Brand new or forthcoming books by friends of Hearts & Minds: ORDER or PRE-ORDER now to help out our indie author friends. 20% OFF

That we remain closed to in-store traffic here in August is surprising, sad, and complicated for us here at the bookstore; we’re still doing lots of out-back curbside/parking lot delivery and appreciate our local friends that have reached out to us. We’re happy to help by bringing things out to you to peruse; we’re at your service! The pandemic remains a huge threat to our land and we are convinced that for the common good and public safety we must play it safe in our little shop here in Dallastown. We beg you to follow the protocols established by the health departments and be careful out there, for all our sakes.

It is agonizing for us to not be out on the road selling books at the conferences, retreats, convocations, training events, and other off-site gigs that connect us with so many of our friends and mail-order customers; we miss seeing some of our favorite people and most loyal bookstore lovers and good organizations.That we’ve lost this major source of income is a serious hit. Please pray for us as we cope with this.

We are glad there continues to be a steady amount of on-line and phone orders and we are working long hours to wrap things carefully and send out orders promptly. That many American books were printed in China (not a possibility, now, obviously) has come back to haunt the publishing industry as many titles are out of stock from the publishers and in between printings for longer than usual as publishers scramble to get in line for the U.S. based, large-scale printers and book binderies that remain. We’re doing our best to fill orders from our various warehouse sources and, we’re told, we are generally doing a bit better than some other providers out there. We are grateful for the chance to serve you in this way and we appreciate your patience as we work with these unusual constraints. Thanks to those in the industry who serve us well even as they are being conscientious.

In this special edition of BookNotes we offer some books that are soon to be released or that have just come out, all authored by friends and supporters of Hearts & Minds. Some of these you may never have heard of and we are eager to give them a bit of a boost and a congenial place for you to place your orders if you want to avoid the greedsters over at that other place that so many justice-seeking book lovers want to avoid. Each of these has a story, each has a Hearts & Minds connection, each are books that we unequivocally endorse for your reading pleasure.

Join us in supporting these under-the-radar books authored by folks we know and trust. ORDER or PRE-ORDER TODAY at 20% off. Read on!

  • If you are ordering more than one title, it is helpful if you tell us if you want us to consolidate your order and ship all books in one package when they are all released or if you want us to send them out as they become available. Or maybe some sensible combo — a few one week, a few others later. Please let us know.
  • As we suggest at the order form page at the website, we can send things the least expensive way (“Media Mail” which for one book is $3) but that is the slowest; it could take a week or more, depending on where you live.  Or, some like to request “Priority Mail”  (about $7) which is as quick as or quicker than UPS but a lot cheaper than UPS… PLEASE let us know your preferences by typing it into the order form page.

Ten forthcoming or brand new books by friends of Hearts & Minds: ORDER or PRE-ORDER now to help out our indie author friends. All 20% OFF

 

What Is Beautiful? written by Abbie Smith Sprunger, illustrated by Ashley Lauren Snyder (Parent Cue /reThink) $24.99  |  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

AVAILABLE MID AUGUST

Some of you may know of Abbie (Smith) Sprunger as we have promoted other books she has done, from the very useful Can You Keep Your Faith in College?: Students from 50 Campuses Tell You How (Multnomah Books) to the wonderfully written, exceedingly honest reflections called Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood (Kalos Press.) She has spoken at the beloved Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh and she now (with her husband Micah) cares for property and souls at a beautiful retreat center near Savanah, Georgia, called Wesley Gardens.

This soon to be released kids book was years in the making and we tried to be cheerleaders and advocates for it as several publishers considered it and artwork was imagined and re-imagined. This very contemporary, very cool version is thrilling, combing a sentimental, lovely affirmation of a girl’s worth with an artful, even edgy, sort of modern design. It’s a great match, the work of Sprunger and Snyder, touching lively prose and captivating colorful images.  It offers a delightful message about what real beauty is, what it is to be beloved, how we can honor ethnic diversity, and more. The art wonderful evokes and matches this hope.

Here is what the publisher is saying about it in the advanced info:

What is beautiful?

It’s a question we all ask at some point in our lives. It’s also a question many of us struggle to answer in a way that satisfies or affirms us. But what if we could change that for our daughters? And our daughters’ daughters? What if we could give them a picture of beauty they can embrace, a picture they can see every day looking back at them in the mirror?

A rhyming illustrated book appropriate for ages 6-12, What Is Beautiful? is a whimsical and refreshing reflection on beauty for every girl at every age.

We hope many consider buying this beautiful gift book and sharing it with girls (or boys, for that matter.) Abbie and Micah are the parents of three children, including one who is adopted from India. As she has allowed her publisher to write, “Given the differences of ethnicity in their home, and raising two daughters, What Is Beautiful? runs personal. Abbie’s story holds lengthy seasons trapped in eating disorders and exercise addictions. Her journey of healing and discovering beauty is reflected in these pages.”

Sustaining Grace: Innovative Ecosystems for New Faith Communities edited by Scott U. Hagley, Karen Rohrer, and Michael Gehrling (Wipf & Stock) $21.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

AVAILABLE NOW

This new book is just now hot off the presses and we are very happy, even proud, to be among the first bookstores to welcome it into the world. Now only have we met these editors (and some of the authors, such as an old Pennsylvania pastor pal, Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle (now the Executive Presbyter at the PC(USA) Presbytery of Great Atlanta.) I’ve often said I’m an evangelical in a mainline denomination and so, naturally, have been very glad that our PC(USA) began, a few years back, a concerted effort to do what some call “church planting” or “new church starts.” We call the initiative 1001 New Worshipping Communities and it has been quite a journey for those stepping up to begin new faith communities that can, offering safe spaces for often quite fresh expressions of faith, become new and lasting congregations.

This book is not mostly telling that story, though. What the eleven essays in Sustaining Grace does is captured in the subtitle — it “explores the dynamic between new faith communities and denominational systems through the lens of stewardship and sustainability.”  To do that — get this! — they insist that “to facilitate ecologies for innovation in our current era, established congregations and new faith communities must model the sustaining grace of God to one another in creative ways.” You see, there are large, looming questions about how new church plants and start-up congregations can be sustained and that includes conversations and strategies that involve others — other churches, others leaders, congregational systems, denominational judicatories, and more.

In this day and age all congregations, but in very special ways, mainline denominational parishes, simply must grapple with who they are and what they are about; these are foundational questions about discipleship and fidelity to the gospel itself.  And, naturally, this includes how we understand the many implications of our doctrine of stewardship — stewardship of our money, our power, our privilege, and more.

Scott Hagley is a professor of missiology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and wrote Eat What Is Set Before You: A Missiology of the Congregation in Context (published by the very edgy and important missional press Urban Loft Publishers.) Karen Rohrer is the director of the Church Planting Initiative at PTS (and before that was a co-pastor of Beacon, a new faith community in Philadelphia.) Mike Gehrling is an old friend from his IVCF days and now serves the PC)USA) as an associate for the 1001 New Worshipping Communities project. He was one of the organizing pastors of the Upper Room, a new faith community in PIttsburgh. As you might guess, we’re thrilled that the did this serious volume, helping us refect on and strategize on how traditional churches and new emerging faith communities can work together to advance God’s work in the world.

A non-Presbyterian leader in this space, author and church planter J.R. Woodwood (of V3 and author of the excellent Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World) writes:

It takes eleven essays of lived wisdom, from a micro to macro level, from the call of a new church planter, to life in the larger ecosystem of a denomination, to bring a fuller picture of what it means to develop a posture conducive to receive sustaining grace from God and others. As you carefully read through these stories, you will find gems of engaging truth, reminding you God still opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Here are two more endorsements well worth pondering, illustrating the unique vibe of this book — it brings together professors and practitioners, denominational execs and local pastors:

Here’s a book on sustainable ministry that is not a drab why-and-how-to-fundraise manual but instead a stirring invitation to imagine the precarity of new worshiping communities as a gift to the whole church. It will prove to be a fruitful conversation starter for all who are involved and invested in seeing new worshiping communities–and not-so-new worshiping communities–flourish.  –Christopher B. James, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary

Hurray for Scott Hagley and his team for taking on the most challenging obstacle for most new worshiping communities, how to become sustainable for longer than the first couple of years. Sustaining Grace helps us to see that starting new churches is not an optional luxury item in the expense line for thriving churches. Instead it is essential for the sustainability of God’s church in all its expressions.  –Vera Karn White, 1001 New Worshiping Communities (Presbyterian Church [USA])

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

AVAILABLE MID AUGUST

This may be one of the books released in this hard year of our Lord 2020 that I feel as close to as any; it is a manuscript that I’ve had an early version of but was sworn to secrecy about it because it really was a true festschrift — a surprise collection of essays and contributions in honor of the retirement of an important scholar and leader. They kept Brian in the dark for most of the publishing process of this even though there were folks all over the world in on it (from Brian’s wife, Biblical teacher Sylvia Keesmaat and their good friend N.T. Wright and his early partner-in-writing, Richard Middleton.) I will be writing more about this in greater detail as I am just nearly overwhelmed with the brilliance of some of these pieces. It is an honor to help celebrate his ministry (and his friendship with us his encouragement of our work.)

So, I hope you order this now — it releases soon, maybe early in August, and we highly recommend it.

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

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

Seminary prof and author Christopher James puts it even better:

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

–Christopher B. James, author of Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil

There are great women and men in this book, some you may know (James Olthius and Henk Hart from the early days of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Stephen Bouma-Predigar, who teaches ecological studies at Hope College in Holland, MI, to the aforementioned Tom Wright) and a few you may not recognize. Every chapter is excellent, each author honoring Brian with her or his unique contribution.

I’ll be saying more later — for now, here is how the back cover puts it:

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

Dreaming Dreams for Christian Higher Education David S. Guthrie (Falls City Press) $18.99  | OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

AVAILABLE AUGUST 18, 2020

Oh my, is this ever a great, great book. Releasing very soon, it is a collection of essays by a very good friend (and very big encouragement to us, even going to bat for me to earn an honorary PhD a few years back — talk about sticking his neck out!) Many of us (those in the field of higher education and just those who know him and his passion for Kingdom thinking) have long wanted him to write a book.  And this is him at his best — a collection of talks, sermons, lectures, articles, essays, together offering a mosaic of glimmering insights, pieced together beautifully, offering a living example of a person fully committed to the ways of Jesus Christ the true King of the cosmos. Want to know what the implications of this creedal declaration (“Christ is Lord”) might be? Want a glimpse into somebody who earnestly endeavors to have the mind of Christian, developing what might be called a uniquely Christian perspective in his field? Want to know what it’s like to take up a calling and stick to it for a career, trying to make a difference as salt and light and leaven? Dreaming Dreams is a great illustration of that.

Let me be clear: this is a collection of essays about higher education, especially Christian higher education. These are talks or keynote addresses or rousing speeches or down-to-Earth workshops done in places like Calvin University or Messiah College or Grove City College. These are chapters drawn from his call to be better, to be more, to be distinctive and faithful even in how we think about education, about learning, about student development and student affairs. Sure, these are going to be appealing to those of us who care about colleges, but it is not just for faculty or staff in higher ed. Those who work in campus ministry should own this — obviously. But I also think that nearly anyone who is eager to see how a guy thinks about his given vocation, who wants to watch someone working out big dreams and concrete practices that become signposts of the new creation, proposing initiatives that might embody the norms and values of the Kingdom of God within often stubborn and complicated institutions, anybody like that would be energized and instructed by Dreaming Dreams.

The brand new cover is a bit dark and foreboding, it seems. You know that line about it’s just darkest before the dawn, right? I don’t know if that’s what the good folks at Falls City were thinking but the old school college spire and the swirling clouds and the glimmers of light — Guthrie is there. This book is deeply aware that things in our world (and certainly in our institutions of higher learning, not even our faith-based ones) are what they should or could be. Times are tough. Quo vadis?

I am proud of this classy little publisher in Beaver Falls, PA and I’m proud to call this author my friend. I’m eager to commend his collection to you, especially if you are an educator, and certainly if you are involved in higher education at all. You may know not this from full page ads in The Chronicle of Higher Education (although one could wish.) But you can get it from us as we celebrate this small press and this very important book.

By the way, there is an excellent foreword by sociology prof and long time friend and customer, Dr. Bradshaw Frey. And there is an excellent afterword by historian and author Eric Miller. These enhance the book and offer more insight into why it is so very important. Kudos.

Just to show how I value this, here’s an endorsement I sent to them to use in their own PR. Since I’m not in the field, I doubt if my words should grace the back cover, but it’s sincere:

All of us dream dreams, I’m sure we do. But few — even those who loudly proclaim the name of Jesus — dream in a way that is really consistent with the deepest truths of the universe: that in this good, fallen, but being restored world, Christ’s Lordship requires us to rethink everything. For some, it may seem too difficult, but for others, it opens up vistas of adventure and new possibilities, summoning us to become agents of critique, change and reform. Dr. David Guthrie has always seemed to me a dreamer of this second and best kind: critical, hopeful, imaginative, playful, Biblically-inspired, serious, but whimsical; demanding but kind. After reading through this incredible collection of talks, essays, presentations, and reports from the field of higher education, I am sure he is the kind of dreamer that makes God smile. Dreaming Dreams for Christian Higher Education is simply a must read for anyone who wants to “think Christianly” about this particular arena, but I think it should be read by anyone who wants to see how it’s done — how to integrate one’s deepest convictions with one’s vocation, how to resist compartmentalization, and live a hope-filled, seamless life. It is my own great pleasure to recommend this amazing collection of fascinating pieces and dream with Guthrie that this volume could make a real difference.

Thirteen Turns: A Theology Resurrected From the Gallows of Jim Crow Christianity  Rev. Dr. Larry Donell Covin, Jr with a foreword by Sabrina L. Valente  (Wipf & Stock) $19.00  | OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

AVAILABLE NOW

Rev. Covin is a local UCC clergy-person, a pastor and theologian-in- residence at the historic Trinity United Church of Christ in downtown York. If it were not for the Covid pandemic, we surely would have had him do a live presentation here at the store, celebrating this brand new book with refreshments and autographs all around. What a joy that would have been, redeeming this very space where — decades ago — our bookstore received death threats from the KKK for our promoting of books about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Covin’s book has a heavy and hard-hitting theme, important for these hard days. Thirteen turns, you see, is how many loops they would use to make a lynching noose. Ugh, can you believe that such a phrase even exists in the language of white supremacy? But it is a phrase that must be known, a history that must be owned, a context for the doing of faithful Christ like theology in our day and in our place. Yes, even here in Southern York County, and perhaps where you live, too.

Covin’s book, which brings to mind, of course, the important James Cone volume, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, seems to me to redeem the noose allusion by using the phrase “turns” in the way the postmodern scholars sometimes do, meaning shifts or pivots — we even hear of “the postmodern turn.” What turns must we make, what shifts in awareness and orientation do we need to do contemporary theology in its most fruitful context? How can the evil twists of a lynchman’s noose give way to transforming turns, healing insights, what the Bible calls repentance? Dr. Covin ruminates on these, coming up with a baker’s dozen worth of principles. He notes that he learned to think like this, theologically, while studying at Princeton. He has studied and taught in several important places and we are honored to have him here in York.

This small volume of thirteen chapters (some seemingly disconnected at first glance but all profoundly interrelated) deserves to be read carefully. Some chapters are more dense than others, some more analytical, others more sermonic and hopeful. These are the musings of a working pastor, a mainline denominational black theologian, an urban leader and activist.

Here is how the always brilliant Dr. Lee Barrett, professor of theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary describes Thirteen Turns.

“This slender volume is a remarkable and timely achievement. Marshaling insights from a diverse spectrum of thinkers, ranging from Friedrich Schleiermacher to James Cone, the book articulates a powerful African American message of life in the midst of death. Its reflections are both visceral and critical, informed by the memory of Jim Crow lynchings and by the eschatological speculations of Jürgen Moltmann. In the face of the resurgent white nationalism that plagues our era, Dr. Covin offers a revitalizing vision of resilient hope and undaunted resistance.”

The Early Creeds: The Mercersburg Theologians Appropriate the Creedal Heritage edited by Charles Yrigoyen & Lee C. Barrett (WIpf & Stock) $28.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

AVAILABLE SOON

One of the events at which we sold books every year was the annual Mercersburg Society conference held at the historic Lancaster Theological Seminary, there near the corner of Nevin and Schaff Avenues, there where there two seminal German Reformed thinkers taught in the late 1800s. Many years the delightfully ecumenical conference — with those from admittedly progressive denominations and profs and scholars from conservative places like Westminister Theological Seminary in conversation about appropriating the brilliance of these older German-American thinkers — are among the most interesting things we do. My theologically minded oldest daughter (an elder at our own church) usually attended and we both miss our foray into this eccentric and often pretty heady sub-culture of theology geeks. Had we gathered this Spring we’d have celebrated this brand new volume in the on-going Mercersburg Theology Study Series. We stock them all, and this new one (obviously on how Nevin, Schaff and others (like John Williams Proudfit )used the ancient creeds looks really useful. The editors not only culled the important polemics from these authors but offer good annotations and introductions. Ask us about the whole series if you like; we got ’em, right here in Dallastown — this one is really important!

Conversations of Faith Anywhere: 31 Sure Conversations Scott Evans (Scott Evans) $10.99 |  OUR SALE PRICE = $8.79

AVAILABLE NOW

It is exciting when one of our good friends and regular customers publishes a book. Scott Evans has worked with the CCO in a variety of capacities and has been a good pal for years, now. Currently he works with atheletes at Franklin & Marshall, a prestigious liberal arts college in Lancaster, PA. It’s been a joy to watch him with students, watching him develop sincere friendships and to appropriately and winsomely  raise questions of faith with them. I hate to use the word “evangelism” but this is a collection of stories, self published first as an ebook and now in print so you can look over his shoulder and listen in to 31 true conversations he has had. Some have been very revealing about faith; some, less so. Some the conversation partner showed great hunger for the things of God while other times there were objections, fears, or conflicts. Scott wrote ’em down as he remembered them, changing some names (getting permission from those who wanted their story told.) I was surprised to see my own name in one as he quoted something he heard me say once — ha; talk about a connection to a book!

We commend this to anyone interested in real conversations as they happened in real time as a way to learn about effective ways to listen well and speak well in evangelistic conversations.

Each chapter has a question to ponder — gives it in the beginning rather than at the end, and you can see why. It ends with a “May you…” invitation, almost spoken like a benediction, maybe like the old Rob Bell videos. This book is nicely crafted to help you think through the faith, stumbling blocks you may have to sharing the gopsel message with others, or questions you have about how to proceed. This isn’t fancy or complicated and therein lies its beauty and strengths. It’s a moving collection of stories, real stories, of real people he met and talked to. Thanks, Scott, for caring about others and for wanting to know God and make Him known to others.

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson Winn Collier (Waterbrook) $28.00  | OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

DELAYED — TO BE AVAILABLE MARCH 2021

This is not from an indie press, although the subject, the often quiet, yet fiercely independent Presbyterian pastor from Montana, Eugene Peterson, was indie before that was a thing. He appreciated our independent efforts, applauded us for trying to create something a bit different then the commercialized, cookie-cutter religious shoppes that were so prevalent as he was a rising author. We sometimes commiserated about going to some evangelical trade shows where there were flags and fads and flimflam.  We talked about doing a poetry reading here (although it never worked out although he eventually published a poetry volume, Holy Fool) and after he moved from near us in Maryland, first to Pittsburgh, then to Vancouver, he ordered books from us regularly. Sometimes he’d mail the orders in, then he got a fax machine. We crossed paths from time to time and he told more than one person that we were his sole bookseller, and he didn’t want to change to some newfangled, faceless, system. It was an honor to be one of his mail-order book suppliers. So I list this here as a book we feel deeply connected to.

The writer of this authorized biography, Winn Collier, is one whom we’ve had correspondance with for years. He wants to send business our way not only because he likes us and believes in the ministry of Hearts & Minds, but because he thought Peterson would smile on that effort. Sure, this major release will be available everywhere — on on-line places Peterson didn’t care for and mega chain stores he most likely never visited himself. So we’re grateful to Winn for his help in helping us get the joy of selling A Fire in My Bones. By the way, I absolutely adored Collier’s novel of small church life, Love Big Be Well (which, Peterson himself called a tour de force.)

For those that PRE-ORDER A Fire in Your Bones you can get a special gift, a download of some very nice extra content based on Peterson’s pastoral prayers, transcribed from rare tapes from his time at Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, MD.  Collier and his publisher have arranged for these to be printed up with some reflections from Winn as an extra blessing for those who order this early.  It would be our great delight to help with that.

God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America Aaron Griffith (Harvard University Press) $35.00  |  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 10, 2020

Okay, this isn’t a small indie press; indeed, Harvard is one of the oldest publishers in America.  But this book deserves a place on this list as Dr. Griffith is a new friend and customer here at Hearts & Minds and we, not too surprisingly, have a bunch of overlapping friends. It’s a delight to know of his work at the fairly recently founded Sattler College in Boston (named after the famous Mennonite martyr; my ears perked up when I heard of a college with that as part of their founding vision!) Aaron is a good guy and has a great heart for the disadvantaged and is profoundly aware issues of race and injustice. In this forthcoming book we will see the fruit of his many years of research and writing. God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America is important for a number of good reasons and once it releases late this fall, I hope to review it in earnest.

Know this: this book is a fair and mostly appreciative study of the role of faith-based ministries in criminal justice; he especially studies the remarkable prison ministries performed by those in the evangelical tradition. Famously, former Nixon hatchet-man and Watergate crook Charles Colson found a personal relationship with Christ when he was being sent off to prison and after experiencing life in even a minimum security prison, his heart grew soft towards prisoners and he started an evangelistic ministry, still called Prison Fellowship. After reading more wholistic theology and social ethics, even stuff like Abraham Kuyper (I know this personally) Colson grew to realize that doing conventional evangelistic outreach among the incarcerated wasn’t enough so he started Justice Fellowship to offer a uniquely Christian perspective on criminal justice issues (with his team even credited with coming up with a new school of thought within this field, known as “restorative justice.”) I digress, here, because Aaron’s book is not primarily a study of Prison Fellowship, let alone Colson, but that illustrates the territory he is exploring. Have these well intended evangelical outreaches and prison ministries — even those with some deeper commitments to structural engagement and prison reform — been mostly helpful or not? What can we learn about the role of race and racism within these ministries?

And more, how have the very notions of sin and punishment, law and redemption, grace and atonement, God’s ways and social order effect how we tend to think about crime and law? Might conservative Christian theology have influenced how contemporary judges and policy makers do (or don’t do) justice?

Allow me to quote at length the ad copy for the book from the Harvard University Press website. It shows you what this is about and it might give a glimpse of why we here at Hearts & Minds (unlike many Christian bookstores, or so we gather) are eager to stock and take orders for this important scholarly work:

America incarcerates on a massive scale. Despite recent reforms, the United States locks up large numbers of people—disproportionately poor and nonwhite—for long periods and offers little opportunity for restoration. Aaron Griffith reveals a key component in the origins of American mass incarceration: evangelical Christianity.

Evangelicals in the postwar era made crime concern a major religious issue and found new platforms for shaping public life through punitive politics. Religious leaders like Billy Graham and David Wilkerson mobilized fears of lawbreaking and concern for offenders to sharpen appeals for Christian conversion, setting the stage for evangelicals who began advocating tough-on-crime politics in the 1960s. Building on religious campaigns for public safety earlier in the twentieth century, some preachers and politicians pushed for “law and order,” urging support for harsh sentences and expanded policing. Other evangelicals saw crime as a missionary opportunity, launching innovative ministries that reshaped the practice of religion in prisons. From the 1980s on, evangelicals were instrumental in popularizing criminal justice reform, making it a central cause in the compassionate conservative movement. At every stage in their work, evangelicals framed their efforts as colorblind, which only masked racial inequality in incarceration and delayed real change.

Today evangelicals play an ambiguous role in reform, pressing for reduced imprisonment while backing law-and-order politicians. God’s Law and Order shows that we cannot understand the criminal justice system without accounting for evangelicalism’s impact on its historical development.

So, God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America is going to be an important work. If you have read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander or the Cambridge University Press book in response to it by our friend Anthony Bradley (Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration: Hope from Civil Society) or even the amazing must-read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson you surely know why a book like this is important. Exploring the interface of religious faith and criminal justice is vital and we’re glad to commend to you this contribution by our friend Dr. Aaron Griffith.

Before the book comes out in November, check out his recent article in Christianity Today “Burl Cain Promises ‘Good Praying’ for Mississippi Prisons. It’s Not Enough,” Or listen to the interview in the June 3, 2020 “Quick to Listen” podcast “Do White Evangelicals Love Police More Than Their Neighbors?”

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

AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 17, 2020

This is a forthcoming book that we are very excited to tell you about. Again, it is not out for a while so I can’t say much, but please know that we are often encouraged by the good Wes G-M; he sends notes of encouragement and reminds us why we do this work that we do, selling books about faith, navigating the conversations that arise when we are ecumenical and wanting to encourage reading widely, even across one’s most comfortable theological silos. Wes was raised a conservative evangelical and rose to a remarkably significant role in the World Council of Churches, a matter that has long given him a global vision and care for the world-wide Body of Christ.

He tells about his own journey of faith in the great Eerdmans-published memoir Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity in a book which is described by the publisher like this: Unexpected Destinations reveals a unique encounter with evangelical piety, Catholic contemplative spirituality, Reformed theology, Pentecostal practice, and ecumenical efforts — an encounter that dares to envision unity between all these strands of Christianity. It provides fresh historical insights into the evangelical subculture of the 1970s, sheds new light on how denominations today grapple inwardly with such issues as homosexuality and missional renewal, and poignantly relates the joy and pain of one man’s spiritual life journey.”

He brought so much of that global wisdom to bear on his excellent volume published by Fortress in 2018 (with a foreword by the always interesting Soong-Chan Rah) called  Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century. He’s done ecological theology and congregational leadership stuff; he did an amazing book on how the expansion of the church of the global south has impacted North American congregations and his most recent was co-authored with Lutheran renewal leader Patrick Keifert, entitled How Change Comes to Your Church: A Guidebook for Church Innovations. 

I’ve written about Wes before at our BookNotes columns and stock all of his books. I think I first met him when I was once visiting the late great Senator Mark Hatfield (who Wes worked for at the time on Capitol Hill) and learned to appreciate his insight and prose stylings when we was an associate editor in the early, heady days of Sojourners.

This forthcoming book is one I’ve been waiting for. As much as we need his wise voice amplifying the call to ecumenicity and nurturing leadership for wise, contemporary churches, and much as I value his deep roots in the broad Dutch Reformed community friends with authors we admire like Nicholas Wolterstorff or Richard Mouw) who speak about the flourishing of culture and visions of shalom regained, this book, I believe, is going to share about his own awareness of spirituality and the “letting go” we are called to in these times.

I’ve not seen the forward, but I am on the edge of my seat just wondering what our friend Diana Butler Bass will say as an introduction. Like Wes, she early on embraced a sincere and deep evangelicalism but grew to find a home in the more ecumenical churches. She was a scholar of religion and an expert on congregational renewal, having written helpful books about parish life. She has a huge heart for social justice and peacemaking (and lost a job over it, as documented in the heart-rending Broken We Kneel.) Her last two books have been about an earthy spirituality (Grounded) and the spiritual practice of thankfulness (Gratitude.) She’s a good and famous writer to lend her support to Granberg-Michaelson’s new one.

In fact, this “letting go” that Without Oars evokes is essential for all aspects of our faith life, it seems, whether one is thinking perhaps in new ways about social ethics and cultural engagement, grappling with new forms of church and parish life, or whether one is embracing the life of pilgrimage, as sojourners and disciples that we are.

I love how the Broadleaf publisher (a new imprint owned by the ELCA folks at Augsburg-Fortess) puts it:

The way of the pilgrim begins with what we leave behind–not so much a journey to a holy place, but a holy practice of leaving the comforts of the familiar for a radical vulnerability, letting the very breath of God direct us on the unknown, stripped-down path of trust. In Without Oars, Wes Granberg-Michaelson blends history, storytelling, biblical insights, personal reflections, and spiritual formation in an inviting call to discover pilgrimage as a way of life. This book offers a unique perspective on the faith journey as an embodied practice of heading into the unknown and unknowable–with all the excitement, risk, and rewards that come with letting go.
Here are just a few of the many wonderful, upbeat, fascinating reviews coming in on this forthcoming volume. It makes us happy to know that a book by our friend is so widely anticipated among different folks.

“Up until now, when you think of spirituality and prayer, you may think of churches, sermons, organs, and words, words, words. If you dare to read this beautiful, courageous, and truly unforgettable book, you will think of feet, dirt, water, food, and dancing. As I read, I saw my past in a new light, and my present and future as well. This book stands out and gives extraordinary gifts.” –Brian D. McLaren, author of The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey

“Wes’s pilgrim journey invites us into places of disruption, uncertainty, even surrender. He’s a wise guide for this necessary journey. I commend this book to anyone who is open to discovering the treasure found in the detours and disruptions of an authentic faith journey.” –Chuck DeGroat, Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality, Western Theological Seminary

Without Oars is a lovely reminder that walking with Christ is a pilgrimage where we are accompanied and nourished in ways that touch the body and soul. This book is soothing and centering without ignoring the hard truths of our lives.” –Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, Professor of Development Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

“In Without Oars, Wes Granberg-Michaelson shares the deep wisdom he has gained as a lifelong and contemplative pilgrim whose spiritual practice leads him to strong and effective social action for justice. This book is a genuine must-read for anyone who wants to apply faith to public life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” –Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

House on Fire! A Story of Loss, Love & Servant Leadership Ken Jennings & Mike McCormick (Morgan James) $14.99  |  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

AVAILABLE NOW

These are writers from Pittsburgh and this new book is set in the context of (among other things) campus ministry. Wow.

I suppose you know that we lived in Pittsburgh for a few formative years of our lives, affiliated ourselves with the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), worked for the Catholic social action ministry, The Thomas Merton Center, and help form a small intentional community of folks living together in the then gritty East end of the City of Steel. We like Pittsburgh authors, we like stories from Western Pennsylvania church life, and — thanks to the CCO — we still love the time we get to spend with college students. We truly believe that one of the great ways to impact the world for God’s Kingdom is to reach and mentor young adults, especially those studying to go in to strategic profession in their college learning.  It is why we always talk to those who care about college students about books like Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness (by Derek Melleby and Donald Opitz) and Greg Jao’s little but powerful Your Minds Mission and why I edited my own volume for college graduates, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (published by Square Halo Books.) Yes, college matters and we should help students make it count.

Well. Mike McCormick used to pastor in ‘the burgh and Ken Jennings still does leadership development and training there. He’s part of a PC(USA) church a dear friend of our pastors. He cares about CCO and college work and this new book — one of several that he’s done offering leadership principles by way of a story — is set mostly on a college campus. That is not to say it is written primarily for college students; I do not think it is. It is written for all of us, offering a glimpse into how faith is nurtured and developed as people of good character and capacities (described often as servant leaders) naturally “invest” in the lives of others. Through this easy-to-read, captivating story, we learn about service, faith, transformation, and more.

That the famous Ken Blanchard, who has written often about servant styles of leadership, offers the foreword here is pretty nifty. Not only does he call is “a fast paced adventure about a young woman on a quest” he notes,

I believe House on Fire! will light a flame inside you to  serve, lead, and commit to pursuing the Ultimate Servant Leader in the company of others. …at the end, the call to action by the Rev. Lee Scott will help you think about how you can connect to the servant leadership movement in which Ken, Mike and I all play a part.  Enjoy the story! Join the movement!

I didn’t realize it until I got to the end, but my good, good friend Lee Scott has an afterword. And he never even told, me, so that’s yet another connection with Hearts & Minds and this new book.

(That one of the lead characters is named Byron I am sure has nothing to do with anything, but, hey, I might as well mention that, too, since I’m on a roll naming why we care about this book. I’m not going to say anything about what happens to Byron in the store, but on the second page it says, “Byron is a vascular mess.”  Thanks, Jennings.

Here is the bare-bones summary Ken offers for the story plot:

House on Fire! follows Sophie, a young investigative journalist searching for answers whose sources for a story on leadership principles in a high-purpose organization get mixed up in a series of mysterious fires around Pittsburgh. Along the way Sophie meets Jeb, a handsome firefighter and leadership partner at The House who is working to determine who is behind the mysterious fires targeting local Christians. Despite herself, Sophie finds herself falling for Jeb and tension mounts as she comes face to face with her past. Will Sophie confront her fear of fire and help solve the arsons before Jeb gets hurt―or worse?

And here is really why they wrote it, even after having written other books of faith-based leadership principles for those in the work-world.

Based on the conviction that leadership transformation in the real world is more caught in the context of community than taught by a single textbook, Ken Jennings and Mike McCormick brilliantly bring leadership development to life through an integrated team of characters, each contributing to the personal growth of the others. Fit for the new landscape of leadership, House on Fire! specifically helps those navigating the shift from leading a company to leading a cause, from command and control to team empowerment, or from leading an organization to transforming a community. Readers follow Sophie as she explores the intersection of faith and Servant Leadership in high purpose organizations and discover how to put Serving Leadership to work in their own high-purpose organization today.

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

AVAILABLE NOW

I wish time permitted me to do an in-depth review of this; hopefully our BookNotes schedule will become more regular and I’ll be able to do this book the justice it deserves. I list it here for a couple of reasons that will come as no surprise to those who have followed our bookish ministry here for the last almost four decades.

For decades I have gladly counted Ron Sider as a friend, a bit of a long distance mentor, and an older brother in faith, guiding evangelicals towards a pious, Biblically, theologically sound worldview that challenges us to pick up the cross of our suffering servant King Jesus and live for him in all areas of life. Sider has written on evangelism, prayer, family matters, being consistently pro-life, which, for him, means being not only against killing the unborn, but not killing, through apathy or bad policy, the poor, the starving, the imprisoned, the handicapped. He holds traditionally evangelical faith and doctrine and yet pushes us all toward being fully Biblical in our concern for justice. Although he was (foolishly and erroneously) mocked as a socialist years ago, he has shown himself to be mostly an ecumenically-minded Mennonite farm boy who wants to follow Jesus in light of gospel teachings. And so, he’s a voice we listen to, a person we esteem, and we commend every one of his many books. Believe me, we’ve got ’em all.
We list this brand new book in this shout out to friends of Hearts & Minds because Ron has been a friend. But more, we name this one here (even if we intend to review it more substantially later) now because we know a number of the 30 authors who appear here. I’m not bragging or wanting to name drop, but we want to affirm that there are good folks who have purchased books from us and whose books we’ve cared about, authors, leaders, now friends, and they deserve some acclaim. Among others are James Skillen and John Fea. Folks we esteem like Miroslav Volf and Julia Stronks are here, as are a few well known evangelicals like Mark Galli (we reviewed his book When Did We Start Forgetting God?: The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future in a BookNotes early last Spring.)
There are some names here I don’t know, and some are authors who we know from their books and showing up at uniquely evangelical conferences and organizations like Vicki Courtney and Chris Thurman and Samuel Escobar. A few are nationally known public intellectuals like Peter Wehner or historians like Randall Balmer.
So, this is our tribe in many ways, and they offer over 25 chapters to make a case that support for the character and (many of) the policies of President Trump are so egregiously bad that they could be called a spiritual danger. This is no idle talk, not cheap. A few are a bit more blustery than necessary, but most are calm and reasoned, drawing on our best Biblical, theological, spiritual, and ethical mandates.
After the surprising election of Donald Trump four years ago many were noticing what seemed to be a higher than usual and odder sort of dishonest than one gets from usual politicians, a style of speaking and acting that were perhaps examples of a dangerous sort of narcism, a lack of self-awareness that bordered on the pathological. A group of trained psychologists (pulled together and edited by an evangelical counselor herself, Bandy X. Lee, put out The The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. It was not a hatchet job or meant to be unkind; it was a cry to be aware that the most powerful man in the world was a troubled soul. Dr. Lee was a motivating force for this new one, The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump and invited Sider to help her find well-spoken and reliable Bible-based evangelicals would could write about the spiritual questions of supporting this obviously contentious and troubled administration.
Blurbs on the back include solid folks who we admire, from missional thinker Al Tizon to former college President and Presbyterian minister, Roberta Hestenes, Fuller Seminary President Mark Labberton and Ambassador Tony Hall, Bible scholar Tremper Longman and author and faith at work leader, Amy Sherman. We want to acknowledge these many voices who are inviting us to read this and think hard about public faithfulness in these hard times. I commend this to you — please, even if your not inclined to read it, give it a chance — and would say this even if we didn’t know some of the authors. We’d be happy to send it out to you asap.
Bewondering God’s Dumbfounding Doings: God Talking to Us Little People in the Final Book of the Bible Calvin Seerveld (Paideia Press) $16.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
How to Read the Biblical Book of Proverbs Calvin Seerveld (Dordt College Press) $15.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00
BOTH AVAILABLE NOW

Our store feels very close to these two brand new books and we surely wanted to add them to this particular listing of books from sources you won’t find on the best-sellers list or in the giant mega-stores. Indie authors we care about and that you should know about.

Here are two extra fascinating, rare and vital ones from two lesser known publishers. You’re not going to find these just any old place, I’m tellin’ ya.

They are serious enough and interesting enough, though, that I’d review them in any “new books” list or add them to any good bibliography on either Revelation or Proverbs; Seerveld is a master of the Biblical Hebrew and Greek languages and a very (very) creative English writer, making these just remarkable, extraordinary, blurring the line between scholarly commentary and simple, inspirational sermons. They are written in joyful yet demanding prose, presume some interest in exegesis and hermeneutics, but are, mostly real church sermons (the first one) or magazine level articles (the second) designed (as Seerveld says in the subtitle of the bewondering one on Revelation, for “us little people”, a line he swipes from Kuyper, I gather.) We esteem this author so much and are among the first bookstores to carry and promote these two. You should order them from us and get reading for an reading experience unlike many you’ve ever had.
You may know of our fondness for the colorful, preacherly language of Dr. Seerveld and you may know that many people view him as a one-of-a-kind scholar who knows Biblical studies and theology very well but made his living as a philosopher with a specialty in aesthetics. He could lecture on the pre-Socratics or the dangers of Christians cozying up to Plato or Descarte, Kant or Derrida as well as anyone, but he wrote wisely on aesthetics — not, by the way, the theology of the beauty of God a la Urs Von Balthasar or vapid stuff about being “creative” that fuels the self-help pop charts — as well as on redemptive art, on art history, and on how art could be a blessing in a very broken, warring world. Few people I know are as culturally/historically literate and as passionate for the plight of the poor, who could lecture about an obscure painter from the 17th century and what philosophy influence him and weigh in on details of public policy that effected the working class and poor in modern-day North America. He esteemed ordinary blue-collar work (his father was a fishmonger in Jersey) and loved local craftspeople, but his calling has been to often work double shifts in his scholarly office, reading and discerning the spirit of the age.
I wrote about him extensively here when a set of miscellaneous papers, articles, reviews, and essays were published by Dordt College Press in five big volumes, to take their place alongside his more standard books (like the beloved Rainbows for the Fallen World.)
Not long ago Cal sent us a signed copy of his latest, a collection of sermons preached on the “bewondering” ways of God found in the book of the Bible known as the Revelation of Jesus Christ. His encouragement has meant a lot.  I loved the lovely paper and French folds on the nice made glossy paperback and how he explained the artwork chosen for the cover. (The plainspoken, sweet children’s sermon he offered using a few paintings of Jesus in the front of the book made my eyes water, actually, as I read them out loud to Beth.) The rest of the book did more than make my eyes water, though — whew. I’ve got my favorite books on the Apocalypse, including one by Seerveld’s admirer Eugene Peterson. Bewondering God’s Dumbfounding Doings is now on that short list.
Seerveld had also noted to us that our mutual friend John Kok, himself a neo-Calvinist philosopher and editor at Dordt College Press, was working on a book bringing (finally) in to print a collection of pieces Seerveld had written (mostly in Vanguard magazine, a Toronto-based reformational journal I devoured as a college student in the 1970s.) Seerveld on the wisdom book was eagerly awaiting by many of his fans and followers all over the world, and Kok was finally going to get it done. (Like his important work on Song of Songs, by the way,he has made some literary insights as how to best understand the texts, and if you are a serious Bible student, you are going to find this perhaps even groundbreaking.) What good news!
In the midst of our Covid quarantining  editor and manager of Dordt Press John Kok worked hard to bring the Seerveld book to fruition and then got suddenly sick and died; I suppose that working on How to Read the Biblical Book of Proverbs was the last professional thing he did here on Earth. We know he will rest in peace and rise in glory in the new creation Jesus is bringing.
Now, thanks to his diligence and God’s providence, we’ve got Seerveld’s new book hot off the press and are honored to announce it to you now.
Here are some folks we respect who agree that Seerveld on Proverbs is something well worth considering:

Rooted in solid scholarship, written in arresting and fresh prose and inspired by a childlike trust in the Scriptures, these meditations on the biblical book of Proverbs will stir your heart to hear the voice of God in startlingly new and yet bracingly edifying ways. It is rare indeed to hear Scripture opened up and illuminated with such a combination of scholarly virtuosity, cultural immediacy and faith-full receptivity.             Al Wolters, Professor of Religion and Theology/Classical Languages, Emeritus // Redeemer University College

Reading Cal Seerveld on biblical wisdom is like taking a rocket ship to another world – strange territory, until we start to see our world from its point of view. Cal’s prose is rocket fuel – How I loved to hear him talk! Cal studied Old Testament with the greatest scholars of his generation, but it’s his biblical insight that surprises and rewards us again and again. Take, for example, “full-bodied knowledge” as a translation for the Hebrew דָּ֑עַת (Proverbs 1:7). That just nails it. I’m not envious, honestly, just thankful! Ray VanLeeuwen, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies // Eastern University

How to Read Proverbs provides rich biblical guidance and nourishment for today shaped by Seerveld’s unparalleled gifts for fresh translation, gentle correctives to strengthen Bible reading habits, continual interweavings from the entire canon of Scripture, and prophetic commentary that addresses the contemporary context. These sparkling and illuminating meditations give sound sustenance for personal reflection and group conversation, as well as lifelong guidance for reading the good book.                      Syd Hielema, Project Director // Connections II Project, CRCNA

We once had a chapel speaker who, most unusually for our protestant community, asked us to close our eyes. He then read several portions of the Book of Revelation out loud and then invited us to open our eyes again. For the first time, many of us saw what John was talking about. Calvin Seerveld has in effect done this for us in this beautiful set of meditations on the Book of Proverbs. Everyone, from professionals to laypersons, ought to read this book. It will bring great profit.                              = William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics // Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia

 

Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity Chandra Crane (IVP) $17.00 |  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
AVAILABLE DECEMBER 15, 2020
It is hard to not be enthusiastic about a book like this — written by a dear friend and Hearts & Minds customer and cheerleader, that is — pay attention, now, folks: one of a kind! This really is a major release in part because there just isn’t anything like it.
There are (thanks be to God) many books to help white folks understand their black, Asian, and Latinex brothers and sisters in Christ. There are books to help people of color understand the dominant culture, some that are uniquely Christian, some that are just wise and useful. Of all the various sorts of books about race and ethnicity, there are very, very few that are about this: being a person of mixed races, of being multiethnic, literally. Brian Bantum has a scholarly work expensively published by Baylor University Press (Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity) but only scholars are going to wade through that sort of academic work. There was a great Christian one decades ago that is no longer in print. We have long needed a thoughtful, Christian, honest, inspiring book by a person of color who is, well, mixed.
Chandra Crane — our good friend, a fun woman who works in campus ministry, who as studied to get an MDiv, and continues to do good ministry in her place in Jackson, Mississippi — is this person. This, Mixed Blessing, is the book, the one we’ve needed, the title to put in the hands of anyone who feels they need some help in stewarding well their multiethnic identity. Or, heck, I’d say that anyone should read it, learning from our sister in Christ what she and so many others go through, day by day as people who are in between, neither this nor that. Can you imagine the dislocation and awkwardness this may create? Chandra has felt it, she has pondered it, she has engaged the best thinkers about race and diversity and she serves as a Kingdom signpost, how identity in Chirst does not eliminate but enhances our own ethnic and gender identities.
Mixed Blessing is just that. A mixed blessing, some hard-hitting (dare we say prophetic) critique and a whole lot of grace and goodness. It’s a book we need, a book that should be widely read, and a book we’re honored to get to tell you about, long before it releases late this fall.  I hope to write more about it after it comes out. Look for it, I bet, in the year’s ending lists of most important books of 2020.
Chandra’s friend Jemar Tisby did a powerful foreword for it. He writes:
Mixed Blessing reminds us that people are not created for boxes but for God’s glory. This book helps fill an inexcusable gap in our understanding of racial and ethnic dynamics. . . . Is Mixed Blessing an easy read? Certainly not. But it is an essential one.

PLEASE NOTE; IF YOU ARE ORDERING MORE THAN ONE, PLEASE TELL USIF YOU WANT US TO HOLD UP ONE WHEN IT COMES OUT, UNTIL ANOTHER RELEASES,  CONSOLIDATING THEM TO SHIP TOGETHER  -OR-  IF YOU WANT US TO SEND EACH PROMPTLY AS IT RELEASES. DO LET US KNOW YOUR PREFERENCES.

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20 forthcoming books you should PRE-ORDER now – 20% off at Hearts & Minds

We are still closed for walk-in traffic, at least as of this writing in early July during this season of Coronatide. We’re doing curb-side delivery out by our back parking area and are happily donning masks to do some outside customer service show and tell, too. If you’re in the area and want to see some options to browse through, we can bring to your car a bin-full of books or cards or Bibles. The other day we took a few higher-end rosaries out and our customer was delighted.

No, Beth was not wearing drive-in waitress roller skates and knee socks, but it crossed my mind.

Please pray for our discernment as we try to figure out what it means to be safe and wise in these complicated times and how to properly reconfigure our workspaces for our staff once they come back in full. Pray for our health and for public health. We hope you, dear reader, are playing it safe, mourning your losses, lamenting this hard season. I suppose most of us know somebody who has died and we offer our condolences.

I’m sorry that we have not done BookNotes much these past months. It has just been too stressful. Soon, though, we’ll play some catch-up ball and share a few lists of great books we would have promoted had we not been hit by the pandemic. I can’t wait.

But first, we are eager to invite you to PRE-ORDER any number of truly great forthcoming titles. Most we’ve selected below are in our exact wheelhouse; this is a list we’ve necessarily curated for your reading edification. Some are even penned by writer friends and we couldn’t be more glad than to amplify their good gifts of thinking and writing. If you want to pre-order any other book you’ve heard about, just let us know. We can get almost anything and would appreciate the chance to serve you in this way.

I suppose I don’t have to tell you that the book industry is hurting; the loss of book tours and big releases and author events and in-store appearances (and, for us, not doing off-site events) have seriously hurt sales. (There has been a notable surge in interest in books about racial justice, a demand unlike anything we’ve ever seen, for which we are glad, even if it has been frustrating since many book manufacturers and printers are backlogged and the supply chain is strained.) Publishers and sales reps and booksellers are all stressed. We know that some of us will not recover. Imagine how these authors feel having the book they’ve worked on for years (and years, in some cases) finally being released into the realities of death and illness, pandemic and quarantining, pitched into these times when even Amazon has “de-prioritized” sending books. 

Please consider spending a bit more this season in support of these good authors. Like us, they need generous readers and we, like them, are grateful for your support. Read on!

PRE-ORDER NOW — use our secure order form page by clicking the tab and the end of the column.

Here are the ones we most want you to consider that are coming out yet this summer.

The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself Marlena Graves (IVP) $22.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60  DUE JULY 14, 2020 

Those who follow BookNotes carefully know that we have been a big fan of Marlena’s remarkable premier release A Beautiful Disaster (Brazos Press; $19.00) where she narrates her coming of age in rural Pennsylvania as a Latina woman in a family with considerable hardships and how she discovered the desert fathers and the practices of contemplative spirituality. That book tells a remarkable story and from that great book, we came to follow her activism, growing increasingly into a strong voice for gender and racial justice, for the poor, for immigrants. She has pursed this Christ-like advocacy and teaching in the context of the local church, where she has served as a church educator and spiritual director. She has desired to be Christ-like, mature, deep. She has studied the meaning of love, of hope, faith. The Way Up is Down, it seems to me, is the fruit of these growing years and a beautiful follow up to her first great book.

The Way Up Is Down is about renunciation, about humility, about letting go of the American dream of upward mobility and success. It is about embracing brokenness and limits and finding God in the move towards that posture famously spoken by John the Baptist ” “He must increase, I must decrease.”  Marlena is chatty and conversational, moving adeptly from citing Russian Orthodox monks to telling common place stories about her own daily life as she seeks authentic and life-giving wholeness by trusting God. She brings in dramatic stories of folks she has encountered although the most powerful ones are mundane, almost — telling about a special needs fellowship in her church, for instance. The stories bring home in a disarming way some heavy truths about transformation, what it means to live into the sacred heart of Jesus, to be (as one chapter puts it) “cradled in the heart of God.”

The book did not feel over-wrought to me, as some do. Yet, there is honest stuff here. As Paul Pastor (author of The Face of the Deep) wrote, “It is a rare and sacred gift for a writer to serve her raw heart―tender and salted with tears―to nourish the world.”

Time doesn’t allow me to do this fabulous book justice but I respect Marlena greatly and commend her book about the simple ways of Christ and his merciful, serving ways and we can grow into that sort of life of faith.

Listen to this reviewer:

“Breathtaking. A stunning achievement. This book aches for us, daring to offer its own raw beauty, courage, and unflinching light. What’s most gorgeous about Marlena Graves’s humbling book, however, is its call for moral imagination, even among we who are wounded. If we fall broken at Jesus’ feet, she teaches, we will all heal by his grace–mended and scarred but lifted together. What a brave, rare book for these unlikely times. An honor to read, it’s one of the most exciting theological reflections in recent memory.”

 

Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement Justin Giboney, Michael Wear & Chris Butler (IVP) $22.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60   DUE JULY 21, 2020

This is certainly one of the soon to be released books that many of our customers — mostly, younger, it seems — are most eager to see. The authors have been on social media and doing podcasts sharing their vision for their “third way” public justice mission for quite some time. (They’ve been at our Pittsburgh Jubilee conference, too! Woot!) So there’s a buzz on this one that you should pay attention to. I’ve read it and it is excellent.

{check out their Church Politics podcast here.}

Their theme of “and” (rather than more binary “either/or” attitudes) shine through wisely, over and over. I have written at great length about the complicated and controversial interface of faith and politics (use a key word search at the search engine at BookNotes and hopefully several past posts will pop up) and I would love to write much more about this energetic and very wise book. I know it deserves a much longer review later — there are distinctives in Compassion (&) Conviction that make this a major contribution to the discussions about faith and public life. I mostly agree with most of it; almost all of it is amazingly fantastic, there are things in this one short book that I’ve wished were in othres, so it is a must-have resource.  For now, please know that this is an important book and, in God’s timing, perhaps one of the most necessary voices to appear in quite a while. Call it timely or much-needed or — in the spirit of I Chronicles 12:32 — Issacharian, it really does capture something that the times cry out for, that many are longing for, a view of civic engagement that is more than partisan politics and that puts principles above partisanship.

That is, it is compassionate and convicted, what Richard Mouw has called “convicted civility. But it is much more than an etiquette manual for public engagement.

Three things that Hearts & Minds friends might want to know about this. First: two of the authors are black; Michael, who is white, has a story that is deeply entwined with soul and gospel music, and he ended up working in the Obama White House, a prestigious position from which he eventually walked away. (That is a story he told in the excellent Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America.) So it is multi-ethnic and although it is not only about race, there is a keen awareness about this throughout. For those interested in BLM protests, there is a good chapter here called “Advocacy (&) Protest.” I have been waiting for decades for an evangelically-minded book to offer some basic Biblical examples of dramatic protest and civil disobedience. This chapter is worth the price of the book. But it is also about going beyond protest to constructive efforts to actually bring about concrete change.

