clergy but I wouldn’t think you’d want to give them as an Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany gift. But this –this would work wonderfully as a pastor appreciation gift because of the allusive, beautiful, reflective approach. It’s really nice, a nearly perfect gift.

Stayed tuned next year when Eerdmans is releasing the sequel, Incarnational Mission: Being With the World.

Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community (Second Edition) Diana Butler Bass (Church Publishing) $22.00 I was happy to tell about this book up front at the Episcopal clergy gathering because, of course, they all knew Diana. (She is Episcopalian, had been one of their retreat leaders a few years back, and most modern clergy know her important books on congregational life and new visions of spirituality in works like Christianity for the Rest of Us, Christianity After Religion and Grounded.)

Strength for the Journey was a book I raved about at BookNotes when it came out over 15 years ago. (The manuscript, importantly, in retrospect, she tells us in a new introduction, was turned in September 10, 2001.) I have not yet read this new, edited and expanded version, but can tell you two significant things that I hope inspire you to order it from us.

Firstly, it is a one of a kind book.

No less an observer of the religious landscape than the late-great Phyllis Tickle (an early supporter of Diana’s work) noted that there is hardly a book on the market like this. Strength for the Journey is in the now exceptionally popular genre of religious autobiography or what some call spiritual memoir. But here’s the thing: Butler Bass narrates her own journey chapter by chapter, stage by stage of her own faith development, in light of and in the contexts of the various congregations of which she was a part. From her first taste of liturgical worship at All Saints in Pasadena in 1996 to her concluding chapter set at Christ Church in Alexandria in 2001, she offers insights about faith, about her own story, about life and times as a church person in our times, and about the ways local congregations do or don’t live out vibrant, helpful faith in their own locales. It is her story, but it is hopefully true of all of us, that our faith has been shaped decisively by the congregations of which we have been a part. This book is a wonderful mash-up of the sociology of religion, congregational studies, and personal memoir. Still, years after it came out, there is hardly anything like it in print.

Secondly, you should know this: Bass says in her new introduction two revealing things about why she did an expanded, second edition. She notes that there was nothing in the first edition of the book, turned in before 9-11, about the subsequent pain of the years following the attack, the rage in patriotism, the Gulf Wars, the rise of racism and such that characterized much of those years. She has written about painful encounters within congregations around those issues (for instance in her raw Broken We Kneel) but in revisiting these earlier pieces about her previous church experiences she now sees stuff about those earlier congregations that perhaps she missed before. So there is in this new, updated edition, some sober re-assessment of those years, inspired, I suppose, by that old adage about better vision in the rear view mirror.

In fact, Diana says it even more boldly. She suggests that, in fact, she was too young to have written that grand book when she did, offering glimpses of congregational life as she experienced it, naming the good and bad of these varied churches. She says that she actually knows more now about some of the dynamics in those very churches and she needs now to update her evaluation of what was going on. Her big picture of God’s goodness, of a missional vision, of her appreciation for good liturgy, has only deepened in these subsequent years, but she is more savvy about congregational ill health, about pastoral dysfunction, about idolatrous ideologies, about the interactions of faith and culture. The brand new edition does not, I gather, wallow in negativity – it isn’t that different from the original – but it does bring a seasoned eye and a more mature, mid-life retrospective to these well told tales.

I love what she says in this introduction to the new 2017 edition:

If, when one is forty, one tempers hard news in favor of good, then when one nears sixty, saying what is true is all that matters. I have not become a curmudgeon, thinking that the church’s best days are behind. No, I have become far more realistic and hopeful about faith. My fellow writer and friend, Marcus Borg, used to remind me that faith was about “seeing widely.” The eyes of faith do not fixate on what is immediately in front of us but learn to see softly, to include the periphery of the Spirit, to sense a wise field of grace and God’s intention that surround us all.

This is not, Diana insists, an act of nostalgia, but neither is it a tell-all expose. This is one sister’s journey, one seeker’s pilgrimage, through many congregations of varying sorts and levels of health. It is, in that sense, the story of many of us, an exploration of all of our lives and our churches. As she says, “I hope that in telling my story, I might have told a bit of yours.”

Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church James Calvin Davis (Eerdmans) $25.00 I have tried making jokes about this book when showing it off – you know, saying that your church doesn’t need this, but other pathetic congregations might. But you know what? That’s dumb of me, for two reasons. First, church conflict is nothing to joke about (and is often quite painful for folks who are deeply invested in their local congregations) and the need to find Christian unity is one of the great, great tasks of any time. It is Jesus’s last great wish and the “final apologetic.” We must learn to get along. And, secondly, this really is a useful book, not just a screed against disunity or a call to be one. It is a mature and thoughtful and a bit creative rumination on this old fashioned word, forbearance.

“Bear with one another” the Bible says. What does that mean? What does it look like? What happens when we aren’t in it for the long haul with one another? What does patience bearing with lead to?

As this vital book powerfully asks: “What happens when we approach disagreements in our churches not as problems to be solved but as opportunities to practice Christian virtue?” Davis is a serious, respected author, a good theologian and experienced church leader. We’ve needed a book of this depth and thoughtfulness for quite some time.  Cheers!

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers Christopher Hall (IVP) $24.00 Chris Hall is the director of Renovare Institute of Christian Formation and is the Associate Editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. He has taught, and been an academic leader at Eastern University and has been a member of a diocesan church there in Philadelphia, so these pastors should know Chris.

We carry his many books, including others in this really interesting, approachable series, such as Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, and Worshipping with the Church Fathers. I must admit I’m not always as interested in the ancient-part of the “ancient-future” slogan, but, in this season of commemorating the reformation, we should recall that 16th century watchword, ad fontes. That is, we should go back to the sources!

In this new little volume, Hall helps us recall that the first centuries of Christianity may seem like a far-away time, maybe a far country.

But listen to this:

But despite the foreignness, they hold a treasure of wisdom for living. They, too, struggled and flourished in a culture that was in love with empire and military power, infatuated with sex and entertainment, tolerant of all gods but hostile to the One. From this crucible of discipleship they extracted lessons of virtue, faithfulness, and joy in Christ.

Recording artist and spiritual thinker Carolyn Arends notes that:

In a winsome style that makes the patristics accessible without ever domesticating them, Chris Hall takes readers deep into another engaging conversation with the church fathers… Part manifesto and part training manual, Living Wisely with the Church Fathers compels us – and then teaches us – to do just what the title suggests.

Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation John Stott (Eerdmans) $12.00 I so wish that folks all over the broad Body of Christ would read John Stott. Father John was a clear, faithful, serious, writer without artificial pizzazz, consistently giving good, balanced, solid, Bible teaching. Many of his books are considered classics and are read within the more thoughtful evangelical community and among many mainline denominational folk who want a reasonable, respectable, moderate theological voice. Stott is evangelically minded, committed to what Lewis called “mere Christianity” and what he termed, in one of his popular small works, “basic Christianity.” His major works on Christ, on the cross, on missions, and the newly re-issued Between Two Worlds (on preaching) are excellent and highly recommended. The work he did near the end of his life on gospel-centered creation-care, railing against consumerism and materialism and calling for renewed interest in social outreach, were powerful.

And so I was surprised to learn that Stott had a book with which I was unfamiliar; I hadn’t even heard of it! This is back in print for the first time in many years and it seemed appropriate to feature at the clergy gathering.

The first part of this small book is about the Biblical teaching about privately confessing one’s sins one to another; that is, in ordinary, day-to-day life. Are there any of us who do this well? I hope to read and try to apply these early chapters and invite you to consider them also.

The second half of this book is about what we might call the liturgical aspect. It explores the ways in which our confession of sin could be done better within our public worship.

The third portion of this is about what some now call the Rite of Reconciliation, or confession of sins to a priest. He explores the priest’s authority and the penitent’s need. Few congregations do this really well, and I suspect Stott’s clear-headed, Biblically-based insights – framed by his own Anglican tradition – will be a true gift, assisting those who need help in enacting this practice.

Indeed, evangelical leader Ray Ortlund (of Immanuel Church in Nashville) says, “If the wisdom so ably offered in Confess Your Sins is heeded in our churches, the power of true reconciliation will feel like heaven on earth!”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God Eugene Peterson (Waterbrook) $24.99 As folks browse our book display – almost everywhere we go, including last week at the Episcopalian gig – people tell us that their faith was decisively influenced by the early books of Eugene Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is often cited, as are his “vocational holiness” ones about being a pastor. Of course, many love The Message (even if they don’t know it was Peterson that did that, and that he is a very able translator of Hebrew and Greek.) It’s always fun to promote his books, of which there are many.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of his earliest sermons, preached at his 1960s church plant (called Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland.) There is some new material – mostly Peterson framing these chapters with some contemporary reflections – but it really is an anthology of great sermons and Bible lessons preached or taught in the church at Bel Air.

“Sixty years ago I found myself distracted,” Peterson writes. “A chasm had developed between the way I was preaching from the pulpit and my deepest convictions on what it meant to be a pastor.”

As the copy on the back cover explains:

And so began Peterson’s journey to live and teach a life of congruence – congruence between preaching and living, between what we do and the way we do it, between what is written in Scripture and how we live out that truth.

Peterson is known for rich, beautifully written prose, Biblically based, often accented with lines from good poetry and literature. In some of these teachings you’ll find reflections, took on racial injustice that was prevalent even then in nearby Baltimore and a reference to the first moon landing. As never-before-published messages, you’ll think some were preached just this season. Whether you are looking for book to read together with a book club or growth group or whether you are a pastor seeking fresh ways to think about how to preach and teach, or whether you just need a more substantive set of messages to supplement your own study and devotional time, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is certainly one of the best resources released this year. Thanks be to God for how Peterson helps us live out the good news, based always on his insistences of “the Word made flesh.” Amen!


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A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why (A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore) – ON SALE NOW

Maybe I shouldn’t care so much what people may think, but I have to admit that I am afraid if I write too much about being thankful it might seem as if I’m immune to the sadness of our world and to friends who even now are suffering; from large scale horrors to personal trauma to the run-of-the-mill daily disappointments that can erode our joy, there is a lot of pain to name, much to lament. Of course we should be grateful, but yet…

The first prophetic task, Old Testament scholar and modern day prophet Walter Brueggemann says in his important Reality Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (WJK; $16.00) is to name the realities that we must grieve. One cannot find deep, faith-driven hope without a sturdy realism about the hard facts on the ground.

So I’m not always sure that these cute gratitude projects and experiments in happiness are as Biblically warranted as their well-meaning, cheery advocates suggest. Of course the Bible does command us to recount the good things God has done (although, in the Bible, that is less about having a nice house, a good job, an understanding spouse, an award-winning kid, but about God’s liberation from oppression, the community’s rescue from enemies, or Jesus’ saving victory over sin and death, his disarming of the powers.) The “apostle of the heart set free” named Paul teaches us to have joy, but he’s often in prison when he writes his epistles about it. Thanks-giving in the Bible, it seems, is often pretty audacious, a messy, counter-intuitive, bittersweet business.

But then that sounds a bit grumpy to say here on Thanksgiving eve – the Bible says we are to rejoice in all things, after all; this is the day the Lord hath made and we know how we are to respond. We don’t have to sweep our deep brokenness and the world’s great need under the rug to find gladness. Indeed, I’m thankful for that (and for good writers who say such things, which keep me going.) Maybe we should list the quotidian graces we experience, day by day, rejoicing without embarrassment. I have to admit, I appreciate Ann Voskamp in her honest reminders about that. She’s right; there are a thousand gifts. And, as her new one invokes, sometimes we must be the gift.

And, certainly, as I’ve said before, I’m glad for writers, editors, publishers, sales reps, booksellers (including our own staff), reviewers, bookstore lovers, and book buyers — all those who care about the printed page and keep books alive in these digital days. If you’ve been around here much, you know such things makes me want to tell you about books by the wonderful wordsmith Marilyn McEntyre, such as her extraordinary volume Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Eerdmans; $19.00) and Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice (Eerdmans; $17.99.) I recently again dipped into Wendell Berry’s classic Standing By Words (Counterpoint; $16.95.)  There are so many good voices that remind us of the value of words, lines, paragraphs and pages.

Without it sounding predictable or perfunctory I want to shout out that we are very, very thankful for our customers, who care about words and who care about us. Most know that many indie and family-owned bookstores aren’t doing too well these days, especially those in the thoughtfully religious publishing space, and we realize that our days are numbered. But we have loyal customers, customers who have spent their hard-earned money with us, and have entered into a friendship with our little Hearts & Minds commonwealth here in Dallastown.

We have folks that walk into the storefront here and we are reminded that some of them have been shopping with us for 35 years! Some were in their prime in those early years and now walk a bit slower. Some have aged as we have, and our kids who once played together are now grown and far-flung with kids of their own. Some of our earliest customers were young, inexperienced pastors who now serve with great distinction and – as the best leaders always do – continue to read deeply in their field, studying theology and world and theology and mission. We rejoice in encouraging the maturity and Christian minds of leaders near and far.

We are so very grateful for our on-line (or, as we used to say “mail-order”) customers. Our e-commerce is more than a third of our business and we owe so much to our many phone-in and Facebook friends, those that subscribe to BookNotes, and those out-of-town individuals and institutions that support our ministry here. We wouldn’t be here without you. Some of our most vocal supporters and those who send us the most business are friends we have never met! We love the little notes they send us and the encouragement we get as customers convince folks they know to shift their business away from A-zon and to enter into partnership with us. We are thankful for our advocates.

It’s deeply, deeply rewarding to think we’ve brought the pleasures of books and the insight of important authors to so many. It’s humbling to think we’ve been a conduit of joy and maturity. We are thankful to be able to make a little difference in this world.

I say all this sincerely because, truly, despite life’s personal pains and the public controversies of these hard times, we are grateful. We are glad for the good work the Lord has given us to do and we are really thankful for those who are our customers and our friends.


A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why — A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore compiled/edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99  10% OFF SALE PRICE = $17.09

We are this season amazingly grateful – stunned, actually – with the gift of a book created and published in our honor, just released by Square Halo Books. When they presented it to us a few weeks ago, on an unusually busy Saturday here at the shop, Beth and I both got choked up. It is rare that I can truly say I was speechless, and in that moment I stood there with tears in my eyes, holding Beth’s hand, looking at Ned & Leslie Bustard and Alan & Diana Bauer, the beautiful box of pastries from a classy bakery in Lancaster that they brought for the occasion, and allowed the audacious fact of the matter to sink in.


Yes. In fact, they published a book to honor us, a book of book reviews done by friends and fans of the store. A real book that now we get to sell.

Whaaaat? Oh. Oh. My.

We have always been grateful for the supportive friendship of Ned, Leslie and their girls and they have gone out of their way to bless us. We’ve got Ned’s art on our walls, I’ve got a classy tee-shirt or two made in commemoration of one of their book releases, I’ve even got a Square Halo Books cap which is cooler even than my Calvin Dad one. But more than that, they get what we are trying to do and even when were are theologically or politically a bit different, they have been nothing but supportive, always telling people to shop here, and allowing us first dibs at many of their excellent, small-batch releases. (Although we do, indeed, love promoting the Square Halo Books titles – including the forthcoming Good Posture: Engaging Culture with Ancient Faith by Lancasterian Row Houser Tom Becker – you might notice that there is a link from their publishing website to our retail one; we appreciate this direct partnership that allows us to easily serve their interested readers.) We have diligently reviewed at BookNotes nearly every book they’ve released, and stock all their books, not out of duty or reciprocity but because we really believe in these books. We have always valued their work and we were honored when they published my own edited project, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99.) Ned did the delightful design of that, the acorns and oak trees thing, the leaves on the inside, which has brought many readers a small, extra aesthetic pleasure.

But this.


A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why —  a Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore! was furtively compiled and edited by Ned Bustard  and released by the respected, boutique publisher, Square Halo Books. It sells for $18.99 — which includes a lot of pictures of a lot of book-covers! although we have it at 10% off.

Unbeknownst to us, Ned talked with a number of folks who know us well and asked them who we might want in a book that would honor our work. Who are the experts and specialists and wise leaders who inquiring readers might consult about this or that topic? Ned called those people and invited them to contribute a chapter to honor us, to create a book of book reviews. A few were unable to be involved but many worked quickly and offered the gift of a new chapter, doing book reviews of the best books they’d recommend to develop a Christian perspective in their sphere or field..

Full disclosure: Ned had often attempted to convince me to publish a collection of BookNotes reviews, a book of my own book reviews, but I have not thought that viable. The Bauers and Bustards, owners of Square Halo, don’t easily take no for an answer, I guess, because they cooked up this other plan, a set of book reviews not by me but by others, in homage.

And what an honor it is! We still find ourselves rubbing our eyes when we look at the stacks of this book sitting here, almost in disbelief.

Ned called up N. T. Wright and he wrote a chapter?

He got the famously hard-to-reach Calvin Seerveld to do a chapter for us?

From best-selling author and ethicist Dave Gushee to beloved writer and literary critic Karen Swallow Prior, Ned got some great people involved and we are now not only grateful to Ned for conceiving and pulling of this daunting project and for Square Halo for releasing it, but to each of the authors who contributed chapters.

We are glad for the serious work these scholars presented, just thrilled with this new, substantive volume, and we think you will be too.

A few extra things you should know.

There is a chapter by me that Ned valiantly transcribed from a talk I gave in 2004 – with notes scribbled on a napkin as I recall – about the power of books. Because it was a surprise, Ned obviously couldn’t consult with me about how best to translate my speaking style to the printed page and I right away chided him about the lack of semi-colons. If you’ve heard me you know I use air quotes and say “parenthetically” too often. I can hardly write a paragraph without dashes. So Ned has cleaned me up a bit but still captures the bluster of my passion, including some erroneous things. (Abraham Kuyper’s deeper conversion did indeed come about after a woman gave him a novel (Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe) but it was C.S. Lewis whose faith journey was famously catalyzed by reading a fantasy work by George MacDonald. We’ll blame such lapses on a mysterious gap in the tape, like Nixon’s maybe.)

There are some very nice endorsements about our store written inside the cover by esteemed friends and nationally-known authors such as Os Guinness and James K.A. Smith, Margaret Feinberg and Margot Starbuck, Professor William Romanowski and journalist Jonathan Merritt. They make me blush so won’t quote them here, but we thank those who were so kind  and who understand the importance of our work. We were moved to tears reading these words of commendation and we are so very grateful to those who have offered this support.

A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why is billed on the cover as a “Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore.” For what it’s worth a festschrift is a book just like this, often a way to honor a professor who is retiring by compiling a collection of chapters offered in tribute. Beth and I don’t fancy ourselves as professors (even though we push books more than some college profs do!) and we are not retiring. Still, this is a great example of what a festschrift can be, with real specialists offering up their chapters, all taking us by surprise.

Essentially, Ned asked each author to do a BookNotes-like essay, naming the best books in their particular field of expertise, explaining a bit about their topic and why these books warrant being on their list. Each chapter has a similar title, following the rubric of “What History Book Should You Read and Why” or “ What New Testament Books Should You Read and Why” or “What Education Books Should You Read and Why” and so forth.

Each of these chapters deserves a careful reading; you will, as we have as we’ve been pouring over them this week, learn quite a lot. We have Ned himself writing on the arts, the esteemed Joel Belz writing on poetry, Matthew Dickerson doing a great, great chapter about fantasy, Andi Ashworth writing about cookbooks — what a well-written treat! There is the eminent editor of Image Journal Gregory Wolfe doing a wonderful essay naming some of the best creative nonfiction authors and film lover Denis Haack wisely explaining about the best Christian reflections on the movies. Our very good friend from Christian Legal Society, Michael Schutt, has a very astute chapter, dare I say, sagacious, about the law.

Calvin Seerveld has given us a gift of zealous writing as he calls us to study rare and learned books about the Scriptures (ending, though, with why he recommends the gritty Bonhoeffer.) Tom Wright sent his chapter from England, naming those books that have helped shaped his own work in New Testament studies from which we should benefit. I was delighted to see his remarks about Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by our mutual friends Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh.

Although a few of the authors tell about meeting us or ordering books from us or their appreciation for our bookstore work, most do not. A few good chapters are by authors we do not even know, making this volume even more eclectic and interesting.

At the risk of seeming fussy — for the record, I would love to amend some of these many chapters, listing what I would insist are the most important books in politics or education or science or Bible; I can’t help myself.

This is a book about books and a handbook for being well read and it is a thrill for book-lovers and a boon to those of us who don’t know “what to read next.” From Brad Frey’s really excellent ramble through books about sociology to Tom Becker’s good words on urban planning to Karen Swallow Prior’s inspiring, thoughtful piece about literature to Michael Kucks chapter mostly on the philosophy and theology of thinking well about science, these are informative and helpful guides to significant books in each field. Books for Hearts & Minds (quite apart from the sentimental aspect of it being a tribute to our 35 years of bookselling service) is a resource you should have.

I love that on the back cover of A Book for… it describes my style here at BookNotes. It declares that we have “blessed” our customers, which we hope is so, and then says:

In those reviews, Byron shares colorful anecdotes and passionate arguments for why to read books, and amplified lists suggesting what books to read.

The back copy continues, explaining that in this book, our friends, the invited authors, have:

…adopted the BookNotes model and offer a defense for books in their spheres of interest, along with a number of titles for the reader to consider investing their time in for deeper study.

So many of these chapters would themselves be worth discussing at length — maybe your book club could just talk about the reviews for a few weeks!  But one chapter deserves special mention and not only because it says the most wonderful things about us, but because it narrates the author’s own love of books and the ways in which his personal history of reading influenced him so deeply. It is sweet and significant, by our friend Steve Garber.

Garber’s contribution is the perfect closing chapter even if it does not name the “Best Books About Vocation and Why You Should Read Them.” (Write to me and I’ll give you that list!) Rather, it powerfully makes the case – just by telling his own story so beautifully – that reading matters, that reading deeply matters, that caring about and owning books matters. From Steve’s own early love of adventure stories to trips to the library with his own children, to his becoming a published author with InterVarsity Press, Steve has taken up his own vocation in the world as a lover of books, a teacher, one who inspires others in their own callings and careers, helping them learn about the things that matter most. I hope you know his mature, thoughtful book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (and maybe even smile when you see the small interview with me in one of the chapters) and his more recent, equally moving, wise, and satisfying, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good.  It is a great, great joy to have his contribution here.

It is interesting to me that Steve mentions a few books that were important to him in his years of emerging adulthood, that I still routinely talk about as well. As a matter of fact, if you read a BookNotes column from a week or two ago you will recall that I mentioned the Dutch, neo-Calvinist philosopher named Pete Steen who in the 1970s stood in the line of Abraham Kuyper and played a significant role in helping his students in Western Pennsylvania develop a socially-engaged, reformational worldview (and helped found the now legendary Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh which for a while Steve directed.) Well, Garber tells of asking Pete what he should read and Steen suggested (among other things I’m sure) the cultural critic Theodore Roszak. I, too, was reading Roszak in those years and still tell of a line from a book of his that was catalytic for me. I didn’t know that Steve was, an hour away from me, reading Roszak and, soon enough, the influential Dust of Death by Os Guinness, a book that figures significantly into my own journey. And now Steve writes of those books important to him, in a chapter honoring Beth and me.

Steve’s piece about reading, about writing, about those books that left their mark on his own life, which turns in a bit of great kindness to Beth and I and our feeble efforts here in Dallastown, is a lovely ending to this collection of chapters about book, all of which encourage reading.

Beth and I love the dedication page, and the winsome quip “what would we have read without you?” Thanks, Ned!

I will admit and even celebrate that God has been pleased to use us, in some circles, to advise folks about what to read, and it sometimes has seemed helpful. But, as this book so wonderfully shows, there are plenty of people left walking this world who promote books. We should listen to them, add other titles to their lists, debate a few of them, and enter this grand conversation about “what you should read and why.” Our role as honored guests in this book aside, A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why is a handbook you can use for the rest of your life. It can point you to resources that will enlarge your heart and strengthen your mind.

Why not order a few today and spread the word?



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ADVENT BOOKS on sale at Hearts & Minds – 20% OFF

Even though I often enter a bit late, at first not even willing, I really do love the season of waiting, the season of longing and hope that Advent becomes for us. I say “becomes for us” because too often, for many of us, it isn’t received as such. The weeks of December become merely a time of getting ready for Christmas; Advent doesn’t do anything for us or to us. We don’t quite live into the uniqueness of the season that the church calendar gives us but just think about the holiday in terms of shopping, vacation plans, family. Whether we like the sparkly lights, the red aprons at Starbucks, and the holly-jolly music or whether we Hate That Stuff, the very ubiquity of seasonal surroundings can be distracting to the real spiritual practices that can help us live faithfully in this next month and a half.

Reading James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit will help remind you of the importance of all this, and help you navigate more discerningly what he calls the “cultural liturgies” that inform and form us. But in December this stuff is so obvious, you don’t need Smith to tell you that the mall is out to get you, and can conscript you into its story long before you get to lighting that fourth candle of the Advent wreath.

People have found that having a daily reading time, a devotional that focuses our thoughts on the season is a helpful practice. Every year we offer good suggestions at BookNotes and some folks have told us how they look forward to getting an Advent resource to read (even if only in fits and starts) from us in December.

It is a joy and honor to get to help you with this problem we all face: how to allow our deepest convictions about things to truly shape us. To be subversive to the idols of the land, to develop best practices for daily discipleship.

There are a few classic Advent readers that we often recommend.

We love, for instance, the beautifully produced, literary, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (Reader’s Edition) edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press; $18.99) which includes a few great contemporary writers such as Eugene Peterson and Luci Shaw and Kathleen Norris and such.

Another real classic and perennial best seller for us is published in hardback by our friends at Plough Publishing and is called Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing; $24.00) which has bunches of holiday writings from everybody from Bonhoeffer to Lewis, Augustine to Mother Theresa, and other historic writers.

And don’t miss  — especially if you’re a lover of classic, great literature — the glorious Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press; $18.99) which is a prayer book using classy writers of fiction, poetry, memoir, and creative nonfiction essays.

Last year we celebrated at Redeemer the release of Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller (Viking; $20.00) which I really think is a great read, a very strong, short explanation, good even for seekers and skeptics.

Maybe you should know an unusual, artfully illustrated set of reflections on animals during winter that works in an allusive sort of way for Advent: All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein (Paraclete; $18.99.)

You can see our descriptions of previous lists here (2014) here (2015) and here (2016). Feel free to google Hearts & Minds BookNotes + “Advent” or use our search box at the website to find older, earlier lists.

Here are some that we recommend this new year of our Lord, at the start of the new Christian year in this fresh holiday season.

As always, you can click on the “order here” button below to get to our secure order form page. Just tell us what you want.  Or, click on “inquire” and ask anything you’d like. We’re eager to help you, personally, with some real-life, small-business service.

The One True Story: Daily Readings for Advent from Genesis to Jesus Tim Chester (The Good Book Company) $7.99 We have really appreciated Tim Chester’s many books as he is a fine church planter (in the UK) and leader for a thoughtful, wholistic, culturally-relevant but orthodox Kingdom vision. I’d read nearly anything he writes and when we heard, last year, that he had done this collection of 24 short, meditative readings (with the standard ideas for reflection, prayer, and application) I knew it could excite many for the gospel.

Indeed, I love how this book reminds us that the whole Bible is an unfolding drama and that the:

story of the baby in the manger is the culmination of a thousand other stories. It is the focus of the story of the Bible and the story of human history.

If this sounds like Lesslie Newbigin (or, then again, even Sally Lloyd-Jones’s Jesus Storybook Bible) or N.T. Wright and his metaphor of several unfolding acts in a coherent drama, then, yes, you get why this “historical-redemptive” approach is generative and fruitful and good. This offers “the full script of the nativity, the story of our world, and the plotline for the rest of your life…” We like this book and it is very highly recommended.

By the way, although I have not read them, there are two others with uniform covers that seem to be companion volumes, also written by Tim Chester and published by The Good Book Company. They are The One True Gift: Daily Readings for Advent to Encourage and Inspire and The One True Light: Daily Readings for Advent from the Gospel of John

Advent for Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 I don’t have to tell BookNotes readers how fond we are of Wright’s vision of the relevance of historic orthodoxy, his insistence that the gospel must be seen as the inauguration of the Kingdom, and his creative but reliable Biblical exegesis that so beautifully captures Older Testament echoes in the narrative of the New. Not to mention his knack for offering just the right common sense illustration to explain complex insights. His small “New Testament for Everyone” series of commentaries are lovely, potent, and usable and this brand new inspirational guide for the Advent season is in that tone. It Advent for Everyone includes reflections from the first Sunday in Advent through the Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent. He bases his comments on his own translation (which, I suppose you know, is available as The Kingdom New Testament.) Each week discusses key themes for the season: thanksgiving, patience, humility, and joy and are based on Epistles –1 and 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, Galatians, 1 John, James, and the like. Nice.

Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $13.00 As much as we like Tom Wright on the New Testament, Walter Brueggemann remains one of our great guides into the Older Testament; he is always generative and provocative and still able to surprise us with keen insights about the Biblical texts. Few authors are as attentive to the literary and political, social contexts of Hebrew Scriptures and few scholars are as passionately prophetic about the nature of the churches mission. I never tire of imagining his slow, drawling voice speaking he words on the pages of his books. This powerful new devotional has short readings for each day of the season, each followed by a prayer drawn from Brueggemann’s words, and twelve evocative, beautiful prayers he wrote for the “twelve days of Christmas.” It’s worth the price of the book just to have these poetic prayers at your fingertips.

As the compiler of this volume writes in a brief introduction:

Advent is a time for telling the truth – the truth about our weariness and our anxiety, yes, but also the truth of the relentless generosity of God, which opens up futures that seem to be shut down. Walter Brueggemann is a persistent truth-teller, and his sermons invite us to consider the newness and abundance of God that is always already breaking into our settled lives.

And then he says:

If Advent is also a time for waking up, consider Walter an indefatigable alarm clock.

Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher D. Rodkey and Jesse & Natalie Turri (CBP) $12.99 Perhaps you recall the long review I offered for the Coloring Lent volume that Rev. Rodkey wrote (the Turri’s did the curiously interesting artwork) where I exclaimed that I had never seen anything quite like this. Well, this companion volume for Advent is not quite as unique but, still, is an extraordinary stand out piece of work.

Chris is good friend and a Dallastown pastor serving a UCC congregation up the street and I admire him not only for his tireless and very creative efforts to nurture a unique faith community unlike others in town, but for his outspoken leadership on many local issues including safety of LGBTQ kids in high school, racial justice, and interfaith dialogue. To say he is a progressive isn’t quite right or adequate: he’s a deeply radical Christian, and his unique take on the lectionary texts for the Advent season reminds us of the mysteries and social realities that entered the world at the incarnation of the Christ.

We can encounter these sacred stories, ponder the implications, all in a meditative act of coloring. There is little doubt that an attentive bodily practice like that helps us be mindful. Doing this in groups could be not only a light, fun way to bring folks together but could push us into the texts, the redemptive story.

What Chris does in brief, nearly poetic prose is remarkable. He offers brief comments on the Biblical texts for the season from the opening reminders that God waits until the time is right – what does the phrase in Galatians 4, “the fullness of time” mean, anyway? — to the “secret” being revealed (Romans 16) to the description of John the forerunner to Christ’s divinity being revealed to shepherds and the magi. As you may know, lectionary texts include passages other than the birth narratives, so you’ll find “a prayer for uninhabited spirit” taken from 1 Thessalonians and a reminder of God’s love pouring out into the world in 2 Peter 3 which he cleverly calls “kenosis” – with swirling artwork showing some kind of energetic substance invading the globe.

Like his stunningly provocative Coloring Lent Rodkey offers some endnotes, that explain more about the references and allusions in the text or the artwork, a very thoughtful introduction, and allusive language throughout. The ecumenical nature of this is educational, too, in a low-key way, as he offers prayers from the Orthodox tradition, includes a postscript picture called Sol Invictus which is “the solemnity of Mary” which is drawn from Revelation 12 and shows a learned understanding of the broader Christian community.

You’ve never seen a brief devotional quite like this and you’ve never seen a coloring book like this. It will sooth you as you enter the rhythms, literally, of using crayons or colored pencils, but it won’t dull you into some falsely pious quietude. In his provocative preface, Rev. Rodkey reminds us that “we to are victims of this world even as we participate in the victimization of the world.” Through an encounter with the Spirit, we’ve got work to do.

If you get into these Biblical mediations or, better put, if these texts get into you, it could, as Rodkey writes, renew our desire “to rectify our commitment to the Kingdom of God, whose birth pangs are ringing loudly around us in Christmas bells, festive lights, and carols, and in anticipation of the Christhood delivered to us as a child being born on this dark and cold night.”  I like that — with a practice of focus and openness and creative engagement with historic texts, we can become the sort of people who do Advent well, even in the festive stuff of the American holiday season. Who knew that playfully appropriating the current rage for adult coloring books could be so radical?

Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $17.99 Do you know the profound, practical, Biblically-based, gospel-centered guidance offered by theologian/psychologist Tripp? He’s a leading light in the CCEF (a conservative, mostly Reformed center for Biblical counseling) and his writings are beloved by many. He has a few devotionals, includiing a big year’s-worth call New Morning Mercies, a recent book on awe, a couple of resources on parenting and family, one for younger adults interestingly called Relationships” A Mess Worth Making. This new Advent one is a handsome hardback with no frills, offering solid, Christ-centered reflections on the historically-redemptive vision of the coming of the rescuing King.

Tripp here offers 31 readings, and after each he offers one core truth to take hold of that day. Although the reflections are written for adults, he has in his preface a word to parents about how to communicate this central theme of the day to children. Nice.

Paul Tripp has lots of fans for good reason. He notes in the acknowledgments that through many friends and pastors and teachers “I have come to know the Word, learning to interpret life, been humbled by my own need, and grown to love my rescuing Savior.” A devotional about Advent by a man who understands grace is a good thing.

Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent Anselm Grun (Paraclete Press) $16.99 Father Grun is a very well-known author of both adult and children’s books, especially in Europe. (I’ll show some of his classy children’s work in a future BookNotes about kid’s books.) He is a German Benedictine monk, Cellarer of Munsterschwarzach Abbey. I just wanted to write that; don’t ask me how to say it. But, importantly, his courses on formation and his ministry of spiritual direction are universally appreciated—he’s sold over 15 million copies of his many books in over 30 languages! He brings to mind, at least in this regard, the irony of Thomas Merton, a huge, best-selling author and public speaker known the world over, despite his having been a Cistercian who took a vow of silence, and was usually silent when at his Abbey. In any event, Grun is known as gentle, still, man, and his calm spirit is nearly felt in his books; this one is no exception. He invites you to come “face to face with the God who loves you” and he helps illuminate a path towards that encounter by helping you learn to experience, to practice, even in our waiting.  Each chapter, in fact, pairs a Scripture, an Advent tradition, and a simple practice.

Some may think this is too simple but it is deceptively so. His psychological insight, his theological rigor, and his Biblical warmth and wisdom makes this book a very nice way to help Jesus come daily into our own hearts, even as He comes into the whole world.

All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God’s Creation at Advent Katie Z. Dawson (Abingdon) $12.99  As you might guess, we care deeply about what some call “creation care” and are always on the look-out for spiritual resources that do not reflect a dualism between what theologians called “nature and grace.”  (Just consider the long story I told in the last BookNotes about how much we’ve been influenced by the likes of Al Wolters whose Eerdmans book is called, notably, Creation Regained and how in a recent conference about the theologian Abraham Kuyper Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry used to evoke a sense of awe about the goodness of God’s world and to lament of the brokenness of creation.) Well, one needn’t be that sort of reformational worldview visionary to appreciate deeply the ways in which the entire cosmos is described in the Scriptures as central to the saving work of Christ. The whole created world waits – it says so quite directly in Romans 8, just for example – and somehow the coming of Christ is good news not just for people but also for creation itself. This is a strong but neglected Bible truth, even though the carol rejoices that “heaven and nature sing!”

This new paperback is an Advent Bible study designed to be used by individuals and/or small groups and it’s great. Each chapter offers questions for reflection and discussion and a focus for the week that, as they put it, “encourages readers to engage a specific act of creation care.”

As the back cover explains:

Also included are Advent candle lighting liturgies, a Call to Worship, a Prayer of Confession that can be used throughout Advent, and hymn suggestions for each chapter.” Of course, these can help congregational leaders and worship planners but they can be used in small groups or home worship as well.

We like this a lot.  Why not get a few and pass them along.  Folks in the church and outside of the church need to be reminded of how our classic faith traditions really do resource and equip us to enjoy creation and to see God’s plan for us to steward well the joys of the good, and beautiful Earth.

My Soul Waits: Praying with the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Martin Shannon, CJ (Paraclete Press) $14.99 We can always count on Paraclete Press of Brewster Massachusetts (where they live in a liturgical community called the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod) to offer profound and classy reflections for the church year. Some of our favorite books are from them! This one looks just wonderful, with endorsements from Patrick Henry Reardon (the Orthodox scholar who wrote Christ in the Psalms and edits Touchstone Magazine) who recommends this as a guide to helping us know how to pray the Psalms appropriately during Advent and the Christmas season. You may know that Fr. Shannon, himself an Episcopal priest with a PhD in liturgical studies from Catholic University, wrote According to Your Mercy: Praying with the Psalms from Ash Wednesday to Easter. I hope it isn’t in keeping with the tone of the quest, Biblical book to say that this guy knows his stuff! My Soul Waits is unlike any resource I know (using the Psalms during Advent) and is highly recommended.

As an indication of the ecumenicity and profoundity of these strong reflections, a Benedictine Abbot Primate from Rome says it is,

…an inspiring and deeply experimental journey through the Psalms of the Advent season.

In Days to Come: From Advent to Epiphany George H. Donigian (Upper Room) $12.99  I’ve always appreciated books by The Upper Room for their gentle, sometimes quiet tone, their contemplative spiritual approach. This maybe isn’t as liturgical or monastic as some books that they do, but it is perfect for those who are – as it says on the back – “tired of Christmas coming and going too quickly.”

This book invites you to stretch this time and to savor the gifts of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany.

Here’s how they put it:

Lingering in the seasons of Advent and Christmas can deepen our sense of awe and wonder. In Days to Come takes us from Advent through the Twelve Days of Christmas and on to Epiphany. George Donigian offers reflections on Bible passages, church history, John Wesley, modern prophets, hymn writers, and composers. Writing from his unique perspective of his Armenian Christian heritage, he enriches our celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The six chapters each contain a thematic introduction, four meditations, prayers and reflection questions. The book moves from the hope and promise of Advent to the fulfillment and mission of Epiphany. It really looks nice.

Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jospeh Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $19.99

DVD Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jospeh Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $39.99 / Leader Guide $12.99

We have been surprised over the years that there haven’t been more great resources on Christians through the eyes of Jospeh. Maybe you recall that fabulous song by Michael Card (“Jospeh’s Song”) which is still a favorite of ours.  Well, this book and dynamic DVD teaching remedies that nicely. Hamilton is so popular, and he is popular for a reason.  He is amiable, well informed, serious but not too much so, classy but not snobby, an evangelical with mainline denominational training and ethos. He has gotten accolades from good communicators and thoughtful pastors from across the church and many ordinary congregants just love his interesting and inspirational teaching.  We stock all of his stuff — and there has been a lot, lately, including teaching DVDs on John, Moses, Paul.  His Not a Silent Night is a hugely popular bestseller and this will surely become as known and as beloved.

We’re told a lot of research went into this project and the book is well worth reading. There are four main chapters and a “rest of the story” afterword.  Did you know that the early church really revered Joseph? Did you think of contemporary applications (such as raising adoptive children or the current refugee crisis?) about which we can draw on the virtues of the simple carpenter? There is a richness to this material that may surprise you, and, as Joel Hunter says, “if you think you know the story of Jesus’ birth, think again! This wonderful book sets us on a journey to the times and characters of Christmas so that we experience the birth of Christ in a new way.”

The Lord Is Our Light – Advent 2017 A Elaine Brown Crawford (Abingdon) $9.99 Every year for Lent and for Advent Abingdon Press offers a small group Bible study that explores the Revised Common Lectionary Texts for that year; this year, that is Year B, of course. They call it the ”Scriptures for the Church Seasons” and is perfect for small groups or Adult Ed classes or lectionary study groups that help the preacher prepare week by week. There is a Leader’s Guide included (written by curriculum development professional Nan Duerling) and – as the author puts it – it helps us “understand the meaning of Advent hope, its message of salvation, and how we are called to live “in the meantime.” Crawford is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and holds a PhD in historical theology from Union Theological Seminary.

By the way, we can get you a large print edition ($10.99) of this study if that would be useful. Just let us know.

Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season Alexandra Kuykendall (Baker) $9.99 Sometimes, after an author has a lot of success with a best-selling and much-appreciated book the publisher invites them to do another, maybe a supplement to the main book, or another re-hash. I was worried that this was the case in Kuykendall’s Christmas book because it just sounded like it was Loving My Actual Life done up with a red and green cover.

Okay, having gotten that off my (actual bookseller’s chest) I want to say that I was hooked on this from the very first page when she talks about “this year being different” as she tried to untangle the wad of lights that had been put away too quickly the year before. (Heck, at least she could find them, I thought!) I really, truly enjoyed this, and want you to know it can help you. As Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of The Happiness Dare puts it – “This is the book you need in order to fall in love with the season again.”

You see, the book is about enjoying our real life as it is (messy, sometimes sad, sometimes crazy, sometimes beautiful) and, in learning to be grateful and present to our days, we can, in fact, learn to enjoy not only our lives, but, yes the season. You can find ways to slow down and actually enjoy the customs and traditions and expectations of the holiday. As she says in the title, this is about learning to relish. I like that word, even if I don’t know if I’m up for it.

Look, I know this isn’t deep lectionary-based mystery or heavy cultural critique or robust Biblical reflection, but it is great, fun, useful, and maybe, for some, even urgent. One woman wrote that she has crafted “a rescue manual that will enable you to save your sanity.”

Yes, this follows the formula of her previous, popular book, Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me (which we’ve heard nothing but good stuff about, by the way, especially from somewhat younger women; I love the cover, too!) It is a bit of a chatty memoir since it is posed as an experiment and she tells of her journey. What does it look like to be completely present? What does it mean to relish?  And, in the holiday one, especially, there looms this question:  ow do we handle common holiday stressors such as finances, schedules, and visits with extended family? Can we enjoy the season as it really isn not the one we wished it was? Can we resist the Hallmark-ish captivity of our imagination to free us to accept and be present to our real, actual Christmas?

I like that the back cover of Loving My Actual Christmas explains one part of it like this:

Kuykendall encourages you to go easy on yourself, remember what truly matters, and find joy in your own imperfect Christmas.

Who doesn’t want to do that? I think Loving My Actual Christmas can help.  Maybe you know some younger moms, especially, who will enjoy having this reassuring, fun resource for their own actual Christmases.

Rescuing Christmas: The Search for Joy That Lasts Carl Laferton (The Good Book Company) $2.99 We brought this small paperback into our store to show to our customers not only because of the fun cover showing a penguin with a string of lights – you gotta love that! – but because it is a prefect little gift to share as a housewarming present or to give to somebody who you want to give something to, but not a gift that is toooo much, or a book that is too heavy. This light-hearted book invites us to explore the real source of Christmas joy — certainly even among post-churched folks, a pretty widely-named quest.

The first chapter of Rescuing Christmas is entitled “Lying Awake and Looking for Batteries” and the next is “We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t.” That’s almost as funny as the cover.

It isn’t designed to be a barrel of laughs but Laferton is warm and real. The book explores the gift of leadership, the gift of friendship, the gift of a clean start, and how to “find a happy ending.” It’s a fine introduction to the gospel so it would make an assuming evangelistic gift. It does have a short piece at the end “PS: Do you really expect me to believe in a virgin birth?” I suspect the people you’d give a book to have open minds and fertile imaginations, so while they might resonate with the question, I trust they will appreciate the affirmative answer. Yes, yes, this is classic, historic Christian faith presented in a concise and lively way. With a penguin on the cover. Order a few and we’ll send ’em right out.

Messy Christmas: Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany  Lucy Moore & Jane Leadbetter (IVP) $14.00  I hope you know about the Messy Church movement that has become a really wonderful thing in many parishes all over.

This movement is, at its fullest, isn’t just using crafts, but it a fresh expression of church live, including themes of welcoming, hospitality, eating together, and creating safe spaces to explore faith. It is a natural outreach and in countries all over the world this non-traditional approach is proving effective.

Here is a nicely done 2-minute video feature filmed in England, with, of course, an interview with a particular cheeky British kid about the Messy Church phenomenon. Here is a short video from Australia that shows how it works in an Anglican parish there. And here is a chirpy, lovely video explaining what it will be like if you go to a Messy Church event.

As these videos explain this all started in the UK – and we used to important two volumes of their artsy/crafty multi-generational experiential worship volumes – and have enjoyed hearing how many congregations (from large to small, mainline to non-denominational) have taken to using them in alternative worship experiences, maybe once a month, in Wednesday night programs, in home groups and more. Alas, the UK ones were a little quirky (from certain products they suggest using that aren’t available stateside to British-isms that left many American readers scratching their heads, not to mention the metric measurements, etc.) Well, rejoice, messy church lovers: InterVarsity Press has adapted and re-done Volume One of Messy Church (and added another small book about why and how to use the Messy Church activities that was also previously only available in England) and, with spiffy new covers, have made a product that really allows US faith communities to experience the same messy church stuff.

So, now, as you can see above, they’ve released an Advent/Christmas one, with, as it says on the front cover, “Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.” These programs really are designed for congregational use, so Christian educators and other parish teachers will want to get it asap, but we know of many families that have enjoyed messing around with them, too.

And this, just in: Messy Lent: Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  Yep, we’ve got ‘em all, now. Three cheers for IVP.


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My Big Back Story and a sale on Kuyperian books from the “Full Bodied Community” event in Pittsburgh

I know that some who subscribe to our free Hearts & Minds BookNotes newsletter do so because they are eager for our sale prices on important new books. They like to hear what we recommend each week and they appreciate – or so we hear – our diverse selection. We stock a lot of books that might be considered mainline denominational and progressive theologically, and we have a huge selection of what might be considered thoughtfully conservative/evangelical. Not to mention Catholic and Orthodox authors and nearly everything in-between. Likewise with our cultural studies and current affairs books — a bit of everything, carefully chosen. We regularly hear that folks like learning about titles we are most interested in, especially when they are books they might not otherwise have heard of or otherwise considered.

We also regularly write, about bestsellers including relatively simple, inspiring, religious titles that dominate the Christian bookstore marketplace – the brand new gift book by Ann Voskamp with full-color photography called Be the Gift: Let Your Broken Be Turned Into Abundance is a wonder, not unlike another we highlighted lately, Love Heals by Episcopal priest and activist Becca Stevens, or consider the brand new devotional on Proverbs by Tim & Kathy Keller, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs 

And we’ve got all kinds of mainstream, general-market bestsellers, too.

What bookstore wouldn’t want to carry any new biography by Walter Isaacson (the new one is on Leonardo Da Vinci) or the latest Ron Chernow, famous for Alexander Hamilton, simply called Grant? What bookstore that has any desire to offer deeper analysis of the culture wouldn’t be happy to stock stuff like Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland: How American Went Haywire: A 500 Year History or the important collection of pieces posthumously collected called Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived (with a forward by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no less.) My goodness, shouldn’t every bookstore carry the companion book to the much-discussed Ken Burn’s PBS series, The Vietnam War: An Intimate History and the remarkably written collection by Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.

Speaking of important new non-fiction, if you follow us at all on social media you know we’ve been celebrating a new hardback collection of agrarian essays by Wendell Berry, nicely entitled The Art of Loading Brush.

I am sorry I don’t take enough time here to tell you about important novels such as New People by Danzy Senna or Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, or Swingtime by Zadie Smith or poetry like The Sun and Her Flowers, the new one from Rupi Kaur.

Oh my, there are a lot of great new books.

Let me be honest: I started off listing these recent books for three reasons.

Firstly, we need to continue to get the word out that we carry all kinds of books and that we are looking for readers to order books from our full-service independent bookstore. No matter what your tastes or topics, we here at the shop would be eager to serve you further.

Secondly, I wanted to highlight some authors you might be familiar with if you are a fairly general reader – I really hope you know Voskamp and Coates and Keller and Berry – mostly because I’m about to share some titles that might seem, in comparison, a bit (shall we say) less than mainstream, edging towards the obscure. I don’t want you to think our bookstore is (too) weird. We really do have a great selection of normal, good books.

Thirdly, we list some of these popular bestsellers that we stock because I want those new to BookNotes to know that what I share below is a little unusual; we don’t always tell such long-winded, personal stories about our own background, and we know that our own eccentric past and unique tastes are, admittedly, maybe not for everyone. But marketers say that these days loyal customers usually do care about the story behind a business; sure, the fact is that we sell books, but for those of you who sense some connection to us here in south central Pennsylvania, you should know a bit more of what makes us tick. We aren’t just a faceless algorithm toting up data but we are telling a story in our shop, here. We’d like to think that maybe you are part of it, too. Maybe hearing some of what has influenced us will help you curate your own lives and legacy.


In a day or so we’ll do a big list of Advent books which should appeal to everyone, so please bear with us now as we share some of our back-story, and few heady lines about a very moving event we had the privilege of serving this past weekend in our old stomping ground out in Pittsburgh PA. We thought you might like to hear about it.


It was a conference called “Full Bodied Community.”

That event was organized by a group of old friends, mostly, most who we met in the mid 1970s, with some younger energy coming from a handful of folks currently involved with the CCO campus ministry with whom I serve as an associate staff; Beth and I, you probably know, attend a lot of their staff training events as booksellers and as occasional speaker.)

We want to mention some of the important books we sold there and mention a few we wish we had had time to promote better for that particular audience.

But first, I hope you don’t mind learning (or hearing again, if you know us well) a bit about this event, the movement from which it grew, and why it matters so much to us.


To do that, you have to bear with me even more. Allow me a few quick moments to remind you of, if you don’t know, a bit about our own story and how we ended up speaking and selling books at the Full Bodied Community Conference at Pittsburgh Urban Christian School.

You see, as I explained in my talk at the event, my own faith journey included a nearly schizophrenic sense in the early 1970s of being part of two or three colliding movements, two or three groups that seemed to care little for each other.

I imagined myself a bit of a social action guy during the tail end of the 60s counter-culture. I was part of the first-ever Earth Day (thanks, mom, and to whoever from church loaned us that pickup truck) and was a conscientious objector during the last years of the draft. As a follower of Christ I wasn’t into the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” of those rowdy years (well, maybe the rock-n-roll part) but I did care about civil rights stuff, worked against the death penalty, attended the first ever national Right-to-Life conference, picketed and boycotted with the United Farm Workers – standing for what we nowadays call “fair trade” practices for migrant workers — advocated for the Americans with Disabilities Act (I was a special ed major and met life-long friends at a camp for handicapped kids) as well as the American Indian Movement (not unrelated to the Standing Rock protests of this past winter.) The odd thing was that none of my fellow Jesus Freaks cared one whit about any of this. Nada.

There were some devout Roman Catholics that I met in 72 or so who had a consistent pro-life vision and helped me resist both the on-going war in Viet Nam and the nuclear arms race, got us involved in Amnesty International, and came to understand the awfulness of Roe v Wade in unleashing unlimited abortion-on-demand.They stood with workers and helped me get involved in a nationally-known safe energy movement. We worked for anti-hunger policies through Bread for the World and learned about boycotting Nestles, not to mention companies that wouldn’t divest from apartheid South Africa. We started a crisis pregnancy center at my college. Almost universally, my evangelical friends had little interest in joining in any of the campaigns or causes.

I will never forget when one Christian gal involved in charismatic giftings said that fighting hunger was against God’s will. Another woman, when I said we should do a Bible study on Amos or Micah, for once, said maybe I had a demon because I was interested in political change.

That wacky stuff aside, I also want to understand what was being debated in the university proper and was curious about the counter-cultural critique of the rational, bland, secularity of the establishment. I wanted to study what was “happening in the air” by reading existentialist literature and paying attention to bohemian artists and learning from the best philosophical critiques of what eventually I learned to call modernity.

I was really disillusioned with some mainline denominational pastors I met who didn’t want to read the Bible at all and seemed to have little regard for evangelism and prayer, and seemed to resent the vibrant faith of younger evangelicals. I didn’t understand their disinterest in conversion and spirituality or their typically critical attitude about the Scriptures. I met one young man at a faith-based peace protest who was in seminary who was an agnostic at best, and was on his way to be affirmed by his denomination as a pastor.

I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about but I felt like I knew folks who loved Jesus but didn’t care about the world or its needs.

On the other hand there were people I knew who cared deeply about the world and its concerns but had no interest in faith or any solutions that would be connected to historic faith.

Theodore Roszak, in an often-read book from those years that I still cite as an example of the quandary of those days, famously said that “Christianity, while still personally engaging for some, has become culturally irrelevant.”

I loved my social action hippy friends even though they mocked my faith. I loved my brothers and sisters in Christ, even though they hardly tolerated my interest in world poverty, environmentalism, and making some impact in the world outside our fellowships and churches. I was lonely in many ways, and frustrated, but tried always to unite these two different communities.

Liberal Christianity didn’t have the wherewithal to offer radical challenges to the culture because the churches I knew seemed so comfortable, accommodated to the world (despite what Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard and Martin Luther King, Jr. implored.) Evangelicalism was my newfound spiritual home, and I loved the zeal of the charismatics who seemed so full of the Spirit, even though they had their head in the clouds — “so heavenly minded they were no earthly good” was a fair description.

And the SDS type radicals were slowly losing their way, ending up in cults or drugs or back-to-nature communes, giving up the struggle for a just and healthy world. These were the days of Patty Hearst and Jim Jones and the political counter-cultural moving to the hard, Marxist left.

I could say more about the cluelessness of many churches and the harshness of many left-wing activists as well as heroic Christian folks we met in those years from Phil Berrigan to John Perkins, from Dorothy Day to Millard Fuller. But you get the point. Roszak, it seemed, was mostly right.

And into this quandary of being a church kid wanting to change the world, I met a world of folks who were doing just that, thoughtfully engaging the times, aware of the films and music and politics of the counter-culture, but moving beyond its dead end bankruptcy.

There were writers like Francis Schaeffer, wonderful witnesses like Os Guinness, new heroes from Ron Sider to Richard Mouw to John Perkins. We learned of evangelical feminists and Biblically-based racial reconciliation and Christian ecological activists working on what we called “Earth-keeping” and “creation care.” I discovered a new kind of Christian literature, Biblically grounded but culturally engaged. I discovered Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul and James Sire and William Stringfellow and C.S. Lewis and Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Mollenkott and Lewis Smedes. I started reading King and a Mennonite named John Howard Yoder (who years later was disgraced as a sexual abuser.) A whole world opened up to me that I knew nothing about.

And, importantly, I met a professor who travelled from college to college, offering adjunct workshops and seminars on Christian perspectives on society and truly faithful ways of thinking about issues, related to a old tradition I never heard of.

His name was Peter J. Steen.

He and his colleagues changed my life.

He told us about a revival of faith and social renewal in Holland in the late 1800s into the early 1900s, lead by an extraordinary Dutch thinker named Abraham Kuyper.

Forgive me if you’ve heard all this before but Kuyper became a leader in the Reformed churches in Holland in the very late 1800s; he was an exceptionally vibrant intellectual leader, first a pastor/theologian who became a journalist, started a university, a political party, and eventually Prime Minister. Those today who draw on his particular kinds of insights sometimes call themselves Kuyperians. There is a major collection and study center at Princeton Seminary about Kuyper, although few there pay it much mind.

Kuyper’s offered a robust call to renew the social architecture of the secularizing culture – yes, even in the early 1900s there were the tectonic shifts in what was formerly terra firma which lead to rationalistic faith in science, economic growth, technology, and bureaucracy to solve our problems, privatizing faith at best, eliminating it altogether; think of C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man a half century later, just to be reminded of the dehumanization and loss of meaning and beauty that was creeping into the West. Kuyper’s work was, in that first half of the century, second only in this regard to the magisterial Rerum Novarum, the stunning social teaching of Pope Leo XIII, who also warned about the secularizing forces of late modern capitalism. See, for a good comparison, by the way, the useful, little book Makers of Modern Christian Social Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question edited by Jordon Ballor, published by the Acton Institute ($14.95.)

As the publisher explains about that book:

Leo XIII’s encyclical on the relationship between capital and labor (Rerum Novarum) and Abraham Kuyper’s speech to the first Christian Social Congress (“The Social Question and the Christian Religion”), both published in 1891, are foundational sources for subsequent Christian social thought in their respective traditions—Roman Catholic and Reformed. This volume, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of these two landmark publications, includes authoritative English translations of these works and an introduction that outlines their context and significance. The thought of these two theologians—one an Italian scholar-pope and the other a Dutch Reformed pastor, professor, and politician—provide enduring wisdom for developing and articulating a Christian witness in the modern world.

Kuyper’s social vision, his passion for pluralism and democracy and a Christ-honoring order of social shalom, goodness, and justice for all, rooted in a broad and visionary application of Calvinism to all areas of life, was famously explained in his “Stone Lectures” at Princeton University in 1898 (still in print as Lectures on Calvinism; we stock the proper Eerdmans edition that sells for $18.00 or the Hendrickson hardback for $14.95.)

When added to some feisty reformed philosophy of culture (largely generated at the Vrije (Free) University of Amsterdam, the university Kuyper founded) by heavy continental philosophers Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven it developed into a global, worldviewish movement that has come to be called neo-Calvinism.

[This is not to be confused, for the record, with a recent fascination for traditional Calvinism among highly organized and often publishing young evangelicals and older leaders in the Gospel Coalition and Southern Baptist circles, which some unhelpful journalists wrongly call neo-Calvinism. That recent appreciation of conventional, older-school Calvinism (call it a new interest in old Calvinism) is a robust force in American evangelicalism these days – think of the massive Passion conferences or the many books by John Piper or nearly anything coming out of Crossway Publishing. Such influential Calvinism might more accurately be described as a neo-Puritanism, and isn’t quite the same as the Dutch Dooyeweerdian strain in the line of Abraham Kuyper that has for decades been called neo-Calvinism. If any of this is interesting to you, read my friend Bob Robertson’s piece about this here.]

Anyway, after World War II there was a significant influx of neo-Calvinist Dutch folks coming as immigrants to the shores of both the US and Canada. As Kuyperians they were used to an orthodox but generous “wide as life” view of discipleship and a wholistic view of the Kingdom of God defined largely as “creation-being-restored” — the sort of view of the good creation (and God’s common grace within it) which lead to culture-making and renewing efforts of public life which included stuff like faith-based art movements and Christian labor unions and Christian farmer’s organizations and serious missions to offer Biblical witness in higher education, and even third-way political parties that they knew back in Holland. I’ve heard older Dutch immigrants decades ago still expressing surprise that American Presbyterianism and Reformed evangelicalism had so little interest in reforming culture and no robust institutional witness in the various realms and spheres of society. Why no Christian political party or a world-class Christian university? (This was, of course, before the disastrous rise of the so-called Christian right, with embarrassing, thoughtless leaders like Falwell and Pat Robertson trying to speak into the public square. That is not what the great grand-children of Kuyper with his commitment to principled pluralism were hoping for!)

