Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home by Jen Pollock Michel (and 20 + others) ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home Jen Pollock Michel (IVP) $16.00

keeping place.jpgFrom the first page, this book utterly captivated me, as Jen Pollock Michel beautifully tells of an international group of expats sharing a Christmas meal around her table in Toronto where the vignettes speak of the longing for home. Besides the obvious pathos of these tender stories, I recognized that this was going to be an amazing book, beautifully written, full of memoir and storytelling and more profound than perhaps some readers may expect in a book about home-making. You will be hooked and eager to turn the pages!

Maybe it is because I heard Brian Walsh, another guy from Toronto, years ago, speak about the angst of all of us feeling displaced by the forces of modernity that I am attuned to stories of exile and longing.  He was one of the first to alert us to this motif in Scripture as a way of understanding our own times, inviting us to think about redemptive home-coming. Brian’s profound insights about home and home-making found their way into a big, co-authored book, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Eerdmans; $29.00.) 

Or maybe it is because we just saw the powerful movie Lion, a film about a college-age young man who was raised by adoptive parents in Australia, searching literally for his long-forgotten home and family in India.  The longing for home is powerfully portrayed in this beautiful movie, based on the wonderful memoir by Saroo Brierley,  A Long Way Home (Berkley Books; $16.00.)

Or maybe it is because this is a theme I have written about before, naming books about a sense of place, about how our personal cultural homesickness leads to often grief and dysfunction, and, as documented in Beyond Homelessness, unsustainable economic and environmental policies. One could make a case that much of the recent controversy and social concern about immigration policy involves anxiety about who is in and who is out, about belonging, about identity.  For a captivating recent memoir about this experience of displacement, searching for home, being a sojourner in this world, living among refugees please see At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors by Russell Jeung (Zondervan; $17.99.)

Searching for home is a universal human calling, it seems, and since we all live East of Eden, all but the most numb get choked up when we hear the pathos of a good version of the song telling of Dorothy’s Kansas longings, that begins Somewhere, over the rainbow…

I’ll admit I knew I’d Keeping Place when I first turned to the endnotes and saw she early on cited Jayber Crow, the great American novel about place by Saint Wendell Berry and the eloquent book Longing for Home by the Presbyterian wordsmith Frederick Buechner.  Of course, I knew I’d like a book that cites another personal favorite, Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski (Penguin; $16.00), the wise and very popular writer of books about architecture.

Keeping Place itself is such an evocative title: all the markers indicated it would be a fabulous book, an important book. And it most certainly is — both fabulous and important!

teach us to want.jpgI also knew I was going to like this book because the author, Jen Pollock Michel, is, I know, a serious thinker, a deeply spiritual woman, and a great writer; her previous book Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith (IVP; $16.00) is a rumination on desire, on ambition, on a woman’s search for purpose and identity, a book we named as one of the very best Best Books of 2015 (and it won the coveted Christianity Today Best Book.)

That book, like this new one, has a DVD curriculum that can be used, an indication that the publisher not only believes in the content, but finds the author a compelling communicator.  IVP doesn’t do many DVDs so that is significant; having Jen as a speaker (well, almost) in your small group, book club, or adult ed class via video is pretty great.  Each of the two companion DVDs for Teach Us To Want and Keeping Place sell for just $20.00 and the discussion guide in the back of the paperback book serves as a guide for the DVD curriculum, too.

The literary structure of the brand new Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home is clever and fun, too.  Pollock Michel arranges her studies of the “most fundamental human longing” in a memoir that bounces around geographically; it isn’t fully chronological.  In fact, Michel visits some of her previous childhood homes with her mother and daughter on a road-trip worthy story which allows for some lively reports of stuff that happens along the way, but, more, allows for memories to be recovered, for stories to unfold as she recalls old moments of her rather nomadic upbringing.  

jen pollock michel.jpgJen’s father died, suddenly, rather young (and her brother died later that year) so there is great grief associated with some old locations. In a brief scene that oddly gripped me as almost devastating, she visits Kent, Ohio, where her father was working on a dissertation. She visits the Kent State University library, trying to learn if he had finished and published his work – she tries various configurations of his first name, his middle name, and the like.  The sadness and exhaustion of that era is so great, it seems, that her mother doesn’t know if her husband ever published his dissertation. For all of us, I am sure, some memories are a blur, and not all homes are lovely.  Some are not even safe.

So Keeping Places travels around, giving a subtle, structural indication that having a home is not necessarily about, as Scott Russell Saunders writes, “staying put.”  I suspect strongly that Michel will deny the “home is where ever you lay your head” nonsense, this distorted valorization of being on the road – thank you Jack Kerouac for that ruinous counter-cultural idea – and invites us to take our places serious.  The “meaning of home” in the title, of course, is about “keeping place.” (I thinking keeping evokes “keeping house” which should imply stewardly care, not necessarily forever “staying put.”)  She herself doesn’t have just one place, and most of us don’t either.  In fact, one chapter is called “Border Crossings: On (Not) Staying Put.”  So there’s that.

One of the things other than the moving stories, good writing, and poignant memories that I like about Keeping Place is that it explores fairly widely some stuff that is often in the background of our home life, holding things up to the light, inviting us to consider what we might otherwise not think about. It is an important reminder, to be self-reflective, and it makes for a fun book.

For instance, there is a wonderful chapter on time; she writes thoughtfully about the daily nature of marriage (with shades of Tish Harris’s The Liturgy of the Ordinary) and “the routine work of I Do.” There is a good discussion helping us get beyond the disdain of housework, what Caitlin Flanagan writes about in To Hell With All That (a funny book I promoted to some consternation a few years back.)  Of course there’s a great chapter on meals called “Saying Grace: Feasting Together” that makes me envious. 

A few of these things are so common – housework, meals, the pace of life – that we don’t think about them, but when we do, we know she is right: these are avenues for spiritual formation, holy placed to embody grace.  

But other things she proposes may be new for some of us, even radical. For instance, Jen Pollock Michel writes significantly and insightfully about the role of the church family in helping us with our own families.  Drawing on Wesley Hill’s must-read Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church… and the kind of model proposed in books like The New Parish and Slow Church. She reminds us that the domestic term “household” is a metaphor the apostle Paul uses to describe the local church.  In writing about how parents are not alone in caring for their children, she quotes James K.A. Smith who reminds us that “at a child’s baptism bloodlines are relativized, and the nuclear family rejects the modern domestic ideal of the family as ‘closed, self-sufficient, autonomous unit.'”  She cites Smith citing the Orthodox author Alexander Schmemann (who wrote For the Life of the World.)  The upshot is that we cannot parent alone. 

It does, after all, take a village, Biblically speaking.

She writes, 

I doubt my unmarried friends know my gratitude for their friendship – how they willingly abide the din of dribbling basketballs in the from hallway to linger of Saturday brunch and easily forgive long stretches of unintended silence when I fail to call. I imagine they see themselves in the role of taker rather than giver in the relationship, but I’d like to assure them that their presence in our home immediately changes the dynamic of our family, especially now that there are teenagers in the house, who are nearly catatonic with boredom that is their parents.

She speaks for all of us when she says,

The church is home and part of our daily housekeeping is learning to belong to one another. If this is good news for the unmarried, it is also good news for me. The nuclear family cannot bear the full weight of human hope and expectation, struggle and need. It’s too fragile and human an entity. As a married woman with children, I need relational connection and commitment beyond the circle of my immediate family, both for myself as well as for the sake of my family.

Like her church in Toronto, which prays in their weekly liturgy for their city, she realizes that her family and her home are for the sake of the world.  She quotes Amy Sherman from her must-read, remarkable book on work, Kingdom Callings (and, I might add, it is a portion that is also found in Sherman’s wonderful, brief chapter in my own collection Serious Dreams) which riffs on Proverbs 11:1.

Sherman tells of some churches doing good work in their city and continues:

Are we engaged in efforts that are relevant to the groans of creation and the cries of the poor? Are we producing disciples whose work is contributing to profound transformations that set people dancing in the streets? Have we joined King Jesus in his grand, sweeping missions of restoration? In cooperation with him, are we bringing foretastes of justice and shalom? 

Jen Pollock Michel provocatively then writes,

These are questions for the church related to housekeeping. They remind us that we make a home for the wandering lost in our cities not simply by throwing open our church doors but by identifying and attending to their most desperate needs.  If we want to sing the stories of home, let’s make a real, dry place out of the rain for our closest neighbors. 

And so it goes, from travelogue and memoir to some serious Bible study to citing important authors about the sociology of home, the politics of place, the rhythms of rest, and stewardly economics of house-keeping.  She writes nicely about finding furniture that suits their modest home, she tells of efforts to discern a spirituality of housework, and she frames these teachings with a big picture of God’s redemptive work in the world.  

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Of course, in any book that offers a Biblically Christian vision of the meaning of home, framed by the longing for a true home (shades of Lewis there, eh?) Michel has to deal with the question of whether our ultimate home is heaven or Earth.  She’s thoughtful, helpful, and faithful in this, drawing – just for instance – on N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and it’s singular vision that God’s intent is to restore the planet as part of Christ’s redemptive healing of all things in the whole cosmos.  In her chapter “The City of God: Finally Home” she quotes a portion of a poem I did not know by G.K. Chesterton (“The House of Christmas” written in 1912.) Wow!

 It invites a few pages of ponderings about justice and healing and hope and judgement – think The Great Divorce and relevant portions of The Weight of Glory. It’s a powerful, good chapter, and it reminds me that this book shifts seamlessly from reflections on nostalgia and memory of childhood homes to advice on daily housekeeping tasks to Biblical teaching on geography and place and sojourning and mission. God’s sweeping narrative and the promise of fulfillment frame all she writes about, whether it is a bit of analysis of our exceptional mobility, a reminder of the ways consumerism has shaped our views of home and house-keeping chores, or some lovely prose about cooking (or not) she has this big picture of Home in the background. 

“The longing for home is associated with memory: a paradise was in fact lost. It looks ahead, inspiring our hope for inhabiting the eternal City of God.  Redeemed humanity has a keeping place.” 

Jen Pollock Michel is drawing here on her previous book, Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith, reminding us that much depends on what we most long for and whether we’ve allowed God to purify our own longings and wants.  Our own deepest desires — as Jamie Smith as so powerfully explored in You Are What You Love — must be reformed and properly shaped in order to truly want the right stuff in the right way.  Smith makes a good case that much of this recalibration of our desires happens through symbolic liturgy and worship and ritual habit (not only or even mostly intellectual argument, since we can hardly “think our way to a new way of living.”)  As the last portions of his widely read book pushes us towards rituals that shape public theology — lived, embodied, incarnate, quotidian – so too does this lovely, fine rumination on the homemaking God who offers welcome into a family, that sends us into a place. Yes, Keeping Place is a book about home, but it is also a very good book about spiritual formation and Kingdom vision and living well in a broken culture, “lovers in a dangerous time” as one Canadian singer once put it.

I especially like that Keeping Place does not commend some romanticized, evangelical vision of home life and I am glad it does not spout platitudes or dispense advise on how to successfully focus on the family.  As it says on the back cover, even, “Keeping Place offers hope to the wanderer, help to the stranded, and a new vision of what it means to live today with our longings for an eternal home.” 

Men and woman who care about the world, who are making sense of their own lives, who have even an inchoate sense of longing for sustainable neighborhoods and a sense of place in our hot-wired, mobile culture, will love the books of Jen Pollock Michel, her first one (Teach Us To Want) and this brand new one, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home.  Why not get some folks together in your house and start a reading group?  Or buy the books and use the DVDs, too?  We very highly recommend them both.

befriend.jpgThere’s more I could say and I’d bet there’s a lot of good reviews on line (I have intentionally avoided reading any, yet, but now that I’ve shared my earnest heart of how good this is, I’ll explore what others might have written.) I might note there is a sizable foreword by Scott Sauls, which is a tremendous move, since his own latest book, Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgement, Isolation and Fear dovetails nicely with Michel’s since it is a lovely and challenging guide to be less judgmental and more inviting with a hospitable sense of building relationships.  For now, we do hope you order this from us at our BookNotes discount.  The button below takes you to our secure order form page. 


Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home

A Spirituality of Homecoming.jpgA Spirituality of Homecoming Henri Nouwen (Upper Room Books) $7.99  I hope you know this little one, from the lovely set of 5 small Nouwen books in the “Henri Nouwen Spirituality series” nicely produced by Upper Room.  This invites us to respond to the deep love of God that shows us our truest home. 

Real Love for Real Life- The Art and Work of Caring .jpgReal Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring Andi Ashworth (Rabbit Room Press) $12.00 One of our very favorite books. It is on the art of home-making, written mostly for woman, but a great read for anyone.  I can’t tell you how intelligent and graceful and thoughtful this is. Highly recommended and dearly beloved.

Hallowed Be This House- Finding Signs of Heaven in Your Home.jpgHallowed Be This House: Finding Signs of Heaven in Your Home Thomas Howard (Ignatius) $14.95 A conservative Roman Catholic walks through the house, seeing signals of transcendence in each room. Very, very, impressive, by a very classy writer you should know.

Household Gods- Freed from the Worship of Family to Delight in the Glory of God .jpgHousehold Gods: Freed from the Worship of Family to Delight in the Glory of God Ted and Kristin Kluck (NavPress) $14.99  A bold and interesting evangelical writer noting that we have made home and successful family life into an idol that we must break free from. Praise the Lord that somebody from a fairly conservative tradition is able to put this in perspective. For some of us, this will be very challenging. For others, we might rejoice saying “it’s about time sombody had the wisdom to say this.”  Read it and pass it around.

liturgy of the ordinary.jpgThe Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $16.00 This almost goes without saying, and I hope you don’t find it so obvious to have me list it here — these books are both so very good and it seems that Jen Michel and Tish Warren ought to be fast friends. Besides that they both go by three names, they are smart, deeply interested in the spirituality of the ordinary, and see home and place as a key location for spiritual formation.  If you care at all about faithful living, about the “every square inch” vision of God claiming all of life, of exploring this topic of home and place and God and life,  this book is without a doubt a must-read. It is beautiful, fun, and so very insightful.  Read it in tandem with Keeping Place and you’ll see what I mean. Somebody ordered both of these on line from us the other day and it made my day.  Praise be to God.

The Tech-Wise Family.jpgThe Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place  Andy Crouch (Baker) $13.99 If there is one small fault with my first perusal of Keeping Place is that I didn’t notice Jen Michel talking much about the impact of our digital culture on our sense of place or how stability in the home may demand thinking in creative ways about what to make of our virtual realities, screens and devices.  Andy Crouch is the perfect guy to help us, here and this is without a doubt the most important book about family life this year. (Yes, I’ll affirm it now: like Keeping Place, Crouch’s Tech-Wise Family will surely be named as one of the Best Books of 2017!) Short and insightful, it offers a gentle critique of our fixation with technology and pushes us towards embodiment, even recommending cooking together, inspired by Father Robert Capon’s glorious theological cookbook, Supper of the Lamb. Want to follow up or read something along-side Jen Michel’s Keeping Place.  Read this.

The Year of Small Things- Radical Faith for the Rest of Us.jpgThe Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us Sarah Arthur & Erin F. Wasinger (Brazos Press) $17.99  I so loved this wonderfully written book, and promoted it when it first came out this past Winter. It’s a charming, provocative, expertly crafted, fun and challenging memoir of two families who pledge to support one another as they take baby steps (and some not-so-baby-steps, you may think) to be more faithful, more caring, more committed to the ways of Jesus in this crazy world. What does home-life look like when couples bond in friendship and supportive community to push one another on to do greater things, daily steps of intentional discipleship? This is a great, great book, sure to inspire your own risk-taking baby steps and evoke good conversation among serious Christian friends. Read it and you’ll see why I thought of it while reading Keeping Place.