Secondly, Compassion (&) Conviction has good discussion apparatus, sidebars, a good leader’s guide, and some helpful exercises to experiment with maturing in our civic engagement and how to actually get involved. It has this “both/and” interest in theory and practice, theology and action, politics proper and citizen activism. Few books (and I’ve read dozens) on Christian political engagement have such a delightful and wise balance of Biblical studies, public theology, justice theory and ordinary, practical guidance on civic involvement. Kudos to this fun trio, Christ Butler, Justin Giboney, and Michael Wear for making this book so darn useful.

Thirdly (no surprise) I want to hold up its exquisite commitment to an exciting sort of principled civility, calling for partnership and cooperation and common ground, even when there are times for partisanship and even protest. This is no boring “can’t we all just get along” idealism nor a muddled middle that tries to blend the best of all views. No, this really does try to offer an imaginative new way, a fresh approach that is creatively rooted in their “(&)” brand. Check out the And Campaign and join up. It is more than a brand or logo or clever pitch; they really believe this stuff, as those loyal to Jesus and wanting to be good citizens in a pluralistic society. The book is a thoughtful exploration of important stuff that many have not gotten quite right, so it’s a needed blessing. But, in a way, it is also a manifesto, and call to build coalitions and alliances and get busy in the name of Jesus to build a better world.

Some of the marketing for the book invites readers who are disillusioned with the far right and the far left and the muddled middle, by saying this:

Have you ever felt too progressive for conservatives, but too conservative for progressives? It’s easy for faithful Christians to grow disillusioned with civic engagement or fall into tribal extremes. Representing the AND Campaign, the authors of this book lay out the biblical case for political engagement and help Christians navigate the complex world of politics with integrity.

There are bunches of stunning endorsements of this by folks from across the political and theological spectrum. When I have more time as the election season draws nearer, I’m sure I will describe my own thoughts more carefully about its many strengths and how I respect these authors and their good work. For now, here are two advanced blurbs that capture the books excellent reputation, showing why we hope many order it as soon as possible:

The partisanship, point-scoring, bickering, and pettiness that mark Christians’ engagement with politics often belies the message of hope offered in Jesus. If we, as a church, do not learn how to seek the good of our neighbor and the broader world without being beholden to a particular political party, we will, however inadvertently, preach a false gospel in our actions and public life. Because of this, reconstructing a political theology that is wise, humane, just, and deeply biblical is the most urgent calling facing the church in America today. The AND Campaign is a leader in this vital work of reconstruction, casting an alternative vision for a politics rooted in faith, hope, and love. In this book, Giboney, Wear, and Butler provide basic tutoring in civics, Scripture, race, justice, and political engagement that will help us, as a church, find a more faithful and truthful way of walking as Christians in this world of political turmoil. I want every church in America to give an ear to these men as they help us walk the way of Jesus as a community and a political people.  Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary

People commonly lament our age’s political division and tribalism. Some have lived at the poles of political discourse, and they’ve forgotten their way back to a commonly shared center. Finding our way back to one another can only happen if we learn not to bifurcate our politics. We need a movement to reunite ourselves, reunite with our neighbors, and reunite political ideals that never should have been divided in the first place. That reunion will feel like a strange new land for many us, so we need guides, pathways, tools, and discipline for talking and working together for the common good. You hold in your hands a creative struggle for wholeness, just the kind of help we need in our age.  Thabiti M. Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church, author of Reviving the Black Church

 

Interpreting Scripture: Essays on the Bible and Hermeneutics  N.T. Wright (Zondervan Academics) $52.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $42.39                                            DUE JULY 14, 2020

 

 

 

 

Interpreting Jesus: Essays on the Gospels N.T. Wright (Zondervan Academics) $52.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $42.39  DUE JULY 14, 2020                                           

 

 

 

 

Interpreting Paul: Essays on the Apostle and His Letters N.T. Wright (Zondervan Academics) $44.99 |              OUR SALE PRICE = $35.99                                              DUE JULY 14, 2020

 

 

 

What can we say to explain the significance of these three anthologies by one of the most important theological voices of our lifetime? Agree or not with all of Wright’s brilliantly considered views, he has not only been exceedingly gifted in Christian wisdom based on a rare ability to connect the dots of Biblical texts and teaching but has been almost super-human his prodigious output. We can list only a small handful of similar scholars who do both excellent academic work and serve the church well with more popular level books and who do so very, very much. Tom is a remarkable person and we should rejoice that he has offered his gifts to both the academy and the church.

These three volumes are collections of pieces from academic journals, scholarly chapters of other books, articles, essays, sermons and the like. Hardly anyone could collect all of these as some are from international sources or journals that are not widely available. So while these are not new chapters for most of us they will be as good as new. These are pieces you most likely have not seen or owned.

And, as a matter of fact, there are some brand new essays as well that have not yet be published. Wow.

What a labor of love it was to the editors and compilers to find some of Wright’s best “unsung” work. I know I’ve read chapters in books that I wished were more widely available and now we have it. Thanks be to God.

To make it even more useful, as the publisher explains, Each of the essays “are preceded by brief reflections written by N. T. Wright; these reflections serve to contextualize the writing of each essay and to highlight their place and significance within Wright’s voluminous corpus.”

Just when I wondered what N. T. Wright might write next we get a 3 volume circus of revolving themes and perspectives and worldviews that illustrate why Wright is the most influential biblical scholar in the English-speaking world: Wright is one of the few who shapes conversations in both Gospels studies and Pauline studies. These essays bring to the front Wright’s engaging prose, his undeniable courage to go where few have gone, and his joy to bridge the work of the academy and the church. Another treasure trove of studies.   Dr. Scot McKnight, Professor of New Testament Northern Seminary

A trilogy of N. T. Wright’s seminal essays on Scripture and hermeneutics, Jesus and the Gospels, and Paul and his Letters with a number of brand-new contributions thrown in for good measure? Count me in! For roughly three decades now, Wright’s voice has been among the most valuable and valued by both the church and the academy. Rightly so! This three-volume collection–which will prove to be a treasure trove for serious students as well as for scholars of Bible, history, and theology–reveals why time and again.  Todd D. Still, Dean & Professor of Christian Scriptures, Baylor University, Truett Seminary

Few, if any, modern biblical scholars have written with the depth and breadth of N. T. Wright. These essays, from a wide variety of settings and publications, are full of treasures, old and new–even some modifications of earlier positions. They will delight Wright enthusiasts, challenge his critics, and educate all readers. No biblical scholar, theologian, or theological student should be ignorant of the most recent Wright perspectives on so many aspects of Scripture, Jesus, and Paul.  Michael J. Gorman, Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Baltimore

 

Beautiful Resistance: The Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise Jon Tyson (Waterbrook) $17.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60  DUE JULY 21, 2020

I read an early version of this in almost one sitting; I was so enthralled I wanted race ahead to see more of where he was going, what his take would be, what he meant by resistance and compromise, and how he’d appropriate his hero, the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ve heard Jon speak — he did one of the all-time best-ever talks at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh that has been proclaiming the Lordship of Christ over all aspects of life, all careers and callings, for over 40 years. At that event he talked about his work back in Australia in a butcher shop and his conversion and renewal in an upbeat charismatic church. It wasn’t until he heard of Abraham Kuyper and other such thinkers who understood redemption as a wide-as-creation story that his life in the world became to have new meaning and vigor. So much so that he wanted to become a preacher and pastor (and was quite remarkably gifted for it, I think) so that he could help shephard others towards a sort of faith that was neither fundamentalist nor progressive, that was fresh and incarnational, relating worship and work, liturgy and life. He’s my kind of guy, and while his last two books (one on grace and how not to be burdened by legalism or perfectionism and another on redeeming how we speak) were excellent, they didn’t seem to display his robust, creation-regained sort of Kingdom theology that so captured me during his impressive Jubilee conference presentation.

Beautiful Resistance does not rehash that ground, either, actually (although I wished he had cited Schaeffer or Kuyper or Al Wolters, at least) but it pulses with a vivid vision of a faithful sort of discipleship that is joyous and serious, sacrificial and rewarding, that knows to say no to some things in order to say yes to other, better things. (And, man, it sure does cite some fabulous works.) It’s a great title, the two words bringing together themes that are important to historic discipleship but, perhaps not so well known in either mainline Protestant denominational congregations or moderate, efficient, evangelical mega-churches — that there are things in the culture which we are wise to resist, and that to do so, as a Christian counterculture, can be a beautiful thing.

This really is interesting and helpful.

As I paged through this great little book I over and over rejoiced that such stuff was being said by a fairly conventional evangelical leader on a fairly traditional evangelical press. Kudos to Waterbrook for again bringing a lively and even surprising book of life and joy, costly discipleship and resistance, habits nurtured by a community that does life together for the sake of the world.

Thank you to Jon Tyson for his honest concern about how we may have “fit in” to the cool culture a bit too much and may have absorbed some of the worst values that are not consistent with Jesus’s own upside down kingdom. It is rare and good to see lively, Chirst-loving piety and such thoughtful social ethics portrayed in such accesible, chatty conversational prose. This is a great book to share with folks who want to be challenged to a deeper more subversive sort of faith. Get a group together and pre-order a bunch right away.  There’s a big study guide in the back making it ideal for conversations, small groups, and (yes) Zoom conversations.

Western culture is increasingly hostile to the teachings and ways of Jesus. The pressure to compromise is the highest it’s been in my lifetime. The urge to back down on Jesus’s compelling vision of life in the kingdom is greater than ever. This book comes at just the right time–a pastoral, yet prophetic call from one of our generation’s greatest leaders. I was moved in my heart to trust Jesus’s vision of life over that of my culture’s.  John Mark Comer, author of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

I believe Jon is one of the great prolific and prophetic voices of our generation. He’s been a pastor in my life for over a decade, starting with my years in New York. Jon casts a timely and compelling vision in his latest work, Beautiful Resistance. He writes with such astute analysis and poignant clarity that several times throughout these pages, I wanted to stand and shout, ‘I’m in!’ May these words be a clarion call to the church to fortify our faith through sacrifice and love.  Rebekah Lyons, author of Rhythms of Renewal and You Are Free

It’s one thing to write on the beauties of the kingdom and how the way of Jesus must be esteemed as better and stronger than the kingdom of this world; it’s another thing altogether to live this. Jon Tyson lives this. He writes and preaches with a uniquely compelling conviction, because it flows from a figure that truly believes that the words and ways of Jesus are better than all this world has to offer. By the end of this book, you will find yourself compelled to join with the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who knew that the beauties of the kingdom of heaven are better than the allure of this world.     Dr. Bryan Loritts, author of Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All

Here is a six minute reading from the first chapter of Beautiful Resistance: The Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise (although not with Jon’s nifty Aussie accent. Enjoy.)

 

 

 

The Grown Woman’s Guide to Online Dating: Lessons Learned While Swiping Right, Snapping Selfies, and Analyzing Emojis Margot Starbuck (Thomas Nelson) $18.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  DUE AUGUST 11, 2020

This is another book I am so eager to read — due to Covid, I guess, the publisher couldn’t get a review copy out to me in time. Alas, this is no problem as I’d happily promote anything Margot wrote (and she has written quite a lot.) I was thoroughly won over to her fascinating view of faith and life and the world — not to mention her amazing wordsmithing — when I was bowled over by her memoir Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Will Not Fail (IVP; $19.00.) Even as a guy, I adored her book Unsqueezed: Springing Free from Skinny Jeans, Nose Jobs, Highlights and Stilettos (IVP; $16.00) and literally just today had reason to recommend her must-read Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor (Baker; $16.00.) Perhaps you have seen our review of her co-authored book that wisely explores the role of sports in the lives of our kids, Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports (Herald Press; $15.99.) Just this week she released a nice new book, a devotional for women called God Calls You Worthy: 180 Devotions and Prayers to Inspire Your Soul (Barbour Books; $12.99.) You should order as a gift for somebody, maybe. At our 20% off discount you could give a bunch away.

Ms Starbuck has helped numerous authors find their voices and does writing workshops and consulting an co-writing that is very widely esteemed. Few people are so deliriously fun, so earnestly faithful and hopeful about serving others and social change. Like I said Beth and I love her and her work. We recommend reading any of her fabulously interesting, energetically written works.

But now there’s this. It is a bit of a memoir — man, good on her for being so honest as a divorced, almost middled-age post-modern hippy Christian about this — from which we can all learn about relationships, integrity, longing, seeking. There will be lessons learned and if you in the online dating world (and more folks are than I think like to admit it) this book will be a must. I’m sure there is nothing like it as it offers bunches of very specific pointers.

But then she gets busy helping you out.

But I’m going out on a limb and guessing that — promising that — there will be lessons here for all of us. Do you know, deep in your bones, even broken bones, that you are loved? That you are worthy? Do you want to thrive emotionally and spiritually with a freedom that comes from a sure awareness that you are adopted by God, called beloved? I think this is going to move in the direct of truly profound books like Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel or Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. But it will be more fun, I guarantee that, too.

Dating or not, unmarried or not, middle-aged or not, whether you even know what the heck swiping right even means, The Grown Woman’s Guide to Online Dating is a book you are going to love. Order it today.

By the way, lot of amazing people have raved about this book. Such as Rashad Jennings (former NFL running back and Dancing with the Stars champion) and the amazing theological writer Kendall Vanderclice (author of We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God.). But here is one I really loved:

“The very day I received Margot Starbuck’s new book I tore into it eagerly, reading until midnight. Which is strange since I’m not in the dating market. But I am in the ‘good reading’ and ‘wise and witty’ market, which is another way of saying ‘I’m in the Margot Starbuck market.’ Pass this book on to anyone who’s dating or thinking of it. They’ll laugh, take notes, avoid tons of awkward dates, and gain buckets of godly savvy. I can’t think of a better guide than Starbuck.”

Leslie Leyland Fields, author of Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life

 

Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis Gina Dalfonzo (Baker) $16.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59          DUE AUGUST 18, 2020

I hope you are like me and are eager to see this — really eager!  This is a book many of us have been waiting for for decades, and Gina Dalfonzo seems to be just the right person for the job. She is a good writer, a thoughtful woman who has published much about faith and culture, theology and the arts, the church and our societal contexts. That is, she’s been influenced by Lewis and Sayers, both who were known as serious thinkers (but not theologians as such) who brought the light of the gospel to, well, to everything from prose to politics.

You may have heard that the fabulous mystery writer and dramatist and early Christian feminist (the first woman to graduate from Oxford) often corresponded with C.S. Lewis. Sayers was happily married and Jack, as his friends called him, was a confirmed bachelor for most of his life. And yet, despite great odds in post-war, no longer Victorian England, they became equals in thought, colleagues in writing, and good friends. Gina Dalfonzo is a great writer to explore this topic — she’s quite the literary student and has a book coming out soon which collates some of the deeply spiritual themes in Charles Dickens that will be in the Plough Press series The Gospel in… called The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works. It will be published by Plough Press in September ($18.00) and carries a foreword by Karen Swallow Prior. We carry this whole great line of books, by the way.

Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis will be a great addition to the libraries of anyone who collects books by Lewis and/or Sayers. And it would be an excellent introduction to either for those who haven’t yet become serious fans. Ms. Dalfonzo has been deeply engaged in this literature for a long while but is an easy-to-read popularizer, not an arcane scholar. This makes this book a great choice for most of us, and we highly recommend it.

Perhaps you long for deeper relationships that allow for both intellectual and spiritual growth. Sayers and Lewis modeled this for us and Dalfanzo (who received a Clyde Kilby Research Grant to work on this project) is ideal to help us learn from these famous friends. (She, by the way, wrote about friendship a bit in her helpful book called One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church published by Baker a few years ago; $16.00.  She cites both Lewis and Sayers in that important book.) This theme of friendship is actually a good part of this work and it would do many of us well to allow this historic friendship to inspire us in stewarding this gift of friendship.

One of those keeping the Lewis/Inklings world alive is Dr. Crystal Downing who (with her husband David Downing) co-directs the famous Marion Wade Center at Wheaton Center. Downing is particularly known for her books and creative lectures on Ms Sayers. (I suspect it was Downing who first inspired Dalfonzo to become interested in Sayers when Gina studied under her as a lit major at Messiah College.)

Listen to this lovely endorsement by Crystal Downing, who, like Sayers, wouldn’t dare say something she couldn’t defend:

Beautifully written, Dorothy and Jack will transform not only common understanding of both Lewis and Sayers but also common assumptions about male/female friendships.

By the way, it’s a bit in the distance so we’ll tell you more about it later, but Dr. Downing herself has a serious book on the nearly unprecedented Dorothy Sayers. That can be pre-ordered, now, of course, too. Due in mid-November, we’re eager for Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers from a new imprint of Fortress Press called Broadleaf Books. It’s a hardcover for $24.95. More on that anon.

Vesper Flights Helen MacDonald (Grove Press) $27.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60                    DUE AUGUST 25, 2020

I cannot say too much about this as I have not yet set eyes upon it, which makes me all the more eager as we anticipate its release date. I am sure we will have it before its official street date, but it is one of those books the publishing world honors with a strictly adhered to official date before which we cannot put it out. That is because it will be one of the big books of the early fall, and many throughout the world have been eagerly awaiting it.

Why, you may ask? Her last book, the New York Times bestselling H is for Hawk was exceptionally well reviewed and beloved from when it first came out in London I think is 2014. Among other accolades it was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction, and was beloved as a lovely birding book even for those that don’t usually read about bird-watching. The author, you see, was coping with grieve and took up the life-log dream of becoming a falconer.  It was a nearly transcendent story of her relationship with this wildest of birds (a goshawk.) It was called “breathtaking” and “beautiful” and “astonishing” and “indelible.” What a memorable story, what a writer she is. It was often said that after reading H is for Hawk “you’ll never think see a bird overhead the same way again.” Or, think of the pain and beauty of being alive the same way.

This forthcoming new one, Vesper Flights, will surely be equally respected as the poet and naturalist Helen MacDonald offers a collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world. Here is how the publisher’s catalog puts it:

In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep.

Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.

I bet you know someone who would love it as a great gift this fall. Pre-order it from us and we’ll be happy to send it wherever you say.

 

Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now Brenda Salter McNeil (Brazos Press) $21.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59           DUE AUGUST 25, 2020

We have met this insightful sister and she is a stunning Christian leader, a great communicator, an excellent teacher, an evangelist, and author of a good number of books. In our last post where we listed, after the police murder of George Floyd, books about racism written by people of color, we naturally highlighted her recent Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities Into Unity, Wholeness and Justice an updated and expanded edition of a previous classic (IVP; $20.00.) It’s very good.

When we heard she had moved to a new publisher, we thought it might be good for her, shifting a bit to a different, perhaps broader audience, maybe tweaking her work and tone a bit. I do not know if in Becoming Brave she shifts in any significant ways (I suspect that she does not.) It does seem to be painfully urgent, an anguished cry to deepen our faith, step up, being bolder than ever. I am sure it will be stimulating, passionate, Biblical, and written with a charming touch, even if the material is at times difficult. I’m sure it will be wise and useful guidance for anyone wanting to, as the subtitle explains, “purse racial justice now.” Becoming Brave takes its cue from the book of Esther, and I am sure that this will become a classic study of the book.

That Austin Channing Brown (increasingly known for the exquisite  I’m Still Here) did the foreword is important, too. That’s good to see.

Allow me to share what other esteemed and discerning folks say about Brenda Salter McNeil, her work and witness, and, particularly, this soon to be released very important new work. Reading these descriptions will help you determine if you should pre-order this now; I think it is obvious that you should.

“Part confession, part biblical reflection, part call to storm the gates, Becoming Brave declares that the Christian call to do justice cannot and shall no longer be guided, shaped, and defanged by sensibilities more loyal to white people’s comfort than to God. A must-read.”
— Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and president, Freedom Road

“There is no one who understands more clearly what is necessary to move white evangelicals forward beyond their racial captivity than Brenda Salter McNeil, and there is no more important book that must find its way into the hands of students, pastors, Christian activists, and all those who understand the urgency of this moment than Becoming Brave.”
— Willie James Jennings, professor, Yale Divinity School; author of After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

“Real prophets lovingly criticize and truthfully energize. McNeil does both with clarity and rare vulnerability. This book will move your heart and compel your feet to move as well, with others, in response to God’s call to do justice.”
— Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America

“There is not a more credible, seasoned, and dynamic voice in the country that could speak to us about leadership and reconciliation than Brenda Salter McNeil. I cannot recommend Becoming Brave strongly enough.”
— Daniel Hill, pastor; author of White Awake

“Once again, Dr. McNeil proves herself as a leading theologian and practitioner of reconciliation and justice. She brilliantly uncovers, through the book of Esther, how God uses the marginalized as brave vessels of transformation. I am grateful for her reminding us of the courageous women of the Bible and how they can inspire justice-oriented disciplemakers today.”
— Efrem Smith, co-senior pastor, Bayside Church Midtown, Granite Bay, California; author of Killing Us Softly

“Rev. Brenda, one of the American church’s great leaders of racial reconciliation, delves into the unexpected disruptions she has encountered during her journey toward deep reconciliation. She models and illuminates a path for others. A fantastic resource for advocating for and embodying justice.”
— Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director, Evangelicals for Social Action at the Sider Center of Eastern University”I want to be a leader for racial reconciliation. Dr. McNeil’s book is an essential tool for my leadership education. And while I was inspired by the wisdom of the book, it’s going to challenge you. It pulls no punches. For these reasons, it is an essential read.”
— Shirley Hoogstra, president, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities”This book is a clarion call that cuts through the fog of our partisan arguments and blazes a path to abundant life for all. All of those who are suffering unjustly at this time need you to read this book and respond.”
— Alexia Salvatierra, Centro Latino professor, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary
The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever (IVP Signature Collection) Os Guinness (IVP) $24.00        | OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20                                   DUE SEPTEMBER 1, 2020
I will simply have to review this more properly when we get some time; I have long said it is one of the most influential books in my own life and a personal favorite which I have revisited often since the 1970s when it first came out.  It has been out of print for years, and we are thrilled that it is being re-issued with what I am sure will be an important new introduction. It was pioneering, a milestone, and it is oddly as important now as ever before. We hope many people order it and find themselves learning more than they perhaps realized about how very important the content of this book is.

Dr. Guinness is a hero of ours, a person who has encouraged me and Beth considerably and whose books we routinely name as among the most important, year after year after year. Some have been more popular than others, naturally, and I have appreciated them each differently. But there is a very special place for The Dust of Death because it was so very insightful and because it introduced me to a robust and substantive Christian worldview, illustrated that those I’d eventually learn were called evangelicals were often quite thoughtful, deeply committed to the most important matters in human life, and could be a helpful, healing movement to bring God’s perspective and redemption to bear on our very broken world. In the ’70s, as I recall, there simply was no book like this that grappled with the things the late and post 60s generation was taking in. 

And so, the Dust of Death uses brilliant analysis and wonderful prose to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the culture and the counterculture.  Guinness visited the US (from England) in 1968 and some of his experiences and many, many conversations make their way into this major book. It seemed at the time to be offering a very profound critique of the right and the left, and a serious hope which Guinness nicely and somewhat evocatively called “a third way.” I had never seen anything like it.
This was before the rise of the Christian right, of course, before the hardening of the American left, during the time of domestic bombings and airplanes being highjacked, Black power salutes at the Olympics, Woodstock, Watergate, the rise of mysticism and a rise in post-rationalist fantasy literature. There had been a philosophy of drug use and yet there was a revival among the youth — Jesus Freaks we sometimes called ourselves.
By the turn of that pivotal decade, The Beatles had broken up, youth pop culture was influencing fashion and TV, and by the mid-70s Nixon was out and disco was in; the times they were a-changin’. And yet with social change movements still doing civil disobedience and massive protests, alongside the increasing bureaucracies emerging everywhere, the contrast between the culture and the counterculture deepened. And few Christians offered incisive, Biblically-informed analysis let alone wisdom on “how should we then live.” Guinness pointed in the right direction and my discipleship was shaped in decisive ways. I thank God for this author and for this book.
The Dust of Death is being reprinted, happily, by its original publisher and it will take its place alongside a growing shelf of “Signature Classics.” These are books that IVP has found to be influential and classic, important to be reintroduced to a new generation. For instance, my friend Steve Garber (another who was influenced by the seriousness of the vision behind Guinness’s Dust of Death, by the way) recently did a wonderful new introduction to a “Signature Classics” re-release of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There, which has been in print for over 50 years. I happen to have a nice blurb on the inside of the great handbook for basic Christian growth called The Fight by John White, also just re-issued. In the last BookNotes I shared my enthusiasm for the re-issue as a “IVP Signature Classic” the great, great book by Carl Ellis called Free at Last?: The Gospel in the African American Experience.

Later this Fall we will see the beloved allegory of Christ come to Earth that was once hugely popular, The Singer by the great Calvin Miller.

This whole series is to be commended and we are glad for some older books from decades ago re-appearing with new covers and some new introductions explaining why they are still so relevant. Among them all, I think The Dust of Death:The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America by Os Guinness is perhaps the most significant, and we invite you to pre-order it now. It would make us glad and you will be challenged to think well about our American past in these past generations. Thanks for caring.

“Anyone interested in the history of evangelical Christianity in the US during the turbulence of the sixties should read this thoughtful cultural analysis, which not only critiqued the establishment and the counter culture but also, since its publication fifty years ago, has shaped a generation of American evangelicals. Os Guinness stands in a line of Europeans—including Alexis de Tocqueville, G. K. Chesterton, and Frances Trollope—who have helped us see ourselves in the context of world history and cultures. Whether you find The Dust of Death prophetic or myopic, enlightening or provoking, it will most definitely make you think. It may also engender your hope for the future of the Christian faith in even our, again, very turbulent times.”  Susan S. Phillips, executive director and professor of sociology and Christianity at New College Berkeley, author of The Cultivated Life

“To make sense of contemporary ‘mainstream’ America, one has to understand the countercultural revolution of the 1960s. The ‘dust of death’ it threw up is now settling across every aspect of American life. Os Guinness’s study of that movement remains a magisterial work—nothing short of required reading for anyone seeking wisdom and understanding to cope with its challenges in this present day.”  J. Stanley Mattson, founder and president of the C. S. Lewis Foundation

 

Who Will Be a Witness? Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance Drew G.I. Hart (Herald Press) $18.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  DUE SEPTEMBER 1, 2020

I hope you know Drew Hart’s very important, well written and honest analysis of racism, his 2016 Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. We’ve promoted it the best we could and taken it to almost every event we’ve done these past years. Partially, we promote it earnestly because it’s clear and accesible, honest and raw, Biblical and faithful. Also, it is set partially here in Central Pennsylvania and Hart narrates some time living in urban Harrisburg. He got his PhD from the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia (now called United Lutheran Seminary having merged in 2017 with Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary) and is a popular professor at Messiah College. When a local author makes such a contribution, we’re eager to get the word out.

Which is why we’d are very eager to encourage you to pre-order this riveting, blistering, vitally urgent new book. Who Will Be a Witness? is, I am sure, one of the books that will be used to encourage those wanting to move beyond sadness about racial injustice to bold action and faithful public reform. Hart has evolved as an ecumenical public theologian and here interacts with a variety of voices from the breadth of church history — the early church fathers, Augustine, the Anabaptists, American black heroes (Ida B. Wells, Howard Thurman, the radical King, Vincent Harding), various liberation theologians, and vital contemporary thinkers from Chad Meyers to N.T. Wright to Alan Kreider. It is a mature study, indeed, but with the feel of a manifesto.

And, I really enjoyed that Professor Hart, in nice teacherly fashion, often narrates the book in first person, saying what he learned in this book or why he loves this Biblical text or that contemporary social critic. That is, there are moments of good scholarship and deep theological formation but the writing is conversational, making the material accesible. That doesn’t mean he just dumbs it down; no. He’s just a good teacher and good writer, and we get to learn along with him as he teases out the implications of Scripture and history and modern writers. It’s a very good book.

Not only is Who Will Be a Witness? energetic and crisply written and clear, it does offer instruction on things congregations can do. It is a call to action and a guide to actually getting involved. There are chapter titles such as “The Politics of the Church” and “Justice and the Worshipping Community” that point to his deep ecclesiology. And there are chapters like “The Things That Make for Peace: Conducive Strategies for Ecclesial Grassroots Justice Work.” It’s an exciting chapter, actually and shows how to actually live out, locally, his call to be part of a “politics of love.” Professor Hart knows enough to know that we need on-ramps and helpful advice, even some maps and compasses, if not exactly blueprints.

As thoughtful and challenging as Who Will Be a Witness? Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance will be for some, it will be very useful for many that want to take next steps towards incarnating the ways of Christ and to be the radical community of disciples to which He calls us.

Drew Hart has written the most challenging and enriching book that I have read in a very long time — a book brimming over with moral urgency, uncommon wisdom, and spiritual insight. At its core, it summons the church to do what the American church has seldom done — to discern and then burst the bonds of nationalism, capitalism, American exceptionalism, and white supremacy, and to embrace instead the revolutionary vocation of Jesus…

Richard Hughes, author of  Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning

 

Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope Esau McCaulley (IVP Academic) $20.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00  DUE SEPTEMBER 1, 2020

In some circles in which we travel — especially among the staff of the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) — this has been the most anticipated book of the year. Dr. McCaulley (who teaches Biblical studies at Wheaton College) has done some of our staff training for CCO and last year spoke at the Pittsburgh Jubilee Conference. To say he was appreciated is putting it mildly; his wit and Biblical insight, his candor about race and commitment to rigorous evangelical hermeneutics was powerful. Young adults (mostly white, but not all) adored his academic insight, his pastoral care, and his prophetic willingness to speak the truth in love. He is an Anglican Canon, has worked with churches in Japan and Scotland, and brings an important appreciation for how the local church is shaped by worship and he draws here on a variety of approaches and moves learned from the heart of the African American church. He got his PhD, by the way, under N.T. Wright at Saint Andrews.

There have been other books collecting essays on black Bible reading, on African American hermeneutics, even on black woman’s hermeneutics. Reading While Black not only has a great, punchy title, but brings a unique level of insight and Anglican faith to this project. Our friends who have pre-ordered it already have reason to be on the waiting list. Dr. Esau McCaulley is a vital rising voice (catch his blogs and podcasts, too) and this new book is very, very important.

I think the publicity from the publisher puts it well, so I will share that for your consideration:

Growing up in the American South, Esau McCaulley knew firsthand the ongoing struggle between despair and hope that marks the lives of some in the African American context.

A key element in the fight for hope, he discovered, has long been the practice of Bible reading and interpretation that comes out of traditional Black churches. This ecclesial tradition is often disregarded or viewed with suspicion by much of the wider church and academy, but it has something vital to say. Reading While Black is a personal and scholarly testament to the power and hope of Black biblical interpretation. At a time in which some within the African American community are questioning the place of the Christian faith in the struggle for justice, New Testament scholar McCaulley argues that reading Scripture from the perspective of Black church tradition is invaluable for connecting with a rich faith history and addressing the urgent issues of our times. He advocates for a model of interpretation that involves an ongoing conversation between the collective Black experience and the Bible, in which the particular questions coming out of Black communities are given pride of place and the Bible is given space to respond by affirming, challenging, and, at times, reshaping Black concerns. McCaulley demonstrates this model with studies on how Scripture speaks to topics often overlooked by white interpreters, such as ethnicity, political protest, policing, and slavery. Ultimately McCaulley calls the church to a dynamic theological engagement with Scripture, in which Christians of diverse backgrounds dialogue with their own social location as well as the cultures of others. Reading While Black moves the conversation forward.

“I’m extremely grateful to have a voice in my time to speak with nuance, grace, and cultural awareness. Esau has given us a healthy marriage for understanding theology and blackness. This is a must-read!” Lecrae, hip hop recording artist

“It is enlightening, moving, and galvanizing to overhear these notes of appreciation and reciprocated encouragement from a son of the Black church to the Black ecclesial interpreters who nurtured and continue to nourish him. From here on out, this book will be required reading in any course on biblical hermeneutics that I teach.”  Wesley Hill, associate professor of biblical studies, Trinity School for Ministry

“When I was a student, I was explicitly and implicitly trained to focus exclusively on the ancient context of Scripture and read ‘objectively.’ Bible study could easily become a disembodied experience. McCaulley makes a compelling case, in this engagement with African American biblical interpretation, that not only is the reader’s culture and experience not a hindrance to interpretation per se but can enrich it greatly. Reading While Black is a unique and successful blend of biblical hermeneutics, autobiography, black history and spirituality, incisive cultural commentary on race matters in America, and insightful exegesis of select New Testament texts.” Nijay K. Gupta, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary

“Esau McCaulley’s voice is one we urgently need to hear. This book is prophetic, biblical, measured, wise, friendly, and well-reasoned—and thus all the more hard-hitting. A powerful word for our times.”  N. T. Wright, professor of New Testament at the University of St Andrews, senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

 

A Year of Playing Catch: What a Simple Daily Experiment Taught Me about Life               Ethan D. Bryan (Zondervan) $18.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  DUE SEPTEMBER 8, 2020

I’ve been waiting to tell you about this book for a while — it is a book that is so interesting and earnest and honest and inspiring and fun that I think it could become a huge cross-over best seller.

A Year of Playing Catch has it all. Baseball? Check. Playfulness? Check. Family-focused? Check. Social justice minded? Memoir? History? Check, check, check. Faith? Yes. Well written? Yes, yes. I don’t know the magic that allows a book to become truly famous but I invite you to spread the word on this winner of a book that will most likely best be described as a sleeper. Surprisingly, it’s awesome. And it really should take off, like his beloved  Kansas City Royals unexpectedly did a few year back.

Let me get this out of the way: Ethan has been a good friend of our store and I’ve reviewed his other sports-related books (he’s a Royals fan, did I mention?) and book about him and his dad, a book about music, a wonderful little kid’s book, and his splendid back-to-high-school novel Dreamfield. He did a book about playing catch to raise awareness about human trafficking and set captives free cleverly called Catch and Release. I’m mentioned in at least one of them, and I’m grateful. But, look: my reputation as bookseller and reviewer won’t last if I rave about books just because friends wrote them or because I happen to like the character and lifestyle of the author. Lots of great people do bad books and (also true) bad people do some great books.

I gotta call ’em as I see ’em.

It really is special when truly wonderful people hone their craft, work hard at being a writer, write small books, self publish, offer poetry and stories and songs for free, putting themselves and their art out there for the good of others. And it is really special when somebody in the big leagues recognizes them and give them their big break. With a major publisher working with Ethan now, I couldn’t be happier. He deserves it.

He deserves to have this book be widely known also because it is such a oddly fascinating little story. He decided to play a game of catch every day for a year with at least 365 different people. It’s one of those from the field reports of a year-long experiments, clever reality journalism. I did not participate, although I’ve been kicking myself for a year that I didn’t. (Maybe in the sequel, Ethan!) Whether one is a baseball fan or not, whether one has good memories of playing catch as a kid –and he discovered that many do, often children with their dads, which becomes important, as you can imagine — Playing Catch is a page turner where in quiet sorts of ways, Ethan brings really important stuff to the fore. He writes about fear and hope, about goals and social change, about family and hospitality, about sexism and racism, about money and power, about seeing the good in others as we listen to their stories. In his gentle, nice way, he notices a lot and it is worth listening to him tell us about it. Plus, the antics he has to preform to make this daily dream a reality is captivating. The drama makes this quixotic plan that took him across the country into a very good story and a really great book.

Give this book to anybody who has ever put on a glove or pitched a ball back and forth. Certainly give it to anybody who is interested in baseball history. (I won’t give a way too much, but if you like the movie Field of Dreams you’ve got to read this. And if, like Beth and I, you adore A League of Their Own, you have got to pick this book up right away.)

Give it to anybody who likes to goof around, or maybe better, to anyone who has become too busy and forgotten the value of play. Do you want to find joy in simple things? Read A Year of Playing Catch.

But as much baseball as is in this sparkling, surprising book, I’d say give it to anybody who likes to read a wholesome story about a crazy dream and pulling it off. Who wants to make a difference. Who believe in the power of grace and redemption. Do you like Bob Goff? Ethan is a small town Bob Goff. A Year of Playing Catch tells his story of this unexpected ministry. Ethan is a blast his hope is contagious. He has a bag of gloves in his old car to prove it. He’ll share them with you.

“This book is a gem like baseball itself — everyday, interesting, thoughtful and funny. It is an inside the book home run.”  Robert Benson, author of The Game: One Man, Nine Innings & a Love Affair With Baseball 

 

 

Marriage in the Middle: Embracing Midlife Surprises, Challenges, and Joys Dorothy Littell Greco (IVP) $16.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80   DUE SEPTEMBER 15, 2020

I cannot say much about this as we have not seen the manuscript — just one of my little Covid complaints — but I am positive that it is a book we want to honor, celebrate, promote. We encourage you to consider it, even if you aren’t in the mid-life years of marriage. And if you are, I’m sure it is a must-read.

I am eager to say at least these three main things and hope our readers take them to heart: these odd times of quarantine has hurt extended families in many ways and has made supportive community (small groups, dinner parties, book clubs) hard to come by. This sad season has, for many, been hard on family life, intimacy, and marriage. Almost everyone can benefit from a good family or marriage book from time to time and I recommend reading something along these lines at least once a year. But now, with the extra stresses and complications we would be wise to go out of our way — be intentional as the kids say — to strengthen up our relationships. Reading Dorothy Greco will be nicely helpful, at the very least; maybe marriage saving, even for those who might really need it. These times certainly call for some extra help for all of us and we happily recommend her as an author whose books can serve as a friend, guide, conversation partner; it’s cheaper than couple’s therapy, eh? So, know that you are not alone in this and you’ve can get help. That’s first: the time is right to read this book, or something like it.

Secondly, I’m very eager to remind you that we loved Ms Greco’s previous book on marriage that we have commended often for any number of good reasons. It is called Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You (David C. Cook; $16.99) and we liked it just because of how nicely it was written with this theme of beauty and goodness, and how it avoided many of the cliches and downright offensive stuff found in many Christian marriage books. I trust her voice, her theology, her wisdom, and her cultural concerns — speaking out for the dignity of women, the rights of immigrants, the worth of the poor — so her earlier Making Marriage Beautiful or the forthcoming Marriage in the Middle are great and reliable gifts. Frankly, most of the best marriage books are written by men, so it is good to have couples read a thoughtful and writerly woman for a change. She is an author whose name you should know.

Thirdly, this book does fill a real need, that of the middle aged readers for whom the latest martial spat or joy is not their first rodeo. Many otherwise fabulous marriage books seem to be written (and some obliviously are) for newly weds or the fairly young. Not Marriage in the Middle which takes the mid-life stage of life seriously. I happen to know she did a ton of research on this, and there is a section in the book that narrates a whole batch of fascinating, illuminating interviews she did with couples talking about the ups and downs, challenges and joys, of this particular season of life. As the publisher has written,

Midlife is a season of challenge and change–professionally, relationally, physically, and spiritually. But “midlife” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “crisis” within our marriages. With vulnerability and insight, this book will inspire and encourage you to invest in your relationship with your spouse, enabling you both to thrive as you face this era together.

There will be plenty here for all sorts of readers, from the first interesting chapter (“The Paradox of Midlife Marriage: Crisis of Opportunity?”) to good writing on the “telos” of the whole marital thing. She looks at sex, disappointment, changes, sex, community. (“We’ll get by with a little — or a lot — of help from our friends.”) The blurbs on the back are from a wide range of folks, including many who are racial and ethnic minorities — I am grateful that this suggests the book is sensitive (as I am sure it is) to a variety of social settings for those of us in these mid-life marriages. She suggests, I believe, that the book is ideal for readers ages 40 – 65.  Yay.

I so appreciate this commendation quote by an early reader:

I am so grateful for this book and for Dorothy Greco. After forty-two years of marriage, typical marriage books just don’t cut it. I need a book and an author who gets the wildly textured ups and downs of long, shared histories, who still can inspire me forward. Greco does this brilliantly. She has woven together an astonishing blend of research, theology, interviews, and personal stories; I am nearly breathless with insight and encouragement. This book will change your marriage.

 

The Colors of Culture: The Beauty of Diverse Friendships  Melindajoy Mingo (IVP) $14.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20                                      DUE SEPTEMBER 15, 2020

This was one of those books that was delayed in its Spring release date by the complications of the Covid-19 virus and pandemic but we are truly glad to be able to announce it now, here. This is a book that should be of great interest to so many good folks and we hope a lot of people consider it. It is in that sweet spot of being thoughtful and well informed by serious cross-cultural scholarship, theology, and ministry experience and, yet, is a pretty simple guidebook, a very useful tool, like a honest conversation with a savvy friend who can tell you what you really need to know. There are stories from all over the world showing how many different sorts of cultural “colors” can cross barriers and set aside (often through mistakes and struggle) prejudice and bias and become real friends.

We are glad that there has been a huge uptick in reading about racial justice; nation-wide it is an unexpected phenomenon. The murder of George Floyd and too many leaders less than sensitive to the deep pain experienced by people of color in this country in the weeks following (as witnessed by the knee jerk conservative reactions to much of the BLM protests) just pushed many of us from vague interest to intentional action, wanting to learn, to listen, to read, to become allies. We have sold many copies of How to Be An Antiracist and White Fragility and Color of Compromise and I’m Still Here. From Stamped from the Beginning to Cone’s Cross and the Lynching Tree to Eric Mason’s Woke Church there has been deepening desires to understand and dismantle institutional racism and systemic injustices. Some might say “it’s about time” but, no matter, we are grateful. We are proud of our Hears & Minds customers for taking this up so eagerly.

And yet. We must all reach out beyond our (often) homogeneous reading groups and (usually) fairly mono-culture churches and workplaces and, well, develop cross cultural friendships. We have books about this, but many seem rather heady about cultural theories and anthropology, maybe written for cross cultural travelers or missionaries. Call us if you need a list. But for fairly ordinary folks wanting to be more culturally and ethnically intelligent so that he or she might be a better friend to folks from others cultures, The Colors of Culture by this lovely educator and  pastor and Christian leader is just what is needed.  Don’t you just love the sub-title — “the beauty of diverse friendships”? This surely is a great little book and we are happy to celebrate its release this fall.

MelindaJoy Mingo is an ordained minister, professor, cultural capacity expert, and entrepreneur based in Colorado Springs. She is the founder of Je-Nai International Ministry and Significant Life Change, Inc., and has developed multicultural initiatives both at home and abroad. She holds a PhD in global leadership and an honorary doctorate in urban transformative leadership and has been widely recognized for her teaching and training in cross-cultural competency.

Listen to these beautiful and energetic endorsements, all recommending that folks consider The Colors of Culture:

“A must-read with an open embrace is right here in The Colors of Culture! This book is an astounding body of work with truth and remedy on topics that have been misinterpreted and misunderstood for far too long. The message in this book comes straight from our Holy Great Spirit Creator. Dr. MelindaJoy’s compelling accounts of humanness come through both her personal life’s encounters and how she has observed others. This is evidenced in how she has built relationships and bridges in places that are close to her heart.

“I am honored to say that we have more than ten years of working together both on the reservations, within the inner cities, and in multicultural communities all over Turtle Island (US). She is one who makes no apology in the book with regard to her ancestry or her birthright and has a remarkably rooted confidence in her beautiful indigenous (Native First Nation and African) heritage. She is both compassionate and courageous with her message during this moment in time and presents a compelling viewpoint of our humanness and how we intersect in life with others more than we realize.

The Colors of Culture is a sacred bundle of wisdom and truly an eloquent delivery of raw remedy. I will strongly suggest this book to my First Nations people. Pilamaya~in gratitude.”   Cahuilla K. M. Red Elk, retired tribal attorney, founder and CEO of the Center on Human Rights and American Indian Law Advocacy

“You need to read The Colors of Culture with an open heart and posture of a learner! The message woven throughout the book of stepping out of our places of comfort and being intentional in building authentic relationships in order to reach diverse people is needed now in our society more than ever before.

“Dr. MelindaJoy Mingo brings a fresh, new, and powerful voice in the arena of unity, diversity, and the role of the gospel in moving us beyond past hurts to the beauty and joy of cultivating and sustaining diverse relationships. The winsome art of personal storytelling from around the world allows us to follow the message of the value and worth of all people while pointing to deeper implications of change that occur when we allow the truth of the gospel to bring transformation in our lives and those we journey with in life. This book is written with authenticity of heart and the truth of the gospel. It will be both a joyful and thought-provoking read. This book presents a timely and compelling message not just for this generation but for generations to come.”  John M. Perkins, cofounder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and Christian Community Development Association

Everything Is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here Rob Bell (St. Martin’s Press) $27.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60                    DUE SEPTEMBER 15, 2020

I wondered if I needed to put this here as a great one to pre-order since, well, a lot of folks have given up on the relevance of Bell’s books to their current lives. And those that do follow him are true fans and probably ordered it at some slick place a half a year ago. If I recommend him, some will roll their eyes (unfairly, I think) and others will be glad, but not place an order.

Still, I loved Rob’s work when he was doing sort of stand up lectures out at clubs and bars and cool lecture venues. Some of you will recall that he filled up a big white board writing stuff about quantum physics. It was better (and longer) than a TED talk, but that sort of extended stand up performance art, half lecture, half storytelling, half testimony and half comedy. That that doesn’t add  up is part of the mystery — okay, that’s my dumb joke; he is much deeper than than. There was a DVD of that lecture tour called, yep, Everything Is Spiritual and I gather that this book is drawn from those electrifying  presentations.

(Watch these couple minutes of Rob Bell on Youtube to see a quick glimpse of a small portion of the old “Everything is Spiritual” presentation. You can find the whole out there if you want, I bet.)

Can understanding the creation’s intricacies and postmodern science help us know who we are? Job 12:8 says so, so maybe Bell is on to something. I haven’t see the book yet, but wanted to suggest you pre-order it now if you’d like and we can send it out as soon as it arrives mid-September.

Preacher, justice activist, and author of Tears We Cannot Stop, Michael Dyson, says this about this forthcoming book:

In Everything Is Spiritual, Rob Bell updates Teilhard de Chardin’s Catholic mysticism, makes sexier Werner Heisenberg’s quantum physics, and baptizes Jewish Kabbalah in an exciting vision of the future of human evolution. Bell challenges the notion that science and belief are at war with his sublime fusion of Christian faith and modern evolutionary science. Bell’s book is the perfect antidote to the plague of an evangelical worldview that is captive to imperial dreams and a literalism that kills the spirit of Christianity. Everything Is Spiritual is a bracing and stirring manifesto for a fresh contemporary vision of an ancient faith

That may or may not be all that’s going on in this forthcoming release that is sure to be talked about and even critiqued (fairly, and unfairly, I’d bet) this fall. I’m sure it will be interesting and provocative and, like his pal Mike the Science Guy McHargue, will appeal to many. There are other books to read that are more precisely about science, some written by very solid theologians who also have degrees in science; you could start with Francis Collins or Deborah Haarsma. But this Bell book, too, could be a really stimulating read for those who aren’t going to wade through Alister McGrath or John Lennox or even John Polkinghorne. Give us a call if you want some of those sorts. If you want to pre-order Everything Is Spiritual, we’d be delighted to send it out as soon as it hits.

Bavinck: A Critical Biography James Eglinton (Baker Academic) $44.99 | OUR SALE PRICE = $35.99  DUE SEPTEMBER 29, 2020 

I don’t know if we’ll have bunches of folks rushing to buy this hefty historical biography (480 pages) but I hope we do. I’m telling you, in so many ways, Herman Bavinck (1852-1921) was a fascinating figure, and  hugely important thinker and activist and apologist for a sort of faith that demands our all because Christ is the King of all areas of life. Some say he helped define what has become known as neo-Calvinism with its emphasis on a truly intregal/organic Christian philosophical world and life view. Bavinck was one of the enduring conversation partners with the more famous Abraham Kuyper whose life and teaching transformed much of Holland and certain set the stage for a certain sort of cultural engagement in the middle of the 20th century onward here in North America.

He not only argued for a broad vision of redemption and public theology, but also needed to engage a modernist threat within theology and culture. He in his life was in discussion with (modern theologian) Schleiermacher on one hand and coping with the rise of a Nietzsche cult in Holland. He grappled with issues of faith as it relates to science, the existential threat of the nihilists, and the deep philosophical questions about the nature of the human person.

If any Dutch Reformed theologian needs to be better understood alongside Kuyper, Bavinck is the one. And if anybody — anybody — in the world should be chosen to help us, it is the extraordinary scholar (and, let’s just say it, fanboy) the eminent Scottish scholar James Eglinton. Dr. Eglinton earned his PhD from the prestigious University of Edinburgh and is Meldrum Senior Lecturer in Reformed Theology at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. He previously served as senior researcher in systematic and historical theology at the Theologische Universiteit Kampen. Eglinton is the author or editor of several books, including Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers. He also serves as associate editor of the Journal of Reformed Theology. He brings some new insights to Bavinck studies — or so I gather; in a stimulating introduction he says as much — and for this, many who realize the importance of this stuff are very grateful.

Here is a couple of minutes dialogue with Eglinton about Bavinck (and his relationship with Kuyper) and why Calvinism ought to be seen as a big and broad theology to see how the gospel can inform every area of life. Both lectured at Princeton in the early 1900s and neither felt their American audience quite got it.  Here is an hour-long conversation (with Dr. Eglinton only one of several guests) on their translation of a book on worldview by Bavinck. There is a bit of a renaissance of Bavinck studies, so this is good to know about. And here is a delightful  lecture in honor of Bavinck by Richard Mouw, given last year in Holland. Some of the ideas here are nicely shared in his new book All That God Cares about: Common Grace and Divine Delight. More on that, soon.

Eglinton’s big forthcoming biography is obviously “impeccably researched” as Kristen Deede Johnston (author of The Justice Calling) from Western Seminary has said, but it is also accessible. It is informative about the wide ranging theological and cultural work in which Bavinck was engaged and it somehow make it relevant for us a century later.

Just take in these excellent assessments of the importance of this forthcoming volume:

“When it comes to theologians that contemporary church leaders should be reading, I don’t know of a more important one than Herman Bavinck. No one can grasp the theology of an Augustine or Aquinas, a Calvin or Luther, without knowing their life and context. James Eglinton has provided this in his new critical biography of the greatest Reformed theologian of the twentieth century. A very important yet highly readable volume.”
— Timothy Keller, pastor emeritus, Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City”Impeccably researched and thoroughly readable, James Eglinton’s biography of Herman Bavinck deserves a wide readership. As Eglinton invites us into Bavinck’s faithful and creative engagement with pluralism, psychology, Nietzsche, education for women, evangelism, missions, racism in America, and politics, we see that we still have much to learn from this member of the great cloud of witnesses.”
— Kristen Deede Johnson, Western Theological Seminary”Eglinton demonstrates that Bavinck was a brilliant, creative theologian. For those who are discovering that brilliance in Bavinck’s writings newly translated into English, we now have the gift of a wonderfully readable and informative narrative of Bavinck’s spiritual and theological journey. This important book confirms what many of us have been convinced of for some time now: Bavinck’s time has come as a world-class theologian for our own day.”
— Richard Mouw, president emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Eglinton is the modern biographer Herman Bavinck deserves. Eglinton is a theologian who is inspired by Bavinck’s search for an orthodox engagement with the modern world, knows this world and Bavinck’s works well, reads them in Dutch, has researched Bavinck’s papers meticulously as a historian, and composes and writes smoothly, as Bavinck himself did. What a treat that Bavinck has this kindred spirit as biographer.”
— George Harinck, historian, The Neo-Calvinism Research Institute, TU Kampen

“Eglinton’s biography of Bavinck is outstanding. Scholarly but accessible, it offers an account of Bavinck’s life and work in its historical context. The picture that emerges here is neither that of a reactionary conservative nor that of a man divided against himself, as others have claimed, but that of a churchman navigating the waters of modernity with the tools of a deep and devout theological tradition. A wonderful companion volume to the Dogmatics.”
— Carl R. Trueman, Grove City College

“In James Eglinton, Herman Bavinck has the biographer he so richly deserves, his own Scottish James Boswell. Using fresh archival sources, Eglinton provides new insights into the man, the churchman, and the thinker who was, alongside Abraham Kuyper, the most important figure in the revival of Dutch Calvinism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Through careful historical research Eglinton places Bavinck in his broader intellectual and spiritual context as a modern person and effectively challenges some of the oft-repeated myths about him and his secession Christian Reformed community. This will be the definitive Bavinck biography for generations.”
— John Bolt, Calvin Theological Seminary (emeritus)”Here is an elegantly written and intimate portrait of a theological giant in the Reformed tradition, based on a thorough reading of all of Bavinck’s published and unpublished writings. Eglinton superbly documents Bavinck’s intense personal, spiritual, and intellectual wanderings and wonderings that ultimately led him to the creation of his four-volume masterwork on Christian dogma. This book is destined to be the standard biographical introduction to Herman Bavinck for years to come.”
— John Witte Jr., Emory University”Doctrine is forged on the anvil of life, and thus any attempt to understand a theologian’s works must factor in the foundry of personal history. Devotees of Herman Bavinck can celebrate that they now have a biography that serves this task. Eglinton has written an exceptionally well-researched account for anyone seeking to understand Bavinck and the modern Reformed tradition. Eglinton pairs in-depth research with insightful analysis. Readers will not be disappointed with the fruit of his outstanding labors.”
— J. V. Fesko, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi
“Eglinton’s critical biography of Herman Bavinck is the first that gives an in-depth account of the unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity of the theologian’s thought and life. I can hardly express how grateful I am for this publication. I cannot wait to see how Eglinton’s biography reshapes our understanding of Bavinck’s life, as well as our conceptions of Christian scholarship in particular and Christian calling in general.”
— Shao Kai Tseng, Institute of Religious Studies, Zhejiang University, China

 

Jack: A Novel Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $27.00 | OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60         DUE SEPTEMBER 29, 2020

Oh my, I’m saving the best for last — at least that is what some will surely say. This is the publishing world’s biggest announcement this fall (perhaps this year) and many of our friends have had hearts aflutter over this, rightfully so. Us too. Can you believe it? After the artistic, literary and even theological genius of Gilead, Home, and Lila, followed by years of several dense, mature, literary collections culled from her writing in the nation’s leading journals, years of projects as diverse as editing a collection of John Calvin’s work to interrogating the meaning of modern thought (see, The Death of Adam, for instance, or the extraordinary What Are We Doing Here essays), after that, who expected a fourth book in the series about these Iowa church families?