Uneducated farmers and blue-collar workers in the 60s saved nickels and dimes to support a uniquely Reformed Christian graduate school in North American since in the middle of the 20th century there was no such place. One could get advanced degrees in theology, of course, and there were fine Christian institutions of higher learning for undergrads (although in those years it was rare to hear much about the integration of faith and learning; Christian higher education was often practiced as teaching regular stuff in regular ways, but with wholesome campus life and required chapel added on; the dualism between the classroom and the chapel was huge and the lack of a distinctive intellectual tradition of “taking every idea captive for Christ” was, even in well known Christian colleges, virtually nonexistent.) If one wanted to study evangelical Protestant thinking as it related to politics or science or philosophy or art or economics or history or psychology at the graduate and PhD level, there simply was no such learning community to be found anywhere.

The Institute for Christian Studies was founded, then, fifty years ago, for just such a purpose –- not to offer theology as such or Biblical studies or pastoral preparation, but to work out of a (Christian) philosophical orientation that could contribute to a true “inner reformation of all the sciences” as Dooyeweerd put it — in a building near the University of Toronto. It attracted some deep thinkers and those disillusioned (perhaps like I was) in conventional churchianity and pious evangelicalism, since neither seemed to have the resources or capacity to make a serious philosophical contribution to the renewal of the culture.They were fired up about bringing fresh reform to their own tradition and opened their doors to “junior members” who would do high level philosophical research ion various disciplines in the name of Christ.

And, yes, Pete Steen was bridge between the CCO and other emerging communities in Eastern Ohio and throughout Western Pennsylvania.

ICS was misunderstood right from the start as the Canadian government wanted to accredit them as a seminary, which they had to go to court to resist, since they were, in fact, not a seminary. Few could even imagine that Christians wanted to study in light of Biblical faith, philosophers such as Kant or Derrida, economists such as Marx or Samuelson, linguists like Chomsky or Charles Taylor, political scientists like Seymour Lipset, Hannah Arendt, or Eric Voegelin, or sociologists like Auguste Comte, Emil Durkheim, or Jurgen Habermas, bringing a Christian evaluation to each of these influential scholars in their respective scholarly fields. Some ordinary churches – maybe even some that seemed Kuyperian – were worried that they were too edgy and radical in their thinking. The story of their founding can be found in an interesting book called A University for the People: A History of the Institute for Christian Studies by Robert Vandervennen (Dordt College Press; $18.00.) Here is a link from their website that explains their background. I visited there more than once during my college years — meeting remarkable scholars who are friends yet today like Paul Marshall and Stanley Carlson-Thies and Brian Walsh.

But here’s what is important, really important.

Through Dr. Steen, some of their founders and boosters – many who spoke still with a heavy Dutch accent and had stories of standing as children against the Nazi’s in their occupied homeland – ended up forming friendships with other people in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition in Philadelphia and the greater Pittsburgh area.

Some evangelical leaders I knew – such as the founders of Pittsburgh’s Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) that were being influenced by extraordinary thinkers like R.C. Sproul and Francis Schaeffer and also African American evangelicals like Tom Skinner and John Perkins – took notice.

You see, this influence contributed to Beth and I starting Hearts & Minds 35 years ago, and it began by learning about all this Kuyperian higher learning and social action stuff happening in Toronto and in Iowa and Grand Rapids and enclaves all over, all because of the aforementioned Peter J. Steen.

Steen was a Dutchman born in North Jersey who became a Dooyeweerdian philosopher after studying in Holland in this field of Christian philosophy. Pete had studied at Westminster Theological Seminary with a guy named Cornelius Van Til for a while, got a PhD at the Vrije, taught at a small college called Trinity in Palos Heights IL (where he teamed up with Calvin Seerveld, whose devotionals from those years, Take Hold of God and Pull are extraordinary) and ended up at Geneva College in Western Pennsylvania. After some conflict there he was eventually hired by the CCO to teach about what in those days we called a “world-and-life-view” and the implications of the Lordship of Christ over all of life. Soon enough he started his own ministry, “Christian Educational Services” or CES.

Steen travelled around tirelessly to various campuses and organized small conferences and hosting guest lectures by professors affiliated with “Toronto” which was short hand for the ICS grad school and other Kuyperian organizations there, from the Christian Farmers Federation to the Patmos Art Gallery.

This Steen guy was larger than life, like some visionary combo of Francis Schaeffer and Tony Campolo, a righteous Saul Alinksy, a brilliant thinker, tireless organizer, passionate preacher, itinerant philosopher/social activist/teacher and bookseller.(He pressed into my hands my first Walter Brueggemann book, by the way, had us reading new urbanist Jane Jacobs before most people knew who she was, was the first person I ever heard quote Lesslie Newbigin – who himself understood Dooyeweerd’s critique of the autonomy of Enlightenment rationalism, by the way — and, of course, insisted we read Herman Dooyeweerd, which to this day I don’t really understand. I will never forget Steen ripping open a brand new case of hardback copies of The Roots of Western Culture in the ally behind the CCO home offices and making me promise I’d read it.)

Through Steen, we came to meet the philosopher of aesthetics Calvin Seerveld, Al Wolters, the Biblical scholar (also with a degree in philosophy) and a member of the Dutch Parliament, an economist who later had influence in a significant working group of the World Council of Churches on globalization, named Bob Goudzwaard. From South African resistance leader Alan Boesak to (then) Notre Dame philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, from evangelical sociologist Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen to creation-care scientist Cal DeWitt, from world class philosopher Elaine Botha to one of the great interpreters of Kuyper for ordinary folks, who later became the President of Fuller Theological Seminary,  Richard Mouw, from award-winning historian George Marsden to Roman Catholic mystic Adrian van Kaam to Alvin Plantinga (now widely considered one of the most important philosophers in the world) we in Western Pennsylvania – through this wild-man traveling seminar leader Pete Steen – met authors and leaders whose names and books are now, in some circles, themselves nearly legendary.

(The poster above was drawn by Sean Purcell, trying to show some of the influences from Kuyper through Steen to our Full Bodied Community event.)

I will never forget hearing Pete’s friend and fellow Kuyperian Dutchman Gerald Vandezande (who before his death was given any number of honorary awards for his relentless advocacy for public justice in Canada) who was leading protests in the courts against a large oil pipeline that was disrupting the land and culture of First Nation peoples in the MacKenzie Valley of Canada, and how they linked it to our spiritually-bereft, economically rich over-development, exposing the idolatry of our dependency on fossil fuels. This was in the 70s, long before Bill McKibben and others have made equally cogent cases against the XL Pipelines. To hear theologically conservative Calvinists talk like this was nearly overwhelming, new, transforming.

Some of you know where this is going: as I’ve suggested, I met Pete in my college years, and he had a huge impact on my faith, my vision of the meaning of discipleship and social action, and, eventually, Beth and I —-hailing from small town mainline churches that never heard of such stuff – dove into helping form social action organizations, alternative inner city schools, philosophy clubs, arts and theater ministries, reading groups, and other social platforms to help promote what we started calling reformational worldview. Steen’s philosophical Kuyperianism wasn’t the only influence on us, but it was decisive.

And from that deep dive into the nature of worldviews we came to get a vision for what our bookstore would be.

Granted, some have used the world worldview to merely catalogue other religions and in some circles the word seems to imply mean-spirited critique of other’s life visions. Philosopher Charles Taylor uses the phrase social imaginaries to conjure a sense of these imagined assumptions and Jamie Smith in Desiring the Kingdom, drawing on ICS professor James Olthius and worldview scholar and storyteller Brian Walsh, reminds us that worldviews aren’t just intellectual ideas, presuppositions, not even quite “glasses” but storied, imagined, ways of life, shaped by our deepest longings and desires. Some Kuyperians who use this lingo released a book a bit ago called After Worldview edited by Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens (Dordt College Press; $13.00) wondering if the phrase is still viable. So there has been on-going consideration of the word worldview, but learning about it — starting with its German root weltanschauung on through the extraordinary, thorough study released a decade ago, Worldview: The History of a Concept by David Naugle (Eerdmans; $34.00) — set us on a journey to love books, literature, reading.


I wasn’t much of reader until I learned that God cared about all this stuff and that thinking well about the deepest issues and the foundational matters that must be grappled with if we are going to make a lasting difference demands that we read widely. I think it was mostly this reformational worldview and other similar strains within world-transformative faith that God used to give me a passion for reading and teaching others about good books. Nowadays, I point people to Reading for the Common Good by C. Christopher Smith (IVP; $16.00) to help express “How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish” as the best reminder of all this.

I don’t know if Steen used the slogan, but I started calling out “read for the Kingdom!” to rally folks to the book tables at our events. In a way, if you appreciate Hearts & Minds, you should thank the late, great Peter J. Steen.


Perhaps the most enduring outgrowth of those years working with others in Western Pennsylvania was Steen’s influence within the CCO — they still used the phrase “whole life discipleship” and seek to help students integrate faith and learning, as seen in wonderful books such as Derek Melleby & Don Optiz’s Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness (Brazos; $14.99.)  And, of course, how we developed the Jubilee Conference.

(See HERE for the stunning trailer for last years conference if you don’t quite know what I’m referring to. Please, please see the longer spoken word version that kicked off the conference last year, HERE — it is only 7 minutes and you will be blown away, knowing this was shown too 3000 college students. HERE is the loudly colorful trailer for this year’s event. And HERE I am doing a 20-minute talk on Sunday morning of the conference two years ago at its 40th anniversary. If I had more time I would have explained to the college crowd our deep, deep debt to Pete Steen for introducing us to this whole vision of a renewed Earth and the subsequent calling to develop the Christian mind, allowing ideas to grow legs and shape within us new practices in how we live out our faith, even in our careers, giving embodied flesh to the big hope of a Christian worldview.)

Well, I could say more about our back-story, about how all of that lead Beth and I to start Hearts & Minds, including our stocking books about the interface of faith and work, business, art, education, science, engineering, nursing, film studies, and the like, but will restrain myself to telling just these two final points (and some quickie book suggestions, leading up to the big list.)

1. Our Hearts & Minds bookstore is said to be unlike any other Christian bookstore in the land. I don’t know if that is true, and there are great ones we respect – Eighth Day Books in Wichita comes to mind… But insofar as we are trying something somewhat rare here, we owe it to what we learned in Pittsburgh during the late 70s as we were influenced by folks from ICS and others in that creation-regained worldview movement that swept through Western PA in those years. I often say that reading an early Os Guinness book was very seminal for me; James Sire on developing the Christian mind;  meeting a rowdy itinerant bookseller named Wes Seerveld who accompanied Pete Steen was also a real inspiration. I explain all this stuff about Kuyper and ICS and reading for the Kingdom as we develop the Christian mind for hopeful discipleship so that you understand who we are and what we’re about here at Hearts & Minds. It’s our story, and hopefully, in one way or another, yours too.

2. Everywhere Pete informally taught (often in church classrooms, collegiate resident hall basements, even over McDonald’s tables) groups that took Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, and reformational scholars like James Skillen and Evan Runner, Bob Goudzwaard and Calvin Seerveld, and their books seriously, concluded that we needed to stick together to figure this stuff out. Not unlike the famous Clapham community that former around William Wilberforce we realized we needed to be – as the saying went in those days – “living together in a world falling apart.” That is, house-holding in intentional community, living communally, or at least as near-by neighbors in specific neighborhoods, became part of the story. We visited or corresponded with several other intentional communities (from Reba Place to Sojourners to Voice of Calvary to The Other Side community in Germantown to learn about models and approaches.) When modern mega-churches try to mitigate the often atomized, suburban ethos of their large congregations by saying they should “do life together” it makes me glad.

The “Full Bodied Community” event this past weekend was, in a sense, an opportunity to tell the stories of some of those intentional communities, including one Beth and I helped found, now called the “Rippey Street Community” on and around Rippey Street in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Folks from rust-belt Newcastle and Beaver Falls shared their stories, too, and folks enjoyed hearing from some of us about the efforts of being good stewards of homes – some geodesic domes, even – and the strengths and weaknesses of a “theology of geography” and a “communal imagination” that grew up alongside the neo-Calvinist reformational movement in Western PA.

Such talk reminds me of the upbeat and insightful book Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce Crump (Multnomah Press; $14.99) a book I highlighted at the conference. I love it!  Alan Brigg’s Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You (NavPress; $14.99) offers a similar missional vision for our place, and is a sweet read, too. We also displayed a new book about place — set in Philadelphia, written by a person I think might have known Pete, through a wholistic urban minister named Harvie Conn, back in the day — called Place Matters: The Church for the Community by Bill Krispin & Coz Crosscombe (CLC Publications; $13.99.) The most significant theological work written on any of this comes from an ICS-related scholar, Craig Bartholomew, entitled Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (Baker Academic; $32.00.) Less academic but an excellent, enjoyable book is one I often show off, No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place by Leonard Hjarlmarson (Urban Loft; $16.99.) This stuff is all urgent reading, I think, making sure our theology and perspectives are, as they say, grounded.

Interestingly, another book that fits in here has direction connections to the reformational movement in 1970s Western Pennsylvania. Again, I’m not making this stuff up — it’s a lovely little book that was just published (which I had a tiny hand in, helping just a bit with the bibliography.) It is called The Embrace of Buildings: A Second Look at Walkable City Neighborhoods (Calvin College Press; $16.99) by Lee Hardy. It is a wonderfully interesting book, highly recommended to all BookNotes fans. And guess what? Hardy was influenced by Pete Steen when Lee was studying in Pittsburgh in the late 70s. He has made his mark as a philosopher and college teacher, and has published some good work, but this captures a wonderful avocation of his, perhaps started when Steen helped many of us discover Jane Jacobs so many years ago.

From growing ones own healthy foods to having resources to do hospitality (taking in the hurting and needy) to learning the basic skills of “body life” in ways that ordinary churches often don’t, we heard of stories of ways Steen’s all-of-life-redeemed vision called forth a deeper desire to live in ways other than the “do your own thing” individualism. We heard from several locales about efforts to do life together that continue on to this day.

At the weekend conference we realized afresh some important things:

That we were influenced in our idealism by the colorful teaching and Kingdom instigation of Pete Steen is certain. At the event we recalled his legacy.

That we took cues from Toronto’s ICS is no surprise. Our conference was more storytelling and inspiration so wasn’t a workshop on Dooyeweerd’s reformational philosophy, but the work of the group that founded ICS – the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship  and one of their early leaders, Dr. Evan Runner, and its long-extinct Vanguard magazine — was never far from our stories.

That some good fruit grew, lasting institutions other than our own fledgling communal living experiences such as some pretty innovative Christian schools (such as Pittsburgh Urban Christian School who hosted the event) – is wondrous, and we give God thanks.

That the CCOs Jubilee conference every February is a fabulously energetic and visionary evangelistic event for college students (not to mention the excellent pre-conference for adults, Jubilee Professional sponsored by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation) that is significantly related to Steen’s work in and around the CCO is important.

Jubilee is perhaps the most obvious outgrowth of Steen’s reformational worldview teaching, perhaps one of the leading examples of the impact of Kuyperian thought within the evangelical world of North America. (That another obvious outworking of that Kuyperian vision, the very creative Center for Faith and Work, sponsored by Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has certain connections to Pittsburgh is another interesting story.)

It could even be argued (although we need a better historian of 20th century evangelicalism to weigh in) that some of the great Christian professional associations – I’m thinking of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) and CLS (Christian Legal Society) and ASA (American Scientific Affiliation) and the Christian Scholars Review, managed, now, by Pete Steen’s son, Hope College professor Todd Steen, just for instance – have, among their earliest founders, people whose worldviews were animated by ideas that have their roots in Kuyper’s “every square inch” revival in Holland. In some cases, people that were inspired by Pete Steen and his associates were in the forefront of some of these visionary organizations.

I know, just for another instance, that Chuck Colson, the Watergate bad guy who was born again on his way to prison and who came out a changed man wanting to work in prison ministry, moved increasingly from doing only prison evangelism to working on the more architectonic/structural matters of prison reform – Christian views of criminology and coining the term “restorative justice” even – after reading Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism and Al Wolter’s Creation Regained. Colson had named these two books often before he died, noting how he learned – in part from his association in those years, the ICS graduate Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity (Crossway; $23.99) – to develop not just a Christian theology and Biblical view of ministry, but a wide-as-life Christian worldview that lead to efforts for cultural, societal, and institutional transformation.

And, to be utterly relevant and timely, the book that we just named as The Hearts & Minds Book of the Year for 2017 (in the last BookNotes) is the brand new Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Baker Academic; $22.99.) It is, in fact, an ongoing ecumenical conversation about Kuyperian thought. That James K.A. Smith somewhat deconstructs the notion of worldview (especially in the first of the “Cultural Liturgy” trilogy, Desiring the Kingdom) is only further proof that this topic is hot, that we have to deepen and widen our conversation about what we mean by worldview, and how it impacts our public theology. Smith knows Dooyeweerd well, and his own popular work is in no small way indebted to the Institute for Christian Studies where he did his own formative graduate work.

I loved that at our Full-Bodied Community conference, speaker Gail Heffner quoted at length from Smith’s small but wise and very informative book Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition (Brazos; $14.99) which reminds those of us in the Reformed tradition (and others too) that our faith need not be conservatively doctrinaire but opened up to fresh insights about the creation, that we stand within an on-going, broad, catholic tradition, and that we can appreciate both John Piper and Abraham Kuyper.

And, by the way, as Gail and Ken walked us through a beautiful Biblical narrative, inviting us to embody wonder, lament, and reconciliation, they used evocative music and a powerful video clip of the movie trailer for the just-released Wendell Berry documentary, “Look and See.” Although Gail has come to know Wendell, she was reading him in the early 80s, when we shared a copy of The Unsettling of America. Her use of this Berry poem and the vivid 2-minute video was a highlight of the event and well worth watching.

Further, for what it is worth, N.T. Wright readily admits to having learned much of his most foundational approach to worldviews (see, for instance, the first major volume of his influential “Christian Origins and the Question of God” series) to then ICS professor of Worldview Studies, Brian Walsh. Brian used to do CCO staff training and has spoken at Jubilee as has his ICS colleague from those years, Al Wolters. I don’t know if Wright has read any Dooyeweerd, or even much Kuyper, but his overall perspective is shaped by some of the same influences from Toronto that captured my attention decades ago.  I know a Kuyperian friend who just used with great success a collection of talks by Wright on how the Bible speaks to many issues in contemporary culture, from creation care to the arts, from the sciences to the role of women in society. I love reading Wright and commend this diverse collection of talks he gave that were not primarily in settings of theologians or Bible scholars, but professional associations, artists, scientists, social justice activists and the like. See Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (HarperOne; $15.99.)

See? I’m not making this stuff up. Kuyper’s influences, in ways direct and indirect, are everywhere.  And it’s good stuff.

One of the widely anticipated and certainly most-discussed theological works of the year, Smith’s Awaiting… is in direct conversation with this material. And one of the most acclaimed theological and Biblical scholars of our time, Tom Wright, has been influenced by those in the line of Pete Steen.

And so, we went to this “Full Bodied Community” conference, to share in some old memories from some old friends whose lives paralleled my own, but also to name ways in which this reformational legacy in Western PA could be made fresh for the 21st century.  It was, for me, a metaphorical exercise in connecting the dots.

And for our friend Sean Purcell, it was a literal exercise in illustration. What fun!

As you can see above, I got to do one of the plenary talks, as did our best friends Ken & Gail Heffner who are both on staff at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. (I think videos of these will be available on line before too long.) And Sean drew and drew as we talked.

Other folks spoke on topics as interesting as the “Joy in Learning” curriculum used in some of the innovative Christian schools and Pittsburgh’s own Mr. Robert Lavelle’s famous radical, inner-city bank, Dwelling House Savings and Loan, and  interviews and conversations about how we move from “worldview to way of life” and how to take “worldview to work.”

A few big questions loomed – where to we go from here? How can we make a transforming difference in our own places? How do we keep hope alive in these times, pressing into visions of vocation? How might we encourage ministries like the CCO and their wonderful Jubilee conference to remain true to their earliest ideals and goals? What is the role of intentional community? We were so glad to see some friends from the Bruderhof there, and we should have drawn them into the conversation more, since they have great experience with communal living inspired by the New Testament.(I was glad we had some of their books, beautifully published by their Plough Publishing.) And, always, how to we find time and space not only to pray and be shaped by spiritual disciplines to sustain us but how do we find time and space to read, learn, discuss, dialogue and become the “communities of discourse” that world-changing communities need to be? In an era when we are busier then ever, and the issues are more complex then ever, we simply have to be life-long learners, loving books as much as Kuyper and Steen did!

It is a burning question for my vocation, and yours, too, no doubt: how do we get folks to read more deeply as Steen always challenged us to do?

How does the ecumenical and missional church movement fund a Kingdom imagination that bears fruit in but not of the world around us? (I reminded folks that it was Steen that gave me my first book by Walter Brueggemann, The Land, and Walt’s Prophetic Imagination remains a fertile text for all such conversations about faithful living.)

And, too, quite urgently, we asked out loud how tragic social realities such as income inequality and white privilege and current climate changes effect how we live out robust, missional discipleship these days?

What will it take for us to become known as men and women of Issachar (I Chronicles 12:32) who “knew the times and knew what God’s people should do”?

Dare we “take courage and work” waiting for God to bring peace to our places (as in Haggai 2?)

Can we truly be innovative as we serve “For the Life of the World” – as in the beautiful DVDs created by Kuyperians, published by the Roman Catholic Acton Institute, named after a book by Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann?

That is a great, great resource and a beautifully fun way to enter this Kuyperian conversation.  If you’ve never seen it, drop everything and watch the trailer for it here. (It retails for $25.00 but with the 20% off discount it’s just $20.00. and worth every penny.) In one of the episodes, the host, Evan, is wearing a Kuyper tee-shirt.  (In other episodes he is wearing the visage of other key writers, like the Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and the aforementioned Alexander Schmemann. Another has Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Catholic theologian known for writing, densely, about beauty. How funny!)

Maybe there in those tee shirts is a clue to living faithfully and holistically in the new era: we must be ecumenical. We must read widely. We must learn from each other.

Which brings us back to why we do what we do, developing ecumenical book lists and curating book displays for important gatherings and running this small town bookstore, working with local customers and area churches. We’d like to think that our work is in service to this big Kingdom vision, helping God’s glory to be known as the culture is renewed and as human flourishing takes roots in every zone of life, all over the place. We learned that mostly from Pete Steen, I suppose, and we not only want to honor him, but thank all of those who reminded us of him this past weekend by participating in the Pittsburgh Full Bodied Community gathering.

And to all our customers who have read along with us thus far – again, thank you. We hope you enjoyed learning yet again a bit about at least part of our story, and hope that we can somehow serve you in yours. Together, despite the oddness of our times, and the diversity of our own stories and influences, with God’s help, we can carry on.


Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat James Bratt (Eerdmans) $24.99 Okay, this is the big, real deal. This is surely the definitive biography, almost 500 pages, certainly the best yet —  with lots about his political views and his struggles in public life. It is well written and, I might add, by a guy who knew Steen back when he lived in Pittsburgh. Dr. Bratt is now an esteemed professor of history at Calvin College.  See a great review of the book, here.




Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00 This is the shortest most delightful introduction to Kuyper (and why he matters today) that we know of and we really hope you will consider it. Whether one is seriously interested in this particular strain of the Dutch Reformed tradition or not, one really ought to know a bit about this heroic leader and seminal thinker.  I can name a handful of lesser known theological voices and Christian saints we simply all should know. This is one. I love this book. Highly recommended.



Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $40.00  I’m soon going to announce this as an award-winning “Best of” book for 2017 so, again, if you are even vaguely interested in this deep and profound tradition, this is one of the best resources in which you can invest. Get this book, work through it carefully, learn and be aware of the extraordinary riches in this complex, century-old tradition of Christian worldview thinking and social renewal. It has become a touchstone for this tradition, a very important resource.



On Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work & Legacy of Abraham Kuyper edited by Steve Bishop & John Kok (Dordt College Press) $36.00 When this came out a few years ago I thought to myself as I opened the cover of the slightly over-sized book, that this was a book Steen would have insisted we all read.  It is a collection of essays about Kuyper, yes.  It is also a collection of those truly in the known, those who are living out this Kuyperian, neo-Cal, reformational worldviewy stuff, with vibrancy and radical insight. It breaths ongoing reform, it cries out to be taken seriously. It is both academic — some of the essays are rigorous theologically and/or philosophically, but they have this lively trajectory towards making a difference in God’s world.  That is, it isn’t armchair speculating, it isn’t arcane study for the sake of the academic guild. This is a vital collection of reformational dynamite — highly recommended.

Here is how the publisher explains it’s importance:

This anthology gathers thirty-one articles, some in print for the first time, from twenty-eight authors who use the Kuyperian framework to critique and to develop Christian perspectives on, among other things, the church, culture, gender, common grace, education, politics, scholarship, fashion, art, science, and evolution. This book provides an introduction to Kuyper’s life and thought through the eyes of others. The breadth and scope of these articles stand as testimony to Abraham Kuyper’s desire to see the lordship of Christ extend to every area of life.

Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $30.00  I hope you saw my long review of this marvelously profound work in BookNotes when it first came out. Goudzwaard (who I mentioned in my above narrative) is certainly is one of the most significant Christian leaders of our time that most never heard of. This is his studious bit of cultural criticism, not just about economics (although that is his field and he makes significant economic proposals nearer the end.) Heady as it is, he has a knack for summarizing and clarifying profound thinkers and there is a delightful device in the book where a group of college students are involved, asking questions and offering feedback. That makes it more readable and approachable and less abstract.

Listen to how the publisher describes this important volume:

The modern age has produced global crises that modernity itself seems incapable of resolving deregulated capitalism, consumerism, economic inequality, militarization, overworked laborers, environmental destruction, insufficient health care, and many other problems. The future of our world depends on moving beyond the modern age. Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew have spent decades listening to their students and reflecting on modern thought and society. In Beyond the Modern Age they explore the complexities and challenges of our time. Modernity is not one thing but many, encompassing multiple worldviews that contain both the source of our problems and the potential resources for transcending our present situation. Through an archaeological investigation and critique of four modern worldviews, Goudzwaard and Bartholomew demonstrate the need for new ways of thinking and living that overcome the relentless drive of progress. They find guidance in the work of Rene Girard on desire, Abraham Kuyper on pluralism and poverty, and Philip Rieff on culture and religion. These and other thinkers point the way towards a solution to the crises that confront the world today. Beyond the Modern Age is a work of grand vision and profound insight. Goudzwaard and Bartholomew do not settle for simplistic analysis and easy answers but press for nuanced engagement with the ideologies and worldviews that shape the modern age. The problems we face today require an honest, interdisciplinary, and global dialogue. Beyond the Modern Age invites us to the table and points the way forward.

And read carefully these fine endorsements by folks who represent different theological and cultural views; it is an education just reading how they briefly interact with the book:

Beyond the Modern Age is essential reading for all seeking to navigate their way through the complex cultural and worldview issues associated with the modernization of our world. Offering skillful and insightful analysis shaped and informed by the Kuyperian tradition, Goudzwaard and Bartholomew guide readers through the worlds of philosophy, economics, politics, theology, and culture in a compelling way. This volume is vitally important not because all readers will agree with the proposals and conclusions offered, nor because the authors provide us with a final word, but because Goudzwaard and Bartholomew have constructively advanced the conversation and modeled the kind of serious intellectual engagement needed by thoughtful Christians in our day. (David S. Dockery, president, Trinity International University)

This is an invaluable contribution to the necessary conversation about the worldviews shaping modernity and its cultures; it is an important primer for living in a confessionally pluralistic Western society. More importantly, it articulates the way an authentically Christian worldview can disclose the fault lines of contemporary worldviews and open up alternative and constructive paths forward from the seemingly intractable problems we face. (Bruce J. Clemenger, president, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada)

As a consequence of the process of globalization, the inner contradictions of modernity have become apparent. In particular, the affirmation that modernization inevitably leads to secularization is being questioned in view of the so-called ‘return of religion.’ People are beginning to critically review the basic assumptions of the modern worldview, looking for new perspectives of meaning in the highly confusing contemporary world. The new publication Beyond the Modern Age by Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew offers a constructively critical approach to the economic, social, and environmental challenges facing the globalized society. Both authors are rooted in the ‘reformational,’ neo-Calvinist tradition of Christian social thinking initiated by Abraham Kuyper. The book grew out of a course for students that Bob Goudzwaard has taught for many years. It has retained the attractive character of an argument developed in dialogical partnership with students drawn from different parts of the world. The authors take the reader through an informed review of the historical origins of the modern worldview and the main efforts to critically adjust it in response to its inner paradoxes. Taking their cues from contemporary scholars like José Casanova, Philip Rieff, René Girard, and Lenn E. Goodman, they seek to move beyond the ideological constraints of the modern worldview by arguing for a biblically rooted perspective from ‘outside’ that opens up constructive ways of thinking and acting while respecting the plurality of worldviews. The book can be recommended as an excellent textbook for courses in contemporary Christian social philosophy. (Konrad Raiser, former general secretary of the World Council of Churches)

I suppose this isn’t a “selling point” to most BookNotes readers, but in keeping with my theme, above, I can say with certainty that if Pete Steen were alive, he’d make us all read this book. Interestingly, there is a marvelous Epilogue written by – yep – a former Pittsburgher, our dear pal Mark Vandervennen, explaining a bit about Goudzwaard’s very interesting life and many public accomplishments, some of which are quite remarkable.

Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time Brian Walsh (Wipf & Stock) $17.99   I have often said in these pages that Walsh is an author well worth reading, one of my favorites. I won’t recount all that now (although I explain about his body of work and review his latest one, here.) I really wanted to hold this one up as an example of the sorts of powerful, Biblical, culturally-engaged, transforming vision that we heard from Steen and Vandezande and others critics of the status quo that so influenced many of us years ago. This one takes seriously the sadness of our times and, in a way, move further into the study of the “idols of the age” that appeared concisely in Transforming Vision and Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be. This short book includes extraordinarily insightful talks and sermons — one given at Jubilee, in fact — drawing inspiration on poets and thinkers from Bob Goudzwaard to Bruce Cockburn to Walter Brueggemann. Tom Wright offers a very enthusiastic forward; I’ve even got a blurb on the back. This second edition has a powerful radded chapter that is worth the price of the book as Walsh challenges us to live into the redemptive Biblical story with guts and grace. Subversive Christianity: Imaging God… book will make you think, especially in these dangerous times.  I promise you.