At Home in the World- Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe.jpgAt Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe Tsh Oxenreider (Thomas Nelson) $22.99 What a thrilling memoir of travel; hovering around this fun, new book is the question of how to be at home while away, the tension between settling down and going forth.  We sold her earlier, quite classy book Notes from a Blue Bike and she has matured as a writer and offered even wilder adventures, here.   As it says on the cover, this is “an adventure across 4 continents, with 3 kids, 1 husband, and 5 backpacks. Really fun. 

Staying Put- Making a Home in a Restless World .jpgStaying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World Scott Russell Sanders (Beacon) $19.95  One of the truly great American writers, a delightful and moving set of literary essays about home.  Imagine if Wendell Berry was a lived not on a farm in Kentucky but in a small town in the Mid-West. Thoughtful and wise and truly eloquent. This is a collection to dip in to and enjoy for a lifetime.

secrets of the universe sanders.jpgSecrets of the Universe: Essays on Family, Community, Spirit and Place Scott Russell Sanders (Beacon) $18.00  Another remarkable book by the esteemed Mid-Western memoirist.  I hope you know this author. Don’t miss it. One reviewer (editor of the Best American Essays) says “Scott Sanders knows in his bones what it means to write the personal essay: it means to take risks. These are personal essays in the best sense of personal —  candid, intimate, thoughtful, individual.”

The Place of Imagination- Wendell Berry and the Poetics of Community, .jpgwendell berry and the given life.jpgThe Place of Imagination: Wendell Berry and the Poetics of Community, Affection, and Identity Joseph Wiebe (Baylor University Press)  Well, there are any number of important studies of Berry’s fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, and this hones in on his affection for place. Seriously, this is a major bit of literary criticism, incredibly well documented from Berry’s work. Less pricey and more accessible, see, of course, the great new overview of Berry by Ragan Sutterfield called Wendell Berry and the Given Life (Franciscan Media; $22.99.) What a beautiful, insightful, truly valuable book!

Roughneck Grace- Farmer Yoga, Creeping Codgerism, Apple Golf, .jpgRoughneck Grace: Farmer Yoga, Creeping Codgerism, Apple Golf, and Other Brief Essays from On and Off the Back Forty Michael Perry (Wisconsin Historical Society) $18.95  Beth and I both have agreed this is our favorite book these days, so nicely, nicely written, with so many clever (ad hilarious) turns of phrases, warm and earnest and profound, in a roughneck sort of way. It is a wonder. Short pieces about the author’s Wisconsin life which is not quite a farming one, even if he does have a back forty, tractors and some chickens, sometimes. Wholesome, funny, and so darn interesting.  Read his larger books, from Population 485 to Coop to Truck and the essay collection Off Main Street, and more. You’ll thank us with a big ol’ country smile. 

where mortals dwell.jpgWhere Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic) $32.00  I’m glad Jen Pollock Michel cites this a time or two as it is the definitive theological study on place.  As we said in our BookNotes review when it first came out, it includes history, philosophy, theology, geography, all in an extraordinary bit of scholarly enrichment from what some call a reformational worldview. There is nothing like it in print, extraordinary.  Bartholomew, by the way, recentlly did a major work on Kuyperian theology, and has a brand new one coming co-written by Bob Goudzwaar, Beyond the Modern Age. Genius.

no home like place.jpgNo Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place  Leonard Hjalmarson (Urban Loft Publishing) $18.99  If one is not ready yet to tackle the must-read Where Mortals Dwell this is a bit more accessible and has a few more moments that make it passionately clear why we should care about this topic.  Explored through the lens of neighborhood-ish missional church outreach, it is urgent and very, very good. To “keep place” as Pollock Michel invites us to do in our home-life, we simply must think about this bigger sense of place.

staying is the new going.jpgStaying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You Alan Briggs (NavPress) $14.99  I have said that the forward by Michael Frost on two kinds of American literature (staying vs going) is itself worth the price of the book, but Briggs does such a good job making this topic so interesting, I sometimes say this is the first book to read if one is approaching the topic of place. Very inspiring, full of insight and charm and, frankly, is a transformational book. Can we learn to love where God has put us? Game-changing!

renovate a cover.jpgRenovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are Leonce Crump (Multnomah) $14.99 I have touted this nearly everywhere we’ve gone this past yea; it is a passionate, Biblically-solid study of why place matters in the Biblical narrative, how God’s promises to restore the whole of creation, and showing you how that can inform your affection for your own places.  And what can happen as we are transformed by learning to love well.  Crump tells some of his own story of allowing God to transform his attitude as he fall in love with his new home in Atlanta Georgia.  Very highly recommended!

wisdom of stability.jpgThe Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press) $16.99  Perhaps you will recall a list of books I developed that would supplement or be in conversation with discussions of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, a list about Saint Benedict and his famous monastic rule, mostly.  I wrote about this, as I do whenever I can, as it is a rich, thoughtful, stimulating and highly regarded meditation on the notion from Benedict that a good life comes from staying put, the virtue of “stability.” In a mobile culture where we don’t commit to a place (let alone a group of people) it is hard to be church, to develop roots, to live well.  This book is a very fine, enriching rumination with a nice foreword by Kathleen Norris.

Beyond Homelessness.jpgBeyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger (Eerdmans) $29.00  Oh my, I mentioned this above, and really meant it — it is an amazing work about a sense of place, about the motifs of exile and homecoming in Scripture, and how that might influence our own sense of calling to the task of radical home-making, being stewards of God’s home, here on Earth.  If redemption is a coming home to a restored Eden, then environmental stewardship and water-shed attentive sorts of discipleship is of utmost importance, preparing now and pointing the way to a renewal of our creational home. This book is very serious and one of the most important volumes I’ve ever read. Order it today to study seriously what it means to be at home and to be a home-maker in a culture that does not value such things.  Or consider it a studious follow-up to the splendor of Pollock Michel’s beautiful Keeping Place.

Race and Place 3.jpgRace and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation David Leong (IVP) $16.00  It is simply not true that it is new agronomists or rural folks that develop a sense of place, and although a few of the above writers are small town or rural, some, above, are not. (Oh, please read Renovate, mentioned above by my acquaintance Leonce Crump, an urban, black pastor who cites Wendell Berry!)  Not only is it a myth that those who care about place are quaint and rural, it is, as a matter of fact, simply not true that all African American’s in North America are urban.  (Hey, I’ve had some great conversation about fishing with black men and women!)  Anyway, having said that, it does seem that Jen Pollock’s book doesn’t speak much about race and racism, a topic that is deeply entwined with American geography.  This fine book, which I reviewed favorably when it came out a few months ago, is the book to read to bring a reorganization of the relationship of race and place. What a rare voice, what an important contribution.  This book works well, and serves readers with insight on various levels on several topics.  A win, win, win, they say, well worth having.

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Author Dan Dupee (It’s Not Too Late: The Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen’s Faith) coming to First Presbyterian Church, York, PA — FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2017

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Serious Dreams cover.jpgafter college - erica young reitz.jpgI hope you saw the last BookNotes, naming a handful of books that would make sweet gifts for college grads.  I know some of you have been praying for your young friends going through finals week and I know some of you have been eager to celebrate this big transition into post-college life.  To declare that my own book, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, was  one of the two best for this purpose was, well, a little awkward, I suppose.  But the feedback on the book has been good, and I’m not ashamed to say that the folks who contributed chapters are all stellar thinkers, mostly fairly famous writers, actually, and their pieces are very inspirational.  And the other?  Well, again, my pal and fellow-writer Erica Young Reitz, is a gem, and her book, After College is just wonderful, so very wise to help young Christians shift into a new season of life.

And it is a new season of life for many.

But what of the parents?

I’m glad you asked.


Much research has been done in recent years on the religious and spiritual lives of teens and young adults.  Scholars have done good stuff documenting the demographic — Christian Smith’s two major books, published by Oxford University Press are the gold standard here — and exceptionally important engaging the soul of youth culture.jpgamerican girls nancy jo sales.jpgseminary professors such as Kenda Creasy Dean (Almost Christian) have shown us the import of this data.  Those of us who attend ordinary churches or who parent or work in youth ministry all know it deep in our bones.  The older teen years are rife with complexity, with dangers, even, and also plenty of positive possibility. We stock tons of books about youth ministry and remarkable books about youth culture these days. We still recommend the important work of Walt Mueller over at CPYU and his engaging, thoughtful book Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth. The must-read American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales, who we met at a Redeemer Presbyterian conference in New York last fall, by the way, is out in paperback, now. (Her book that was made into a big Hollywood film, The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World was hard for me to put down — what a crazy, insightful, illuminating story of the exploits of a group of teens who robbed the homes of movie stars and their pop culture heroes.)  

tech-wise fam better.jpgAnd, since we’re thinking about this, recall that we raved at BookNotes, briefly, about the new book by Andy Crouch called The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Baker; $13.99.) It is a small book, but nothing short of brilliant, offering insight about family life, teen culture, stats and data about current media use and the impact on families caused by our use of digital devices. My, my, everyone should buy that book, and read it carefully. In our BookNotes review I mentioned, too, that Andy’s high-school age daughter wrote the foreword. 

So, yeah. Some families actually can have effective and fruitful conversations about what sort of vision for the nature of life they want to embody; that is, they can actually life in ways that are consistent with their deepest values and the story they want to tell about their life on God’s green Earth.  Families can, indeed, love each other well, messy as it may be, in real ways.  Even in a digital culture.

Ahh, but how?  And what about those parents whose kids are of that age where parenting is harder, more complicated — maybe older teens who themselves say that may not want to be parented?


Well, first, families have to realize the significance of the role of popular culture in shaping our imagination about what families are, the character of the relationship of parents and their kids, and particularly the alleged lack of interest (in parents and church) among young adults. We must be willing to deconstruct some of the myths, question some of the assumptions, think of new ways to build healthy relationships out of a better story of what can be.

And one of the big myths is this: that it is simply too late once a child reaches the older teen years, or graduates from high school.  Our parenting role is mostly done, or so we’re told, and kids will most likely drift from church. It’s just the way it goes.

It is our task to resist that.

It's not too late.jpgThe very best ally for this daring project — realizing it is not too late, giving parents new hope of being an influence upon their teens and young adult children — is my friend Dan Dupee, who wrote the very best book all about this. And it is called… wait for it… It’s Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen’s FaithIt’s published by Baker Publishing and it properly sells for $15.99.  We’re selling it for an even $15.00.

We reviewed it here when it first came out, and we have been happy to promote it anywhere we can in this past year.


MAY 12, 2017


And now, we  here at Hearts & Minds are bringing Dan to central PA for an evening presentation about parenting older teens, about prepping kids for their transition out of the house, especially if they are college-bound.  We have joined with our own church, First Presbyterian Church in downtown York, PA, (on the corner of Queen & Market Streets right downtown) to host Dan on March 12th, Friday night. (That’s mother’s day weekend — a good time to ponder parenting, eh?)  Feel free to give us a call here at the shop for more info; we think it’s going to be a great evening.


We’ll have some complimentary desserts at 7:00 and then Dan will lecture in our historic sanctuary, with plenty of time for Q & A. Maybe I’ll interview him a bit, we’ll talk together about his book, and we’ll have some more snacks and a time for him to sign some books.  The event is free and all are welcome.

Dupee will surely talk about key points from the book (and stuff he’s been learning in ongoing conversations about this topic.) For instance, one chapter is called “Seven Myths That Might Be Sabotaging Your Parenting.”  I’m sure he’ll tell us about some of them, at least.  As an alternative story to the myth that says we lose influence as our kids get older, though, he teaches how we can wisely “lose control as your kid grows” which is a rather developmental approach, that is, finding the right sort of influence for each stage of your child’s life.  As a young adult grows and perhaps moves out of the house, the control we have is obviously different, but can still vital.

His chapter in It’s Not Too Late, actually, about kids thriving in college is fantastic and I wish every parent of a college-student would read it. (It mentions some students we have known, actually, and — full disclosure — mentions our bookstore services for those students who may need guidance in reading about faith, vocation, academic discipleship, or have other book needs. What an honor to have our story woven into this wise book.)

So, we’re excited about Dan’s talk at FPC on May 12th, “It’s Not Too Late.”  We do invite you to help us spread the word, ASAP.  Know anybody in South Central Pennsylvania? Parents? Youth pastors? Anybody wondering about young adult ministry? College ministry teams? Fans of free dessert? Please invite them.


 If you would like us to get an autographed book for you, just let us know before the end of next week.  If you want Dan to inscribe it for anyone special, just give us the name to whom it should be made out. Use our order form page at the website, or send me an email at  We’re happy to have Dan sign a few and have them sent right out.  It would make a very nice present, too, to parents you know.



ItDan Dupee speaking.jpg‘s going to be a fun and informative night. Dan’s a great speaker, lively and funny, and he and his wife Carol have double the experience many of us have — they have raised two sets of twins!  And what good parents they are.

Perhaps equally important, though, is that Dan, until recently, was the CEO of the CCO (the Coalition for Christian Outreach, the Pittsburgh-based collegiate ministry with which Beth and I are affiliated.) His long involvement in the lives of those who dan speaking.jpgwork with college students, his leadership in this organization that specializes in partnering with churches near college campuses to do church-based campus outreach and disciple-making, and his years of experience getting to know literally thousands of young people, and, often, their families, makes him one of the nation’s leading experts on faith formation among older teens.

In fact, as he was writing this book, Dan held a whole bunch of focus groups, asking college students from through-out several states to talk about their own home churches (if they had home churches) and their parents (if they had caring parents.) Following those revealing, intense conversations with older teens and twenty-somethings, he gathered focus groups of parents of young adults. Again — wow.

You’ve got to read It’s Not Too Late to hear more about what he learned, and the good ideas, helpful practices, and fabulous stories he offers.  Not everything is easy and uplifting, but he has a light touch even when parsing complex data or offering interpretation of recent trends and deconstructing the myths we’ve been lead to believe.  He shifts from sociological studies to stories to Bible teaching so easily, giving the book a seamless feel. Even reporting on the hard stuff isn’t overwhelming –one of the chapters is called “When the Wheels Are Falling Off” which is exactly how Dan talks.

There’s a great chapter called “You Are Nowhere Close to Being a Perfect Parent: And That’s Okay.”  There’s some solid, gospel-centered stuff for you, there.

There’s another called “Invite Community: Good Parenting Requires More Than Parents.”  Right on.

Here are some endorsements that are at the publisher’s website, from the inside of the book.  Don’t miss that last one, after the ones from all the famous folks.

“Parenting is the most difficult, painful, glorious and sweet gift I have known in this life. Parenting college-aged young adults is as complex as any calling on earth. Dan Dupee–a parent, an educator, and president of one of the most remarkable college ministries in America–offers tender, humbly wise, and compelling counsel for walking the tightrope of parenting children who are of the age to not want to be parented. Dan guides us to neither give in to the need to micromanage or justify cowardly detachment. Further, he explores the wealth of opportunities to participate in learning to join your child in the adventure of making faith the framework to explore all knowledge. Your relationship with your child will grow far beyond your wildest dreams as you explore this glorious book.”

Dan B. Allender, professor of counseling psychology and founding president of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology; author of How Children Raise Parents and Healing the Wounded Heart

“Dan Dupee has great news for all of us raising teenagers: We continue to be the most influential people in our kids’ lives. With biblical wisdom and a healthy dose of common sense, Dan encourages us to realize that our teenagers need us now more than ever–and with love and guidance, we can send our kids out into the world with a vibrant faith of their own.”

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family

“As a parent of two teenagers, I found It’s Not Too Late both encouraging and empowering. Dan Dupee deconstructs myths that leave moms and dads feeling inadequate to influence their children’s faith and replaces them with God’s wisdom, grounded in Scripture, sociological research, and anecdotal experience. You will find help and hope in these pages!”