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Jack is a character that appears in her novels that have won a Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a National Humanities Medal, which are considered by some to be among the great works of contemporary American fiction.

Jack is actually the character John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Boughton. Robinson tells the story of John and his romance with Della Miles, a high school teacher who is also the child of a preacher. As the publisher notes, “Their deeply felt, tormented, star-crossed interracial romance resonates with all the paradoxes of American life, then and now.”

We in the bookselling biz often look to reviews from these sorts of industry sources. These are important comments, and I hope they inspire you to take up these works this fall.

“A sometimes tender, sometimes fraught story of interracial love in a time of trouble . . . The story flows swiftly — and without a hint of inevitability — as Robinson explores a favorite theme, ‘guilt and grace met together.’ An elegantly written proof of the thesis that love conquers all — but not without considerable pain.”  Kirkus (Starred review)

Robinson’s latest glorious work of metaphysical and moral inquiry, nuanced feelings, intricate imagination, and exquisite sensuousness . . .Myriad manifestations of pain are evoked, but here, too, are beauty, mystery, and joy as Robinson holds us rapt with the exactitude of her perceptions and the exhilaration of her hymnal cadence, and so gracefully elucidates the complex sorrows and wonders of life and spirit.”         Booklist (Starred review)

“Robinson’s stellar, revelatory fourth entry in her Gilead cycle . . . is a beautiful, superbly crafted meditation on the redemption and transcendence that love affords.”  Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

By the way, for those who are interested in such things, the first three in this cycle (Gilead, Home, and Lila) are being reissued with new uniform paperback covers, matching the new hardcover of Jack. We’ll have those, too, of course, by the end of the summer. Ahhhhh.

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Books written by people of color on the topic of racism and racial justice (May 31, 2020) ORDER NOW

Due to the Covid crisis and our desire to continue to play it safe, Hearts & Minds is still closed to walk in traffic, but we are busy with curbside delivery and are doing tons of labor-intensive mail-out business, sending carefully wrapped packages all over the world. 

With our staff on furlough and so many complications in these difficult days, I regret that I’ve not done our weekly BookNotes book review columns in quite some time. Thanks to those who said they missed them. There are so many brand new books I’d like to tell you about, but we just haven’t had the time or energy to write.

I have been asked by several customers in the last few days for a list of books about racism written by people of color. Because there seems to be a (Pentecostal?) eagerness to listen and learn right now, I felt like I should refocus from answering emails today and processing orders and pause to offer this quick list. Sorry I don’t have the hours it takes to download and show the wonderful covers. As I write, all of these books are in stock here at the shop and we can mail them out (although there will be a bit of a delay; even working 15 hours straight some days, we’re a bit behind in our shipping.)

Allow me to say three things about this list.

Firstly, it should be obvious but I want to say it: people of color write books about topics other than race and racism. There are Black and Latinx and Asian-American and Native authors who write about prayer and marriage and science and literature, theology, psychology, parenting, politics, and art and who create novels and children’s books and poetry. Just saying.

Secondly, it should be admitted that not all people of color (again, this should be obvious but sometimes is not) have the same ideological, theological, or political convictions, not even about this topic of racism. There are black political conservatives, for instance, and there are legitimate conversations to be had about policy (and, more deeply, worldview) differences among us all. Just for instance, my friend Dr. Anthony Bradley has a different analysis of mass incarceration in his scholarly book Ending Overcriminalization and Mass Incarceration than does Michelle Alexander in her seminal The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. Robert Chao Romero (author of Brown Church Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity) has a different slant than does, say, Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. The gay Lutheran pastor and author Lenny Duncan, author of Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US has a different story to tell than does Thabitit Anyabwile, for instance, in his important The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity or than the late Lakota/Sioux elder Richard Twiss in his One Church Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You. Just as for white folk, no one author or public figure (not even Bey or Obama) gets to speak for all people of color.

Thirdly, while it is vital for people of all races and ethnicities (and genders and classes, while we’re at it) to read widely, to hear and learn from each other, it is also true that in this whole area of race, it is unfair to expect people of color to do all the heavy lifting in these conversations. Not all minorities feel comfortable or even want to talk much about this, even though they may be glad others are doing so. It is good that white people want to read books by people of color to get their unique experience, but it is also true that there are important books about this topic by white writers that everyone should read. I have mentioned them often at BookNotes.

Not all of us are gifted with the skills and capacities to analyze events, to explain ourselves well, to articulate things in the way that good writers can. We thank God for the artful gifts of writers who bring their abilities to the page, who have worked hard to tell us what they’ve experience, what they know, what they think and hope for. Yet, we all have stories to tell, don’t we? It is why we commend books like (just for instance) Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields (NavPress; $16.99) and Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up by Kathy Khang (IVP; $16.00.)

I put this list together hastily and is of course not comprehensive. These are books by people of color that we want to promote and minority voices we want to amplify. Most are by people of evangelical faith, but not all. We are glad that our customers are interested in these sorts of things and we appreciate your support for us as a family owned business that has long attempted to offer resources like these for living faithfully as Christians in the material world God so loves. 

As always, please send an order our way by using the secure order form tab below, where it says “order here.” That will take you to our secure order form page where you can safely enter credit card info and tell us what you want to order. We don’t keep people’s credit card information on hand, unless you ask us to so unless you’ve authorized us to do that recently, it is best to enter that info again so we know just what you want us to do. If we are to bill you peronally, just tell us. If we are billing your church, just say that. Being as specific as possible about how we can help will be appreciated. 

 

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SOME BOOKS TO READ ABOUT RACISM 2020 WRITTEN BY PEOPLE OF COLOR

Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church Soong-Chan Rah (Moody Press) $14.99. This isn’t exactly scholarly but it is a good study of the changing demographics in American, how former minorities are increasing in number and how mostly white churches, ministries, nonprofits and other organizations (not to mention all of us in our lives and neighborhoods) have to learn to navigate this newer diverse society. I’d read anything he does, including Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, a remarkable study of the book of Lamentations, offered through the lens of protest and lament of contemporary racial injustices. This isn’t a passionate narrative about social reform or a poignant memoir, but solid, useful content we should all know.

Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity Randy Woodley (IVP) $18.00 Randy is a Native American and brings a great Biblical perspective, with a hint of his own indigenous background. This is a great primer on this topic that I often encourage people to start with. Praise the Lord for this!

Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey  Sarah Shin (IVP) $17.00. This makes a good, good case for not being “colorblind” and to see our ethnicity in light of God’s good creation and how it has been harmed/distorted by sin and the fallen world. So, yep, it’s really wise. She’s Asian American and a very, very solid and insightful Bible teacher. I highlight this most years at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, placing the goodness of God’s gift of race and color in the created order (not something that is primarily a result of the fall or sin.) We have to learn to steward the gift of race in a fallen world, and that is where this really gets interesting. Good stuff.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism Jemar Tisby (Zondervan) $19.99  Tisby is one of the bright young scholars of American history and this overview of the church’s complicity with racial terror is a must read. I’m grateful that this well-known evangelical publishing house did such a bold book. We carry the DVD curriculum on this, too, which is highly recommended. We were honored to be one of the first stores to really get behind this book, promoting it as we could.  Lecrae wrote the foreword, which is cool. But more, it is important. We need to know this stuff and, some of us may think, adapt some of his radical calls to action near the end of the book. Let’s go!

Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience Carl Ellis (foreword to the new edition by Sho Baraka) (IVP) $21.00 I think this is really, really important, a great black church history by an African American scholar and leader in the PCA denomination. This brand new edition was just released as a “classic” commemorative version, and we’re so glad. Very highly recommended.

Just to show I’m not alone in esteeming this amazing man of God and his important book, listen to these testimonials; do not take this lightly — when leaders say they read and re-read a book, you should take notice:

“Outside the Bible, Free at Last? has had the most influence upon my life, ministry, and identity. My twenty-five-year-old copy is wrinkled, tattered, and dog-eared on virtually every page. I reread it at least once a year and have counseled countless others to do the same. This book nourishes my soul and quickens me to action, which is why it has traveled with me to Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, and back to these shores we call home. In Free at Last? Carl Ellis invites us to believe that we too might be a jazz theologian—one who can see the way to the Promised Land.”

Robert Gelinas, lead pastor at Colorado Community Church, author of Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith

“Dr. Carl Ellis was and is ahead of his time. This book was first introduced in the early 1980s; however, the items Ellis deals with have been timeless issues to African Americans. I have read and reread this book and quoted from it more than I can say. In essence, this is a classic work. It has found new life, as the same question of black identity is rearing its head again. The gospel must be applied to our issues contextually without changing its content. The scope of the gospel must be engaged in the black experience. Dr. Ellis is a brilliant theologian and sage! I recommend Free at Last? as foundational cross-ethnic reading for thinking through and dealing with the issues of today. Kudos to IVP for rereleasing the seminal work. I’ll be continuing to refer to it in my ministry and recommend it to the lost and the found for shaping their journey.”

Eric M. Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church, Philadelphia, author of Woke Church.

“I was a first-year seminary student in 2001 when I first heard the name Carl Ellis. My professor, John Frame, listed Free at Last? among the list of recommended books in his course syllabus. I was at a majority-white seminary in need of resources written by black authors. Little did I know the gift this book would be for my formation as a disciple of Jesus Christ and shepherd in his church. Everyone should read this book. Learn of the faithfulness of God to a particular people from this elder and sage. Thank you IVP for putting it in the hands of a new generation!”

Irwyn L. Ince, director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission, author of The Beautiful Community

Is Christianity White Man’s Religion? How the Bible is Good News for People of Color Atipas L. Harris (IVP) $22.00 This is new and in another pre-pandemic era – in a time when Beth and I weren’t working 15 hours a day to keep up with our work here – this would have been on my own “must read” list and I’d have written about it at BookNotes. Rev. Harris exemplifies, I think, what is not uncommon among rising African American scholars and pastors: he bridges theological divides. This brother has advanced degrees from Candler School of Theology (at Emory) and Yale Divinity School and he works for Bishop T.D. Jakes. He is a contemporary church musician that has a book about worship, another about the Holy Spirit in the work of social justice, and he has now founded the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk, VA. As Nikki Toyama-Szeto (director of Evangelicals for Social Action) says, “This book is a gift for those seeking authentic spirituality, but feeling dissonance between their spiritual hunger and how Christianity is lived out.” As T.D. Jakes puts it, “Dr. Atipas Harris courageously confronts the spiritual ramifications of a debate that has existed in the black community and beyond for years!”

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way Richard Twiss (IVP) $23.00  For a contextualized Native perspective that is specific about American injustice, see the important work by the late, great Richard Twiss.

Listen to Nijay Gupta, a brilliant, young, New Testament scholar:

This is a provocative, engaging book. It brought me to tears. It challenged many of my assumptions. I did not agree with every jot and tittle of Richard’s approach to contextualization, but this is a book every thoughtful Christian should read. Pastors, missionaries, and educators in particular need to chew on the issues Richard raises about contextualizing the gospel in light of the many cultures and peoples in the world, not least those who have been condemned and silenced and forced to ‘unbecome’ themselves, whether under the authority cowboys or others.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness Austin Channing (Waterbrook Press) $25.00  This woman named Austin Channing Brown is an amazing writer, giftne and honest, just telling her story. It is powerful, important, one of our best sellers and nearly a must-read, we’d say. Don’t miss it!  Exactly a year ago (the end of March 2019)  I did a special BookNotes column about recent books on race and said there why we had named I’m Still Here one of the very best books of 2018 and still wanted to promote it. I noted that “…we highly recommend this moving memoir of a young Christian woman who has particularly been involved in white middle-class evangelicalism. She tells us what it has been like for her and I am sure many will enjoy, be moved by, be horrified by, and be changed by her brave telling of her own story.”

All the Colors We Will See: A Memoir Patrice Gopo (W Publishing Groups) $16.99 We wrote a bit about this memoir at our BookNotes when it first came out and then awarded it as one of the best books of last year. She is a black skinned woman whose parents are from Jamaica who was raised in Alaska and then moved to the deep South. It’s a story of her life, her experience of race, and of not exactly fitting into the conventional African American experience. Fascinating and poignant.

Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope Jasmine Holmes (IVP) $20.00 I hope BookNotes readers recall my comments about this a few months ago when it was brand new. These are wonderfully written, poignant, tender, and honest letters by a Godly, evangelical black woman to her son, raising all kinds of concern about all sorts of things (as a mother would.) She writes about Christian identity, discipleship, sexuality, and, of course, being a black boy on the way to become a black man in racist America. This is a great gift to us all and a helpful window into the lives of black Christian families.

Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color Khristi Lauren Adams (Fortress) $18.99 Khristi Adams is a speaker, chaplain, and ordained Baptist minister, philosophy teacher and the founder of The Becoming Conference (which was designed to empower and inspire teenage girls.) This brand new book offers stories to celebrate the voices and experiences of black girls. I’ve only dipped in a bit but it looks like a stimulating and provocative collection of stories, some about resilience, some not, many related, then to Biblical and religious formation for us all.

A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World Natasha Robinson Sistruck (IVP) $16.00 This is one of those books that was a great read, well written and moving, interesting and captivating, and that teaches much without being overly didactic. It is essentially a memoir, a good narration of her life from the rural South to the US Naval Academy, but also offering a sense of how to discern one’s own calling, finding purpose and direction. She does some good Bible study along the way (drawing on Moses, especially) inspiring us all to find ways to navigate fidelity in the midst of division, racism, poverty, and other obstacles that divide us. This is a great book, what one reviewed called “a bridge over troubled water” and what another said was “hard-won truth” spoken honestly.

Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, A Victim’s Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace Anthony B. Thompson (Bethany House) $17.99 In BookNotes a while ago I exclaimed how much I was moved by reading this gripping report from the husband of Myra Thompson, who was gunned down by Dylann Roof during a prayer meeting in the infamous shooting at Emmanuel AME Church. How could Thompson (himself a clergy-person in the Reformed Episcopal denomination) follow his conscience and his Lord’s teaching and forgive Roof? How would others respond if he went public with a statement of that sort? How might he minister to Roof during the ugly trial and publicity about how was he influenced by the teachings of white supremacy those on the alt-right? This is one account of that horrible episode and its aftermath.

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism Drew G.I. Hart (Herald Press) $16.99  We recommend this book often in part because Drew is an old friend and has a background in doing campus ministry in central Pennsylvania – he mentions living in Harrisburg in this narrative – but also because it is a great read, deftly telling his own story as a black young adult in a mostly white denomination (the Brethren in Christ) with Biblical, theological, and social analysis. This is a thoughtful primer on race, a great tool to learn more about Christian discipleship and wholistic theology, and a lively testimonial about his own experiences. Dr. Hart earned his PhD from the Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia and now teaches at Messiah College. You can PRE-ORDER from us his eagerly anticipated next book that comes out this September that will be called Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance (Herald Press; $18.99.) It’s going to be very useful, I’m sure.

Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win John Perkins (Baker Books) $15.99  No list of contemporary writers about race and social justice from a Christian perspective would be complete without several books by this elder statesman and remarkable leader, the great John Perkins. Read any of his many books; this one I mention here is recent… His first is still a classic, Let Justice Roll Down (Baker Publishing; $17.00) and his newest is He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World (Moody Press; $14.99.) By the way, we were given the permission to transcribe a commencement speech he gave a few years ago for my book for college grads, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life. I thought if I were compiling great graduation speeches into a little anthology, I wouldn’t want to go to press without a chapter from John. We are honored and grateful. You should know his work.

Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions edited by Anthony B. Bradley (P&R) $15.99. I mentioned Dr. Bradley in my prelude — he is a theologically conservative Reformed scholar and yet serious as a black Christian about attending to the ways institutional racism (and, yes, individual prejudice) offends God’s holiness and hurts God’s people. Here he compiled a series of top notch essays offering  wise insight, protest and lament, and calls for reformation and change within mostly white mostly evangelical church and para-church organizations. Whether you are evangelical or not, engaged in leadership of ministries or not, these fairly scholarly essays by leading writers of various ethnic backgrounds are very much worth reading. I am glad for the brilliant Reformed theologian John Frame’s comment when he says says “this is a terrific book, a game changer. If you are tired of the usual arguments about race, as I am, this book will wake you up with some new ideas.”

Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All Bryan Loritts (Zondervan) $17.99. I have read several of Loritts’s good books and he is known in evangelical circles, a respected pastor, thought leader, author. He loves the Lord, he loves the church, and serves largely within the context of the mostly white evangelical sub-culture. (This is not to be confused with the far right fundamentalism culture, by the way.) Still, even in the broader, more socially relevant world of the moderate evangelicals, he has experienced racism, a sense of his own outsider status, this journey of being in the middle. He says it is “tiring to always play the part of a stranger. We long for home.” This is a very good read, a helpful expose of how the white evangelicals world creates contexts where folks like Bryan feel like they are not really at home. The poignant, freighted title of this really says it all — “insider outsider.” Very good.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America 
Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press) $24.99  Dyson is a scholar, professor, pastor, writer, radio host and pop culture icon who is very well respected in some circles.  From Philly, he now teaches sociology at Georgetown. We should know his fierce work. This is honest, hard, real.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree James Cones (Orbis Books) $27.00 This is one of the most important books in recent years, a major contribution from the grandfather of radical, black theology. I have written more about this important author before. His final book was a reluctantly-written memoir, published before his death in 2018, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian (Orbis; $26.00.)

Race Matters Cornel West (Beacon) $15.00  You know know this scholar, university professor, philosopher, pop culture guru and street activist, one of the most lively public intellectuals working today. He is deeply and very intentionally rooted in the grand American tradition of revolutionary thinking, he is a serious theologian (his first book published by Westminster/John Knox Press) and clearly in the line of Dr. Martin Luther King, committed to faith-based, nonviolent social change. West is a great writer, a serious moral thinker and public philosopher and whether one agrees with his verbose and colorful public style or not, he is one to be read. This is the place to start, I think.

(By the way, God bless The Trinity Forum for hosting a wonderfully robust civil discussion between West and his dear friend, the conservative white Princeton scholar Robert George. They did their lively debate amidst accolades for each others integrity and their genuine friendship shined through. Check that out here if you’d like and you’ll be edified and entertained, learning much and seeing how to disagree and yet be friends.)

Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience Sheila Wise Rowe (IVP) $17.00 When I reviewed this at our BookNotes newsletter (which, as I’ve said, has been on sad hiatus in recent weeks due to the stress of quarantining, etc.) I observed that it has two audiences: firstly, for people of color who need to find healing from the stress and trauma of all they face, but also, I think, also, for white brothers and sisters to learn what our friends might be going through. One can’t be an ally in solidarity without understanding how it is for others and what sorts of deep healing they may need. It is really important. Foreword by Soong-Chan Rah.

Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice Eric Mason (Moody Press) $14.99  Mason is a powerful, feisty, strong black pastor in urban Philly. He’s a lively character and fun speaker and serious Bible teacher. This is hard hitting while still being utterly gospel centered. Wow.

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God Kelly Brown Douglas (Orbis Press) $24.00 Written in the agonizing days after Trevon Martin’s death and the discussion of “stand your ground” laws, this former Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, a black priest and professor and street activist and black mother, writes profoundly about the historical, cultural, even philosophical forces that have shaped our current individualism and idolatrous views of property and our twisted views of racial differences. Womanist theologian Katie Cannon says it is a “theological touchstone…an incredibly important and timely examination…” We must insist, as Jim Wallis writes on the back, endorsing this serious text, “that violent enforcement of white supremacy is no longer acceptable.”

Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities Into Unity, Wholeness and Justice Brenda Salter McNeil (IVP) $20.00 This is a brand new expanded and updated edition of an evangelical classic by a lively evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This book is really excellent and there is a discussion guide, too, for congregations wanting to work through some of this.

Listen to the great Curtis Paul DeYoung, who writes:

Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil is one of the most admired and powerful witnesses to the ministry of reconciliation in the United States. Roadmap to Reconciliation is Brenda Salter McNeil’s magnum opus! Here she distills for us the wisdom of a life’s work of significant reconciliation engagement with congregations, universities, denominations and communities. Salter McNeil calls us to embrace transformed worldviews and practical action. Pastors, seminarians, lay leaders, university students, activists and anyone hoping for a more reconciled world should read this book!”

Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation Latasha Morrison (Waterbrook Press) $17.99  She has a ministry of starting these multi-racial conversation groups, and this page-turner of a book is honest, raw, Godly, good. It’s an amazing, hard ministry, but really good stuff. Keep an eye on this woman, she is a rising star. Beautiful.

Here is what her publisher info says about her:  Ebony magazine recognized her as one of their 2017 Power 100 for her work as a community crusader. Tasha has spoken across the country at events that include: IF: Gathering, Justice Conference, Youth Specialties, Catalyst, Orange Conference, MOPS International and many others. A native of North Carolina, Tasha earned degrees in human development and business leadership. In 2016 she founded Be the Bridge to inspire and equip ambassadors of racial reconciliation. In addition to equipping more than 1,000 sub-groups across five countries, Be the Bridge hosts a closed, moderated online community of bridge-builders on Facebook with more than 20,000 members.

Here is what Lisa Sharon Harper, founder of Freedom Road and author of the above mentioned Very Good Gospel says:

“Through Be the Bridge Latasha Morrison offers a feast to the body of Christ. Vivid storytelling combines with sharp exegesis to draw readers onto the bridge of racial healing and justice. There, Morrison calls the body to face the truth–the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She does not pull punches. She does not make it pretty. Yet, this consummate bridge-builder lays foundations that hold the tension–and hold us together on the journey toward God’s kind of love.” –Lisa Sharon Harper 

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A FEW KEY BOOKS BY AUTHORS OF COLOR THAT ARE NOT EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT RACISM, BUT ARE VERY HELPFUL IN THIS CONVERSATION

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook) Press $17.00  Lisa is a friend and one of the most important public voices in the faith communities these days; you should follow her on social media. She runs Freedom Road and has written or co-written several books about Biblical social ethics and just policy perspectives. This is her best-known book and the first half is about how reconciliation is a theme of the Bible — the world was made in shalom, sin caused alienation, and God promises reconciliation, which is accomplished in Christ. She is trying to formulate a way to tell the gospel story in a manner that would be perceived as truly good news to her enslaved forebears. (Her genealogy also includes Cherokee ancestors and she tells in the beginning about going on a commemorative, historical tour learning about the Trail of Tears. Whew.) The second half, after this “very good news” of real restoration and hope through the Christ-centered Kingdom of reconciliation, she explores what reconciliation might look like. There are chapters about race, but also about gender, the earth, immigration, our own bodies, even between nations. This is excellent, Biblical, theology made practical for all of us. Highly recommended.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (OneWorld Publishing) $17.00 Simply one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read (have you seen the movie?) Bryan Stevenson is an amazing person and we have long been evangelists for this book. It’s about his work with those imprisoned unfairly, attempting to get them a fair trial and true justice, so it is mostly about the courts and prison and institutional racism. What a great writer and justice champion. He went to Eastern University before graduating from Harvard Law School and now directs the Equal Justice Initiative. Fans of his should know he is one of four conversation partners in a small book edited by central Pennsylvania Sherrilyn Ifill, called A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law (New Press; $15.99.)

Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores Dominique DuBois Gilliard (IVP) $18.00 There is so much we could suggest about this whole area of studying mass incarceration  — the phrase made famous by Michelle Alexander and her serious The New Jim Crow — but this is one by a vibrant, young African American leader that offers Christian insights about reforming the criminal justice system. Very impressive for those in this particular struggle.

Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation David Leong (IVP) $20.00 Yes, this is about racism, but it is also about urban planning, city life, geography, place, and how all of that material built environment influences cultural divides that are both caused by racism and continue to reinforce it. An amazing, informative read.

The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology Daniel White Hodge (IVP) $22.00 There are a lot of books reflecting on the interface of black culture, hip hop, rap, and God’s mission of justice. Hodge is a name we should know; he has some scholarly work on this topic as well. This is an eye-opening and (if you’re into pop culture) fun.  In BookNotes a year or so ago I raved about the more academic and hard-hitting Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context (IVP Academic; $27.00.)

Healing Our Broken Humanity: Practices for Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill (with a foreword by Willie James Jennings) (IVP) $17.00  Wow, what a scholar and leader Dr. Kim is – she has done academic works, popular magazine writing, activism, missional conferencing, and here brings it all together on how congregations can be renewed in ways that lead to awareness about racial injustice and forming communities that foster action for healing the world. This is less directly about racism, as such, and more a feisty guide to activating the missional church to be a new humanity in Christ and all that that may mean. Her early chapter on renewing the practice of lament is worth the price of the book. Her chapter on reinforcing agency is potent. There are useful appendices for leading conversations and even an “accountability form” for the nine transforming practices.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God Kaitlin Curtice (Brazos Press) $17.99. This new book is getting a lot of press right now and she is a really great writer. (We loved her book about the spirituality of the ordinary Glory Happens.) This really is a blending of her deepening Native experience and her Christianity. Not exactly or only on racism, but it’s a powerful voice and a major new author. Highly recommended by folks as diverse as Nick Estes (founder of The Red Nation) and Barbara Brown Taylor and Sarah Bessey.

Being Latino in Christ: Finding Wholeness in Your Ethnic Identity Orlando Crespo (VIP) $16.00. Not just on racism, but on the experience of evangelical Christ followers who are Latinx, especially those that are second generation Latino. It’s for those who are Latino/a but it’s a great read for anyone wanting a window into that experience. Very nicely done.

Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence  Natalia Kohn Rivera, Noemi Vega Quiñones, Kristy Garza Robinson (IVP) $16.00  Not on racism directly, but this is a great Bible study, or set of Biblical reflections, by Latina women. What a great book to see how the lived experience of these minority sisters informs how they see the Scriptures. Really, really good stuff, for men or women.

His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God edited by Kristie Anyabwile (Good Book Co.) $16.99  Again, not on racism as such but it is great to hear the Biblical insight and testimony of women of color.  We loved writing about this at our BookNotes newsletter and wish more people would consider it. This is a great, inspiring read, helpful insight into Psalm 119 by solid Christian leaders.

Voices Rising: Women of Color Finding and Restoring Hope in the City edited by Shabrae Jackson Krieg, Janet Balasiri Singleterry (Servant Partners Press) $15.99  We celebrated this rare one at BookNotes when one of our customers alerted us to it. This offers the voices of women of color doing urban ministry from all over the world, actually. This is a vital, remarkable work.

Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations edited by M. Sydney Park, Soong-Chan Rah, and Al Tizon (Judson Press) $19.99 There are many kinds of Asian American churches and many struggle – as do many others – with being cross-cultural and cross generational. This is a richly theological volume but aimed at those working in (or wanting to understand) the dynamics of many Asian congregations in North America. It is not mostly about racism, but wanted to include it as a few chapters about church life within marginalized communities are very good. Dr. Park is a leading Korean-American scholar (she co-wrote The Post Racial Church years in 2011.) Dr. Rah is an urban ministry scholar who teaches at North Park; before that he founded Boston’s multiethnic Cambridge Community Fellowship and is a leading voice for racial justice. Dr. Tizon is Filipino; he got his PhD from the Graduate Union and long been a good friend of Hearts & Minds. Al was formerly on staff at Palmer Theological Seminary and worked for Evangelicals for Social Action. Now at North Park Seminary, he serves as executive minister of Serve Globally, the international ministries arm of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Tizon’s latest book is Whole and Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World.

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Well, I haven’t even mentioned any of the mainstream best sellers, notable and important works such as Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates to the jarring memoir Heavy by Kiese Laymon to the beautifully written essays Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard or the delightful “part memoir, part manifesto” Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America by the South Asian American Sharmila Sen.

And you must know the passionate, award winning work of Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning and his recent Becoming an Antiracist. We have the new “remixed” version for younger readers that abridges and edits these two into one called Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning.

I am glad that The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward, is now in paperback. I should list White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Chandler’s Carol Anderson. And, of course, there are the classics, from Dr. King, of course, as well as Ida B. Wells, Howard Thurman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Vincent Harding, Malcom X, the works of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, bell hooks, and more.

We are grateful for folks to support these sorts of books by these splendid authors. We are a bit backlogged due to the pandemic, but we would still be very glad to get to send some of these out.

As always, please place an order using our secure order form page. Just click on the order tab below and fill out the necessary info. If we don’t get back to you with 24 hours, that means something went haywire, so do call us as soon as we are able. We look forward to confirming your order and send out these good books. Despite all, read on!

 

BookNotes

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inquire here

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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313
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Not open for in-store traffic, but still doing “grab and go” curb-side delivery by our rear parking lot, and a lot of mail-outs.

No, we’re not open yet, even though our Governor’s team has declared Dallastown’s York County in the “yellow” zone. That is, we could open if we could abide by CDC-inspired safety precautions for our customers and staff. Our back offices and mail-out work rooms are simply not configured for social distancing so we can’t have our wonderful team in place quite yet. We miss Amy, Diana, and Patti, but we will not put them in danger. We tend to be conservative on this whole “opening up” business and think it wise to care well for the common good by playing it safe. The CDC is still recommending that retailers, like restaurants, only be open for curbside delivery.

Beth and I (with some help from a volunteer relative) have been working hard to keep up with our curb-side deliveries and the appreciated but taxing upsurge in online mail-orders. For now, we are glad our friends and fans are praying for our stamina and wisdom and sending orders our way. It really helps and we are grateful.

This may be the first BookNotes that isn’t highlighting new titles, offering book reviews, and making reading suggestions. I’m really, really sorry — I suspect it might hurt my heart more than it does yours, but we just can’t swing doing our typical weekly BookNotes columns these days. I’ve got stacks of new titles I’m longing to tell you about, but just don’t have the bandwidth to do so. (So, I invite you to go back over some of those hefty BookNotes columns that you skipped in months and years gone by. There’s a lot of content at our website even though our inventory isn’t listed. I’m sure you can find something inspiring there.)

With the surge in online inquiries and phone consultations and mail out orders, we are just swamped. Since we lost our socially-rewarding and in-come producing off-site events this Spring (not to mention all the cancellations of events planned for this Summer, another which was announced just today) we are financially taking a huge hit. It’s bad. Those retreats and conferences and clergy gatherings and book displays that we do each season provided a good bit of our reliable income. Of course, due to the Covid crisis, the walk-in traffic from friends and customers here at the shop are also all gone.

I’ve said it in our personal email notes back to customers and mentioned it at Facebook, but it is ironic that now that we don’t have staff or employees here, we are blessed with an uptick in orders. That Amazon has said they are “de-prioritizing books” has caused a lot of folks to come to us. Sure, it’s awkward being second or third choice (pray for my attitude, friends) but we’ll take it. We are pleased, truly, to serve folks who need personalized customer service in these hard times. The feedback we’ve gotten has been remarkable, really, and we are deeply touched to have helped so many people in these hard times.

What a joy it has been (if joy is the right word to utilize in such poignant matters) to get to tuck  little notes into children’s books, saying that their grandparents are eager to Zoom with them to read the book together, since they are apart. I never thought we’d get to write notes to people who could not attend real funerals, but pastors have sent us lists of bereaved folks and asked us to send books to them, with encouraging notes of consolation. Pastors doing pre-marital counseling have asked us to send a workbook to the guy and the gal at different addresses. We have sent books to prisoners, praying for their well-being in those dangerous locations. Beth and I have been given lists addresses to send books to partipants in on-line book clubs or studies and we’ve been asked to correspond with seekers who might want to read a book about faith. We’ve been asked for novels, for online Bible study suggestions, for suggestions about thinking faithfully about this digital age.

Of course, it’s been fun to send out graduation gifts to these dozen high-schoolers or those dozen college grads. (A special thanks to those who have ordered my book, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life. It’s been fun autographing those to graduating collegiates.)

Still, we need more business in these complicated days and we invite you to hang in there with us. Browse through our old BookNotes columns and consider those titles I raved about which I proclaimed would be good for you. Send us an inquiry if you’d like, or, better, a real order.  Or pre-order anything you are anticipating. We can handle that for you easily. We’d be grateful.

(If you want us to send something to someone else on your behalf, do tell us if you want us to enclose a note or gift wrap the item. That’s helpful info to give us up front, and we’re glad to customize your order any way you’d like.)

We’d be grateful if we knew that you knew that we are a bit backlogged. We pride ourselves in great customer service, but we’ve blown it a time or two this season. We apologize if we fouled anything up. We’re sorry that our supply chain is itself backlogged, although we are glad that publisher and distributor warehouses are being conscientious, even if it means we must be a bit more patient than usual. Also, despite the complications that feel disappointing to us, we’ve been told by many that we’ve served them well, and that makes us glad. Give the glory to God who keeps us going, even in difficult circumstances. We thank God for our sales reps, publisher friends, authors, and book cheerleaders who have tried to alert the public about new titles. We’ll be back doing Booknotes soon, we hope, so we’ll be describing all sorts of new, good titles. In the mean time, we salute those who have helped us stay busy these past weeks.

And we offer condolences to those who have been ill, who have lost loved ones, who have been stressed by serving in the front lines of the pandemic and serving the sick. You are doing God’s work, and pray that you sense Christ’s presence and hope even in your sadness.

In such hard days, books can be real sources of wisdom, self-improvement, and even stimulating entertainment. How can we help you deepen your own discipleship and expand your heart in these times? How might we encourage your own reading habits? Give us a call, send us a note, fill out the order form page. Be as specific as you can and we’ll do our best to meet your needs. After so many decades of selling books and talking about the spiritual significance of reading widely, we’re not about to stop. We may be a bit slower, but we are sure you understand. Books matter, especially in times like these.  Be safe. Read on.

 

BookNotes

Hearts & Minds logo

order here

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

inquire here

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

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

 

 

 

Kids books for Easter gifts from Hearts & Minds – ORDER NOW on sale 20% OFF

Thanks to the many friends and customers who have inquired about our well-being and those who are hoping for the flourishing of our store. Not a few have said that they want us around long-term so they are trying to drum up mail order business for us during these hard times. We appreciate it. The financial woes of businesses and ministries you believe in are concerning, obviously, but the grief for so many losses is only deepening us. These are hard times, friends, and it is no small thing that many of you have wanted to send orders our way. We are grateful beyond words. We have been busy, Beth and I, working long hours to keep up with the opportunities to ship books out. We’re still at it and thank you for your support, your prayers, and — yep — your orders. Of course we cannot promise what things will be like in days to come, but for now, we are able to keep doing this work and for that we are grateful.

Here are some most kids books that if you order right away we can get out to you in time for Easter-basket giving. While supplies last, we must say. Sorry…

A few important housekeeping details: Unless you say otherwise we will send these Priority Mail which is cheaper than UPS and sometimes quicker. That costs about $7.00 or so, depending on what is ordered. We certainly can send packages “media mail” which is cheaper and slower, if you’d rather and aren’t in a hurry. (Noting that is appreciated, by the way, if it is the case.) The cheaper “media mail” method is usually our default for most orders (at least for those heading to nearer East coast destinations.) Since these are gift books for children that might be needed asap, we will send them them the faster way, unless you tell us otherwise. At least this week, that’s what we’ll do. Fair enough?

If we are sending these directly to a child at another address, please tell us what note to put in, if any. We’re usually happy to write back to you and ask, but let’s streamline this a bit: if you want a note enclosed, please write that in the order form so we know your wishes. It is an intimate thing, getting to write little notes to tuck in with care and we don’t take it lightly. Let us know if you want us to help in any way. If you don’t say, we’ll assume you don’t want us to say anything about who it is from.

(If you want to purchase an Easter card, we have those, too, at a variety of prices and messages. If you want, advise us, or call.)

As always, just click on the order tab found at the bottom of this BookNotes post to be taken to our secure order form page. If the books are going to you, we’ll enclose your credit card receipt (or invoice if you’d rather) in the package, per usual. If they are going to somebody else, we’ll email the receipt or invoice to you directly.

During these hard times, maybe even because of these hard times, we will all surely resonate with the sufferings of our Lord Jesus during this week oddly called Holy. I have again started my discipline of reading some of Fleming Rutledge’s wonderful The Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter (Eerdmans; $24.00) which is a good companion. Not soon enough, we will shout, He Is Risen. Therefore, anticipating that: despite all, happy gift-giving and happy reading!

All books are offered at 20% off the regular retail price.

My Jesus Story Collection: 18 New Testament Bible Stories Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Zonderkidz) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39  This is a new edition of selected stories from the delightful Nobel Prize Winner’s bigger Children of God Storybook Bible. This one just includes stories from the life of Jesus, with the last few being on His death and resurrection. It is a standard size of a children’s upright picture book, a tad larger than 9 x 11 inches, and has about 40 full-color pages. As with the bigger Bible storybook from which these are drawn, every episode is done in a different art style, featuring artists from around the globe. What a brilliant idea this is. This is just wonderful. It includes a new foreword by the royal wedding preacher, Bishop Michael Curry. Very nicely done. Ages maybe 3 – 10, maybe.

Jesus and the Very Big Surprise: A True Story About Jesus, His Return, and How to Be Ready Randall Goodgame, illustrated by Catalina Echeveryi (The Good Book Company) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99  This is the latest in the brilliant gospel-centered “Tales That Tell the Truth” series. (We stock them all, by the way, including the directly seasonal The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again which we featured last year.) This new one is, of course, playful and artful and a bit funny and so clever as it recounts Jesus’ own parable about a Master who comes back to — surprise — serve his waiting servants. The story starts telling about the birth and life of Jesus and then does the “story within a story” thing of Jesus telling the parable (in Luke 12.) What a message of waiting well, and what a surprise that the Master clothes his own servants!  Who would do that?, the book asks. Jesus, that’s who! And it picks up again telling the story of Maundy Thursday, Jesus washing the feet of his friends, even dying for them. Yes, there is this promise of his return and we are called to wait for that great restoring coming. This author (who is author a song-writer, by the way) is an obviously insightful Bible teacher and a gifted storyteller. As always, Echeveryi’s art is whimsical without being silly. Like the other books in this series, the authors and artist are adept at what grown-ups call “Biblical theology”, which is to say the narrative context of the story drives us to theological insights about the unfolding drama of God’s redemption of the world in the person and work of Christ, the true Servant King. It’s very well done. It’s about 8 x 10, hardback, ages 4 – 8, I’d say. Love it.

Maybe Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Gabriella Barouch (Compendium) $17.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36  Although not Biblically oriented, this is a lush and lovely book that is evocative and inspiring. It is beautifully illustrated, with much spare space on the heavy-stock pages, and wonderfully drawn, full color and sometimes rich, incredibly lush pictures. It says on the front that it is “a story about the endless potential in all of us.” This is the author of the best-selling What Do You Do With an Idea and the companions, What Do You Do With a Problem and What Do You Do With a Chance. Optimistic to the point of being magical, I’m sure many will adore this moving book and it might lead them to visionary conversations with their young children. It’s a bit larger than 9 x 11 and truly lovely. The publisher says ages 4 to 8 but the sheer beauty of it makes it appealing to some older kids, too.

Clap Your Hands: A Celebration of Gospel Toyomi Igus, illustrated by Michele Wood (Zonderkiz) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59  We had this right on our counter during Black History Month and then in March because I just loved showing it off. It is a sequel to the colorful and award winning I See the Rhythm, which we adored, although this one, I think, is even better. If that one beautifully taught and showed the past history of gospel music this carries the story to today, with pages on Motown and funk and “holy hip hop.” Like many good non-fiction children’s books these days there is tons of information cleverly packed into these delightful pages. There are Christian symbols in the artwork (Michele Wood is a spectacular contemporary artist, by the way, with picture that are vivid and even evoke stained glass at times, sanctifying what some might call the mundane.) There is a timeline running along the bottom of the pages. There is a good foreword by CeCe Winans and a great Discography in the back, naming the songs that are cited or alluded to, from Ring Shout and field chants to the Fisk Jubilee Singers to Tommy Dorsey to Mahalia up to Sister Rosetta Tharp and Sam Cooke. There are contemporary gospel singers such as Yolanda Adams and Donnie McClurkin up to Kirk Franklin, Cross Movement and Lecrae.  And that is only some of the artist in these fun pages. What book has the Soweto Gospel Choir, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Andre Crouch, and Chance the Rapper?  Yes, I said Chance the Rapper.

There’s even discussion questions. If you don’t buy this as an Easter present for a child you know, buy it for yourself and then donate it to your church or public school library. It’s 9  x 11 and over 40 pages.

Child of Wonder Marty Haugen, illustrated by Stephen Nesser (GIA Publications) $16.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56  I have mentioned this before, so allow us to give another tip of the hat to this gloriously attractive, warm, evocative book of wonder. Marty Haugen is an old folksinger who was one of the pioneers of early contemporary liturgical songs (maybe known by those who remember the St. Louis Jesuits, David Haas, or the Monks of Weston Priory or more recently, say, Bryan Sirchio. Marty is a member of the UCC but writes music often for the Lutherans.) This lovely children’s book shows childhood rituals from all over the world so although it was composed for the baptism of his godson, the lyrics “celebrate the sacredness of human life and delight in the lives of children.” It’s tender and touching, beautiful and nicely multicultural. Included in the volume is a free mp3 download of the song itself, although one hardly needs to know the song to appreciate the lyrical cadence of the words of the book and the wonderful pictures. Sweet, ecumenical, lovely.

Don’t Forget to Remember Ellie Holcomb, illustrated by Kayla Harren (B+H Kids) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39  We just loved this cool and hip young singer-songwriter’s first book Who Sang the First Song which was colorful and playful and pointing to the goodness of creation in memorable ways. This one has a fantastic cover, with children and animals — who doesn’t love polar bears and zebras?  This lyrical tale reminds children — and the parents reading it to them! — that it is hard to remember sometimes; we are prone to forget what is true. And the truest truths are (as the Bible says) are embedded in the creation itself. As the back cover says, “Ellie Holcomb celebrates creation’s reminders of God’s love, which surrounds us from sunrise to sunset, even on our most forgetful days.”

This is a lovely and fun book, sort of larger than usual board book with a sturdy, padded cover. The pictures are warm and rich, with butterflies and flowers and kids splashing in the rain with porpoises and pigs and hammocks under galaxies. If she is evoking a good world laden with God’s promises, this sure sings it beautifully!  It’s about 8 x 8; 24 pages, designed for little ones and preschoolers.

The Chickens Build a Wall Jean-Francois Dumont (Eerdmans) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99  Okay, this is to funny to be true, but it is. This was first published in France and as the editors at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers are wont to do, they picked it up and released the edition in English. The story is about a group of chickens who are scared of the outsider (who is hedgehog, by the way) and frantically work to build a wall around their farmyard to keep him out. They think it has worked until they realize he’s been sleeping all winter in the barn and, awakening from hibernation, is now among them, one of their own community, after all. After Donald Trump promised to have Mexico pay for his wall, this book became sort of symbolic of that approach and we sold a bunch in hardback to those wanting to have conversations with kids about who is in and who is out and the role of fear and walls and differences. Now it’s out in paperback, just in time for the next round of wall-building chatter. As in real life, these chicken’s realize that “everything hasn’t gone quite according to plan…” Yep. 8 x 10; paperback; 32 fun-filled, prophetic pages.

Never Too Little! and The Best Thing to Do! and The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet! each by Steph Williams (The Good Book Company) $4.99 each  OUR SALE PRICE = $3.99 each These three little books (in what the author is calling the “Little Me Big God” series, sold individually) are clever and energetic, each using sparse text and zesty drawings to retell a gospel story. The first is obviously about that time when some boys and girls (“just like you”) came to see Jesus. But someone said “You’re too little. Jesus can’t talk to you.” The book asks on the back cover, “Were they right? No! Discover why Jesus said that you’re never too little to be God’s friend.” The one called The Best Thing to Do is powerful, again, brief and fun, colorful and clever — it is about the Mary & Martha story from Luke 10. The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet! is, as you might guess, the story of Bartimaeus who was born blind. (“Bartimaeus was sad. He could not see. His eyes did not work. But he could hear…”) As it says on the back, “Discover who Bartimaeus heard coming along the road, and how listening to him changed Bartimaeus’s life for ever!”

There is a note for adults on the back page of each of these three short books explaining the gospel message in each. Did you notice the exclamation points behind each book title? They are all a bit edgy and that captures some of the authors insistence that these stories matter. I’m guessing these are good for toddlers, maybe ages 2 or 3 to  4 or 5; the stories are simple but the art is eccentric and interesting.

God Takes Care of Me: Psalm 23 Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Cee Biscoe (Tyndale Kids) $7.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39 This is a slightly larger size than a typical little board book, but it is a board book, with thick sturdy pages for very young readres. The artwork is soft and the telling gentle as Dandi Mackall is known for. It is a paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm and might be useful this season as even children know something is scary with this dangerous pandemic. The Psalm is retold in words that rhyme; as the back cover puts it, it is “both playful and tender, showing your child that God is their Good Shepherd who will take care of them wherever they go.” Or, in this case (I say seriously) “wherever they don’t go.”  It is 7.9  x 7.9; 16 pages.

Everyone Belongs United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, illustrated by Kristin Sorra (Loyola Press) $8.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.16  Who knew that the USCC Bishops have written kids books? This is a beautiful, instructional children’s version of their “Open Wide our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love” pastoral letter against racism. It is a letter all of us should take under advisement ourselves, discerning how these spiritual leaders are right to speak well into our sinful situation. This colorful paperback invites readers into a nice story of a multi-racial soccer team and the children’s coach; two of the boys who are teammates are good friends from school; one, Sam, an Anglo boy, the other a boy from Africa, named Ray Ikanga. After soccer practice they learn that the African family has moved into the neighborhood, allow the two families to be even more friendly. It’s all good as they share relationships and recipes. Eventually, something very ugly happens (“Go Home” is spray painted on the Ikanga’s garage door) and the overt act of racism has to be dealt with, in the neighborhood, in school and in church. Here we see what a group of kids as they are guided by wise adults can do, how they learn about respect and hospitality and the theology of dignity found in Catholic social teaching (although they never call it that, actually.) As things are made right there is confession and renewal and a priest helps with a house blessing and prayer. This is a story which is useful for teaching much about our world.

The USCC has lesson plans for using it for grades k – 5 at their website; I’d suggest this is useful for readers ages 7 or 8 to even 11 or 13. We are thankful for this simple witness to God’s inclusive love for all and our call to care for others from other cultures or backgrounds. 8.5 x 10.8; paperback.

Love Does for Kids Bob Goff & Lindsey Goff Viducich, illustrated by Michael Lauritano (Tommy Nelson) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59  I hope you know that we really like Bob Goff and always are showing off his Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World and the follow up, Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, not to mention his Live in Grace, Walk in Love, a year-long hardback daily devotional that came out this past fall. (And, yes, we are taking pre-orders for his mid-June 2020 release Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do (Nelson; $26.99.) Hooray!

I know I’ve talked about this kids version of Love Does before and yet I still can’t say enough about it.  Here is what I wrote in a BookNotes list last Christmastime: The hand-sized hardback is comprised of great stories from our best-selling, exceptionally popular book by Bob Goff called Love Does, re-told by his elementary school teacher daughter in a style a kid can enjoy. Yep, these are the best capers and Christ-like adventures and goofy escapades from Goff’s first book, written for children ages 6 – 10 or any elementary grade. What fun! What a great gift for a boy or girl.

Here is what the publisher has written to explain more about it:

In the same way that Love Does has struck a deep chord with adults, kids will experience God in new and thrilling ways and see that living out our faith certainly isn’t boring! With this book, children will laugh, dream, and be inspired to make a difference for God, and they’ll learn to:

    • take ownership of their mistakes and forgive others for their mistakes.
    • never give up–no matter how scared they are.
    • put their faith into action by spending time with–and acting more like–Jesus.

Kids everywhere will love Bob and Lindsey’s stories about how love does. With childlike faith, enthusiasm, and great whimsy, young hearts will feel instantly connected to a love that acts as much as it feels. Children will walk away with a sense of wonder at how great God is and will feel empowered to do things that will make a tangible difference in the world.

As a little boy with a big personality and even bigger dreams, Bob Goff had lots of questions, and they didn’t go away when he grew up. It wasn’t until he learned just how big and wild and wonderful God is that he began to find answers. Once Bob learned about the deep goodness of God, he began to learn about the great power God gives His kids when they live a life full of love for others.

Bob and Lindsey invite kids to get to know God better and to see the world as a place designed to be changed as we put our faith in action.

As It Is in Heaven: A Collection of Prayers for All Ages illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39  Okay, this is a beautiful book, and would make a remarkable gift that would be cherished by some. It is quite ecumenical, which is to say that some of the prayers are specifically Roman Catholic while others are more generally accepted in the broader body of Christ. The prayers are in large, attractive font, accompanied by a full color and often allusive painting on the facing page. They are clearly meant to compliment each other, making this an enchanting volume to use — to behold.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

Eric Puybaret’s atmospheric paintings illuminate classic Christian prayers, drawn from over two thousand years of faith. Selections include the Apostles’ Creed, the Magnificat, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as prayers from St. Francis, St. Augustine, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Each contemplative pairing of text and art invites readers to find new meaning in familiar words.

Perhaps, if you are an aficionado of children’s books you will know this artist for his celebrated work in the fabulous Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau and the arrestingly unusual Suite for Human Nature among others (including an Alice in Wonderland edition. You get the picture of this guy, eh?)

Here in As It Is In Heaven: A Collection of Prayers for All Ages the French illustrator is creative and alluring without being too odd; some of the art is worth pondering even without the accompanying prayer. (See, for instance, the beautiful one almost Buddhist one of a raft  that creatively matches “The Song of Simeon” or the Pilgrim’s Progress-type art for the “Prayer of Abandonment” of Charles de Foucauld. And what is the allusive red color in the gentle scene with the “Prayer of Saint Francis”? I’m still wondering about that.  At first a bit surprising, it only takes a moment to see the significance of the person in the painting accompanying the Apostle Creed who sitting so casually atop a large, colorful, multi-storied, sturdy house. Indeed. You should get this gifty book for somebody.  