Heaven is Not My Home: Living in the Now God’s Creation Paul Marshall (Nelson) $15.99 I know this title turns off some people, but it really is one of the finest books about Christian living in the modern world of which I know. Marshall, now a world-renowned expert on human rights in the modern world (and especially human rights violations against people of faith and the particular injustices within the Muslim world), started out as a professor at Toronto’s ICS. He wrote this book – in part with encouragement from Os Guinness, I’ve heard – to flesh out a balanced and coherent Christian perspective on all of life.

There are just wonderful, playful, interesting chapters that offer expert advise on thinking faithfully about work, rest, business, the arts, recreation, technology, citizenship and more. This “all of life redeemed” worldview is shown not to be an abstract notion but truly a guiding bit of wisdom for faithful whole-life discipleship. The chapters on the “full gospel” as seen as the telling of the creation/fall/redemption story are classic; the chapter on worship and the chapter on evangelism are lovely and wise. This is a handbook for missional living written before anyone used that word and it is lively reformational worldview without jargon or philosophy. It would make a great group study, introducing folks in a winsome way to a better, wholistic vision of Kingdom living, covering sides of life we all, in fact, have to engage and into which surely the gospel speaks.

I am sure you know we recommend “worldview” books often, and we implore folks to read titles such as (my favorite) The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP; $22.00) and the classic, influential, Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Albert Wolters (Eerdmans; $15.00); we often suggest the pleasant and inviting Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God by Michael Wittmer (Zondervan; $16.99) and Mark Bertrund’s wonderful, engaging (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in the World (Crossway; $22.99.) For real beginners or interested teen readers I suggest the fun The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit Into God’s Plan for the World by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway; $15.99.)

But you know what? As much as I love these worldview books and as committed as we are to stocking them, this Paul Marshall book about actually living out faith in distinctive, normative ways in various sides of life really does capture what it is all about. Don’t skip the studies of worldviews themselves, but, really, Heaven Is Not My Home is a gem. Highly recommended.

Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $14.99  I was thinking of highlighting this in my “Full Bodied Community” book announcement but just ran out of time, so never mentioned it. Since I edited it myself, it always feels awkward to promote it. However, I’m a believer in this book and just recently got an exceptionally moving note from a reader who shared how much the book helped him.

It started, as you may know, with a commencement address I gave at Geneva College in which I made a reference or two to Pete Steen and his impact there.  When folks wanted copies of my speech, I decided to add in a bunch of others that offered similarly visionary graduation addresses that celebrate integrated Christian learning, a deep vision of vocation and call, a dream of seeking meaning and purpose as we serve God by serving the common good. Funny, I think most of the speakers whose talks I included in the book knew Pete Steen and most would call themselves, in one way or another, Kuyperians, or at least have learned to think “wordlviewishly” in conversation with reformational folk. From Steve Garber to Richard Mouw, Amy Sherman to John Perkins, Nicholas Wolterstorff to Claudia Beversluis, these are all fabulous chapters, to which we’ve added some reflection questions.  I also did a forward that many have found helpful and our friend Erica Young Reitz (of After College fame) wrote a great, practical epilogue. Serious Dreams is compact, colorful, and is, obviously, a great gift for those graduating from college and taking up new callings and careers. But, frankly, is seemed right to share it with this crowd at this event and I wish I’d have promoted it there. So here ya, go — I’d even sign ’em if you order now.

Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement Michael Frost (IVP) $16.00 This brilliant work is both a cultural analysis — in the virtual age we tend towards disengagement, almost gnostic — and it is a call to be the local church, living for real in the local Body in a local place. My goodness, this is deeply profound, an important contribution to what it means to be embodied.  

It is a great example of what Michael Frost and other missional writers are doing — exegeting the culture and thinking about the implications of our North American context for how we do church and live our our discipleship.

You know, that Kuyperian type conference in Pittsburgh really was also about community; Full Bodied Community they allusively called it. I think one of the reasons that intentional house-holding experiments grew up in the wake of Steen teaching was that he often critiqued a false dualism — Plato’s dichotomy between the body and soul or, as it is sometimes put, the flesh and the spirit, or as in the church’s classic split between sacred and secular. Steen suggested that sometimes this was nearly the heresy of gnosticism, and once we had a robust, Hebraic view of the creation, and a “creation-restored” view of redemption, then we need a full-bodied, real-world, life-on-life view of the church. If Steen were around today, he’d love this book, and anybody who talks about being reformational should know it. Michael Frost is a remarkable writer and we should follow his work closely.

Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People edited by Arnold Eberhard (Plough Publishing) $18.00 Like the above listed books, I reviewed this at length in a previous BookNotes column. It obviously needs to be noted here as any conversation about community – whether it is intentional house-holding or just “doing life together” with fellow-travelers, or trying to figure what it means to be the local church – can wonderfully benefit from this utterly delightful collection. Included are authors that are wise and diverse, short pieces by Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Saint Benedict, Jean Vanier, Thomas Merton, Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster, John Perkins, Christine Pohl, Joan Chittister, and so many more. Very highly recommended.

The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together Mark Votava (Createspace) $14.99 I suspect you’ve never heard of this great and provocative book. There isn’t too much that we highly recommend for those wanting to truly live together within an intentional community and although this has great benefit for folks in such households, it is good for anyone, I think. It isn’t the most beautifully written book you’ll ever come across, but I’m convinced we need to read this book! We may not all be able to move near one another and most churches don’t have the capacity to make this happen, but to at least read about it as a goal, or part of our imagination, at least, could be valuable, eh?

Here is how the publisher describes it, by explaining the importance for church folk to live nearby and create a lively spirituality, together, within the context of life together in a neighborhood:

We need to create the context to reimagine the body of Christ in everyday life as embodied through its proximity and shared life together. Without the value of inhabiting and listening to the place where we live, we will have very little expression of faith together in everyday life. There needs to be an embodied expression for our ecclesiology to make sense. If we do not have a local expression together, we will create a duality between our spirituality and our everyday lives in the ordinary. The Communal Imagination will draw out a new way of being for ourselves into this transition of embodied expression by stressing the importance of proximity and shared life within a particular neighborhood where we live, work and play.

Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us Christine Pohl (Eerdmans) $20.00 One of the most important books of the last decade, I think, one that smart and informed folks everywhere tell me they appreciate, is the hefty but deeply wise Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. This isn’t precisely a sequel, but it is similar in that it is based on some research (interviews with lots of church folk, pastors and congregants) and great Bible study. She offers four chief practices that sustain our life together and also explores those things that weakens each of those practices. Pohl teaches social ethics as Asbury Seminary so is connected profoundly to both the evangelical tradition and a mainline denomination, so she has very much to offer us all.

As Marva Dawn puts it, “Every Christian should read this provocative book!”

Marva continues,

Christine thoroughly delineates the interlocking relationships and dangerous deformities of practices that could deepen our communities but often destroy them. This volume is pertinent to our families, churches, even places of work.

Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community Brett McCracken (Crossway) $15.99 . This recent book has gotten some great, great reviews since it came out a month or so ago, and we really want to tell you about it. It isn’t about alternative Christian communes, really, but more about why ordinary church life should be more relational and real, and why we simply have to be a part of a local congregation to thrive as a Christian. Yes, yes, we mostly know that, but McCracken shows — in prose that’s pretty cool and candid — that this is, if we are truly doing it, going to be awkward. Messy, as we sometimes say. John Ortberg, a writer I so admire, has a few books about how our own sin and foibles, and the sin and foibles of others, have to be admitted in community, so we can take people “as is.” (See his wonderful Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them [Zondervan; $15.99.]) 

McCracken asks some uncomfortable questions here, asking why we fear discomfort? Why do we take the easy way? What could church look like if we weren’t consumers looking for easy answers? How can the gospel transform our self-centeredness and help us be the Body of Christ? His view of the church is solid, mature, but expressed in a lively style. A very fine book.

Cultural Problems in Western Society Calvin Seerveld (Dordt College Press)   $18.00

Cultural Education and History Writing Calvin Seerveld (Dordt College Press) $23.00

Biblical Studies and Wisdom for Living Calvin Seerveld (Dordt College Press) $25.00

These three which I want to highlight here are part of a six-volume set of what in BookNotes I called “a bona fide publishing event” made up of “Sundry Writings and Occasional Lectures” by the learned and passionate emeritus ICS Professor Seerveld. Others in the set include Normative Aesthetics, Art History Revisited and Redemptive Art in Society and they are each brilliant in their own way. His other work includes his classic books on the arts, Rainbows for the Fallen World and Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves, a marvelous resource on using the Palms in worship (Voicing God’s Psalms) and two very colorful, powerfully written Biblical devotionals that we carry, Take Hold of God and Pull and On Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World. I suppose some know his drama script based on “Song of Songs” called The Greatest Song which we also stock.

I mention these three above as they seem the closest to the sorts of things Steen specialized in, big picture theorizing about the spirit of the times, Bible-based prophetic critique of the idols of the age, and creative, healing, proposals for social renewal which allows us to, God willing, re-claim and embody gospel hope for our broken but blessed world which is so loved by the Triune God.

Some of the essays in Cultural Problems were lectures given in Western Europe, somewhat about labor issues, somewhat about immigration, and also about the role of the arts in addressing dislocating times. It is incisive and relevant.  Here is what the publisher has said to describe some of it:

Seerveld masterfully locates current quandaries in the large timeframe stretching from Ancient Greece to the present, all the while introducing normative alternatives that are biblically oriented.

Funny, but I fear some BookNotes readers may be thinking exactly what I as a young man thought when I heard Steen, who sounded rather like this. Namely, that I loved the energy and vision and sense that it all mattered, but, really – is it practical? People are starving, Seerveld, and you are talking about Greek philosophies and art? Well, if you are thinking that, you are in good company, and brother Calvin himself will not demean or disregard your questions, but will be kind as he walks with you through these very doubts and concerns, showing – if you stick with him – why seemingly arcane philosophical background really, truly matters if we are going to find lasting proposals for our complex times. This is good scholarship, with tones of both the pastoral and prophetic.

Cultural Education & History Writing itself is a remarkable bit of reformational writing, a must-read for anyone wanting to enter this tradition and get the cadences and insights deep into their bones. How do we think about education, about forming others and passing along a built-up body of insights? What is the meaning of history, of our times, and how do we do discern the nature of things as they are related to the past?

Again, quoting from the publishers description, you can hopefully see why this sort of mature (if colorful) writing is illustrative of the visionary stuff we who studied with Pete Steen cut our own teeth on. This is great, provocative, stuff:

Seerveld sees a central role in education for “understanding and developing history,” but then “history” not as rote rehearsal of what has transpired but as past and present events in their complex interrelation. Education is inevitably an induction into our cultural heritage; conceived ecumenically, in the spirit of loving our neighbors and their “mistaken visions,” wherever and whenever they may be. But as Cultural Education and History Writing makes plain, we are initiators — culture-makers, shapers of history, and also history-keepers — as much as we are inductees. These seventeen essays are introduced by Doug Blomberg and Gideon Strauss.

As for Biblical Studies & Wisdom for Living what can I say? The neo-Calvinist worldview of Bavinck and Kuyper and the reformational philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, and the trajectory it set for Steen’s students in Western PA, leading to the formation of urban housing projects, food co-ops, Christian schools, a Christian arts group, a labor-management reconciliation project, an associated chapter of Christian citizens under the umbrella of CPJ, the energy efficient contracting of Morning Sun Builders, the big Jubilee conference, and even the formation of Hearts & Minds all are finally dependent on the lived out faith of folk inspired by the Bible. Seerveld is an extraordinary expositor, a learned student of the printed page, and his pieces here – some rather academic and meaty, others simple instruction a child can understand – are prayerful and gritty and powerful. They open up the Word for life, allowing the power of God’s revelation in Christ to shine for every square inch. What a unique, passionate book to revisit time and again.

Interestingly, as Sean Purcell was hosting some of the conference, and facilitation some of the panels and on-stage conversations, I saw him carrying his dogeared copy of this, with some yellow sticky-notes affixed. It seems he was thinking, as I was, that this is a book to enhance full-bodied community.


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Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology by James K.A. Smith REVIEWED and ON SALE from Hearts & Minds

Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.95 — our 20% off sale price = $18.39

We are glad to announce that the publisher has shipped to bookstores this much-anticipate third volume of the much-discussed “Cultural Liturgies” project by our friend, the beloved professor Jamie Smith. Smith holds the Byker Chair in Reformed Theology and Worldview at Calvin College in Grand Rapids; he had previously studied at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto with long-distance mentors of ours such as Al Wolters and Brian Walsh and did his PhD in postmodern hermeneutics with Dr. Jack Caputo at Villanova. He’s remarkably down to Earth – he loves hockey and NASCAR and indie rock music — and is amazingly smart. He edits the most interesting quarterly we know, the lovely Comment, a journal of thoughtful but accessible public theology, offered in the spirit of Abraham Kuyper’s efforts to re-think and revitalize the social architecture of society. I’ve even written for Comment, but these days they draw on some of the world’s finest minds and significant practitioners of this sort of robust, wise, culturally-transformative faith.

If you want to order this third “Cultural Liturgies” installment – or the first two, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview & Cultural Formation ($22.99) and Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Words ($22.99) – and don’t want to read my long essay below, click HERE to jump to our secure website order form. Just type in what you want and your credit card info as instructed.  We’ll send your order our right away.

If you have purchased from us the previous two, or are doing so now, let us know if you would like us to include with your purchase of Awaiting the King a new very handsome heavy-stock paper slipcase to show off all three books together. You can buy all three shrink wrapped in the slipcase, for that matter, but if you already have the previous two, we’ll send along a slipcase for free. Just let us know if you want it.

To order the book at our website, you can safely enter credit card digits as instructed or simply tell us if you want us to enclose an invoice with the shipment so you can pay by check later. All three “Cultural Liturgy” books are 20% off (making them $18.39 each) and we’d be happy to serve you promptly.


Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology is an intellectually rigorous book, bringing us a sustained conversation on Smith’s own political thinking – a remarkable blend of influences from Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper, and Bavinck, engaging with Oliver O’Donovan, Stanley Hauerwas, and Peter Leithart, inspired always by wise evangelical thinkers such as Robert Webber and Richard Mouw.

Awaiting allows JKA to help us enter the conversation about any number of themes and controversies among those who think about social ethics and public theology and Christians speaking out in public. He says, for instance, why he thinks “natural law” is a less than helpful approach to Christian scholarship, tells what was up with the “radical orthodoxy” movement, and shows why we always need some prophetic, critical distance from our too easily accommodated tendencies (whether we are conservative evangelicals tilting right or mainline denominational leaders tilting left or Kuyperian transformationalists who, in the name of making a difference, are too readily informed by their own biases and social settings, perhaps too much at ease in Babylon.) To show how important and urgent all this is, he weighs in matters of racial justice and how we in our churches construe racial identity. In not even 300 pages he covers a whole lot of ground.

One doesn’t need the punchy, eloquent quotes from British theologian and ethicist Oliver O’Donovan that open the book to know that to proclaim the gospel necessarily is an act laden with political implications. Indeed, as you’ll see, even that way of putting it is inadequate: it’s not that the gospel has political implications, but it is political in its essence. Our best thinkers from the earliest Christian martyrs through Bonhoeffer and Barman, on to Dorothy Day, Lesslie Newbigin, Rowan Williams, and both Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson, all agree that to say Jesus is Lord implies that “Caesar” is not. Announcing the Kingdom of God is a political act.

But how do we best frame our thinking about our public, civic, and political lives? Neither “quietism or activism” Smith says, in a line about the so-called Benedict Option. Although informed by the Kuyper slogan about “every square inch” of the entire creation and culture being claimed by Christ, Smith (not surprisingly, given his emphasis in Desiring the Kingdom on worshiping well with the local congregation) tells of reading Resident Aliens by United Methodist church guys Hauerwas and Willimon and realizing that, as he puts it frankly, “I lacked a functional ecclesiology.”

There is a connection that is fairly widely recognized, but not often enough explored between our congregational vitality and church life and our activities in the marketplaces, public squares, and civic/political spaces

As followers of Jesus who are part of His first family, the global Body of Christ, shaped by our own “cultural center of gravity” found in the church, we must learn to “actively wait” in what he calls “the meantime of the saeculum.

You see, there are two things going on here: waiting for Christ’s return, even in our seemingly secular, public, informs our posture as citizens and neighbors, and, we learn to do that in church, shaped as we are not only by worship, but by the ways of being together as a congregation. We learn our best practices of public social ethics within the parish.


I will explain more later, but I am convinced this is the Book of the Year.

We believe, quite frankly, that many Hearts & Minds customers should buy it from us.

I seriously believe that this book is so important that I implore you to consider it. I am confidant that this trilogy of books are among the most important books written in the 35 years we’ve been at this bookselling business. One does not have to read the first two to appreciate Awaiting, although, obviously, this is the third in a series.

Especially if you’ve read his nicely summarizing one volume version, You Are What You Love, you are ready to dig deep into Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology.

It is a great joy to get to commend such academically rich and yet engaging resources for our common life “in but not of” the world. In this era of Trumpism and (as Smith explores) rising white nationalism, little more could be as pressing as to get beyond the too common escapism of conventional evangelical pietism or mainline denominational accommodation to mainstream middle-class culture and politics in order to forge a responsible, brave (and dare we say, healing) third way? More clearly than nearly any author we know, Smith dives deep into the complex waters of what it really means to be (as we like to say) neither left nor right, rejecting the idolatrous assumptions of conservatism and progressivism, seeking a better way. No matter your own political inclinations, Smith will surprise, challenge, and hopefully delight you with commendable, fresh insights.

I will say this again, in my longer rumination below, but for the record I want to say that the footnotes (and the helpful comments within them) are extraordinary; Smith is an amazingly widely read scholar and an excellent teacher. Just reading the footnotes themselves is like joining an advanced seminar in political theology, learning about Rawls and Stout, Hauerwas and Van Prinsterer, Dooyeweerd and Bauckham. From civic thinkers John Inazu and Yuval Levin discussed alongside the philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Charles Taylor, for instance, you will learn much and will be challenged to ponder much. If you want to be brought up to speed – at a graduate school level – on the most important thinkers writing in this field these days, Awaiting the King will assist you. In a way, for those of us too busy or limited to grapple with all the array of scholars Smith is paid to think about, this book is a fabulous summary that will allow you to follow the biggest conversations happening in confabs and journals and meetings and debates all over the country. Awaiting is admittedly serious writing about serious thinking, but these are, after all, serious times.

And yet, Dr. Smith is ever the good teacher. As in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom, he offers in each chapter fun stories, great examples, even sidebars full of case studies. Yes, he cites a lot of scholars but he also gives fine illustrations from his own life, or from films or stories, to flesh out his theorizing. Few academic books are as lively; few scholars are as gifted at teaching and preaching. If you take it slowly, you can do this.

Don’t forget that Smith has wonderfully, significantly, summarized the gist of these three books in his best-selling You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habits (Baker; regularly $19.99; on sale now for $15.99.) I have touted this one, too, as practically a book of the decade, largely because we are fully aware that this sort of more accessible volume is needed to give many readers a powerful overview of Smith’s work in this “cultural liturgies” project. If you’ve appreciated that great book, it may be time to dig deeper and explore where it all goes in this third installment of the big set.

If you like the sound of this, but find it all a bit daunting, at least be sure to pick up You Are What You Love as it truly is a provocative valuable read.

I do not want to overstate this, but Awaiting the King even surprised Smith himself a bit as it unfolded in the writing process. Smith wrote the singular You Are What You Love after having written the first two volumes of the bigger “Cultural Liturgies” set. He had done Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom and speculated on what he’d be writing in the third, putting it all into You Are What You Love, so that last portion of You Are What You Love gives a glimpse of what he thought it would be like to write a third volume about embodying the Kingdom.

Alas, as he says in the front of Awaiting, it seems like he changed his approach just a bit, that his trajectory from the first two pointed him, finally to all of this about distinctive social ethics. Some of his approach to “reforming public theology,” perhaps, came from discussions and feedback from the many speaking engagements all over the world he’s done on this stuff. Perhaps he shifted his interest from Anabaptist John Howard Yoder to Anglican Oliver O’Donovan, from Hauerwas back to Augustine. Which is only to say that if you’ve read the final few chapters of You Are What You Love pretty carefully you might be surprised at the tone and convictions shaping Awaiting.

Awaiting the King makes a complex and nuanced case, but don’t be alarmed, fearing that it is overly arcane. In many ways it is about how to have solidarity with our neighbors, and with others with whom we share space in our common lives. It is about how to live with our deepest differences. It is about what we really want for the world, hopefully tethered tightly to what we expect God wills as Christ’s Kingdom comes. In the preface Smith says he hopes this book offers insights about the “how” of being in the world as Kingdom people. He calls it – after a reminder of how unhelpful culture warring has been – “an exercise of psture correction: part diagnosis and part prescription.”

It isn’t surprising to hear his rousing hope that the book would be,

…a way of reframing the liturgical heritage of the church as a resource for the Spirit to shape a peculiar people for the common good.

Enough said, for now, I suppose. If you want to order this, please do. It is worth having in your library, even if you don’t have time to study it now. As I’ve said, we are sincerely eager to send these out and you can order easily at our secure website order form page by scrolling to the bottom of this column.

All books mentioned are 20% off. Let us know if you need one of those slipcases for all three, if you’ve bought them from us previously. We can send one of those along while supplies last.


If you’d like to look over my shoulder at a bit more of my reflections about the book, started when I was at the National Gathering of the Christian Legal Society, read on.


I’m sitting here in the conference meeting room with my spiral bound advanced copy of Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology, the third volume in the highly regarded and much-discussed “Cultural Liturgies” trilogy by Calvin College philosopher and Comment magazine helmsman, James K.A. Smith. My lap top literally on my lap, I hardly know where to begin, even though I’ve been reading and thinking and jotting notes about this for weeks.

At the moment we are out in California. Beth and I and our Hearts & Minds staff have curated and shipped a large book display to the annual Christian Legal Society National Conference. It seemed like a good place to finalize my thoughts about the most important book I’ve read all year, a book that I found both challenging and stimulating. It is a book I very much want our BookNotes readers and customers to know about; I want to be on record as a long-standing fan and a cheerleader for Smith and certainly this trio of “Cultural Liturgy” books. This brand new third one is simply extraordinary; it is erudite and prophetic, beautiful and difficult. It brings together some authors that have influenced my own development from rather unusual corners of the Kingdom, and it makes me glad to know I am not alone in wanting to value Kuyper and Hauerwas; Nicholas Wolterstorff and Charles Marsh, David Foster Wallace and Marilyn Robinson.

But here I am, hardly able to conceive how to explain the value of this rich, learned, passionate call to think well about public life. What do we do with his wise insights about the social ecology of institutions shaping our character? Is he right about “calculated ambivalence”? Why do I get choked up when I re-read his section “In Praise of the Quixotic”? How can I thank this author for saying in print what I have preached from stages and classrooms and pulpits for decades, that “our most revolutionary political act is to hope” even though I learned it from authors Jamie doesn’t cite, such as Thomas Merton, Jacques Ellul, Jim Wallis and Daniel Berrigan? (And, of course, I am reminded of Reclaiming Hope the memoir written by my friend Michael Ware about his challenging years serving the Obama White House, and his wonderful last chapter on hopefulness. I wonder what he thinks about this dense but rewarding book?)


I’m sitting with typing fingers limp not just because I feel inadequate as a reviewer of such a substantive, important book, but because I am slack-jawed from just hearing a lecture by one of the very smartest and deeply-read guys I know – Eric Enlow, the Dean of a Christian law school in Handong, Korea. Dean Enlow, who did his undergraduate work at Yale, lectured beautifully at an academic symposium at the CLS conference (and will preach on Sunday) on how to find joy in the study and practice of law; the ancients have written widely on this, that we have a duty to praise the good, and, more wondrously, to praise God for the good God has given us. Even though this judge or that legislative body or some itineration of supreme courts gets it wrong sometimes, they sometimes get it right and in all such things – an ordered creation, designed for human flourishing – we are to give God praise.

Enlow cited (as if well-educated Christians knew these ancients) early church Fathers, public intellectuals speaking during the fall of the Roman Empire (who, as we know from Augustine, pondered much about history and law and justice and the Christians obligations in the “city of man.”) He told of medieval Spanish jurists and Reformation-era legal scholars – Melancthon wrote about civil law, did you know that? Calvin was a legal scholar, as you probably know, and his famous Institutes were dedicated to the French King — and so many more. We had on the book table copies of the marvelous, if expensive, history of British jurists such as John Selden and Sir John Fortescue who were Christians with dozens of chapters by reputable world-class scholars, edited by the extraordinary John Witte, Jr and published by Cambridge University Press (which has a whole series of academic works on the interface of Christian faith and legal theory.) Showing that the historic, global church calls us to praise God for law, and to therefore be joyful in our struggle to bear witness to God’s redeeming work as history unfolds – think of Ephesians 1:10 or Colossians 1: 15-20 – even in matters of civil law and public justice and principled pluralism and controversies of religious liberty and so on, was exceptionally helpful for me to hear. How important to be reminded that we are not the first to formulate ways to think Christianly about (in this case) law and jurisprudence and, more generally, reminded of a faithful posture towards God’s gifts of a ordered creation and the possibilities of a just public culture.

To get to be a part of a group of Christian attorneys and students and judges as they were encouraged to praise God in and through and for the law we very, very moving for me.

You can access a series of a dozen lectures by Dean Eric Enlow on Youtube from a law class he teaches, and here is one that covers some of the stuff about the praise of God in law. I know I’m going to view some of the lectures as his speaking at CLS was deeply meaningful to me, even if I don’t always understand it all and even if I have a hunch I don’t always agree with his astute formulations. (In fact, CLS staffer and dear friend Michael Schutt has an occasional podcast called The Cross and the Gavel and right after Eric’s lecture, Mike and I recorded a further discussion with Eric, sitting in the big bookroom at CLS where I probed a bit, the best I could, to get Eric to further explain his views about praising God for law, and honoring the good in civic society. Visit the “Cross and the Gavel” audio to see when Schutt gets that good conversation posted.)

And, oh, how I wish Jamie Smith could be here, offering dialogue with Eric and the others of varying denominations and perspectives; perhaps you know such venues of thoughtful public leaders (maybe your own CLS chapter if you folks are reading along here, or college political science professors or local elected officials) should form a study group on Awaiting the Kingdom. Smith’s insights and clear writing would be a fruitful asset for any such professional gathering of those who, one would think, would be very interested in his profound argument about public faithfulness.

Enlow’s rich, historic call to Christian lawyers and judges and law students and teachers to be thoughtful about our consideration of first things, aware of the very ordered structure of God’s good world which provides the possibilities of laws and institutions for human flourishing, leaning in to the cosmic scope of Christ’s Kingship, and the acknowledging the beauty of our knowledge about important things in Christ – what riches have been revealed to us! – was only one part of the marvelous CLS conference.  I hope you don’t mind me telling you about it.




We heard keynote addresses of a similar nature by the thoughtful and gracious C.S. Lewis scholar and author Jerry Root (who happily bought the first book of the CLS event, a novel about lawyering written by Inkling Owen Barfield, who Professor Root had once met.) We hosted a book signing for him and several other authors in the house, including the passionate Latino preacher Samuel Rodriguez (“be light” he admonished!) and Breakpoint radio host John Stonestreet, who powerfully told about the anti-Hitler student activism and martyrdom of college age brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, quoting Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Connecting Belief and Behavior. Each of their lectures will soon be shown at the CLS website and they are well worth viewing. Naturally, we hope that if you are inspired to buy any of the books they’ve written (or that they mention in their passionate presentations) that you get ‘em from us. It’s a joy and blessing for us to hear such renowned, wise speakers but the point, of course, is to make a living selling books. We’re glad you care and we appreciate your support.


Which brings me back to how stymied I was sitting there with the new James KA Smith “Cultural Liturgies” volume 3 book in my lap after Enlow’s lecture about praising God for the good, for honoring law and public order, for desiring justice and finding joy in awaiting the final restoration of all things promised in the Bible, the creeds, and the best Christian teaching of two millennium. I’ve been reading Smith’s vibrant, thick, call to seriously faithful thinking about public theology, to consider a Christian political option, and realize he has insights that all of us badly need (even those scholars and leaders who specialize in this sort of thing. How often here at the CLS national gathering have I found myself thinking “if only they had read Smith. If only we had that Awaiting the King book that is releasing any day now.” Being surrounded by scholars and the sorts of lawyers who have argued before the Circuit Courts, before the Justices of state’s Supreme Courts, who have published law review articles, I want to shout that this book will inspire and help and perhaps serve as a corrective to your good work.  Being among some who call themselves “culture warriors” made me want to offer this book as a “posture corrective.”  I had my advanced copy of the manuscript and was waving it around everywhere I went.


While being reminded so eloquently about all this good stuff about the value of public life and the God-ordained call to social/political theology by CLS scholars and activists, being here in communion with other speakers and day-to-day attorneys (including some who are giving their very livelihoods to the poor by serving pro bono at faith-based legal aid clinics or standing with immigrants who are too often victimized by heartless government bureaucracies) I am both excited and fearful.

Here’s why.

Maybe you entertain similar anxieties and maybe Awaiting the King will help you.