Jerusha Clark, coauthor of Your Teenager’s Not Crazy

It’s Not Too Late. That is Dan Dupee’s important message to parents of children who are in the transition from child to adult. As a college professor myself, I see many people in this age group every day, and while they are coming under other influences, I agree that parents remain vitally important in the lives of these young men and women. Dan gives great practical advice based on theological insight and, out of his long experience as CEO of the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a deep knowledge of this age group and their parents. Every parent ought to read this book!”

Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

“There is no one I trust more on this topic of raising kids who can transition well into their young adult and college years than Dan Dupee. I’ve watched his leadership within the campus ministry organization he leads and how he pays attention to the ways young adults thrive and grow, and I’ve seen his family, including his own young adult kids, and admire them greatly. This book is one of a kind, bringing together great stories with reliable research, helpful biblical truth, and keen insight gleaned from focus groups and interviews with parents of older teens and young adults. He knows the issues and he has learned what works, even in difficult times and in painfully messy situations. Our culture implies that parents have little influence over their college-aged sons and daughters, but Dupee proves otherwise and invites us to hopeful, engaged, positive parenting. This book will be reassuring and helpful to parents and will change the tone of the conversation about emerging adults in the church.”   

Byron Borger, Hearts & Minds Books

It's not too late.jpg



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Whether you are buying a little gift for a graduating friend or young adult relative or are in charge of getting a bunch of gifts for grads from your church or organization,  we want to remind you of these two books, the two very best recommendations we can make, the only two great books of this sort, designed for those leaving college and taking up life with faith in the post-college years.

One came out a couple of years ago (and was cooked up by your truly) and one came out just last summer and is new for this graduation season.  They are both perfect gifts for Christian collegiates. I’ll explain them briefly, and list just a couple of others, too, just for fun.  But I’m  exceedingly confident in saying that these first two are truly the best.

after college - erica young reitz.jpgAfter College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00 I want to keep this review fairly brief so you can get right to ordering them, but I could go on and on and about this exceptionally well written book. Erica, as I have said often in this newsletter, is a very dear friend and a great young mom and esteemed campus minister, a good colleague in the work of the CCO.  Her semester-long “Exit” program at Penn State University where she and her volunteer team mentors a class of college seniors to prepare them for their transition to life after college is exceptionally well received, with participants exclaiming how life-changing and helpful it has been.  It was out of many years of doing this, this experience of teaching and equipping and encouraging college seniors as they prepared for “real life” that she wrote this book.  She nicely tells real life stories, not only about college seniors and the immediate aftermath of their graduation but of former students in the years following their departure from the close-knit Christian fellowship group  and community experienced in their college years. Erica has wisely followed-up her young friends, seeing what sort of church they found in their new towns, how they were doing in discerning their vocations and securing new jobs, and what kind of social and emotional needs they had as young twenty-somethings new to the workforce and perhaps to a new community.

There is no doubt that what she has learned and offered to these folks in times of transition has paid of in their lives, and the wisdom translated into After College: Navigating Transitions… is buoyant and good and lasting.

Churches are understandably interested these days in emerging adults in the millennial generation, worried about trends such as those found in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church or sociologist Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Happily, Erica shows young adults how not to be among those who drift away from church or who fail to make connections between their inner convictions and their lifestyle and work lives. She makes the project of being a vibrant young man or woman of faith seem more than plausible, but exciting and joyful and good.  And, yes, plausible.  You can do this, you can hear her saying on nearly every page.

Erica Reitz understands what we here at Hearts & Minds often talk about, certainly what I often write about in this BookNotes newsletter, writing in terms of a Christian worldview or the Kingship of Christ over all of life, the need to relate Sunday and Monday, the need to be concerned about the injustices in the world and to always be on the look-out for opportunities to serve.  That the Christian faith is personally engaging and culturally relevant. Although After College isn’t a strident manifesto for culturally-engaged, vocationally-driven, social action- oriented, missional discipleship, it does gently presume such a wholistic faith and a robust vision of “whole life discipleship.”  Which is to say, young adults will love it.  And most readers of BookNotes, too, if they share any affinity with our redemptive vision, will appreciate it, too. I deeply trust her theologically and respect her perspective immensely.

Erica_Young_Reitz-1024x683.jpgErica is an excellent friend to young adults, and she is an excellent guide and counselor. The book is very practical and although I’ve suggested it has a fairly broad vision of full-gospel discipleship over all of life and wants to inspire young adults to make a Kingdom difference in their new jobs and churches, it isn’t breathy or visionary or at all pushy. After College is down to Earth with lovely writing, as if from a wise older sister offering common sense advice, inviting readers to consider just the right thing — pushing them a bit here, encouraging them just a bit there, doing a brilliant job at walking the tight-rope of being both serious and playful, didactic and storytelling, prophetic and pastoral.

The wisdom it imparts is just what younger Christians need and her tone is friendly, upbeat, and pleasant. I can’t imagine many ordinary young adults who wouldn’t enjoy it. More importantly, I can’t imagine any that wouldn’t benefit from it.  Giving After College is a gift in more ways than one. It is a token, a nice thing to share, but it is a  deeper gift that could be a lasting life-line, quietly transformation, a big blessing in a small package. I am very serious: we hope you consider getting some of these to share with anyone you know who is leaving their years at university or trade school and heading out into the post-college season of life.  Help them “transition well.”  You will feel good investing in young believers like this; order some today.

Here is the short review I did as the book was first coming out last summer.  

 Consider these lovely endorsements, just a few of many. 

For instance, from Katherine Leary Alsdorf, founder of the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church:

After College understands and speaks to the disorientation that many college graduates experience upon entering the new world of work and adult living. Erica’s book is well-grounded in her years of coaching young adults through this transition and offers lots of practical wisdom. Our church in New York City has welcomed many new graduates into our midst, most of whom struggle with the loneliness of professional life, tediousness of lower level jobs and fear of a meaningless life. They need what Erica prescribes: realistic expectations, real community and renewed trust in God’s purposes.

And here, from a fun guy who knows as much about the research on college age and young adult stuff as anybody I know, Derek Melleby.  He wrote a book for those heading off to college (Make College Count) and currently is the Executive Director of the great gap year program, OneLife. He says, 

Big changes and transitions often force people to ask big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I doing? After College provides a helpful guide to wrestle with those questions in a way that is inspiring and hopeful. Erica is a keen listener: she listens well to God, recent research and student stories to offer a roadmap for success in today’s world. 

I hope you know how sincere we are in suggesting this book.  After College would make a fantastic gift for anyone leaving college.  We’re delighted to know Erica, to be a cheer-leader for this fine book, and to be able to send some out to you or your church or ministry who wants to honor your college graduates.  

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99  Okay, just a few details, first.  This is a pretty snazzy, compact-sized paperback with a vibrant cover and a nice-to-the-touch matte finish that includes a few little artsy touches inside–a silhouetted oak leaf, an iconic acorn decorating the reflection questions after each chapter, visually picking up the theme of the big trees on the cover. We are proud of how the design expertise of Ned Bustard at Square Halo enhanced the look and feel of this book, making it a nice gift without being overdone or merely a gifty keepsake.  

And, man, this is more than a gifty keepsake.

Although it doesn’t have all the practical counsel that the aforementioned After College has, it does have some clear headed advice. Erica Young Reitz, in fact, has a lovely afterword, bringing some inspiring ideas about transitioning well to the Epilogue called “Launch Out, Land Well.”

And I wrote a lengthy introduction that, although pretty eloquent at a couple spots when the muse was working overtime, attempted to frame the breathy, inspiring speeches that followed with some down-home, real-world wisdom.  I comment there about the sadness that many new grads feel, leaving what they think might have been the best years of their lives.  I talk about moving home with parents and the increasingly common-place quandary of not finding a job in one’s major (or not finding a job at all.) It’s okay, I say.  Despite the zealous tone of most of the book, I start it all off with what I have been told is advice that some readers really needed to her. It’s going to be okay.

The heart of Serious Dreams is easy to explain. It really does offer “bold ideas.”  It is comprised of seven moving chapters that were first delivered as rousing speeches; graduation speeches, to be precise.  After I did a commencement address at Geneva College’s grad school a few years ago there were a number of requests for a written copy of that address. In that same month Beth and I listened to a very moving graduation speech woven somewhat around a Wendell Berry poem delivered by then Dean Claudia Beversluis at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.  Wiping tears from our eyes during that grand commencement talk it dawned on me that perhaps a book could be developed as a gift for graduating college seniors using these kinds of visionary calls to live out Christian faith after having been shaped and taught for four years at a college. 

I called up a few friends, including Dr. Beversluis, and people I admired who had delivered excellent speeches at Christian colleges, challenging students to live out their faith in all of life, in the marketplaces and neighborhoods of their upcoming new lives. 

We were thrilled to be given amazing drafts to work with by world-class leaders Richard Mouw, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Claudia Beversluis, Steve Garber, Amy Sherman and John Perkins. Editing these fine sermons, upbeat and visionary and inspiring as they were, was a challenge and great joy.  A second edition quickly cleaned up some printing oddities and the finely crafted second edition came out last year when the first batch sold out.  Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas isn’t well known or sold widely – the boutique publisher just doesn’t get their stuff out very widely  – so you can be pretty confident that young adults you know will not have been given this yet. It’s a little awkward promoting my own book but I have to say that  we hope you consider it.  Few young adults get this kind of royal treatment – being encouraged to take faith into life, to live into visions of vocation, to be agents of God’s mission in the world by taking faith seriously as a way of life, even in the careers and callings of the hurting, secularized world.  Particularly if they graduated from a public university or secular private one, their graduation speech most likely didn’t sound anything like these.  We are so eager to share them with others.

Here are the actual chapter titles for Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life:

Introduction: Live Well, Do Good, Be True Byron Borger

You Need Two Eyes          Nicholas Wolterstorff

Rejoicing Your Community         Amy Sherman

The Memory in the Seed         Claudia Beversluis

Common Grace for the Common Good    Steven Garber

Three Cheers for the Sons & Daughters of Issachar Byron Borger

The Three Roads and the Three Rs    John Perkins

Epilogue:  Launch Out, Land Well                  Erica Young Reitz

Here is a link to my longer BookNotes review that I wrote to first announce this. It was pretty exciting for me and I’d be tickled if you revisit it. 

You know what? I am not at all trying to be pushy or overly merry about this, but I truly think that giving both After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith and Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life would be fantastic.  One is a bit more practical and offering wise guidance on navigating changes.  The other is a bit more idealistic, offering inspiring messages to cast a vision for making a difference with one’s life, taking up vocations and callings in the complexities of modern life, for the glory of God.  Really, they could wrap up nicely together and be a powerhouse combo. Why not buy ’em both?

after college - erica young reitz.jpg

Serious Dreams cover.jpg

Five more suggestions that we highly recommend:

the Call.jpgThe Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Word Publishing) $17.99  This is eloquent and elegant and wise and mature, short chapters that can be read by those who want a deep and thoughtful reminder of their own sense of purpose as it aligns with God’s decisive call upon their lives.  Nearly any book these days about vocation or any book about a Christian view of work draws on this at one point or another; it is a classic.  It is one of my all time favorite books, and I highly recommend it for those who like fine writing, allusions and quotes from history and literature and some intense thinking about the significant of ultimate meaning.

Twenty-Two- Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning .jpgTwenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning (Thomas Nelson Publishing) $22.99  Did you see my BookNotes comments about this a week ago? This is a very handsome hardback designed as a set of letters to a young woman who is graduating from college.  As I described it, this  book is a
set of letters by a vibrant young evangelical woman written to a
fictional college woman named Tish who wants a mentor, wants to think
about her college life but more, what comes next, and desires a
thoughtful, informed, life. It offers great spiritual wisdom, is overtly
Christian, but there’s delightful stuff about travel, about internships, about
jobs, and relationships, about reading fiction, just all kinds of sharp
It is nicely written, upbeat, honest, intimate and at times visionary.  Allison Trowbridge is quite a writer and invites readers to quite a life. Endorsements run from Bob and Maria Goff to Jonathan Merritt. Very nicely done.

visions of vocation.jpgVisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steve Garber (IVP) $17.99  I won’t say again the many reasons we love this book but you may know that I’ve mentioned it here often. Steve is a fine, fine writer, a deep thinker, and a personable, intense friend to many.  He loves little more – other than being with his family, hiking or bike riding, or reading or watching movies, that is – he loves little more than inviting people to earnest chat with “conversations with consequence.” He networks beautifully, bringing folks together to tell stories of grace and goodness, and of struggle and pain, of hope and the effort to make a difference.  This book has emerged from his “come and see” pedagogy, his many stories of people doing life together, telling their stories of hanging in as God’s great grace allows.  Can we care about the common good, remaining faithful over the long haul of our lives, not giving in to cynicism or “whatever”? This book allows careful readers to learn to love the things God loves, loving the world despite its deep sorrow.  What an amazing, rich, thoughtful book, a perfect gift to honor a major life transition for anyone who is serious about the things that matter most.  Here is one of the times I discussed it at BookNotes when it first came out.

a-womans-place-.jpgA Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books) $22.99  I am sure you understand that we don’t  think that any sort of graduate – let alone college graduates – should be given a little token gift that trivializes the momentous occasion of their matriculation or that trivializes the way the Christian faith can provide insight and comfort and vision for the seasons to come. This is a key time to offer something sturdy and vital so we gravitate to books about calling and career, about vocation and transformation, about lasting faith and discipleship  There are many other books than the few I’ve listed above but, for what it is worth, there are none this good that are particularly about women’s callings into the workplace, making this book a rare treat and a real gift. It would make a great gift for a college woman.

We are real fans of Katelyn Beaty and real fans of this recent book. I reviewed it a bit more extensively here when it first came out. I hope it makes its way into many hands this season; it could be a wonderful gift idea for any young woman graduating this year.  For what it is worth, there will be some video curriculum produced for church or small group use around this book next year which perhaps indicates a widening interest in the topic and that the author is increasingly known.  I can assure you, Beaty’s A Woman’s Place is keenly important, would make a delightful gift, and is very highly recommended.

Leading Lives That Matter- What We Should Do and Who We Should Be.jpgLeading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be edited by Dorothy Bass and Mark Schwen (Eerdmans) $31.00 What a hefty volume this is, almost 550 beautiful pages, chock-full of essays and articles and poems, a truly amazing collection. This a thick paperback book
that is a rich, rich resource good to give for any important occasion, it seems.  With pieces as diverse as Frederick Buechner and Dorothy Day and Mark
Twain and Dorothy Sayers and Thomas Merton, and even older authors  — Homer! Tolstoy! — coupled with thoughtful introductions and nice reflection
questions, this literary reader is a great book to dip in to anytime the
spirit flags and you need reminded about the deeper meaning and joy of living lives that matter.  Perfect for those that might not want something seeming to be too overtly religious and that draws on wider literary sources. it is a gift that will last a lifetime.



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BUY A BOOK, GET A FREE BOOK — on the Christian mind, on science, or for Earth Day. THREE DAYS ONLY


while supplies last

The other night we had almost 20 guests in the shop, students from Shippensburg University, brought over here by their friendly CCO campus ministers. It’s an event we host from time to time, having local Christian students in for a program about the spirituality of reading, the need to read well to nurture the Christian mind, to think faithfully about their studies, their majors, and more. Maybe I talked a little too long, but we so enjoyed these eager learners, reflecting on their callings, buying Christian books.

For what it is worth — forgetting in the moment that it was the eve of both the March for Science and Earth Day — I mentioned Psalm 119:91 which affirms the laws of God in nature and declaring that “all things are Thy servants.” I invited them to think about the “things” they use and study — a graphic calculator for an accounting major, a stethoscope for a nursing major, an anthology of Brit lit for an English major, a bit of programming for a computer science major, a book about early childhood development, the excellent espresso machine from Denim Coffee in Carlisle — all things which the Psalmist says are to be understood as servants of the Lord. How exciting to think we are touching holy things. Who knows, maybe in our ordinary work we are fulfilling Zechariah 14:20 where it says the ordinary pots and pans will be as holy as the altar ware in the Temple.