Quiet Moments Tom Wright (Monarch Press) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99  Yes, yes, it’s that N.T. Wright, famous Biblical scholar and historian of first century Jewish and early Christian thought. This is a little hardback gift book of free verse poems he wrote years ago, not for kids, but illustrated with lovely full color photographs of mostly nature scenes, waterfalls, leaves, flames, sky, and the like. We might be the only place around that has some of these lovely gift items and we list it here — we only have a few left, actually — as it might work for a teen or young adult who likes her theology in poetic terms. It’s pretty great, actually, inspiring meditations to “help the reader explore the world around them and the presence of God.” I think these simple reflections could help bring comfort and perhaps calm to an anxious heart. Be still and know? Maybe this will help…

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WE ARE STILL SENDING OUT BOOKS. Here are some great new ones. ON SALE – 20% OFF.

I didn’t send out a BookNotes newsletter last week – thanks for noticing – because, well, I just didn’t want to add to the noise. We are all inundated with information. We are still working 12-hour days (more or less) six days a week and find it hard to keep up with the videos, Zoom meetings, news stories, Facebook posts, updates, calls to action, and articles I need to read. I’m sure many of our readers, customers, and friends are feeling it, too. It’s hard to read and write when one is anxious and exhausted.

So no big Corona Virus essay from me (other than the reminder to stay home the best you can. This is serious stuff and we love our neighbors well by minimizing contact, despite what our President has foolishly tweeted.)

We are, of course, closed for in-store business. Last week we were making mad dashes to the parking lot and doing curb-side deliveries, but we now believe that violates our Governor’s ruling about closing “non-life sustaining” businesses. We are now just doing mail order and some local deliveries. For now it is our hope to continue to ship stuff out daily, so send us a note or give us a call. We need the business, believe me… and maybe you need some books.

So let’s get to it. Here are a dozen or so new books (and one or two others I just have to mention.) I’ll try to keep it mostly brief, with hefty apologies to the good authors who deserve more extended reviews. These excellent titles are all of that deserving caliber of consideration and I could wax eloquent about them. If you order them, you’ll see for yourself…

As always, you can click on the link at the very bottom of this column to be taken directly to our secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll deduct the discount and take it from there. It is our pleasure to serve you in this way. All books are 20% off.

The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty Martin Schleske (Eerdmans) $24.99 Maybe once or twice a year I get an impassioned note from somebody in the book biz – a sales representative or editor that knows us – sending an early manuscript with a handwritten note insisting that this may be their favorite book in a long time, a stellar project, and they wanted me to be aware, etc. This is a true privilege and since it doesn’t happen often, I take such suggestions seriously. The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty came from a professional at Eerdmans saying mostly that it was just so beautiful, that it was gloriously exceptional and he was sure I’d appreciate it. The prose was beautiful and he promised that the publisher would be doing the book on high-quality glossy paper and two-color ink because the writing (and moody black and white photographs done by a respected German photographer) deserved such a weighty, handsome presentation.

That book is now in our hands and I suggested it to a very sharp customer and friend, a consultant and church leader, himself somewhat of an explorer and quite creative; you may know him because he is in the DVD series For the Life of the World. I knew he’d like this book but I didn’t know he’d call me twice in the next three days exclaiming how very, very moved he was, insisting this was one of the best books he’s ever read.

So, my guy at Eerdmans was right. The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty is beautiful and exceptional.

And, it is really interesting. Translated from the German (where it was a bestseller) The Sound… is written by a world-class luthier. That is, by a violin and guitar maker. It is a rumination on the art of crafting instruments, starting with picking the wood in the forest (and what a chapter that is where he listens to the trees!) but it is also about the glorious aesthetic dimension (my words, not his, exactly) that pervades all of life. (For those that like this notion, it is a insight explored by Calvin Seerveld, especially in his Rainbows for the Fallen World.) The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty is a book that helps us learn from this master craftsman how to attend to the deep beauty all around us.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

Are the sounds and signposts that direct us towards the meaning of life hidden? One of the greatest luthiers of our time reveals the secrets of his profession—and how each phase of handcrafting a violin can point us toward our calling, our true selves, and the overwhelming power and gentleness of God’s love.

When we are able to express the inexpressible, the unheard aspects of life, we become like a well-tuned instrument. As Schleske says, “In the final analysis, music is prayer cast into sound.”

Visual artist and writer Makoto Fujimura wrote a wonderful foreword, which is well worth savoring itself. Near the close of his few pages, Mako says,

So the words of this beautiful book do not just describe, explain, or share information; these words are, in themselves, part of the Sound, and I can hear it from the first paragraph. Then, after, the worlds begin to overlap with music; I wanted to savor every paragraph, as if I, too, am a tuner listening to the timbre.

Perhaps you know the book The World Beyond Your Head by philosopher/motorcycle repairman Matthew Crawford (who also wrote Shop Class as Soul Craft) where he interviews workers about the body-knowledge and insight about their jobs. I thought of that fine and profound work as I read my advanced copy of The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty and more so when the handsome hardback arrived and there was an blurb on the back from poet and essayist Marilyn McEntyre, saying,

Reading these richly evocative reflections, I found myself again and again ‘surprised by joy.’ And gratitude. I was reminded that when people live into their callings deeply and faithfully, they become beacons. Stories from Schleske’s work as a violinmaker, his knowledge of trees and music and even varnish, become heart-opening parables, not by preachment, but by the loving particularity with which he pays attention to the work he was given.

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Laura M. Fabrycky (Fortress Press) $25.99 When I said that many of these wonderful, mostly brand new releases in this issue of BookNotes, deserve more extended reviews, Laura Fabrycky’s Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is certainly one that should be honored with a very through discussion. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books so far in 2020 and I am confident will be on may “year’s best” lists when we get to year’s end. It is timely, beautiful, informative, and exceptionally profound. I loved it.

Timely? Did you know that this coming Maundy Thursday (April 9th) is the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of the great German anti-Nazi leader, Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Much should be made of this and I hope many will be asking us for biographies of and books by Dietrich B this season. Keys to… isn’t precisely a biography as it is a memoir of an (American) woman who became a curator at the home – the haus – of Bonhoeffer in Berlin. It is a look into his world by way of being in his neighborhood and, literally, his house. In a way, this is an ideal window into the man and his role in history for those that don’t want to wade through a major, chronological biography.

Beautiful? Oh my, I should describe this with vivid and glowing words but cannot do this lovely book justice. Fabrycky is a very fine writer and has given us a book that is intelligent and eloquent and elegant and creative. That she is, in fact, a published poet doesn’t hurt. Those of us who enjoy memoir and creative nonfiction will enjoy these essays that are grounded in her own story, living in Berlin with her diplomat husband and young children, discovering this nearby house, being drawn to it time and time again, eventually learning to be a guide to the tours. We are enthralled as she increasingly feels at home reflecting on the story that is mid-twentieth century Germany, the complicity of the Church with Nazism, and the faithfulness of the underground Confessing Church movement. We learn much about the fidelity of this movement and this particular man who lived in the haus, but it is also (mostly?) the story of Laura’s learning, Laura’s own internalizing of the issues that pressed upon them in those hard years and what it may mean for our own faithfulness in our time, in any time. This makes for reflective writing and she is self-aware and artful in how she shares her story. It makes Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus a truly enjoyable and very stimulating reading experience.

I said it was informative. It certainly is because although it is a first-person narrative of the Fabrycky family in foreign service in Germany and Laura’s own coming to grips with what she was learning, she does share, in fact, what she was learning. So it is informative about big stuff – documents that she discovers, paintings, books, and a very clear report of her own study of the history of German culture – and it is informative about little things. For instance, there is a cigarette burn on the famous desk of Bonheoffer in his small bedroom. There is a clavichord there in the corner. (We know how much he loved music and many of us will recall that he commends singing as a body in his classic book Life Together.) She doesn’t just teach us that Bonhoeffer studied and valued music, she informs us about the clavichord. You really do learn a lot from this book, even if you’ve read Bonny’s own books and the standard bios about him.

Key’s To Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, as I have said, timely, beautiful, and very informative. But it is the fourth trait that I mentioned – its profundity – that deserves critical conversation and I wish I had room to explore it more: the book is profound and wise and good as the author helps us learn to understand our own complicity in injustices and how we are implicated in the fallenness of our times; further, she deeply knows of the grace of the gospel which not only forgives but calls us all to take up – as her friend Steve Garber puts it – “visions of vocation” as we “weave together belief and behavior.” Or, as Bonhoeffer put it more tersely, as we die to self by taking up “the cost of discipleship.”

The book has been called “part biography, part travel memoir, and part call to action” and it is Fabrycky’s gentle, yet morally serious “call to action” that must be considered. She does not preach or cajole; she is not ideological, left or right. (I simply most note that, as Stephen Haynes explores in his book The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump [Eerdmans; $19.99] many Bonhoeffer scholars and fans and biographers are themselves deeply committed to right wing or left wing assumptions and ideologies.)

Ms. Fabrycky is not unbiased, of course (no one is) and she is interested in our civic responsibilities and our public witness, but not merely around this cause or that issue. It is rare, I think, in the way in which the author invites us to allow Bonhoeffer to inform us, to speak to us anew, but profoundly and radically, which is part of the value of this extraordinary book. Her moral imagination has been shaped by other important writers and thinkers, again, making this a book from which you will learn much and be called to much. (What do we do with what we know she asks – especially in an unforgettable reflection on the skilled engineers who improved the efficiencies of the death camps and, of course, her reminder of the famous line by Arendt about the banality of evil.) She knows a bit about our own troubled times and she knows some of what we might discover when we study the details of Bonhoeffer’s life. That is, to put it rather simplistically, this book helps us learn what we do today to be faithful to Bonhoeffer’s legacy. How might we be responsible in our own time in history as he was in his?

As Dr. Victorian Barnett (the general editor of the esteemed Bonhoeffer Works English translation project puts it) Laura Fabrycky “offers a profound and moving reflection on what history can teach us about living mindfully and faithfully.”

I like very much the way Anne Snyder – now the editor of Comment magazine – describes Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus:

With self-awareness, vulnerability, humility, and historical rigor, Fabrycky captains a journey that is as engrossing as it is instructive. While Bonhoeffer’s times are not our times, there are echoes worth attending to: his keys to a discernment of public consequence, our keys to private sanity and civic hope.

I could say more, but I do believe this remarkable new book is – at least — timely, beautiful, informative and profound. And that is saying a lot. You should order it today.

Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life W. David O. Taylor (Thomas Nelson) $24.99 I hope you know this vivid author who has written or edited several volumes on the relationship between Christian faith and the arts. He has a few pretty academic titles such as Glimpses of the New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts (Eerdmans; $22.00) and The Theater of God’s Glory: Calvin, Creation and the Liturgical Arts (Eerdmans; $30.00.) I raved here at BookNotes several times about his important, co-edited volume Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds (IVP Academic; $30.00.) I often tell people that his For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker; $20.00) ought to be in the hands of every pastor and church leader; it’s a great collection of talks by the likes of Andy Crouch, Jeremy Begbie, Lauren Winner, Luci Shaw and Eugene Peterson. I do hope you at least know that one.

Which bring us to this brand new one, a stunning, fascinating, and very useful commentary on the Psalms (although, I use the word “commentary” a bit lightly.) Perhaps you will recall a beautifully done video that was making the rounds on-line a year or two ago that was a nicely filmed conversation between Bono and Eugene Peterson, all about the Psalms; Taylor was the guy who created that, which gives you a bit of a glimpse into the nature of this very cool book. It has a marvelous foreword by Eugene (maybe the last thing he wrote?) and an afterward by Bono.

(The book is dedicated to the two of them, which is just so great. I suppose you heard the story – Peterson told it to me, personally – that the first time the great rock star called him to talk, he didn’t take the call because he didn’t know who he was and wondered about that funny name. Who doesn’t take a personal call from Bono? Ha.)

Bono has long loved the Psalms and David Taylor captures this fabulous blend of Peterson’s pastoral wisdom about praying these ancient prayers and Bono’s edgy sense of performing them and drawing strengths from them and offers this upbeat stew in this great new book.

Open and Unafraid is like that, appreciated by a wide sort of readership – it has endorsements from some of the world’s leading Old Testament scholars such as Ellen Davis, Walter Brueggemann, and Bruce Waltke, but also from artists and poets like Mako Fujimura, John Michael Talbot, and Malcolm Guite, as well as from all sorts of church leaders, from Reuben Ezemadu (of the Movement for Africa Initiatives) to charismatic Anglican bishop Todd Hunter, to British Vicar Sam Wells to the African- American preacher and Dean of Duke Chapel, Luke Powery, to the contemporary praise and worship leader Matt Redman. No matter who you are or what your faith tradition, I’m sure you will get a lot out of this. It’s a great read!

For the record, let me be direct: I hope you notice that this is a broad and diverse array of folks who with one voice rave about the book, indicating that this really is a contemporary classic with very wide appeal. It takes the Biblical text (in this case poems, songs, prayers) seriously but invites us to live into them in life-sustaining, faithful ways. This is good, good stuff.

And, also for the record: I am always impressed when the extraordinary Calvin Seerveld endorses something. Just listen to this:

This David Taylor book is open and unafraid, because it breathes and sings the grace of God to anybody who reads it, as do the psalms themselves. Open and Unafraid is marinated in God’s psalms, so its testimony is honest and direct, personal and heart-warming, and both magisterial and humble. The learning underneath the writing is worn lightly, and the conversational tone is engaging, opening up the encyclopedic richness of the biblical psalms (also for governments to hear.) The appended questions and exercises for each chapter are truly fruitful and fun. This book has a complete vade mecum character.

Help My Unbelief: 20th Anniversary Edition Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $25.99 I am sure you know of our fondness for the elegant Episcopal preacher, pastor, priest, and, increasingly, respected public intellectual, the Rev. Dr. Fleming Rutledge. We are not alone in having raved about her tour de force, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans; $30.00) or her extraordinary, hefty collection of Advent sermons, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans; $30.00) both which are essential volumes to own. I often say that her The Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter (Eerdmans; $24.00) is one I read parts of every Holy Week season; I might suggest we need it now more than ever. She has a major book on Lord of the Rings called The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “The Lord of the Rings”(Eerdmans; $24.00) which I know she loves and she has several collections of her theologically-rich and often rousing sermons.

This volume (which, as you can surmise, came out in its first edition two decades ago) is one of her anthologies of sermons that are collected to share a common theme. All of her work, in the words of Cornelius Plantinga, “shines with biblical intelligence and pastoral wisdom” but this volume is designed for those who need encouraged, who have doubts and fears and questions. As she puts it in the new preface, Help My Unbelief “speaks directly to the ‘faithful doubters’ and the ‘unbelieving believers’ of the church who wrestle with uncertainties…”

It is not a systematic book of apologetics, for which many of us will be glad. They are sermons, so they accomplish what many of the Q & A books about tough questions or arguments on the existence of God do not: they bring the Word of God fearlessly and beautifully (as Thomas Long put it.) “crackling with and stunning powers of expression”

Listen well to what the Christian Century says of it:

Among the many other blessings it brings, Rutledge’s book helps to restore our confidence that, both as a ministry and as a literary form, there is simply no substitute for good preaching. The need for such preaching is impossible to overstate. If we don’t have the good fortune to hear sermons like this very often, let us at least read them.

One of the curious things about Fleming is how widely she is being read these days. Mainline/liberal denominations claim her, despite her Barthian commitments to Jesus as true Word, and many evangelicals appreciate her. She speaks all over the world for those in various ministry contexts; she has even done a webinar with our friends at the CCO. While journals like The Christian Century rave about her, so does the conservative Baptist Southwestern Theological Journal, who has said of Help My Unbelief,

You will not be able to put this book down. Buy it, read it, and be refreshed in mind and Spirit.”

We would be delighted to get to send out any of Rev. Rutledge’s books as we stock them all. Don’t forget her two on the last words of Christ, the small paperback The Seven Last Words from the Cross ($13.00) and the handsome, compact hardback Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday ($18.00.) The 20th Anniversary Edition of Help My Unbelief, now in a sturdy hardback, is certainly deserving, rewarding, and a great place to start. For those who are perhaps not inclined to watch preachers on Facebook in these days of quarantining, having some sermons at hand would certainly be wise.

Stories by Willimon William Willimon (Abingdon) $19.99  I still remember the first time I heard Willimon, years ago, at a local preaching workshop. Among other things, he told stories (some true, some embellished, perhaps some invented) and it was utterly, amazingly, captivating. Those that know his award-winning sermons, his lectures, or his lively books, know how he has this exceptional gift of being both a Southern-type storyteller (with down home yarns that will make you laugh out loud or fight back tears) and an learned scholar, able to teach complex theological truths with the help of illustration and teacherly tales. He has long kept alive the habit of finding stories that “will preach” and preach them, he does.

This Stories by Willimon volume is a great paperback – with a handsome cover that tellingly shows us an etching of the famous Biblical sower – that simply collects a whole bunch of Will’s stories. Some are from articles, some are from academic journals, some are extracted from his many books. Most were preached as parts of sermons or homilies.

The stories, tales, anecdotes, and fables are arranged with some coherence (although it would be fun even if they were thrown together haphazardly.) Part One includes stories under the rubric of “Sowers.” Next comes a bunch about “Seeds”, followed by stories of “Senses.” Part Four offers Willimon stories under the heading “Secrets.” Wow. Including the indexes (a useful Scriptural index and a themed index) Stories by Willimon is over 240 pages. It is a joy to dip in to and, I’d think, a valuable resource to own for teachers, preachers, and anyone communicating the gospel to others. Enjoy!

Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life Leslie Leyland Fields (NavPress) $16.99 This just came and I’ve been looking forward to diving in. I think Leslie is such a very interesting person and such a talented writer we’d read almost anything she did. (That best-selling and esteemed novelist Brett Lott calls it “magical” and “essential” doesn’t hurt either, eh?) She came to our attention when she wrote the brave and truthful Parenting Is Your Highest Calling — And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt (Waterbrook; $14.99) and then when she edited the absolutely exquisite The Spirit of Food: Thirty-Four Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (Cascade; $32.00), one of my all-time favorite books, ever. Recently she edited The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength (Kregel; $15.99), which was put together very nicely and a number of our customers have really found help in her Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate (Nelson; $15.99.)

We have gone on to follow all her books, including her popular book vividly describing her own work as a commercial fisherwoman off the coast of Alaska and a trip she took to interview fishermen on the sea of Galilee, called Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas published by NavPress; $15.99.)

So, Leslie Leyland Fields is a great storyteller, and in her blog and elsewhere she has honed her craft as a writer, inviting us all to be aware of God’s presence in the mundane things of life, and to discern our own particular callings and vocations.

This book promises to do at least three things (besides surely being an entertaining and captivating read.) First, she reminds us that our lives unfold as a narrative; that is, we live out a story. And – I hope you see this coming – she shows that we can be aware that our lives find their meaning in the broader context of the “grander story of God.” That is, this book helps us understand our lives and tell about how we see God’s story enmeshed in our own. In this regard, I suspect it is something like a favorite of many Hearts & Minds customers, the great To Be Told: God Invites You To Coauthor Your Future by Dan Allender.

The third thing that Leslie Field’s Your Story Matters does – and this is what sets it apart and, I think, will make is really, really helpful for some of us – is that it is also a guide to being a good writer. In other words, this is, finally, a book about crafting a spiritual memoir.

I am eager to explore this and am sure many will enjoy it, whether we are actually writing a memoir or not. I looked at her bibliography and it includes a magnificent listing of superior spiritual memoirs (including a few that, I swear, we have stocked for years but few know about, such as Kathleen Finneran’s memoir of grief called The Tender Land, the gorgeously raw In the Wilderness by Kim Barnes, and our friend Margie Haack’s lovely story of growing up poor in Minnesota, The Exact Place) as well as some marvelous, better known books by memoirists such as Annie Dillard, Lauren Winner, Madeleine L’Engle, Thomas Lynch, Brennan Manning, Kathleen Norris, C.S. Lewis, Nora Gallagher, Nancy Mairs, Frederick Buechner, and so many more. I grinned and grinned when I saw this list.)

Catherine McNiel is a recent, young writer we like a lot, author of a great book about mothering called Long Days of Small Things and the recent best-seller, All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World.

Listen to what she says about Your Story Matters:

Whether you consider yourself a writer or are just beginning to find your story, I cannot imagine a more inviting mentor than Leslie Leyland Fields. The book you hold in your hands will take you on a journey. I’m convinced you’ll find your voice, and the tools to use it, along the way.

By the way, here is a delightful  DVD compliment to this fascinating book. Your Story for His Glory: The Companion DVD to Your Story Matters (Navpress; $19.99.) This is an 8-week curriculum (anybody doing home-schooling for teens; maybe this will inspired the sorts of self-reflection and inspiration needed to take up the art of writing well.) The DVDs featured the upbeat and impassioned teaching by Leslie Fields and includes some special guests like Ann Voskamp and 20 other writers, some of whom you surely know. Best of all, it is set in her visually-striking Alaskan landscape, so it is entertaining and, dare I say, awe-inspiring on a number of levels. Very nicely done.

What the trailer here and you’ll see more about what the book does and how fun the DVD will be. We have it at 20% off, of course.

Living In An Icon: A Program for Growing Closer to Creation and to God Robert Gottfried & Fredrick Krueger (Church Publishing) $12.95 and Living in an Icon Facilitator Guide Jerry Cappell & Robert Gottfried; $8.95 I wasn’t going to make a lot of direct mentions of our CoVid crisis, but this really is a sweet idea, isn’t it? Since we must be practicing “social distancing” and even quarantining, many of us should consider making our way to the out of doors for a bit. This book can help us be a bit intentional about listening to lessons creation night offer; the Bible actually commands, that, you know. (One of my favorite and mysterious verses is in Job where God says (in Job 12:8) that the earth will teach us and to “listen to the fish.” Uh-huh. Maybe you saw the viral video of the pastor teaching about Jesus’ instructing us to pay attention to the birds why he was holding a duck. I’m not kidding when I suggest that that’s taking the Bible seriously.

So, “Finding God in Nature” is not a cliché or silly notion, but a Biblically instructed pathway to sensing God’s glory. I needn’t rehearse all this, now, but it is true. And, even before the novel virus, there have been bunches of books lamenting our disconnect with the created world. One of our biggest selling Lent books this season, by the way, from our previous Lenten list, has been Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing by Gayle Boss, with art from David Klein, published by Paraclete Press ($19.909.) These sorts of books are appealing for a reason, I think – most of us know the creation itself is groaning as it says in Romans 8. Maybe in these hard days, using the insights offered by Gottried and Krueger will be a blessing to your soul.

Again, to be clear, this recent book invites us not exactly to the practices and politics of stewardly care for creation, but guides us into actually experiencing awe and wonder and reverence and humility and such. Again, catch the beautiful, suggestive title and promising sub-title: Living In An Icon: A Program for Growing Closer to Creation and to God. Maybe you need this now.

The very nice Facilitator’s Guide is ideal for group use but could be adapted, now, perhaps, for your own solitary use. It has session plans and models, including a 21-week extended practice. This will give a boost to your spiritual disciplines, I’m sure. Dr. Gottfried, by the way, is the Director of the Center for Religion and the Environment at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee where he developed the center’s highly successful certificate program in Contemplation and the Care for Creation. Frederick Krueger has been active in ecumenical creation care work for years and as an Orthodox Christian co-founded (along with Orthodox theologian Vincent Rossi) the “Opening the Book of Nature” program upon which this book’s approach is based.

Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper Michael R. Wagenman (Lexham) $12.99 The author of this lovely little paperback, who got his PhD at the University of Bristol, first came to my attention in his chapter in a very important anthology about Kuyper and the implications of a Kuyperian worldview called On Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work & Legacy of Abraham Kuyper, edited by Steve Bishop & John H. Kok (Dordt College Press; $36.00.) Wagenman is now the Christian Reformed Church chaplain at Western University (in London, Canada). He also teaches theology at Western and New Testament at Redeemer University College (Ancaster, Ontario.) I am so glad to remind you of this again (it isn’t terribly new) as it is such a fine introduction to how some of us tend to think about cultural engagement. It is the second in a handsome little series called “Lived Theology” and serves not only as a guide to thinking about our role in various spheres of culture in faithful, fruitful ways but it is, obviously, a great introduction to the life and thought and social vision of the famous Dutch theologian turned statesman and Prime Minister of Holland.

If you follow BookNotes carefully you know that this Dutch scholar, pastor, activist and politician (who became Prime Minister in the early part of the 20th century with a distinctively Christian political movement that honored pluralism for all) has been somewhat of an influence on us here. Our desire to create a Christian bookstore that carries books on the arts and sciences, on business and ecology, on sexuality and architecture, on prayer and politics, comes from this worldview-ish claim that Christ is redeeming “every square inch” of his good but fallen creation. For serious folks, James Bratt’s big volume Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Eerdmans; $43.50) is the classic biography of Kuyper the Dutch pastor, cultural activist, journalist, educator, and politician. For most of us – and I often beg people to read this little gem – Richard Mouw’s Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Eerdmans; $16.00) is the must-read introduction.The best introduction to the broader themes of this neo-Calvinist /reformational movement is the splendid hardback Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction by Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic; $40.00.) I’m not very good at it, or slavishly loyal to this particular theological tradition, but I often tell folks that this explains a good part of what we are about here at the bookstore. And why we think reading widely and caring about the world is fundamentally religious activity. And, I suppose, why I am not always fully content with my zealous friends on the right or the left — always seeking some uniquely Christian embodiment of Biblical norms or principles, lived out with gusto “in the world but not of it.” But I digress.

Here is, now, another introduction, even more brief and perhaps accessible than Professor Mouw’s good one. Wagenman’s little book, Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper, is not really a biography or introduction to Kuyper’s colorful life but is specifically a guide to how we might live “in but not of” the modern world, taking cues from Kuyper’s interesting theology and robust social theories.

If you are troubled by the far Christian right or the so-called Christian left, if you sometimes despair of finding a third way that somehow captures a Christ-like alternative to the culture wars without opting out of the vocation to live for the sake of the world, this introduction to Kuyperian public theology is accessible and generative. I don’t know if he is right about every detail of Kuyper’s thinking and I am pretty sure most of us don’t want to be dogmatic about legalistic asking “What would Father Abraham do?” (Although, geesh, in these days, it might not hurt.) This guide is a good window into creative options and a step towards a recovery of older ways of leaning into the issues of the day. Highly recommended.

By the way – just a little heads up. This June we will be raving about a really, really interesting and important book exploring Kuyper’s views of what is sometimes called in neo-Calvinist circles, ‘common grace’ by the aforementioned Richard J. Mouw. It will be called All That God Cares about: Common Grace and Divine Delight (Brazos Press; $21.99) and it is very much a sequel, or extension, of his previous (2002) book on common grace called He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Eerdmans; $15.50.) There are a few surprises in this forthcoming Mouw one, and we’ll be telling you more later this Spring. You can, of course, as always, PRE-ORDER it now. 20% OFF, too.

 

For now, why not prep yourself by buying a couple of books about Father Abraham? Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper is a fine place to start. 20% off, too.

Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom Kelley Nikondeha (Eerdmans) $17.99 We were blown away by the wit and wisdom and radical insight from Kelley Nikondeha shown in her first book Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans; $16.99) where she shared her own cross-cultural and multi-ethnic family story – she married a man from Burundi, and lives much of the year in Africa, where they adopted two children – as an entry and context for doing Biblical and theology reflection about belonging. This move from experience to Scripture and back, writing fascinating personal narrative that leads to deepened insight into the Bible’s relevance – in that case about being adopted by God and accepted into God’s family and all the implications of that inclusive theology — characterizes this brand new one, too.

Indeed, Ms. Nikondeha starts Defiant with a multi-layered story about her mother, about women in the church of her girlhood, and about a somewhat odd and broken friend of the family (which scholars might call a marginalized woman) and how liberating it was to see her mother join hands and facilitate this woman’s new life of wholeness and freedom. Liberation, indeed!

Who doesn’t know that liberation is a major theme of Exodus (that shows up over and over in law and prophets, Hebrew prose and poetry, gospels and epistles!)

But did you know (surely you do, but I suspect most of us haven’t paid enough attention) that some of the key actors in the liberation drama played out in God’s Holy Word in Exodus are women.

As it says on the back cover:

If it weren’t for the women in the Exodus narrative, there would be no Moses, no crossing of the Red Sea, and no story of breaking the chains of slavery. On both sides of the Nile, women exhibited a subversive strength to defy Pharaoh and lead an entire people to freedom.

I trust you know about the work of the (civilly disobedient) midwives, of Jochebed, of Pharaoh’s daughter, of the brave young sister Miriam, and the older one who danced about the political victory years later. And, of course, Zipporah. Kelley is right to say “These women created the conditions for liberation over decades. They saved Moses and they taught him what liberation practices look like.”

Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom is written, it seems, to and for women. But guys should read it, too, I am sure. These are women who are described in God’s Word and Nikondeha, a great storyteller and trained Bible scholar, is perfect to help us appreciate them.

Listen to what the very colorful and talented writer Sarah Bessy says in the foreword:

In Defiant, Kelley lays out a feast for us of the truth about biblical womanhood: the resistance, the strength, the civil disobedience, the collaboration, the truth-telling, the drumming, the wit, the holy liberated power of women who know their God…. I believe that this book has important work to do in the world – it could not be more timely, more relevant, more necessary for women to read and understand this story and our place within it.

There are ten great chapters in this wonderfully-written Biblical reflection and some really solid and fascinating footnotes. The author really knows her stuff, tells her own story well (and the stories of others she knows) and, mostly, introduces us, again, perhaps for the first time, to the liberating power of these Biblical sisters who lead us to freedom through practices such as disobedience, relinquishment, leveraged privilege, youthful zeal, mothering, solidarity, sacrament, neighborliness, and by “beating out the rhythms of liberation.” With chapters like each of these, you surely know someone who will resonate with these freedom stories and pregnant insights. The beautiful oil painting on the cover, by the way, is itself worth beholding. It is by Shelby McQuilkin. Order Defiant today.

Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together Lacy Finn Borgo (IVP/formatio) $17.00  We just got this great-looking book into the shop and given the stress and hecticness here, I haven’t had time to study it much. But I can tell you three or four quick things at least: firstly, books in the formatio imprint or line of IVP are among the best resources on spirituality being published today. Without fail they are well written and thoughtful, Biblical and grounded yet relevant and upbeat. Some are a bit more mystical than others, but all are rooted in the broad stream of contemplative spirituality and transformational practices seeking to nurture people into the ways of Jesus. This new book — on listening for and to God with children! — is in that formatio line, so you should know we trust it. I’m sure it is theologically reliable and well written.

It is not surprising, then, that Richard Foster writes about it glowingly, mentioning its “gripping story and vivid metaphor.” If he recommends it, that give you a good hint, eh?

Secondly, I can tell you that this author is herself remarkable. Check out her bio, here:

Lacy Finn Borgo serves on the Renovaré US ministry team (that is the spirituality ministry founded by Richard Foster.) She holds a doctor of ministry degree in leadership and spiritual formation and a certificate in spiritual direction from Portland Seminary, where she also teaches classes on spiritual direction and spiritual formation. In addition to her practice with adults, she provides spiritual direction for children at a place called Haven House. a transitional housing facility for homeless families. Lacy also wrote some fabulous devotional / curriculum guides for children and families that we stock called Good Dirt. ($15.99 each.)

By the way, we’ve got all three:

  • Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide & Epiphany 
  • Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week & Eastertide 
  • Good Dirt: Kingdomtide

Thirdly, I know from a quick skim and the footnotes that she is well schooled in the best thinking about spiritually and children, about play and Christ-centered inner transformation, about the Bible and intergenerational learning. That is, she cites Sofia Cavalletti and of course “Godly Play” founder Jerome Berryman. She cites David Csninos and Ivy Beckwith’s Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus (IVP; $20.00) and other recent works, like Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May’s important Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey (Baker; $24.00.) It went to press before it came out, but I’d love to know if she appreciates Elizabeth Caldwell’s brand new Wondering about the Bible with Children: Engaging a Child’s Curiosity about the Bible (Abingdon; $19.99.) Anyway, Lacy Borgo knows her stuff and — what will become obvious from even a minute with this book — she loves children, and trusts them. She knows what Jesus says about that and she seems to have taken it to heart.

Fourthly, this book isn’t primarily an academic treatise on faith formation in children or even about children’s ministry as such. It truly is just what the title promises: it is about listening for God’s voice, sensing God’s presence, becoming shaped by an encounter with God’s love, with kids. It is about being what she calls a “listening companion” with children and she offers some skills and suggestions on how to do that. In a way, this is about doing spiritual direction with children. We were delighted to have it come in to the store this week and we are sure it is going to be considered a major contribution to the literature in this field and a beloved resource for anyone who cares about the spiritual lives of our little ones.

The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success Ross Douthat (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster) $27.00  I trust you know of Mr. Douthat, the outspoken and vibrant conservative columnist for the New York Times (and before that, senior editor of The Atlantic.) Douthat has written books such as Bad Religion (with the telling subtitle How We Became a Nation of Heretics (The Free Press; $17.00) where he critiques the less than adequate and often less than orthodox thinking prevalent in mainline liberal congregations, in high-energy evangelical churches, and in his own Roman Catholic world. The brilliant Alan Jacobs says of it, “Bad Religion is superb: sharply critical of the amazing variety of American religious pathologies, but fair; blunt in diagnosis, but just; telling a dark tale, but telling it hopefully. For those trying to understand the last half-century or more of American religion, and to strive for a better future, it is an indispensable book.”

Agree or not with Jacobs (or the Times assessment which called it a “lively convincing argument”) Douthat is, as a writer, as another reviewer put it, “probing and perceptive.” I think that is fair and a good description of this new one.

This new one, called The Decadent Society, is also a very well written analysis, so well-penned that the Wall Street Journal says it was written, “beautifully, with rare lyricism.”

The main case this book makes (in 250 erudite pages) is one that it seems the prophetic left and the conserving right might both agree upon: our modern world has been greedy and driven, eroding conventional values that might sustain a decent culture and this has causes a malaise; as Bruce Cockburn put it one of his popular songs, “The Candy Man’s Gone.” It was Marx, I suppose, who said that in late capitalism “everything solid melts into air.” That’s one way of putting it.

The left tends to decry the decadence of the opulent wealthy, of Trump and his type. The right, at least the older, classic sort, similarly warned against such worldly ways. It was the serious thinker Os Guinness who posited a “gravedigger” thesis, that we, relying upon our own skill and power, our technical prowess and marketing ingenuity. will suppose we no longer need God, hence, digging our own graves.

The Decadent Society, many BookNotes readers will be interested to know, has its roots in lectures given by Douthat at Regent College in Vancouver, BC several years back. That’s the place where any number of thoughtful, vital evangelicals work to form a unique learning community that isn’t exactly a seminary, but a life-giving Christian graduate school. (A few names you might know who have been involved there include James Houston, Paul Stevens, Marva Dawn, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, and, for the last two years, Steve Garber. One of my favorite Walter Brueggemann books was first given as lectures there.)

And so, this is a remarkable thesis by Douthat, explored carefully and colorfully – it isn’t every book that cites sociologists and public intellectuals like Robert Bellah or Mark Lila or Thomas Piketty as well as pop culture icons like Back to the Future or Mad Men next to citations of classic literature, theology, and philosophy. I really like these kinds of intellectually stimulating works that are not dry and stuffy. I like that it moves deeply to the spiritual malaise we experience, including a symptom that he calls “sustainable decadence.”

“Beneath our social media frenzy and reality-television politics, the deeper reality is one of drift, repetition, and dead ends.” He notes that we live with disappointment and yet we fear catastrophe. This is very interesting stuff (and I have much pondering to do as I continue to read it and consider it) and so I do commend it for your consideration. It may sound pessimistic, but I think it may be very important for the living of these very days.

When Did We Start Forgetting God? The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future Mark Galli (Tyndale) $16.99 I found this book to be very good and edifying reading, a fascinating reminder of so many things that make me still want to call myself an evangelical. I didn’t always concur with what I might call his pietism — not piety, which is good, of course, but overstating its role. More on that, later, pehaps. We are in confusing times these days, and few BookNotes readers will not know my own frustration – extreme at times – with how some conservative Christians (usually more fundamentalist than evangelical, despite what the media calls them) have so embraced our current President, despite his demonstrable lack of leadership wisdom and any sort of Godly ethic or Christian demeanor. This has given evangelicalism such a bad reputation it has evoked good conversations; I adored Richard Mouw’s must-read Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels (Brazos; $19.99) and often have commended here the especially helpful collection of a variety of angles and voices on the question in Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning (IVP; $20.00) in which Mark Galli has a chapter.

However, this social and political crisis facing church members, and particular evangelical folk, is only one small part of the crisis Galli explores; in fact, that crisis is mostly a symptom of a deeper crisis. This is a deeper crisis that certainly faces all sorts of congregations and every theological tradition but Galli writes as an evangelical, mostly for evangelicals. (For many years he was the editor of the movement’s flagship journal, Christianity Today, or CT as it is popularly called.) Despite this specificity, we recommend it for one and all.

The title gives us the obvious big hint of what this is all about – and this is not unrelated to the “gravedigger thesis” popularized by Os Guinness that I alluded to above. Has the evangelical movement with its vast and often effective world-reaching mission agencies, its robust para-church organizations, its publishing empire, its prowess in marketing and media, its mega-churches and ministries and such become so successful that they no longer really need God? It’s a fair question.

I do not agree with some of this book (more on that in a moment.) I think Galli raises very good points – and we need to hear them. One way to explain his major theme is to use the often spoken, nearly clichéd sort of way of putting it: are are we so taken with doing the work of the Lord that we no longer care about the Lord Himself? That is, are we so dedicated (out of earnest and faithful zeal or, perhaps like the Pharisees of old, out of darker dysfunctions) to the mission of God that we have forgotten about God? That is his thesis; that despite good words and even good works, we are fooling ourselves if we think we know God well. I suspect he is sadly right and we need to hear his concern.

Here is what is also good about this. Galli explains how we got into this mess historically in a brief and readable overview of American, mostly evangelical, history, from the colonial era’s Great Awakening to the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800’s, pondering briefly the shift from Edwards to Whitefield to Wesley and their heirs, and, then in the next century to the revival at Cane Ridge onward to the crowd manipulation of Finney and on to the celebrity preachers of today.

Galli gets at this topic of our weak spirituality beautifully, not just assessing the past, but by inviting us to practices and disciplines and dispositions that would foster deeper intimacy with God. It makes very good sense and is indicative of much about the book to have the foreword by the important scholar and evangelical mystic, Richard Foster. Foster’s contribution is short but very impressive.

Another reason this book is useful is that it is not partisan (politically speaking.) He takes swipes at the way many in the church have accommodated themselves to the worldview and attitudes and habits and values of either the far right or the far left; he does not deny that faith informs our public lives or that we need to be outspoken agents of public justice, but he laments when we becomes firstly given to ideologies (of the left or the right.) But, again this is not the primary theme of the book; go to John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans; $18.99) for that sort of study. Rather, Galli is wondering what is behind such secularizing accommodation; how did Bible believing Christians end up so far astray in so many ways? It is, he believes (get this!) our evangelical fascinating with transformation. This is really surprising and pretty darn interesting!

Since I am one who likes to say I’m somewhat informed by the broad scope of the teaching of Dutch Reformed neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper, who famously talked about “every square inch” of creation being claimed and transformed by Christ, I do not find Galli’s analysis of cultural critics like Newbigin or contemporary missional thinkers (like Christopher Wright) compelling. I don’t even agree with his assessment of Rauschenbusch and the so-called “social gospel’ although he is fair and reasonable about that. But that is for another review. I mention my disapproval of how he talks about social engagement and cultural reformation (wishing he’d grapple with the doctrine of the cultural mandate, for instance) even as I realize he is on to something.

Evangelical churches, like more mainline churches a generation or so ago, sans a full-orbed public theology, tend to think the local congregation must do everything – offer counseling, start schools, serve the poor, get involved as citizens, start gardens, amplify the arts, create businesses, even. Pastors these days are sometimes expected to be entrepreneurs. Galli is mostly right (and it is, actually, a Kuyperian insight): the church should do what the church is firstly called to, and allow God’s scattered people – both called and sent – to live Kingdom lives in all that they do. It sounds to me like Galli privileges the location and ministry of the local gathered church over ways and places to know God and experience God in service throughout the day in other spheres and callings, and I don’t think that is helpful or faithful. Is worship more spiritual than work? Is prayer more spiritual than politics? The Bible, I am sure, says no, our knowledge of God is dependent on our doing of justice, just for instance. (See Jeremiah 22:16 or, obviously, Isaiah 58.) Galli doesn’t seem to have a very well developed theology of the Kingdom of God, and, in fact, talks a bit about how some recent thinkers overestimate that theme.

It is my sense that often those who fail on the centrality of the theme of the Kingdom may not have an adequate view of creation itself. For Galli, at times, it seems like the telos of life is to be one with God. Which, of course, is not what the Bible says: our longed for ending is a restoration of all things, a re(new)ed creation. Yes, where God dwells, but it is substantive, with trees and animals and swords that are now plowshares, and other people, too, a new multi-ethnic humanity in the healed cosmos. This is the problem with both medieval mysticism and evangelical pietism: it is finally almost Gnostic. It is my conviction that one must never downplay creation in order to find God; God will not allow such disdain for his beloved handiwork. To love God one must love what God loves, it is as simple as that. Here’s what I’d say to Mr. Galli at this point: skip the beatific vision stuff and use the language the Bible itself uses: the Kingdom of God and the new.heavens and new Earth.

Still, he is right: the church, as church, should help us to worship well. And to do that we need God. It is no surprise he often cites the no-nonsense sobriety and non-sentimental gospel clarity of Eugene Peterson. We need God, not a feeling of God.

Mark Galli’s practical suggestions in this good book are remarkable. You have to read his section calling for pastors to declare a moratorium on sermon illustrations about themselves! He talks about Sabbath, he has a chapter about confession, he has a chapter called “Whatever Happened to Communion?”) He is a higher-church Anglican so he helps us realize the value in richer, thicker liturgy. (He doesn’t cite James K.A. Smith, which he should have (he has a whole section on shaping desire) but he writes about everybody from Thomas Aquinas to Hans Boersma to Julian of Norwich. Anybody that quotes St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Loving God deserves a hearing in my view anyway. In all of this he draws on great Christian writers and helpful congregational stories to help all of us re-focus our gaze on God, in Christ, through the Scriptures and sacraments. When Did We Start Forgetting God is, as Tish Harrison Warren concisely says, “Helpful, rich, and vital for any who care about the church.”

After an editorial in which CT editors called for President Trump’s impeachment, many conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, rigorously “Truly Reformed”, and Pentecostals went wild in snarky protest. One well-educated leader said he might vote for Trump next time just out of spite against CT. A few people said the rag went downhill under Galli, who, I guess they thought, was not adequately evangelical: he held membership and ordination in the PC(USA) for years, he ended up slightly charismatic and then liturgical (having written a book for Paraclete Press called Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy ($16.95) and he even did an introduction on Eerdmans for evangelicals on the life and teaching of Karl Barth (Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals (Eerdmans; $18.00.)For many evangelical and fundamentalist elites, I guess, that’s way too liberal. Alas, he has done bunches of others books, too including dear ones on the person of Jesus and on the work of the Holy Spirit and on the attributes of God.

Well, here, Galli shows how all that comes together – he is interested in culture, in theology, in worship, in mission; he calls us to prayerfulness, to deep expressions of faith and to solid service to our neighbors and our world. He wants to recover our understanding of the gospel, surely. He wants to place evangelical renewal within the broader context of God’s on-going work throughout church history, of which he has a good grasp and teacherly style. But there is nothing more urgent or more central, he says, for the Christian person and for the institutional church, than putting God first. He insists we in the evangelical church – those who of all people make a big deal about knowing about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – have a crisis and it is a God crisis. When Did We Start Forgetting God: The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future isn’t perfect, but it will help, I am sure.

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16 Excellent New Books — On sale for BookNotes readers. 20% OFF

Earlier in the week I gave you detailed list of the books that we announced from up front at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh (at an extra discount, too.) These were exceptional titles but not scholarly or eccentric; that is, I think most could be used in your book clubs or reading groups or adult Sunday school classes. Some you had most likely heard of, some were award winning, and some maybe surprised you; All Things New by Pete Hughes, for instance, was very new so are early adopters of that great read. In any case, if you didn’t peruse that BookNotes yet, don’t miss it.

We want to say thanks for those that shared it—it’s good for a wider audience to see this kind of a thoughtful but accessible list that had some flow and coherence to it, We’d like to think it is helpful to see why I highlighted those titles to the gathering of over 3000 young adults. (I sense there is some anxiety in many ordinary churches about retaining what few young adults they have as congregants, and maybe my words and the books I described will be helpful as you consider that.) In any case, we are very grateful for your interest and appreciate those who show their support for indie bookstores and our particular mission.

Needless to say, while we were in Pittsburgh, new books kept coming into the store. Here is a sneak peak into some of the brand new ones that we are most excited about. These are all amazing! What a good book year 2020 is turning out to be. These are all on sale, too at our BookNotes 20% off. We show the regular price and our sale price. We will deduct the discount when you order. We often send books out the least expensive way (media mail, which is a bit slower) but you can request anything at the interactive order form page. Just tell us how we can help.

You can use the link at the very end of the column which takes you to our secure order form. 

Showing: What Pregnancy Tell Us About Being Human Agnes R. Howard (Eerdmans) $21.00 / our sale price = $16.80 Just the other day my wife and I were talking with our staff about publishers that just consistently do great work and even surprise us sometimes. Our favorite publishers offer delightful topics, great writing, good covers, sometimes stunningly so. Eerdmans is surely one of those and although they are known for hefty, expensive, works of Biblical studies and theology, their more “trade” sorts of titles are almost always wonderful. Showing is a perfect example of this very thing – a really well-written book, filling the need for thoughtful rumination on something everybody should care about. And look at that cover – believe me, it’s worth getting this book for this little work of art itself!

Ms. Howard joins the ranks here of a handful of writers who have written a reflection on pregnancy that is part memoir, part theological study, part spiritual reflection, done so with literary pizzazz that just sings, even if a times rather academic. It is a hard book to describe but should appeal to anyone interested in our human experiences, on relating faith to ordinary life, on embodiment and family matters. Heretofore our favorite book on this was the (sadly now out of print) Great With Child by Calvin University literature prof Debra Rienstra. How glad we were to see a long glowing paragraph of Ms. Rienstra’s own prose on the back cover endorsing the writing and insight of Showing.

Although Ms. Howard is herself a mother and writes with intimate understandings of pregnancy, she is also a historian. As Rienstra notes, Howard “provides us with the historian’s best gift: perspective.” So, Showing looks at cultural stuff, medical and religious history and wonders how things have changed over time.

More urgently, though, she explores these broad matters in order to get to the heart of her project, asking what sort of virtues are practices in pregnancy. Courage? Duh, yes! Hospitality? Come to think of it, well, of course! And, as a scholar might, she talks about (get this) “embodied generosity.” Pregnancy involves all sorts of habits of heart and bodily habits and, yes, virtues. Attentiveness to these virtues just might shape women (as much as it births babies.) This is simply fascinating stuff.

Here are two things my quick skimming of this new book showed me. It avoids clinical discourse and it equally avoids sentimentality. It is not a how-to manual, of course, but it is not a gushing touchy-feely sermon, either. In fact, she says it is not fluffy. So there.

But Showing: What Pregnancy Tells Us About Being Human is amazing. I hope it is read by moms and dads (and moms and dads to be) who are somewhat serious readers and certainly by midwives and nurses and doulas and doctors. Maybe especially those sorts of medical providers as it will help give them a deeper, more wholistic vision of the humanness of it all.

Professor Howard teaches humanities at Valparaiso University and at their honors college (Christ College.) She is a senior fellow in the Lilly Fellows Program where she researches the history of childbirth, the culture of pregnancy, and women’s health movements in the United States. She has written for Commonweal, First Things, The Cresset and other significant publications.

Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy Amy Peterson (W Publishing Group) $26.99 / our sale price = $21.59  Lauren Winner wrote the eloquent, compelling foreword to this saying she had read it multiple times (I suspect she was a writing mentor to the author) and that she will read it yet again. It is one of those brilliantly conceived, beautifully rendered, very special books that deserve this kind of recommendation. It will be touted as one of the best books of 2020, I’m sure.

Winner writes that “you will be charmed by and want to remain in the company of its narrator and will delight in the cunning and precise prose.” Cunning and precise prose? You want to order it now, don’t you, just to enjoy that kind of writing (whatever that means!)  Winner continues to talk about the once popular notion of “moral theology” and how Amy Peterson updates older, classic understandings of virtue and how virtue works. (Not reinvented, but recast, she assures us.) The current context – including iphones and climate change and Donald Trump – informs how we live out our virtue. “Amy Peterson shows us what a life of virtue looks like in a world of empire, inequality, dislocation, sexual violence, movement of people groups. What was good for the young lady of 1848 is good for us, too, but those goodnesses need to be recast because so many of our particulars are different from Miss 1848’s particulars.”

Where Goodness Dwells is exceptionally astute and, so far, for me, utterly captivating. Like her earlier Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, Peterson’s ruminations are rooted in a memoir-like telling of her own story. Shannon Martin calls it “exquisite” and Wesley Hill says it is, “one of the most genuinely hopeful books I’ve ever read.” As author earns these sort of impassioned comments not only because she is astute and thoughtful but because she tells her own vivid story with care and grace.

As you can tell from the subtitle, Where Goodness Still Grows isn’t just a reflection on integrity and virtue and goodness (and beauty) but also somewhat of an expose, a lament, a recognizance dive to investigate the church’s hypocrisy. For some this expose and confession will help them keep the faith (knowing there are authors and publishers and booksellers saying this kind of stuff.) For others it will be awkward, perhaps controversial; painful. Hard hitting as it may be, though, it is her story and her wisdom and that includes the virtue of being fair and civil. Although I am only part way through it, I think it is nothing short of spectacular. You really should read it.

Here are a few of the other remarkable endorsements by writers we admire. Please read every one; please:

If the church of your childhood has broken your heart — particularly, politically — if your faith foundations have been shaken by betrayal and complicity, it might seem quaint to turn toward virtues. And yet what are we yearning for but embodied goodness? Amy has given us a well-researched, beautifully written, strong book about the virtues necessary for the apocalypse. We need to lean in further to discernment, lament, love, and hospitality, not in a weak, be nice sort of way but in the muscular, lean way that holds on to hope out of faith disguised as sheer stubbornness. This book is one part lament, one part hope, and entirely necessary for these days. –Sarah Bessey, author, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things and Jesus Feminist

In this poignant, honest book, Amy Peterson confronts her disappointment with the evangelical leaders who handed her The Book of Virtues then happily ignored them for the sake of political power. But instead of just walking away, Peterson rewrites the script, giving us an alternative book of virtues needed in this moment. And it’s no mistake that it ends with hope. –James K. A. Smith, author, You Are What You Love, and editor, Image journal

Amy Peterson reflects the best of the church’s next generation. With biblical faithfulness and wisdom, Where Goodness Still Grows gently critiques the shortcomings of the generation who came before her, then lovingly points the way toward a more holistic and virtuous future for all who claim the name of Christ. –Karen Swallow Prior, author, On Reading Well and Fierce Convictions

Deconstructing is becoming a new normal; re-envisioning a path forward in the shadow of tradition is increasingly rare. Through gorgeous prose and widening her scope to a diverse array of voices, Peterson is doing the hardest work of all: stubbornly clinging to faith while holding it accountable at the exact same time. This book is vital reading. –D. L. Mayfield, author, Assimilate or Go Home and The Myth of the American Dream

I should say more. Where Goodness Grows is surely one of the best books of the new year! We have it on sale and are eager to send it out. Why not suggest it for your book group, church, or fellowship?

A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream Yuval Levin (Basic Books) $28.00 / our sale price = $22.40  I suspect this major work wouldn’t have sold well at Jubilee since it is a fairly scholarly hardback by a serious social critic (who is not a follower of Christ and most likely not well known in young adult circles.) Despite the breathy Kingdom vision at Jubilee that assures us that we can and should transform the world, most younger folks aren’t quite aware of how significant institutions are. A book about this isn’t going to really fly off the shelves anywhere, I’m afraid (since most Americans think they have an aversion to institutions) and most likely not among the rising generation.