At least sharing with you some ruminations about my excitement and my anxiety might help you see why I’m going to such lengths to ponder this book and to persuade you to order it from us. Awaiting the King is important, and, well…

I am excited in the moment as we are selling books here at CLS of all sorts to good people who care. The book-selling opportunity at this conference is a blessing to us and folks here tell us they find it helpful to actually browse in an intentionally selected display of relevant books about being a Christian lawyer. We’ve got introductory ones like John Mauck’s recent Jesus in the Courtroom: How Believers Can Engage the Legal System for the Good of His World (Moody; $13.99) or Michael Schutt’s serious classic Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (IVP; $22.00), which, by the way, is now available in Chinese. We gave books of a more general sort for spiritual formation and vocational discipleship from Richard Foster to Tim Keller, from Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Callings to Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation to wonderfully important reads by authors that were with us such as Angry Like Jesus by Sarah Sumner (Fortress Press) and The Peacemaker by Ken Sande (Baker) and the provocative monograph From Telos to Technos: Implications for a Christian Public Life and Ethic by Jeffrey J. Ventrella of the Alliance Defense Fund (which, at $7.99, is really worth reading.)

One book that sold well at CLS should be of interest to many Hearts & Minds friends. It is brand new, written by former law school Dean Jeffrey A. Brauch, called Flawed Perfection: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters for Culture, Politics, and Law (Lexham Press; $15.99.)

Brauch is certainly right to say that our view of who we are – the Bible says we are gloriously made in God’s image and wretchedly alienated and distorted – will decisively effect how we think about culture and social issues. After some excellent teaching on a Christian anthropology (that is, a view of the person) he offers inspiring ideas about topics such as global injustice, human trafficking, bio-ethics, religious liberty, and more. It’s good stuff, and a fine example of Smith’s big vision: we must imagine a good creation and a Kingdom perspective, informed by our deepest understandings of the story we are a part of. Who we are matters, where we are heading matters, and our opinions about ethical quandaries and public justice must be shaped (if we are to be faithful Christians) by our arche and telos.

It is invigorating to offer thoughtful books to help people in their faith and life, and we were thrilled to sell almost all of the copies of Smith’s one-volume You Are What You Love which, I trust you know by now, is a summary of Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom and what would become Awaiting the King. It gives me hope that there is a big market for thoughtful books, for resources about vibrant and faithful discipleship in the context of the secularizing, complex, hurting modern world.

So, yes, as I said, I’m excited, glad, grateful, even upbeat. Smith’s work is indicative of a very good trend in religious discourse and his books are an example of the very best of Christian publishing these days.

But I am anxious, too.

I sense here among my good friends at the conference that we in the church still are a bit too loyal to our largely secular ideologies of the left and right. Many of these fine Christian legal scholars articulate a classic Christian conservativism that I find a bit disconcerting, even if their vision is more Bill Buckley or Russell Moore than anything Falwell or Trump might articulate. When I heard a young female law student from Liberty gush that she loooved Donald Trump I almost cried. What is wrong with people to be so enamored with such a vile person?

A few others, somewhat in reaction to the blind spots of conservative, natural law types that seem fixated on religious freedom and the erosion of a conventional view of marriage, are animated by a passion for those oppressed by systemic racism and economic injustice. Rather than talking mostly about liberty they talk about justice. Interestingly, both sides cite Isaiah 1:10 and Micah 6:8 and Matthew 25. As you might guess, I’m eager to bring both wings together. And I am convinced that James KA Smith’s work can help.


Smith’s project is vital and exceptionally thoughtful but he isn’t the only one inviting us to this distinctively, radical Christian view – we get the word radical from the Latin radix, by the way, which means “root” so a “radical” view must be foundational, starting at the level of assumptions and presuppositions, considering the deepest roots of things, perhaps even the nature of the soil those roots are rooted in. We dare not be firstly loyal to the soil of conservative principles or progressive values (let alone the status quo, which may be the biggest danger of all) but Biblical teaching, putting ourselves deeply into the redemptive narrative, forming a Christian imagination out of which can emerge more finely tuned Christian consideration of visions and policies. One serious book about this very matter is by David Koyzis, entitled Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (IVP; $27.00) which I often suggest but rarely sell. Hmmm.

And so, I’m worried. We need Smith’s nuanced conversation about being in but not of the culture, about how to best work for the transformation of the ecology of public institutions, civic structures, political organizations and such. His sort of approach (which I believe reveals a radical, deep wisdom) isn’t on display much these days in what we sometimes call the public square.

He says, by the way, quite interestingly, that the phrase “the public square” is unhelpful. It may be an off-handed aside, but it makes a significant point about political ecologies and Smith’s multi-faceted, Kuyperian worldview.

He reminds us,

The political is not a square with discernible gates. While we often speak of the public “square,” the metaphor is antiquated and unhelpful. There’s no square there. And it certainly isn’t the case that “the political” is restricted to our capitols, legislatures, and polling booths. The political is not synonymous with, or reducible to, the realm of “government,” even if there is significant overlap.

He means more than this – recognizing the realties of our differentiated, multi-sphered social architecture, and the importance of mediating structures and civil society – but it brings to mind Steve Garber’s often used phrase that “culture is upstream from politics.”


Smith ends his magisterial study of political theology with a reflection on hope, reminding us that novelist Marilynne Robinson succinctly observes that “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

Smith continues,

To be a Christian is to be a person who engages in politics but does so without fear. Fear drives us to panic, and no one makes good decisions when they’re panicked. We overestimate some threats and ignore others. We can’t see clearly, and we’re prone to being manipulated by those who would foment our panic. But we ought not be a panicked people. Our King has told us over and over again, “Be not afraid.” You have already heard good news that brings great joy. The King is alive and seated on his throne, and he reigns. And no only that, he is interceding for us at the right hand of his faith. “Be not afraid.”

So, okay, we are not to fear. We are not to be panicky. This is good insight for both those who tend to tilt right and those who lilt left. We should be people of consistent principle and work out the implications of a Biblical worldview no matter what strange bedfellows it gets us. As the dramatic Latino preacher Samuel Rodriguez – author of Be Light and The Lamb’s Agenda – reminded us in his powerful CLS message, we aren’t that interested in donkeys or elephants, since our Lord is the Lamb.


But how do we move forward, active, joyful, responsible, not “building” God’s Kingdom (heaven forbid) but anticipating as good neighbors and citizens the renewal that we anticipate? How do we wait in true hopefulness? The conclusion of Smith’s Awaiting the King ends exactly with this, drawing nicely on the wonderful book by Bethany Hanke Hoang & Kristen Deede Johnston, The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance (Brazos Press; $18.99.) Drawing on their remarkable insight, gleaned from years on the front lines fighting sexual abuse and human trafficking, and in the classroom nurturing a rising generation, Smith tells us that our Kingdom waiting, our posture and approach, is “not the timid waiting of quietism or the resigned waiting of indifference.” In The Justice Calling, Smith reports, Hoang & Johnson “look back to Habakkuk as an exemplar.” Smith tells us about their reminders:

Lamenting injustice, confronting God, Habakkuk stations himself on a rampart as he awaits God’s response to his complaint (Hab. 2:1.) “What could it mean for us to ‘station’ ourselves?” they ask. “What could a rampart represent in our own lives, and what would be the point of getting on top of it? What is the role of waiting when everything around us begs for action? Can waiting itself be an act?”

Oh, how I wish I could have had Awaiting the Kingdom: Reforming Public Theology in time to sell to these many Christian attorneys, legal scholars, judges, law students and their professors at the CLS gathering. Such folks need Smith’s systematic, serious explorations of what it means to have an imaginative Christian world-and-life vision, how being formed into the best Kingdom desires will shape our hopes for society, what public theology is, how worship can inform principled politics, and what it really looks like to be non-partisan Kingdom citizens, resident aliens in a broken world in need of renewal and hope. And, oh, how I fear – even though we’re not supposed to — in these times when watching the daily news tempts me regularly to despair that not enough Christians will care enough to do this kind of heavy homework to learn what the best practices for social renewal might be.


We are in a mess, with Christians of all sorts easily accommodated to the left or right. Or we are captive to our default position of smugly condemning all sides with self-righteous distance, passionate but practically disengaged (except for the social media rants of the day or signed Statements about this or that.) Slowly reading a thoughtful book on these very matters could be just the thing we need to jolt us out of our captivity or cynicism.

(If you are a recent subscriber to BookNotes, I suppose you should know that I’ve written about this before. Read my column lamenting the lack of the Christian mind in political thinking, here.)

I do know that some of us want to enter the fray but are unsure how to shift the conversation and political postures to more healthy places. We aren’t about grandstanding or hopping on bandwagons but we know we are sent, by God, into the world he loves and that should be working for the health and shalom of our land. But we feel almost helpless.

Do you know what I mean?


You see, I think we are in the most dangerous time of my lifetime. I came of age in the horrifying years of the late 60s and early 70s and played a small part in some of those uprisings and ch-ch-ch-changes. Most of us recall President Kennedy being shot, and then King and Bobby. We remember the pictures of the My Lai. massacre. I acted against the Viet Nam war and have been locked up for protesting nuclear weapons and arrested for protesting abortion. I’ve stood arm in arm with Holocaust survivors speaking out against anti-Semitism and aged two decades in half as many years as a pro-immigration activist, standing with imprisoned Chinese asylum seekers here in York, PA. I’ve preached in front of the Capitol and I’ve had rifles aimed at me, been stomped on by police horses, volunteered at soup kitchens, served in a Crisis Care Center and so on. I’ve tried to be active in mostly small ways about public life and the common good but find hope hard to come by. Times have always been perilous, more in the two-thirds world than here. I get that, too.

In all of this, though, importantly, I’ve taught about Christian philosophy, trying to encourage reading deeply about the joys of God’s good world and invited folks to deepen their own sense of God’s call upon their lives, serving well in whatever career or vocation they find themselves in. From the arts to the sciences, from family life to work and play, we celebrate that all of life is God’s and all of life is being redeemed. But few church folk have thought this through and I fear we are not up to the challenge of the rising racism and the reign of crass, stupid stuff from the nation’s capital. I read and re-read Garber’s beautiful Visions of Vocation book about enduring faith amidst deep sorrow for our hurting world and try to take heart. I sense that a lifetime of speaking and writing and teaching and bookselling is nearly for naught as fellow citizens and many sincere church folks are falling like flies into the far right or the far left or, as Garber warns, devolving into cynicism or jaded apathy. I am glad that Christian hope is a different sort of thing than mere optimism, because I am not optimistic about these days in which we live.

And too few of us – myself included (and I realize I get my books cheap and easily and have a job that allows me to study) – seem to have the capacity to build time into our schedule to read, reflect, ponder, and learn. We don’t seem to want to be “radical” (in that sense of very fundamentally, foundationally, deeply Christian.) Or maybe we don’t read and study much because we think we can just intuit a faithful and just and healthy sort of citizenship. Or maybe we’re just consumed with day to day tasks; I get that, too.

Yet, I fear that the gems of insight that are so timely and so valuable and so needed in books like Awaiting the King will be missed by those who most need them. I am afraid too few will take up the challenge to work on and think critically about a sophisticated book like this.


Maybe it would help to catch the word play of the double entendre in the subtitle. We need a reforming sort of public theology – one that works hard to change things, to bring Godly reform. But we need to be about reforming our public theology itself, as it has not served us well. Saying, as most do, that we shouldn’t “mix church and state,” while true enough, simply isn’t enough. We must revisit our theology and see what cues and hints and stories are implicit (or sometimes even explicit) in our theological truths and see how they might equip us to be more faithful in our public vocations.

(Just for instance – in a lecture on Martin Luther, recently, a speaker I heard had just come back from the World Lutheran Federation’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and she reported how some were wondering how a deep commitment to being saved by grace alone (we can’t spiritually pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, after all) might influence or even deconstruct market capitalism, that insists that we can and must pay our own way. I wonder what other economic, political, and social implications there are to the Reformation’s solas?)

Although James Smith is clearly situated as a professor at Calvin College in Michigan, a respected college run by the denomination that in the US is largely made up of descendants of the revival in Holland led by the late 19th/ early 20th century theologian, pastor, journalist, and political leader, Abraham Kuyper, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology can be read by those unfamiliar with Kuyper’s terms and theological stances. In fact, the book draws heavily on broader Christian faith traditions (Catholic and Protestant) invoking much from Anglican Oliver O’Donovan and Duke University Methodist Stanley Hauerwas (who immersed himself in Catholic social teaching at Notre Dame and was influenced deeply by the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition.) As is seen in all of Smith’s previous books, including the two earlier “Cultural Liturgy” titles, Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom, he is delightfully ecumenical.

That he is fluent in many different approaches to Christian theorizing about public life is seen wonderfully, by the way, in his sizable contributions to the five-fold conversation in Five Views on the Church and Politics edited by Amy Black (Zondervan; $19.99) where his response to Lutheran, Catholic, Mennonite, and African American/black liberationist authors indicate a profound awareness of the nuances of their own positions. I’ve reviewed this great book elsewhere at BookNotes, and I’m a fan. Smith’s chapter there about the neo-Calvinist “transformational” view is very, very good and he truly dazzles in his responses to the others.

One wonders how he does it; it is rare to find such widely-read leaders who are gracious about others, naming the strengths and weaknesses of other views, and yet remaining clear about their own firm tradition. In this, Smith has been shaped by his older brother in the cause, Richard Mouw, whose own intellectual memoir is called Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Life-Long Quest for Common Ground, published by Brazos Press ($24.99.)

I suppose Smith has such pleasant ecumenical inclinations also because his own faith journey was hybrid – he and his wife were firstly Pentecostals, young students at a small, fundamentalist, Canadian Bible college, but learned through Francis Schaeffer of Dutch neo-Calvinist philosophers Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd who taught at Kuyper’s Free University; this lead him to Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies, the center of that intellectual tradition of reformational philosophy in North America, where he got a Master’s Degree, but soon earned a PhD under Catholic scholars at Villanova. He has appreciatively engaged the “Radical Orthodoxy” movement (and written books about that largely Anglican European tradition) and has spoken affectionately of artful worship renewal movements in the US lead by the likes of Wheaton’s late, great Robert Webber. (Smith has a splendidly interesting book about how his Pentecostal leanings have influenced his work as a serious philosopher, called, with amazing wit, Thinking in Tongues.) He has served campus ministry organizations like the CCO and IVCF and has spoken in churches of varying denominations. His little handbook of Christian guidance for sturdy young Calvinists called Letters to a Young Calvinist attempts to broaden the horizons of Gospel Coalition types, inviting them to the longer and broader catholic tradition.  Some of his varied influences and passion for robust contemporary application of faith to life can be seen in the collection of short pieces in Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture (Calvin College Press; $15.99.) It’s a personal favorite and we’re glad to stock it.


If you’d like to watch and hear Jamie at his finest, listen to this less than half-hour message offered at Grove City College chapel this fall, (or an excellent, longer version at a evening lecture) both largely on his major thesis from the first of the Cultural Liturgies book, Desiring the Kingdom. I loved this lecture on the formative power of Christian liturgy offered at a worship conference at Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry in Ambridge, PA which he did when the second volume, Imagining the Kingdom, came out. Or, check out this lively talk to students at a Biology outdoor chapel, or this playful talk called “Putting on Christ Takes Practice.” Here he is at his own think-tank Cardus, doing a half hour lecture about postures for “Reforming Public Theology” and what Saint Augustine might have meant by his phrase suggesting we are “resident aliens.” as we live in harmony with other pilgrims.

Despite Smith’s wide learning and ecumenical dispositions, and wide-ranging philosophical footnotes, the new book is peppered with pop culture allusions and reflections on scenes from movies and musicals. The first chapter begins with a discussion of a less-than-stellar apocalyptic film starring Kevin Costner at his admitted worst. Jamie is able to translate the heady concepts of academics and philosophers into the lingua franca of most contemporary readers, whether they like John Updike or Death Cab for Cutie. Who won’t appreciate his analysis of scenes from The Godfather or his calling to mind viewing Man of La Mancha? Perhaps my biggest critique of the book is that I noticed no lines from Hamilton.


Having said all that about it – it’s a book that takes very serious scholarship about public life and makes it interestingly readable and it is very ecumenical in its tone – it will be helpful, I think, to know this bit more about it: here is a very quick overview of a primary theme of Awaiting the King that I think will help you realize it’s significance and how it can help you life faithfully in your own embodiment of the gospel in your civic obligations. I hope I don’t muddy the waters, but inspire you to explore this question more carefully with Professor Smith.

Abraham Kuyper – the “every square inch” being claimed by Christ/worldview guy from the early 20th century – had two major theological themes that leads naturally to two different postures if taken individually. Smith thinks we’ve not taken both seriously enough.


One theme of the Kuyper tradition is the lovely notion of “common grace.” That is, in God’s good world, our loving creator wants humans to flourish and good stuff happens among those of any and all religions. We can affirm – as Dean Enlow explained to the CLS gathering – good laws for public justice, whether they were crafted by atheists or Marxists or God-fearing fundamentalists. A good ball game (as many know these days) is a joy to behold and God takes pleasure in humans finding such pleasures. God allows for lovely stuff in our wondrous world and we are free to enjoy the goodness that flows upon us all, even if we remain dangerously alienated from God and sinfully disinterested in the glory of Christ.

(My favorite study of this is found, by the way, in the fascinating little book by Richard Mouw called He Shines in All That’s Fair: Common Grace and Culture (Eerdmans; $15.50.) The book title is taken from the famous hymn “This Is Our Father’s World” written by a liberal Protestant minister and Mouw nicely ponders if the line of the hymn is correct. He thinks it is, that God somehow is glorified in anything “fair” and good – from a finely executed golf putt to an aesthetically-mature painting to a trusting, happy marriage to a properly functioning electronic gizmo or government. Does God get glory when atheist scientists discover something good? When bohemian baristas roast a particularly good bean? Is God pleased when brutal communists get something right? When vile Hollywood sexists make a good film? Mouw says yes, and we should understand the goodness of common grace as a Godly grace of sorts so we have the framework for rightly praising such good stuff.)

For those watching the sociology of religion, there is no doubt (no doubt at all) that Kuyper’s teachings about common grace have directly influenced modern evangelicalism, via the late 20th century rise of Christian colleges and Kuyperian writers within popular magazines from Christianity Today to Relevant to Image to Books & Culture. Our own story of being a Christian bookstore that stocks helpful or good secular books and music, for just one mundane example, raises many fewer eyebrows nowadays than when we first opened and garnered protests and boycotts (I kid you not) when we opened in the early 1980s. “We are all Kuyperians now” a church historian famously said of evangelical scholars a few years ago.


The other strong theme in Kuyper’s voluminous work, though, is what he calls “the anti-thesis.” That is, the Bible also teaches – alongside the claim that “this is our Father’s world” and, in the spirit of Kuyper’s common grace, we can happily enjoy much of our daily lives – that the principalities and powers are doing their best to deepen the rebellion happening on the planet. This isn’t just irreligious, but evil. To reject God’s ways and ignore God’s presence is worse than dishonorable and damaging. The gospel of Christ demands that we honor only one Lord and so any person, institution, social organization, business, cultural agency, political movement or society that doesn’t “kiss the sun” (as Psalm 1 poetically puts it, or “bow the knee” as Philippians has it) is bound for conflict with the only King of Kings. In other words, this emphasis reminds us, that a good school that is wholesome and safe and effective, but teaches students that God is not involved in the matters of daily life, is, most foundationally, a bad school. A body of artwork, no matter how excellently-produced, if it offers a world emptied of God is hostile. Any vision of marginalizing the authority of the Bible for life, any view that implies that humans dare be autonomous (“a law unto themselves”) or that any aspect of life is religiously neutral, is wrong-headed and worse.

The old labor union song had a narrow focus, but they were right: we must choose what side we are on. The call from Joshua — choose this day! — or from Jesus, resounds even today and we must either honor God in Christ in all we do or we will be judged for complicity in the rebellion. Aslan is on the loose and we must reclaim the territory lost to the ravages of the rebel forces. Kuyper, the generous proponent of common grace for the common good also taught that we need distinctively Christian thinking shaping uniquely Christian organizations to stand against the onslaught of anti-Christian pressures and God-denying forces in every sphere of our complex world.


Maybe Kuyperian thought isn’t this simple. The hefty hardback Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction by Craig Bartholomew (IVP; $40.00) is a highly recommended, wonderfully detailed study of Kuyperian cultural renewal and the theology that funds it. For those really interested in where Smith is coming from, this explains a part of it.

But, still, at the risk of oversimplification, Smith’s Awaiting book can be described as a deep reflection on political theology that allows us to have a public faith that is informed by both common grace and the antithesis.


In other words – again citing one of Smith’s mentors, Richard Mouw – we are “called to holy worldliness.” We can both affirm much of liberal democracy and yet we may not be under any illusions that truth emerges from some sacred counting of votes. We can be glad that individuals matter but cannot be under any illusions that all that matters in individual liberty. We can be glad for the modern state and all that we’ve benefitted from, but government based on autonomy from God will finally be a curse upon us. Who doesn’t want to be thoughtful and reasonable, but the pompous Enlightenment that privileges only secularized, rationalism is woeful. (It is significant that Kuyper called his political party the Anti-Revolutionary Party, responding to the radically anti-Christian violence of the French Revolution.) This modern world is not friendly to a deeply construed Christian worldview; as modernity gives rise to post-modernity, we must be discerning, aware of idols and ideologies that come along with the times, that are in the air, like it or not.

This concern about reductionistic, rationalistic views of truth that marginalizes tradition and faith is the anti-Enlightenment project that has caused many of our deepest thinkers to ponder how to formulate a pluralistic and principled Christian witness, creating a culture that isn’t a theonomy – heaven cries out against crusades and jihads! – and yet doesn’t arrange society in some dualistic fashion that keeps faith private while public life comes from reason and science. This general approach doesn’t want to keep faith out of the public debates but isn’t trying to take over, either. In this sense, it grapples with classic liberal democracy, surely, though, without wanting to return to any medieval view of the Divine Right of Kings or the Church running “the Holy Roman Empire.” Heaven forbid!  But what does it mean to be in this world that declares that the politics and laws of the land are separated from God’s Word — without falling for the seductions of such secularizing pressures?

This is the question that vexes the great recent philosophers Alister McIntyre and Charles Taylor and it vexes common preachers like Will Willimon in recent classics like Resident Aliens. Lesslie Newbigin addresses it often, insisting that the gospel makes public claims, not merely personal/private ones and that this is “foolishness to the Greeks.” Although with different answers, it is the overall concern of James Davison Hunter and his famous Oxford University Press book To Change the World The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Of course N.T. Wright is asking this question in most of his work. There are no cheap answers and we must learn from the best thinkers of our time.


Some of our best pastors are trying to help their congregants struggle with a balanced faithful posture. I think of the popular gatherings sponsored by Q Ideas which brings a variety of voices to the table to help us ask good questions about our cultural mission and how many local churches or para-church groups sponsor simulcasts with groups all over joining in these national conversations. I recall us selling books earlier this year as Tim Keller in New York hosted an event with John Inazu reflecting with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff on Inazu’s wonderful book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Differences. I think of the courageous work of Os Guinness, publishing books like The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It which offered proposal that tweaked both the religious right and the secular left, inviting all to a better system of cooperation and how congregations studied it together. It even dawns on me that I’m speaking at a conference in Pittsburgh next week called “Embodied Community” organized by Western Pennsylvania folks who learned in the 1970s about Kuyper and his notions of principled pluralism – a social theory that invites all to live deeply out of their own principles but honors God’s desire for a public square that is congenial to those of any faith or none, offering justice for all. Our favorite Christian think-tank in DC, The Center for Public Justice works behind the scenes helping citizens reflect well on the meaning of faith in public life, both honoring deep differences and promoting a mechanism to allow for religious liberty amidst principled pluralism. These gentle reforming initiatives have emerged among folks that seem to get both “common grace” and “the antithesis.”

All of us fumbling forward along the way to the New City who know that we are “called to holy worldliness” need James KA Smith’s deeper insight found like manna in Awaiting the King. In it he is asking us to consider how to live into a vision of “appropriate pluralism as a Christian public philosophy.” He is asking us to learn this from church; indeed, the local Body is to be itself a sort of polis that shapes us for the life of the world, for the common good. We are to “seek the peace of the city” and all that.

And so, we’ve got work to do. God sends us happily into a world full of grandeur, full of common graces, gifts given freely to all. What joy.

But we live in a world that is broken and, the Bible reminds us, in many ways in fundamental opposition to the rulership of Christ. We do not think that the Christendom model of a churchy take-over of public life is right, so even as we resist the privatization of faith we certainly don’t mean to imply any Christian versions of jihads or theonomies.

How then to parse all of this in-but-not-of thinking while we awaiting the final sorting out done by God in God’s own final reckoning? How do we live in the tension of being homesteaders and pilgrims? Of the presence of the Kingdom in a fallen world? How to we hold together common grace and a realization of the anti-thesis in every sphere of life? What does it look like to become worldly saints? How do we live out our call to holy worldliness? What sort of churches foster such questions and what sort of formation will shape within us the character to do so? How do we actively await the true hope of the gospel, the summing up of all things in the new heavens and new Earth? And, not unimportantly, given the hardships, can we have fun doing so?

These three books in the “Cultural Liturgies” trilogy, Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and, now, at last, Awaiting the King, will help by probing deeply our radical convictions as Westerners. Smith’s ecumenical Kuyperian combo of common grace plus the antithesis shaping a vision of public life is offered – helping us get it better than we have in our previous thinking, re-shaping our hopes for the good, and guiding our actual habits and practices. It will help us navigate what he calls “the craters in the gospel” and become more wholistic and attentive, which, in turn, will help us resist secularizing, classic liberalism that erodes truth and goodness.



As we’ve said, he does all this largely through engaging with the thinking of other key scholars whose names you should know, such as Oliver O’Donovan. I find O’Donovan dense, so I’m really glad for this assist, and you will be too.

For instance, Smith explains,

Part of the work of public theology, Oliver O’Donovan suggests, is to offer a theologically inflected genealogy of our political institutions and rites in Western liberal democracies. In this mode, the public theologian is an institutional genealogist, uncovering the perhaps hidden (perhaps embarrassing?) history of secular society. When and where the Christian theological impetus for political realities is shrouded in ancient history or actively forgotten for revisionist reasons, the public theologian can be prophetic simply be being an organ of collective memory. The public theologian unveils the family history of liberal democracy with all of its religious grandmothers and Christian uncles. Perhaps this helps explain to us ourselves. Perhaps it even invites us to image ourselves otherwise.


I simply must add one more important aspect of this book, which I trust will show its exceptional relevance. Although he doesn’t cite the discussions about mass incarceration’s implicit racism or books like the stunning Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Smith enters a conversation about racism in the United States, especially, as an example of how to think about institutions, systems, injustices and how worldviews and social imaginations cause us to envision others. In this project he is not just inviting us to racial reconciliation or to work for faith-based community development a la John Perkins (good, good, good as those projects are.) In Awaiting the Kingdom Smith engages in serious academic discourse about some of the finest Christian scholars of race writing these days, namely Willie James Jennings, author of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (published by Yale University Press; $27.95) and Brian Bantum and his book Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (published by Baylor University Press; $29.95.) Jamie does this to show the failures of much liturgy and how whiteness is a social construct that has impacted how we approach God, worship, and church. It is demands some serious study, but it will help us get beyond sloganeering and shallow moralism. It’s a radical/radix kind of approach.

He explores this, in fact, somewhat in light of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who brought us the notion of “ethnography” – see the thoughtful little book Smith edited by Christian Scharen called Fieldwork in Theology: Exploring the Social Context of God’s Work in the World. It is above my pay grade to describe all this but I gather this is in response to some very important voices of previous decades such as John Milbank and that Radical Orthodoxy movement. I mention this not only to illustrate that Smith is not unaware of the most burning issues of the day –racism, white privilege, criminal justice – but to show that he invites profound thinking on such issues informed by deep scholarship, not just sloganeering or moralism. This is important, as his project, again, is to take seriously the ways cultural habits and social realities form us, how new stories and new habits are needed among us to shape new desires, and how institutions and cultural forces must be taken into consideration as we learn to imagine a new Kingdom, and await our coming Kingdom. That is, to bear witness to God’s reign in helpful ways we have to think more deeply. This book helps us immensely in this huge process.


Smith ends this weighty book with more looks at Augustine’s City of God (a constant throughout his work) and some of the old African Bishop’s letters and prayers. And he reflects on Hans Boersma’s fascinating book Heavenly Participating: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry published by Eerdmans a few years ago. In that book Boersma – a good friend of Jamie’s – admits that, like many of us in Kuyperian circles, have spent great energies trying to get evangelicals, especially, to renounce an unhelpful otherworldly piety, but that, perhaps, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, that far from being disinterested in the goodness of creation, many young evangelicals hardly have any sense of heaven. Whether this is so or not, Smith worries, too, that the notion of the “heavenly city” has been eclipsed.

In conversation with Boersma, Smith writes,

It is precisely our citizenship in the heavenly city that guides our commingling with the early city; it is our pilgrimage toward the heavenly city that helps us navigate the terrain of a fallen-but-redeemed creation.

This is not rocket science, I suppose. We are pilgrims on a journey, but we are to be responsible salt and light and leaven here, now. But given the foolish theologies and hard pressures of this modern world, and the crisis of the public now being experienced world-wide, seen most obviously in the chaos of the current White House and the complicity in white evangelicalism for it, we need, as much as ever before in our lifetimes, a good, good dose of this reasonable, wise, fruitful consideration of reforming public theology.  And then we have to figure out how to practice it, recalling, rehearsing, slowing allowing the virtue of this recalibrated love to bubble up inside us and spill out into an embodied lifestyle.

If Awaiting the King helps us await actively and well, it will be worth working through. If it helps church leaders, pastors, Christian educators, campus ministers and youth leaders help others become better citizens, thanks be. And if it – please God! – helps our thought leaders and theologians and seminary teachers and political ethicists and Christian scholars truly reform public theology, that will be a double blessing, beneficial for the long haul. Thank God for Baker Academic, James K.A. Smith, and his important contribution in this final volume of his important Cultural Liturgies trilogy.