I mentioned to the students that Psalm 111:2 goes further, and says we should ponder God’s stuff in the world, even taking delight in it. A person of faith can find delight in anything if we find it related to the good reign of God, so that’s the project: seeing how the things of our daily lives (and our studies if we are students), the tools of our trades, can be servants of God, which is to say, servants of the common good — since we show our devotion to God by loving our neighbor. Do things — material things like a telescope or an artist’s paintbrush or an engineering project, or more culturally-developed things, like a marriage or a health clinic or a school or a business or a new public policy — serve God? Do these things serve the greater good, helping society flourish in ways that are touched by shalom?  And can we learn to take delight in studying them?

Well, Beth and I have staked our lives and our livelihood on it.

We assume that people of faith will want to study the things God has made and that reading books about the nature of different aspects of God’s world — politics, cooking, science, art, family life, engineering, health-care, education, economics, architecture, sexuality and more — can be woven into the spiritual practices of ordinary church folks.

That is, our Hearts & Minds is a bookstore which exists not just to equip church folks for churchy things (although that’s certainly part of it) but all folks for all things. (As Os Guinness puts it in his must-read meditation The Call, it is “everyone, everywhere in everything.” ) We buy and read books not just to nurture our interior spiritual lives nor just for our congregational church lives, but to figure out the whole-life implications of Psalm 119:91 and Psalm 111:2 and Romans 12:1-2 and Colossians 1:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:10 and all the other mandates in the Bible to study and read and learn, slowly developing the “mind of Christ” which shows forth a wise awareness of all things being servants of the Lord and taking delight in them.

It is no accident, I suppose, that I was drawn to share a handful of Psalms with these students who came to learn about learning and do some late night shopping. I’ve been teaching a class in my case for the psalms paperback.pngchurch about the Psalms and have read out loud large chunks of N. T. Wright’s wonderful paperback The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential.  His important overview of the Psalter is helpful to understand the Psalms — email me if you want a list of some other good resources — but a main point is that praying these poems over and over roots us in the story of God, a past of God’s great deeds, a present of great sorrow and turbulence, and a trust in the promises that have been somewhat fulfilled in the death and resurrection of David’s heir, Christ Jesus.  And yet, the story isn’t over, and we even now live in a “now but not yet” sort of world. We have to work at “seeing” life through the lens of faith, relating God’s redemptive story to all of life.  The Psalms are not the only place the Bible talks about thinking or work or pondering the great wonders of God, but they are evocative and helpful.

Re-reading this Wright book about nurturing a truly Biblical worldview by way of the Psalter was a good reminder about why we have this bookstore. We want to resource folks to relate faith to all of life, and, as the students reminded us the other night, we all need all the help we can get. It is not, in this idolatrous culture, in this fallen world, self-evident that all things are servants of God. It is not simple to know the implications of a seeing that we live in a God-centered world for, say, the ethics of technology or the quandary of health care or the best way to thing about gender or how to bring the peace of Christ to the warring nations.  Being a Christian butcher, baker, candlestick maker — or, shall we say, aerospace engineer, stay at home dad, high school teacher, EMT, salesperson, abstract artist or farmer — isn’t simple. We are called to think and pray and talk with others as we “work out our salvation” before God.  Because all things are God’s servants and we are to ponder and take delight in God’s stuff.

Only after my spiel about serving God in all things, using our minds, taking delight in the real data of real creation — what the secularists call “nature” — and studying it well did it dawn on me that it was the eve of Earth Day, the eve of the Marches for Science.

I wish I would have made the overt connection that Christians should agree with the premise of these public witnesses, and that we should rejoice that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ were involved in bearing witness at those events. God cares about good science and protecting the ecology of the creation, by using wise insight and solid thinking. Yes, and yes.

So, to play our little part to help you deepen your thinking after hearing about all this stuff about science and earth-keeping in the news these last few days, here is a Hearts & Minds special sale.

As is often the case, we will do this for three days only (the sale expires on  Wednesday, April 26th) and can only provide these promotional items for free while supplies last.  We’re happy to give away some books, but our supply is limited. Why don’t you visit our order form page right away? 


The-Transforming-Vision-9780877849735.jpgBUY The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View Brian Walsh & J. Richard Middleton (IVP Academic) $22.00  I have often said that this sweeping study of the history of the dualism between what we sometimes call “the sacred and the secular” and the secularizing rise of Enlightenment rationalism driven by the idols of scientism and faith in economic progress, literally changed my life. Anytime folks ask me for the most important books in our store, this one invariably comes up. This Biblically-informed call to a wholistic Christian worldview — good creation, radical fall, wholistic redemption, future restoration — came to influence N.T. Wright, and it mirrors the Biblical teaching of Al Wolter’s Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview, with whom they studied, but adds a lot of scholarship about the need for a  a Christian social imagination, the Christian mind, an engagement with the ideas and structures of the culture, and even a rousing call at the end to consider reading interdisciplinary, even taking up Christian philosophy. I think Transforming Vision is an excellent example of thoughtful Christian scholarship for the sake of the common good and you will be know more about your world, your faith, and be more eager to read widely once you’ve processed it.

If you are interested in how this transformational vision relates to the fast-changing world of postmodernity, in light of some of the prophetic pomo voices of our time, see their powerful sequel, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age, another remarkably important book that illustrated a thoughtful Christian worldview that tells the story of Western culture and its idols, and how a Biblical view might provide healing, hopeful answers to our cultural dismay and angst. I know it’s a bit heady, but this is important, passionate stuff and a good antidote to shallow, personalized faith or anti-intellectualism among God’s people.  Really, both books are very important, by two gentleman I greatly admire. Very highly recommended.

Your Mind's Mission.jpgAND GET THIS FREE: Your Mind’s Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $7.00 I mention this to college students quite often, but, you know, I wish non-students would read it, too, as it offers a wholistic vision of a transformed worldview, a thoughtful process of learning to think well, and a call to see our ideas shaped in ways that they become missional.

This great little book mentions Hearts & Minds, I’ll admit, but I admire Greg for so many other reasons. This short book (just a booklet, really) is dynamite, and the implications he suggests in its powerful pages are life-changing. I promise you that readers will learn something new or be challenged to make connections they’ve not realized before.

We’ll send it for free if you buy either of the above-mentioned Walsh & Middleton books.


The Language of Science and Faith- Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.jpgBUY The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl W. Giberson & Francis S. Collins (IVP Books/BioLogos) $22.00  We have written from time to time about this book, always listing it on bibliographies we do about the sciences. We are fond of it and want to encourage you to get it, perhaps to share with someone who has somehow heard that religious people are disinterested in science, or that evangelicals are anti-science.

Given that the March for Science has been in the news, this is a good time to order a book like this.

We have more specialized books in this field, of course, such as serious studies of the philosophy of science (I’d suggest starting with Science and Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective by Del Ratzch) or academic work on the conflict between healthy views of science and the secularized ideology of scientism — see Alvin Plantinga’s brilliant Oxford University Press volume Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. There are good books that explore origins questions from a variety of faith-based views, and healthy, mature studies of all kinds helping Christians wisely relate faith to their views of the sciences.

Just out this week, in fact, is a major tome called the Dictionary of Christianity and Science: The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science edited by Paul Copan, Tremper Longman, Christopher Reese, and Michael Strauss (Zondervan; $59.99.) Weighing in at over 750 pages, with over 400 entries and a top-notch lineup of over 120 contributions (some who are scientists or other STEM-related practitioners, some Biblical scholars, some theologians, some philosophers) this looks like a major work. It has multi-view discussions, too, making it, as one reviewer put it, “sparkle with passion, controversy, and diverse perspectives.” 

For starters, though,The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Collins and Giberson, done under the auspices of the BioLogos Foundation is a real winner, good for any interested reader, a lovely, inspiring, helpful book arranged in an easy-to-understand Q & A format. One may not agree with all of it, but it’s a fine, fine resource.

I suppose you know that Dr. Collins is considered one of the leading scientists of our time, a pioneer in genetic studies and the former Director of project to map the human genome. In the Obama administration he served as the director of the NIH and is truly one of our heroes of contemporary faith. He wrote the New York Times bestseller The Language of God, one on genetics called The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, and a wonderful reader of primary source writings designed for seekers or the non-religious called Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith.  He founded The BioLogos Foundation as a think-tank and movement to help Christians relate faith to science, depending the faith/science conversation.

Karl Giberson (PhD, physics) is an internationally known scholar, speaker and writer. He has written or coauthored nine books and lectured on science and religion at the Vatican, Oxford University, London’s Thomas Moore Institute and many prestigious American venues including MIT and The Harvard Club. Dr. Giberson has published more than two hundred reviews and essays, both technical and popular, in outlets that include the New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, Los Angles Times and He is a regular contributor to the public dialogue on science and faith, and has appeared on NPR.

Dr. Tim Johnson, Senior medical contributor for ABC News (and author of Finding God in the Questions) might overstate it a little, but catches something vital about the importance of The Language of Science and Faith when he says, 

This book is destined to become a classic for those who, with an open mind, are willing to seriously wrestle with questions about the relationship of modern science with Christian faith. It is not for the faint of heart but is a treasure trove for those willing to dig deep into this critical subject.

Listen to Dr. Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of, among other titles, God’s Universe and God’s Planet (both published by Harvard University Press) as he endorses this volume:

Two challenging languages, one old and wise, one modern and awesome. Two very different accounts of human origins. Can the book of Scripture and the book of nature both be true in the age of science? We need sympathetic and enlightening interpreters. Happily Giberson and Collins here offer a guide to the perplexed that is reverent, relevant and very well-informed.

God in the Lab- How Science Enhances Faith .jpgAND GET THIS FREE God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith Ruth M. Bancewicz (Monarch) $16.99  First published in the UK, we are so glad to stock this book, happy about it for several reasons.  And we’re happy to send you a free one with a purchase of one of the above mentioned science books.

Dr. Ruth Bancewicz is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University.  She explains in this book that science work can be “unglamorous and tough” but it gives its practitioners an opportunity to be fully human, to bring appreciation for imagination and wonder into their work. This is such a rich insight and it comes not from a pundit or theologian, but a working scientists, who experiences scientific research and explains what it is like “in the lab” as it where. In this good paperback she brings in six other scientists and narrates their stories as well. Dr. Deborah Haarsma — a respected astronomer with a PhD from MIT and now President of BioLogos — says that God in the Lab “brings a fresh and much-needed emphasis on wonder to conversations about science and Christian faith.” 

 As Dr. John Polkinghorne, a beloved Anglican priest and former world-class astrophysicist, puts it, 

Ruth Bancewicz shows how creativity, beauty, wonder, and awe are essential experiences in scientific investigation. She demonstrates that there is no great discontinuity between science and other human questions for truth, including religion. 

The foreword is by another brilliant scholar with a couple of advanced PhDs in science and also in theology, the great Alister McGrath.  Whoever says there is a conflict between faith and science is not paying attention.  McGrath’s solid endorsement illustrates that this is so.  Get it free, while supplies last.


Again, this is a topic that is close to our heart, and one I’ve written about before. We’ve listed new books as they come out in this field and have offered ruminations and longer books lists, for example, here. We’re grateful that my mom had an interest in Rachel Carson and took our youth group at church to pick up litter on the very first Earth Day. 

For the Beauty of the Earth- A Christian Vision for Creation Care.jpgBUY For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $26.00  It is hard to pick just one favorite book in this field. We often recommend for starters, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People by old friend Scott Sabin, and we have enjoyed telling readers that are new to the topic about Serving God, Saving the Planet: A Call to Care for Creation and Your Soul by Matthew Sleeth. We highly respect the seriously thoughtful work of Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis by Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler, and A.J. Swoboda.  And anyone wanting to get behind all this with good, Biblically-informed thinking should make it a priority to work through Norman Wirzba’s potent little book edited by James K.A. Smith, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World.  If you want a really, really practical, down-to-Earth Biblical overview, see one that Dr. Wirzba co-wrote with farmer Fred Bahnson called Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation. It is mostly about food and eating, and shows how a good creation-care theology can influence our day to day lifestyle.

But, having said all that, I come back time and again to the brilliant, must-read work by Bouma-Prediger. He is a professor of religion at Hope College who has specialized in faith-based theology that pushes us to creation care. He has several major volumes on theologians who have done this kind of work (one published by Oxford called The Greening of Theology: The Ecological Models of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Joseph Stiller, and Jurgen Moltmann.)  Yet, his For the Beautify of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, is a masterwork, both accessible to non-scholars and yet serious enough to be nearly all you need to know. The back cover puts it well: Bouma-Prediger “argues that authentic CHristian faith requires ecological obedience, and he urges Christians to acknowledge their responsibility and privilege as stewards of the Earth.” The book has been re-issued in an expanded second edition that brought scientific and environmental research up to date.

In these days of worsening climate change realities and derailed policy in Washington, it is more urgent than ever to read up. We highly recommend this thoughtful resource. For the Beauty of the Earth is simply excellent, very creatively written, what one reviewer calls an attractive tour de force.

I like what Richard Mouw calmly states:

An important book. Steven Bouma-Prediger combines theological depth with ecological savvy to issue a profound call to environmental discipleship. He makes his case in a way that both informs and inspires!

caring for creation.jpgAND GET THIS FREE Caring for Creation: The Evangelicals Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment Mitch Hescox & Paul Douglas (Bethany House) $14.99  Yep, these authors are the dynamic duo that we hosted in the store when this book first came out last fall, and we’re still smiling about how fun it was.  Paul Douglas is a world-class meteorologist who happened to have invented some meteorology Doppler-type computer gadget that Stephen Spielberg used in Jurassic Park and Twister (and in which Paul made a cameo.) We have never had a Hollywood blockbuster actor in the store, but more importantly, his scientific discussion about global climate change and the energy crisis was fascinating, helpful, inspiring, even. To have a humble Christian man at the top of his professional field visiting with us and his friend and co-author Mitch Hescox — a United Methodist pastor, former global energy corporation executive, and now full time Director of the Evangelical Environmental Network — was one of the highlights of our year. You can read about it here.

These two co-authors of this fine little book have brought new vigor to this topic, explained things in a balanced and fair-minded way, and invited people of Christian conviction to live out their faith by being involved in some way working to care for the planet. The book is overtly Christian and the authors are themselves fairly conservative both theologically and politically.  No matter what you know about the issue or where you may stand on the economics of this topic, you will surely appreciate much that these guys bring to the discussion.

We are thrilled to promote it, and, for these next few days only, we’re happy to give it away with the purchase of one of the above mentioned environmental science books.

So, how’s that, friends? For the next three days, until end of day Wednesday, April 26, 2017, we will give you the free book mentioned that is paired with the one you purchase. Read the offer carefully for the explanation.  This offer is good while supplies last.  We hope you enjoy this free book option.  Thanks for caring about good books, surely some of the things that Psalm 119 says are servants of the Lord.


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10 New Books on Christian Growth and Serious Christian Living — ALL ON SALE

bookstore sign.jpgLike any good bookstore, we have all kinds of books, shelves in dozens of categories.  Gardening, fiction, history, addiction recovery, film studies, engineering; we’ve got YA novels, cultural criticism, cookbooks, architecture, outdoor recreation, health, grief, and kid’s picture books galore. We stand ready as a full service bookstore to help you with almost anything you may ever want — just use our inquiry page at the website, or give us a call.  See a review somewhere or hear an author on Fresh Air or 1A?  Chances are we might be getting it in. Heard somebody reference a novel or prayer book? Give us a shout if we can help.