Still, this vision about building up institutions and shoring up the things in our culture that help us flourish certainly is the sort of thing that we all must grapple with if we are to live out a restorative, redemptive care for the world that is lasting. From Andy Crouch’s must-read Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power to Steve Garber’s small but potent A Seamless Life to the brilliant chapter “structure and direction” in Al Wolters’ Creation Regained to the big picture discussions of Christ and culture among those following the work of Lesslie Newbigin to the inspiring stories in John Stonestreet’s All Things New: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People there is much Christian insight to motivate us to think deeply about what it really means to “engage culture” and work missionally for the renewal of God’s world, even in our mediating structures and institutions and civic spaces. Sooner or later we must, as Peggy Noonan puts it on the back of A Time to Build, “recommit to the great project of our common life” and Levin (an exceptionally respected public intellectual) is just the person to guide us to the most fruitful ways to think about this.

A Time to Build is an important book, in a way a follow-up to his important A Fractured Republic. It is serious and thoughtful, to say the least.

This endorsement (of a fundamentally conservative book by a liberal Democrat, I might note) explains it well:

Yuval Levin stands athwart the wrecking ball of anger that is smashing a democracy in desperate need of rebuilding and repair. A Time to Build sets forth an ambitious blueprint for how Americans can work together to strengthen broken institutions we cannot live without. — Bruce Reed, chief of staff to former Vice President Joe Biden

Here is what conservative pundit David Brooks said in the New York Times about the book as it related to the impeachment hearing a month back:

As Yuval Levin writes in his profound forthcoming book, A Time to Build, Trump is an example of a person who wasn’t formed by an institution. He is self-created and self-enclosed. He governs as a perpetual outsider, tweeting insults to members of his own cabinet. At its best, the impeachment process is an attempt to protect our institutions from his inability to obey the rules.

Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age Jay Y. Kim (IVP) $18.00 / our sale price = $14.40  When I saw the carton full of Jay Kim’s brand new book when we got back from Jubilee I smacked my head, exclaiming right out loud in less than admirable language, how I wished this had come a few days earlier. I would have promoted it from the main stage at the conference – it is surely that good and that urgent. And it would have been great to promote to these young adults and ministries that are so effective in reaching them.

The doctrine of creation? You get it here in this book about why we need down to earth, real stuff. Explorations of the fall? Oh my, if God’s good gifts can be distorted and God’s good world can be disrupted – by ideas, ideologies, disordered loves and unwise practices – surely we can see it in how we’ve shifted to our fetish with digital hyper-reality. Redemption? Of course, the saving power and sovereign grace of our Lord and Savior and Kingdom bringer Jesus the Christ is, renewing all things; He is Lord of the digital and can move us, as people and as a society, towards the really real. In Him all things hold together, Colossians 1 tells us, so how we think about and experience our digitally-saturated world can be shaped by Christ’s Kingship and healing wisdom emerging from those guided by His Spirit, who is still hovering over the deep. God is restoring not only our souls but our very lives and the structures and habits and cultures of the world, so we must ask: how then shall we live, in but not of a world that emerged from Silicon Valley?  Sorry to preach.

Although this is not the first book to ask these things, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age is current and obviously important. No matter your place or context, if your church exists in the 21st century, you need this book.

At first I thought Analog Church was going to be a slightly more punchy and serious version of the fantastic, upbeat, interesting, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World by John J. Thompson about resisting the mass market and buying local, fairly, face-to-face, supporting boutique shops and joining the creative “makers” movement. (See my review of that HERE.) And in a way, it is. As Ruth Haley Barton puts it in her lovely back-cover endorsement, Kim calls us to “come out of hiding from behind digital walls, to bridge digital divides, and to be human with one another in real time, real space, and real ways.” She notes that this is a shift from “relevance to transcendence” and she is right, although it may seem counter-intuitive or even ironic. We must (as Os Guinness notes) give up idols of relevance to be real, and thereby really relevant, and that is the path to authentic, human-scale transcendence.

But more than other localist or “small is beautiful” calls to resist the abstract and merely digital, Analog Church is, in fact, about the local congregation. It is actually asking the hard question of what it means to be an analog church in a digital age.

You may think this is just for those spiffy, on-line, hot-wired, mega-churches run by Gen Xers and that you, with your old building and conventional liturgy, don’t need this. (Jay Kim is pastor of a hip, evangelical church plant in Santa Cruz, after all.) But you would be wrong about this. I would guess that almost every church has members, and in many churches, many members, who are utterly enamored with their digital lives, taken up by it all, even. The data is clear about that. You may not have on-line Bible studies and use streaming services for your services, or even worry much about your website. But your people do. Some live in their e-world enthusiastically, while others are not even aware of how shaped they’ve been by the on-line cultural manners. As is well known, now, given research done and explained in books like Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, our electronic age and digital culture even effects how we read. How we experience the world – think of many books inspired by The Secular Age by Charles Taylor that explore this, certainly the vital work of James K.A. Smith on this exact thing  – influences our expectations and experience of the local church and our weekly worship. You think your flock and your local Bible study group hasn’t been influenced by these habits of reading on line, of being shaped by digital cultural? You don’t think they experience church differently now than they used to? Think again!

This amazing book pushes back against “digital faith” and calls us to embodiment, face-to-face, real relationships and experiences. But this isn’t just fuddy-duddy, holier-than-thou, Luddite stuff. It’s solid and interesting and helpful, maybe prophetic. It’s a very important new book.

Listen to these amazing endorsements:

We are clearly sitting within a technological and digital revolution―but a revolution against what? And to where? In this book, my friend Jay Kim serves us as a true pastor, showing us that this revolution is unparalleled in its spiritual implications. After reading this book, I have a much clearer understanding of how technology has shaped the church and how we can change. With an impressive bibliography, thoughtful exegesis of Scripture, and terrific prose, Kim shows us how the digital revolution requires an analog response―and why God’s church is the essential respondent. –Chris Nye, pastor and author of Less of More: Pursuing Spiritual Abundance in a World of Never Enough

Sometimes the best books about the future involve the ones that start with a look backward. In this very important work, Jay reminds us of God’s vision for the church as the plumb line for how we view and leverage technology. In making digital the servant of analog we are moving in the right direction. Reversing the two leads us to something fundamentally different than the deep journey God has called all of us to. The church was always meant to be waiting for us when everything else failed to live up to our deep longing for transcendence. This book is the map to that. –Nancy Ortberg, author of Looking for God

It’s a grave miscalculation for the church today to think relevance depends on the ability to keep up with the pace, gloss, and hype of our technological world. Our frenetic, fidgety age does not need a frenetic, fidgety church. Our Insta-perfect, polished age does not need a photo-shopped, inauthentic church. Our tech-weary world does not need a tech-obsessed church. Jay Kim’s Analog Church understands this, presenting a compelling case for the church’s most radical act in today’s world: not to be a trendy, shape-shifting, chameleonic copycat, but to be a transcendent Christ-centered community whose difference from the world is why it makes a difference. — Brett McCracken, senior editor at The Gospel Coalition and author of Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community

When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse Chuck DeGroat (IVP) $22.00 / our sale price = $17.60  Over the years we have had bunches of books on toxic faith, on dysfunctional churches, on recovering from spiritual abuse. They have not sold that well because not that many folks are in cult-like groups, not that many congregations are abusive, not that many, or so we thought, were caught up in heavy-handed discipling relationships or submitted to over-wrought hierarchies and super-strict, authoritarian religions leaders. With a few ugly exceptions (and the super weird outliers that really are cults) most churches have little going on in terms of authority structures; our individualist worldview allows us to (or insists that we) just ignore what our churches and pastors and leaders think, believing what we want and doing what we want.

When one of the most respected writers I know (Dan Allender of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology) called this a “landmark” book, I have to admit I was skeptical. But since it was Allender, and since I so esteem Chuck DeGroat (having read his other brilliant books) I figured this one must be different. That IVP issued it in hardback indicates that they are taking it very seriously. After perusing it, I believe they are right. This is a landmark and serious book and we should take it seriously.

I think the difference that makes this new book so important is that it is, as Nancy Ortberg says, “a deeply thoughtful treatise on this subject that also points a healthy way forward.” And it is crafted by a stellar writer. Further – and this is important – DeGroat uses the insights of trauma studies and, particularly, the social dysfunction known as narcissism as a key to unlock the unhealthy relationships common in many churches. Why, he asks, does narcissism seem to thrive in our churches?

This increasingly common disorder (you may know the book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean Twenge) is found, Chuck explains, not just among ministry leaders but is embedded in church systems. He’s a serious thinker, has done remarkable research, and this book is surely one of the most important congregational life titles in recent years.

Another selling point for this book for me (and I hope for you) is the very interesting and positive foreword by Richard Mouw. Rich writes, “I am in awe of how he combines pastoral experience with a grasp of psychological theory and therapeutic savvy. And he does this with solid theology.”

When you buy this, be sure not to skip Mouw explaining how Chuck probes beneath the surface, explaining different aspects and types of narcissistic personalities, and what might be going on, spiritually and theologically. (He draws on Augustine, of course.) Mouw notes what I, too, had noticed – that DeGroat makes use of the seminal work of Christopher Lasch. And he does break some new ground because there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on narcissism among pastoral leaders. Dan Allender is correct: When Narcissism Comes to Church is a landmark book.

Plus, you’ve got to love a book that has a page-long opening epigraph from none other than Thomas Merton, an important passage from New Seeds of Contemplation. Yes!

The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity Jason Thacker (Zondervan) $22.99 / our sale price = $18.39  If there was any one book that I wish would have come a week and a half earlier so we could have taken it to Jubilee, it would have been this. There was a well-attended workshop there by a serious scholar of AI and practitioner of big data (and another on cyber security.) While these leaders were surely thoughtful about relating faith to their discernment of the issues in their field, none had a solid, go-to book that studies this stuff from a reliable, Biblically-informed worldview. Some professions have plenty of such books, but in emerging field, there is a drought. I actually tried to get this book a week earlier, hoping the publisher would be able to ship it early but that didn’t work out, so now that we have it, I want to spread the news.

Although Derek C. Schuurrman’s marvelous Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology is still the foundational book for any Christian thinking on computer science, this brand new one, The Age of AI, seems to be the next must-read volume. It looks into the not very distant future and shows how AI will influence our shopping, education, family life, medicine and wars. What are being called “the data industries” are more influential then ever and will continue to be. By drawing on the theology of the imago dei and the great commandment to love our neighbors, Thacker gets us thinking about big data in faithful ways. (And, happily, Derek Schuurrman has an endorsement on the inside, which further illustrates its importance.)

As the always-thoughtful Russell Moore puts it, “No ethical issue keeps me up at night as does the question of artificial intelligence. This book is a balm for anxiety in the age of technological disruption. The years ahead will require wise Christians in a time of smart robots. This book shows the way.”

For what it is worth, Zondervan is doing another book (in June 2020) on these concerns by scientist and philosopher John Lennox called 2084: Artificial Intelligence, The Future of Humanity, and the God Question (Zondervan; $19.99/our pre-order sale price = $15.99) which will also be a critical examination of technological enhancement, bioengineering, and AI.  Pre-order that forthcoming one now if you’d like. For now, though don’t miss The Age of AI by Jason Thacker. It’s important. And on sale here.

We Were Spiritual Refugees: A Story to Help You Believe in Church Katie Hays (Eerdmans) $24.99 / our sale price = $19.99  I am part way through this and it is, in many, many ways, thrilling. It is wonderfully written, captivating, and, as one who is often looking for new examples of healthy church life (including nonconventional faith communities) I was eager to read this story of the outreach to the so-called “spiritual but not religious” or “nones.” I assumed, and was right, that We Were Spiritual Refugees is a book that will appeal to those who loved (as I did) Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints or Sara Miles Take This Bread and Jesus Freaks or even Laura Truax’s Love Let Go and other reports of what we used to call emergent churches. That Doug Pagitt, founder of Solomon’s Porch, wrote the foreword makes perfect sense. As I have come to expect from him, the few pages he wrote that opens the book are fascinating and compelling.

The church Katie Hays founded – her passion emerges somewhat from the harm she experienced from her conservative, fundamentalist background – is located in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas and is called Galileo Church, which, in their own words, “seeks and shelters spiritual refugees.” The book tells in vivid prose how she got it started and their first several years. Of course, this desire to build Jesus-followers among those who may be merely curious or even reluctant – including disillusioned young adults and LGTBQ+ people, among others often not welcome in other faith communities – makes them a bit unusual and their style and approach may not be your own. But I still believe it is a good read. A few parts just made me weep, and more made me laugh right out loud. The story is somehow hopeful, a good story of a good effort, and we should be glad, even if it isn’t your wheelhouse. It is the report of an unusual church plant, complete with flashbacks of old facebook posts and emails and sermon ideas. As Brian McLaren puts it on the back as he celebrates this book telling the story of what he calls an “amazing church”, after you read it, “Who knows what you might be inspired to do?” And isn’t that one mark of a good book, that it might inspire you?

Krista Tippett (of the NPR radio show “On Being”) says,

Katie Hays’s radiant theology and being, and her fierce intelligence and integrity, are magnetic. So is her soaring, hard-won readiness to question and evolve, stretch and create, in response to the tenderness and tumult of this age. This account of ‘making a church’ lights my imagination about the new forms and meanings of Church, community, and belonging our world is giving birth to.

Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shapes Our Lives Tim Chester (with a foreword by Sinclair Ferguson) (Crossway) $17.99 / our sale price = $14.39  We have a very hefty and diverse collection of books about the sacraments and sacramental theology, here at the shop in Dallastown. Authors of various theological stripes and dispositions have weighed in – in part because for most of church history, in most quarters, this topic is essential and life-giving stuff.  Eating and drinking together in church, or seeing one pass through the waters of baptism – what some Lutherans now call The Bath – are physical rituals, but more than that. They are God’s own appointed signs. We all agree on that.

I must say I ordered this not because we really need more books on this (our shelves are jam-packed) but for two reasons: I really trust this gospel-centered, missional, British author and stock almost all of his many books.  And because I loved the title: Truth We Can Touch. You know? The book is short and might be inspiring for one who has read headier stuff or might be a good introduction for one who hasn’t read anything in this field. He is an evangelical free church guy (who has a PhD from the University of Wales and pastors Grace Church in North Yorkshire.)

Sam Allberry, a PCA leader and speaker for Ravi Zacharias, says, “This is hands down the best book on sacraments I’ve read.” He says it is, “warm, compelling, eye-opening, and saturated in gospel encouragement.” I love it when a well-read author says stuff like this: “ I hadn’t realized how much I needed it.” Maybe you, too? Why don’t you give it a try?

A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love Katherine James (IVP) $16.00 / our sale price = $12.80  This stunning book did not just come out this week; I read it as soon as it came, more than a month ago but hardly felt worthy to review it. James is a noted and award winning novelist (her Can You See Anything Now? was published in the respected fiction line of Paraclete Press and both Beth and I enjoyed it.) Her husband has written books on living out faith in our culture and they have both become friends of ours. Years ago, Kate earned a fellowship at Columbia University and she taught fiction there. I say this to assure you that anything she writes is serious and well-crafted. She is a writer you should know.

But, oh my, what a sad and heavy story. I couldn’t put it down and related to its broadest theme of a parent’s love (even though I must admit I have not had much relationship to this particular sorrow of drug abuse.) I’ve read other narratives about addiction but this captured me completely. From the beautiful, strong cover and the very first page, I was taken in, wanting to know where this story would go and how it would end.

You see, Katherine and her husband are connected to an internationally known evangelical para-church ministry. She attended Wheaton College. They are solid, thoughtful, open-minded, caring evangelicals – the best of all worlds, it seems, well -read, devout, but not legalistic. Religion was real in their home, very real, but not toxic. They had a creative, cool family, and yet..

In a way, A Prayer for Orion is the story of any number of families Beth and I might have known. Had we been more hospitable and artistic, it could have been our own story, I suppose. As the reader soon learns, Kate and Rick hosted many neighborhood kids in their home. They created a safe place for them to hang out – a fixed up attic space above their garage — and taught art and read poetry and didn’t get fussy about the (perhaps marginalized, rougher) kids that showed up and their cigarettes and tattoos and attitudes. I thought of the sort of friendly space many wish to offer where honest questions can be asked and people of strong Christ-like faith can minister to the disaffected without shame or churchy pressure.  In a way, their place became a refuge. They accepted and tried to see the best in her son’s friends who they dubbed “The Lost Boys.”

And then they realized they had befriended drug dealers; that their son’s experimenting lead to overdoses and addiction. I am choked up even reporting this obvious fact about the book.

As it says on the back cover, “When Katherine James and her husband found out their son was using heroin, their responses ran the gamut: disbelief, anger, helplessness, guilt.” Even for those of us whose children have not been quite so wayward, this is nearly universal stuff. What parent hasn’t felt regret, anguish, fear? Who among us hasn’t blamed others, blamed ourselves, blamed God? Who hasn’t struggled to figure out how to show grace, to love well, to weep and laugh even in the hardest of times? In a very real way, A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love is one of my all-time favorite parenting books, and certainly one of my favorite memoirs. It is intense and it is about addiction, true enough. But it is more than that, and it is good and gracious and I recommend it very, very much.

Forgive me for not saying more. I want to write more profoundly about this profound book but I also don’t want to spoil a thing. It is literate and lush, sure to captivate anyone who reads literary fiction or artful memoirs. It will offer insight for those who struggle with hard stuff with their families or loved ones.

A Prayer for Orion, as Jen Pollock Michel puts it in her lovely endorsement blurb on the back cover, reminds us that:

“…to know God is not to be spared the grief of this broken world. It is, however, to watch hope – as small and inconspicuous as Elijah’s cloud – grow heavier with rain.”

 

On Birth, On Marriage, and On Death Timothy Keller (Penguin) $10.00 each; small boxed set $30.00 / our sale prices = $8.00 each or $24.00 for the slipcased set These three small-sized paperbacks just arrived and they are provocative, wise, helpful. They are in what Tim and Kathy Keller are calling the “How to Find God” series and in the preface they note that many people are drawn to the biggest questions of life during times of transition. We catch ourselves pondering some of the deepest questions of our existence during major changes in our life stages — questions such as what am I really living for? do I have what it takes to face challenges? what do I believe about religion and do I have a relationship with God? — so these three books are designed to offer guidance to navigate some of these questions by pondering three pivotal life experiences.

Keller, it seems to me, is enough of a neo-Calvinist in the line of Kuyper, say, to want to invite us to think well and faithfully about all of life so it is natural that he would offer a uniquely Christian perspective on these almost mundane (if important) moments.  (He did a major book on a Christian view of work, after all.) But he is also enough of an evangelist and apologetics guy (think of his weighty books Reason for God and Making Sense of God) that he truly wants to offer a reasonable life-line of gospel hope to anyone pondering life’s most momentous occurrences. Significant events such as birth, marriage, and death are milestones, after all. As it notes on the back cover, these are times when we experience our greatest happiness and our deepest grief.

As to be expected, he starts with some sociological and cultural studies, citing classic literature and contemporary articles. In On Death he shows our tendency in our modern world (unlike most times in history) to either despair or deny. It’s so good.

As we note above, you can get any of these three or the little boxed set. (By the way, do notice the way the string on the cover art of each is different.) All are at our 20% off BookNotes discount.

Mother To Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope Jasmine L. Holmes (IVP) $20.00 / our sale price = $16.00  Oh my goodness, I’ve been waiting for this for months, and can hardly believe it is actually here. Jasmine Holmes is said to be a very good writer and, of course, the topic here is extraordinarily poignant, if not extraordinary. For people of color, these talks are not uncommon. For those of us in the majority culture, we still may not know this, but every black family I’ve ever asked about this assured me they have had “the talk.” And I’m not talking about the birds and the bees, but the talk about what to do when (not if) the police stop you for no good reason. Talking about race and racism is simply a must for all of us in these hard times and we all need as much help as we can get.

We stock a number of books like this, memoirs written by people of color about turmoil experienced in their inner and outer lives and many are exceptionally gripping. Some of these stories that are laden with racial injustice and struggle and the hope for redemption in this hard world are especially artful and moving. (I’ve mentioned often before how much I so esteem Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and named Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard and I’m Still Here by Austin Channing as some of the best books I’ve read in recent years.) As I’ve suggested, this is important stuff for all of us, seeing through windows into the lives of others.

Whether they are religious or not, vulgar or not, some books about coming of age as persons of color are simply brilliant.

This one, however, will stand above the crowd, I’m sure. It fills an interesting niche within this interesting niche – Mother to Son by Jasmine Holmes is, in fact (as the subtitle notes) about identity and about hope, by which she means that it is an overtly Christian take on these subjects. What is our identity? (I’m not sure she puts it so prosaically, but some might ask, “do you see yourself as a black person and a Christian, or a Christian who is black, or a black Christian?” Questions of class and gender make this quest that much more fascinating for us, don’t they? In any event, Jasmine writes these literate letters as a black Christian mother with hope that they will help her son navigate this hard world with hope and joy in the power of the Lord. The gospel clarity of the evangelical faith of Jasmine Holmes is deep and deeply informed. We have a lot to learn from her.

Interestingly, Jackie Hill Perry (who spoke at Jubilee 2020 last week in Pittsburgh) wrote the foreword. She has struggled herself with these questions of identity (her own memoir Gay Girl Good God reflects a bit on her own struggles and clarity about her own self-identity) and she, like Ms Holmes, is a seriously Reformed, evangelical thinker. Holmes teaches humanities in a classical Christian school in Jackson Mississippi. She writes for thoughtful, evangelical blogs and publications, from Fathom to Modern Reformation to The Witness and for the Gospel Coalition. And she does this as a strong black woman.

I have only skimmed Mother To Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope and can’t wait to start it in in earnest, one letter at a time. If you don’t care much about race issues in our culture (or think too much is made of such things) I beg you to read this. If you are aware of these things, I suspect you will want to read it right away. You are invited into this intimate conversation where a mother helps her son, Wynn, live faithfully as a young black boy becoming a young man.

Consider these wonderful endorsements:

The love of black mothers for their sons defies easy categorization. It’s at once fierce and tender. It’s folksy and sophisticated. It careens toward indulgence but insists on growing up. Black mothers somehow combine both the romance all mothers feel for their sons with the realism required in a racially cruel world. The love of black mothers for their sons is a gift to the world―and the church. In these pages you will see why, as Jasmine Holmes speaks to her sons and to the church about her sons, about black boys, about black mothers, about hope and pain, love and fear, justice and gospel. Anyone looking for an honest yet hopeful exploration of what it means to be black, a mom, a wife, and a Christian―in all the ways those labels interact―will find a witty, womanly, biblical, theologically sound guide in Jasmine as she talks with her boys, and ours. –Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church, Washington, DC

As I read Mother to Son, I couldn’t help but think of the many African American mothers who will read and be able to take a deep, long breath and say, ‘I am not alone.’ This book is rich in theological and foundational truth about God and about who we all are because of God. Yes, it’s for a mother and son, but anyone who reads will benefit. A treasure of a book. Trillia Newbell, author of Sacred Endurance and God’s Very Good Idea

Materiality as Resistance: Five Elements for Moral Action in the Real World Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $15.00 / our sale price = $12.00 The fantastic, vivid foreword by Jim Wallis (which recommends this for Sunday school classes and Bible study groups) might give you a hint, but if you know anything about Brueggemann you will love, even savor, how he uses words; can’t you just imagine his deep voice, drawing out words and phrases, using words such as materiality, like poetry. You may not always get what his allusive wording means at first, but stick with him and it becomes powerfully clear. This book is about how to care about human flourishing by attention to money, food, body, time, and place. He lays out very clear ways that we can reengage our materiality for the sake of our neighbors and the common good.

As Brandon Robertson (author of True Inclusion) puts it,

Walter Brueggemann has crafted a compact but potent call for the modern church to return to Christ’s message and model of living – one that seeks to bring tangible restoration and redemption to our world for the common good of absolutely everyone.

This potent little book is fabulous, I think, and could be a good introduction to Brueggemann’s other, heftier work. There are discussion questions, too, making it that much more useful for personal study or small group use. The publisher calls it a manifesto; I think they mean that besides a Brueggemann-esque call to a prophetic imagination that subverts the ungodly status quo, that it is in some ways a summarizing of much of his work. It is energetic and clear. As I mentioned, it’s about how we use our money and food, our bodies and our places. It is down to Earth stuff. As he does in other volumes (from Bible commentaries to theology texts to sermons and prayers) he insists that the Bible is a very material book and its teaching about this should shape our own sense of our own materiality.

He closes out the book with one of my own favorite passages that I have often preached and taught from – Jeremiah 22:15-16. In this specific passage about knowing God, about what we might call spirituality, the defining features of one who does or doesn’t know God is, in fact, connected to materiality, including real estate and housing practices. Walt is not making this stuff up. You should read this little book and learn in detail what it might be like to deepen your discipleship by stewarding your materiality more faithfully.

Truth and Hope: Essays for a Perilous Time Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $30.00 / our sale price = $24.00  It seems WJK has done this before — issued a major, serious, expensive volume and a slim, potent, smaller book. I’m glad, since the above-listed Materiality one is brief (and useful) but to get the full range of Brueggemann’s deep insight one really should wade through his more dense essays. These articles, scholarly essays, reviews, and sermons are a gold mine, it seems, and we surely have to recommend them here, now. This sturdy paperback is 260 pages (that is, you really get your money’s worth!)

Want to see what I mean? Walt writes in the introduction:

There is no doubt that the prophetic tradition regularly engages in truth-telling in order to expose social reality as a systemic act of ‘falseness’ that contradicts the purposes of God. The prophetic tradition of Jeremiah, for instance, is preoccupied with truth-telling that exposes ‘falseness.’ The prophet exposes the deceit of dominant culture. That same prophetic tradition (like many others) turns eventually to the work of hope-telling. Such hope does not doubt that the faithful God can create futures, a way out of no way. The sequence from truth to hope in the book of Jeremiah is characteristic of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. These several prophetic voices (that gave canonical shape to the prophetic books) knew that this sequence is definingly important. There can be no hope until truth is told. Our temptation, of course, is to do the work of hope without the prior work of truth.”
 As the publisher promises, readers will find this collection of essays to be theologically rooted in the concept of prophetic tradition as a means of truth-telling. Brueggemann explores that, without God, truth-telling is nothing more than harping, and hope-telling is only wishful thinking.

The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann Volume 3 (WJK) $35.00 / our sale price = $28.00  By the way, speaking of WJK’s robust Brueggemann publishing program, they also just released the marvelous third volume of his Collected Sermons. They have a whole set of collected sermon volumes by a variety of important preachers, and this is the third volume of Walt’s in this series. It is called, simply, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann Volume 3. There is a foreword by Barbara Brown Taylor, too (which is the only thing I’ve read in it so far. But, well, wow.) This collection features sixty sermons, preached mostly in the last five years. For his final public appearances, he preached at various churches and the famous Festival of Homiletics, including his last address there in 2018. Most of these collected here are based on lectionary texts, with numerous sermons on Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter.

 

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30% OFF BOOKNOTES SALE — ONE WEEK ONLY — BOOKS I ANNOUNCED AT JUBILEE 2020

ONE WEEK ONLY 30% OFF SALE on SELECT JUBILEE TITLES

I’m sure you’ve heard that we just got back from the huge Jubilee conference where we serve each year by setting up a large book display for the nearly 4000 participants. Our Hearts & Minds Facebook page (and my own personal one) has featured some posts and pictures from the event and we’re grateful for the encouragement and prayers that sustained us. It’s always a bit stressful but it seemed harder than ever this year as we sensed the need for prayer. We cannot overstate how important this event is and how transformative it has been in significant ways for thousands over the years.

Just yesterday I got an email from a regular customer and a long-time friend, who recalled her first year at Jubilee and the first book she purchased from Hearts & Minds. She wrote:

I am thankful for my time at Jubilee. I remember going to my first one at the Hilton with Kristin Silva and getting a Ron Sider book with her. We read that book together the second semester of my freshman year. It changed my life: I got a mentor, I started reading more for the first time in my life, and it introduced me to a whole new world. I can’t imagine my life without good books from Hearts and Minds and the compassionate spirit of campus ministry staff.

One of the fun things I get to do is describe books from up front on the well-designed, creatively lit stage. The book spiel is in the format of an interview (which somebody apparently thinks is a good idea) and it was executed well by our good friends Tommy Scales and Emily Bingham. When I was getting passionate about the importance of books on racism, Tommy dug into his black church traditions and dramatically fanned me; I’m tellin’ ya, that wouldn’t have happened if I were up there on my own!  I’m glad Tommy and Emily (one of the most interesting and discerning readers we know) helped me get the job done. I wish you could have seen me tell about these books, up front, live and energetic.

ON SALE: ONE WEEK ONLY           30% OFF

Here’s what we’ll do: for one week only we’ll do a 30% OFF post-Jubilee sale. Until a minute before midnight, Saturday night March 7th, the following titles (which I described up front at the conference) are 30% off. While supplies last.

After that, they will remain at our more customary BookNotes 20% off.

Like at Jubilee, I’m on a time crunch to fit these in, so let’s dive in, quickly. I will explain a bit more here, to our dear BookNotes readers, than I had time to in my Jubilee book interviews. I try to explain why these books are so important to our event, and perhaps to you, hoping you will considering ordering them from us now. Here we go.

WHAT I ANNOUNCED FRIDAY NIGHT

Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for A New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon David Kinnamen (Baker Publishing) $21.99.  SALE PRICE = $15.39 I kicked off the first Jubilee book talk with this one for a few obvious reasons. If you followed my first review of this before it came out, or my comments when we named it a “Best Book of 2019” you may recall that it mentions the Jubilee conference (and the book buying that goes on there) as a window into effective young adult ministry. This is an ambitious and visionary generation and we simply must offer a full-orbed gospel that relates faith to vocation and shows how work matters to God and is connected to our life in God’s Kingdom.  A book about Jubilee themes that mentions CCO and even the Jubilee book display by an author that was in the house? A no-brainer. Beth and I are glad to have David’s encouragement, too; he is such a good friend to us. His Sunday morning talk was powerful, too, given some serious sorrow in his own life. (Pray, please, for his wife Jill who has brain cancer.)

Faith for Exiles was a big seller at Jubilee, and we are glad to get it into the hands of young adults and those who care about young adults. It’s a great read and really, really important.

It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is about So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson Publishing) $16.99. SALE PRICE = $11.89  Students like the young pastor and author and YouTube star Jefferson Bethke who is wise beyond his years. This feisty, fun, book offers a handful of fresh insights about the Christian faith and I announced it as a great one for anybody who wasn’t sure why there were there at this religious gathering or who wanted to know more than Sunday school clichés or pop culture stereotypes about what Christianity is really all about. While maybe not a full-on, worldviewish, reformational/Kuyperian perspective, it helps ordinary beginners realize that Biblical faith is, as Bethke says, “not what you think.”

The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life Justin Buzzard (Moody Press) $13.99  SALE PRICE = $9.79 I have highlighted this one at Jubilee the last few years for a couple of reasons. It captures the theme of Jubilee that the overarching Biblical story is the story out of which we are to live (and in this sense is an apologetic for the relevance of a big picture view of the Scriptures and their formative power) and it nicely explains the big “chapters” of the Christian story, the “acts” of the Biblical drama that the conference itself is so faithfully built around – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Buzzard is sharp and reliable and the book is short and sweet. Perfect for young students new to this approach.

Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story Nancy Guthrie (Crossway) $16.99  SALE PRICE = $11.89  Again, catch the sub-title illustrating that serious Bible study can be valuable for life, for our story. Not only does this resonant with young adults these days, but it is, we are convinced, the best way to approach the Scriptures – not as a law book (as fundamentalists and dogmatists might) or merely as old religious history (as some progressives and mainline liberals might) but as a historically redemptive, unfolding, Christ-centered, Kingdom story. Guthrie traces a handful of words or images or metaphors – garden, temple, Sabbath, city, clothing, and more – from Genesis to Revelation showing how these notions point to God’s faithfulness and as the gospel unfolds. Plus, it was nice saying this PCA woman is one of the best Bible teachers in America. Yup.

All Things New: Joining God’s Story of Re-Creation Pete Hughes (David C. Cook) $17.99 SALE PRICE = $12.59  If I were speaking to a baby-boomer crowd I would have said “who is that masked man?” I never heard of Pete Hughes or his spiffy church but I’m telling you, this is one of the best books of the year! And it is spot-on for the Jubilee vision, a perfect Biblical overview of the big story, of God’s work in the world, of our missional invitation to be agents of God’s own reconciliation and reformation.  That two Jubilee home-run hitters from previous years (Jon Tyson and John Mark Comer) both eagerly endorse it with rave comments on the back assure us that I’m not dreaming here. This is a fresh new take on a full-orbed Kingdom vision and a fine Biblical overview of God’s plan of restoration and hope. Join in, please! Spread the word.

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling Andy Crouch (IVP) $24.00  SALE PRICE = $16.80 Andy was our main-stage Friday night speaker. Here is a fabulously interesting previous talk he did at Jubilee a few years back which was similar, although he sang more this year, and did a four-way graph which not only affirmed a Biblical cosmology but nicely critiqued the mechanistic worldview and the resultant reductionism that emerged from the secularizing Enlightenment era. Anyway, I suggested we read all of Andy’s wise and well-written books – if you haven’t read him, you are in for a literary treat. We highly recommend Culture Making, Playing God, Strong and Weak, and his must-read, very insightful, handy-sized The Tech Wise Family.

Andy’s great talk Friday night set the stage for the rest of the conference, affirming the Biblical doctrine of creation which surely isn’t only about the mere act of creation ex nihilo (let alone a literalistic reading of the days of Genesis 1 that would oppose evolution) but a vision that this world is made, loved, that it is good, is ordered, and that we, made in God’s own image, have a task, a calling, a cultural mandate to open up and steward well God’s good creation. A robust, orthodox vision of creation and of our human calling as culture-makers is simply foundational for any faithful or sustainable Christian lifestyle. The lack of knowing this stuff is, in my opinion, one of the great weaknesses of contemporary Christianity (liberal, progressive, evangelical or Catholic.) I nearly shouted at the room – read Andy Crouch!

Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation Fred Bahnson & Norman Wirzba (IVP) $18.00 SALE PRICE = $12.60  If we live in a good creation that God so loves and our calling includes making something of it all, then surely tending the land itself and developing uniquely Christian views and coherent practices of growing food and eating is simply essential. I’m amazed how rarely we sell books from our “theology of food” section and how, most ordinary days, religious book buyers seem not to care about nurturing a faithful perspective on land, farming, food or feasting. This book is written by a Duke Divinity School professor and creation-care scholar and activist (Norman Wirzba) and a farmer (Fred Bahnson; we loved his memoir of visiting church-based garden projects called Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith.) This is, I said to the students, just one example of the implications of the sort of stuff that Andy was sharing. (I happen to know Andy loves Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Father Robert Farrar Capon and I admit that his chapter on onions is laden with as much good doctrine of creation as nearly anything since Gerard Manley Hopkins “dappled things” poem.) So, Making Peace with the Land is a fine introduction to creation and creation care but, truly, it is mostly about food and eating. You should read it. Enjoy!

Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey Sarah Shin (IVP) $17.00 SALE PRICE = $11.90  Ever since the days Beth and I worked with CCO in the 1970s, the organization was largely white, but eager to proclaim a multi-ethnic Kingdom vision as the Scriptures demand. We’ve talked a lot about racism within the organization and at the conference over the years and Jubilee is a beautiful example of how an organization and event can be intentional about amplifying the voices and perspective of people of color. Yet, as I explained up front, we sometimes view conversations about race (understandably) about the injustices of racism; that is, we seem to mostly talk about the sin and brokenness and ugliness of it all. By highlighting this book as a part of an evening exploring the doctrine of a good creation I wanted to frame our thinking about race and ethnicity by their essential goodness and validity. God made this world to be a world of color and diversity; our heritages, developed through the unfolding of history, though tainted by sin, are, indeed, a good thing.

So this fabulous book by Sarah Shin, without being glib about the great sorrows connected with racism, invites us to get beyond a Gnostic sort of dismissal of the facts of our ethnicities, and to honor who we are and our physical and cultural features as part of the good creation. The good creation which we are called to celebrate and steward well. I hope describing this book on Friday night helped; a number of people appreciated this, and I know they will find the book very, very useful. You too?

Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $16.99  SALE PRICE = $11.89  For several years this has been a big seller at Jubilee and it captures well this teaching about the centrality of the cultural mandate, our call to exercise dominion by creatively opening up the goodness of God’s creation — by working and resting; this is what it means to be human. Comer is fun and easy to read, serious but playful, and due to the popularity and appropriateness of this book for our Jubilee event, he was asked to speak last year. His other books are all good – we sold out of his recent The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – but this is a distinctively Jubilee-ish resource, a true must-read. What a joy.

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work Steven Garber (IVP) $20.00  SALE PRICE = $14.00  If you want to see a beautiful description of the Jubilee conference this year (with a lovely nod to our big book display) see Steve’s recent Facebook post where he honored us so. Steve directed the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference decades ago and in his Facebook column he noted that there is, still, simply no other event like it anywhere in the world. With that connection to Jubilee and his love of learning and his passion to gently help others see a coherent and integrated lifestyle of Christian discipleship, even in public matters, he embodies so much of what the CCO ministry is to be about. As I said when I first announced this before it came out in late December and as I explained when I named it one of the very best books of the year, the chapters are short but eloquent, the vision big and beautiful, and the insight nothing short of profound.

Describing this during my interview the first night at Jubilee was to be my big ending for the night, quickly shouting out that this was a Jubilee book if ever there was one, and that he deserves our attention, our support, our gratitude. The Seamless Life is a truly handsome little book with full color pictures, too, giving it a “report from the road” feel with Steve telling about his work and friends and projects in many different places around the world. Here, in short, accesible pieces, he fleshes out the perspectives found in his seminal Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior and the spectacular Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. All three are on sale, here, now – 30% OFF. Each are profound, significant volumes.

WHAT I ANNOUNCED SATURDAY MORNING

The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament Aubrey Sampson (NavPress) $15.99 SALE PRICE = $11.19 Since the Saturday morning session at Jubilee was designed to explore the Biblical teaching of “the fall” – which is theological short-hand for the reality of sin and brokenness, of tragedy and sorrow, of idols and rebellion – I thought I’d start off with this exquisite story of significant loss and how the author grew closer to God by hearing the music beneath the sorrow, the music of God’s presence in suffering and, particularly, God’s response to our cries of protest and lament. This is a book of deep anguish and yet good hope, not because of any glib “God willed it” cliché but because of the sturdy (if not nearly known enough in many churches) Biblical practice of crying out in lament. Students, like everyone, everywhere, are hurting and all of us live East of Eden, so I thought this was a good suggestion. We’ve reviewed The Louder Song at BookNotes and we were glad to get to give it a hefty shout-out at Jubilee. Thanks, Aubrey Sampson, for using your considerable writing gifts to share this hard stuff with such prophetic imagination.

And Yet Undaunted: Embraced by the Goodness of God in the Chaos of Life Paula Rinehart & Conally Gilliam (NavPress) $15.99 SALE PRICE = $11.19 I almost announced this on Friday night as a great book to help explain the whole “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” story. These four themes are the four big units of this new book and I am so jazzed about it. (Although they use this precise language of these four high-points of the Biblical narrative, just like the four main-stage/plenary talks at Jubilee, they also put it this way (borrowing from CCO/Jubilee friend Mike Metzger of the Clapham Institute: What Ought to Be, What Is, What Can Be, What Will Be.) Oh my, this is a brilliant way to arrange a book of short readings of daily Christian living, shaping our discipleship by these suggestion-rich frames. We highlighted And Yet Undaunted here during the Saturday morning session because – as you can get from the title – it offers this big, hopeful, vision of God’s redemptive and restoring work to those who are hurting or confused. We may feel overwhelmed and that our lives are daunting, but we are, with this Jubilee vision of the Bible’s coherence, yet undaunted.  We named this as one of the Best Books of 2019 and I was thrilled to tell the Jubilee kids about it. Do you feel daunted? You need this lovely, conversational guidebook. On sale at 30% off, now, until March 7, 2020.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism Jemar Tisby (Zondervan) $19.99 SALE PRICE = $13.99 I think this is one of the very best books for people to understand the complicity of the Christian religion in protecting slave holders and compromising the gospel for the sake of white supremacy. America is doubtlessly a great country, but this stuff has to be reckoned with. Our compromises must be acknowledged and this book was ideal to hold up as an example of how things go so very, very wrong because of our sin and idolatrous ideologies. In the Bible, sin is more than being naughty and the consequences of our unbelief and rebellion to God’s ways are often structural and systemic. This history book is a must read.

The rave recommendations continue to accumulate for this book, from various quarters, including Jubilee friend hip hop star Lecrae, the important Latisha Morrison, Calvin University’s Christina Edmundson, the always reliable Thabiti Anyabwile, and more. It just came out in paperback (although we have the hardbacks, too, on sale, if you’d rather. Those are usually $21.99; at 30% off they are $15.39, while supplies last.).

Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience Sheila Wise Rowe (IVP) $17.00 SALE PRICE = $11.90  I’ve written about this before, but thought you might want to know that this, too, is one we held up during Jubilee in the session designed to teach about sin, rebellion, alienation, and the grim facts of the human condition. We are glad that racism is more widely acknowledged than it maybe has been in our culture and in our churches; owning up to the hurt and complexities of racism means we have to understand some of what this book describes. Discussing everything from living with overt discrimination to routine micro-aggressions, from hosting fear and anxiety about things like police abuse or just the angst of being a minority in any majority culture group (even religious or church groups, by the way) Sheila Wise Rowe has given us all a great gift. To be offered a window into the lives of those who have been deeply hurt – she is not the only one who uses the phrase racial trauma – is so important in this damn fallen world. We who are white must “go there” if we want to really understand our friends and neighbors who suffer.

Interestingly, the book is upbeat at times, with good stories told in inspiring prose, even as it offers insights into trauma studies and provides coping mechanisms and healing options that move towards resilience. Unafraid to dwell in this hard space, Healing Racial Trauma is vital and highly recommended. Students at Jubilee were by turns baffled, intrigued, and very, very grateful. Glad to offer it to you here.

Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World  D.A. Horton (NavPress) $15.99 SALE PRICE $11.19  Horton has a bunch of books and years of experience as a part Latino ministry leader; he’s a good voice to listen to. His own journey of learning to cope with his own mixed ethnic background and identity and also to address the (subtle and not so subtle) racism in our society is so very well told, I wished I had time to hang out more with this book on the main stage. I was hurrying and making the case that these books on race are but examples of the bigger teaching we were going to explore (with speaker and hip hop artist Jackie Hill Perry, author of Gay Girl, Good God) who expertly unpacked the primal narrative of “the fall” in Genesis 3.

Intensional is a lively and approachable book on racism written by a leader on multi-ethnic reconciliation. I noted how the title is a bit of a play on words – we are to be intentional about all this, even if we’d rather not, but it is spelled with that playful and important “s.” We are in tension, to be sure. This stuff ain’t easy. Filled with the love of God and guided by the Spirit or not, these conversations and this work can be tense. If you think otherwise I’d suspect that you haven’t gone very far into multi-ethnic friendships. We must be intentional and in-tension-al. Horton helps. On sale now at 30% off!

Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future Danielle Strickland (Thomas Nelson Publishing) $18.99 SALE PRICE $13.29 I was so excited to highlight this brand spanking new book and I’m really eager to tell you about it here, now. I chose to highlight it Saturday morning, categorizing it under “the fall” since sexism and patriarchy – of the harsh, violent kind seen in rape culture or the subtle, softer kind found in many churches that marginalize women leaders — is, in fact, according to the Bible, an outgrowth of sin and sinful ideologies and attitudes. That the apostle Paul has to often remind us of “mutual submission” and that we men and women are one in Christ and that we should honor the women leaders he names is a reminder that in that Greco-Roman culture, women were demeaned and often casually abused and that the new community of Christ-followers were to have none of it.

(As Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat explore in their powerful commentary Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice, domination is part and parcel of the Roman empire that much of the New Testament was written to counter. As an aside – they are speaking about the message of justice in Romans when they speak here about their book at the shop on March 24th. Stay tuned.)

Had we had enough time I would have also held up the remarkable The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct by Ruth Everhart (IVP; $17.00) since that is a gritty study of pain caused by male church leaders and the sinful cover-ups.

The brand new Better Together seemed the right choice for Jubilee since it wasn’t just about sexual violence and #metoo abuse, but was more general about how our sinful assumptions about gender and leadership cause otherwise good men and woman to be ineffective and too often unfaithful in Kingdom mission. That kind of sexism is less dramatic, perhaps, but it is still sinful and stupid, and Diana delightfully calls us to own up to the problem and move towards a bigger, better vision. She did a main-stage talk at Jubilee a few years ago and it was spectacular (I’ve read a couple of her books including one called A Beautiful Mess: How God Re-Creates Our Lives and another using the book of Exodus as a guide for personal liberation and a British one about empowerment of Christian women. Oh yeah, and The Zombie Gospel: The Walking Dead and What It Means to Be Human.) She has worked in dramatic ways with the Salvation Army in Canada and is a spokesperson for Compassion International. Here Danielle brings her feisty, fun, evangelical feminist style to call us to work together and (as the subtitle says) “transform the future.” Jubilee favorite Bob Goff wrote the tremendous forward. This is a fantastic, new book and we highly recommend it. On sale for 30% off, remember, this week only.

I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People Lester Terence (IVP) $16.00 SALE PRICE = $11.20 With the rapid-fire shout out of the above books I made the case for Jubilee students on Saturday morning that there are many Christian books that look at the hard stuff of contemporary culture, that disarm the principalities and powers, that expose injustice, that give voice to those who are harmed by sin and idolatry. I knew that Jackie Hill Perry, as a solid, black, Reformed Bible scholar, would be very clear about personal sin and our individual need for repentance and return to God’s supremacy, but that she would also point us to the fact that our individual sinful dispositions yield a society in disarray. Our disordered loves lead to disordered cultures. And so, I highlighted books about racism and sexism. In this recent book, I See You, we back up to a very personal and very consequential sort of disposition: preferential blindness. That is, most of us are skilled – perhaps we are trained to be this way in school and by our entertainment – to block out the things that make us uncomfortable; indeed, the people that make us uncomfortable. The wonderful writer Lester Terence gives us a great gift with his new book about this, how it works and how God can help us overcome this tendency.

I See You might be a book that could be listed under “redemption” because it takes a God-given miracle to have the scales removed from our eyes and the hardness of our hearts softened. However it happens, the Bible calls us to this: to behold, to see, to know, to care. I See You is particularly about seeing (really seeing) the outcast and the hurting and how we rarely see (really see) the faces of those in need. I suppose this is mostly a book about poverty and about persons with financial insecurity, including the homeless.) Yes, it might take a miracle, but our self-centeredness, benign as it may seem, is sin, so I named it here by way of highlighting this good book. Can we repent of our attitude and posture towards otherwise “invisible” people? Can we be more hospitable to those who are on the margins, those who are outcast, lonely or alone? This book names our problem and offers great, great insights about how to be more loving. Who wouldn’t want a book that makes that promise? Who wouldn’t want a book that shows us the power of love? I See You by Terence Lester is on sale, now. Why not get some for your group to study?

Christian Worldview: A Student’s Guide Philip Ryken (Crossway) $11.99 SALE PRICE $8.39 Oh my, we had to switch gears up front during that book interview from describing books about the consequences of the fall into sin and our personal and social brokenness to remind students of resources that would be germane for the workshops they would be attending later that day. There too they would explore the implications of the “creation-fall-redemption” Biblical story, but applied to their major and their studies.

Much of the original vision for the conference and a part of it still today decades later is this outrageous idea that God cares about what some call our “academic faithfulness.” (CCO leader Vince Burens used the phrase in his welcome to the conference Friday night and I wondered how many students had heard that fabulous phrase or knew what it meant.) To think faithfully and in Biblical categories about the arts and sciences, about majors and classes and papers perhaps written (like Bach’s music) Soli Deo Gloria is part of the task of any Christian college student. Students are called to be faithful not just in the dorms and frat parties but in the classroom and library. (The very nice book King of the Campus by former CCO staffer Steve Lutz places the development of the Christian mind and the project of academic faithfulness in the broader context of honoring Christ as Lord over all of campus life. It’s really, really helpful; it is amazing to me how many publishers have released books for college students that don’t even mention their vocation as students!) CCO workers are not always able to broach this subject with as much depth as they’d wish with all their students – many young adults don’t even realize God likes them and couldn’t find the gospels in the Bible if they tried, let alone the minor prophets – so Jubilee is a time when this call to righteous academic rigor is held up as an ideal for students, integrating faith and learning, as we sometimes say. This is a strong suite of the Jubilee book table as we curate a display of titles in categories including Christian and normative perspectives on art, math, education, nursing, business, engineering, culinary science, psychology, law, politics, science, outdoor education, film making, fashion design, urban planning, sociology, special ed, economics, computer design, farming, sports, architecture, music, gender studies, history, environmental studies, marketing, and more.

But how does a 19 year old respond to some wild call to think Christianly and find a Biblical perspective on technology or art or biology or business when he or she has been taught – sometimes subtly, sometimes even overtly – that God doesn’t care about this world (you know, it all supposedly grows “strangely dim” in that “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” song)? How does a college student boldly develop what we call uniquely Christian scholarship when they’ve been told – sometimes subtly, sometimes even overtly – that in our society we’re supposed to keep religion to our private selves, that faith isn’t welcome in serious public discourse?  Yep, from both the church and the world, we’ve been told to disregard this very Raison d’être for the Jubilee conference.

No one book can undo the damage done by this double whammy — a privatized faith in a secularized culture — but this short little paperback could be a little stick of dynamite to blow up the dichotomies and dualism between sacred and secular, between faith and reason, between head and heart, between personal piety and public life.  I dared students to read it.

For some, by the way, the phrase “worldview” sounds too much like right-wing apologetics, as if it is merely an arguing tool to expose the deficiencies of other religions. Conversely, others think the concept of “worldview” is nearly postmodern with the tacit understanding that every idea is actually socially constructed, that pre-theoretical beliefs, such as they are, are most formative for any theory or fact. Neither assumption about worldview studies is fully fair, but both are somewhat true, I suppose. Being intentional about thinking about worldviews helps us understand other worldviews and what makes others tick, and it is, indeed, a move away from mere logic as determinative for how people see the world. (Pete Enns has a book called The Myth of Certainty which is actually pretty germane, here, but I didn’t mention it at Jubilee.)

The popular and respected James K.A. Smith has done great work on this, showing how our “social imaginaries” and stories (that is, our worldviews) are informed by our deepest loves, not firstly our ideas. Worldview studies are fascinating and generative – see, just for instance, Smith’s excellent Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic; $24.99) or Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World by the novelist Mark Bertrand (Crossway; $22.99) or the big, definitive book by the great DBU philosophy professor Davey Naugle called Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans; $37.50) and, then, the provocative collection of deeper discussions called After Worldview edited by Matthew Bonzo (Dordt College Press; $13.00) for a deeper dive into the subject. Al Wolter’s Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans; $15.00) is a classic in the field, cited by all of the above. Anybody who follows us carefully knows that we think The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton is the cream of the crop of these kinds of books (and it has a great couple of chapters at the end on how worldview funds the notion of communal Christian scholarship, a chapter every campus minister should read and re-read.)

The word, new to and rare in the English language in those years when the Jubilee conference began, (we then used the clunky phrase world-and-life view, a Dutchie rendering of the German weltanschauung) is, in a way, what got CCO going on the whole Jubilee vision thing. Before we came up with the idea of naming the conference Jubilee (from John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, by the way) we who were on the committee sometimes called it the “world and life conference.”

It simple wouldn’t be the Jubilee conference if I didn’t suggest to the crowd that they buy a book on the notion and nature of world and life views.  So Worldview: A Student’s Guide by Ryken it was.

This little book shows how the foundational notions of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation are not just keys to unlocking the unfolding, over-arching drama of the Bible narrative, but are world-and-life-viewpoint shaping. In Ryken’s little guidebook, students can learn to see this coherent vision of the nature of things as a pair of glasses. Through this lens we can increasingly see as God wants us to see. Faith is not just a compartment or as aspect of our lives, but the very heart of our seeing and making sense of the world around us. Worldview: A Students Guide is a gem of a little book, even if not nearly enough for a full exploration of this notion, so pregnant with meaning and loaded with implications. It’s a good start and I highly commend it to you for a quick but generative read. At 30% off, you can’t go wrong.