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Books About Martin Luther and the Reformation — two levels, two lists, plus some for kids. ON SALE

Many central Pennsylvania Hearts & Minds customers have noted our big display of books about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, the world-changing movement that rocked the church and world starting, symbolically, at least, on October 31, 1517 – 500 years ago. That we need to commemorate this huge historic occasion — 500 years! — goes without saying. For everyone in our Western culture, but especially those of us in the Protestant wing of the church, this really is a huge deal. And if you are Lutheran, Presbyterian or Reformed, well, let’s get out the party hats.

It is a hard thing, though: Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and most of the earliest reformers didn’t imagine starting a new non-catholic church; they were reformers, after all, not revolutionaries. So there is much to lament about the subsequent brokenness of the one Body of Christ. We agree with the major Lutheran assemblies who have said that while we should commemorate this extraordinary era and use the Luther anniversary as an opportunity to revisit the major theological and spiritual matters that galvanized the Protestant movement, we don’t exactly want to use the language of “celebration.” Any renting of the global Body of Christ is a bad thing, even if, as most Protestants attest, it was a necessary thing.

(We will briefly describe below an excellent, nicely-ecumenical DVD study about these very themes – how to honor the insights of the 16th century Reformers and commemorate their lasting legacy even as we work for greater unity within the different factions and divisions within the church. The Reformation story necessarily includes Protestants and Catholics, Anabaptists and Anglicans, and, to a lesser extent, the Orthodox Church. We are all in this together, you know.)

All of us can benefit from learning more about this stunning outbreak of fresh theology and congregational revitalization and spiritual renewal that happened in the late medieval world. (William Tyndale illegally translated the Bible into English in London in the mid-1300s and Bohemian John Hus was inspired by him and taught about God’s grace as disclosed in the Scriptures at the University of Prague just a few decades later; Martin Luther didn’t start the Reformation with his 95 Thesis nailed to the church door and university bulletin board that All Saints eve in 1517 but there is no doubt that he was the lightening rod that moved the debates about church corruption and bad theology and the authority of the Bible along by strides.)

We are doing a little class on the Protestant Reformation in my local church and so I’m extra-motivated to find just the right books to promote that can help rekindle a love of learning – itself a reformation theme — and motivate us to think deeply about reformation doctrine.

Here are two lists: twelve great introductory books for those that want a basic and enjoyable primer to these tumultuous times and a second list of more scholarly or serious books.   If you haven’t read anything about this stuff (or haven’t in a while) I implore you to reflect on these recommendations and see if any captures your attention or seems like they might be helpful for you or yours.

And help us spread the word, please.

I don’t know if your local bookstore is curating a list like this, but we need your support in finding customers who care. Like the Protestant reformation movement itself, we need to use social media (you know how Luther used the new technologies of the printing press) and a bit of ground-level marketing to get the word out. Can you share this with your pastor, Christian educator, fellowship leader, campus minister, or Bible study teacher? Thanks.


Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther Roland Bainton (Abingdon) $19.99 This small biography written decades ago is still considered a classic stand-out, just a really engaging read. Highly recommended even if a bit dated, now… there is another edition, but I suggest this one as the print is just a bit better.

Listen to the respected historian Mark Noll, who writes of it, ”Of the many superlative treatments, a half-century-old study by Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, has justly won a reputation as a classic work on a classic subject.”



The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World Stephen Nichols (Crossway) $14.99  I like Steve Nichols so much — he is now with RC Sproul in Florida but he used to teach near us at Lancaster Bible College. (And, besides a bunch of popular level books, he’s got a marvelous book on the blues, so he’s my kind of theologian.) Professor Nichols is a very dynamic teacher, a lively theologian, a great writer, able to take mature, complex scholarship and make it quite relevant and readable for ordinary folks. This is a fun “behind the scenes” look which uncovers some of the dynamics behind this era, and behind the stories of the Reformation. …Monk and Mallet… is a fantastic, readable and inspiring book, very nicely done — history comes alive in about 180 pages. There are some interesting plates and pictures, too; highly recommended.  

Luther for Armchair Theologians Steven Paulson (Westminster/John Knox) $18.00 I love this series of upbeat and witty books that offer solid introductions of various theological voices from the past, complete with goofy cartoons offer some helpful illustration and insight. In this case, Paulson is a professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, so is ideally suited for this daunting task. How to explain Luther – his life and his thinking and his legacy – in one sprightly volume? Paulson pulls it off. Despite the cartoony covers, these “Armchair” books are not silly, (and the series includes good introductions to everybody from Augustine and Aquinas to Calvin and Knox from Wesley and Edwards to Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, and more. There is even one on Heretics for Armchair Theologians which is a layperson’s study of the classic heresies of the earliest days of the church.  Anyway, check out Luther for Armchair Theologians.

Here is one interesting and slightly confusing marketing matter: some of these clever books, each with often insightful cartoons, are being reissued without the illustrations, with much more sober covers, and standard if rather uninspiring titles. For instance, this exact same book is available sans cartoons and creative title, as A Brief Introduction to Martin Luther. It is $20.00. Choose your format.


The Reformation for Armchair Theologians Glenn S. Sunshine (Westminster/John Knox) $18.00 This one is also a part of that series which takes serious theologians and makes them accessible to ordinary folks. Again, there are some whimsical cartoons and there’s some wit about them. This one looks at all the key players and the various places where the Reformers worked during this tumultuous time and I really learned a lot. I need this kind of clear but interesting resource so I highly recommend it.

In fact, I taught a class on the Reformation at my own church a few years back among folks that admitted to not knowing much about this time period (and who didn’t have the time or energy to dig deep into serious books) so I used this as a primary source. Glenn Sunshine is a good, reliable scholar and the book is clear and even inspiring. Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School calls it “scintillating” and “a solid primer.” There are lots of facts, fine interpretations, with a good, easy to read chapter on each key topic or region where Reformation teaching broke out. It makes the over-all narrative come alive.

Again, too, The Reformation for Armchair Theologians is now also available with a different look, no cartoons, and a less goofy cover under the title A Brief Introduction to the Reformation. It sells for $20.00. Choose your edition – same book, different look.


Reformation Questions, Reformation Answers: 95 Key Events, People & Issues Donald McKim (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  In my own PC(USA) denomination, Dr. McKim is a beloved teacher and author who has done resources such as Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers which are very interesting and helpful Q&A books. This one is formatted the same, with a page or so on a whole bunch of common questions. The first part includes lots of stuff about history (from questions about the historical background such as “What Is the Reformation?” “How Did the Reformation Develop?” “What does Protestant mean?”) to questions and answers about events, people, and places. There’s so much clear, simple information here that it is a great resource to have on hand even if you are well-schooled. Following that portion there are more sections under the general headline of the theology of the Reformation; his explanations are clear and not overly fiery or polemical. A final unit of questions offers answers about the legacy of the Reformation. This small book is easy-to-read and interesting from a fine and respected mainline denominational church historian. McKim’s latest book, by the way, is Moments with Martin Luther: 95 Daily Devotions.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom Carl Trueman (Crossway) $17.99  This thoughtful work is in a series of books called “Theologians on the Christian Life” on the likes of Calvin, Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Bavinck, Bonhoeffer, and Francis Schaeffer, that are less designed to be full historical biographies (although each does offer a great overview of the life and times of each theologian) but more to take the thinker’s key ideas and apply them to our spiritual lives today.  In this case, it’s Luther’s view of freedom in Christ that is aptly explored by this strong professor from Westminster Theological Seminary. Any study of the Reformation has to start with Luther, of course, and although this has the orientation about how Luther’s idea on freedom can inform your own faith, it still is a good biography. In fact, this is a great way to read biography as it makes the connections clearly about how to live into his best ideas.

If you saw excellent PBS documentary on Luther that has been airing this season, you will recall hearing Dr. Trueman, the one with a British accent. He’s remarkable. (By the way, I especially love the one in this series called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross, for the World written by former Lancaster Bible College prof Steve Nichols, who I mentioned above [Crossway; $19.99.]) Impressive.

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World Eric Metaxas (Viking) $30.00 I wish I had more time to review this – well, what I really mean is I wish I had more time to read this 800 page tome – as I suspect it is the most engaging and compulsively readable of the major biographies of Luther ever written. I need to say that while I disagree with most of Metaxas’s recent politics and readily admit he is a popularizer (not a precise, scholarly historian of the top order) his books are marvelously written, insightful, and to be happily celebrated for the great good they do in introducing curious folks to good, good stuff.  Not all will agree but I think they should try to overcome their bias and enjoy his fabulously interesting prose and obviously sincere dedication to the work. (You know Metaxas did a ground-breaking and excellent biography of William Wilberforce called Amazing Grace and then did that massive, exceptionally popular, if a bit controversial, biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.) Here he has put his considerable wit, eye for detail, and insight about the big historical and spiritual picture to work explaining the life of this seminal, provocative, fascinating man the Pope called “a wild boar.” This big book is very engaging, loaded with great information, and I am glad to recommend it.  There are some lovely full-color plates and a fascinating appendix you really should know about.

The Un-reformed Martin Luther: A Serious (and Not So Serious) Look at the Man Behind the Myths Andreas Malessa with a foreword by Paul Maier (Kregel) $14.99 Andreas Malessa, besides being a theologian, is a lyricist (most recently for the play Amazing Grace.) Luther would like him I’m sure. Here he attempts to “set the record straight” about varying myths and misunderstandings. It’s a well-known approach – setting forth the common confusion and clarifying it with a good, solid chapter but as you can tell from the cover he does it with wit and verve. I can’t weigh in on whether this really allows “the real Martin Luther to please stand up” (as the old game show put it.) But at least, it is lively and entertaining. Not many books on world-renowned theologians like Luther are written “gleefully” as this one promises to be, so I wanted to list it here. Looks great.

Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction Scott H. Hendrix (Oxford University Pres) $11.99  Do you know these pocket-sized “Very Short Introduction” books? We have them on all kinds of topics (the ones on spirituality, on theology, on various Bible topics, on Calvin, not to mention many on scientific topics and political history are all very, very good.)  There are hundreds of them, actually. Oxford selects a world-class scholar in the field to give us the very shortest introduction in a compact book the size of a pocket Testament. Dr. Hendrix is Professor Emeritus of Reformation History at Princeton Theological Seminary and is active in many professional associations pertaining to Luther studies.


Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk Michelle DeRusha (Baker) $19.99 I hope you get to read something about the famous Katie Luther; she is important and fascinating.  We even have a comic book version for children about this marvelous and important reformation leader. This recent book by the young, upbeat writer Michelle DeRusha explores Katie’s role and, particularly, the often-discussed marriage of the two. What a radical gesture for this ex-monk and ex-nun to marry in those times! There is a lovely and well-written foreword by Karen Swallow Prior that will make you want to dive right in to this moving love story.

By the way, although I haven’t read it yet, we really appreciate the fine biographies and historical writing of Ruth A. Tucker. Tucker has just released Katie Luther, First Lady of the Reformation: The Unconventional Life of Katharina Von Bora (Zondervan; $17.99) and it surely should be on any list we’re making. It will show that Katie Luther was a strong woman, a modern “equal partner” in the big work of the Luther household. Check it out.



Martin Luther: A Biography for the People Dyron B. Caughrity (Abilene Christian University Press) $19.99 I love that this is designed to be a readable introduction by way of a lively but substantive biography for “the people.” Luther would like that. Martin Luther: A Biography for…  is a “fresh retelling” for ordinary readers. Scholars such as Philip Jenkins say the author “deserves all praise for this readable and reader-friendly account.” Others have called it “riveting” and “exciting yet scholarly.” It is supposed to be one of those rare books that “makes good scholarship into a good read.” Yay.  By the way, we stock a book of his called Roots: Uncovering Why We Do What We Do in Church which looks really good.

Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life Volker Leppin, with a foreword by Timothy J. Wengert (Baker Academic) $22.99 This is a slim but eloquent hardback book, wonderfully translated (or so I’m told) by a marvelous, respected theologian from the University of Tubingen. He is widely regarded as the leading German historian of this time period and has served as the “scientific director” of the Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians. He is known and respected world wide so we were grateful to get this very new release.

The rave reviews have been robust and by all accounts this is a beautifully crafted, authoritative (if brief) biography that adds some new insights into this grand story. I’m eager to read it and anyone interested in this topic will surely be glad to have it.

Luther Vs. Pope Leo: A Conversation in Purgatory Paul Hinlicky (Abingdon Press) $19.99 Oh my, does this look delicious! Even the subtitle – alluding to a conversation in Purgatory, which is part of what Luther’s protest on October 31st 1517 was about, after all – is brilliant. This is the third in a series this publisher has done imagining conversational debates between two standoff figures from church history, such as the one they did called Calvin Vs. Wesley penned by Don Thorsen. And, yes, obviously, it is an imaginative conversation between these two intellectual giants. But what a creative thought experiment it is! What a way to appreciate more fully the nature of the sixteenth century debates and the very meaning of the gospel for our lives today. Hinlicky is the Professor of Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College in Virginia and not only a Reformation-era scholar, but, like the Reformers themselves, is a scholar of patristic theology and the early church.

October 31 1517: Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World Martin Marty (Paraclete) $19.99  Well, this is one you can probably read in almost one sitting, by one of the great Lutheran leaders and respected church historians of our time. There is a very nice forward by Father James Martin, a Jesuit, which I think is kinda fun and funny. (Not to mention that the Lutheran’s name is Martin, the Catholic’s name is Martin and it is about the thinking of one monk named Martin.) It’s a splendidly designed hand-sized hardback, a short rumination on the call of that key day – the first of the 95 Theses is about repentance – if less about exactly what happened that day. Not as much history, here, actually, as you might expect and more of an extended reflection. Rave reviews on the back are from former Fuller President Richard Mouw, Rev. John O’Malley, a Jesuit from Georgetown University, and Protestant contemplative Kathleen Norris. Nice.

Why the Reformation Still Matters Michael Reeves & Tim Chester (Crossway) $16.99  I haven’t read this little one yet as it just came out a few months ago. It is written by a respected, conservative, evangelical and it seems truly to be about “why it matters today” (particularly to evangelicals.) I’m sure he is stern about Luther being right to reject Catholic dogma and insists that the 11 things he says the Reformation stood for are in fact things that we need to clarify and affirm again today.

By the way, I read an earlier book by Michael Reeves called Delighting in the Trinity which was tremendous! He has a bigger reformation volume that is highly regarded which offers be more of the standard historical overview; it is called The Unquenchable Flame (Broadman & Holman; $14.99) which looks fine, serious but not overwhelming or excessively detailed. Mark Dever wrote the foreword to that one.  Both of these look very useful.

The Reformation Experience: Living Through the Turbulent 16th Century Eric Ives (Lion Press) $16.95  I haven’t read this yet myself, but Ives is an expert on the Tudor period and here he gives us a “down to Earth” street level view of life in England during the era of the Reformation. What did common people do and experience? How did the new teaching of the Reformers affect them, their views and their beliefs and their behavior? This book is a bit different, not only because it looks mostly at British history but because it is less about the “great figures” (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Cranmer, Bucer, etc.) and more about the common people. One of our customers who is well read in this whole field reported back how very much he loved it.


Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography Herman Selderhuis (Crossway) $30.00 Some may know the Dutch theologian and professor Herman Selderhuis for his important biography of John Calvin or his work as Director of Refo500, an international platform proclaiming the value of the Protestant Reformation. This work is brand new, a handsome hardback, which I almost listed in the “introductory” list, as it comes with rave reviews for being so enjoyable and approachable. “This is how a biography should be written,” says one. “He writes with an enviable, conversational ease,” declares another. Peter Lillback, professor of historical theology at Westminster West says “Don’t miss reading this fascinating, fun, poignant foray into the spiritual life and tumultuous times of the one who, as Calvin described, ‘gave the gospel back to us.’” Even the esteemed Volker Leppin has an endorsement.

Brand Luther Andrew Pettegree (Penguin) $18.00 We raved about this when it first came out in hardback a year or so ago and have been telling folks about it now that it is a more affordable paperback. Here is what it properly says on the cover, in Gutenburg-esque font: “How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe – and Started the Protestant Reformation.” Brand Luther is so interesting as it extols Luther not just for being a revitalizing theological voice or church reformer but as the first to exploit the new technologies of printing, advertising, and marketing. He was the world’s first master of mass communications. Wow.

Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings James Payton (IVP Academic) $23.00  Many say this is tremendous, and one reviewer said it is one to start with. Professor Payton teaches history with Al Wolters and other remarkable folks at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. It is fairly heady, but seems to be an important, historical one, naming some of the worst misunderstandings and confusions about the era. Just in my own reading these last weeks in preparation for my adult ed class at church, I’ve had to double-check all kinds of things that seem to be only partly true, at best.  This book fills a real need, I think.

Here is what Roger Olsen, a fine (non-Reformed) church historian says:

Getting the Reformation Wrong gets the Reformation right. All students of the Reformation, whether academic or just interested, must read this book. It rightly sets the record straight about the great people and ideas of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of the sixteenth century in a refreshingly engaging style.

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution — A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-first Alistair McGrath (HarperOne) $15.99 I wanted to mention this because it does offer very good insights into the 16th century but is also just a great overview of the social, political, theological and cultural implications and legacy of the “revolution” that that Reformation began. This is a pretty fresh interpretation; it seems, unique and really interesting. You may know McGrath, who holds both a theological PhD and one in science as well. He is theologically solid, brilliant, and a fine writer.  Cool “revolutionary” cover, too, eh?


The Reformation: A History Diarmaid MacCulloch (Viking) $25.00  This really is magisterial, considered not only one of the best books of the Reformation era, but one of the very best books of history produced in recent years. It has won some prestigious awards (including the coveted National Book Award) and is quite hefty (865 pages.) This is truly stellar work, following on the heels of his previous major work on the first half of church history. It is highly recommended by folks from various quarters – from within the academic world and among theological scholars.

The esteemed Mr. MacCulloch has a much newer one on the legacy of the reformation as well, which those collecting a serious library on these things should know about. It is called All Things Made New: The Reformation and Its Legacy and was released earlier this year in a thick, sturdy hardback by Oxford University Press ($29.95.)


Remembering the Reformation: An Inquiry Into the Meanings of Protestantism Thomas Albert Howard (Oxford University Press) $40.00 This is a slim book, overpriced, I’d say, even if published by the prestigious Oxford University Press. Still, it is, as Philip Jenkins writes, “a thoughtful and rewarding book. At one level, it tells the story of how successive generations have recast that pivotal event according to the changing needs and obsessions of each new ear…” It is doubtlessly well-written, even elegant, so will appeal to many who like good, semi-scholarly and insightful work.

Another reviewer has called it “fascinating, lucid, and perceptive” and noted that it is less about the reformation as such as, in fact, exactly what the title says: it is about remembering. That is, it is a study and telling of how this event – from 1617 (100 years after Martin did his thing at Wittenberg) onward – has been commemorated. In this sense, it not only sees how the reformation has been understood and received and taught, but could more generally “prompt us to reflect on the ethical and interpretative issues at stake in commemorating [other] major religious events.” Pretty cool, eh?  

Theology of the Heart: The Role of Mysticism in the Theology of Martin Luther Bengt R. Hoffman (Kirk House Publishers) $26.00 This is a rare but important book and we hare happy to stock it. We met the author decades ago when he was a professor of ethics and ecumenics at Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. It should be clear that Luther was influenced in some way by the famous Rhineland mystics and that there are key writers, preachers, contemplatives and mystics who shaped Luther’s deepest spirituality. The author of this remarkable work was himself “a man of the heart” as one of his friends put it and it compelled him to do this unusual study of the spiritual experiences that shaped the piety of our brave outspoken monk.

Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal Mark C. Mattes (Baker Academic) $35.00 Special kudos to Baker Academic for giving us a number of thoughtful and classy new volumes to add to the growing list of important new reformation-ear studies. This one is what Donald McKim calls “intriguing and richly textured” and it relates not only the standard insights about Luther’s view of the crucified Christ but about the very “gospel beauty” that shines through. It is not a stretch, as far as I can tell, but few have mined Luther’s thought as a source for aesthetic reflection. Granted, Luther despised the fancy “theologies of glory” but even in his understanding of suffer, Mattes shows, there is beauty. Luther had a richly developed aesthetic and as Gerald McDermott writes, it is “clear and learned, this book draws connections that will surprise many.” You heard about it here!

By the way, if this interests you, don’t forget that I highlighted not long ago a very important new book by David O. Taylor called The Theater of God’s Glory: Calvin, Creation, and the Liturgical Arts (Eerdmans; $30.00.) It is itself splendid and very important. We’ve got plenty on hand here.


Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World Brad S. Gregory (HarperOne) $27.99 This is considered a major contribution by a Catholic scholar, an authoritative account and a “profound examination of how both the man and the movement continue to shape the world today.” I suspect he says mostly for the worst. Professor Gregory (he teaches European history at the University of Notre Dame) wrote a major, much-discussed volume called The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Harvard University Press; $22.95) which is very well worth working through.

Here is what his Protestant colleague, award-winning Professor of History, Emeritus, at Notre Dame, Mark Noll, wrote of Rebel in the Ranks:

This is just the book for understanding the momentous changes initiated by the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago. Brad Gregory expertly describes both the significance of Martin Luther (as the first protestant) and the tremendous impact of the Reformation era on everything that has followed.

Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments: A Contemporary Protestant Reappraisal Brian C. Brewer (Baker Academic) $26.99 Wow, this could be really helpful for some budding theologians or anyone interested in ecumenical discourse. Brewer has a PhD from Drew (which is United Methodist, largely) and is a professor at Truett Theological Seminary, which is Baptist. This is considered by some a very fresh and important exploration of Luther’s sacramental theology and how many conservative heirs of the Reformation have lost the profound sense of rituals and beauty and liturgy. Brewer is very Protestant but offers a great appreciation for Luther’s Christian practices as learned from the Catholic church. Brewer explores how, as R. Ward Holder at Saint Anselm College puts it, “the modern church is impoverished by the loss of its own rich heritage, and he proposes doctrinally and pastorally sensitive roads to recovery of that treasure.

Bryan D. Spinks at Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music insists that Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments “will be crucial reading for scholars and students alike.”

Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life Bob Kellemen (New Growth Press) $19.99 What a fascinating and important book this looks to be! Dr. Kellemen is a leader of the movement known as Biblical counseling and he is the author of many books on theology, robust Christian living, as well as psychology and counseling. Luther, he insists, not only reformed theology but he reformed notions of pastoral counseling. Ed Welch, the legendary faculty member of CCEF says,

Counseling Under the Cross by Bob Kellemen is Martin Luther expertly assembled so we witness how the cross of Christ yields honesty, transparency, compassion, comfort, wisdom – full on humanity. In wonderfully accessible form, it is as if Luther were speaking to us at his table or writing to us the most personal of letters. And we, in turn, can’t wait to speak of such matters to those we love!

The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century  Hans Hillerbrand (Westminster/John Knox) $50.00 Here is what the publisher says about this important, respected work by an esteemed historian:

It details the events and ideas of the sixteenth century and contends that the Protestant Reformation must be seen as an interplay of religious, political, and economic forces in which religion played a major role. Hillerbrand tells the fascinating story of the ways in which theological disagreements divided the centuries-old Christian church and the roles that leading characters such as Luther, Zwingli, Anabaptists, and Calvin played in establishing new churches, even as Roman Catholicism continued to develop in its own ways. The book covers all significant aspects of this period and interprets these important events in their own context while reflecting on the consequences of the Reformation for later periods and for today.

Recultivating the Vineyard: The Reformation Agendas of Christianization Scott Hendrix (Westminster/John Knox) $30.00   Here is what one scholar said about this: “Hendrix argues that 16th century reformers all had the same goal in Christianizing Christendom, that is, to replant authentic Christianity in the vineyard of the Lord. He believes it is more acute and useful to speak of one Reformation and to locate its diversity in the various theological and practical agendas that were developed to realizing the goal of Christianization.” It appears on many of the best reformation-era bibliographies and is considered very important.


Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450 – 1650 Carolos M. N. Eire (Yale University Press) $40.00 This is an oversized hardback text that is often mentioned in scholarly bibliographies; we are told this has a very solid academic reputation and is major work, placing the reformation-era changes into the very best historical context.  It is interesting, of course, that the author doesn’t frame this as “late medieval” but as “early modern.”  In any event, the brilliant and very widely-read Dr. Lee Barrett at Lancaster Theological Seminary has said it is “spectacular.”


The Age of Reform, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe  Steven T. Ozment (Yale University Press) $29.99 This 1981 text is fairly new to me but a scholar I trust says it is the best historical study of the reformation-era ever. Ozment apparantly was exceptionally well-regarded as scholar and teacher of the high Middle Ages and he seems to have great sympathies for the reformation project.  Reviews from both historians and theologians have repeatedly called it masterful and stimulating and clear and essential and the like. We started to stock it because of these notable recommendations.



Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation—From A to Z  Stephen J. Nichols and Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99 This brightly colored book with zippy illustration by our friend Ned Bustard is just a blast; it has great information, great art, lots of color, lots of fun.  We really hope you can find an excuse to get it for some young one in your circles.  Or, of course, just for yourself.


This dynamic duo brought us the slightly oversized kids book Church History ABCs and this is like that, but smaller. Wow, it so good it could be used with older kids or even adults, as long as the ABC approach doesn’t turn people off. It shouldn’t for adults who can use it playfully, but teens might think it is for kiddies.  But they would be wrong; it has value for older youth, too. There is absolutely nothing like it in print. The historical material is strong and solid and reliable even if the artwork is sly and whimsical.

I am sure you’ll learn something new from Reformation ABCs and I’m sure you’ll smile a bit (maybe a lot, even, if you have a sense of humor as Luther certainly did.) Why not buy a few to give away – you’ll be glad you did if you help spread the message of the reformation to little ones everywhere.

The Life and Times of Martin Luther Meike Roth-Beck, illustrated by Klaus Ensikatg (Eerdmans) $18.00  Wow, this is one of the most well-designed and beautiful children’s non-fiction books I’ve seen and really is worth looking at. It is a very well done picture book for somewhat older kids as it has a large amount of detail and important text (the publisher calls it “sophisticated” which it is.) Even though it is done in soft pastels and careful illustrations, it has notable strength of purpose to it.  Ensikatg is one of Germany’s most beloved illustrators. His artwork has earned him several awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen Award, which commemorates his lifetime achievements. Indeed, this is a book to study and to keep. Very highly recommended.

Renegade: Martin Luther: The Graphic Biography Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino (Plough Publishing) $19.99 Oh my, this is something; truly. It is hard to describe, as it is so raw and powerful, dark and gripping. Most is very realistic although there is a small touch of surrealism (such as in the frontispiece and the back cover.) Renegade is an oversized graphic novel which makes much of the dark times in which the Reformation began. There was the Black Death, gross poverty, and much ugliness; there were inquisitions and vicious violence against religious dissidents, there was vile warfare between regions (motivated by religion – ugh.) This excellently produced, oversized graphic novel (printed on heavy stock glossy paper as you would expect) will captivate older teens and young adults who read that sort of book, although it is intense. The design team of Ciponte and Palmerino are award-winning artists who live in Italy and have told the story of this brave God-soaked reformer who discovered beauty and goodness and God’s saving grace amidst much turmoil.  Very well done.

Here is a clever video trailer for the book and I share it especially so you can see the excellent artwork.

By the way, we have more modestly conceived, conventional comic book/graphic novel versions of the lives of both Martin Luther and Katie Luther that are themselves very nicely done. See Luther: Echoes of the Hammer by Susan K. Leigh and Dave Hill (Concordia; $13.99) which is 144 pages and Katie Luther: Mother of the Reformation, also by Susan Leigh and Dave Hill (Concordia; $12.99) which is a full 96 pages.  These are great.


DVD This Changed Everything: 500 Years of Reformation with David Suchet (Vision Video) $39.99 Here is a DVD curriculum I’ve mentioned and want to commend it to you. I like its tone and approach — it is a vivid documentary of the Reformation, but it does include ecumenical voices (that is, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) and it feels acutely that having such deep divisions within the church is not as it should be.

It is a two-disc set, with three hours of content, but you could obviously break it into smaller portions to watch if you want to use it in a class or group.

Here is part of what they say about it:

While celebrating the fruits of the Reformation, this visually rich documentary also explores difficult questions about the schism. Could division have been avoided? Is there hope for reunification? In this fascinating 3-part series narrated by David Suchet, leading experts share their insights and pose vital questions about unity, truth, and the future of the church.

Here is a “trailer” that promotes it:


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What a rich fall publishing season it has been – so many great books have come out in the last month or so and there are exceptional releases we are most eagerly awaiting.


Supremely, of course, among those we are anticipating is the long-awaited third volume in the much-discussed, notably influential “Cultural Liturgies” project from our friend James K.A. Smith. Summarized nicely in You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, Smith’s three biggees are Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom and, being released in early November, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (BakerAcademic; $22.99.)

We’ve had a waiting list for this for more than a year and you can PRE-ORDER it now at our BookNotes 20% off discount. It will be, doubtlessly, the most important book of 2017. That it is about public and political theology makes it all the more needed these days. 

Don’t forget, we have a handy order link below that takes you to our secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll confirm everything promptly. There is also an “inquire” button which will allow you to send a private email to us here.  Just let us know what you may want to know and we’ll reply promptly.  Thanks for being in touch.

Many of our best publishing partners – publishing houses that we stock most of their new titles – have done great books lately.


For instance, we are thrilled to have all the new releases of InterVarsity Press, such as The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by a different James Smith — James Bryant Smith ($22.00.) We described it when it first came out, here. We’re excited by IVP’s thoughtful little book on “The Walking Dead” called The Zombie Gospel: The Walking Dead and What It Means to Be Human by Danielle Strickland ($13.00) and a lively new book called Empathy for the Devil: Finding Ourselves in the Villains of the Bible by JR Forasteros ($16.00.) Others have explored this material before, but I suspect no-one has done it as well as this new one. There’s some good buzz about it but since we just got it in, I can’t say much. 