I suppose one of our largest sections in the store, some of our bread and butter, as they say,  includes books on growing as a Christian, deepening one’s discipleship, enlarging the spirituality of one’s heart and mind. We carry academic theology and lots of resources for congregational life, worship planning, youth ministry, and the like, but, still, books that offer rather basic Christian growth remain a vital part of what our customers are looking for.  But even here, folks tell us we are a bit different than many Christian bookstores. We try to avoid those that are too simplistic or cheesy, and stock books from a variety of theological perspectives or faith styles. These sorts of books are designed to help you flourish, to relate faith to real life issues, to bring together, as we sometimes say, the Bible and life.  Some are straight up Christian teaching which others might come as cleverly worded stories; some are youngish and hip, others pretty much no-nonsense. 

Maybe here after Easter you might do well to read or re-read an old classic from your book shelf or church library about the cost of discipleship or ordinary Christian growth. Ask your pastor or mentor or a Christian leader you admire for suggestions.  They should be able to advise you, finding something just right for your taste, your spiritual maturity, your level of interest, your life issues and setting. 

And, if you’re up for it, maybe you can pass something on to a younger Christian, another person you know who might be in need of some Biblical wisdom, some faith-based assistance, a book to accompany them in their journey with God in life.  Believe me we have moving conversations about this sort of stuff with folks in the shop (and on line) every day.  There is a hunger out there for good books that are a bit more than the simple teachings they are used to, something beyond the predictable and blase, but accessible and sound.

Some older religious books, of course – good as they are – are a bit more demanding and a little less fun than they ought to be. If you are looking for something fresh, insightful, helpful, here are ten new ones to help you on your way. 


The Dawn of Christianity- How God Used Simple Fisherman.jpgThe Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fisherman, Soldiers, and Prostitutes to Transform the World Robert Hutchinson (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  Let’s start here – at the time of rise of Christianity, right after the resurrection of Christ.  What a great time of year to dive into the fabulously interesting book which draws on the most recent discoveries and scholarship in archaeology of the first-century Near East.  Hutchinson (who studied Hebrew in Israel and has an advanced degree in New Testament) asks “How did a beleaguered group of followers of a crucified rabbis become the founders of a world-changing faith?” Using both Christian and secular scholars, Hutchinson reconstructs these post-resurrection accounts, tells about the persecution of the earliest church (at the hands of, for instance, a religious terrorist named Saul of Tarsus) and shows how they thrived as the gospel moved from Antioch, Damascus to Athens and Rome.  From ancient writers like Josephus and Philo and Eusebius to 20th century titans like J. Gresham Machen, N.T. Wright, Rodney Stark, John Dominic Crossan, Martin Hengel, Ben Witherington and more, Hutchinson weaves a narrative that is so interesting, informative and inspiring.

I think if you have any interest in the New Testament (the gospels, Acts, and the Epistles) and the history of that era, you will love this tremendous account of how it all took hold, spread, struggled, and became a transforming force in Western history.  There are references to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the gnostic gospels and fascinating historical stuff but don’t be fooled — this is a page-turning tour de force, an enjoyable and informative read.  There’s is a timeline in the back and pictures throughout making this a really helpful volume. Highly recommended.

way of the d.jpgThe Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb? Searching for Jesus’s Path of Power in a Church That Has Abandoned It Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel (Nelson Books) $16.99  I have mentioned this before but want to suggest it again.  There are oodles of basic Christian growth sorts of resources that help us in our interior lives, our understanding of the faith, books that strengthen our resolve to live well in the world.  But few take seriously the fallen nature of our messed up world, the seductions and dysfunctions that surround us, and those that do often are very scholarly, or utterly pessimistic. (God bless Jacque Ellul, if you get my drift.)  I benefited immensely from reading about this topic of how we should think about power and fallen institutions years ago – I recall the little book by Berkof called Christ and the Powers and a really important book by Marva Dawn which offered some friendly critique to Walter Wink and his impressive work on the principalities and powers. There is not enough discussion about this in most churches, not enough about what these authors call “The Way of the Dragon” let alone enough about the radical nature of Christ’s “Way of the Lamb.”  Andy Crouch, of course, has written very wisely about power in Playing God and even in the his must-read book from a year ago, the brief Strong and Weak.  There are many authors who write about Biblical nonviolence but, as much as I appreciate them, they somehow seem disconnected to the lives of ordinary middle class folks making their way through their typical lives.

But this. Wow, this is a book for our times, a needed supplement to your diet, a radical, Biblical, balanced, wise, and potent resource for figuring out how to relate to power, to status, to success, to be on guard about the devious ways of the world. This theologian/pastor team draw on authors we admire — J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, James Houston, Eugene Peterson — to help you travel better on the path of Christian discipleship. 

This is, I’ll admit it, is a book about weakness; the Way of the Lamb.  I know, you probably aren’t searching BookNotes thinking “I want a book about being broken, weak, giving up my dreams of making a difference.” (Although, many have read and greatly appreciated the artful reflection The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. That is a good sign.)  Perhaps, though, you do want a book to deepen your discipleship in ways that are consistent with our Risen Lord (the reigning King whose departing speech was a mandate to serve.) Perhaps you tire of the louder voices from the church and world that too often push us to false ideals, pushy ways, that erode the gospel call to love, humility, kindness. Perhaps you are seeking insight that goes beyond the typical evangelical cliches.

These two are very interesting writers and I admire them. They mean it when they say, “We want to cast a vision for the Christian life according to Jesus’ way of power: power in weakness, for love.”   As Goggin put it, they hope their book will help to help create “individuals with real Kingdom depth.”  And as they searched for elders who could help them learn about this they found “the most holy, wise, and powerful people we have ever met.”  Don’t you want to meet and know and learn from people that could be so described?

In an interview about The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb?  Strobel (yes, the Jonathan Edwards scholar, and son of Lee Strobel) said:

We are called to be a people of power, certainly, but a kind of power completely opposite to the power of the world. So what does it mean to employ the power of Christ. What happens when the power of Christ comes head-to-head with the power of evil, even in our churches? These are the questions that drove us to explore the world and document our travels…

The Essentials of Christian Thought- Seeing the World.jpgThe Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing the World Through the Biblical Story Roger E. Olson (Zondervan) $18.99  You probably know that we believe that one of the best things to read for living Christianly in the world, books that can help us grow in our faith, are what we sometimes call “worldview books.”  Daily discipleship and basic Christian growth resources are best framed by the big picture of a Christian view of life and an overview of the redemptive story that unfolds in the great drama of the Bible. This book does just that and it is fantastic! 

As it says on the back cover of my advanced promo copy, “Christians disagree on doctrine, politics, church government, certain moral questions – just about everything under the sun, it can seem. Yet a unity remains, centered around a core outlook on God and the world that is common to all believers.”

Well, I don’t know if that is even true – we should find unity, and that is the burden of this excellent new book.  As the promo copy continues,  “Alternative visions of reality often infect and corrupt Christian’s thinking.”

I couldn’t agree more, even if putting it that way sounds a bit alarming. Just like the dumb comment from a certain political spokesperson on “alternative facts” taints our civic engagement, now, unbiblical ways of construing life, thinking about ordinary stuff — God, the world, ourselves, what matters most — damages our faith, cripples our discipleship and our way of relating faith and life.

This book (written by an imminent theologian and church historian) gives us a basic perspective on life and times, noting how the Bible story itself should inform and shape our ideas and practices about daily life.

This may be a bit heady for some – it is about what the philosophers call metaphysics, after all.  Meta is big these days, though, and this book is really useful to help us get the big picture.

Contemporary Western society is awash in competing visions of ultimate reality. Christians who do not know any better often absorb beliefs about reality from worldviews completely alien to the Bible and in radical conflict with it. This is known as after all.  Meta is big these days, and this book is really useful to help us get the big picture.

Listen to Olsen:

Contemporary Western society is awash in competing visions of ultimate reality. Christians who do not know any better often absorb beliefs about reality from worldviews completely alien to the Bible and in radical conflict with it. This is known as syncretism. There is both conscious and unconscious syncretism.

He continues to explain that sometimes we unknowingly buy into ways of thinking, talking, acting, that are inconsistent with general assumptions and ways of seeing taught by the Bible.  Other times we knowingly borrow from ideas that are foreign to the Bible’s narrative.  (Uh, think of the oxymoronic statements like “the Christian right” or “the Christian left” that we hear often these days as if these historically-developed, secular ideologies can be simply baptized with religiosity.)

The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Realty… is meaty, but not scholarly, really. It is not mostly for academics, philosopher or even pastors, but for all educated believers.  I do believe all of us need this kind of thinking -especially if we want to live out our discipleship in the world of public life, work and culture and entertainment and science and business.  It is particularly important for educators, and a must-have resource for any teacher at a Christian high school or college.

With chapters with titles helping us to be “Knowing Christianly: Seeing Reality through the Biblical Story” and reminding us that  “Ultimate Reality Is Supernatural and Personal (But Not Human)” and that a “Biblical-Christian Perspective on the World” can lead us to a “Christian Humanism”, you know this is important stuff to slowly, seriously ponder. I might quibble with a bit here or there — I’m just not fond of the lingo of “ultimate” reality.  Realty is the really real, and creation is just as real as is God, so I don’t quite get all that he proposes here. I’ve got to study more.  But maybe you do, too. How long have you been a follower of Jesus?  Do you really deeply know, as the Bible story shows, how to think about all of life as real and redeemed?  Do you see and understand and construe all of life through the lens of the Bible story itself?  If you want a model for the integration of faith and thinking, this will help.

The New City Catechism- 52 Questions & Answers for our Hearts & Minds.jpgThe New City Catechism: 52 Questions & Answers for our Hearts & Minds The Gospel Coalition with Introduction by Kathy Keller (Crossway) $7.99 This is a really cool little volume with classic evangelical truths portrayed in the once-popular Q & A format.  Beth and I are members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) so we happily have a good handful of creedal statements in our Book of Confessions, including a newly added one about racism and human dignity that emerged from Reformed churches fighting apartheid.  We crafted a fresh Q & A Catechism a few years ago but it didn’t quite take off; it indicated, though, the desire for contemporary Christians of a variety of types to return to this kind of easily memorized instruction.  As Kathy Keller tells in her fascinating short introduction, even those working in hard, inner-city settings are finding success in teaching these pithy, theologically-sound answers. This is a very useful and timely idea and The New City Catechism is a very, very useful tool to use.  Whether you are young or mature in your faith, whether you’ve studied a lot or not, this set of orthodox formulations – sounding a bit like the Heidelberg Catechism or some of the answers to the Shorter Westminster Catechism – is highly new-city-catechism-open-spread.jpgrecommended.

Here are some useful features of this I love and which I trust you will appreciate.  First, it is a smallish size, but not tiny, designed with French flaps on the covers and glossy paper with some full color hints.   On each two-page spread the question is on the left and the answer is on the right.  There is a graphic under the question on the left to help visual learners.  There is the large type answer on the right and another graphic icon, indicating a particular virtue (love, joy, forgiveness, trust, humility, hope and the like) evoked by that truth statement. While the answers are formal, they are in contemporary language, a little bit more concise than the older ones. There is a Bible text as well for each Q & A pair.  This is really handsomely designed, cool to hold, easy to use, powerful to study.  It isn’t all that young people or new Christians need, but it’s part of it. We’re excited about it and hope you’ll give it a try.

Here is a link to the publisher’s website that has a bunch of short videos about why they think it is important and how it can be used.  Do come back here when your done..

The New City Catechism Devotional- God's Truth for our Hearts & Mind.jpgThe New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for our Hearts & Minds The Gospel Coalition, with Introduction by Timothy Keller (Crossway) $19.99  This hardback devotional has the same hip design and similar look – sans dust jacket, Helvetica type, two-color pages design – and is a perfect supplement to The New City Catechism.  It has much to commend it. I might take issue with a thing or two, including the oddity that all the authors are men, but we’re eager to have our customers use it. Supplement it with stuff from your own tradition if you want, use it as conversation starters to determine if you agree with their formulations of the answers, but these are standard, mature, solid ruminations on these classic answers to key theological questions.  If lack of theological awareness and superficiality of faith is a curse of our time, this could be an asset to rehabilitate weak knees and strengthen us all.

Here is what is special about this devotional: for each of the 52 entries there is a re-statement, in large type and two color ink, of the catechism question and answer.  Then, there is a page or so reflection about that truth from an older voice within the mainstream of orthodox Christian tradition; you’ll hear from the likes of Athanasius and Augustine, Luther and Calvin and Cranmer, both Wesleys, Bunyan and Edwards, poet George Herbert and the great London preacher Charles Spurgeon. Following this older reflection on the matter, there is a contemporary writer (usually with affinity with TGC’s classic evangelical views) who weighs in.  You’ll hear good stuff from Thabiti Anyabwile, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Juan Sanchez, R. Kent Hughes, Mika Edmondson, John Yates, David Bisgrove, and more. There is a Biblical text and a closing prayer for each entry.  This is very nicely done, beautifully compiled.

As Gloria Furman says on the back cover:

This is perhaps the most concise and accessible resource I have read — the questions are immediately relevant in every culture, the language is easily understood or translatable, and the brilliance of the gospel radiates on every page.

Jen Wilkin says of it,

Harmonizing wisdom from voices both ancient and modern, this book invites us to methodically internalize the categories by which we understand our faith, reechoing the good news for a new generation of believers.

.jpgThe Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs Peter Enns (HarperOne) $15.99  This came out to much discussion a year ago and was just released in paperback last week so I can list it as “new” – at least new in paperback.  I do not mean to be clever in listing this book after the important New City Catechism, although a cynic might think that I’m deconstructing the doctrinal Q & A approach in those books.  Nope, I’m just balancing the two; Enns is quick to tell us that any reductionism that equates proper beliefs with real faith is not Biblically faithful.  The strict Reformed theological tradition that he once was a part of left him with questions, fundamental things about what it means to trust God, what it means to truly know something, what the role of theological formulations play in faith formation.  He’s a great storyteller and a passionate thinker who wants to call us to a more wholistic and deeper level sort of belief. It will be freeing for some and although not the final word, it is important.

Walt Brueggemann says that Enns offers a “puckish affirmation of the buoyant, sometimes outrageous, boundary-breaking capacity of biblical faith.”  Sarah Bessy notes that Enns is “remarkable” because he is able to take big topics  “and then make those very places a meeting place with a God who is bigger and wilder and more wonderful and trustworthy than we guessed.”  I like this call to know a wild God a bit more deeply than just memorizing truth claims and answers, no matter how reasonable and Bible-based those answers are. 

I was going to pitch this book as a “heart” compliment to the “mind” component offered in the New City Catechism. But that is way wrong: the Catechism has truth claims formulated well, but truly wants us to absorb them as heartfelt and live them with gusto. And Pete Enns does not at all suggest that faith is a matter of sentiment or feeling alone – he’s written a whole book here nearly about what philosophers called epistemology, after all, so there’s no “heart versus mind” dichotomy in either. While doctrinal books like the New City ones appeal to both heart and mind, that is mostly so because of the very stuff Enns explains here.  Intellectual clarity or confidence is not the same as faith and our trust in God, while enhanced by good ideas, cannot be reduced to mere intellectual assent.  With The Sin of Certainty we are set free to ask big questions, struggle with ambiguity and nuance and doubt and move forward in our spiritual journey in glad confidence that having all the answers isn’t necessary. And, in fact, as his own story shows, churches or faith traditions that over-emphasize such demands can cause needless confusion and harmful kinds of pride and all the negative stuff that goes with fundamentalisms of all sorts. Enns’s call to Biblical trust, he argues, offers a better way.