Your Minds Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $8.00 SALE PRICE $5.60  Oh my, how I wish we could give every person at Jubilee this handsome little staple-bound booklet. It is at once a worldview book, a book inviting us to use our minds well, a call to read widely, and a fabulous, upbeat, inspiring reminder that we can worship God as we think well about whatever we are studying. Our mind has a job to do, and we must learn to, as the Bible says, “take every thought captive.” Greg works with college students through IVCF and is a dear, dear brother in the Lord. He’s a friend of booksellers and a supporter of our work, so much so that he mentions Hearts & Minds in this little book. I sometimes forget that, and want to assure you that that isn’t why I push it everywhere I go. Although it is kinda cool that he so gets what we are trying to do here, what the Jubilee conference is about, and why reading, studying, learning, and becoming wise, more astute agents of social transformation is so very important. We are grateful for the things he cares so deeply about.

I know I circle back to this from time to time and some long time readers of BookNotes may tire of me asking you to consider this booklet. I wish somebody would buy a dozen for their youth group. I wish young adult groups would get it for their college-age folk. I wish pastors would master it so they know what the heck they should be calling their congregants to – thinking worldviewishly, multi-culturally, Biblically, for the sake of making a faithful difference in the world, across all zones of culture. What a rich vision is hinted at in this little volume! And what a critical piece of the puzzle it is.

I quickly told the Jubilee crowd that we can’t make a difference for God’s Kingdom in transforming the culture by good intentions or religious zeal alone. We have to think about this stuff, long and hard. Before anyone buys a book on Christian perspectives on nursing or pop culture or marketing or counseling or chemistry, they should read this little powerhouse on the role of thinking in an integrated and faithful manner. It is written for college students but I think many of our BookNotes readers will love it. On sale!

Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Derek Melleby & Donald Opitz (Brazos Press) $17.00 SALE PRICE = $11.90  Okay, I’ll be brief. I had to be brief in my one-stage interview last week as my allotted time was nearly up. I have touted (as I did at Jubilee) a little, easy to read book on worldview (Ryken’s) and a little easy to read book on the missional mind (by Greg Jao.) Both are jam-packed with implications but are necessarily brief. These are daunting subject and few folks take up our challenge to tackle worldview and the Christian mind as a topic of study as such. For those who do and want the “next step” or for those who think Worldview: A Student’s Guide or Your Minds Mission are too brief, then Learning for the Love of God is the next necessary step. I have raved about it before and I have held firm in my conviction that it is one of the few essential reads for any Christian college student. There are plenty of more rigorous texts but for undergrads, but start here.

Derek and Don are among my best friends and Beth and I are always delighted – truly – whenever we are in their presence. They care about young adults so can be light and whimsical but both are highly educated. (Derek has a Master’s degree from the Geneva college Higher Ed program and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon Conwell; Don has an advanced degree from Gordon Conwell and a PhD from Boston University, taken up under the tutelage of the sociologist Peter Berger. He is also ordained in the PC(USA) and serves as the chaplain at Messiah College near us here. Both of these gents are those rare breeds of super smart scholars who can be funny and gregarious and are always having a good time. Their whimsy and joy are on every page of this call to academic discipleship as they guide students to find greater meaning in their experience of higher education by honoring Christ in their classroom studies, in their homework and papers, in their life of learning across their collegiate experience. They translate heavy thinking – for those that care, they’ve read Dooyeweerd and Kuyper and Walsh & Middleton and Al Wolters and Nancy Pearcy; they cite Walt Brueggemann and Mark Noll and George Marsden (think of this as a youth version of his Oxford University Press book The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship) and all sorts of interesting primary source stuff – into a guide for becoming critical thinkers, living worldviewishly, and using the categories of creation/fall/redemption as keys to understanding the learning that goes on in college. They even have a helpful “Student’s Creed” in the back and some learning liturgies included. The book is dedicated to me, which is one of the great privileges of my life.

I wish we could get more people to buy Learning for the Love of God for their college bound students. I wish every church with a college outreach used it. I wish every Jubilee student got it. Alas, we have some left in our post-Jubilee boxes, just for you to take advantage of so they are for this week going for 30% off. You know what? Even if you aren’t in college, I think you’ll understand Hearts & Minds better and see your own efforts of being a life-long learner more clearly if you pick up this exciting little book. I would be personally grateful if you ordered some. Shouldn’t we all want to be “learning for the love of God”?

WHAT I ANNOUNCED LATE SATURDAY AFTERNOON

(re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners Bruxy Cavey (Herald Press) $16.99 SALE PRICE = $11.89  Bruxy is a pretty darn cool Brethren pastor from Canada, a kindred spirit to Shane Claiborne, maybe… a little less political, but all about being an incarnational community following the radical way of Jesus. I love this book in which he says one can summarize the gospel in one word: Jesus! But he means by that all that the Scriptures suggest – the saving work of the cross and the ethical necessity of following that same Savior into the world that so badly needs rescue. I love the clever writing, the high Christology, the strong ecclesiology, and non-conformist lifestyle (all traits of the Anabaptist heritage that Bruxy updates for our times.) This book is user-friendly in a helpful way because he doesn’t presume a devout reader – the subtitle is for real; it’s ideal for seekers. Beth and I like it a lot.

So, before the presentation late Saturday afternoon at Jubilee that would explain Christ’s atoning death and the spirit of adoption where God receives us as His children, into relationship with Himself and each other in a new family, I wanted to offer a book that was clear about the gospel but a bit different. Reunion explores that sense of adoption, that reconciliation, the happy re-uniting of lost ones with a heavenly Father. This is good news and it explains the Good News in ways that are personal and public, individual and communal, offering a nice glimpse of how the gospel re-union includes forgiveness and salvation and the joining of a missional movement empowered by the Spirit to allow us to follow Christ into the world. Bruxy gets it, and I am grateful for his work. A nice, fresh take.

Faith On the Edge: Daring to Follow Jesus Paul Tokunaga, Kevin Blue, Amy Brooke, Bobby Gross, and others (IVP) $20.00 SALE PRICE = $14.00  I give a hearty recommendation about this every year at Jubilee because it was first designed for new, youngish followers of Jesus who want short readings, nice reflection questions, and some guidance about many aspects of living well with Christ. The first few chapters are about knowing God, the next batch are about relationships – from parents to church members to neighbors, exploring new relationships with housemates and friends, the poor, the unchurched and more. The third part follows the trajectory from knowing God to serving those around us to rocking the world for Christ—there are chapters on global concerns, world missions, living out ones faith in the marketplace and more. Between the handful of chapters in each of these three sections, Faith on the Edge is one of the best little readers to introduce Christian views and beliefs and habits we know of. I’ve been impressed with this for years and it isn’t at all outdated. Wholistic, multi-faceted, solid, not daunting, written by a multi-ethnic team of women and men. I really recommend this.

In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character Jen Wilkin (Crossway) $12.99 SALE PRICE= $9.09  Before a message about re-uniting with God through His initiative to redeem and adopt us, I figured it would be useful to suggest a book about the attributes of God. Who is this God that loves us so? Bruxy Cavey’s Reunion makes the case that we are invited into relationship with Jesus and called to follow him, together, into the world. Faith on the Edge gives us insights, wisdom, teaching, and very practical guidance on how to do that. In His Image tells us two big things: who God is, based on Bible teaching about God’s character and ways, and teaches us how we are to image God by reflecting those characteristics. Some of God’s attributes, of course, we do not exactly reflect (we are not omnipresent or all powerful, after all.) But there are attributes of God we can be infused by and Ms. Wilkin explains all this with depth and charm and is exceptionally useful for those wanting to deepen their faith. I’d say it is very good for beginners, but really good for any who want to live into their discipleship with more Biblical depth.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $20.00 [the new hardback edition] SALE PRICE = $14.00 I’ve raved about this often and it was a special delight at Jubilee to have Tish and her daughter and new baby shopping in our Jubilee bookstore. (A few local Pittsburghers who were not at the conference came by to browse. Thanks to Jon & Kathy at WORD FM for helping with that.) Long before I knew Tish was showing up, though, we knew we’d feature this great book. I announced that Liturgy of the Ordinary is a perfect book for those wanting to accept their new status as redeemed and adopted children of God; with her great prose and vivid storytelling, Tish does two big things that not enough authors do: she reminds us that God is with us throughout the live-long day, even during seemingly mundane moments and certainly in hard moments. And, secondly, she does that by linking our Christian practices of being open to God’s presence to moments of worship. That is, she links liturgy to life; she explores how the formative practices of worship, liturgy and the practices of spiritual disciplines can equip us to be more faithful in the ordinary stuff of life. One of our favorite Jubilee speakers from the previous year and one of our all-time favorite books.  Lovely, thoughtful, wise and very well written… it is now only available in hardback, in part to celebrate its significance, but also to prevent Amazon from pirating it. Get it from us now on sale!

Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and a Guide to Finding Your Place In It  R. York Moore (Moody Press) $13.99  SALE PRICE = $9.79  Oh man, what a handsome little book, with a striking cover and some full color design touches inside; it’s a fine-looking book. And, more importantly, it offers a beautiful vision and I highlighted it at Jubilee 2020 not only because York has been a staff trainer for CCO in the past and a keynote preacher at Jubilee (where he guided many into a new, saving relationship with Christ) but because this notion of doing something good and beautiful seemed such a fresh and good way to describe the response to the call to commitment that would be given in that hour. My friend Rev. Dean Weaver is a great communicator and solid preacher so I was glad he’d be presenting the truth of the redemption chapter of the Biblical story and I wanted to recommend a book that was clear about salvation and clear about the wholistic, good response we can make, heading into the world shaped in decisive ways by the Biblical story. York’s call in Do Something Beautiful for us to be agents of social change is wonderful, gracious, balanced, although it is delivered with urgency. (He is particularly passionate about fighting sexual trafficking and has done good, good work on that.) It is an honor to amplify his message and to highlight him as an evangelist who knows that salvation must bear fruit of justice and public righteousness and social change, colored by beauty. What a lovely, energizing book. Highly recommended

Made for These Times: A Start-Up Guide to Calling, Character, and Work That Matters Justin Zoradi (Zondervan) $16.99  SALE PRICE = $11.89        I like to tell the story that the first time I heard of this guy and his book, a CCO staff person had heard him speak somewhere and asked me about him. He sure sounded a lot like a Jubilee keynote speaker, she said, and did I know him? I did not. I picked up the book and on the first page it mentions – as it does a few other times – my best friend, Ken Heffner, then of Calvin College, in Grand Rapids. Ken and Gail are former CCO staff, Jubilee conference fans, and bear witness with every ounce of their being this very good news that God’s Kingdom is restoring all things in the creation, that we need to think Christianly about engaging the good and bad in everything from pop culture and music to ecological issues and public policy. Justin was mentored as he worked for Ken and was offered Heffner hospitality in GR, learning much about this whole-life sort of Kingdom discipleship. He went on to start a global non-profit, to deepen his passion about justice work and redemptive efforts in the nonprofit space as an award-winning social entrepreneur. Made for These Times passionately tells about his passion and honestly informs us how to move towards more intentional kinds of service in the world. My friend was right: Justin Zoradi would make a perfect Jubilee speaker! And his book is a great, inspiring read to become the kind of people who can (as Steve Garber might put it) live into visions of vocation for the sake of the common good. Yes, yes, yes! On sale at 30% off, now, this week only. Check it out!

Whatever You Do: Six Foundations for an Integrated Life edited by Luke Bobo (Made to Flourish) $7.99  SALE PRICE = $5.59 Made to Flourish is a classy church-based network founded by our friend Tom Nelson (who has spoken at Jubilee and the for-adults pre-conference called Jubilee Professional) teaching from his wise and useful book Work Matters. After diving into the work of pastoring in ways that equipped his congregants to be salt and light in their workaday jobs, he moved increasingly to equip other pastors with this vision, helping others to enhance their own missional footprint in the marketplace. This engagement with work and calling and vocation and business led him to think more about economics, and he wrote a lovely little primer to help churches move towards being agents of shalom for their needy neighborhoods (see his The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity published by IVP; $18.00.)

Made to Flourish does amazingly good work and we were honored to be among the first booksellers to carry their own in-house materials such as this reader on wholistic integrated discipleship that gives an account of our call to serve God with our vocations. There are several great chapters by fabulous leaders in the faith/work movement in Whatever You Do, a compact and concise book about which I can’t say enough. Most of the contributing authors have spoken at Jubilee and Jubilee Pro over the years and I can affirm them without hesitation – authors such as Amy Sherman, Michael Goheen, Vincent Bacote, Greg Forster, Gary Black, and Tom Nelson. What a blessing to have Luke and his colleague Paige Wiley with us at Jubilee, and what a joy to tell you about these books that I suspect you may not know about.  Luke has written several other books which we stock, by the way, including Living Salty and Light-Filled Lives in the Workplace (Resource Publications; $16.00, but just $11.20 at our extra sale price), Race, Economics, and Apologetics: Is There a Connection? (Resource Publications; $9.99; on sale price = $6.99) and a nice and very helpful little guide to Bible reading called A Layperson’s Guide to Biblical Interpretation (also Resource Publications; regularly $22.00; on sale for $15.40.) We have them all here, and of course, have them at the special 30% post Jubilee discount.

Worked Up: Navigating Calling After College edited by Luke Bobo and Paige Wiley (Made to Flourish) $9.99 SALE PRICE = $6.99  This is a very cool- looking, thin but slightly oversized book that is so wonderfully designed with colorful graphics and print touches that I just want to tell everybody about it. There are pull quotes and sidebars — you really have to see it. Alas, it is a specialized market, but you should know about it. This is a workbooky sort of journal that asks very perceptive questions for the recent college graduate about discerning more about their calling and careers. We have bunches of books like this (drop me a note for a larger list including books like the energetic Your Vocational Credo by Deborah Koehn Loyd (my personal fav) or the more contemplative Consider Your Calling by Gordon T. Smith) but Worked Up offers two very important things: it includes space for writing in response to wise prompts and provocative questions and it is rooted in this all-of-life-redeemed, worldviewish vision that honors the high calling of a Biblical vision for work.  There are only a few faith-based vocational guidebooks and this is as solid on the framework for vocational discipleship and authentic flourishing than any tool I know. And it is honest, inviting some pondering about anxiety and discernment and such. It’s very nice for anyone, really, and ideal for those in transition, thinking afresh about their jobs, callings, work, and careers. Kudos to Made to Flourish for this fine, fine resource.

Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99 SALE PRICE = $9.79  Okay, can you blame me? This was my own contribution and I truly wouldn’t have announced it in our limited time up front at Jubilee if I didn’t earnestly belief it was great to this crowd.  I’m happy to remind you of it here, now. It’s a volume I edited, a collection of commencement speeches from Christian colleges that sounded a lot like big and motivational main-stage Jubilee-talks. Some chapters are literate and tender (I adore the one by Calvin College’s Claudia Beversluis quoting Wendell Berry poetry) and some offer Biblical explorations (my own reflections on being “sons and daughters of Issachar” for instance.)

This little volume is one I am really proud of and it seems like a perfect follow up to the Jubilee conference. Serious Dreams is designed for college grads, but we know that others have enjoyed its chapters – from authors like Richard Mouw, Amy Sherman, John Perkins, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Steve Garber and more. I did a long introductory chapter and our friend Erica Reitz Young (of Leaving College fame) did a short afterword. I think the discussion questions are pretty good, too. You could use this, you really could. And I’d autograph ‘em if you ask. How’s that?  Happy reading!

 

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Lenten studies, devotionals, and new books for the upcoming season ON SALE NOW at Hearts & Minds

We show the regular retail prices but will deduct 20% off when you place an order. You can use our secure order form page at another part of our website.  Scroll way down to safely use the link at the bottom of this column. May these recommendations stir you to make time during this upcoming season or Lent.

We love offering resources to help folks enter into the churches liturgical seasons. Whether you are a higher church Episcopalian or a free wheeling, hip mega-churcher or (like most of us) somewhere in between, all of us can appreciate the significance of being shaped less by the liturgical rites of passage like April 15th or the first day of school or the opening day of baseball season but by stuff that points us to Jesus. Advent and Lent, as least, help oriented our lives to a different sort of sense of the seasons and of the orientation of our life-times.

We love Bobby Gross’s lovely and thoughtful daily devotional called Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God: An Introduction and Devotional Guide (IVP; $18.00) that has a spectacular foreword by Lauren Winner that I read at least once a year. We have a host of other books on the church calendar, such as The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Sister Joan Chittister (Nelson; $15.99), Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year by Robert Webber (Baker; $20.00), or Sacred Days: Following Jesus Through the Christian Year byThomas Steagald (Upper Room Books; $16.99.)

For those that want to see how certain church year practices work out on our daily lives and why even non-liturgical church folk can take up this more catholic custom of “giving up something for Lent” we recommend The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent by Aaron Damiani (Moody Press; $12.99.) It is a very handsomely designed paperback that offers a good apologetic and some inspiration for trying out this practice.

We invite you to visit a few of our previous BookNotes columns HERE-2019 or HERE-2018 or HERE-2017 to learn about some long-time favorites that we routinely stock here during the season of Lent. (A few of the ones listed may not be available any more…) Great and perennial best sellers for us include the extraordinary anthology Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter by Plough Publishing ($24.00 ) or the great, great small sized The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter by Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK; $15.00) or the must-have classic God for Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete; $21.99.)

Now that we are in the Lectionary Cycle Year A we are glad to be able to sell Lent for Everyone: Matthew, Year A: A Daily Devotional by the always-interesting N.T. Wright (WJK; $16.99.) By the way, his Reflecting the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World (Augsburg; $14.99) is pretty much a Lenten project, too, and is amazing! It includes a 7-week study guide. And don’t miss our remarks a year or so ago about the pocket-sized Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days by the amazing Trevor Hudson (Upper Room Books; $8.99) or the very useful 6-week study Forgiveness: A Lenten Study by Marjorie J. Thompson (Westminster John Knox; $13.00.)

I can’t wait until this time of year rolls around each year so I can remind you of one of my favorite books by a favorite memoirists, Sara Miles, who wrote a stunner of a book, a moving, feisty memoir structured around three Ash Wednesday services held on one day in 2012 (the main one celebrated and performed on the streets of San Fran.) It is called City of God: Faith in the Streets (Jericho Books; $15.99.) Our often-remembered, late friend Phyllis Tickle wrote of it:

Rarely, if ever, have I heard or read or experienced a more poignant or persuasive presentation of the city as metaphor and prototype for the Kingdom of God. Miles’s panorama is lived theology, and its result is a kind of holy magnificence.”                      — Phyllis Tickle, author, The Great Emergence

Of course, Sara’s good friend Nadia Bolz-Weber offered a great blurb, capturing much about City of God:

Gorgeously written, City of God takes Jesus from the walls of the church to the streets of the city, showing us that where two or more Anglicans or prostitutes or head-injured junkies or housewives are gathered, He is with us. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

SOME NEW RELEASE FOR LENT 2020

Lent 2020: Christ Is For Us: A Lenten Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary April Yamasaki (Abingdon) $9.99   Every year we are glad to have this study in the “Scriptures for the Church Seasons” series which is designed for adult Sunday school classes or lectionary-based small groups. Unlike most Lenten devotionals which are designed for personal, daily use, this is a weekly Bible study to use in a class or group. Each of the seven lessons includes commentary and reflection on the readings for the week (the Old Testament, a Psalm, the Gospel, and the Epistle) and lots of discussion questions. There are some suggested activities or action steps. too, which is nice.

April Yamasaki is a pastor and author of books on spiritual growth. She has served as the pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She has written several books, including Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal and Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. The holds a Masters in Christian Studies from Regent College in Vancouver.

By the way, this had been released three years ago, so you might have that earlier edition.

Grace-Filled Wilderness: A Journey Through Lent Magdalen Smith (SPCK) $15.00 You may know that we import this British publisher through our good friends at IVP; many of the SPCK authors are rooted in the UK Anglican communion; Magdalen Smith, in fact, is not only an ordained priest but works in the office of helping future pastors discern their vocations and calls to the ministry. I have to admit I was first attracted to this book by the lovely cover and the allusive chapter headlines (which include provocative invitations to reflect on appetites and identity and calling and anxiety and pain and more.)  The title is pretty captivating, isn’t it?

As the publisher says, “The Grace Filled Wilderness connects contemporary encounters of wilderness with traditional themes of Lent and Jesus’s journey to the cross.” These six full week’s worth of readings help us move (if only gradually) from wilderness to grace to hope and the joy of Easter. This looks really, really good.

The Radical Reconciler: Lent in all of Scripture Chris Wright & John Stott (SPCK) $15.00  One of my favorite Advent books which we promoted here last December was Rejoice! Advent in All of Scriptures which, like this new one, coupled older classic pieces by the so reliable and helpful John Stott with newer words by Chris Wright. Wright is one of the preeminent Bible teachers today — you should read anything by him you can! — and he directs Stott’s ministry, The Langham Trust. This benevolent, wholistic, evangelical ministry gets all the proceeds from the sales of their books, too, so this is a wonderful choice.

It is a wonderful choice, further, because of the great gift it offers us in seeing the coherence of the Biblical story, bringing together so much “in all of Scripture” as the subtitle promises. How does the “mission accomplished” message in the pained cry “It is finished!” help us face with confidence our own struggles and pains. If evil powers are defeated, death is destroyed, sinners forgive and peace being made, how do we live in this “now and not yet” time when all of history has not seemingly been brought under Christ’s Kingship? If it is “mind-blowing but true” that “the whole of creation has been reconciled to God” then how, then, shall we live? And how can we understand the Scriptures unifying message in a way that helps us life faithfully in the face of the cross and resurrection?

Very highly recommended!

Lent in Plain Sight: A Devotion Through Ten Objects Jill J. Duffield (Westminster John Knox) $14.00  I love the idea of this — and what a great cover. Don’t you just want to spend some time with this next month?  And Ms Duffiled is a good writer (she has a couple of advanced seminary degrees, is ordained in the PC(USA) and is the fine editor of The Presbyterian Outlook.) I think this “ten objects” approach — which is sort of a thing these days in doing history writing — is really, really cool, and can be very illuminating.

Here is what the publisher tells us about it:

God is often at work through the ordinary: ordinary people, ordinary objects, ordinary grace. Through the ordinary, God communicates epiphanies, salvation, revelation, and reconciliation. It is through the mundane that we hear God’s quiet voice. In this devotion for the season of Lent, Jill J. Duffield draws readers’ attention to ten ordinary objects that Jesus would have encountered on his way to Jerusalem: dust, bread, the cross, coins, shoes, oil, coats, towels, thorns, and stones. In each object, readers will find meaning in the biblical account of Jesus’ final days. Each week, readers encounter a new object to consider through Scripture, prayer, and reflection. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, Lent in Plain Sight reminds Christians to open ourselves to the kingdom of God

Uncovering the Love of Jesus: A Lent Devotional Asheritah Ciuciu (Moody Press) $12.99  I love it when evangelical publishers not known for much affinity with high church (let alone Roman) customs do good, surprising books like this, getting in on the practices of using Lenten devotionals and helping a broad readership take up this special season. This author was raised in the mission field of post-communist Romania and has seen a lot. And her passion for helping others understand the glorious love of Jesus is hard to miss. These forty devotions help us “reveal the love of Jesus poured out for us.” Each daily reading tends to look at some personal interaction of Jesus.

Chapter titles are plain and clear with headings like “Jesus Invites Us Close” and “Jesus Drives Out Fear” and “Jesus Offers Second Chances” and “Jesus Weeps” or “Jesus Loves His Enemies.” This really is what Lent is about, inviting us to enter directly into the narrative of Jesus’s life and times, his sacrifices and his service, helping us identify with him in his very death and resurrection.

By the way, this is a very handsome hardback with glossy paper and purple ink and some really nice touches. There are a few opening pieces about giving us something sacrificially during this time and it even, then, includes some optional family activities to help you “celebrate Jesus together.”  It is a beautiful companion volume to Asheritah Ciuciu’s Advent one called Unwrapping the Names of Jesus. Kudos!

The Way of Benedict: Eight Blessings for Lent Laurentia Johns OSB (SPCK) $14.00 Many of us have heard of the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict and a few of us have even dabbled in thinking about a rule of life (see, for a really cool and very contemporary sort of spin-off, The Common Rule by Justin Early (IVP: $16.00) who will be with us in Pittsburgh at Jubilee 2020 in a few weeks.) inspired by Saint B and his monastic guidance for prayer and work, community and hospitality. But, to be honest, I suspect most could use a nice, accessible guide to what this rule says, in light of Scripture, that could be applied to Lent.

Sister Johns does just this with lots of quotes and insights about the Rule of Benedict. She guides us to the RB (as it is called) and invites us a more intentional sort of living with two very curious and I am guessing solid and reliable insights about where these habits might take us: first, in the prayerful Benedictine sort of spirituality, the whole of life has a certain Lenten character, so this isn’t an unusual or odd sort of season disconnected with our daily discipleship. And, this focus leads to freedom and joy, even as we long more diligently for the resurrection. This is a great little Lenten read and each chapter has ideas for reflection and action.

Living Into Lent  Donald K. McKim (Westminister John Knox) $14.00  This brand new release is a nice little volume, ideal for Presbyterians, especially. Dr. McKim was a beloved PC(USA) seminary professor, theologian, educator, and denominational leader in our big-tent Reformed communion and is the author of bunches of books, both big and smaller. (He’s known as a Calvin scholar, too, and just recently released Everyday Prayer With John Calvin [P&R publishers; $15.99.]) His is a 1971 graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and we have some mutual influences and friends; he’s a major thinker but has served as a small-town pastor, too, so knows how to communicate major themes in delightfully clear-headed ways. I think those who aren’t Presbyterian might like it, too, as it is so faithful and encouraging.

Here is how the publisher describes the tone:

The Lenten journey is a shared journey—Christians join with others along the way of faith, following Jesus and seeking to live out the will and purpose of God. Living into Lent, written by noted theologian, educator, and author Donald K. McKim, sets aside time during the Lenten season for readers to reflect on their Christian identities, listen to God’s Word and will, and engage in practices that deepen the Christian experience through discipleship.

Whether used for congregational study or personal reflection, each reading features Scripture, devotion, a theological quote, response, and prayer. Th theological quotes, drawn from the history of the Reformed church, will help readers better understand God’s Word and its implications for the Lenten journey. Readings are enhanced by a seven-session study guide and questions for conversation.

For the Beauty of the Earth: Lenten Devotional Leah D. Schade (Chalice Press) $5.99       I was hoping (as was a UCC pastor friend we talked to recently) for a Lenten book exactly like this, and we are so glad the Disciples of Christ affiliated Chalice Press offered brand new resource this year. It is a brief sort of daily guide, inviting us to the joy of recognizing the beauty of the Earth and to reflect on our call to care for creation. It draws on the lovely old hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth” and each week focuses on a different aspect of nature’s splendor. And its abuse and the needed outrage and commitment to be faithful in response.

This inexpensive study does call us to a renewed and reformed practice during Lent, reminding us and calling us to revive our commitment more ecologically wise lifestyles and to push towards making systemic changes. And, yes, then, to rejoice on Easter for the incredible saving gift God has given us in Christ, for the world God so loves.

I got to preach once at an Easter Sunrise service at the local Izaak Walton League and spoke about the creation groaning as described in Romans 8 and the completion of God’s plan to heal the planet accomplished on the cross and mighty resurrection. This nice devotional by a professor of homiletics — Leah Schade is a Lutheran who wrote Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit — would have been helpful.

The short prayers at the end of each reading will seem for some, a bit unusual and the calls to action are sometimes rather serious. Which makes this a really good tool for anyone want to be more deeply committed to reflect about God’s care for all creation and its suffering during this season of the cross…

Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press) $19.99 We so hope you recall our rave reviews in years past about this author/illustrator team’s wonderful All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings. That lovely book of artful woodcut illustrations of animals who hibernate evoked allusive reflection on winter and waiting and was ideal for Advent, wonderful for those who like nature writing and great for those whose Advent imaginations could see the metaphor and make the connections.

Well, this sequel and companion volume is very similar — with great, great writing, fantastic artwork (again, engravings or woodcuts) and a book laden with goodness and grace. The most obvious theme of this powerful — environmental activist and literature prof Bill McKibben calls it “overpowering” — Lenten book is the beauty and sorrow of endangered species.

As spiritual writer Christine Valters Paintner (founder of Abbey of the Arts) says:

Full of power and poignancy, love, and lament. Gayle Boss invites her readers to groan together with all creation in grief at the profound loss of species Lament is a cry of truth-telling, and in her portraits of these exquisite creatures, we hear the necessary and devasting truth of what we are losing.

Carl Safina, ecologist, NYT bestselling author of Beyond Words and Becoming Wild; MacArthur Fellow and founder of The Safina Center, writes:

Wild Hope is the only book whose table of contents alone gave me chills. Here’s the deal: the living world, life on planet Earth, is sacred. Author Gayle Boss yearns to show us that we live in a miracle. And she succeeds in showing us that we are not alone on this holy planet. This is a beautifully elegant, deeply excellent book, pursued by grace on every page, in every stunning illustration.

And listen to this endorsement from a first-class poet and Christian writer:

At first I wondered how a connection could be made between the Christian season of Lent and the human ravaging of Earth’s creatures in the wild. But Gayle Boss’s detailed, vivid accounts of an ark-full of wild lives in danger, as our climate changes, convinced and challenged me. In the stories, and with powerful woodcut images, the beauty of living wild beings is revealed to readers as designed and beloved of the Creator.  –Luci Shaw, author, The Thumbprint in the Clay and Eye of the Beholder, Writer in Residence, Regent College

Saying Yes to Life: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2020 Ruth Valerio (SPCK) $15.00  For years, now, we have happily stocked the famous Archbishop of Canterbury’s choice for their Church of England “all church” read. We’re not Anglican, but appreciate their effort to raise up theological and spiritual themes for the church that always have some implication for our public discipleship. These books are not for navel-gazing or only deepening personal piety during Lent, but to help us mature in our understanding and live well in a very needy world. Saying Yes to Life is surely one of those kinds of books. In fact, it is co-published and will profit Tearfund, a respected British relief and development agency. Thanks be to God.

Saying Yes captivated me right away — the embossed, raised printing on the cover gives it a delightful tactile feel that seems not just artful but somehow weighty. I wanted to take this book seriously, despite the cheery colors of the cover. And this is about right — it is lively and light even when it is grave and prophetic. It majors in teaching that we are made in the very image of God so are entrusted to share in God’s “joy and ingenuity in making a difference for good.” Nice and laden with implications, eh?

The book starts with Genesis 1 and explores the days of creation as Ruth Valerio imaginatively relates themes of light, water, land, the seasons, other creatures, humankind, and (of course) Sabbath rest. Her Lenten vision of eventual resurrection hope is allusively connected somehow to the very rest of the original garden. In that, it reminded me of the heavy, important book (which I named a “Best Book of 2019”) which explores this directly: God’s Sabbath With Creation by James W. Skillen.

Saying Yes to Life, like any contemporary theological or spiritual work should, offers God’s hope to matters of environmental, ethical, and contemporary social concerns. How could it not?

Ms. Valerio suggests (and this is good!) that “foundation to Saying Yes to Life is what it means to be human, and, in particular, to be a follower of Jesus.” Remember that line from the church Father who said the glory of God is seen in the person fully alive?

But, again, she organizes this creative set of chapters around the days of creation, so humankind must be seen in our glorious relationship to other creatures. Valerio is herself an environmentalist and works for the aforementioned Tearfund and in the acknowledgements thanks many women and men, a few who we’ve had the pleasure of knowing — Ed Brown, Elaine Storkey, Rusty Pritchard, and others. This is a lively, creative, solid, and wonderfully imagined call to prayer and transformation. Each chapter has voices and prayers from around the globe and offers ideas for contemplation and action (although it is not a daily devotional in format.) Saying Yes to Life is really good not just for individuals, but for classes or book clubs or small groups to think and reflect together. Wow.

Prizing His Passion: Why the Death of Jesus Christ Should Matter to You…a Forty-Six Day Journey John S. Oldfield (Resource Publications) $26.00  I wish this weren’t so pricey as I’d love to be able to promote this widely. I want to assure you that this is a rich and thoughtful, even a bit deeper, study, and would reward you with mature insight, even over multiple readings. At over 200 pages, it is a treausre.

John is an old friend who welcomed Beth and I to York when we moved to the area so many decades ago. I was involved in the anti-nuke movement, doing some protests and social justice organizing, and starting our ecumenical bookstore so to have this dear nearly fundamentalist brother invite me into his non-denominational, urban church was a bit refreshing and a real delight. He, I discovered, had studied at Denver Seminary under the legendary Christian gentleman and scholar, Vernon Grounds (who I had met and admired, also because I knew he had served Ron Sider well in helping start up Evangelicals for Social Action.) Before coming to York, John had served in global ministry (I think in Turkey and perhaps what they used to call Persia) and he maintains friendship with folks all over the world. One can’t be with him for more than a few moments without realize his heart for others, his desire to meaningful share the gospel, his passion for outreach and care. For years in York John continued to do old-school urban ministry, pastored a needy flock, did evangelism, radio ministry, thoughtful apologetics; he ran a friendly coffee house offering Christian music (before it became somewhat of a big-time industry; he’d have Phil Keaggy or John Michael Talbot doing acoustic sets and talking about Jesus to all sorts of seekers and skeptics.) John later joined the staff of the large First Assembly of God here in York and eventually moved away. His beloved wife of many years, Dagmar, died recently, and while in town we had opportunity to get caught up a bit. I say all this to put into context my encouragement for you to consider this no-nonsense, seriously Biblical, Christ-centered, gospel-focused, exploration of the passion and suffering and death of Jesus.

In John’s delightful, pointed way, he tells why he writes and his hope that it offers comfort and perhaps salvation to readers, as he points us all to Jesus,

Approaching the relevant biblical truths from multiple angles, it will provide you with a deeper understanding of what He experienced and said during the hours that culminated in His death on a first-century Roman cross. It will reveal the reality and relevance of it all for you as you struggle to find your spiritual footing here in the twenty-first century. Godspeed as you travel the road to Golgotha, to Calvary!

One of the most significant missionary leaders of our lifetime, I would say, is Greg Livingstone, the founder of Frontiers, that pioneered contextualized ministry among unreached people groups and seeking Muslims. Of course, John is friends with him, too.

Greg Livingstone writes of Prizing His Passion:

Every once in a while, we discover a treasure from a little-known pastor-writer-friend who offers us a penetrating thought-provoker. Prizing His Passion is an unhurried, meditative journey that causes us to look into the Father’s face and say, ‘Thank You!’ in true, overflowing gratitude. I found dwelling on its pages provoked a fresh outpouring of affection and appreciation to our Lord for His sacrifice, one I hadn’t experienced for far too long.

It is a joy for me to get to tell you about this Lenten book by an older brother in Christ, still running the race and publishing resources that can change people’s lives. Amen!

Lead Us Not into Temptation: A Daily Study in Loyalty for Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday Martin Shannon, CJ (Paraclete Press) $14.99 This brand new book may appeal to any of us that want to ponder the brokennes of the world, the temptations that afflict us, the real-world questions of fidelity and betrayal and sin. In our gut we know that this is part of the Biblical story, part of our own story, and stuff about which we should be honest about (in our lives and in our culture.)

As I skimmed the table of contents to see how this Episcopal priest (who is a liturgist and spiritual director and part of the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, MA) handled all this, I was drawn in. It explores “examples of the problem” from the Bible, and moves from a week on the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden, which he notes is “The Curse” to the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness which he calls “The Cure.”  He draws considerably on Bonhoeffer’s famous Creation and Fall and offers summary lines at the end of each days reflection. This is good stuff, succinct and nicely offered. I hope you like the work of Paraclete Press as much as we do!

“I will be using Lead Us Not Into Temptation for Lent, not only because it is filled with wisdom on a topic not often contemplated, but because the format–short but weighty daily entries, spiked with insights from Bonhoeffer–is ideal for the introspection which the season invites. As Martin rightly says, temptation not only can turn us, but it can teach us so that we come to Eastertide more spiritually healthy than we were on Ash Wednesday.” — Rev. Canon Dr. Dennis Okholm, Professor of Theology, Azusa Pacific University; author of Monk Habits for Everyday People

Remember Me: A Novella About Finding Our Way to the Cross Sharon Garlough Brown (IVP) $20.00  Oh my, how I want to tell you so much about this. But I cannot, as I dare not spoil surprises or insights… we can explain the basic nature of this remarkable, lovely, profound little novel, but you simply have to read it for yourself.
And there I said it: it is little and a novel. More precisely, a novella (longer than a short story, but at 132 trim sized pages, it isn’t War and Peace.) But as a novella, Remember Me is not only entertaining, offering several hours of great reading pleasure, it is, also, an ideal resource for your own Lenten meditations. With a study guide, a reflection, and full color artwork, there is plenty to use. Let me explain.

And there I said it: it is little and a novel. More precisely, a novella (longer than a short story, but at 132 trim sized pages, it isn’t War and Peace.) But as a novella, Remember Me is not only entertaining, offering several hours of great reading pleasure, it is, also, an ideal resource for your own Lenten meditations. With a study guide, a reflection, and full color artwork, there is plenty to use. Let me explain.

You see, Remember Me is very much connected to a novel I raved about in this column last summer, a story called Shades of Light. It was a fictional account of a burned out social worker who takes up living with her aunt, who is a spiritual director at a retreat center. As a novelist, Ms. Garlough Brown has covered some of this general ground before in her “Stepping Stones” series, a beloved set of “spiritual fiction” stories (as the publisher describes them) about the lives of women who meet at a contemplative retreat. In Shades of Light we learn of the spiritual retreat leader, Katherine and  Wren, who is facing anxiety and depression (and near poverty since she has lost her job) as well as the parents of Wren who are worried about their young adult daughter, and several other individuals involved in her struggles with emotional pain and a new sort of faith and spirituality. In that novel, the spiritual director (Katherine Rhodes) invites Wren to explore her sorrows by helping paint some Lenten artwork, a set of works on the Stations of the Cross. Since Wren is an avid reader of the letters and diaries of Vincent Van Gogh, she increasingly understands the inter-connections between mental illness and sadness, between art and faith, between depression and hope and creativity and grace. It’s a great story, a very nice novel (that includes a bit about Van Gogh) that moved me deeply.

Remember Me picks up the story and offers a series of letters written by Katherine to Wren. Katherine’s own grief has welled up, she is herself wondering how to recover from grief and loss and so much that is unresolved… Katherine (as it says on the back cover) “reflects on the meaning of Christ’s suffering and shares her own story of finding hope.” One wouldn’t have to read the first one, by the way, but I was glad to hear more of Katherine’s back story through this simple device of the letters she wrote.

Katherine and Wren make quite a literary/artful couple and as Wren moves forward in her commitment to paint the stations of the cross for the prayer experience at the New Hope Retreat Center, readers themselves will discover or recall their own similar journeys, or their visceral wishes for this kind of encounter. A real artist (Elizabeth Ivy Hawkins) agreed to try to play the role of Wren and paint “in her voice” for this book, so you can see and meditate upon the actual Stations of the Cross artwork. Ms. Brown explains more in the informative Acknowledgments section, which is very nice.

All good stories have the ability to probe and call us to self-reflection, but in this case — because it is a story about loss and grief and art and Lent — is is certainly appropriate to list here as a slightly different sort of Lenten devotional. In fact, IVP has created a Scripturally-based devotional guide with readings and prayer prompts (and full color art) to help use this story as a way to ponder Christ as a “man of sorrows” and the Lenten journey as a time to encounter the restoration and hope offered by the gospel. Remember Me is a handsome, compact sized hardback with a nice jacket, making a truly lovely resource for this season, or for any season. It would make a nice gift and a great book club title, too. Order it today!

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PART TWO: Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2019 — ON SALE NOW

Because this is long, be sure to scroll down and read the whole thing. If your email or device crimps it, you may have to click “read more” to see it all, ending with the sale reminder (20% off) and order form link at the very bottom.

Earlier in the week I wrote, to begin PART ONE of this big list of favorite reads of 2019, “Between stupid Winter illnesses and out-of-store events and brand new or forthcoming books to read, our annual custom of announcing Hearts & Minds Best Books of the Year as been late in coming.”

That’s putting it mildly. Don’t ask what tied me up this week, but, for the record, this is slow, hard work, creating a list like this. I fret about What You Will Think and since our living depends on you sending us orders, I’m always tempted to pull my punches, as they say. I don’t even know what it means to literally pull a punch, and I can’t use the less violent metaphor of not showing my hand, because, well, friends, that’s exactly what I’m doing here, showing my hand, or at least some of the books I held in my hands this year. Few punches pulled, most of my cards on the table.

Here is PART TWO of the Hearts & Minds list of my favorite books, or books I felt I should honor, good titles or decent authors who contributed to making 2019 a good one for us and for book buyers and readers of all sorts. Thanks for caring about our work at Hearts & Minds and honoring us by reading this long, long epistle. Spread the word and send us some orders, please. Just use the link to the order form page at the end of the column. Happy reading!

Reminder: we show the regular retail price but will deduct our 20% OFF BookNotes discount when you place an order. Our order form page (see the bottom of the column) is certified secure.

A VITAL AND CONTEMPORARY STUDY OF SAINT AUGUSTINE – AND ONE OF THE VERY BEST BOOKS OF 2019

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press) $24.99 I will not belabor this, but refer you to my rave review which I wrote before the book came out in October. We pushed it at BookNotes as a pre-order and it became one of the top sellers for Hearts & Minds this year. And we are glad about that.

I suppose you know that I have often said Smith’s You Are What You Love was the Book of the Decade, which I announced several years ago. That book is a delightful, accessible, transformational book which in some ways summarizes the more substantial trilogy of volumes in what is called his “Cultural Liturgy” project. Those three are, in order, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, and Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. That Jamie was working on an introduction to the deep Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (How (Not) To Be Secular) and editing Comment magazine during the writing of those three big ones, and the summarizing You Are What You Love is remarkable. Oh and don’t forge — in those same years he released and we have promoted a lovely collection of shorter essays called Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture which gives further insight into where this remarkable college professor is coming from and where his “all of life redeemed”-neo-Kuyperian-worldview stuff is going.

Yes, yes, you should read all of these volumes – some of the most generative (and in some of our circles) the most discussed books of recent years. It is a bit surprising that he has become such a widely admire author and presenter, but it’s true. You really should know his stuff.

Jamie was a kid of a working class family who married young and was vibrantly Pentecostal. He eventually studied Dutch neo-Calvinism (and the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd) at Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies where he worked with scholars such as James Olthius, Al Wolters, Henk Hart, Calvin Seerveld, Brian Walsh, and others who have been important in my own life. And now he says what Wolters (and James Skillen, mentioned above) have all said: the all of life redeemed and “every square inch of creation” regained theological perspective of relevant Reformation teaching goes back to Augustine, the African bishop from the 3rd century. This On the Road with Augustine is a book bringing Saint Gus into the post-modern era that Smith was born to write. It brings together so much of what he’s worked on in a marvelously readable manner. It is doubtlessly one of the most important books of 2019 and certainly one of my favorites.

You can read many reviews of it on various on-line sites and see several good videos of the author describing it; you can see how I enticed people to order it in my own BookNotes remarks about it, HERE. But just know this: Augustine, like many in the late 20th century (most notably, Jack Kerouac, author the iconic ‘60s road trip book On the Road) thought that moving on would be the way to construe one’s new identity; to find oneself as we used to say. This is actually troubling in many ways (see Mark Sayer’s under-appreciated little book called The Road Trip That Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory That Will Change How You View Culture, the Church, And, Most Importantly, Yourself) and it is important to understand. Believe it or not, Smith is helping us understand this ethos by comparing it to Saint Augustine’s own travelogue and memoir about finding himself, published in serialized form between 397 and into 400 AD

Augustine, before his famous conversion, found himself in that same space—no-place but moving on, heading to various cities and jobs and hopes and dreams in Italy. He becomes, in Smith’s amazing prose and incredibly insightful observations and analysis, a hip 21st century social entrepreneur, an artist, a world-changer and culture maker, all the stuff so many energetic young adults today are yearning to become. But yet, can we truly find and sustain a lasting identity in these grandiose schemes? Will we always be restless tying this and that? Will we ever learn to live well, be wise, grow up?

I cried for myself as an old guy, and for my grown kids, and for my friend’s adult kids, and for Jamie’s kids as he wrote with such empathy about what it is like coming of age in this secular age, in these confusing times. And I rejoiced in how he used the life and teaching of this memorable church leader from centuries ago to illuminate our calling to be in friendship, to relate to mothers and fathers, to find work, to learn to protest, to be an intentional character in our own (God’s?) story. He has a chapter on freedom, a chapter on ambition, a chapter on sex. My, my, how he turns this “refugee spirituality” of Augustine into a contemporary guide on the quest to find (truly) yourself.

“Everybody’s got a restless heart,” Springsteen sings. Baby, we’re Born to Run. Jamie gets this. Saint Augustine gets this. And the God of the church Augustine helped to form is the One who call us home, to stop our striving, to be at rest.

To help us figure it out, this tension between our longing and love for escape and our need and desire to be at rest, Smith and his beloved wife head off on a journey following some of the footsteps of Augustine. They go on the road, literally, with Saint Augustine, so to speak, so they can report back and help us along our (restless) way. Much of this was written literally in places like Milan and Rome. He tells of Augustine’s best friends and much about his mother, Monica. (Smith’s vulnerable telling of his own sense of fatherlessness is remarkable in a chapter about Augustine’s absent father.)

There are some fabulously (and surprising) full color-art plates included, pictures of architecture and paintings and renderings they saw on their trip which become important to the story. What a multi-faceted, learned scholar Smith is, and what a helpful travel companion. What a philosopher he is, but what a friend. This book, like many of his others, is filled with stories of history and philosophy and theology and culture, but it is down to Earth and (as far as a philosopher writing about Camus and Cicero and Augustine and Sartre can be, explaining stuff about existentialism and modernist ennui and how those thinkers have been influential in the air we breath, whether we know it or not.)

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real World Spirituality for Restless Hearts is accessible for most educated readers. Many good friends loved it and have encouraged me to tell others how great it is. I highly, highly recommend it. It is one of the very top books of 2019.

A GREAT REMINDER OF THE GOODNESS OF CREATION (AND THE GOODNESS OF GOD)

The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God Gisela H. Kreglinger (IVP) $16.00  I’m not sure when I first read the poem “As Once The Winged Energy Of Delight” by Rainier Maria Rilke but I recall having it commended to us for meditation at, of all things, a Faith & Work conference at Redeemer PCA Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. I needn’t rehearse it here but it came to mind as I was reading the truly lovely little book by wine-maker theologian, Gisela Kreglinger. Rilke writes about wonder and awe, and although I doubt this is what he was thinking when inviting us to this poem, I remember the line “To work with Things in the indescribable relationship is not too hard for us” and a bit about how “the pattern grows more intricate and subtle.”  Upon looking it up, I was astonished by the line that says to “Take your practiced powers and stretch them out” and thought that this is exactly what this book gives us an opportunity to watch, a craftsperson (a winemaker, in this case) taking her practiced powers, watching the patterns in intricate and subtle ways as she “works with Things” before God.

Okay, maybe I’m stretching. But the Bible teaches a sturdy and robust doctrine of creation — see some of the recent essays in the wonderful Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World edited by Todd Wilson (IVP Academic; $25.00) or Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality by Gerald McDermott (Baker Academic; $22.99) or the small but potent Theology of the Ordinary by Julie Canlis (Godspeed Press; $12.99) so working with the stuff of creation (indeed, allowing it to speak to us a la Psalm 19:1-4 or Job 12:8) is exactly what being human is all about. We are made in the image of a creator God and God places Adam and Eve in the garden. It is our culture-making vocation and task (to use Andy Crouch’s phrase from his book Culture Making) to make something of the raw stuff of creation. We “exercise dominion” by stewarding well the potential and possibilities of the wonderful stuff God has graciously put into the creation. We are to cultivate — eggs into omelettes, so to speak, and make something for the common good. It is the theological accounting for art and science, families and schools, businesses and governments, parties and rituals, policies and programs. And wine.

Ms Kreglinger gave a lovely account of her life as a girl growing up in a Lutheran home and vineyard, working in the winery, and realizing that God cared about it all especially when she realized that her own families grapes were used in the parish communion wine. Her discussion of a theology of wine and winemaking was solid and thorough in the much-acclaimed The Spirituality of Wine (Eerdmans; $24.00) I told folks about it gladly, as it was one of the one such books we knew about. When I heard this was coming out I wondered what else she could possibly say, and why we needed another book on a Christian view of wine.

And oh my, how glad I am for The Soul of Wine which helps us not just understand her theology and approach to wine (it’s lavish glory, its use, its abuse and more) as explained in that first big book, but this invites us to truly experience wine’s blessedness. And to explore precisely what the subtitle says — by savoring the goodness of creation and come to know something about the goodness of God. As singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken says on the back cover of it, The Soul of Wine “invites us to experience the abundance of God.”

I cannot here tell you all that this little book explores, but it is more than just a guide to the fermented fruit of the vine, although it does delightfully explain a lot that I enjoyed reading about. (And, by the way, a few important wine importers, a trained sommelier, and the author of the respected Wine Bible have all weighed in on this very informative resource. It even has a book discussion guide and a wine tasting guide making it ideal for small groups wanting to learn a bit about the nuances of this world-famous, ancient, complex beverage.) But there is more going on. She calls us to “convivial celebrations” and to learn about joy. She even has a small bit about sex, which, again, is pointing us in the direction of being attentive to the glory of our creaturliness, and the goodness of how God made the world to work. Her chapter called “making peace with wine and food” is wise and good.

Leave it to Andy Crouch to help us appreciate why this book deserves to be on our list of notable titles this season. Listen to what Andy writes:

I read The Soul of Wine with increasing delight and ever deeper emotion. This book offers wisdom not just about wine, but about our souls as well―about the joy, grief, and beauty that shape all of our stories, and that are so intertwined with the making of wine. It will help me drink more slowly and more meaningfully not just from my next glass of wine, but from life itself.

Isn’t that a beautiful comment about a book? Yes and Amen.

I like this observation, too, well-spoken by Kendall Vanderslice, who wrote the fabulous We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God, who says:

 Kreglinger dispels the myth that wine appreciation requires a distinguished palate or an elite vocabulary. Rather she presents wine as a simple gift from God that, when stewarded well, offers a glimpse of creation as it is meant to be.

TWO GREAT BOOKS EXPLORING OUR SENSE OF PLACE AND BELONGING

Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much Ashley Hales (IVP) $16.00  I almost listed this in the last post in our category of spiritual formation; Holy in the Suburbs is, indeed, about the shape of our faith, the call to holiness, the formation of our discipleship. I could have gone there.

Alas, despite the part of the subtitle about “living faithfully” I think one of the great contributions of this book to said faithfulness is found in the insights this author has about the concrete details of our built environment and the habits and customs (and values and dispositions) that flow from them. I raved about the deep and profound literary study (in our last BookNotes) called The Absent Hand which offers a detailed rumination on landscapes – natural and human-built – that is full of gravitas and philosophy. Hales isn’t a literary critic or professional analyst; she strikes me more as a soccer mom. That is, she is fairly ordinary, a smart suburbanite who is astute enough to realize that studying the mores of one’s place and the habitats thereof really is an important prophetic task. To “understand the times and know what God’s people should do” (from 1 Chronicles 12:32) isn’t just a call to a big-picture sense of the zeitgeist, but, also, a study of the daily details beneath our feet.

I nearly raved about this book when it first came out and I suggested to many, and here at BookNotes, that it was the best Christian study yet of the phenomenon of suburbia. Plus, it is gloriously written, making it a wonderful read. It was one of my favorite books of 2019 and, I believe, one of the most under appreciated. So many church folks could benefit from this deeper (and eloquent) dive into learning the deeper things that arise (spiritually and theologically) as we discern the times and places of our homes and cul-de-sacs and Pinterest-documented days of commutes and shopping and entertaining. I was going to say cue Joni Mitchell’s album The Hissing of Summer Lawns but Finding Holy in the Suburbs is not at all cynical. No matter where you live, think you will enjoy it and appreciate it.