We’ve long been fans of the great author Ken Boa – an eloquent and well-read author who writes about the Bible, about spiritual formation, and about apologetics. He has some great devotionals, some prayer books, and some books about the value of literature. I think our H&M friends should know him. 

IVP just shipped to us a new one from Boa: Life in the Presence of God: Practices for Living in Light of Eternity ($17.00) which is brand new in their excellent formatio line. Looks great!

I have to give a shout out to the brand new release in their ongoing ”Studies in Theology and the Arts” series, the stunning work on the breath-taking, Southern Catholic literary figure, Flannery O’Connor called A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by Michael Mears Bruner ($30.00.) Bruner is a professor of practical theology at Azusa Pacific, an ordained PC(USA) ministry and a resident scholar at Huntingdon Library. This is good stuff. 

You will recall, I hope, that I gave serious attention last month at BookNotes to four really great recent releases of IVP. See our past reviews of White Awake by Daniel Hill, Vintage Sinners and Saints by Karen Wright Marsh, The God-Soaked Life by Chris Webb and the SPCK/IVP distributed release by N.T. Wright, Spiritual and Religious. There’s a reason we continue to stock nearly every single new book they do. These are exceptional books.


Westminster/John Knox is another publisher whose books we consistently stock. We’ve already announced but are happy to remind you that Walter Brueggemann has a year-long, hardback daily devotional of all new reflections (that happen to follow the Revised Common Lectionary Readings for each day of Year B) called Gift and Task: A Year of Daily Readings and Reflections. It’s a nice hardback and sells for $20.00. WJK just released a new Advent devotional by Brueggemann for this year, too, called Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent ($13.00.) We’re delighted they did a devotional for Year B Advent by N.T Wright, too, not surprisingly called Advent for Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles ($16.00.) We’ll tell you more about those as the holiday season draws closer.

Although I need to give it a fuller review I could hardly put down the WJK title called Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism ($16.00) the moving and important memoir of prolific author and public intellectual, David Gushee. You’ll learn about his early days as a young evangelical, his journey through Christian higher education and becoming a professor within the ethics guild, his relationships with well-known leaders from his Fuller mentor Glen Stassen to Ron Sider to Al Mohler. David describes his own interior life, his marriage, the joys and sorrows of his family’s life, his moves into different quarters within the big tent of evangelicalism, the fallout from some key shifts in his thinking, and his obvious frustrations in recent years as a belligerent and less than intellectually engaging Christian Right has risen in popularity. Stanley Hauerwas says it is a “must read for Christians and non-Christians so both kinds of readers will better understand the challenges of being Christian in this fearful time.” Gushee is now a Professor at Mercer University and a pastor of a small, ordinary congregation near there.

One of the other lead titles from WJK that I’m eager to read is by John Pavlovitzn, apparently a well-known blogger and PC(USA) pastor. His book is nicely called A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Communities ($16.00) and we just got it in a week or two ago. There are a number of good books on hospitality and being a welcoming church and this looks like a big contribution to that field. Pastor Pavlovitz offers four marks of a bigger table community — radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free community. 


We stock almost everything released by Abingdon Press and it’s difficult to try to pick just a few to describe. Of course there’s always a new Adam Hamilton book — just recently we’ve been promoting the book and DVD on John, another called Creed: What Christians Believe and Why and his book and DVD on Moses simply called Moses: In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet.  His new seasonal one explores in books and DVD the Christmas story through the eyes of Joseph; it’s called Faithful. A group in our church just worked through his clever book called Half Truths.  For most of these there are stand alone books to read, DVDs, particpant guides, leaders guides, and often youth material, too.  Just send us a note and we can give you good prices for Hamilton.  See what I did there?

Kudos to Abingdon for doing so many books about congregational life, pastoring, church health and the like. We were very glad to see a great new book for those in smaller churches called Small on Purpose: Life in a Significant Church by a great writer, Lewis A. Parks ($15.99.) We stock almost every book on this topic we can find, and this new one stands out. Rev. Parks is a prof at Wesley Seminary in DC and directs their DMin program there but lives here in Central PA, pastoring a United Methodist congregation. We’ve never met, I don’t think, but I liked his book a lot. If you know anyone in a smaller congregation, do let me know about it.


Broadman + Holman recently released a compact little hardback called Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty ($12.99) whose substantive contemporary hymnody is well loved across much of the church.

There isn’t enough on singing in the church and we are very glad to have this; it would make a good congregational study, an adult ed class book or good for choir members or worship committee members. I hope you know their work.


What a wonderful publishing event it is that Zondervan has offered the reading public two new books by Frederick Buechner!  Yes, two new editions of books by Buechner!

One is a collection of mostly unpublished and previously unknown pieces about finding God in the ordinary and the other is a collection of mostly previously published portions of books around the theme of coping with pain and hurt (although there is some new material there, too.) The first paperback is called The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life ($16.99) and the companion is called A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory ($16.99.) Amazing, huh?

More kudos to Zondervan for releasing a very handsome four volume cloth edition NIV “Reader’s Edition” (that is, nicely type set without any verse numbers for a more seamless reading experience) of the Bible that compares nicely to the exceptionally elegant four volume “Readers Edition” of the ESV that Crossway did last year. (The NIV four volume set, by the way, has the prophets grouped chronologically, making it both classy and helpful, and the New Testament grouped thematically.) It is being called The Sola Scripture Bible Project ($99.99) and there is a handsome hardback one volume edition ($34.99) and two brown imitation leather styles ($49.99) as well. 

Abingdon Press, by the way, just released the large and interesting Storyteller’s Bible in their colorful CEB translation. It is big and thick with lots of storytelling ideas — the Bible is, mostly, a narrative, after all — and it sells in hardback for $39.99.

We have more new Bibles than ever and love the idea of selling handsome editions of God’s Word.  Give us a call if you want more ideas for what translation or edition might be right for you.


Just released is the new Eric Metaxas biography of Luther published by Vicking and even though we protest his unconscionable politics, Eric is a lively and compelling writer and this big fat book called Martin Luther is certainly one of the most interesting reads of the season. It’s a bit pricey at $30.00 (although it is almost 500 pages and there are some full-color plates) but our 20% of helps. We’ll tell you more in our list of other books on Luther and the reformation in a column coming up soon. We’ve got plenty of stellar old ones and a dozen new ones to tell you about, from Crossway’s Reformation ABCs: The People Places and Things of the Reformation from A to Z (by Steve Nichols & Ned Bustard; $16.99) to a new translation of a splendid bestseller from Germany Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life by Volker Leppin (just released by BakerAcademic; $22.99) to the important but critical work by Catholic Reformation scholar Brad Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts That Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne; $27.99.) More on all that soon.


I’m always a bit surprised about how fairly conservative, evangelical publishers sometimes released edgy and provocative authors who press helpful theological conversations in new or deeper ways. Most publishers are fairly predictable, but new releases continue to surprise and often delight us.  I am sure some will disagree, but I literally could not put down a marvelous and courageous book called Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd (Waterbrook; $14.99.) He tilts charismatic and doesn’t like the Puritans much; loves and knows the Bible very well and speaks with the tone and passion familiar to Jesusy, Bible-quoting evangelical folks. Zahnd came out as a pacifist a few years back in a must-read book called A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey to the Gospel of Peace (that one surprisingly published by David C. Cook; $14.99) and now has challenged us to always read the Bible Christologically – that is, with a view of who Jesus is and the revelation He brings about the character and ways of God. One doesn’t have to go full-on Girardian or embrace all the progressive evaluations of Brian McClaren, Greg Boyd, or Rob Bell to see that Zahnd is pushing a solid theme from the Word – God is love! (By the way, for those who do want a deeper dive into Girardian insights into Biblical texts, we’ve got the new self-published Anthony W. Bartlett volume, Seven Stories: How to Teach the Nonviolent Bible (Wood Hath Hope; $39.99, presented on nice glossy paper) and the dense little introductory book by Michael Hardin called Mimetic Theory and Biblical Interpretation: Reclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, recently published by Cascade; $18.00.)

Anyways, kudos to Waterbrook for occasionally offering out-side-the-box titles like Zahnd’s Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God from their evangelical headquarters in Colorado Springs. 

A quickie overview of the best Fall releases from standard publishers we represent would have to include All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love by John Eldredge ($24.99) and a soon-to-be shipped, edgy memoir by a former punk-rock girl who has been through it all, Lily Burana, called Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith ($22.99) both from Thomas Nelson; Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community is an important book by Brett McCracken offered from Crossway ($15.99); I absolutely must name God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church by Brad Roth ($16.99) — there isn’t much for rural churches and this is brilliant and highly recommended — released from Herald Press; and a brand new, delightful little book on the Book of Common Prayer written by Lauren Winner called A Word to Live By ($12.00) which is volume 7 in the “Church’s Teaching for a Changing World” series by the Episcopal Church’s publishing house called Church Publishing; a new book by Nate Collins called All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions the Intersections of Faith, Gender, & Sexuality ($19.99.) Wesley Hill, who, like Collins, is gay, but holds to a fairly traditional view of what the Bible teaches about ordered sexual desire and marriage, wrote the forward about making space to actually listen to LGBTQ Christians and commends this book beautifully. It is published by Zondervan.

And, although it is a very small press, we are so, so glad to stock everything that is published by the Calvin College Press, such as their brand new book called The Embrace of Buildings: A Second Look at Walkable City Neighborhoods by Lee Hardy ($16.99.) It is spectacular, another reason this publishing season gives us such encouragement. What interesting, good, edifying stuff.  What a joy to run a bookstore that gets to carry these kinds of titles by such thoughtful, talented writers.  If you can’t find a bookstore that stocks these kinds of items, perhaps we can help. We’re looking for some new loyal customers and book-loving friends.


But what I’m most eager to tell you about today is this: Eerdmans has long been one of our very favorite publishers and while they are respected as perhaps the premier house doing important scholarly Biblical and theological studies, some quite academic, they also do a lot of wonderfully conceived and well-edited volumes that are for what they like to call “the intelligent lay reader.” That is, they have stuff on discipleship or spiritual formation or cultural engagement that is a cut above some of the popular level religious literature and which demands a degree of open-mindedness and thoughtfulness in one’s religious reading.  In other words, Eerdmans remains one of our absolutely favorite publishers, not only for their high-level academic stuff, but for their books aimed at the ordinary but slightly higher-educated bookstore customer.  We think that most likely includes a lot of our best friends. 

For the record, they also have published some of the nicest looking book catalogs that we in the trade (and I suppose libraries and some academics) get to see. There are a few publishers who still do lavish quarterly catalogs (like University of Texas Press whose catalogs are a work of art!) Eerdmans this season wins the award, if there is such an award, for the best-looking book catalog we’ve seen.

They deserve credit too for any number of in-depth on-line interviews they have with their astute and often scholarly authors. Check out their book blog EerdWord, too, if you want to know more. Come back and order from us, though, even if they have dumb amazon links sometimes… they like indie bookstores, even if they don’t say so.

We trust that many of our customers will enjoy hearing about this handful of 10 intriguing and even eccentric recent titles from this marvelous, storied, Grand Rapids publisher.  We’ve got ’em all at 20% off, too.


Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99  I start with this one because I believe it may be my own personal favorite book of the year. Really — I am that fond of it, and want to push it on everyone who cares about the life of the local church or the local pastor. It certainly is one of the best books I’ve read all year and without a doubt the best book about church and congregational life I’ve read in a long while. I can’t recommend it highly enough, no matter what your own congregational setting or theological context.  It’s worth reading, I promise you.

It is written rather like a novel, a creative approach that unfolds as a series of letters from a new pastor to his small, rather cranky, small-town Presbyterian church. The voice of this seasoned fictional pastor is eloquent and artful; the best way to explain it is to imagine if these really were letters from Eugene Peterson.  This is a huge compliment to author Winn Collier, by the way; he’s a great, great writer.

In fact, Peterson has said of Love Big, Be Well:

This book is a tour de force – an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read. No directions, no programs, just an immersion into what really takes place in the life of a congregation and a pastor. Winn Collier’s writing is alive.

So, this is a beautifully rendered and entertaining story about pastoral theology, about a small town congregation struggling to be real and somewhat faithful, and about how they find God in the middle of the mundane stuff of ordinary life. My only complaint is that I wished for a bit more – but it isn’t a bad thing when you don’t want a book to end.

Four Birds of Noah’s Ark: A Prayer Book from the Time of Shakespeare Thomas Dekker edited with an introduction by Robert Hudson (Eerdmans) $17.99  This is without a doubt one of the most interesting and glorious books of the year, a surprising book that would make a great gift and a useful tool to enhance anyone’s prayer life. It is, in fact, a real, usable prayer book – and before you think it might be too old or weird, just think of the prayers of Thomas Cranmer, the primary author of this little resource called The Book of Common Prayer. This author was more or less contemporary to that era, and his book is considered a timeless but little-known literary classic.  Four Birds of Noah’s Ark has been in print for centuries and then went out of print finally in 1924. Kudos to Robert Hudson (himself an editor and a poet, author of a poetry collection called Kiss the Earth When You Pray) for getting this remarkable book back into print and prepared and annotated in such a lovely, lovely format.

This prayer book – designed very nicely with some color artwork and French folded flaps on the cover  – was first written as the Black Death ravaged London in 1608. Dekker was a playwright and this volume offers fifty-six prayers for the people of London in their time of crisis.

The prayers in Four Birds of Noah’s Ark are inventively organized into categories symbolized by four birds, a Dove, an Eagle, a Pelican, and the Phoenix. So the beautiful prayers in each section are grouped within four major themes, all useful and wise and good.

John Wilson, bookman extraordinaire, formerly of Books & Culture, declares:

Hudson has discovered the literary equivalent of buried treasure – in this case, lying hidden in plain sights – and brought it to light for our instruction and delight. Many thanks!

Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Beautifully crafted, filled with human goodness and biblical truth, these are more than prayers: they are meditations, devotions, and little lessons on what it means to be human and utterly dependent upon God. This is a volume I will return to again and again.

Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Son Chad Bird (Eerdmans) $16.99  When this book arrived I was about a third of the way through the thoroughly enjoyable The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by driver Finn Murphy, which is a pretty gritty memoir of a professional mover and semi-truck driver. I was so enjoying it, captivated by his talk about American roadways (including a fast food place in Colorado I’ve been in and including roads near us here in central Pennsylvania. Besides a good story, I liked Finn’s analysis of the truck driving life and sub-culture, and some of the wild-west myths the truckers promote about themselves.

So when this Eerdmans book came – with endorsements by conservative spiritual writer Elyse Fitzpatrick and Presbyterian pastor John Ortberg – and I learned that the author cohosts a podcast on the Old Testament, I had to do a bit of a double-take. Wait, what? 

Chad Bird is the real deal; a late night, tough-guy, no-bullshit kind of driver. And he loves God, is honest about his need for a Savior, and wants to honor Christ in the “glorious messiness.”

As the Eerdmans’s catalogue puts it,

Journeys that begin in brokenness rarely follow a straight road to healing. There are twists and turns – and setbacks – on the path of repentance.

Night Driving tells the story of a pastor and seminary professor whose moral failures destroyed his marriage and career, left his life in ruins, and sent him spiraling into a decade-long struggle against God. Forced to fight the demons of his past in the cab of the semi-truck he drove at night through the Texas oil fields, Chad Bird slowly began to limp toward grace and healing.

I sort of wish I could get a copy to Finn Murphy.

Or, for that matter, anybody who has struggled with trying to figure things out, who has seen some hard times, who has fallen and failed. It seems that this book about faith and life is not only raw and real, exploring anger and denial, addiction and grief, but clearly points us to the God who can heal us. As Ortberg says in his blurb, “We are shepherds of darkness and stewards of scars. If you’re having problems finding God in your life, you may find him here.”

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World Kelley Nikondeha (Eerdmans) $16.99 This book came out just a few weeks ago and has already garnered a bit of a buzz in the reviewing blog-o-spheres. It is beautifully written, covering some material that is on many people’s minds but which hasn’t been written about as widely or deeply as has been needed. It has a beautiful cover, has a great foreword by the colorful wordsmith and activist Shane Claiborne, and is, actually, the lead title in the Eerdmans catalogue. I think they are thinking this is one of the most important books of the year.

Nikondeha’s work is lovely, but a bit complicated to explain. She is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi, and co-founder of Amahoro Africa, an ongoing conversation between theologians and practitioners within the African context. As Brian McLaren says, she “writes with the heart of a poet and theologian.”

Nikondeha has quite a story herself – she is both an adopted child and an adoptive parent, a white woman living in Africa with a bi-cultural and bi-continental family – and she has keen insights about deep and human questions about family, society, belonging. Obviously, she is interested in third world development, social justice, and offers a vivid critique of racism. Her vision of the family is deeply inclusive, generous, hospitable. She gets the “fractured world” part of her title and she wonderfully explains the “sacrament of belonging” which is what the book is really all about.

Adopted is, on the face of it, about real adoption, one family taking in a child as a full member; she also, though, explores the theological notion of salvation as adoption (God adopting us into God’s redemptive family.) Nikondeha’s lovely and dramatic story and passionate insights about reconciliation point us to more deeply understand what it means that we belong to God’s family because of God’s inclusive grace.

I like the blurb by Christena Cleveland (author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart) who raves about it, saying:

Part memoir, part theological exposition, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World expands our understanding of what it means to be the family of God. As both an adopted person and an interracial adoptive parent, Kelley Nikondeha writes with transparency, tenderness, and racial awareness… This wonderful book will illuminate a path for all people to experience sacred relationships.

Stay in the City: How Christian Faith is Flourishing in an Urban World Mark Gornik & Maria Liu Wong (Eerdmans) $12.00  This is one of those little books that is so important to read – even if you aren’t called to the city, as most of us are not – just to know what is going on in the world, and just to spend a few hours with a theologically astute writer offering good and important news. Mark Gornick, I hope you know, wrote what we consider to be one of the most important contemporary books of social ethics and Christian perspectives in his magisterial and still vital 2002 volume To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City. He also wrote the fabulous Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City.(Both also published by Eerdmans and stocked here at the shop.) Rev. Gornick is the director of City Seminary of New York and Liu Wong is the Dean there; their big city, New Yorker friend Timothy Keller wrote the foreword. Together they’ve offered this lovely little paperback that describes what is happening in the urban church around the world and how, together, many are helping create a more flourishing culture and a better world. 

In fact, this book – besides the good and interesting stories – invites us to be aware of an urgent task for these days, namely “for Christians to think constructively about how to live out their faith in an urban setting.” And to learn to do ministry by paying attention to the local context – an art that we all could use, even if we are in a thriving small town, a decaying rust belt region, an upscale suburb, exurb or distant country plot. I think anyone from any setting or geographic context will resonate with what they say in the introduction:

This book is for those who are living, seeking to live, and hoping to sustain lives of joy and purpose in the city through practices that undergird thriving faith in a 24/7 urban world. Whether in a changing neighborhood where new restaurants and creative businesses are arriving, in a community where lives are always in the balance, or in a place of prime real estate and executive offices, the vocation of urban Christians begins with being and staying present to God in the local context, attending to what is in front of us with all of our sense. Ministry is theology  ‘on the ground,’ asking and answering the complex questions of faith and life, work and home in a dynamic, constantly changing urban world.

Incarnational Ministry: Being With the Church Samuel Wells (Eerdmans) $22.00  I suppose this book is mostly for pastors and those in full-time church work, but I have been deeply moved by a few of the chapters I’ve read so far. I already can’t wait for the sequel next season which will be called Incarnational Mission: Being With the World. Anyway, this new one about ministry in the church explores the significance of what Wells suggests might be the most important word in the Christian faith – with.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says that Wells is “one of the finest priest-theologians of our time” and notes that he “weaves together deep theology with the practical heart and skill of a pastor.”  Incarnational Ministry: Being With the Church is a beautiful book, including lovely meditations on God being with us, on us being more fully present to God, and, further, what it means to be with self, others (including the troubled, the hurt, the afflicted, and challenged) and creation itself. Wells offers eight dimensions of being with – presence, attention, mystery, delight, participation, partnership, enjoyment, and glory. These vivid narratives and wise reflections “will challenge readers to deeper discipleship and more vital ministry.” Incarnational Ministry: Being With… is highly recommended for one and all.

Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons Kathleen A. Cahalan & Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Eerdmans) $20.00  This book came out late this summer and I’ve been wanting to tell you about it. Wow. It fills a real need in the on-going development of the literature on vocation and calling and it compiles thoughtful essays about vocation and calling throughout, as the title says, various ages and stages in life’s journey.  Do infants have a vocation? Do Alzheimer’s patients? What is the calling of the child or the retired worker?  This book really addresses a gap in the work being done in this important field. 

A connecting theme of the thoughtful pieces is that vocation “emerges and evolves over the course of an entire lifetime.” That’s obvious, or should be, but yet we’ve not given much of an account of that and theologically we’ve locked ourselves into language about vocation and calling that excludes those who aren’t “making a difference” or working in a culture-shaping career.  These authors broaden our language and thinking about vocation by covering six of life’s distinct seasons, weaving together personal narrative, developmental theory, case studies, and spiritual practices.

The contributors are Christian educators and theologians from across the theological spectrum, each with insight and wisdom about their particular specialty or ministry context. Dr. Cahalan is a professor of practical theology at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville MN – her most recent Eerdmans title is a small delight called The Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All Around Us.(She also did a remarkable work which we stock which explores notions of vocation and calling in each of different world religions and within diverse worldviews. How ‘bout that?!) We’ve met Miller-McLemore, who is a beloved educator and Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at Vanderbilt and she is impressive. I really appreciated her major, thoughtful volume Christian Theology in Practice: Discovering a Discipline. Anyway, these two women are expert thinkers and have this gift of helping offer scholarly theological work to enhance our wisdom for living in the world in faithful ways. Calling All Years Good is a book that will help us all.

Church in Ordinary Time: A Wisdom Ecclesiology Amy Plantinga Pauw (Eerdmans) $20.00  At a recent retreat of small town pastors, lay preachers and down-home congregants of very small and often rural churches (they call it, in good Scottish Presbyterian-ese, the “Wee Kirk” conference) I announced this book and made a dumb quip, suggesting that if you get what a “wisdom ecclesiology” is, then you’ll surely want this book. And if not, just skip it. I regret having said that. Yes, this is as fairly demanding read, and yes, Amy Plantinga Pauw – related to that Plantinga, one of the most respected philosophers in the world! – is one very sharp cookie. She is one of the most brilliant theologians in the PC(USA) and holds the Mobley chair of Doctrinal Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.  She wrote The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinity Theology of Jonathan Edwards that Edwards’ scholars are still talking about. But demanding and heavy as this may be, Church in Ordinary Time is a great book and one we should seriously consider. I want to suggest it should be widely read, carefully, slowly. It’s worth it.

Here is how our always-helpful Eerdmans sales rep pitched it to me, and why I ordered a big stack: “Much of Christian theology,” he reminded me, “is focused on the story of Jesus and the promised consummation of all things that Christ will bring – but the church exists in the gap between them.” That reminds me of the line I often cite, saying we live in the “already and not yet.”  Within the last weeks I’ve been with people who announce a Kingdom theology that suggested it was all here, now. And with other folks lamenting with little hope, as if it is all distantly “not yet.”  A balanced view of living well between Christ’s resurrection and the eschaton – which is, generally speaking, the project of N.T. Wright, for instance – takes much improvisation, cultural discernment and faithful patience. In a word, we need wisdom.

Professor Pauw here draws on Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes and argues that “the liturgical season of ordinary time aptly symbolizes the church’s existence as God’s creature in this time between the times.”

Not every book comes with a rave endorsement by brilliant theologians such as Willie James Jennings at Yale. He calls Amy Plantinga Pauw “one of the leading American theologians of our generation” and says to read Ordinary Time to find out why. I hope you do.

In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture David Lyle Jeffrey (Eerdmans) $49.00  This is an amazing book and I suppose it doesn’t fully fit into this list, since we’ve selected titles for your that are accessible for all, thoughtful but approachable and of wide-ranging interest for any educated reader.  This is certainly good for anyone and we might wish that every home would have a book like this on their coffee table. Church libraries and businesses and medical waiting rooms, too, for that matter, could proudly display it somewhere to bless casual browsers. But, alas, we realize it may be a bit specialized – aesthetically-attuned, theological art history maybe isn’t for everyone – and it is expensive.  Still, this is simply glorious and a book of visual theology through wonderful paintings from throughout all of Western culture.

Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey is highly regarded and deeply respected for his astute observations and scholarly writing – he is a Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities at Baylor University. This over-sized, weighty book is manufactured with heavy stock glossy paper, richly illustrated and – as Robin Jensen of Notre Dame says – is a “truly learned study of the complex relationship between visual art and Christian theology.” William Dyrness says readers will “come away instructed and inspired by this cornucopia of imagery.” What a beautiful, wondrous, extraordinary volume. Three cheers for Eerdmans and their willingness to bring out such extravagant, beautiful, and wise resources. We hope you consider this, and hope you consider getting it from us.

The Theater of God’s Glory: Calvin, Creation, and the Liturgical Arts W. David O. Taylor (with a foreword by John D. Witvliet) (Eerdmans) $30.00  My, oh my, how I wish I could have devoted an entire review to this major work. I have not spent adequate time with it to do so, but I know this much: W. David Taylor is a prof of theology and culture at Fuller and the director of the Brehm Center’s Texas campus, an initiative to revitalize the church through wise use of the arts. (The primary Brehm Center is at Fuller and is directed by Makato Fujimura.) Taylor has edited remarkable books such as the very useful For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts which should be in every church library and pastor’s bookshelf, and has done serious scholarship in works such as co-authoring the much-discussed Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds. In this major new volume the artful thinker Taylor (who once was a TA for J.I. Packer, by the way) explores not only how Calvin thought about God’s good world, with ideas that had the effect of underwriting a vision of the arts that was extraordinary in its impact, but also how we in the broader Reformed tradition might think well about the use of art in worship, or what the title nicely calls “the liturgical arts.”  

There is a rave review from the significant musician, scholar of aesthetics, and theologian, Jeremy Begbie, who notes:

For some, Calvin would be the last theologian from whom we might expect wisdom on the liturgical arts. But David Taylor, with exemplary skill and clarity, shows us otherwise. This is an immensely important study from one of the key leaders in theology and the arts today.

Do you recall what I said at the outset, that Eerdmans is a splendid publisher that, besides doing super serious Biblical commentaries and heavy theology texts for the academic guild, they also do these extraordinary volumes for all sorts of thoughtful readers?

I implied that we really enjoy stocking these kinds of books and that Hearts & Minds fans, who I gather like us for our diverse and intentionally curated selection, should support our efforts to sell these kinds of titles. I’m told that many so-called Christian bookstores simply don’t carry this stuff.  What a shame.

We aren’t doing well stocking them, actually, to be honest, so if you care about this caliber of publishing, help us spread the word. There are great, great books out there, and we have ‘em.  Let’s hope they end up in book clubs and Bible studies and campus ministry libraries and on pastor’s lending shelves, and in the bedrooms and living rooms of many.  Can you help us get the word out?  Might you buy some today and spread this good news around?  Thanks for caring.


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Books for Business People — and other workers. ON SALE

It has been a while since we’ve sent one of our Hearts & Minds newsletters to you.  We’re sorry for any worries this might have caused — we know you need your book updates.  Ha.

We’ve been super busy. Yes, we’re glad for good opportunities to work and to talk books. We’ve been blessed with some nice travels, encouraging friends — special thanks to the warm and enthusiastic dinner company at the fund-raiser for Messiah College Murray Library!  And thanks to those who allow us to set up room full of book tables to enhance your events. Our legs and backs are a bit achy from book lugging and we’re a little punchy from the late hours and juggling these authors, that event, those publishers, them darned deadlines.  Pray for us; seriously, please do.

One of the places I really enjoyed being a few weeks back — sharing thoughts about life and times as a Christian business person and holding out a vivid vision of work as a high and holy calling — was, as I mentioned in the last BookNotes, the Colorado Christian Business Alliance.

Not only did I do a keynote presentation at that stellar event, I got to do two passionate workshops about the importance or reading, learning, thinking Christianly about our life in the world, even work and business and economics.

I wanted to share the handout I did for that seminar, and although not everyone will need the books on just business and the role of profits and reforming capitalism and whatnot, I do think this is a valuable resource. We don’t have time to put in all the book covers, so it’s a bit old-school — an honest to goodness bibliography.  I did annotate it and tried to offer hints at the value of each work chosen. Hope you find it helpful.

(A little disclaimer: I could have, and actually wanted to, list more titles in each category. We only had room for two, two-sided pages to hand-out and with a bit of color printing, it looked pretty nice. But I had to limit it to what I thought might work with this particular gathering. It pains me to skip some important authors and excellent books.  I wonder what you think I missed??)

You know we believe that reading good books can be transforming and we hope this gives a reminder about the sorts of resources we collect and curate here at our Dallastown shop.  Let us know if you want to chat or if we can serve you further — about this, or whatever you’re interested in. And do consider sending this list along to any business people you know.  We’d love to sell some of these important, vital tools for marketplace ministry.

By the way, for more on this topic, see this column and also the links I offered there to older, classic Hearts & Minds lists.  At the CCBA workshop, you may want to know, I also gave a shout-out to the visionary, remarkably artful DVD curriculum For the Life of the World. (A friend from the Acton Institute was doing a workshop on that material in another room.) Aso, I mentioned the fabulous and substantive DVD set (described in that link, above) from Regent College in Vancouver called Reframe: Connecting Faith and Life.  Each are really, really good in their own way.  And, of course, we stock ’em. Good videos to get good conversations started, which might lead to even more serious reading in this field. Let’s hope.