God Has a Name John Mark Comer.jpgGod Has a Name John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $16.99  I hope you recall how we’ve promoted Comer’s Garden City which is one of the coolest, most interesting, clarifying, and inspiring books we’ve seen in recent years. It has been a big seller at the Jubilee conference, for instance, and seems to resonate well with its intended audience (mostly younger, upbeat readers who want a big picture of the meaning of faith and service in the world.)  This brand new one is paperback, but has some very hip design features, too (see that little orange slip on the inside edge of the cover?)  Kudos to Zondervan for showing how books can look and feel just a little bit different these days with color and graphics and page weight…

This book is simple to describe, although no short description can capture its insight, importance, or energy.  It is about God.  It is about God’s name as revealed in Exodus 34.  It is about the whole Bible’s grand story, in a way, but focusing on God’s self-revelation to us, God’s nature and work in the world.  It is about our ache for relationship, wondering why we “yet feel distant and disconnected from him. As if he’s more of an idea we believe in our head than a person we relate to.” It is conversational, simple to read (with lots of white space in his signature style) yet thoughtful and wise with very reliable Biblical scholarship behind his teaching.

Do you ever feel this gap he describes between you and God?  Could it be, he asks, that some of our ideas about God, what we think about God and God’s character, are messed up?

john mark comer.jpgThis book carries oodles of endorsing blurbs by all sorts of great thinkers and writers, pastors and worship leaders.  

Here is what Evan Wicham, an artist and worship pastor and church planter has said:

This book is electrifying! I’m not sure who will find this book more earthshaking — the jaded skeptic or the long time religious!  Either way, get this book.

One Riggs.jpgOne: Unity in a Divided World Deidra Riggs (Baker Books) $14.99  I love this author – Deidra is a fine writer, a wise woman, an involved editor in a variety of important social media venues.  She has worked at The High Calling blog, been a contributor to Dayspring’s (in)courage online community, and been a speaker for TEDx.  She has been at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh and has written a marvelous previous book called Every Little Thing: Making a Difference Right Where You Are which is a fabulous read that helps you, literally, do just what it promises.  Although I suppose that one is mostly written for women, I really enjoyed it and found it wise and interesting and inspiring.  Want to learn to live out your faith in little ways, day by day, taking up your mission in the world? She’s an ally and friend and understands your struggles.

This one is very, very important, and I believe is central to any seriously Christian way of living.  That is, in Jesus’s final words to his followers he insisted that unity – being one in him – was the final message. The whole world will know if they see us love one another.  And, my goodness, how we have challenges that keep us apart these divided days.

deidra Riggs.jpgOne is more than a book on civility, although it moves in that direction, helping us learn to be more gracious in our disagreements in our public life.   It is more than a book about theological unity within various denominations and faith traditions, although it has plenty of insight about our essential unity in Christ and how we should seek ways to make that clearer.  It is more than a book on racial reconciliation although, as a black woman, she has much to say about this topic. That it carries endorsements on the back from the vital Jo Saxton and the important John Perkins speaks volumes.  

Here is what John Perkins says:

This book will challenge, excite, transform, and inspire everyone who dreams of an end to division and polarization -in the church, in our communities, in the work-place, in our homes, and in our very own souls.

 As it says on the back cover of One: Unity in a Divided World, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges.  Be a bridge builder.”  To do this, we will have to grapple with questions of self-preservation, pride, and learn to be “secure in God’s inexhaustible love, allowing us to love others lavishly.” Perhaps after reading this, you will be inspired to be more proactive in this, taking first steps to be agents of reconciliation.  As Deidra Riggs makes clear, this could be revolutionary, but it has to start in our own hearts. “Who is it hard for you to love?” she asks.   Well, then.

And if that question isn’t urgent, I don’t know what is.  Sure, we have other great books about how the gospel calls us to reconciliation.  I highly recommend Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing written by Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole (IVP; $17.00.)  I think Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $19.99) is a punchy and powerful primer and very highly recommended.  Add Deidra Riggs’s pleasant book to the short list of useful resources on this key aspect of basic Christian living, a book that is full of stories, touching insights, gentle pushes, and a great study guide. This really is important. 

Spirituality for the Sent- Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church.jpgSpirituality for the Sent: Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church edited by Nathan A. Finn & Keith S. Whitfield (IVP Academic) $30.00  We wanted to include this amazing new book on this list even though it is a bit demanding and on a premier academic press.  Still, it isn’t that hard, and I’m currently deep in reflection about it, reading it carefully, chapter by chapter.  It is excellent.

I suppose I don’t have to tell you that there has been in the last decade or more a recent phrase — missional — that suggests that North American post-Christian, modernized culture is itself a new mission field, and that we in the West have to re-calibrate our churches to be not just missionary (sending others to foreign fields) but missional. Our purpose should be to bear witness to the Lordship of Christ and his in-breaking Kingdom coming, and that such a missional project will take some evaluations and discernments about the nature of our culture so we can see how to best communicate the reality of the gospel in our new era in this place.  Lesslie Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks was a seminal book in this movement, and more and more, churches have gone beyond being seeker sensitive or outward focused to become true communities of the Kingdom and to become missional, equipping ordinary folks to live well as exiles in a post-Christian culture.  We have seen vibrant, fabulously energetic and insightful books about this — see, just for instance, the recent To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities by Michael Frost and Christiana Ricethat are about both the missional church and a missional sort of risky discipleship.  I don’t want to brag, and I certainly don’t suggest we have done it very well, but our bookstore promoted a missional sort of Kingdom vision before anybody coined that word. We’ve promoted reading about a wide-as-life wholistic discipleship, an in-bit-not-of-the-world local servanthood for 35 years. We used to say we existed to help people “read for the Kingdom!”

But get this: just as vibrant, missional-church, Kingdom-centered view of parish life pushed us into the world of real life, thinking deeply about the gospel and our culture, and living it out in whole-life discipleship, there has also been (thanks be to God) another movement trending in the last 30 years, a trend of deep interest in contemplative spirituality.  Recall the importance of the likes of Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen and Tilden Edwards and Joyce Rupp and Marj Thompson and Ruth Haley Barton and others; courses on centering prayer and lay folks going on silent retreats and interest in spiritual formation programs are all on the rise. Books about spiritual disciplines continue to sell, and that field has blossomed well.  One of our favorite publishers, InterVarsity Press, even started a spiritual formational imprint a decade ago called formatio, which has become one of the most reliable sources for good books on our spiritual practices.

I say all this just to exclaim how absolutely important this serious new book is, which asks how we should think about spiritual practices in light of a missional sort of church and a missional vision for discipleship. Or, but another way, how do we think about our Kingdom living and missional perspective in light of the call to be attentive to the deeps of our interior lives?  The long introduction written by Finn and Whitfield in Spirituality for the Sent explores these two big trends, reminding us of much about how these trends have developed in recent years, and itself is very, very important. Just a few pages in and I knew I was going to love this book and that I’d feel called to let people know about its riches.

It may have been Darrell Guder who was at Princeton at the time who coined the “missional” word and he his comments about the book refer to how generative it will be, how important of a contribution it is, how other thinkers and writers should adopt it, how our churches should be talking about it, joining the discussion. He writes:

Finn and Whitfield’s Spirituality for the Sent is a welcome broadening and deepening of the missional church discussion… It should foster much discussion, encourage ever more provocative research, and embolden more contributions to the discussion.


Listen to Michael Frost, one of the great writers in this field, who has in mind practitioners, both those who are contemplatives and those who are activists:

In Spirituality for the Sent Finn and Whitfield have presented us with a framework for a spiritually rich and missionally engaged church… In their vision, spiritual formation is essential for missional effectiveness and sustainability. This book is generous enough in its scope to encourage contemplatives and activists alike. 

This great book features contributions by Hearts & Minds favorites, too.  Craig Bartholomew (whose recent book Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition I recently raved about) has a chapter on spirituality and the drama of Scripture.  Tim Sheridan and Michael Goheen have a chapter on spirituality and cultural engagement.  Soong-Chan Rah has a chapter entitled “Lament as Appropriate Missional Spirituality.”  Mae Elise Cannon’s chapter is about missional spirituality and justice —  yes!  The great Gordon Smith (whose most recent fully amazing book is called Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three) shows how spirituality helps us worship well (and vice versa.) There are authors with whom I’m less familiar;  Gary Tyra’s chapter on Pauline spirituality is excellent and Diane Chandler’s on “Godly Love” as the primary spiritual virtue is beautiful.  There is a chapter on congregational life, too – bringing to ordinary church life a vision of being both missional and spiritual.   This collection has plenty of good stuff for nearly anyone about nurturing a deeper missional spirituality and will reward readers for months and years to come.  (Two authors who have worked really well in this area that I wished had been included are Roger Helland & Leonard Hjalmarson whose 2011 IVP book Missional Spirituality: Embodying God’s Love from the Inside Out was groundbreaking.)

Here is a little heads up: I am positive that Spirituality for the Sent: Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church will win a Hearts & Minds Best Book of 2017 award, so why not just buy it now?  We will tout this, as I hope others will, as it breaks significant ground, offers sweet insights, and, although a bit meaty, is excellent for anyone wanting to relate faith and life and worship and work and deeper spirituality and wholistic witness in the world God loves. Highly recommended.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally- Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture.jpgReading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture John Piper (Crossway) $32.99  Pastor Piper has retired from his position at Bethlehem Baptist but his writing career has perhaps reached a new zenith. He has over the years given us major works such as his hallmark Desiring God, Future Grace, and The Pleasures of God; he has written smaller volumes of deeply moving, passionate preaching in books like Seeking and Savoring Christ.  He has done scholarly work on Jesus’s many demands (not enough have read his Love Your Enemies: Jesus’ Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Paraenesis)
and he has fueled a movement of God-drenched, neighbor-loving passion for mission; he has written about social issues (most interestingly, see his declaration that racism is a sin, in Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.) His call to have our lives count for God’s Kingdom found in books like Don’t Waste Your Life have affected tens of thousands. His book Think reminds us of how to think faithfully and Biblically.  He has written poetry, and written books about writing. He has done a series of short biographies that are fantastic called “The Swans Are Not Silent” — he loves teaching about the past. He pays attention to the Scriptures and he applies faith with a God-centeredness that alludes to his hero Jonathan Edwards and a joy that reminds one of his beloved C.S. Lewis.

I believe he is mistaken about some things, and that he perhaps is a bit too self-confident at times, but he has been important in my life, and I’m grateful to have heard him speak a few times and to have met him and his wife.  Of course we stock most of his many books.

So I am eager to read this new one, which I’ve only skimmed for a few moments. At well over 425 pages it is a major volume; it even feels heavy in the hand and has tons of chapters and sub-chapters and sections and is laden with counsel both profound and practical.

There are other books that are more open minded about what the Bible is and how to get the most from your reading of it in non-literal ways. Of course. But this one, too, should be studied, even if one holds a view that different than Piper’s.  I am sure is rooted in classic, serious study — oh, if other pastors took the life of the mind as seriously as he does — so don’t be put off by the “supernaturally” in the title. For instance, there is one section called “God Forbid That We Despise His Natural Gifts” by which he means that there is no tension between a “natural” and a “supernatural” reading. We are to use, as good gifts that they are, the minds God gives us, the gifts of thinking, of logic, of appreciating poetry and beauty and how to discern the ways metaphors work and so forth.  He has a major section with nearly a dozen chapters called “The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally.” 

The first sections are passionate — there are powerful teachings about “white-hot worship” and “savoring Christ” and three parts of “Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty” and three more chapters on “Reading to Be Transformed.”  One chapter title that caught my eye is called “Reading Toward the Consummation.”  This is serious stuff, and while it is intense, it is not abstract. 

piper fists.jpgAnd some chapters are just really, really wise: one is entitled “Humility Throws Open a Thousand Windows.” There are whole chapters about “querying” the text, about the author’s intent, and about sound methods of exegesis.  I suspect that there is something here for nearly everyone (and nearly everyone who has considered any of this material before will find something with which they will disagree.) But who couldn’t benefit from piper smiling.jpgthis kind of jolt, reminding us to pray for God’s blessing as we read, to grapple with the very holiness of the text, to dig and dig and, as one of my hero’s, Calvin Seerveld, put it, “take hold of God and pull.”  (And to live with, as Piper himself says “paradoxes, pleasures, and the transformed life.”  Reading this all will be a major project, but that’s okay — one doesn’t have to read it all at once — as Piper reminds us, “The Bible beckons us to look for a long time.”  And, yes, good Baptist that he is, he has a few proof-texts. 

Here are some of the conservative, evangelical leaders who are speaking of this book in glowing terms.  Even if you are not a conservative or an evangelical, you cannot afford to miss this kind of stuff:

‘Not many books should be recommended for both beginning Bible readers and mature Bible readers, but this is one of them. Utilizing brief and pointed expositions of often overlooked Bible verses, John Piper helpfully explains why we should be reading the Bible, the work of the Spirit in our Bible reading, and the fundamental skills and habits of faithful Bible reading. I cannot imagine a serious Christian who would not benefit from a thoughtful reading of this book.”
–D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition

“I have been reading the Bible daily for thirty-five years. Reading the Bible Supernaturally challenged my motives, effort, and enjoyment. I doubt I will read the Scriptures the same way again. I look forward to deeper and more wonderful times alone in the Word in the days ahead. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to take Bible study seriously.”
–Francis Chan, New York Times best-selling author, Crazy Love and Forgotten God

“Stunning. Profound. Powerful. Reading the Bible Supernaturally will move you to captivated and awestruck worship at the Divine’s plan for his Word as an instrument to magnify his unrivaled glory. Seeing and savoring the God of the Scriptures is an extraordinarily high calling every believer must pursue, and no man can move us to that place quite like John Piper. This book, accessibly written and weighty in content, is so much more than a manual or study guide to the Scriptures. Rather, it’s an invitation to the experience God intended we have with his Word–an experience that is Spirit dependent, faith building, and worship inciting.”
–Louie Giglio, Pastor, Passion City Church, Atlanta; Founder, Passion Conferences; author, The Comeback

“The seemingly mundane topic of reading the Bible ushers us into a world of supernatural grace for sinners. With constant reference to the Holy Scriptures, John Piper shows us how to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and to read by the light of Christ. Yet Piper commends no passive mysticism, but studious labor over the best of books; he is thorough, practical, and engaging throughout. Take up and read!”
–Joel R. Beeke, president, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Reading the Bible Supernaturally reminds us why we cannot rest until every person on earth has access to the Bible in their own tongue. Tribes, languages, peoples, and nations are perishing without access to, or opportunity to know, this glorious God through this glorious book. John Piper stokes the urgency of our calling as the church of Jesus Christ to deepen our appreciation for the Word that God uses toward a missional end–his global and eternal glory.”
–Michael Oh, Global Executive Director, The Lausanne Movement

Reading the Bible Supernaturally is a thorough and compelling wake-up call to lethargic, passive, resistant, mechanical Bible readers (which is all of us at one point or another) to become hungry, eager, inquisitive, aggressively observant miners for the treasure in the text–fully expectant that God will bring us from death to life, from foolishness to wisdom, from damning despair to glorious hope through his Word.”
–Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher; author, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

“If you disconnect the Bible from God’s glory, you lose your grip on both. What terrible things we hear people say about each of them, taken in isolation. John Piper puts them together, and finds himself preaching an astonishingly high doctrine of Scripture, right alongside an intimately experiential doctrine of God’s glory. Reading the Bible Supernaturally is not just one of the helpful activities that make up the Christian life. Kept in proper context, seen in full perspective, and received in wide-awake recognition of the living voice of the triune God, reading the Bible is the central act of Christian existence. This book, a kind of extended Christian hedonist gloss on Psalm 119, is an invitation to the miracle of Bible reading.”
–Fred Sanders, Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University; author, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

“No book has inspired me to approach Scripture with as much anticipation as Reading the Bible Supernaturally. Read this book at your own risk, for it will ignite your devotional life. You will find yourself actively hunting for treasure in the Bible, looking carefully at each passage, praying and trusting that God himself will open your eyes to see and savor his glory. Don’t let the length of this book fool you; it is clear, accessible, and inspiring. In fact, it is the most practical, passionate, and motivating book on reading the Bible I have ever read. Read it. Apply it. Test it. It will transform your approach to God’s Word.”
–Vaneetha Rendall Risner, author, The Scars That Have Shaped Me



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“Mother Tongue” (Leonard Sweet), “Holy Spokes” (Laura Everett), “My Utmost” (Macy Halford), “The Tech-Wise Family” (Andy Crouch), “Love Lives Here” (Maria Goff), and more: Fun, Happy Books to bring Inspiration, Insight — ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

It may seem a little incongruous this week, but I want to suggest some happy books. Fun, well-written, upbeat, and very inspiring.