Here is the Table of Contents as Ms Hales takes us into “A Story to Find Home in the Geography of Nowhere.” Some chapter titles are nicely allusive, but it gives you a nice glimpse into what will await you or your group if you take this one up. There are discussions questions, too, so it’s perfect for a book club or Sunday school class or book club.

  • Worshiping Granite Countertops: Consumerism
  • When Your Worth Is Measured in Square Footage: Individualism
  • Circling the Suburbs in My Minivan: Busyness
  • Beyond the Gated Community: Safety
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends: Repentance
  • You’re Not a Barbie, You Belong: Belovedness
  • This Isn’t Pinterest-Worthy Entertaining: Hospitality
  • Open Hearts and Open Hands: Generosity
  • The Opportunity of Cul-de-sacs: Vulnerability
  • Paper Birds and Human Flourishing: Shalom

Not from Around Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us, and How We Can Move Forward Brandon J. O’Brien (Moody Publishers) $13.99 I can’t say enough about this little book and am excited to once again remind you of it and to honor it was one of the very good books of this past year. I think any time Brandon O’Brien does a book, it is worthy of celebration as he is a really fine writer and wise practitioner of church leadership. (He is working with Tim Keller in New York City now, even though he has served small churches and wrote the quite useful Strategically Small Church.) He co-authored the spectacular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible and, in another curious bit of expertise, wrote in 2018 Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom which is a very impressive study of a colonial era, Connecticut pastor and leader, Isaac Backus, who wrote and contended for freedom of conscience and religious liberty in a culture that seemed to be heading either towards theocracy or secularism. Backus had a “third way” and it is clear that O’Brien gets the significance of this older wisdom.

Not from Around Here is a fun, easy-to-digest book that seems to combine these various interests of O’Brien: it is about the increasing divide in our polarized times between urban and rural worldviews. Yes, he is convinced that what another author calls “the big sort” is a real thing – we are dividing ourselves in part by our sensibilities and inclinations that are shaped by our tending to be small town or big city. (Ahhh, and what does me make of the aforementioned suburbs? You’ll have to read Not From Around Here yourself to see that bit.)

O’Brien grew up in rural Arkansas and has worked in small town churches, served in the quintessential suburbs of Chicago, and, as I noted, and he now is working in the global City-to-City urban church planting organization. And he has written about public civility, pluralism, tribalism and the blind spots of race and culture (in the misreading the Bible book), public life and citizenship (in the Backus book.) I don’t know if any other reviewers have noted this, but this new book really is bringing together much of his expertise. He’s a scholar of these things, but in this book, he is offering helpful cultural discernment and practical guidance for faithful “salt of the Earth” discipleship. If we are to be leaven in the loaf, we have to know something about how the loaf works and what kind of yeasty influence we can be. He helps us understand a major (and not adequately recognized) feature of our time. Again, namely, how we are self-selecting ourselves into tribes and sorting ourselves by preference and seeing others as the “bad guys” – the troubling influences of the culture.

You know how this works – urban and seemingly sophisticated higher-brow people blame the rednecks, flyover country, the bumpkins. Those “deplorables” of the rural sort, despise the “elites.” (I would say, although O’Brien doesn’t get into it, that this hatred is so strong that this is why many are willing to put up with the arrogance and weirdness of Donald Trump who claims to know so much about so much, when, in fact, he doesn’t read or study or have competence to lead with wisdom in any field. But they love him!)

O’Brien is a Christian pastor and historian and is working here more like a prophetic sociologist, a son of Issachar, helping us understand this feature of our times. Some of it is funny – he has amusing stories and great illustrations to realize how even how we think about the faith and our discipleship.

And, perhaps a bit counter-intuitive to my description here (forgive me) he also notes that “tidy categories may suit the media, but people are more complex up close.”

Listen to what it says on the back cover (which I cited in my earlier BookNotes review.) I love this:

News outlets, historians, and sociologists can (and do) tell us all about the statistics, but they don’t (and can’t) tell us about what it’s really like in a given place–how the squish of creek water between your toes or the crunch of autumn leaves on a city sidewalk shape your sense of normal and good and right. To understand that–to understand the people in the places–we need stories. We need to listen, get to know the nuance of people, and have empathy for their way of seeing things.

Brandon O’Brien is, in many ways, a man, torn between places. Raised in the rural South, educated in the suburbs, and now living and doing ministry in Manhattan, he’s seen these places, and their complexity, up close. With the knack of a natural storyteller he shares what he learned about himself, faith, and the people who make up America on his own journey through it.

A LONG AWAITED SEQUEL by AWARD-WORTHY OS GUINNESS

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00 You may know that I have said often that The Call: Purpose is one of my all time favorite books. There are chapters I have used in teaching and speaking and there are lines I’ve quoted, over and over. It’s eloquence, insight, and powerfully-rooted theological vision of God’s call to us all to serve the King everywhere and in everything offers a foundation and dynamism for anyone seeking purpose, meaning, a sense of vocation, and a direction to their seeking. Os is a pious and Godly man, a good thinker with an undergrad degree in philosophy from Oxford (and a PhD on the work of sociologist Peter Berger.) He travels and speaks and consults internationally and is a true global citizen; born in China, educated in Great Britain, Irish by descent, and living in the US (whose Founder’s ideas and ideals he would die for) Os is a friend to many and a much respected servant of the church. He sometimes says his own calling is to help explain the world to the church and to help explain the gospel to the cultured leaders of the world. He does so with integrity and considerable eloquence. His many books should be on your bookshelf.

Carpe Diem Redeemed came out in 2019 so it is obviously one I must name and that I want to honor. It isn’t simple, though, to explain, as it seems to have a complex thesis.

As I explained when I celebrated it earlier at BookNotes, Carpe Diem Redeemed insists that if we are to “seize the day” and make something of our lives, we as followers of Jesus must not merely mimic the way the world things about seizing the day. We aren’t Romantics wanting to merely tear pages out of the books and do our own things (as memorable as the famous Whtiman-esque scene citing O Captain My Captain in Dead Poets Society. We have to, as Guinness often says, “think it through.”

As we think it through, Biblically, Christianly, one of the big questions that face anyone wanting to make the most of their time is this: what is time? What time is it? How do we “discern the times?” And so, to “redeem” our quest to seize the day, we simply must be attentive to what it means to be timely.

Guinness is asking perennial questions, and, curiously, he is one of the few asking such things these days. He wants us to be relevant and faithful in our day – of course! But we dare not be so “relevant” that we risk being irrelevant because, well, we’ve failed to develop what he calls a “prophetic untimeliness.”

Os cites so many remarkable writers who have spoken good lines about time. (The first several pages are nothing but citations from all sorts of philosophers, poets, comedians, novelists, and business leaders and that is almost worth the price of the book for these collected quips and quotes.)

For instance, the poet Octavio Paz (in The Light of India) has said,

I believe that the reformation of our civilization must begin with a reflection on time.

Years ago Guinness had a little book worked with the old adage warning that “whoever sups with the devil should have a very long spoon.” (That book, Dining with the Devil had the subtitle “the mega-church flirts with modernity” and warned about our over-reliance or technology and marketing and data, becoming successful not by reliance on the gospel but by manipulation and efficiency. And so, we use, but must hold at some distance the forces and trends and artifacts of our fast-paced, technolopy culture.

And that is how best to redeem our quest to live out our callings, to find purpose and meaning, to make the most of things: by discerning the times, and being what some call intentional. We are not to merely be energetic entrepreneurs and eager culture makers making whatever we want in whatever way we want, but we are called to be salt and light and leaven, doing our best to serve God’s purposes with the gifts and talents and capacities God has given us, the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way. We are to be in but not of the world, after all. Even our view of time must be, somehow, counter-cultural. We must resist, as Os says in the second chapter, the hot-wired ethos of “Survival of the Fastest.”

I want to nominated Carpe Diem Redeemed as one of the most badly needed and perhaps least likely to be heeded books of our time. It is notable, well-crafted, thoughtful, rich, and learned. Is he fully right about every detail? Do the words inspire with vision and joy as they so famously did in The Call. Perhaps not. But it is certainly one of the best books of 2019, and we commend it for your consideration.

AN AWARD WINNING AUTHOR BRINGS HIS HOT DISCERNMENT OF THE TIMES TO OUR MILLENNIUM WITH BOTH BAD AND GOOD

Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $17.99 Okay, this isn’t the thickest book I’ve lugged around this year – that would be Figuring by Maria Popova of the Brain Pickings blog fam a book about science and art that Len Sweet would like, I’m sure. But Rings of Fire was one of the thickest that isn’t designed for scholars or textbooks. And it reads like a dream, as you zoom through pages and pages of facts and data and theories and explanations. As I might have exclaimed in our first BookNotes review of this (which came out in November) – Len is back! This is the most invigorating, learned, stimulating, frustrating, upbeat, prophetic, weird and wonderful tome he has done since his late 1990s Soul Tsunami.

Sweet is my favorite trend-meister and futurologist, although as a historian, he looks both back and forwards. And his day job – when he’s not reading widely and writing books about how the church can face the future with grace and truth and style and guts –is mentoring students who study this stuff. He is legendary as a communicator and as a mentor and teacher. He loves equipping young, rising pastors and church leaders to not just be away of the ethos of the times and the trends of the future, but to enter into the habits and dispositions of those who see stuff in society and know what to make of it. He was one of the first church leaders that told us that the wave of technology would make TV more interactive. Soon, you could “vote people of the island” and shows the The Voice became a New Thing. He called it EPIC (experiential, participatory, image-based, and communal) and in books like Aquachurch and SoulSalsa and Carpe Manana and The Gospel According to Starbucks he gave advice for how churches can understand the times and perhaps embody a more faithful style – a playful dance, he’d say, rather than “working at it” – of cultural engagement.

He’s done a dozen or more other books lately, many which are quite nice. (From Tablets to Tables is just out in paperback, which is a nice corrective of his fascination with the digital, reminding us that real food and real friends with real stories is important. Len has talked about community and artifacts and analogue and being green for as long as he has been writing, making him a bit of a contradiction at first glance. He’s a futurist who loves the 1800s and a postmodernist who calls us to sit down and eat meals together.

Like him or not, Leonard Sweet is one of the North American churches most lively and prolific and punchy evangelical voices and you should know his work. Especially his big work where his broad knowledge and deep footnoting really shines. Rings of Fire is a spectacular, major release where he explores in sweeping fashion a half a dozen “hot zones” and about a dozen “hot topics” which should call forth a “hot church” equipped to walk through fire in this volcanic culture. Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future and deserves to be highlighted as a notable book of 2019.

THE BOOK SOME OF US HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR FOR DECADES

If Jesus is Lord: Loving Our Enemies in an Age of Violence Ronald J. Sider (Baker Academic) $24.99 I have often said that I got the bug of book reviewing when Sojourners magazine paid me $30 to do a short review of a book that was one of the best books I read in the late 1970s, Ron Sider’s Christ and Violence. I’m sure today I’d have other things to say about it, but I must even now say it is a compelling and important book. Sider, as you may know, was known for the seminal (and still in print and still very highly recommended) Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. His evangelical bone fides are impeccable; his commitment to standard gospel theology and Christ-centered Bible reading is second to none. He loves church history, takes a fair-minded view of reading widely and listening to his critics, and believes in forging a vision where faith is decisive in people’s lives and behaviors because Jesus is Lord. As an Anabaptist – that faith tradition made up of the likes of Mennonites and Brethren – he believes in the local church as essential, simple living, service to others, and, yep, Jesus-commanded non-violence. For this Christ-centered set of denominations, being in the military is considered sinful.

That Ron is a (gracious) Christian pacifist is vital to know about him, and that he wants to be consistent on that Godly sort of love for all, means he has been known for being “consistently pro-life.” He opposes killing the elderly, the prisoners, the enemies, endangered species, and, yes, the unborn. There are precious few who care about both the unborn in the womb and the enemy on the battlefield; he favors helping those in crisis pregnancies and keeping the poor from starving; he speaks about against those who would take away medical care for the sick and he speaks out against torture and pollution and sexism; he laments broken families and encourages both charity and justice in our ministry among the needy and hurting. Sider (now retired professor from Palmer Theological Seminary and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action) deserves our respect for his own efforts to be Biblically obedient, Christ-honoring, and ethically consistent.

Some liberals don’t appreciate his standard evangelical ethics about sex and the dignity of unborn life and many conservatives hate that he critiques unregulated capitalism and the military industrial complex and preaches about God’s love for creation and against pollution and racism. And war, all war.

As Stanley Hauerwas writes in the powerful preface to this powerful recent book, “Ron Sider has always defied categories.” When one is mocked by both sides, it seems one might be worth listening to.

I agree with Walter Brueggemann who has said “our long-term debt to Sider is deep and beyond calculation.” Amen to that.

And so, If Jesus is Lord, published by Baker Academic in July of 2019, didn’t get much publicity or acclaim when it came out, but I believe it is one of the most important books of the year, if not of the decade. It is, in a way, one of Ron’s great legacies, a life’s-work, a magnum opus.

One of the great insights in the little Christ and Violence that deepened my own pacifist commitments so many decades ago was how Sider rooted Biblical nonviolence not merely in Jesus’s own direct commands to love enemies or the Pauline injunction to do good to enemies (although that should be enough) but more; something theologically deeper: he underscores how non-violent, indeed, self-suffering love for others, is at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus took on the evil of the world on the cross and while we were yet God’s enemies he allowed us to kill him (Romans 5:10), thereby saving the world. God’s own work of reconciliation as seen in the atoning work of the cross reveals most of what we need to know about the attributes of God. The holy God of the Bible uses a towel and basin, a cross and a crown of thorns, to extend mercy to his own enemies; it is God’s preferred method. We are called to be agents of that same message and method of reconciliation. Yes, Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” Yes, he said to love even our enemies. But the sturdy ethics from Sider emerge from something even more profound: his view is rooted in the very character of God who shows us how the universe really works when He is King: the cross reveals it all.

And so, that theme was pivotal for me, and it emerges agin in this book – rooting the new call to peacemaking not just in the prophets saying to beat swords into ploughshares or Jesus’s command to love enemies or Paul’s call to do good to those who persecute us or even Peter’s direct reminder that Jesus left us an example in the garden when he didn’t fight back, but in the atonement, in the cross, in the gracious goodness of the Triune God’s forgiveness.

And many of us have been waiting for decades to have Ron flesh it out in a systematic, Biblical way. To connect his anti-war and anti-violence work for reconciliation in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Servant King of an Upside Kingdom.

Sider has been making major contributions to an evangelical sort of nonviolent activism consistently over many decades. (He has also, by the way, written on living simply, on evangelism, on consistently Biblical faithfulness, or service to the poor; he edited a volume of diverse views on economics, and wrote a fantastic book called Just Politics on citizenship and politics.)

In 1982 he co-wrote a major work on being faithful in the nuclear age that offered Biblical foundation for many of those of us involved in the nuclear freeze and disarmament movement. He did a book on being consistently pro-life. In recent years he invited us to learn about how nonviolent direct action might work (and that since the just war theory has always said that violence must be a last resort, he called on more traditional just war theorist to consider tying these other peaceful methods before blessing wars too quickly. Just war advocate Richard Mouw wrote a good foreword to that conceding that Sider was making a very good point.) A few years ago he wrote Nonviolent Action, a book – loved by some and contested by others – insisting that the early church condemned all killing. (See his The Early Church on Killing which shows that early followers of Jesus did not join the military and disapproved of abortion as it was practiced in those Greo-Roman centuries.)

But now, finally, in the Year of our Lord 2019, Ron Sider has written this 240-page book, replete with footnotes and scholarly citations, making his comprehensive case for the Biblical call to evangelical nonviolence. It is not the only book to read on Christian peacemaking or Biblical nonviolence. But it is the definitive work by Dr. Sider and certainly one of the great contributions to this topic in our lifetime.

Gabriel Siguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition has said it is “the most insightful and persuasive treatise for Christian peacemaking” and Scot McKnight says “I have been reading Sider for forty years and this is his best case yet.” Jim Wallis says of Sider’s explication, “for both individuals and society, it is one of the strongest I have seen.”

Miroslav Volf says about Sider’s claim that Jesus taught his followers that we ought not to kill that, after reading this “you will be able to reject this claim as unworkable in the real world, but you will not be able to dispute it. A compelling and challenging volume.”

If Jesus Is Lord: Loving Our Enemies is serious, but readable, hefty, but not tedious or over-done. It looks at the Bible, of course, and church history and theology and culture and politics. Through it all, though, it has this mood, this earnest love for God who is revealed in the person of Jesus. In fact, one reader said “No one tackles the tough issues like Ron Sider. This book helped me draw closer to Jesus.”

Well, lots of others tackle tough issues. But few do so with as much plain devotion to the Bible and to the person of Jesus. For that you simply must be grateful. Finally agree or not with the call to resist all war as worldly and sinful or not, this studious book will help you focus on the Scriptures and the age-old creedal affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Any book that helps us with that with as much vigor and determination as this one does deserves all sorts of awards.

If Jesus is Lord: Loving Our Enemies in an Age of Violence is a gift to the church, a call to faithfulness, and a very, very, important volume. Highly recommended.

FAVORITE MEMOIRS READ THIS YEAR

Some of you know this is one of my favorite genres, and it seems Beth and I always have a memoir or two on the bed stand. Some of these stories are so wild and well-written they are more fun than novels! (And, occasionally, I find myself saying that if a novelist tried to pull this off, we’d think it was implausible. Truth actually is, sometimes, stranger than fiction.) And so, a few of the favorite autobiographies that I read this year.

Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation Thomas A. Tarrants (Thomas Nelson) $24.99 I hope you recall our earlier comments about this as it is an edge-of-your-seat sort of page-turner, nominated for “best book” from the ECPA this year. (Those announcements will be made later this year.) We have had the pleasure of knowing Tom Tarrants and, to be honest, can hardly believe this vividly told story.

Consumed by Hate tells about Tom’s evil involvement, in the 1960s, with the KKK and worse. He went to jail for terrorism as he attempted to bomb the home of Jewish folks; his partner in crime died in the police shootout and he himself was very seriously wounded. The backstory of his ideological commitments – what today we might call the alt-right – is told plainly and one is still left pondering how someone gets to radicalized. Still the story moves on and the following chapters are even more dramatic!

Tarrants remarkably escaped from prison and was later apprehended (he was on the infamous FBI “Most Wanted” list.) While in prison (again) he became, slowly but surely, a transformed man, converted by Christ to the ways of the Lord Jesus. This is amazing stuff about amazing grace and left me in tears.

Through Prison Fellowship and other strategic leaders investing in him as a growing Christian prisoner, he was miraculously pardoned by the governor of the state and eventually released. Tom continued to study and minister to others as he took up the call to Christian ministry – co-pastoring a bi-racial, urban church, no less! Years later, the well-educated and utterly transformed Tarrants became the director of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington DC.

My prosaic and bare-bones outline doesn’t do justice to the suspense and power of this remarkable story as told in Consumed by Hate, Redeemed By Love. When authors as gifted as John Grisham rave about it, as he has, you know it’s good. This was one of those books I read this year almost in one long sitting – I couldn’t put it down! Thank God for the mercy of Jesus, and thank God for the conversion of this woefully misguided, truly awful person, redeemed and transformed by love. He has done good work in the subsequent years and it was hard for him to tell this story. We’re glad he did.

Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life David Giffels (Scribner) $16.00  Again, I’m listing this as a 2019 release because it came out in paperback this year. I had written a bit about it last year because the topic was so striking, I loved the hardback cover, and the blurbs were extraordinary. I skimmed it and recommended it – obviously it was very well written and a curious topic.

Now that I’ve read every word in earnest – many of the sections more than once! – I must say this is one of my favorite memoirs ever! What a book! It ranks up there with Lit, Cherry, Taste This Bread, Educated, Too Close to the Falls, and other such well written and fascinating memoirs.  You may recall the story: the author is a young, edgy English teacher at a community college in Akron, Ohio and is also quite the diligent word-worker, inspired and apprenticed by his dad, a truly excellent craftsman. As he is grieving the loss of his mother, and the loss of a good friend, Giffels decided to build a coffin with and for his dad. This is the story of that year making that coffin.

It sounds a bit morbid, but it isn’t, really. The two are close, the family is extended, the  poignant and wacky episodes worthy of some cross between some rustbelt version of This Is Us and Modern Family. Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son… is funny and sad and includes some rock and roll, and a lot about wood and sawdust. It is clever and whimsical and poignant and, indeed, about life and death, loss and love. I love the play on words in that last phrase of the subtitle, “the measure of a life.” As any woodworker knows, measuring figures into this story a lot.

As I’ve said, David Giffels is a rock music fanatic, so I really liked those portions, too. His rustbelt sensibilities and love for his own crummy town is pretty darn awesome to behold. I simply adored this book, realize what a great writer the author is, and I am sure I will read it yet again. I hope you do, too. Enjoy!

Congratulations, Who Are You Again? A Memoir and The World’s Largest Man: A Memoir Harrison Scott Key (Harper) $15.99 each Okay, these are not new books. But they are new to us, an author we never considered until a friend from down South named Jimbo told us about them. And I would say zooming through them were the most joyful, fabulous, fun-filled reading experiences of the year. I couldn’t stop giggling and guffawing and being astounded at the turn of a phrase or a miraculously remarkable sentence construction or the wildly odd storyline and character revelations of the self-deprecating author (that I so understood — embarrassing as it is to say so.) This was everything I wanted in a summer read – funny, honest, intelligent, a bit of cussing, much pathos, a little sex, ominous failure, sincere faith – he’s a Southern Presbyterian — and, curiously, did I mention really, really funny? Kay has won the prestigious James Thurber Prize (for literary-style humor for egg-heads, I guess,) So there’s that.

One can hardly say easily what these books are about, but here’s the quick version: in Congratulations the author ruminates on his life and his sense of calling to be a writer. He sets out to write a book, a good and famous and award winning, important book. (Why not?) He believes this is his God-given dream, a vocation and more. (He actually has some helpful stuff to teach us about all this, when one has a passion or a dream or a sense of call that borders on obsession.) Key is quite literate and smart and not too successful as he and his wife start a family in a hip Southern college town.

As it ends up – spoiler alert – the book he ends up writing is not the failed novel he intended but a memoir about his father, a legendary hunter and woodsman, a redneck sexist who didn’t seem to appreciate the sissified readin’ and writin’ of his youngest son who didn’t like to kill things and like to hug. There it is: Harrison Scott Key finally figures out what to write about, gets in done to some glowing reviews even if he fully blew the pre-interview with NPR’s Terry Gross. (Anyone who has hopes and dreams as an author has got to read this and will cringe through much of it. Trust me on this.) His cross country book tour was part Hunter Thompson, maybe, and not too successful and the writing about it was stunning. And some of what happens next? Well, again, you can’t make this stuff up.

And so, The World’s Largest Man is, in fact, that book that he tells about writing in Congratulations, Who Are You Again?  It came out in 2015 and Keys was somewhat famous, for a bit, even if it never quite became the great American anything. I really enjoyed reading Congratulations first as he told so much about the process of dreaming up this sense of calling, becoming a writer, and finally landing on a memoir about growing up with his colorful (to say the least) hunter father. World’s Largest takes us deep into the woods and it isn’t always pleasant, although it’s funny as hell. What a story.

Here is what the publisher explains it; come on, read this:

Harrison Scott Key was born in Memphis, but he grew up in Mississippi, among pious Bible-reading women and men who either shot things or got women pregnant. At the center of his world was his larger-than-life father–a hunter, a fighter, a football coach, “a man better suited to living in a remote frontier wilderness of the nineteenth century than contemporary America, with all its progressive ideas and paved roads and lack of armed duels. He was a great man, and he taught me many things: how to fight and work and cheat, and how to pray to Jesus about it, how to kill things with guns and knives and, if necessary, with hammers.”

Harrison, with his love of books and excessive interest in hugging, couldn’t have been less like Pop, and when it became clear that he was not able to kill anything very well or otherwise make his father happy, he resolved to become everything his father was not: an actor, a Presbyterian, and a doctor of philosophy. But when it was time to settle down and start a family of his own, Harrison started to view his father in a new light and realized–for better and for worse–just how much he was like the strange man who made him.

Neither Beth nor I can conclude surely which to read first nor can we conclude which we liked better. Buy ‘em both, read ‘em both.

Heavy: An American Memoir Kiese Laymon (Scribner) $16.00 This is a book that blew me away and although I read it in hardcover,and gave it a shout-out here at BookNotes before, the paperback recently came out, so it is now less costly. It is a book you should know about — it won the Andrew Carnegie Medal and was a Kirkus finalist, so has been widely lauded. Still, it is not for everyone and many traditionally conservative Christian readers will be put off by the barrage of foul language. Christian faith is actually a part of this story, as it often is for people of color in the deep south, it seems. That is, Laymon is not the militant atheist that Ta-Nehisi Coates is. But, like Coates, he was abused within his family and scorned by the mainstream white culture. And like Coates, he can name these tragedies and writes like a dream.

Perhaps I shouldn’t draw those mental connections; Heavy is not the same kind of story (or the same sort of writing) as Mr. Coates’ elegant memoirs, The Beautiful Struggle and Between the World and Me. But it is a very passionate, gritty memoir set firmly in the black culture (including poverty and racism and obsessions with race and status.) It focuses most poignantly on the author’s body, his sexuality and longings, his obsession with weight and weight loss. It includes a lot about his mother, his southern mother. It isn’t a conventional “rags to riches” story, although Kiese Laymon does move North and eventually gets a job as a college professor. Now he is back in Mississippi, speaking as a very contemporary black feminist writer in the land of Faulkner.

The review in O, The Oprah Magazine called it “raw” and “cathartic” and likened it to Pittsburgh’s John Edgar Wideman as Laymon “defiantly exposes the ‘aches and changes’ of growing up black.” The book was captivating for me (and I have read a fair number of memoirs by people of color) and stands out as one I will think about for a long time to come. Any of us who want to understand black families, the hardship faced including hardship from the police. His mother is intellectual and violent (like Coates’s Baltimore father) and he tells much about his parents, about broken families, about sexuality, about youth, about depression. It is a major and very vulnerable story about being a writer, about telling the truth and about being black in America.

As Roxanne Gay writes about it,

Oh my god. Heavy is astonishing. Difficult. Intense. Layered. Wow. Just wow.

Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace Christie Purifoy (Zondervan) $18.99 I keep coming back to this, dipping in, thinking about it, looking for a passage I liked or that was so well written, that I surely have to names this as one of our favorite reads of the year. Further, as we said when I announced this last summer, it was  (as I put it at BookNotes) “one of the great joys of recent months to have gotten the chance to finally meet Pennsylvania author Christie Purifoy, a memoirist and essayist of the finest quality, who can turn a phrase like nobody’s business.” We were with her at the lovely book launch party in Lancaster of our mutual friend Shawn Smucker, a novelist of some note.

We want to honor this distinguished book and figure I should just share what I wrote at BookNotes before. You should buy this book and spread the word — it’s surely a Best Book of 2019.

A few years ago Christie Purifoy wrote a lovely book about her spacious, old farmhouse “in four seasons” (Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons) and it was quite good. But this Placemaker book is extraordinary, delightful, compelling, enjoyable on many levels. The other evening at a book event she read movingly from a section about fermentation (you know, sauerkraut, kombucha, making pickles, even.) The Earth’s processes of death and decay, entropy, chaos and the like became a window for reflecting on our desires for control, for reigning in the chaos. She frets about these things as we do, but she also tends orchards and writes glowingly about trees. Creation and Fall and Redemption swirl together in her gorgeous reflective prose and a book about place becomes a vision for living into God’s healing ways, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Beth and I can’t say enough about our new friend Christie and her husband; we are eager to encourage you to buy this very handsomely made book — it has deckled pages, French folded covers, a slightly textured paperback cover with some tactile beauty — and to enjoy her reflections on home and gardening and beauty and life. Even amidst the ruins. What a book! The author has dirt under her fingernails, by the way. Oh, and a PhD in literature from the University of Chicago.

Kudos to Christie for working her craft and writing this lovely volume and to Zondervan for publishing it with beauty and charm. Cheers!

Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child’s 3,000-Mile Journey Gena Thomas (IVP) $16.00 I cannot quite put my finger on all that moved me about this memoir although the awful policies of the Trump administration – children in cages, children deported without parents and parents deported without their babies and on and on – was in the air as I was reading this. That the publisher saw the urgency of this narrative and wanted to put a human face on it all is a major contribution. This book, I believe, should be in every bookstore and library in the country as it is just so very, very timely. And as harrowing as it may be, it’s a great read, a moving tale, a stunning and audacious journey that shows, at least, as the publisher reminds us in the description, “the power of motherly love.”

Here is the basic explanation of the remarkable story:

Thomas tells the story of five-year-old Julia, whose harrowing journey with her mother from Honduras to the U.S. took her from cargo trailer to detention center to foster care. Weaving together the stories of birth mother and foster mother, this work shows the human face of the immigrant and refugee, the challenges of the immigration and foster care systems, and the tenacious power of motherly love.

There is more to this book that an expose of the “challenges” of the immigration system, as it does explore the need for foster care parenting, and the blessings and struggles of offering one’s love for others in this poignant and sometimes painful way. And it shows how this author risked so much to re-united the separated mother and child. Oh my, what a holy adventure! What a story!

I think you can see why I found this story so compelling and wanted to name it here among the Best Books of 2019 when you read these endorsements written by authors I trust:

“Welcoming strangers is dangerous. All sorts of things might happen: it might radically alter your understanding of the world, change your politics, or your relationships. It will certainly affect your relationship with God. Gena Thomas’s book is testament to the wonderfully transforming power of hospitality. I recommend her story to you as a daring and dangerous read.”–Krish Kandiah, founding director of Home for Good, author of God Is Stranger

“When headlines and public policy debates filter down to the story of one mother, one child, and one US citizen willing to walk through the process, our focus changes from the macro to the micro. A story of grief, pain, politics, faith, endurance, laughter, separation, and reunification, this steps us out of the policy debate and into the individual experience. I wholeheartedly recommend Gena Thomas as a voice that has walked through real, sacrificial relationships using her Christian faith as a guide for each step of the process. If we want to understand how the policies and politics of the immigration debate impact real people, this is the place to start. This is a humanizing story that takes us beyond the talking points.”–Alexandra Kuykendall, author of Loving My Actual Neighbor, cofounder of The Open Door Sisterhood

“I adore this book! It is a shattering read about the journey asylum seekers take to reach our border only to have their children taken from them. Thomas’s book details the living hell Lupe, Julia, and Carlos experienced and how her family became part of the story. It rips out our stony hearts, giving us the opportunity to receive the fleshy heart of Jesus, the opportunity to receive grace. We endanger our souls and imperil the soul of our nation if we dare ignore this masterfully written account, the plight of immigrants, and our responsibility in all of it.”–Marlena Graves, author of A Beautiful Disaster

As Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, says of Separated by the Border,

In one powerful book Gena Thomas shares the trauma, hope, and love that is the migration of men, women, and children in today’s world. Wrapped around her own experience as a foster parent, Thomas helps us understand why one flees their home country, even though they want to return. It is truly a remarkable book.”

Love Anyway: A Journey from Hope to Despair and Back in a World That’s Scary as Hell Jeremy Courtney (Thomas Nelson) $17.00  This was one of the most eagerly anticipated books for those of us who loved his stellar Preemptive Love about doing medical missions with children among Muslims, Jews and Christians in war-torn Iraq. Jeremy has many followers and friends and many of us were eager to read this one.

As you may know if you know that first unforgettable book (Preemptive Love) his non-profit organization Preemptive Love did pediatric heart surgeries in Iraq which has the largest amount of children born with defective hearts anywhere in the world, most likely from the nuclear tipped, uranium-enhanced weapons the United States used in the first Gulf War.

How did this Christian NGO helping the impoverished turn into a medical mission that drew in interfaith coalitions and became a cross-cultural project of reconciliation—dare I say, a post-9-11, Middle Eastern, anti-war movement – in this dangerous part of the world?  Some of that is documented in Preemptive Love but the fuller backstory is now explained in riveting storytelling in Love Anyway. You can read my review HERE and perhaps you’ll see why I found this telling of Jeremy’s brave work to be so compelling. As I explain, Love Anyway is a harrowing story about Jeremy and his wife’s deepening their belief in the power of love and understanding and how this lead them to different sorts of networks and ministries from Iraq to Syria. It gets hard, the writing is tense, the story powerfully told. It is one of the few books this year that I read straight through hardly without a break; what a page-turner! You should read it.

There’s lots of good stuff on the internets about this organization and a good short film that came out about the time of the book. Maybe you could have a book group and do a fundraiser. I can hardly think of a more urgent need.

Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne) $25.99 Some may not think of Barbara Brown Taylors story about teaching world religions as a memoir. It isn’t her whole life story, but like her other marvelously written, crisp, honest volumes of wonderful prose, she is – although weighing in on questions of the role of faith and convictions and believe and world religions – mostly telling here of her time as a teacher. If she has written about her calling into the ministry (The Preaching Life) and her sense of frustration and a pained exit from parish work (Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith) this is the first major book where she describes her second calling, that of a college professor. It is, as Mirabai Starr say, “Among the finest memoirs I have ever read of the life of a teacher.”

Yes, Barbara Brown Taylor is a fairly open-minded, typical Episcopalian priest, nurtured in the deep ways of the Anglican sacramental worldview and of the convictions of the Book of Common Prayer and the revolutions of liberal theology in the middle of the 20th century when she was coming of age. It isn’t surprising that she is drawn to the mysteries of world religions and that she has come to be passionate about teaching, as a liberal Christian, the joys of learning about other faiths. At the heart of her teaching is not cheap knowledge about other faiths and certainly not cheap spiritual appropriation, but fostering “holy envy” (a phrase she swiped from a Lutheran Bishop in Sweden who said it is healthy to admire and even envy certain virtues of other faiths. This seems common sense to me, and nothing unorthodox. Of course we admire the Buddhists attentiveness or radical Muslim’s or Hasidic Jews dedication to their sacred food and prayer regimes. I’m nowhere near Amish, but surely there is good to be found in their expression of faith, right? There is nothing wrong with Protestants admiring the sense of mystery nearly unnamed in higher church Catholics and nothing wrong with liberal UCC folk admiring the warm-hearted piety of old school Methodists. We needn’t compare truth claims or adopt a cheesy universalism to truly admire and learn from other faiths. Okay?

But, oh my, how to do that, wisely and tenderly and fruitfully? And how does one do that when, as is the case in Ms Taylor’s situation, the students are mostly Southern Bible-belt fundamentalists.

I will never forget the scene in which Barbara has taken her college students to a (respectful, demur) visit to a worship experience of a non-Christian religion. One of the students, an earnest, traditional fundamentalist Christian, has to leave the room and she departs deeply weeping for the lost souls she is watching as they worship their false gods. How does Ms Taylor respond? As a good pastor and as a good teacher, I believe. The book is loaded with these remarkable moments.

The review journal Booklist gave Holy Envy a starred review, saying:

Taylor nudges her students away from spiritual appropriation and comparison, moving instead toward challenging discernment of their own faith and the faith of others. Taylor, like the best faith leaders, is a great storyteller. Highly recommended.

I reviewed this at BookNotes when it first came out and I have thought about it all year. She is a gorgeous writer and I’d read anything she wrote and even though my own faith convictions might be different than hers, I admire her writing and so, so appreciate her journey.

Here is some of what the publisher has written in describing it; I hope you can see why I call it one of my favorite books of the year:

Barbara Brown Taylor continues her spiritual journey begun in Leaving Church of finding out what the world looks like after taking off her clergy collar. In Holy Envy, she contemplates the myriad ways other people and traditions encounter the Transcendent, both by digging deeper into those traditions herself and by seeing them through her students’ eyes as she sets off with them on field trips to monasteries, temples, and mosques.

Troubled and inspired by what she learns, Taylor returns to her own tradition for guidance, finding new meaning in old teachings that have too often been used to exclude religious strangers instead of embracing the divine challenges they present. Re-imagining some central stories from the religion she knows best, she takes heart in how often God chooses outsiders to teach insiders how out-of-bounds God really is.

Throughout Holy Envy, Taylor weaves together stories from the classroom with reflections on how her own spiritual journey has been complicated and renewed by connecting with people of other traditions–even those whose truths are quite different from hers. The one constant in her odyssey is the sense that God is the one calling her to disown her version of God–a change that ultimately enriches her faith in other human beings and in God.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story Of Unlearning and Relarning God Sarah Bessey (Howard Books) $26.00 When customers, friends, and the back cover blurbs align in insisting a book is one of the best ever, it is a must for me to review. Miracles… claims to be quite a story and yet I put off getting to it, thinking I’d like it, but it wouldn’t be extraordinary.

Granted, we love her first lively book Jesus Feminist (although nothing new, we’ve been selling books about evangelical feminism since we opened in the early 1980s) and I really appreciated Bessey’s first memoir, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith about her own changing faith (not unlike, say, the story of her dear friend, the late Rachel Held Evans) as she narrates her journey out of the Word of Faith Pentecostal faith of her girlhood. Nearly everyone’s faith shifts and matures, deepens or softens, but her journey was particularly striking (she’s a great writer and, well, she really was in some super strict, bodaciously unconventional stuff, at least for most Christians, making her shift particularly dramatic.) Making room for change and doubt and open-mindedness is a big deal for some traditions so Sarah blogs and speaks and writes about this stuff at no little cost to her, I’m sure. We are grateful for her candor and grace.

These writers doing books about being raised in shaming, strict, and sensationally religious families who are now being set free to be more normal and balanced in their expression of faith, allowing doubt and honesty, reasonable worship and non-fanatical public opinions, is quite the genre these days. I like them, really, even if that isn’t exactly my own experience. It’s close enough, though, to resonate. Out of Sorts really is a fine phrase to describe how many of us describe our religious sense these days, eh?

And so, Miracles and Other Things is plowing that same field again. She starts off with a preface so earnest about taking our hands and loving us as readers, carrying our own stories with her as she does her work. I get it – she is a beloved public speaker and she gets emails and letters and people stay late into the night at conferences saying (among other things) You too? She connects, truly connects, with so many (often disenfranchised) mostly young woman of faith and she invites them to rise up. It sounds a bit breathy – and for those who don’t have this experience of being excluded or misunderstood, her earnestness may impress or maybe just annoy a bit. But she is a rock star, with the book endorsed by the usual cast of characters such as good writers like Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequist, Glennon Doyle, and others on a journey away from fundamentalism like Mike McHargue and Peter Enns and Jonathan Martin, who calls it a “trail blazing, bush-burning book.” Happily, mainline denomination folks rave, too – Kate Bowler (of Duke, and the must-read, best-seller Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Believed) and yep, Barbara Brown Taylor.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes,

“Sarah Bessey is a writer of remarkable gifts. Beyond her ability to make a breath-taking sentence, and to tell the truth about the dying and rising of faith, she can tell a story as if she is whispering it straight into your heart. She is, by her own definition, a dangerous woman, with wisdom to spare about learning to love the broken miracles God offers us once we’re honest about where it hurts.”–Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark

So there you have it: Saint Barbara BT herself affirms what any of us who have read Bessey already knows. She’s a great writer and an honest, important leader.

But wait: we thought she had left her Pentecostal Word of Faith stuff. What’s this about miracles?

You see, this is not the book that Sarah intended to write. She tells us that she pounded out another huge manuscript, amidst grief from miscarriages and then several births, and a hard, hard labor and a dad that was dying, and that book was not what she finally wanted to write. What she did was tell this much more honest story. It is a story of her evolving faith, and – this is harrowing, to say the least – an awful car accident that nearly killed her, causing immense pain and chronic issues that got worse as the months of recovery wore on.

She writes honestly about this and I am sure those of us who have been in serious accidents (I have) or who have had loved ones in serious accidents (we have) will be deeply moved by her story and the pain of her recovery. But even as she can hardly walk, get this: she gets a bone fide invitation to be on a team of charismatic Christians (old friends) to celebrate a Jubilee with the Pope.

As a woman whose family economic status is such that she hardly even dreams of international travel, let alone a trip to Rome, she is both ecstatic and, understandably, unsure. Although pleasantly ecumenical, she has deep principles that oppose the patriarchy and hierarchy and abuses of the Catholic Church. (She wrote a book called Jesus Feminist, she wonders if they recall!) Like many of us who long for a greater congeniality within the Body of Christ, she mourns that they have a closed communion table and she could attend as a guest of honor but still be barred and banned from receiving the sacraments. And, more bluntly, she is not sure she can make the trip – once-in-a-lifetime gift that it is – due to her physical disabilities.

I will not tell you the rest, but know that this story of pain and loss and travel and mission and ministry and love and family is truly miraculous. It is a wonderfully fun read, compelling, engaging, well written, and inspiring.   One doesn’t have to have her same experiences to find the book pulling you in as you yourself experience the Spirit as she herself does.

As Shauna Niequist says in the preface, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things is:

A grown-up, clear-eyed story of faith, told with so much soul and laughter and grit and elegance and plainspoken truth that it leaps off the page, straight into your heart. What a gift.

The Galapagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey Brian D. McLaren (Fortress Press) $16.99  I was thrilled the minute I heard about this marvelous idea, a new series of faith-based travelogues called “On Location” kicked off by the very fine writer Brian McLaren. Those that follow Brian know that he wrote a set of novels (now recently re-issued by Fortress, by the way) in which Darwin’s work and a visit to Galapagos figures into the story. McLaren loves the outdoors, loves his reptiles and tortoises, so, yep, he’s the man for this job. And what a good, good job he did.

I am sure I will never travel to South American, let alone to these Ecuadorian islands, but I do love travel books. Memoirs about adventures are a way to live those adventures and when a writer is bringing spiritual and theological insight along the way, what joy. That this is a spiritual pilgrimage, in many way, to one of the world’s most known and fragile ecosystems is itself a great gift and, yet, is fraught with concern.

I enjoyed this compact paperback and even though I’ve met Brian several times and consider him an acquaintance, I felt like I got to know him better. He writes about his son’s cancer just a bit, he is frustrated when he misses cell-phone connection to talk with his wife, and he reports on some talks he gave after he came home, talks that sounded truly interesting and important. I really liked catching up with him, even if it was when he was far, far away, keeping a diary for us all to enjoy.

Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 Sharon Robinson (Scholastic Press) $16.99 I read fewer YA novels this year than I sometimes do (and when I think of so many good ones, I wonder what I was thinking!) I want to sneak this one in here, which I read at the start of the new year, as an exceptionally strong, truly notable book of 2019. Although written as a youth book, many, many of us will enjoy it. Sharon Robinson turned 13 the night beforeGeorge Wallace declared on national television ‘segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever’ in his inauguration for governor of Alabama. Can you imagine? This book will help as it is written from the viewpoint of a child. I highly recommend it.

Child of the Dream is, obviously, a story of a young woman and her coming of age in 1963, a remarkable year by any account. The book is heart-warming but honest, vivid, even, and, as Andrea Davis Pinkney (of Martin Rising: Requiem for a King) wrote about it: it is a “deeply personal portrait of her childhood during one of the most pivotal moments in America’s history.” Pinkney continues, “She lets us walk in her shoes so that together we experience how it feels to see a dream on the horizon — and to reach for it.”

Do you realize who Sharon Robinson is? She is the daughter of famous baseball play, number 42 himself, Jackie Robinson. It’s why Jason Reynolds writes that this book tells of her own understanding of her place in the fight for civil rights. Reynolds says “This is a home run, not just for her, but for us all.” Exactly!

Listen to Christopher Paul Curtis (Newbery Award-winning author of the National Book Award finalist, The Journey of Little Charlie, who has this delightful, fabulous endorsement:

Sharon Robinson has pulled off an impressive trifecta: She has given us priceless, behind-the-scenes access to perhaps the most tumultuous year in modern American history; she has written a touching, compelling, coming-of-age story; and she tops the whole enterprise off with a tribute to her upbringing by an exceptional pair of African Americans, her parents, Rachel and Jackie Robinson.

This is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession Cameron Dezen Hammon (Lookout Books) $17.95 A friend who knows this author alerted me to this book before it came out and when if finally was released I knew I had to take the recommendation of my writer friend seriously; she is creative and thoughtful and she assured me I’d be captivated by the prose and the stunning story. Indeed, I was mesmerized by the first page, drawn in to a gripping story about, well, as the subtitle says, religious and romantic obsession. What up-front worship leader is having sexy texts from a lover in the middle of a set? What church leader entertains sorrow and doubts and regrets and anger has no place to share them? What evangelical Christian working for mega-churches and hipster outreaches finds her very body assaulted even as she is attempting to serve them by playing Godly, passionate music?

Apparently – it breaks my heart to say this – Cameron Dezen Hammon is not the only one who has experienced distress and sexism, religious confusion and artistic and theological difficulties within the leadership of modern evangelicalism. (See my review a week or so ago of The#MeToo Reckoning by Ruth Everhart for a study of mostly mainline Protestant congregations to be reminded of the pervasive cover-ups of sexual misbehaviors within faith communities.) Ms. Hammon does not name the (famous?) pastors of the well-known “gospel-centered” churches in which she experienced gross patriarchy and serious injustice, but it doesn’t matter; we can imagine.

Still, this memoir is not all expose and lament. It is, as the foreword says, “a valuable look at the social structures of evangelical Christianity” but it is also about the author’s own deep desire for God, for connection. While not a typical spiritual memoir, it truly is just that. Ms. Hammon, like nearly every mystic in church history, sees some convergence between romantic love and religious faith, between sexuality and spirituality. Desire? Ecstasy? Love? Belonging? Are we seeking romance and intimacy and home, or faith and forgiveness and heaven? Or both. Maybe faith indeed leads us home, into authentic community and real love, here on Earth. Perhaps grace offers eternal things that show up in the mundane. If so, Ms Hammon is a seeker for that reality, and her beautiful raw story will be a guide for many. This is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession made me sad but it one of the most memorable, striking reads this year.

I find it hard to say just how deeply this good writing moved me, how curious I was and how engaged as a reader; I suspect not everyone will be as generous or caring as I was; it is not for everyone. Jessica Wilbanks (memoirist and author of When I Spoke In Tongues) says of This Is My Body that it is “Unflinchingly honest and searingly lyrical.” She is right – it is “a song of a book.”

Cameron Hammon’s own conversion story from a New York Jew-ish punker is compelling and will resonate with any who came to a lively faith within a para-church organization or house church situation. Her struggle as a musician and artist will resonate with many who feel like the church has not used their gifts well. Anyone who has left upbeat evangelical or Pentecostal faith to find a more nuanced spirituality will understand the mixed feelings of her journey. This memoir will be important to many, an edgy and artful telling of a story that many others are writing these day. It is, in my view, one of the more remarkable and startling examples of these kinds of faith deconstructions and journeys out of popular evangelicalism.

And yet, through all of this, one of the biggest aspects of the story of This is My Body is the marriage one, the romantic longings and her relationship with her husband. How does one evolve spiritually and religiously (especially when one’s work and paycheck are dependent on the church) when one is married? How does one grow or change as an individual when one’s spouse is on his own faith journey? How does one think about sexuality and intimacy in marriage when talking about spiritual intimacy and singing about Love is how one makes one’s living? How does a shift away from fundamentalism towards doubting faith and re-embracing feminism effect a marriage? That is a major part of this tale. Remember, the book is called This Is My Body.

Lacy Johnson (author of an award winning collection of essays called The Reckonings and a previous, harrowing memoir of her own abuse by a boyfriend) says:

There is a deep and insatiable longing at the center of Cameron Dezen Hannon’s spellbinding debut memoir: to love and be loved with honesty and abandon, to follow a spiritual path toward clarity and truth.

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Sarah Smarsh (Scribner) $17.00 This was another book that just came out in paperback that I read earlier this year in hardback. It was, interestingly, one of the “One Community Reads” selections this fall for many towns here in central PA. One recent customer understandably connected it to Hillbilly Elegy and Nickel and Dimed. Smarsh is a gifted writer and amazing storyteller – and what a story she has to tell of her extended family in the heartland. Set among poor, rural folk in Kansas, she tells of parents and grandparents, using a device that some find endearing: the book is an extended letter to her unborn child. In the hands of a lesser writer it might have been smarmy or sentimental, but this telling is full of regret and longing and pride and chutzpah; she does come from colorful, sturdy, resilient, if at times troubled stock.

Ms. Smarsh can be wickedly funny and tender but I see her also as a biting social critic. She is relentless in talking – appropriately and insightfully – about wealth and privilege and power and poverty. This isn’t a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” sort of story a la Hillbilly Elegy; it is, perhaps, closer to Nickel and Dimed with its critique of the culture’s misunderstandings of the working poor – especially farmers, ranchers, the rural mid-Westerners who work hard under hot sun and freezing cold, usually white, too often poor. There’s a bit about agriculture policy and big business although she’s not quite a Wendell Berry agrarian.

For what it’s worth, the parts of her story about going to college as a not very cultured or even well-educated farm girl – her elementary school and school days are unbelievable! – is very, very telling. Any BookNotes readers who work in higher education ought to be aware of the huge gaps and obstacles facing many rural and small town first-generation collegiates; this story could help you understand this sort of privation. Read Heartland: Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest County on Earth

In so many ways, for so many reasons, this well written tale was one of my favorite books of 2019.

To Stop a Warlord: My Story of Justice, Grace, and the Fight for Peace Shannon Sedgwick Davis (Spiegel & Grau) $27.00 You may recall this publishers name as they are the wonderful imprint that brought Just Mercy to the world, the book by Bryan Stevenson. (If you haven’t read that Award Winner, you simply must!) So I’ve been wanting to publically acknowledge them for their cutting edge work and for bringing yet another intriguing, well-written, and honorable book about social change to the literary reading public. We are honored to get to carry books like this and we are delighted to honorably mention it here and now.

Alas, I’m not sure what to think about this amazing memoir. It is the story of a woman, a mom and a lawyer, who, as I’ve said at BookNotes before, was a leader in an NGO doing good charitable work in Africa. She is a person of action, a person motivated by faith, a Christian worker in hard places who has worked with our friends at International Justice Mission (IJM.) She is now the CEO of Bridgeway Foundation which is “dedicated to stopping mass atrocities.” She is an Advisory Council member of The Elders, the group of global statesman founded by Nelson Mandela. You could profitable read any account of her efforts and be challenged and stimulated.

But this? Oh my. Here’s the gist – just read what Adam Grant (author of Orginals and Give and Take, that we also recommend, btw) wrote in then New York Times review.

How far would you go to stop a murderous Ugandan warlord who had turned thousands of children into soldiers? As the head of a human rights foundation, Shannon Sedgwick Davis did something unprecedented: She hired private military contractors to train an army to stop him. This is an extraordinary memoir by an extraordinary leader–it’s impossible to read without feeling moved to do more to help those with less.

Okay, do I need to say more? She “hired private military contractors to train an army” to stop the evil Ugandan warlord. Jospeh Kony.

You can’t make this stuff up. To Stop a Warlord is wonderfully written and well paced so is one of those books you can hardly put down. It is driven by deep compassion, I think, and what Blake Mycoskie (her friend from Toms Shoes) calls her “relentless determination, motherly protective instinct, and steadfast courage.”

Look: To Stop a Warlord has rave reviews and lovely endorsements on the back from Betty Bigombe (and leader at the World Bank who was the chief mediator in peace negotiations with the Lord’s Resistance Army in the late ‘90s and into the early 2000s) as well as from the U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Ambassador Henry Crumpton. Former President Jimmy Carter offers his endorsement calling is a “remarkable” book. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it is “compelling and inspiring.”

Will this help us all, as these endorsements all say, beautifully move us all to take action for the vulnerable? Most of us aren’t on philanthropic boards and few of us have any clue about these sorts of global details. But, whew, this is unprecedented work, and “an unforgettable journey on an unexpected path to peace.”

It is without a doubt one of the most memorable books of 2019.