CCBA Conference September 2017

Denver, Colorado


All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel Hugh Whelchel (The Institute on Faith, Work, & Economics) $5.99     This is a six-week Bible study showing the Scriptural story unfolding through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Nothing like it in print–eye-opening and life-changing.

What Is a Christian Worldview?  Philip Ryken (P&R) $4.99     A short, handsome booklet, perfect to give out. This is the most succinct book on the subject of worldview.

Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God  Michael Wittmer (Zondervan) $16.99     One of our favorite, upbeat, and visionary books about the nature of a Christian worldview and why it matters.  Good discussions questions, too.

Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview Al Wolters (Eerdmans) $15.00     Often cited as the best introduction to a Biblical perspective for all of life. A careful, mature study.

The Transforming Vision: Developing a Christian Worldview Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP) $22.00   One of the classics, an in-depth look at where dualism came from, why the Bible demands a wholistic vision, a critique of the idols of the age, and a call to think deeply about our public lives. Serious, thoughtful, vital; some might call it prophetic.

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling Andy Crouch (IVP) $22.00     One of my all-time favorite books, inviting us to realize we are called to make something of the world in which we live, imaging God by cultivating our gifts and purpose. Brilliant, wise, inspiring.

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power Andy Crouch (IVP) $25.00     If we are culture-formers and history-makers, as he explained in Culture Making, we must eventually grapple with a faithful view of institutions and  how to wisely use power. This is the best book on the subject. Highly recommended.


What Is Vocation? Stephen Nichols (P&R) $4.99     This attractive booklet is the shortest, most lovely little study of this topic in print, perfect to give, showing a Biblical view of calling, vocation, and the dignity of work.

Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Meaning of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $16.99     This is an ultra-cool presentation by a hip young pastor who offers extraordinary insight about the nature of our calling to serve God in our work and to realize our deepest reasons for being alive. Fantastic.

The Call: Rediscovering Your Purpose Os Guinness (Word) $17.99     Eloquent, profound, and literary, it may be that this is one of the most important books of our times, setting off a renewed interest in the relationship of faith, vocation, calling, and work. Beautifully written in short chapters, this is an elegant, stimulating, must-read.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $17.00     What a rare and richly rewarding book about how to keep on, despite our being implicated in the brokenness of the world. God invites us to long haul, missional discipleship where we care as deeply as God does. Garber tells tender and interesting stories even as he analyzes the culture and calls us to be faithful to our vocations.


Reintegrate Your Life With God’s Mission Bob Robinson (Good Place Publishing) $12.00     There is simply no one book that brings so much together about worldview and creation-restored views of redemption, from visions of vocation to a Biblical view of work, all in short side-bars and pull-quotes. This is a discussion guide designed for small group use in the work-world or in home or church studies. User-friendly, fun, with exceptional content. A one of a kind resource.

How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work Hugh Whelchel (The Institute on Faith, Work, & Economics) $10.95     One of the best overviews of a Biblical approach to our callings into the workplace.  This is short, solid, and very helpful.

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway) $16.99     Tom is a pastor who made a shift in his ministry, intentionally focusing on equipping members to serve God in their jobs and callings in the world. Lots of good stories and case studies of folks in his congregation who related worship and work, Sunday and Monday. A must for pastors, great for all of us.

Every Job a Parable: What Wal-Mart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God John Van Sloten (NavPress) $14.99     One of the best books of 2017, this was inspired by a series of sermons John preached about how various jobs and careers can become parables, teaching us things about God, God’s grace, and our redemption in Christ. What a fun, fun, and truly inspiring book!  There is an index in the back indicating what jobs he refers to, and it is (believe me) a long, fascinating list. Don’t miss it.

A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World  Katelyn Beatty (Howard Books) $14.99     This is the only really good book that encourages women in their work-world service, grounded in a healthy worldview, a deep appreciation for the doctrine of calling, and a Biblical view of work. Good for men or women, it alerts us all to the unique challenges and opportunities facing Christian women today.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Work To God’s Work Timothy Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Riverhead) $17.00     Truly one of the seminal books in this field, an excellent, serious study of why our work matters to God, and how to see “every good endeavor” as serving God’s concerns,  offering mature case studies and suggestions for a profound integration of faith and work.

Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good Amy Sherman (IVP) $18.00     This is a meaty, visionary book inviting us to explore why God wants us to serve the common good, and how our jobs and careers can make a difference in the world. Part of the book offers several different models or approaches, from the most basic to more visionary and impactful. There’s an energetic foreword by Reggie McNeal and a moving afterword by Steve Garber. What a book!

Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work Matthew Crawford (Penguin) $17.00     Although not a follower of Christ, Crawford is a mature, serious thinker who left his white-collar job in academics to start his own motorcycle repair shop. This moving, sophisticated book explores what he learned about working with his hands and how, it seems, we are increasingly not training young people for the trades. His next book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, examines the art and craft of a handful of workers who are excellent at their jobs, again, noting the need for specific dispositions and skills and the real-world craft of doing good work.   


Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business Wayne Grudem (Crossway) $16.99     A respected Bible scholar and conservative social thinker offers here a solid introduction to what the Bible says about glorifying God in all we do, including work and business. A short, clear-headed primer.

Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) Jeff Van Duzer (IVP) $20.00     A serious study of business as if it mattered to God and how God’s purposes can be applied to the business setting. Van Duzer is Dean of the School of Business and Economics (and professor of business law) at Seattle Pacific University. This may be my own favorite business book – very highly recommended.

Business Through the Eyes of Faith Richard Chewning, John Eby & Shirley J. Roels (HarperOne) $24.99     This is essentially a Christian college textbook, written by three seasoned thinkers, which offers basic Christian insights on everything from marketing to pricing, employee relations to management, and more. This is a treasure chest full of Christian thinking about things that matter.

Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace  Kenman Wong & Scott Rae (IVP) $26.00  Written to be used as a text for Christian colleges or business ethics courses, this may be the most comprehensive and thoughtful vision for business rooted in an intentional Christian worldview that we know. Excellent for those who want a sophisticated and serious Christian engagement.

Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace  R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $18.00  As one reviewer said of Stevens, who taught at Regent College in Vancouver, “he is a marketplace theology pioneer. He was doing, thinking, and writing on ministry in the marketplace before most of us even realized what the issues were.” This is a comprehensive collection of essays on everything from personal vocation to globalization, from marketplace mission to finding spirituality for the work-world. See also his very helpful book called Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace or his good collection of Bible reflections showing different kinds of workers in Scripture called Work Matters: Lessons from Scripture.

People Over Profits: Break the System, Live with Purpose, Be More Successful  Dale Partridge (Thomas Nelson) $24.99     A young tech start-up entrepreneur who loves Jesus offers a quick but powerful survey of the cycles towards growth and efficiency, greed and deception, that plague most economies, and most businesses. He calls for an unabashed reformation of capitalist values towards people and quality, service and transparency, which he outlines as seven core beliefs. This is clear, compelling, and challenging. (It is not overtly Christian, making it useful for any work-place study group.) A must-read for every entrepreneur and business leader.

The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders Max Anderson & Peter Escher (Portfolio Business) $24.95     After the banking scandals and financial crisis in 2008, a Christian graduating from Harvard Business School convened a team of students and faculty and created a pledge – similar to the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath – promising to do right by their clients. It was thoughtful and nuanced and, yet, some refused to sign it! That became a news story, and the MBA Oath became a phenomenon and much-discussed document. This book came out of that experience and explores the multi-faceted ways in which corporations and financiers can be honest and do good in the world.

Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World Bruno Roche & Jay Jakub (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) $19.95     For several years the family-owned Mars Corporation – the M&M’s people – convened a world-class group of economists (the leaders of which happened to be Biblical Christians) to ask about how the metrics of profit might be expanded to include sustainability and justice for workers and more. This is a studious, thoughtful proposal about corporate responsibility. Peter Block calls it “a major breakthrough…” Their global team uses the language of an “economics of mutuality” to further the research on what it means to do good even as we do well.  Exceptional.

The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Communities Compassion and Capacity Tom Nelson (IVP) $16.00     Many of us admire Tom Nelson for his lovely, inspiring book Work Matters and for his recent leadership resourcing churches and other leaders in the beautiful “Made to Flourish” network. Here he offers a brand new study of Christian views of economics with a balanced, Biblical, practical vision. Tim Keller calls it “a great contribution” and Steve Garber says “it is a book for everyone who cares about the moral meaning of the marketplace.” Wonderful.

The Crisis and the Kingdom: Economics, Scripture and the Global Financial Crisis E. Philip Davis (Cascade Books) $20.00     Few authors are as experienced or qualified to offer a theological assessment of the financial collapse of the late 2000s. Davis is both a world-class economist (with scholarly books on investments on Oxford University Press) and a Baptist pastor. He serves a church in the financial district of London. This is thoughtful and provocative.

The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World Daniel Bell (Baker Academic) $22.00     This is a very serious contrast of capitalism and Christianity, showing that in our postmodern globalized era, Christians should be active in rethinking and reforming the impulses of consumerism that deform desire and erode virtue. The gospel can help us more faithfully and intentionally navigate the global economy.

Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization Brent Waters (WJK) $40.00     This is a substantive and overtly Christian critique of various schools of economics, offering a balanced and nuanced argument for the good of markets (avoiding the tendency to either demonize or idolize them). There are many good books on Christian perspectives on economics, and this is one of the best – even if it annoys many on both the left and the right.

Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $30.00     This is heavy (co-written by a Dutch economist and a South African philosopher) on the ideas, ideologies, and institutions that have shaped the modern world. There is much here to learn, to ponder, and be inspired by as they offer a multi-dimensional critique of modern economics, presenting how a Christian social philosophy might offer redirection and renewed hope.

Christian Mission and Economic Systems: A Critical Survey of the Cultural and Religious Dimensions of Economics edited by John Cheong & Eloise Meneses (William Carey Library) $19.99     Although designed as a mission book, or at least for those involved in Business as Mission, this is nonetheless a fascinating overview of global cultural folkways and religious aspects of economics and would help us all see our views of money and money-making from other perspectives.


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Earlier (out of print) books now re-issued by N.T. Wright and Robert Benson ON SALE NOW

Greetings from out West in the great city of Denver Colorado. I was asked to speak at a conference for Christian business people in Colorado and I also got to present two workshops, about the value of reading, the need to develop the Christian mind, and offering a bibliography of titles which contribute to the on-going conversation about faith, work, vocation, calling, and, specifically, business practices and Christian engagement with economics. I regret that I only scratched the surface, and missed saying some important things, but that is what the books are for – to allow people to more slowly, carefully, read for deep formation and to “take every idea captive” for Christ’s Kingdom as we are called to do (Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 10:5.)

I spoke a lot about rejecting what some call the “sacred vs secular dualism” and invited the workers gathered there to realize their work was holy ground, that what they did matters, and can honor God if done for the common good, stewarding vocational gifts, showing the goodness of God by creating products and services that show love of neighbor. I wish I had a list of the jobs people had, but I know there were big business owners, small -town retailers, building contractors, business lawyers, industry experts, consultants, corporate executives, factory managers, entrepreneurs, mining specialists, realtors, financial advisors, hedge-fund investors, mid-level managers, members of marketplace ministries, and a even few ministers.

I will publish the bibliography I put together for these business professionals soon, here at BookNotes. I have to focus now on this new post, though, which may be dicey, between my jet lag and altitude sickness (yes, it’s a real thing) and spending some time with one of our daughters who lives here and is showing us the artsy side of town (move over Brooklyn, Denver’s River North District, known here as RINO, is the up-and-coming hipster center of the known universe. What a colorful, creative place. And we get to go to House for All Sinners and Saints, a Lutheran faith community where we’ve worshiped before and a place we deeply love.)

In the middle of this important speaking engagement and this bit of family vacation, I still want to tell our Hearts & Minds BookNotes friends about some brand new books. I hope you saw the previous BookNotes blog which listed 20 titles about Jesus. Let’s face it – formational Christian reading must be Christ-centered, so that may be one of the most important BookNotes I’ve done in a while.

The two titles I want to tell you about now are splendid and do tie in to our experience here with the Colorado Christian Business Alliance and will be helpful for any other Christian social action and cultural renewal ministries that long for God’s Kingdom to be seen in every area of life.

My theme today is simple, and I won’t say too much. (Did I mention the altitude sickness? And the cool places our daughter is taking us?) We’re very excited about two books that just came out that are, actually, older previously out of print books now re-issued in somewhat revised and updated editions.


These are two truly favorite books that have been out of print for decades and are now, this week, back in print again. Thanks be to God to the authors and publishers involved, bringing two tried and true (if under-appreciated) volumes back to the reading public. You, friends, should snap these up right away as they are true gifts, and truly vital resources for your life and times. Dare I say they are good for your hearts and minds?

Spiritual and Religious: The Gospel in an Age of Paganism Tom Wright (SPCK) $15.00 This book is worth twice the price and we should rejoice that the sophisticated British publisher, SPCK, is now being distributed into North America by InterVarsity Press. (This is yet another feather in the bright cap of the always thoughtful and relevant IVP, our favorite publisher.) Tom Wright? A re-print by a publisher in the UK? Yep, you figured it out: this author is the world-famous and world-class Anglican theologian and Bible scholar otherwise known to the publishing and reading world as N. T. Wright. Many folks know he goes by Tom, and some of his earliest books were published under his more friendly name, Tom. So, for those who haven’t followed him from the very, very beginning, this is essentially a brand new N.T. Wright book. Come on, people, get on the train – this is gospel good news, solid and still creative, orthodox without being stuffy, Biblical and yet, as serious Bible reading should be, finally, revolutionary. Although published in the very early 1990s, this is for most a brand new N.T. Wright book, and as timely as ever!

Spiritual And Religious was previously published in the U.S. by Bethany House (now part of the Baker Publishing Group) as Bringing the Church to the World and although we were young booksellers in those days, Beth and I loved this book. It had the quintessential look of a late ‘80s/early 1990s pop Christian book and was released by a publisher who in those years was known for some pretty intense deeper life revival writings of the likes of Andrew Murray, Leonard Ravenhill, and Charles Finney, re-publishing the extraordinary Victorian-era, Scottish novels by George MacDonald (CS Lewis’s great literary mentor) and the rather simplistic but hugely popular historical fiction of the likes of Janette Oke. My dear mother and many of our customers loved those pious prairie romances, despite the awful covers. In the middle of a list of Christian fiction and somewhat old-fashioned Christian growth stuff was the first U.S. book by a then unknown British author named Tom Wright.

I understand why that book, Bringing the Church to the World, wasn’t popular in those years. It just fell through the cracks. Serious emerging thinkers in those days, discovering early works of Moltmann and Brueggemann, say, or even the best mainstream evangelical thinkers (reading the first books of Eugene Peterson or Francis Schaeffer and John Stott and Ron Sider and the likes of Lewis, Sproul, and Colson) just weren’t reading books by that publisher with those covers, nicely designed for the popular Christian self-help market. Mainline denominational pastors and thought leaders in United Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, or Presbyterian circles who didn’t frequent the ubiquitous mom and pop Christian bookstores in those days, simply didn’t know this book existed.

And, it might have been ahead of its time. With the “spiritual but not religious” lingo these days, and this movement of post-Christian spirituality, Tom Wright’s insights about the nature of paganism, true spirituality, the longing for some sense of God’s presence, is, in fact, perfect for these days. The book – missional at its core, culturally-wise in its discernment about the times – was strong and would have been very useful in the midst of what we then called the “new age movement” – wiser, I think, then some of the alarmist over-reactions. In the first Bethany House edition, it had emblazoned on the front, as a long sub-title, “Renewing the Church to Confront the Paganism in Western Culture.”  It carried a great endorsement by J. I. Packer.  And yet it languished.

Now, with the new SPCK edition’s title, Spiritual and Religious… is even more urgent as the goofiness of the worst of that neo-pagan movement has subsided and the best insights (legitimately offering alternatives in medicine and psychology and politics to old-school, Western style materialism based on Enlightenment sorts of rationalistic paganism) have become more mainstream. But with many fine churches — mainline liberal or evangelical mega-church or medium-moderates — still not quite getting where the culture is these days, it is no surprise that so many younger adults (and older ones, too, I might add) see themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” As You Lost Me by David Kinnaman (and several other more scholarly books on the “nones” such as Belief Without Borders by Linda Mercadante or Choosing Our Religion by Elizabeth Drescher) show, not all of the young adult population that don’t attend church are atheists or hostile to faith; some see themselves as deeply spiritual, and some see themselves as truly Christian, avoiding religious institutions that, in their mind, has little to do with Jesus and His ways in the world.

And so, N.T. Wright comes along, digging up this old assessment of the spirit of the times from the new agey 80 and 90s and re-thinks that material, offered in that under-appreciated book, and re-purposes it for missional Kingdom outreach and authentic Biblical spirituality in our 21st century post-Christian, newly pagan culture. What a great idea to re-edit and re-issue that important volume.

Wright’s Spiritual and Religious is arranged in two parts.The first half (less than 100 pages) includes seven short chapters exploring the modern world and offering good prompts for how the church fits into this idolatrous secular worldview. Many of you know that one of my favorite books is The Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (and that these two were young bucks living in Canada when Tom was at McGill University in Quebec, and they became friends. I happen to see the fingerprints of Transforming Vision all over this book, especially in its potent critique of the gods of the age, including mammon, militarism and the like. However, this is not dry intellectual history or liberal social criticism – although there is some stuff about the history of ideas and a critique of well-accepted idols of our time. But mostly, this is Kingdom theology, a missional vision of the vindicated, Risen Christ and how the church simply must relate the good news to the culture around us.

The second half of Spiritual and Religious: The Gospel in an Age of Paganism looks like a wonderful overview of much of Wright’s best stuff on missional thinking, strategies for engaging the culture and its distorted views and hurtful practices, and how to present the Kingdom alternative to those who remain hungry for meaning, eager for beauty, longing for justice. How can those who are commissioned to be Christ’s ambassadors of God’s Kingdom related well to those who may not see the message of the church to be life-giving or admirable? How can we be the church for the sake of the world God so loves?

I loved this book when it first came out, although we didn’t then know who Tom Wright was as an evangelically-minded but somewhat socially progressive Anglican priest in the UK, nor what he was working on, offering fresh expressions of the church for the world in those hard years in England, and what he would become – the generative, prolific scholar of prodigious, and sometimes ponderous output making him one of the most important writers of our time. We did not know that he would give reasonable voice to so much that we stood for, explaining in helpful ways our own curious theological influences and the vision of Hearts & Minds as a Christian bookstore. I didn’t realize then that he would eventual become a bit of a friend and supporter and show up to preach in our back yard.

Beth and I loved that book, even if we didn’t sell it well. I might have been biased by not realizing who he was, not “placing” him because of my own assumptions about the theological nature of that US publisher in those years. I don’t know. Nobody else did, either, I guess, as the book languished, unknown, and soon enough went out of print. I have felt badly about it for years. What a joy to now have a second chance, to re-sell this book, to promote it widely, and hope that its message equips churches with visions and strategies to embody a prophetic imagination, learning to say no to the ideologies of the Western, secularized culture, and the oddly-focused, inner spiritualties of the newer generations, and hold out a classic, orthodox, vibrant vision of being deeply spiritual and culturally relevant – the best vision of religion as a way to life well lived.

(And, just to be clear for those that wonder: Wright does not, in his passion for ministering to the world, for being engaged in the struggle for ideas and attitudes that shape our modern lives and institutions and culture, recommend “watering down the distinctives of the faith in order to make it more palatable.” No, no, not at all. He is not an old-school liberal, wanting to accommodate ourselves to the world, in order to unite “Christ and culture” somehow, being like the world to be accepted by it.That is a large misunderstanding, if anyone presumes that. Neither is he a fundamentalist, a crass theocrat as represented by the Christian right in the US, a movement which he finds intolerable (as do, by the way, almost all evangelical Christians around the globe, perplexed and saddened by the odd ways American fundamentalists are so nationalistic.)

It is fascinating to me that those who see themselves as progressive theologically sometimes think Tom is too conservative and many conservatives find him to be questionable. When one find as author and leader who is blasted by both extreme sides, it may be that that is an author to consider. How wonderful!)

So, again, this short book is about the nature of the modern culture, underscoring its essential idolatries as a form of paganism. The communities of ancient Israel had to struggle to resist the idols of their surrounding cultures, of course, and the early church’s very survival depended on its proper engagement with the pressures of the pagan worldviews. This books helps us do what the church is always called to do.

Tom Wright puts it, plainly, in the introduction:

I believe that our current society presents a new set of challenges to the church. These are significantly different from the challenges that Christians have perceived, and responded to, in recent decades. Fortunately, although these challenges are new to us, they are not totally new in themselves, and we are able to draw on wisdom from the past in addressing them.

This book reminds us, too, that there are many movements of renewal within the churches in recent years that can be wisely harnessed, combined, drawn upon, to empower us for this significant contemporary challenge.

For instance, he says that:

There has been a renewal of Christian interest in ecumenism, in liturgy, in the Holy Spirit, in biblical study, in social and political action, and many other things. Taken by themselves, these movements can become hobbyhorses of single-issue fanatics, while the rest wonders what the fuss is all about. But give the church a new sense of direction, a new vision of the challenges that it now faces, show it that, to meet these challenges, it needs to draw on the best of all these renewal movements have to offer; and instead of being the hobbyhorse of a few they become instead the resource-kit of the many. There are new tasks facing us, and a renewed church can face up to them in the knowledge that, through the wise provision of her Lord, she is in principle equal to them.

“Ultimately, if the church is to be the church for the world,” Wright writes, “it must recapture a vision of the God is the true God.“

His hope in this fine little old book offer afresh is that if the church is going to be prayerful and thoughtful and relevant and missional – that is, if our message is to be effective and hammered out in practice and make sense to the watching world – it will “constantly celebrate and announce the lordship of Jesus in appropriate, constructive and telling ways.” Isn’t that a nice line?  I hope you can see why we here at the bookstore resonate with this classic, pioneering, early vision of N.T.–Tom — Wright.

To make the book more usable, Wright has good discussion questions at the end of each chapter, making it ideal for book groups, Bible studies, adult ed forums and the like. There is a brand new chapter, written as an epilogue, suggesting one particular prayer, a way of praying it, that picks up the major themes of the book. He says, actually, that you might want read that chapter first, allowing it to “pervade and deepen the reading of the rest.”

We – we here at the shop, but other bookstores, reviewers, publishing ministries and book-buyers — blew it last time, not promoting this book enough; it should have been a widely-read, regularly-cited, contemporary classic. Thanks be to God that we have another chance. Let’s make this book known and its hopeful insights applied so that we can, indeed, be a church for the sake of the world.



Venite: A Book of Daily Prayer Robert Benson (Abingdon Press) $18.99 Again, this is a book that almost came and went in a flash, back in the last century. There was a fresh re-issue in 2000, actually, but it didn’t last, either. As with the Tom Wright book above, we feel, personally, badly about this. Why we didn’t sell more of this lovely, meaningful, useful book in those years I cannot say. That the evangelical book world wasn’t ready for a liturgical resource to help people pray the offices or celebrate the liturgical season is an understatement. Like Taking the Church to the World it was ahead of its time. Unlike that one, the title has remained.Venite. I’m glad. The back cover of this handsome paperback explains,

The Latin word is an invitation given to pray the prayers of Christ. It is an invitation to pray the ancient prayer, unlike life becomes prayer without ceasing.

I won’t bore you with the long story of our own coming to appreciate liturgical prayer and my own love-hate relationship with fixed-hour prayers. In my long review a decade ago of Robert’s beautiful book In Constant Prayer I said, very, very sincerely, that I was deeply moved and genuinely blessed by reading about fixed our prayer, using the office as a guide to praying throughout the day. But that I just wasn’t going to do it. I think that is fair enough – I like books about global missions even though I’ve never left the continent and I loved Benson’s book on baseball and his book on gardening and his book on vacationing in the Caribbean, even though I have done known of those things. Still there is something about reading about fixed hour prayer, something about having a resource like the classic Book of Common Prayer, but less cumbersome, to have these litanies and prayers and curated verses and spaces to pause and intercede and praise…. even if I don’t use it strictly as a prayer book as I should.

Two things have happened in this general area since we opened our bookstore almost 35 years ago. The people who protested and boycotted our store because we carried books about contemplative spirituality and Christian books about meditation – what a story! — have either apologized or drifted away. That is, within the evangelical Protestant world there has been a huge re-awakening to the benefits of spiritual disciplines and contemplative, monastic spirituality. When I give presentations on the shifts in religious publishing in recent decades, this is one of the largest we’ve seen, and we can pretty confidently name the writings of Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen as two popularizers of this rich tradition of classic spirituality. Of course both Foster and Nouwen drew deeply on the wells of the medieval traditions, but both popularized the dense stuff about contemplative prayer written by the hugely significant literary and religious figure, Columbia University atheist turned silent monk, Thomas Merton. That I worked for a spell at the mostly Roman Catholic Thomas Merton Center before we opened our bookstore might help you understand why we opened with a then-rare section on contemplative spiritual formation, shelving books old and new on this stuff about our interior lives and the prayerful habits that transform us from the inside out, allowing us to “practice the presence of God.”

In most of his wonderfully written, highly-recommended books – I think of Living Prayer and Between the Dreaming and the Coming True and his most-recent, truly lovely, Punching Holes in the Dark – Robert Benson shares this story that nearly parallels just a bit of my own, except his is more colorful, writ large. He grew up within the heart of American evangelicalism and Southern revival zeal, his grandfather and father being the Benson’s of the famous Benson gospel music record label. (If you’ve heard of the Bill Gaither Trio, you know who I mean.) Robert, as he explains in detail in his lovely book about discerning one’s own vocation, The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling,realized he wasn’t cut out for the music biz; in fact, he wasn’t part of that evangelical/revivalist tribe anymore, anyway. As much as he deeply, deeply admires his father (who didn’t?) and as much as he appreciates the gospel clarity he was rooted in during those formative years, he is a liberal Episcopalian now, a writer who offers humble retreats about praying and living in the light of God’s gracious mercy. His faith might seem more simple, now, as he lives quietly, writing gentle books, and praying the hours, even as he studies the great spiritual classics of the Western (and, too, some of the non-Western spiritual traditions.) So, anyway, Benson is an example of this shift we’ve mentioned about how evangelical Protestants have discovered the ancient disciplines that the monks and nuns have written about for centuries — contemplation, meditation, mysticism and the like.

However, Benson’s Veniti: A Book of Daily Prayer did not exactly emerge, or only emerge, from his shift away from older school Protestant fundamentalism and embracing a more ecumenical, reflective faith, but it also comes from his discovery of the vital role of liturgy and the joys and rigors and rhythms if fixed hour prayer. Again, about the time in the 1980s when evangelicalism, and, eventually, mainline liberal Protestant churches, dropped their guard about Catholic mysticism and started reading Nouwen, and then Merton, there was also a trend of rigorously orthodox evangelicals who longed for more mystery and ancient connections in their zealous but perhaps shallow faith. There were in those years a few books written (still in print today, by the way) explaining this, such as Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church,which documented conservative non-denominational Christians, many young, leaving their Jesus-movement, Maranatha Music, low-brow worship services and becoming — miraculum — Episcopalian. We see this in the important work of Robert Webber and his “ancient future” project, combing contemporary interests and ancient liturgies, combined in rich aesthetics. We see this trend especially these days as many conservative Reformed folks leave churches like the PCA to become Anglican, a more conservative and evangelical version of the American Episcopalianism.

I do not know this, but I suspect it is the good marketing folks at Abingdon Press who sense that the time is right to re-introduce this lovely,(originally) hand-made Benson prayer book. If it was ahead of its time – the wave of contemplative spirituality and the interest in higher liturgical forms was still growing twenty years ago — but the time couldn’t be better for this very handsome, user-friendly, slim-line prayer book.Those that knew it decades ago will rejoice that it is out again; it was sort of an underground classic., truly cherished among a small, glad crowd. Now it might become a mainstream best-seller. One can hope.

For what it is worth, Benson has two very, very nice introductions to Venite giving you background as to how he came to write this and in his piercing, concise prose, tells you why it matters so to him. He also guides you through using it well, noting some of the helpful features.

I cannot now explain the details but it is nice that somebody like Robert Benson, who obviously uses and is fluent in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer and the conventional Roman Catholic Book of Divine Offices and other odd little prayer books is so willing and able to create a more streamlined and simple-to-use prayer book. There is a glossary in the back explaining often used words (lauds, compline, canticles, remembrances, etc.) He has a short essay on the liturgical calendar. That is, if you need a bit of a guide or mentor into this sacramental worldview and the practices of daily liturgical prayer, If you like the late Phyllis Tickle volumes – she and Benson were pals, naturally – you will love this. If you want a guide to pray which you can use routinely through the day, or just to dip into on occasion (all that my cheating heart can manage) Venite will draw you deeper and wisely guide you towards this fixed-hour sort of habit.

The first large portion of Venite is on saying the Office; that is, praying the fixed hours throughout the day, as people (mostly monks and nuns, but not only them) do throughout the day.

The second major section of Venite is on saying the Prayers of the Seasons; that is, special prayers for the church calendar, from Advent through special holy days, feast days, and well known seasons such as Lent. (And, yes, in the Advent portion he has the O Antiphons, making it nearly the price of the book for that.)

And, so, like with the Tom Wright book, above, Robert Benson remains a favorite author, one whose books we stock and promote as best we can. And, like with Spiritual and Religious by Wright, with Veniti by Benson, we now have chance to introduce to their fans, and to those who don’t know their work, an older, rich, early volume, re-edited and re-shaped for a new audience.

We couldn’t be happier than to have these kinds of books to sell, books by Wright and Benson and others they so maturely draw upon. But these two are special – old classics that maybe didn’t catch on as they should have, given fresh designs and new insights, and, hopefully, new readerships. Will you help us spread the word about these two newly re-issued resources. It is not my altitude sickness speaking here, it is God’s good word, from my heart to yours: these books deserve to be widely known.










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