I know that most of us are absorbed in the drama of this moment in our church season – reading the gospels, going to extra church services, focusing on Christ and his execution, longing for hope.  We coloring lent.jpgcontinue to recommend books from Rowan Williams’ The Sign and the Sacrifice- The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection.jpgThe Sign and the Sacrifice: The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection (WJK; $15.00) to one by our UCC pastor friend Chris Rodkey, his lectionary-based Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection (Chalice Press; $12.99) an adult coloring book that includes some thoughtful and provocative meditations and great art.


These next days and following we really, really recommend A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda (Baker; $14.99) which is perfect to read on Holy Saturday.  I’ve been pondering A Glorious Dark- Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience .jpgInto Your Hand: Confronting Good Friday by Walter Brueggemann (Cascade; $11.00) which were a set of sermons Walt preached at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Cincinnati one long Good Friday afternoon. We suggest classic books about the atonement, justification, Christ’s suffering, and, of course, the Resurrection.  I know many of us are in the thick of this hard stuff.

I know many of us are also deep in the thick of hard stuff happening in the world.  We are faced with hard policy choices about the budget, the terrible gutting of environmental projects, some services to the poor being cut even as we plan to spend more on armaments. The ongoing brutality of the Assad regime breaks our heart and the bombing of Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday reminds us what we all know – these are painful times for many and God calls us to at least try to figure out how to be responsible citizens in the midst of the injustices. In an increasingly globalized world, we know even more than we used to, and Jesus calls us to be faithful and good neighbors, complex as things may be.   As Robert Benson put it in his last book, swiping a good line, Punching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World.


Even debating what we should say and do, what policies we should promote, where to put our limited energies, is itself a matter that causes many of us great tension. May God help us as we talk together as church friends, citizens, neighbors about what should be done.  

Hearts & Minds continues to attempt to be a resource center for faithful Christian thinking and living, from your own personal growth to church and congregational renewal to nurturing Christian citizenship that helps us work on issues of peace, justice, racial reconciliation, environmental stewardship, and the like. I will continue to attempt reviews about social concerns that we hope are helpful – as some say we did well a few weeks ago in our review of Rod Dreher’s important The Benedict Option and in my assessment of what one friend has called Princeton Seminary’s Kuyper/Keller-gate. (You can see my list of books by and about Abraham Kuyper and Timothy Keller, here.) Keller, by the way, spoke at that event last week mostly about the importance of Lesslie Newbigin, commending his profound little book Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western CultureWe’ve promoted that for years, have included it in our displays at book tables for conferences for decades. Nice to hear Tim so astutely describe its importance to mainline denominational folks and conservative evangelicals alike. 


Mother Tongue- How Your Heritage Shapes Your Story.jpgMother Tongue: How Your Heritage Shapes Your Story Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $15.99  This remarkable book deserves a bigger review than I can give it here, but I can tell you this much: if you have liked any of Len Sweet’s many books or are all curious about his colorful approach to faith and discipleship and congregational renewal, this book is one you simply have to read.  He has described it as his most personal and he seems to be feeling a bit vulnerable about it all.


Sweet’s the literary critic, you know, a flamboyant, handsome guy who is known for using screens and digital stuff, postmodern in some quirky Victorian way, a “post-modern pilgrim” as one of his books is called.  His playful use of words is unsurpassed and his gift of weaving quotes from the most random sources into a coherent evangelistic message is legendary.  Where did he come from? How in the world did somebody who wrote seminal works about semiotics — okay, I’m trying to keep up, but I suppose he’ll just roll his eyes at my pedestrian alliteration there — and who danced the Soul Salsa (noting, cleverly that older folks will think of a condiment but younger folks will think of a dance!) harness this trend-mesitering into a call for radical church renewal?  He offered remarkable insights about the coming waves of post-modernity in Soul Tsunami waves, get it? – and he gave us stunning sweet, coffee cup.jpgnew metaphors for doing church. Aqua Church remains a must-read in my view, and hope you’ll order it from us if you haven’t read it yet. He has a clear-headed but really interesting book on using digital culture for renewal, perfectly called called Viral. Who tells Protestants that we should stop with our individualistic, modernist slogans like “Here I Stand” and replace them with “There We Go”?  Who writes books about clever, contemporary preaching and authors books like his recent Bad Habits of Jesus?  What kind of edgy, outlier is he?

Well, here’s the thing: his mother was kicked out of her own denomination, the Primitive Methodist church (for whom she was a passionate preacher and evangelist) because she accepted and wore a wedding ring offered by her husband (Len’s father) who was a more liberal sort of holiness guy, a mere Free Methodist.  If he was a Marine Corp type of Methodist she must have been part of the Navy Seal commandos, fit and serious. They were both hardcore and – as Len says in the first chapter of this book mostly about his mother – not only was she removed from her church for wearing this tiny bit of forbidden jewelry, they later got kicked out of the Free Methodist congregation for having a black and white television (or what the preacher called a hell-a-vision.)  So, this Christ and culture stuff runs deep in a kid who was forcibly removed from a Wednesday night prayer service. What should the church do about the world? 

The lovely, exciting, well-written, and very moving Mother Tongue accomplishes at least two big things (and, for a Len Sweet book, this is underestimating it: there is always a whole bunch of stuff going on at once, and all of his books repay repeated readings!)  

Firstly, it is somewhat of a biography or at least tribute to his colorful mother.  There has been, he eventually tells us, some remorse shown from what is now the Wesleyan denomination about the mistreatment of Mabel Boggs Sweet, and she is now honored with a plaque somewhere.  And, man, she deserves it, because this book is loaded with fascinating stories, good teaching, interesting stuff she taught and stood for.  She was a Christian leader and she took her Godly role in pushing her sons into the ways of righteousness very, very seriously.

He tells us that they were Appalachian people, his father from the mountains in upstate New York , his mother from West Virginia, where they spent some of the summers. Len ended up living in Ohio (in what Len informs us is really a West Virginia city) and his mother lived with him there, although often returned to her West Virginia homeland.  Do you know that road that memoirist J.D. Vance writes about, that well-worn road from Ohio rust belt towns back home to Appalachia, so regularly traveled in the mid to late 20th century? This road, or one like it, tells the Boggs-Sweet story, too, and Leonard and his brothers (one who is a Presbyterian pastor, by the way – what in the heck happened to him I often wondered)  — were raised as Appalachian kids.  They ran free in forests and open lots and they came home to supper as mom yelled out the door. They were disciplined sternly and loved well and the Bible and the church and the work of advancing God’s Kingdom played a central part of their self identity.  Going to church camp and revivals and camp meetings were non-negotiable. His mother is a more legendary character than I can say and their upbringing is more interesting than I can tell and this book offers just glimpses.  But the glimpses are wonderful to read.

The book is about his mother, after all, but he shares in vulnerable ways episodes that are revealing, shaping, formative.  I like very much the method of this madness where Sweet names a particular item, a bit of material culture as the scholars call it, to illuminate the story of Mabel Boggs Sweet and her TV watching fundamentalist husband and the boys that didn’t quite remind me of My Three Sons.

So, the chapters are given titles like this:

Ma’s Wedding Ring, Dad’s Hellevision

The Yellow-Painted Pot-Metal Boudoir Light


Polio Braces

Yellow Cheese

Lye Soap

Grandfather’s Chair

Glover’s Mange Cure  (yep, you read that right, mange cure.)


There are other chapters laden with Americana and old timey tales and what may be some exaggeration, but I bet not.  These stories end up being parables that reveal the heart of this Godly woman, perhaps the sort of sturdy Christian disciple that we don’t find much anymore.  As Sweet says, “Mother didn’t look for burning bushes. She was one.”

But it’s fun, too, just really nice storytelling. You won’t want to miss one on his mother’s prayer habits called “The Nautical Door.” Be sure to read “Mounds, Mars Bars, and the County Home” and “The Doctor’s Script.”

As the fabulous writer Karen Swallow Prior says, “I found myself hanging on every word in this tenderly written and carefully crafted tribute…”

Mother Tongue- How Your Heritage Shapes Your Story.jpgI said there are at least two big things going on here.  Yes, Mother Tongue is a tribute to Leonard Sweet’s mother and a window into his own formation; anyone wanting to know how Sweet himself has been shaped and why he tends to see things as he does, calling on churches to be creative in seeking renewal, more disciplined and committed, well this will help. But also, there is this broad call to us all to understand our roots, to know where we’ve come from and to wonder, as the cover puts asks, “How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story.”  (Sweet, you may recall, has a very interesting look at the heritage of the United Methodist Church called The Greatest Story Never Told: Revive Us Again (Abingdon; $18.99) that might wisely be read after Mother Tongue. Or, for the more stout and convicted that there should be some connection between ancient and future ways, see a book he edited, Postmodern and Wesleyan?: Exploring the Boundaries and Possibilities (Beacon Hill; $15.99.)  

Of course we must always contextualize our faith, relate the “old, old story” to the realities of our own age.  But how we do that is the big issue, isn’t it?  We can learn much from Mabel Bogg Sweet’s sage teachings, but Len’s own telling of the tale – what he has recalled and why he told it and why it is important to us – is a major contribution. This book says that “you will be challenged to steward your faith so that those who follow may likewise be rooted, established, and in pursuit of God’s call on their own lives.”  That is, in listening in to Sweet tell his story we are invited to ponder our own. As we see how he frames his own upbringing and offers just a little insight on how this might effect him (and us) today, we learn to do the same.  It is wise to attend to our own roots and places and background and heritage, so see how it might shape us today.

Isn’t that one of the reasons we tell these tales of our loved ones, pass the faith stories on, as the Bible commands, from generation to generation?  God, apparently, loves history. God obviously loves storytelling. I suspect strongly that God loves Mother Tongue. 

holy spokes big.jpgHoly Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels Laura Everett (Eerdmans) $22.99  I don’t even bike and I was eager to see this; the book-lovin’ folks at Eerdmans in bike-friendly Grand Rapids had assured us this was going to be a huge book this spring, that it would be very interesting, a lot of fun, and very well written.

Now that it is here, I can only say “Amen!” even though it isn’t what I would call gospel-focused or evangelical.  Well, it is loaded with evangelical zeal about the gospel of cycling. Everett is a pretty serious cyclist and urbanist.  I enjoyed her descriptions of different sorts of cycling enthusiasts — the hard-core fixed gear guys in Boston are called “Freds” – and cheered as she deepened her own commitments to ride more and ruminated on her life choices.  The author is the Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and tells us very little about her work or life outside of her transportation choices (I really wanted more!) but, my, my, does she tell us about her transportation. 

As with any embedded study of a serious hobby or sub-culture, there’s some amazing passion, insider baseball, and quirky writing about stuff that many of us wouldn’t know was so darn interesting.  From the inevitable sore bum to the dangers to the sexist hassles, Everett tells us more than you might first want to know about the history of bikes, the different weights and kinds, or how chains work, and, a bike enthusiast or not, on every page, you will be sighing and smiling, wanting more. Holy Spokes is a page-turner – believe it or not – and a very holy book.

I happen to think it would be holy even if it were written in mostly a secular approach; she gets how practices are formative, how a sense of place makes us better people, how it is a virtuous thing to know notice stuff, and to know a bit about the very ground on which you walk (or ride.) Her love for life and her honesty about her journey is so real (but never sentimental) that it is beautiful. The title of the book is not just a bit of cleverness. For Laura Everett, and many of the people she introduces us to in this memoir/reflection, her spokes really are holy.

And here is how she helps us get it: the book is, although a study of urban biking, of two-wheeled transportation, it is, as the subtitle says, a book about spirituality.  Every chapter starts with an important quote from Brother Lawrence’s enduring Practicing the Presence of God (or from a letter by or about him, one even from a sermon preached at his eulogy in 1666.) Everett has obviously worked with this classic spirituality book and it shows; in every chapter readers will learn how to apply the humble monk’s insights about finding God in the ordinary. Her weaving through frantic traffic, getting “doored” in downtown Boston, or wondering what to wear in below freezing temps is a bit different than Lawrence’s tales of peeling potatoes.  But it works.  Her urban spirituality is deeply shaped by this monastic rule, this daily practice, this ordinary spirituality.

The book’s chapters, even though they’ve got that Brother Lawrence quote and includes his teaching, is, in fact, truly about biking. The chapter titles are based on various parts of her bike, with some sort of metaphor attached to each.  Here are the names of the chapters and what insight she offers, just to give you a sense of how nifty this is:

Frame – Rule of Life

Wheels – Habit

Saddle – Endurance

Tires and Tubes – Border-Crossing

Lights – Visibility

Fork – Rest

Handlebars – Adaptation

Gears — Pacing

Chain — Embodiment

Helmet  — Particularity

Brakes – Limitations

You — Joy

There are very handsome line drawings throughout – reminding me of an old classic monastic cookbook we used to have – showing off that part of the bike. This is going to bless cyclists and mere watchers, those who find God in the great outdoors and those of us who live this part of life vicariously through entertaining and wise books just like this. It is a beautiful book.

There is an appendix that shows a Blessings of the Bike service and, movingly, a litany for a Ghost Bike service, marking those killed on the roadways. 

As Publishers Weekly put it, Holy Spokes is:

Fresh and delightful… With a window into cycling culture, Everett never loses her focus on her belief that commuting by bicycle can be a cosmic and soul-enriching good.

Or listen to William Lamar, who says of it:

For anyone who has longed to look at the beating heart of their city through the lens of faith, Laura Everett provides a winsome, two-wheeled tour.

My Utmost Macy Halford.jpgMy Utmost: A Devotional Memoir Macy Halford (Knopf) $26.95 This remarkable book has brought me much pleasure, has caused me to ponder–about my life, faith, Christian growth, and the curiosities of Oswald Chambers (author of My Utmost for His Highest, a staple here) who was a much more complicated and curious person than I ever, ever knew. Ms. Halford wonderfully tells the story of her own fascination with Chambers and his famous devotional. This would be good even if it were not so well written, but it just glows at times, making it a truly luminous, artful and sophisticated read. But more, there’s this: Halford’s memoir tells of her growing up in a fundamentalist Texas family, heading off to Barnard College, and landing a prestigious writing job in Manhattan at The New Yorker. Her taking inspiration from this old evangelical chestnut in the city that never sleeps, working with folks who (we can only imagine) never heard of any daily devotional, is quite a plot for a story, no?

There’s a great chapter telling of an awkward meeting she attended in the city (mostly to appease her evangelically Baptist mother) with some other evangelical women who work “in Christian publishing”- some of it very conservative and very cheesy – which has a spot-on feel about how a thoughtful, less theologically dogmatic, maybe less pious, if still God-haunted, serious professional in the elite field of letters and literature relates to these other zealous, pleasant, mostly Southern women who so earnestly want to pray for her witness in her job among the pagans. (“Do you review Christian books in your job there?” they want to know.) Halford has very little in common with these women – her faith seems somehow different than theres, her expression of faith is certainly different, and her intellectual, social, and political convictions are much different – but then one of them quotes by memory a bit from Oswald Chambers.  Another knows his work well, and Macy bonds immediately.  How curious.  