THREE WONDERFUL EXAMPLES OF A BIGGER or BETTER FRAMEWORK FOR THE GENRE OF BASIC CHRISTIAN LIVING

…And Yet, Undaunted: Embraced by the Goodness of God in the Chaos of Life Paula Rinehart & Connally Gilliam (NavPress) $15.99 This was one of my favorite books this year in part because of the fine wisdom and down to Earth sisterly sort of advice these women offer. Paula Rinehart has been speaking and writing on woman’s issues for decades and we have stocked other books of hers over the years. We always felt they were just a cut above some of the other sort of standard fare advice and inspiration for the religious marketplace. Connally Gilliam is younger and also works in outreach and disciple-making with the para-church group, The Navigators. She is know for what I’m told is an excellent book for those that read books in the field of being an unmarried Christian woman. That is called Revelation of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn’t Expect. Again, better than many, well written, and thoughtful.

But this: it’s fabulous; very smart, engaging, helpful. But the biggest reason I was so taken with this, why we promote it and think it is so very unique and worthy of our Best of accolades is because of the structure. Hear me out.

You may know that there has been a bit of a shift in the frame of understanding of faith and discipleship in recent years. Some trace it to Dutch neo-Calvinists like Kuyper, popularized by authors like Al Wolter’s Creation Regained, others to NT Wright, but many are using language informed by two chief ideas. First that we live out our lives in light of a story – what some use to call a “worldview” but is now seen as more imaginative and towards a telos, or end – and that, secondly, that story of ours ought to be shaped by the Biblical story. Calling the Bible (and our life informed by it) a story is heard in titles like The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story or God’s Story, Our Story, or The Story of God, The Story of Us. It’s a good trend to see the Bible as something other than a repository of doctrine or a bunch of disconnected episodes. There is a redemptive storyline to the Bible and the only way to read God’s Word well is to see that Big Picture. And the only way to follow Jesus as agents of His Kingdom is to see our lives unfolding as part of His ongoing mission to complete the redemptive plot.

Enter Rinehart and Gilliam, who have given us one of the best basic Christian living sort of resources that frame our own lives in light of the four major themes of the plot of Scripture, the “acts” of the drama, so to speak. From Al Wolters on, many have seen the key highpoints of the sacred play to be the act of creation, the radical fall into sin and rebellion and dysfunction, the decisive promise and accomplishment of redemption, and the future hope of “all things renewed.” Creation/fall/redemption/restoration is the large theme of our Jubilee conference out in Pittsburgh that each February invites college students to “live a better story” by entering into that cosmic drama. Rinehart and Gilliam tell that story in the four units of their book. They allow the big picture of God’s Biblical drama to inform how we understand our daily lives, our personal hurts and fears, and how to learn to trust not just that God is good, but that God is up to something good: the fulfillment of His promises to renew and restore the cosmos. Our daily lives find health and hope by placing ourselves between the creation and the new creation, the garden and the city.

It is implied and suggested and spoken and explained that we are good, part of God’s very good creation, but we are hurting, not as we were meant to be because of our complicity in this fallen and distorted world. Christ has brought us back to life and redeemed, in principle, His beloved creation, but yet the hopeful end is not yet seen. We walk by faith, into the newness of life, realizing that the Kingdom is already but not yet. Lot’s of big picture Scripture studies say that these days and lots of theology books assume it. But precious few books about the oddness of our lives, the broken things, the pain and the failures and the foibles invite us to this Larger Story of hope for a renewed Earth. And Yet, Undaunted gets it just right, and this is a rare gift indeed.

There are folks that will not read Transforming Vision (Walsh & Middleton) or Creation Regained (Al Wolters) or Surprised by Hope (Tom Wright) or Heaven is a Place on Earth (Michael Witmer) or Not Home Yet: How the Renewal of the Earth Fits Into God’s Plan for the World (Ian Smith.) That Kingdom vision stuff would take them a long way towards deeper more faithful and sustainable discipleship, I am sure, but few people read these overarching narratives about our narrative.

But tons of people want a simple book that helps them learn how to believe in God, to follow Jesus, to care about spiritual things, to make better choices, to cope and flourish. Who doesn’t want a life of deeper meaning and guidance on finding God in our hard times?

Again, this is a genre of book – short chapters, conversational, wise, warm women writers – which are huge in most Christian bookstores. It just seems to be a nice and easy to read book about living the life of faith. And so it is.

But, hold on, this gets at the creation-fall-redemption-restoration worldview story and helps us frame all of our lives and all of our sorrows (and all of our successes and joys as well) within the context of this big, true, Story of God.

And here is how they do it — and this little bit of literary genius makes it award winning itself: they translate the words “creation”-“fall”-“redemption” and “restoration” into phrases that I think were coined by the super smart worldviewish teacher (of the Clapham Institute in Annapolis, MD) Mike Metzger, namely,

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

The chapters are almost devotional in nature, with lots of Bible-based encouragement to live into this “ought-is-can-and-will be” framework. This slant, this take, this narrative, this Story is how to get the Biblical worldview into your bones and into your imagination. As Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent College in British Columbia notes,

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

That is why I want to celebrate this book and insist it is one of the best books of 2019. It quietly pushes us in the right direction, against goofy theologies and unhelpful ideas and unwise promises and super spiritual tones that are subtle but present in so much Christian literature. This helps give us vocabulary and categories to be realistic and joyful, to explain what’s wrong and what’s right, to discern the times and live well within them.

As Cherie Harder of The Trinity Forum writes about it,

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

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

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

Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of AND in an Either-Or World Jen Polllock Michel (IVP) $16.00 Funny how covers that don’t appeal to me keep me from what might be really good books. Thank goodness I had the good sense to refuse my instinct to boycott this dull, jumbled up cover because it is a great, great, artfully rich and beautiful book. I knew it would be because this author’s two previous books Teach us To Want and Keeping Place are among the best books of the last few years. She’s a great writer, a born storyteller, and a fine thinker.

As one reviewer warned, “Don’t confuse this as a call for the mushy middle…” As Russ Ramsey (himself a thoughtful pastor and great wordsmith and author) says in the foreword,

Studied rightly, theology should lead to awe and wonder. To that end, my friend Jen Pollock Michel has given us a gift.

Perhaps, like me, you are drawn to books that people who like and respect recommend. (Uhhh, I hope so! Ha.) On the back of Surprised by Paradox we have rave reviews by Karen Swallow Prior, Emily Freeman, Tish Harrison Warren, and Marlena Graves. That’s enough to warrant an award right there!

The mysteries and paradoxes Michel explores in upbeat and nicely crafted chapters are Incarnation, Kingdom, Grace, and Lament. This isn’t exactly the creation-fall-redemption-restoration meta-narrative that so nicely shapes And Yet Undaunted but it is close. There is good stuff in here about wonder and goodness; there is hard stuff about brokenness and injustice; her insights about the Kingdom include good ruminations on this already/not yet mystery (and well as the upside down “blessed are” passages of Jesus. (You’ve got to read a chapter called “The High Treason of Hallelujah.”

And so, this book, too, offers what we might think of as a guide to basic Christian living, an ordinary sort of spirituality book that helps us with common stuff of faith and life. But yet, it is such a cut above the typical – graciously written, wisely construed, profoundly approached, with great questions for reflection and discussion that are really good. I mean, when a book is dedicated to “Jonas McAnn and the pastors like him” who are found “preaching the truth and trying not to miss the wonder” you’ve got to take notice.

(That is, if you know who Jonas McAnn is. He is, of course, the fictional preacher in a novel we highly acclaimed and awarded a few years back, Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier. You see – she is using a literary character even in her dedication. How cool is that? This book deserves an award for the cleverness of the dedication page – I’ve never seen that before!)

Truly, in a world filled with ambiguity and confusion on one hand and overly dogmatic, strict and reductionistic views of truth on the other, it is lovely (indeed, it is necessary) to have voices of beauty and mystery that call us beyond binary black and white to the complexity of paradox. As it says on the back cover (which I am sure I cited in my earlier BookNotes review when this first came out)

Jesus invites us to abandon the polarities of either and or to embrace the difficult, wondrous dissonance of and.

I’m not sure I’m good at that. Maybe you aren’t either. That’s why we need this book. Thanks Jen Pollock Michel and thanks, IVP Books! Hooray.

Sacred Endurance: Finding Grace and Strength for a Lasting Faith Trillia J. Newbell (IVP) $16.00  We hope you know Ms. Newbell as a great children’s writer. Her book about multi-ethnic reconciliation in the context of God’s faithfulness to the redemption of the creation, God’s Very Good Idea, is such a favorite because it helps children (and parents) to appreciate the “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” four chapter gospel that we talked about above, and it is passionate about diversity and multi-ethnic ministry from a gospel-centered perspective. She has written other good stuff and I trust her, also as a black woman, for offering a certain slant of insight that many of us might miss.

And so, when she did a book on endurance — on keeping on keeping on, as we used to say (or running the race as the Apostle Paul puts it) — I was interested. But I wasn’t sure this was going to be extraordinary. There are lots of books about hanging in there. Although it is about other stuff as well, I find Visions of Vocation by Steve Garber very hard to top (which makes much of loving the very messy and hurting world in the same manner that God does, and not growing cynical or jaded in that journey.) It is a live question: how do we keep on loving well, serving, being faithful until the end? How about that line from the Eugene Peterson book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction? Nurturing a long haul sort of faith is needed now more than ever.

And so I turned to Trillia Newbell’s book, realizing there were great blurbs on the back from people of color I respect, like Bryan Loritts and Christiana Edmondson.(I do hope you know the podcast she helps with, Truth’s Table.) And I realized that Ms. Newbell has so much insight and frames this question so wholistically that it stands not only as a good example of faithful Christian guidance on the topic (endurance) but as an example of how to do a thoughtful, substantive, faithful sort of Christian self help book. This is “basic Christian living” 101 and more. I’m excited to name it as a great book in this genre.

You see, while it offers standard fare advice — good advice! — about turning to Jesus and being faithful, and trust in God and the like, it offers this advice in ways that are framed by the bigger story of God using suffering and God redeeming the ordinariness of our days. There is no breathy promises but no let-it-all-hang out and revel in the rawness, either. She’s honest, but she wants to help people grow in their maturity. She is equipping us to think well and live well. We are called to a race and she wants us to finish it well.

And she covers content that some basic Christian living books miss. For instance, she has a chapter about the role of the mind, and she talks about enduring in society. (Yes, questions of race and racism are part of basic Christian living!) She calls us to do life with others in community and insists (as my friend Alan Noble who wrote Disruptive Witness says of it) that we can be faithful “without denying or downplaying the reality of suffering and evil we face in this life.”

I was heartened that my instinct that this is framed by a bigger picture and better story when I saw this review by Paul David Tripp (author of the popular devotional, New Morning Mercies) who writes this. Notice the second line — he new it was going to be different, “deeply wise.”

“This is the best book on endurance I have ever read. As I began, I knew this book was going to be different–Trillia Newbell has given us something that is deeply wise, practical at every turn, and laden with illuminating illustrations. Again and again she points us to Jesus and reminds us each time that the hope for our endurance is not found in our faithfulness but rather made possible because of his. You don’t have to dread the race ahead; you can look at the road ahead with anticipation and hope. This book will tell you why.”

There are lots of great little books to help ordinary Christians learn about their faith, grow deeper in their spiritual formation, get the gospel in their bones in a way that helps them deepen their discipleship. But many are laden with less than stellar writing or overpromising or cheap sentimentality. We tip our hat to Trillia for offering good counsel and fresh encouragement that is sold and good and true, even for those who are struggling on this leg of the journey.

VITAL BOOKS ABOUT MISSIOLOGY AND MISSIONS

Although it isn’t a hugely popular section of our store, we are proud to keep old and new titles on global missions packed into our shelves in that important category. Good publishers continue release volumes in this robust conversation about the nature of mission and the ways Christ’s church can be expanded around the globe. Of course, with the majority of Christians now living in the “two thirds” world, mostly in the global South, those who train Western missionaries have considerable re-thinking to do. Those in mainline churches and those in evangelical traditions are all doing vibrant work in producing scholarship to equip those doing engaged in missionary endeavors. Here are just three we want to honorably mention this year.

Global Arts and Christian Witness: Exegeting Culture, Translating the Message, and Communicating Christ Roberta R. King (Baker Academic) $26.99 Scott Sunquist and Amos Yong are among the sharpest missiologist in North America and they are the senior editors of an on-going series called “Mission in the Global Community” published by Baker Academic. If you are interested in this high level, academic work in missiology, you should order them all from us. This is the latest and is a notable example of the interesting sort of cutting edge work done at the interface of anthropology and linguists and culture studies and gospel presentations.

 

Before I explain that one, I must say this: IVP Academic has a similar and equally scholarly and truly fascinating line of edgy missiology volumes in their “Missiological Engagements” series. And Roberta R. King (along with William Dyrness) have edited a companion volume to Global Arts and Christian Witness that has appeared on this IVP Academic series. That one is called The Arts as Witness in Multifaith Contexts edited by Robert King & William Dyrness (IVP Academic; $35.00.)

Here is what the publisher says about this amazing, breath-taking collection of essays from all over the world:

In search of holistic Christian witness, missionaries have increasingly sought to take into account all the dimensions of people’s cultural and religious lives—including their songs, dances, dramatic performances, storytelling, and visual arts.

Missiologists, educators, and practitioners are cultivating new approaches for integrating the arts into mission praxis and celebrating creativity within local communities. And in an increasingly globalized and divided world, peacemaking must incorporate the use of artistic expressions to create understanding among peoples of diverse faiths. As Christians in all nations encounter members of other religions, how do they witness among these neighbors while respecting their distinct traditions?

The Arts as Witness is a primary source sort of first-hand collection by missiologists and artists. There are chapters with titles like these:

“God Moves in a Mysterious Way: Christian Church Music in Multifaith Liberia, West Africa, in the Face of Crisis and Challenge” (by Ruth M. Stone) and “Sounds, Languages, and Rhythms: Hybridized Popular Music and Christian-National Identity Formation in Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia” (by Sooi Ling Tan) or “Art as Dialogue: Exploring Sonically Aware Spaces for Interreligious Encounters” (by Ruth Illman.) This stuff is a far cry from the caricatures of missionaries in novels like The Poisonwood Bible, say. These are evangelical missionaries and musciologists, doing stuff that ends up in chapters like this: “Simba Nguruma“: The Labor of Christian Song in Polycultural, Multifaith Kenya” as told by (Jean Ngoya Kidula. Okay?

Man, this is fascinating, whether it is a ground-breaking chapter by Dyrness on the poetic faith of Zapatistas in Mexico or how contemporary art can critiques neocolonialism (in the chapter “Wild, Wild China by Joyce Yu-Jean Lee.) These are just so amazing, collecting pieces that “speak of the power of art in making peace, contextualizing theology, and aiding in the evangelization of peoples.”

But, whaaat? Is this too much, too specific, too much arcane detail? I understand. Which is why we also are honoring Global Arts and Christian Witness: Exegeting Culture, Translating the Message, and Communicating Christ. It is also meaty and substantial but perhaps more foundational.

In this one, as you can see from the title, it does, in fact, explore how artists are part of this global missions movement. Needless to say (as we often do) art needs no justification in God’s good world, so artists don’t “need” to be evangelistic or missionary-minded. In fact, good artists informed by wise, Christianly conceived aesthetics, would say art is to be allusive and imaginative and, well, artful, so doesn’t “have a message” in any prosaic sense. (Otherwise, it isn’t art, after all, but more akin to propaganda.)

But yet, for some few artists, they are called to hook their artistic gifts to global missionary efforts, and when they do it is spectacularly interesting, and often fruitful. Global Arts and Christian Witness (complete with full color plates and photographs) is an up-to-the moment report from the field by this good thinker about how artists can be part of the global work of sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom.

Dr. Roberta King is a professor of communication and ethnomusicology in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is a great scholar and activist and writer.

Here is what hip hop activist and Christian scholar Daniel White Hodge (whose book Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Culture we’ve award as notable book last year) says:

It has been said that music is a universal language, but its meaning is not. King has given us an in-depth analysis adding to the ethno-musicological lexicon in great detail. In a world where everyone has some type of favorite music, King’s astute inquiry gives us a better glimpse into the complexity of music from around the world. Very much worth the read!”

Discipling in a Multicultural World Ajith Fernando (Crossway) $19.99 This book is remarkably complex and multi-faceted, covering so much. I want to celebrate it and award it and promote it here, even if I realize too few really want to study up on this detail. But it is a detail we increasingly need to learn and this is pioneering and wise. Fernando is an amazing Sri Lankan leader (and has served the global Youth for Christ movement for years.) I would trust any book he wrote about anything (such as his must-read The Call to Joy & Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry or his inspiring NIV Application Commentary on Acts.)

Here he is insisting that our multicultural world needs countercultural disciplers. Hmmm. Let that sink in.

Of course, this presumes – and I suppose some of our readers here, if you are still with me, may not resonate with this assumption – that new believers need to be mentored, guided, that we all need spiritual guides, directors, coaches, pastors. That we are to “make disciples” suggests that some of us, at least, should be learning how to “disciple” others into the ways of Christ-honoring discipleship. Whether that is a process of catechism or spiritual direction or Bible study, we simply must help shape and care for and guide and led those who under our watch come to want to follow Jesus. Healthy evangelism always must lead to follow-up and a process of mentoring new believers.

And so, if this is true – and it obviously is – how does this “discipling” happen in the ever-more-common cross-cultural situations. Global missionaries have to think about this and missiologists are endlessly hoping to find the answer to a fruitful “contextualized” way to relate Christ and culture. But anyone in almost any town in North America, now, must take up this discussion. We all must wonder how to be sensitive to cultural and ethnic concerns as we make disciples.

Ajith Fernando’s great, provocative, fascinating book asks how we do spiritual guidance, mentoring, teaching, and leading (what he calls discipling, for short) in contexts such as among those from cultures that are oriented around honor and shame; what about honoring family commitments, if the family is of another religion (or no religion as such?) What about dealing with persecution. This is a practical guide to disciple-making as we help others grow into faithful followers of Christ within their own social and religious contexts. Some of these stories may be set in South Asia, but you will learn much from them and it just may keep you from harming those from other cultures you are befriending even now.

On Mission Together: Integrating Missions Into the Local Church Richard Noble (Falls City Press) $14.99 There are a small handful of books about how local missions committees or missions advocates or other leaders (pastors, but not just ministers) can navigate the admittedly complicated context of the local congregation and its needs and make clear the need for an emphasis on mission. And even for those mission-minded churches (like those famously documented in Tom Telford’s wonderful Today’s All Star Missions Churches) or those only wanting to be, On Mission Together by Rich Noble is just what you need!

As the globally recognized leader Peter Kuzmic writes in the remarkable foreword, it is written in what Billy Graham once called “the spirit of Lausanne.” That is, in the spirit and wholistic ethos of the famous Lausanne missionary conferences and statements that guided the best of a generation or more of thoughtful, contextualized, evangelical missionaries leaders. Kuzmic rightly says it is “almost comprehensive, well-organized, Manual for Missions” and that it almost burns with the beloved heart and vision and passion of Richard Noble for helping churches deepen their commitment to the Great Commission.

We want to celebrate and honor this book as notable because there is so very little like it out there. That may not sound rather prosaic, but it is said with gusto and joy: we rarely get to say that there is precious little in a field or genre, and this book deserves this big accolade. Our Mission Together is both a primer and a handbook, a guide and a big set of thoughtful suggestions, helping any given local church become more adept at educating about, supporting, and sending global missionaries. It is “a clear and concise guidebook for any church wanting to make global missions extend beyond an annual offering or a Minute for Missions.” Ya know?

Three big cheers for this classy, boutique Western Pennsylvania publisher and for Richard Noble, a well-known and widely-respected Christian Missionary Alliance missions mobilizer. He is the founder and director of the Center for Missional Engagement and deserves to be heard.

A BEAUTIFUL, QUIET GEM

Faithful Friendships: Embracing Diversity in Christian Community Dana Robert (Eerdmans) $19.00 I’m not sure what first alerted me that this would be a quiet gem, a great little book, perhaps too unsung, but important and wonderful. Perhaps it was the sub-title, or the fact that a foreword was offered by Christine Pohl, who wrote the seminal, essential Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition and Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us and Friendships at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. If Pohl says something is important, we should listen.

I realized early on by reading Ms Pohl’s good foreword that this is, indeed, a book about friendship. I thought maybe the word “friendship” in the title was just useful for an image, but that it was mostly about community, about church. And it is, I suppose. But Dana Robert’s is working deeply here – even though the book isn’t academic or arcane – in the questions of virtue and relationships and character. What kind of people are we in our communities of faith? What kind of relationships form us? That is, what kind of friends do we have?

We don’t know whether to put this book under our section about racism and multi-ethnic ministry because it is about cross-cultural diversity. But is is also about diversity within the church, so we surely should shelf it in our section about community, next to ecclesiology. But, you know what? It also is a book, as Pohl reminds us, about friendship. So it goes under friendship, over in the self-help sort of personal growth section. I almost listed in in that category in the PART ONE of BookNotes Best of 210-9.

Faithful Friendships came out of lectures given at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia, a lively and wonderful place. The ideas were first shaped by a series of talks she gave at Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary. Currently, she teaches World Christianity and History of Mission (and is the director of the Center for Global Christianity at Boston University.) So she gets around – Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic. (And Pohl, who studied at L’Abri, with Francis Schaeffer, teaches at Asbury, a fine United Methodist institution.)

Isn’t it nice that such ecumenical voices have so much to tell us, to teach us about Jesus and his tender call to care for others? This book is deeply Christian, rooted in the gospels, and yet if full of contemporary stories, examples and illustrations of lasting friendships and cross-cultural initiatives. You can see more of why we love it, and why I insist on honoring it here as a lovely release from 2019 by hearing these other important figures who commend it:

“Dana Robert has been that rare combination of renowned scholar and committed church mission leader. In this book, Dr. Robert does a marvelous job of reclaiming the practice of friendship as essential to Christian ethics and church life. I’ve just returned from a bruising at the United Methodist General Conference, full of talk of division and schism. I’m thinking, ‘Dana Robert’s guidance and wisdom, just when we need it. What a gift.'” Will Wiilimon, Accidential Preacher

“What a remarkable–and unusual–book Dana Robert has given us! Though esteemed as a scholar of church history and mission, she has ranged far beyond academic categories to explore the deepest human needs and to reflect on the models of friendship she has seen in Christian communities. This is not a sentimental book; her copious illustrations depict Christian commitment across boundaries, often in peril. Preachers and church leaders of all stripes will value the way she has woven biblical and theological insights together with her own warmhearted message. Dana Robert is herself a friend in the church’s need.” Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion

“Refusing to be torn apart by wars, revolutions, and systemic injustice and oppression, the individuals in Faithful Friendships manifest their faith and humanity in noble acts of friendship that defies the boundaries of race, nationality, class, religion, and culture. An inspiring read.” Xi Lian, Duke Divinity School

SURPRISING, POWERFUL, HONEST, HEART-BROKEN: A CRY FROM THE MAINLINE CHURCH, IMPORTANT FOR US ALL

Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the Us Lenny Duncan (Fortress Press) $16.99  I wasn’t sure how to honor this hot love letter of a book that came out this summer. It is, as the subtitle reveals, a book mostly for mainline Lutherans. The ELCA is said to be one of the whitest denominations in the US, but it is, I’d say, a stand in for most mainline denominations. I know a number of clergy of color in our own Lutheran Synod and have only had the briefest of conversations with some about how they navigate their own embodiment within their mostly white region and mostly white congregations. Some are, as you’d expect, more outspoken about racial justice issues, while others perhaps do not feel called to that particular ministry or do not want the burden of hosting that conversation. Maybe they are content, maybe not.

I used to sell books as one of the only white people at an all African American conference for black men and women – clergy and congregants – in my own PC(USA) denomination. Like the ELCA, we’ve made all sorts of statements and public commitments to ethnic diversity and racial justice. Our mainline denominational publishers have done radical books and our leaders have issued declarations. But only as I was privileged to be an insider to the conversations within the safe spaces of the black Presbyterian caucus, so to speak, did I realize that despite the right messages (sometimes) from leadership, people of color have huge barriers and frustrations within largely white organizations, even those that say they are mostly progressive on these issues. As I started to read Rev. Lenny (the Lutheran) Duncan’s Dear Church I could almost hear my black Presbyterian brothers and sisters from years ago. This stuff is talked about in public a bit more these days, but the issues of race and class have not gone away.

(That Duncan add passion for inclusion of those other than cis-gender folk would make it controversial in some black churches, of course and in this, he does not speak for all people of color, or course.)

In his love letter to the ELCA, Duncan offers the church a “new vision for the future.” I’m not so sure what is so “new” about fighting white supremacy, misogyny, nationalism, homophobia, and economic injustice. He stands with immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community and while we don’t do it very well, the call to do so isn’t new, certainly not from this publisher. But in all this heart-felt anguish and hope, Duncan calls us to consider deeply and forthrightly just how willing we are to truly and faithfully enter that struggle for the long haul.

The writing in Dear Church is shall we say, a bit colorful and Rev. Duncan is (perhaps at first glance) a surprising character to lead the church of Luther to a new reformation. Lenny Duncan is, as he says, “the unlikeliest of pastors.” He was formerly homeless, he drifted all around the country. He was very seriously un-churched. Incarcerated. So he has some of that rough past experience and brings some history and struggle and hardship to his work as pastor at Jehu’s Table in the heart of Brooklyn. This radical social and spiritual transformation isn’t uncommon among Pentecostal and evangelical church leaders, but it is more rare in the more middle American mainline churches. Ya know? This story almost sounds, well, Biblical in proportion.

I agree (perhaps in a slightly different way than Duncan means it) when he says that the problems with the declining membership church facing shifting demographics and shrinking congregations “are not sociological, but theological.” Right on; in fact, I wish he’d have explored that more.

In this heart-felt open letter to the mainline church, Reverend Lenny Duncan calls us all to renewal, to revival. He invites us to rise up in God’s Spirit – yes, in terms of a radical vision of a fully open and inclusive church and a wholistic mission that subverts the idols and ideologies of the day, and of status quo congregations, but it is a spiritual renewal about which he writes. This really does mean turning to God and getting serious about our discipleship in the way of Jesus and His counter-cultural movement. He’s right about that, you know, and he brings this challenge with lots of energy and color and spicy storytelling. It’s worth reading, and it has a lot of integrity.

Even if you disagree with Duncan’s progressive sort of theology and his liberationist hermeneutic and lefty sort of politics, you should agree that this feisty read is better than the passionate (manicured) voices calling us to a safe sort of mega-churchy pseudo-revolution. I’m tired of hip and breathy evangelical voices calling us to cool zeal and making a difference and changing the world, when, frankly, they don’t even touch the big issues of structural and systematic idolatry in our society; they’ve co-opted the language of revolution but don’t really mean it. Dear Church means it. Rev. Duncan may not have every analysis fully right – read it and conclude for yourself – but he is pointing us in the right direction, calling us out, inviting us to be serious about faith and action, and to not give up on God’s work in the mainline churches. His diagnosis is severe and his proposals are radical.

I don’t know how my BookNotes fans will take this, but here are how some in his own beloved ELCA have responded:

Rev. Lenny Duncan is a voice calling in the wilderness. I am deeply grateful for the comfort and the discomfort his book brought me. I dare you to read this book, church. I dare you to be open to the repentance it calls for, to the grace it manifests, to the pain it witnesses to. I dare you to be changed by the truth in its pages. I dare you to not look away. It’s time.

Marrying stunning, reverberant personal stories with little-known Lutheran history, Duncan makes readers laugh out loud in grim recognition. His critiques of our beloved church strike a tender spot in the heart, not because they are harsh, but because they are true.

The Reverend Lenny Duncan writes with a searing message urgently rooted in true love. His deep commitment to speak the truth to his white siblings in the church reads as a desperately clarion call. Dear Church isn’t just a good idea for a book study–the grace-filled ferocity that overwhelms its pages reminds one of early writings from the Latin American base communities that formed liberation theology as we know it today. Duncan has written a necessary addition to the corpus of Christian writings in the twenty-first century. We ignore his plea at our own peril.”

FAVORITE BOOKS and DVDs ABOUT THE BIBLE

I love reading books about the Bible and do my fair share of informal Bible teaching, here and there. There seems to be a rising tide of fresh, new Bible scholars these days and we saw remarkably important books by authors like Nijay K. Gupta and Brant Pitre and Michael Bird and Douglas Campbell, all who are writing on Paul, perhaps in conversation with leaders in the field like Michael Gorman, who published this year Participating in Christ: Explorations in Paul’s Theology and Spirituality (Baker Academic; $30.00.)

There has been quite an interest in Paul studies this year, and we’re excited. One important and interesting one that we announced at BookNotes last winter was Preaching Romans: Four Perspectives edited by Scot McKnight & Jospeh Modica (Eerdmans; $20.00.) It offers four different “takes” or approaches to the famous epistle and then suggests how preachers should proclaims the message of Romans. There are not only essays about the four different approaches, but sample sermons.

Some of the esteemed scholars and preachers who are included in this good resource are Michael Gorman, Fleming Rutledge, Michael Bird, Douglas Campbell, Richard Hays, Tara Beth Leach, William Willimon and others, all indicative of one of the four interpretive perspectives

This is a really interesting, very useful, and I think inspiring volume and recommend it for anyone interested in Bible study, in Paul, or in preaching. Kudos!

Later in the year, Scot McKnight himself did a freshly conceived but careful commentary on Romans entitled Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire (Baylor University Press; $29.99 — no discount available on this one; sorry.) It, of course, emphasizes the ecclesiological context and implications and has gotten very good reviews. It is a notable volume, for sure, but if you’re going there, stay tuned (below) to see me once again rave about the astounding and energetic Romans Disarmed.

Although it has a very different style and approach, I have to admit I enjoyed much of the little paperback by John Piper called Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons (Crossway; $14.99.) I spend a lot of my own time in the Old Testament, so it’s good to hear him say “Besides Jesus, no one has kept me from despair, or taken me deeper into the mysteries of the gospel, than the apostle Paul.)

Zondervan’s useful “Story of God Bible Commentaries” (edited by Scot McKnight & Tremper Longman) saw several new volumes this year (for instance, Joshua by Lissa Wray Beal and Acts by Dean Pinter.) They’ve added more to the excellent paperback “Biblical Theology for Life” series – see Nicholas Perrin’s Biblical Theology of Life: The Kingdom of God.

Zondervan made a real mark in 2019 as they released two different video curriculums by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird and a major, major textbook This is amazing — what riches we have to use among our churches and small groups and Bible studies and fellowship groups. First, last winter, there was the upbeat and fabulous “live from the Holy land” 8-session DVD The New Testament You Never Knew Video Study: Exploring the Context, Purpose, and Meaning of the Story of God ($39.99, or $51.99 for a DVD/Participant’s Guide combo package.) It’s perfect for almost any group that wants solid teaching that is accesible and clear.

Then, in the fall, they released Wright and Bird’s massive (992 page) text The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Zondervan Academic; $59.99) that surely deserves the acclaim it has been getting. It is superb; perhaps the best volume of its kind! There is a large companion workbook, too, The New Testament in Its World Workbook, that can be bought to go through this big text which is useful as a study resource; the workbook regularly for $22.99. We are real fans of this fabulous, serious contribution to New Testament studies.

 

The matching DVD set of The New Testament in Its World Video Lectures offers 37-lesson seminary level video lectures and shows them as good professors not just in the classroom but, again, live in the holy land. As you can imagine, given how lovely and helpful actually hearing N.T. Wright is (and Bird is pretty great as a speaker, too) this hefty set of lectures is highly recommended for those wanting a deeper study. It is, I’d say, almost unprecedented and, although seminary level, could be made available for somebody at almost any church. The 37 lessons on four DVD discs sells for $49.99.

The release of this major book (not to mention the workbook and the DVDs) is simply momentous, what we truly might call a publishing event.

“The big, bold theological interpretation of the New Testament that N. T. Wright has been building, piece by piece, in monographs and commentaries over the years now appears here in an accessible, single-volume New Testament introduction.”  –Dr. Matthew V. Novenson, senior lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

So, a very special shout out to Zondervan thanking them for their role in bringing this new N.T. Wright teaching to us all.

A month ago I described at BookNotes two new Walter Brueggemann books written for a popular audience. First there was the short but delightfully useful From Judgment to Hope: A Study on the Prophets (WJK; $14.00) which I highly recommend. Also released in October was  An On-going Imagination: A Conversation About Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationships (WJK; $18.00.) It is a fabulous transcript of the honest conversations between Clover Beal and Walt over a period of months together. It’s a must for any Brueggemann fans.

Something that delighted many with joy and surprise, even, was the Brueggemann book that WJK released last January — A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing (WJK; $18.00.) As we explained at BookNotes, it includes a number of studies on the role of music and hymns in our lives by way of studying a handful of typically mainline Protestant hymns, followed by a handful of chapters studying various Psalms that were firstly sung. It was so useful that it was given a foreword by the head of the wonderful and widely respected Calvin Institute on Christian Worship, John Witvliet.

Tremper Longman released a major work to through his hat into the ring of the genre of books that help us understand the hard and complicated stuff of the Bible in his Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence (IVP; $19.99.) He is as trustworthy as they come, it seems to me, so this deserves attention and appreciation.

I’ll admit that I really, really enjoyed and I learned a lot from Pete Enn’s witty and mostly helpful How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers–And Why That’s Good News (HarperOne; $26.99.) It doesn’t answer all the questions of a faithful hermeneutic, and revels in the loose ends a bit too much for my taste, but it’s a really good read. It deserves a very honorable mention. I know some think he’s gone way too ambiguous about the perspicuity and authority of the Word of God but I don’t think that is fair. He’s just trying to help us, as he says, see how the literature we’ve been given in our Sacred texts actually works.

It isn’t easy to pull off faithfully, but I adored The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic by the impeccable Christopher J.H. Wright (IVP Academic; $16.00.) I co-taught an overview of the Old Testament course at our church and read a lot of Hebrew Scripture stuff this past fall. This little volume was really good. Also released in 2019 was The New Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic by the very astute Wheaton prof, Gary M Burge (IVP Academic; $16.00) As always, InterVarsity Press has this knack to create good books that are thoughtful and informed without being overly academic. They do lots of books for the “thoughtful layperson” alongside their extraordinary scholarly imprint. IVP Academic. (These two are, by the, in their “IVP Academic” imprint which I guess they suppose will allow them be adopted as college-level introductory texts. I suppose, but they aren’t nearly as scholarly as many in that academic imprint, so don’t let that scare you away. These make great books for any reader.

I think IVP Academic did the most consistently interesting Biblical studies and other academic output this year (see HERE for their Fall 2019 catalog, which is much more than Biblical and theological books and includes rigorously scholarly work as well as less technical volumes but that are still fairly academic; we stock many of these, of course, and can get them all.) See HERE for the interactive Baker Academic Fall 2019 catalog to see their remarkable listing of serious scholarship as well as the less formal but fairly academic listings as well.)

I hope you notice the 2019 IVP releases in their great “Week in the Life of…” series, such as A Week in the Life of Rome by James Papandrea, A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman by Holly Beers, or A Week in the Life of a Slave by New Testament scholar John Byron. These tremendous little books appeal to those who want an easy read (part fiction, part non-fiction, actualy) that puts us right into the social context of the New Testament. Congratulations to them for offering this kind of good work.

God’s Sabbath With Creation: Vocations Fulfilled, the Glory Unveiled James Skillen (Wipf & Stock) $35.00  I sadly suspect that you may not have heard of this stellar 2019 release (unless you saw my shout out about it at BookNotes) nor its fine author, Dr. James Skillen.  Skillen often works in the higher scholarly levels of political philosophy and is respected in a circle of political thinkers in the line of the Dutch Christian statesman Abraham Kuyper (and even more specifically, among those who studied legal theory or social philosophy in the tradition of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, like, say, David Koyzis, Jonathan Chaplin, Paul Marshall, John Witte, Elaine Botha, Bob Goudzwaard, James K.A. Smith, Stanely Carlson-Thies, Robert and Jessica Joustra, Matthew Kaemingk, Richard Mouw, and even Nicholas Wolterstorff. ) And yet, Skillen’s passionate, deeply thoughtful, generative scholarship isn’t as known as it might be. His 2014 The Good of Politics A Biblical, Historical, And Contemporary Introduction is still a must read for our times as it offers a positive theological articulation of Godly statecraft and the legitimate role of government, offering a foundation for the civic organization he founded decades ago, Citizens for Public Justice. It’s an organization we value and look to for a way out of the tired stalemates. So Skillen has done as much well-balanced thinking about Biblically-informed statecraft and citizenship and a deeply religious public faith than almost anybody I know.

So, therefore, when Skillen offers this first major collection of writings since his retirement from CPJ, Christians interested in redeeming the vocation of citizenship and politics amidst the clanging gongs of the religious right and the Christian left, we should listen. But, know this: God’s Sabbath for Creation showcases Jim’s love for Scripture and his deep awareness of important themes in the Bible. He draws on sources as profound as Meredith Kline and Karl Barth and Jorgen Moltmann and Abraham Kuyper, on Biblical scholars from Walter Brueggemann to Craig Bartholomew to Raymond Van Leuween.

God’s Sabbath for Creation has intriguing chapters, rich Biblical insights, new ideas, wild dreams, good hopes rooted in the Bible’s own story and its description of the creations purposes and the fulfillment of those purposes. It is one of the unsung books of the year by one of the unsung heroes of our time. It is not commonplace and at times it is challenging; as I think I noted in my previous review at BookNotes there is meaty Biblical exposition here, coupled with astute political theory and social analysis. But mostly Bible. It is truly extraordinary and one of the urgent tracts for our time, inviting us to image God’s redemption of His world in Christ and what it means to enter into the ultimate Sabbath of the healing, restoring, reign of God.

The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong Karen Gonzalez (Herald Press) $16.99  We have occasionally shared that this author met an acquisitions editor for Herald Press at our store and while we were trying not to eavesdrop, they signed the contract for this very book. (And then, naturally, I sold her some books on immigration issues.) But while that is lovely and fun, the attention for this book must be turned upon Ms Gonzalez, who is a great storyteller, a great Bible teacher, and an immigration advocate who has been there. We have joked (as we often do with these kinds of books) that need to keep on under immigration issues, but also under the study of Bible characters, even though, it is also a memoir. And what a riveting story she has of seeking safety in another land. As it says on the back, “Here is a gripping journey of loss, alienation, and belonging.”

In picking this up again this week it dawns on me that I want to name it as a notable book and personal favorite this year, but that I want to suggest that it is award-winning in the Biblical studies category. Yes, she is one of the few Christian writers about immigration issues who herself if an immigrant, and yes, she tells a lot of her poignant story, making this a heckuva a great read. But alongside the personal narrative and the natural advocacy, there is, at the heart of the book, a study of characters in Scripture who have fled their homelands. Seen though the lens of migration,Ms. Gonzalez studies Hagar and Joesph, Ruth and, yes, Jesus.

There is, as many of us have come to realize in recent decades, a lot in the Bible about how to be welcoming to strangers and to have gracious policies about immigrants. And there are narratives of refugees and those who are our “intrepid heros of the faith who cross borders and seek refuge.”

Kudos to Herald Press for doing these fine kinds of books that are a bit genre-bending but ultimately very, very helpful. Good Scripture study and inspiring Biblical reflection should be mixed with real life narrative and should lead to real life social change. Karen Gonzalez gest this, and The God Who Sees tells her own story, and how it opened up her insight into God’s Word. I love the cover, too. Highly recommended.

BIBLICAL STUDIES BOOK OF THE YEAR

Romans Disarmed: Doing Justice/Resisting Empire Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh (Brazos Press) $26.99   There is no doubt in my mind that the most interesting and, I believe, the most important book of Biblical studies this year is Romans Disarmed: Doing Justice/Resisting Empire. In fact, I think it was my very favorite nonfiction read of 2019; certainly it was the most provocative and intellectually stimulating. You can study my lengthy explanation of it at our BookNotes review HERE, but you may want to know a few quick things, now: this is one of these rare books that is lively and culturally engaged with side trips into racial justice and creation care and urban poverty even as it diligently (if creatively) grapples with the exegesis and interpretation and meaning and application of the Biblical text.

Years ago when thinking about Colossians with their friend N.T. Wright, they came up with the idea of an “anti-commentary” (which became 2004’s Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire; IVP Academic; $28.00.) It is a commentary; not quite line by line, but almost page by page. It is a commentary that points us to why we read the ancient Scripture in the first place and how in the world we interpret it well and live it out: it’s a “so what” sort of practical application reflection, read in light of and forged by their ministry making the world a better place. It’s not really an “anti-commentary” but a Biblical commentary as they are meant to be done with life and passion and color and controversy. That is, it isn’t about arcane history and syntax and word meanings in some abstract dogmatic sense, but it is about communities of fait (then and now) that are transformed by the story of God unfolding as they encounter the living Word. There is a lot of background scholarship and a lot of very contemporary cultural analysis and vivid, radical application. I bet it will offend you but I bet that it will bless you even more.

Their explanations of first century Roman life and how Paul’s pastoral letter would have been received and discussed and applied is spectacular. Their storytelling puts you into the culture of the day and even if it is a bit speculative (despite pages of studious footnotes) it makes the old book come alive. Their insistence that we strip the layers of accrued theological jargon from the letter and allow it to call us today into a Romans-like faith community that brought together rich and poor, the sexually conventional and those less so, slavers and those trafficked, Jews and Gentiles, is stunningly powerful, unlocking a revolutionary sort of application that is truly transformational. That is, it can be, if you are willing to be open to a new reading and consider that it may be a faithful, fruitful reading. And find some others to discuss it with and pledge to allow God to guide you towards experimenting with living it out, Romans style.

Sylvia is a creative and immensely talented Bible scholar and professor (whose work is cited by scholars like Richard Hays and others who write about echoes of the Old Testament found in the New, which she wrote about in her own PhD thesis under N.T. Wright decades ago.) Brian is an activist and campus pastor and prolific writer, having released books that are personal favorites of mine such as Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, Subversive Christianity, Beyond Homelessness, Kicking at the Darkness, St. John Before Breakfast and Habakkuk Before Breakfast. (Many of these, quite intentionally, I suspect, are co-written with others.) Brian and Sylvia steward a permaculture-based farm while experimenting with sustainable agriculture and hospitable homesteading, even as he does campus ministry at the University of Toronto and works with several social justice organizations in the city.

Perhaps it is their faithful, generous praxis (as the scholars like to put it) that gives rise to their deep insights about the social location and anti-Empire themes in Romans or maybe it is their years of close attention to the Scripture that pushed them towards increasingly radical forms of counter-cultural lifestyles; perhaps a bit of both. In any case, Romans Disarmed just shimmers with passion for Word and world, for the Pauline epistle and the powers that deform our own world, for Romans and for modern resistance. In all its complicated, ambitious glory the hefty, provocative Romans Disarmed is akin to their wonderful and much-debated Colossians Remixed. I believe it is one of the most important contributions to Biblical studies in quite a while and certainly my favorite and most pondered book of 2019.

BRIAN WALSH & SYLVIA KEESMAAT TO SPEAK AT HEARTS & MINDS MARCH 23, 2020

You can learn more soon at our Hearts & Minds Facebook page but we are pleased to announce that Sylvia and Brian are coming to Hearts & Minds to present some of their ideas from Romans Disarmed. It is a great, great honor to have these two authors with us. It will be a generous and stimulating conversation, we’re sure…

Please join us here at the shop in Dallastown on March 23, a Monday night, at 7:00 pm.

BEST CONTRIBUTION TO CHRISTIAN LITERARY CRITICISM

When Poets Pray Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99 How can I not name this as a favorite this year, an award-deserving contribution to not only faith-based perspectives on literature, but, more, showing how ordinary readers can come to appreciate poetry more. Of course poetry does not need to be prayerful or prayed for people of religious faith to appreciate it – that would fly against all we stand for her, suggesting some cheap baptizing of so called “secular” work with some splash of the sacred. No. But still, this is a creative and generative experiment, a playful and maybe helpful suggestion of what it might be like to use these poems in this manner, to help us attend to them, and to allow them to point us to God and God’s graceful care for the world around us. This is not an essential use of poetry, but it is appropriate

Marilyn McEntyre knows all this, of course, and meanders her way into explaining (beautifully, in pages I’ve read out loud more than once in programs and preaching this year) how words matter, how God can use language and literature. So. Here is Ms McEntyre’s earnest treatment of a handful of poems (most of which were most likely not firstly written as prayers, although perhaps some were) and how we might pray them. What a great way to deepen our appreciation of some of these poets and their poems – a few which you may know, a few which you, like me, may not. And what a creative way to use God’s good gift of words and language and poetry to deepen our prayer life. When Poets Pray is very nicely done by an author we very much respect. It made bookselling in 2019 that much more special.

Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher Jeffrey Munroe (IVP) $18.00 If we were being creative and playful and I had the energy to come up with clever-sounding award names, I’d award this something like “The Best Book Which Does Something We’ve Been Waiting For The Longest” or the “Finally, Somebody Did This in 2019” Book Award. In other words, we are thrilled to see this released into the marketplace and hope you, too, appreciate its wonderful significance.

There have been some fine compilations of Mr. Buechner’s various works; the daily devotional called Listening To Your Life is still a sturdy and fine suggestion and there is a great compilation of his eloquent sermons (Secrets in the Dark) but heretofore the only introduction to his work is the quite serviceable and wise (and pricey) hardback The Book of Buechner: A Journey Through His Writings by Dale Cooper (WJK; $30.00.) I don’t think there has yet to be a really good and accessible guide to his life and work for beginners, including – as the subtitle suggests, his memoirs, his novels, his theological work, and his preaching. Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher by Jeffrey Munroe is that book. Hoooray.

There are four good chapters under the first memoir section, exploring, in order, Buechner’s famous and beloved The Sacred Journey, Now and Then, Telling Secrets, and The Eyes of the Heart. Part II looks at Godric and Son of Laughter (but oddly, no Brenden.) Part III explores Wishful Thinking and Peculiar Treasures while the three chapters in Part IV are Telling the Truth: Tears with Great Laughter and Secrets in the Dark: The Wonder of Words, followed by a nice closing chapter called “Reading Buechner Today.” There is a fine epilogue and a good appendix offering an annotated bibliography. Kudos to Jeffrey Monroe (who is ordained in the RCA denomination) and who is the Vice President at Western Theological Seminary where he also teaches writing.

There’s a very nice foreword to Reading Buechner by artist Makoto Fujimura, too, which makes this all the more special. Even the warm cover seems just right. Thanks to all who played a part getting this book to us. What a gift.

A BOOK I MUST AWARD – BUT IN WHAT CATEGORY?

Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church James E. Beitler (IVP Academic) $25.00 Okay, I’ve already said that I don’t know what to do with this amazingly interesting, brilliantly conceived, one-of-a-kind book. Kudos to IVP for bringing such stimulating and thoughtful books to us, even if, as I suspect, many stores just won’t carry it. I hope that is not the case, as this book deserves to be widely read, seriously considered, discussed and somehow applied. Although it isn’t a book that is easily “applied” even though it is chock-full of wisdom, full of insights, and oh so very, very needed. Rhetoric? Yes, yes, you know: how do we “speak the truth in love” as the Epistle commands? How do we speak in a way that is relevant and timely and gracious and clear and profound and good and stimulating and… well, you get the picture. How we speak, persuade, honor the image of God in others, denounce evil and highlight beauty and goodness – whether we are in ordinary, everyday conversations or whether we are novelists or essayists, bloggers or preachers, we simply have to think harder about how to learn to be wise and compelling. Form follows function, I think somebody said so we should know that how we speak is as important as what we say. Seasoned Speech helps us explore that in amazingly healthy, thoughtful, good ways. And that’s half the fun!

As I said in my previous review in BookNotes when this came out last Spring (even then I intuited it was genius and hoped it was as good as it looked) the title itself draws from Colossians 4: 6 where Paul wrote “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” In this sense, it stands somewhat with that great book from a few years ago Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness, even if that works a bit with satire as a element of faithful communication in presenting compelling Christian truth in a skeptical, post-Christian world. Beitler brings a different approach and it is nothing short of award winning.

As you perhaps can see from the cover, what this author is doing in this grand and thoughtful work, is exploring different (faithful) rhetorical styles as evidenced by several different public intellectuals, faithful Christians who have made their mark before the watching world.

Seasoned Speech used as case studies the rhetorical and communication stylings of C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilyn Robinson. What a great idea for a book, and what a splendid array of thinkers, writers, and communicators to help us grapple with how to have seasoned speech in different complicated settings.

I am sure we don’t have to explain to BookNotes fans that Lewis was the BBC apologist an intellectual Oxford don and a children’s storyteller. whose Mere Christianity explained faith as intellectually sound and a “myth which is also a fact,” His friend Dorothy Sayers was a playwright who said “The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination.” Bonhoeffer – wow. But you know he mostly talked about Jesus in his humility. And Tutu – helped bring down apartheid by talking about justice and our interconnectedness, not unlike the great MLK, I’d say. Robinson is as Beitler notes, a complex figure, doing very intellectually profound essays in places like The New Yorker (and collection in heady volumes published by serious houses) as well as her more popular Pulitzer Prize winning novels like Gilead. Reminds me of Mr. Lewis in a way – Christian apologist, novelist, and essayist.

How does it all get said, by writers, dramatists, activists, public speakers and introverted authors? Can we speak truth, salty and seasoned with grace, even if we are denouncing public stupidity and great evil? Can we be winsome and strong, prophetic and persuasive? What can we learn from these great public saints of the 20th century?

This is truly one of the Best Books of 2019, notable and persuasive and, even though I fear it won’t be adequately studied, very, very important.

BOOK I MOST HATED TO LOVE / LOVED TO HATE

Shameless: A Sexual Reformation Nadia Bolz-Weber (Convergence) $25.00 Some years I use this playful heading to highlight a book I have very conflicted feelings about but which deserves to be named as a major book of the year. This captivating book surely fits that category and I know I’ll annoy both conservatives and progressives by saying I both truly loved and yet somewhat disapproved of this very moving, very tender, often right and sometimes troubling book. I couldn’t put it down, found myself cheering much of it, and was deeply moved by the reading experience and the great empathy and compassion it strives to engender. And that is true – Nadia is a caring pastor and advocate for those who don’t fit the mold – her own story, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint and the story of the church she founded (House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver) called Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People are books I truly love. We’ve been to the church more than once, and was significantly blessed by the communal experience, the singing, the interesting Lutheran liturgy offered in a serious if campy aesthetic and the very good preaching. You may not like her cussing or her bohemian ethos, but it just made me weep to see so many who would be excluded and made to feel unwelcome in so many places so obviously safe and loved and called together around the gospel in that place. Fans or haters – and this author has plenty of both – I hope you’ll respect me naming this 2019 book in public. Although I found some parts unhelpful and inadequate, I mostly loved this amazingly written, very raw and touching exploration of a new sexual ethic, free of shame and joyful about the goodness of God’s gift of erotic pleasures.

I am mostly with her in a call for a new sexual reformation, for a rejection of shame and embarrassment and an obsession with what some evangelicals call “purity.” We could use an honest admission that the Bible is less than perfectly clear about some things (including “purity”, the codes about which Jesus regularly dissed.) We need some pastoral encouragement for coping with the fact that many people are wounded around issues of sexuality (often by the church) and many are just different enough in their own funky inclinations and affections that we simply can’t just shame everyone and insist on legalistic compliance with attitudes and rules that are more Victorian than Biblical. I’m with Nadia that the church hasn’t had a robust doctrine of creation, or the body, or awe and beauty, and we haven’t taken the longings and relationships of younger adults as seriously as we might, either. For these and many more reasons, Shameless was a hard but important book for me to read.

Nadia’s stories are beautifully told and her empathy is inspiring. I think I’d read almost anything of hers because she is such an entertaining writer. (By the way: we stock her first, lesser-known book Salvation on the Small Screen: 24 Hours of Christian Television, so there ya go.)

Her extreme minimalism about all sexual ethics – basically do no harm – has been critiqued by those who cared enough to engage Bolz-Weber’s work seriously (see Wesley Hill’s fair response HERE for one good example) which illustrates some of my frustration with her shoddy thinking about it all. But as a caring storyteller and really good, colorful writer, as an earnest friend of the marginalized, and a pastor working for full inclusion in the church of those some might label deviants, she nearly wins the day, making reading Shameless a moving and poignant experience and unlike anything I’ve ever read. I don’t like it, fully, but I’ll never forget it.

 

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