She is, admittedly, not where she once was, but continues to read this Godly devotional each day as she has since she was 15. She is alarmed when it becomes known that then-President Bush, waging an unpopular war in the Middle East and generally despised by the elite among whom she works, said that My Utmost for His Highest was his favorite book. (We’ve learned a bit about her life by this time, in the fashion of a good memoir, about her early days, her churchy memories, her baptism at church camp, the awkwardness of being an evangelical involved in a rather rowdy theater group where there was drinking and more.)

Eventually, she leaves her job at The New Yorker to work full time on her story, mostly working around the question of how it is that some are so deeply the writing of the late 1800s Scottish preacher. She moves to Paris, and, oh my, that’s interesting.

macy-halford_0461-1.jpgI won’t spoil too much, but besides the good writing, the story of a Christian woman finding her way in the work world, discerning her call to be a writer, the element of a subtly told faith journey, telling how a young adult comes to clarify her own faith, once she has moved beyond her fundamentalist past, there is much here to supplement other biographies of Chambers. The book is as much about him as it is about her. The allusive Oswald Chambers was a mystic, an artist, a preacher, a colorful writer, an eccentric thinker – influenced as he was by romanticism and in tune with Scottish characters like George MacDonald.  Chambers died while serving as a chaplain among British soldiers in World War I in Northern Africa. His Oswald Chambers.jpglegacy lives on as one of the best-selling authors in all of history. That such a fascinating, artful, intellectually rigorous, missionary zealot is so popular among ordinary and often culturally conservative American evangelicals – some who would blanch if they knew of the artists he admired, the philosophy he read, the books he loved – is a wonderment.

That a very prominent, respected secular publishing house (Alfred Knopf) published this evangelical memoir about a young woman’s study of Oswald Chambers, is also a wonderment. (How did that even happen?)  It received a wonderful, insightful review in The New York Times just a week or so ago. And, I suspect that most Christian bookstores won’t stock this, which, although perhaps ironic, is part of the sub-sub-text of this very book.  How do Christian books make a difference in people’s lives and how to those raised in the strict confines of a deep sub-culture learn to navigate the wider world?  Mr. Chambers helped Marcy Halford, and now her story helps us all.  What a book.

Jackie Robinson- A Spiritual Biography --The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero.jpgJackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography –The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero Michael Long & Chris Lamb (WJK) $  I don’t have to say much about this; we all know who Jackie Robinson is, and we may also know that there haven’t been quite enough voices really telling his remarkable story that well.  This is the best book, I have reason to believe, that has yet been done about the great black player who also was an outspoken critic of racial segregation and early advocate for civil rights.   He was a hero to many and he paid up, using his fame as a way to speak wisely about this hard, hard, stuff.

You may know that Michael Long – a central Pennsylvania religion prof near us at Elizabethtown College – has a real knack for drawing on primary sources to create biographies that are more than pop studies or overviews, but are rigorously informed by behind the scenes stuff that few have bothered to study.  For instance, he did a biography of the Rev. Mr. Fred Rogers based mostly on his own letters and private correspondence called Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers. He has previously released an amazing collection of Jackie Robinson’s letters called First Class Citizenship: The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson. (That was actually named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.)

Chris Lamb, by the way, is a professor of journalism so knows a thing or two about researching, writing, and telling a good story.  And he’s written about this, too, including Blackout: The Untold Story of jack Robinson’s First Spring Training and Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (which was called one of the best baseball books of all time by the Huffington Post.)  That these too socially conscious sports fans have both written niche books about Jackie Robinson before makes them perfectly suited to create this, what should be considered the definitive book on the great man. The last page, telling about his funeral procession from Harlem (saying what songs the choir sang, and the old spiritual performed by the great Roberta Flack) into Brooklyn is the perfect ending to a great biography.

 42 Faith- The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story.jpgIf you are a real fan, follow this insightful one up with another very good one that just came out, 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story written by Ed Henry (Thomas Nelson; $24.99.)  It has a great cover, a nice hardback heft, and has gotten some good advanced buzz. The author is a lifetime baseball fan, and a world-class reporter. In fact, Henry has been the primary Fox News Reporter covering the White House throughout the Obama years. He has also served in the prestigious post of president of the White House Correspondents’ Association from 2012-2013, after being elected in an unopposed election by his peers in the White House press corps. Prior to joining FNC, Henry was at CNN from 2004-2011, where he served as the network’s senior White House correspondent. Henry began his career working for Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Jack Anderson.


tech-wise fam better.jpgThe Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place Andy Crouch (Baker Books) $13.99  Well, what can I briefly say about this brand new book by one of the most important writers in contemporary Christianity?  You know how much I insist we should all read — a couple of times! – his Culture Making, his reflection on power, Playing God, and his little, very wise book about human flourishing through embracing risk and strength, simply called Strong and Weak.

This fabulous new book, which starts with a foreword by Andy and Catherine’s teenage daughter, Amy, is a reflection on the deeper meaning of life in these techy days. Yes, it offers some good advice for parents about making good choices and “reclaiming real life in a world of devices.” There is stuff about family life and models for how to get kids on board, uniting around certain limits and practices and appropriate uses of technology. Although not as lengthy or dour as books like Amusing Andy Crouch laughing.jpgOurselves To Death or The Shallows, this is one of those great books that meanders through a lot of great truth. There are chapters like “Shaping Space” and “The Deep End of the (Car) Pool” and “The Good New About Boredom.”  There is a chapter on embodiment (okay, it’s about sex) and a lovely chapter called “Why Singing Matters” and a powerful one called “In Sickness and Health.”

This is much, much more than a book about limiting screen time, as the beautiful writer Shauna Niequist says. Just listen to this:

To be honest, before I opened this book I expected to be challenged on the topic of screen time for my kids. I was, certainly.  What I did not expect was to be offered a vision for family life and faith and character so compelling and inspiring that it made me weep, made me reconsider many aspects of our home, made me profoundly thankful for this beautiful and important book.

ATech Wise Family Barna graph.jpgnother helpful bit of The Tech-Wise Family, besides its wise rumination on walking through ordinary days with a deeper sense of family living in a particular place with particular habits and postures, there is some brand new data presented with some fresh insights from the Barna Group. Sort of like their wonderful little Frames books, these considerable essays surround info-graphics and comment a bit on some of the latest data about technology, our habits, and our deepest longings as found by this useful research project.

Besides these helpful and interesting charts and colorful info-graphics there are occasional “Realty Checks” portions that give us an honest look through a real window into the Crouch household. He is a broad social thinker and good cultural critic and a wise theological voice – if often positive, inviting us to a pro-active approach of doing good stuff rather than merely avoiding the bad – so these little bits from the Crouch household brings it all down to where you and I live.  This is just one more feature making this a very, very useful little book.

If you follow Mr. Crouch’s work carefully you will know he’s a thinker, a fine writer, musician, speaker, and – among other influences – has been informed by the Montana Catholic philosopher Dr. Albert Power Failure- Christianity in the Culture of Technology..jpgLiving into Focus.jpgBorgmann. Borgmann’s work (somewhat influenced, perhaps, by his friendship with Presbyterian Eugene Peterson) has become very important to many of us, from his engagement with post-modernity, his worries about the way technology has shaped the quintessential American character, and how, to navigate this well, we need to discover attentive focal practices, as he calls them.  (See the wonderful book about all that by called Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Art Boers. See also Professor Borgmann’s most overtly Christian reflection on our technological age called Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology.)

Well, Andy has absorbed much of all of this and he himself says this in an afterward to The Tech-Wise Family where he notes the influence of “the life work of Albert Borgmann, especially his 1987 book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry.” 

supper of the lamb.jpgBut Andy then says this:

Dr. Borgmann’s work is, entirely appropriately, far from light reading, so you may want to warm up with one book that influenced him and has delighted and directed our own family: Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb.  Although published nearly fifty years ago, Capon’s theological cookbook is still the ideal summons to something better than our technological shallows – in the kitchen and everywhere else. Bon appetit – and bon courage.




The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea- Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition.jpgThe Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea: Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition  Russell Rathbun (Eerdmans) $21.99  I loved this book I’m going to re-read it.  I described it briefly before here at BookNotes, but just have to suggest it again – in an allusive, odd-ball way, it offers much great wisdom in one helluva read.  Here is what I said, suggesting it as a Lenten read, actually.  Okay, maybe that was a stretch, and if I had time, I’d love to just write a whole new review, since I’m so taken with this book. But, for now, here ya go:

Oh, man-o-man, this deserves a longer review and I hope I can get back to this to tell you even more about how I liked it so.  I’ve been pondering this since I lost a bit too much sleep staying up reading (you’ve heard that phrase “I couldn’t put it down,” right?)  This is an odd book, about an odd topic, and it is hard to say if it is creative nonfiction, a memoir of sorts, a travelogue, a family history, or some crazy-eyed, made-up novel. I say this mostly because a book he wrote a decade ago, a kind of novel called Post Rapture Radio, was so genre bending and spectacular (don’t get me started on how that wonderfully messed with my mind.) Since that dive into the deep end of the creative waters, Rathbun remains a pastor at the non-traditional House of Mercy (serving along side the excellent wordsmith and preacher herself, Debbie Blue) in Saint Paul, MN.  That dear Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a great introduction to this makes sense. She’s a fine, rather non-conventional pastor of a church for the “accidental saints” and other assorted odd-ball, unchurched, so a soul-mate of RR, I suppose, and a great storyteller.  So she gets him.

But more importantly, as Nadia says in the preface, and as Debbie Blue says on the back cover blurb (sharing space with, I can’t not tell you, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes) Russell Rathbun loves people, loves stories, loves that liminal place where story and words and history collide, even as he “hilariously unravels tales of our folly.” Which is to say (stay with me here) this is a Lenten book for those who don’t want a Lenten book. It is very enjoyable but, without being heavy handed, it is a study of the somewhat dark and twisted side of human foibles.

The plot line, such as it is, is simple: he criss-crosses across the globe visiting the legendary Salton Sea in Southern California’s desert and the Great Wall of China, the only two man-made objects (or so he heard growing up) that one can see from outer space.

He then launches into some remarkable re-telling of Bible stories, not only the flooding narrative from Noah and Ark et. al., but also the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.  I’m not spoiling much (you can read it in the subtitle) to say that at the end of the day, this entertaining romp through his travels trying to visit these wild, storied, places, ends up being a book about hubris. Or, as Bolz-Weber says, since there is “no purity in the world,” it is about “the ambiguity of ambition.” 

Rathbun’s reporting from China is riveting and his quick history of the rise of Chairman Mao and, importantly, his wife and the notorious Gang of Four is worth the price of the book.  It tells you more about his fluency in pop culture to note that he also talks about the 1980s punk band of that name. 

Years ago I read a book by one of my favorite writers, Dennis Covington, called Redneck Riviera which is about Covington trying to find out why his late father had some dumb deed to some swamp land in Florida.  He was, apparently, ripped off and done wrong, and Covington decides to make it right, tracking down the Floridian long-ago deed dealers. Rathbun’s search isn’t quite that dramatic or dangerous and his story is more gentle and more haunting — but there are similarities: why did his modest, farmer grandfather end up with a deed to some luxury lot on the edge of the Salton Sea?  It doesn’t make sense. What was going on there, and why did it end up to be so much of nothing? What sort of American dreams were shaping the development there and how did it go so wrong? I think his answers are different than Covington’s and they are closer to home.

And besides that stuff about hubris and ambition and pride and our human condition, there’s joy. As the stellar review in Publishers Weekly put it, it is “an explication of the mundane inside notions of the colossal or the grand, and a model of how to truly live and appreciate the world.” 

Morgan Meis, a writer who contributes to the New Yorker, says,

I want to read everything Russell Rathbun has written — he’s funny and honest and attuned to the tragic and absurd. His prose made me laugh out loud, and it has made me cry. I cannot recommend The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea more highly.

The First Love Story.jpgThe Very First Love Story: Adam, Even, and Us Bruce Feiler (Penguin Press) $28.00  I am sure I don’t have to tell you who Feiler is or what a fun writer he is. He edits the “This Life” column for The New York Times and became famous for doing embedded sorts of creative nonfiction, such as the one where he joins the circus or the one about his journeys to the far East called Learning to Bow. His Council of Dads was a heart-warming, tear-jerking powerhouse – he was diagnosed with a terminal cancer and gathered a group of dads to promise to help raise his daughter after he was gone.  His most famous, certainly among church folk, was Walking the Bible where he searched for his own long-lost Jewish faith by, literally, trekking around the Holy Land.  The similar interfaith hike to hang out with Arabs, Jews, and ancient Christians in the Middle East called Abraham was remarkable, too. We highly recommend them all as just wonderful books to have and enjoy and from which to learn much. 

This new one, full of wit and wisdom, is a study (if one can call this gregarious exploration a study) of the story of Adam and Eve; from there, he jumps in to the question of what this Biblical story has to do with modern love.  Searching for intimacy, community, sex, family? He is the man. (His most recent book, The Secret of Happy Families was a witty compilation of the best wisdom that all the good self-help books about family life offer, so he’s been working this wheelhouse for a while.) The advanced praise of the brand new The First Love Story comes from sources far and wide, and sharp scholars, pundits, writers, and thought-leaders have weighed in, saying our revealing this portrait is and how, in the words of James Martin, this project can make “a seemingly hidebound topic come alive and the oldest Bible stories seem fresh, inspiring, and even exciting.”

And how about this for an extra feature: writer of Muslim-Christian relations, Resa Aslan says of The First Love Story, “Feiler’s book forces even the most experienced of religious scholars to rethink our understanding of sacredness and profanity.”  Yes!

love lives here.jpgLove Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want Maria Goff (Thomas Nelson) $17.99  I hate to pitch a book by a woman primarily in light of what her husband has done, but Bob Goff and Sweet Maria are such a couple, partners-in-crime, a pair —  dare I say, a pair of wild cards?  Bob Goff is one of the most popular and well-loved speakers traveling around conferences and events, hosting folks at his own gigs (sometimes he and Maria bring crews of folks to their own getaway lodge along the coast in British Columbia, just because they want folks to meet other folks, genuine, relational, loving service, yes, but also a bit of strategic planning, what is dully called networking.  The Goffs turn hospitality into a gracious gift, yes, but sometimes as Kingdom asset.  So and so should know so and so as they really ought to partner in this project or that trip or this ministry.  Without it seeming forced, these capers they tell us about (and other people tell about in their own books, famously Donald Miller in A Million Years in a Thousand Days) bring good stuff into the world, and always with a belly laugh.  If you know Bob, you know he sincerely says “How cool is that?” probably every single day.  His book, loaded with these stories, is simply called Love Does.  

Well, it reallybob and maria and balloon.jpg does.  But Bob doesn’t do this cool stuff alone, and he is always clear about that. He tells of his wife’s role in his life sometimes, but it is, after all, her story, and we are all so, so glad she has allowed us into her journey in this new book.


Maria is – shall we say – less extroverted than Bob, so this may not have come as naturally to her.  But she is in on the capers, has stories to tell, travels of her own, mission projects, mentoring, surprising hardships and more.  If one wants to know how “love does” in the Goff movement, read this.  If you ever read yet another tweet from Bob from some war zone or ghetto or hard place where he is using his lawyering skills to help set policy in a developing country or his storytelling skills to encourage younger activists, or using his energies to create spaces of peace and justice in Africa, or fighting sexual trafficking in India, or starting another school, even in ISIS-occupied territory, well, just know you haven’t heard the half of it.  Until now – Maria’s Love Lives Here really does tell the backstory, what goes down on the home front, and how she and her kids (now grown up) have been shaped by living with such a man. There wasn’t much of a road map for this kind of lifestyle, and Maria as much as Bob helped create this family, it’s stability and energy and ability to become a veritable tsunami of love around the world.


Okay, maybe that tsunami bit was a bit much.  I admire Bob and Beth and I have so enjoyed being with Maria, if only briefly, — a quieter, classy, leader, obviously a truly caring friend, a mentor, wife and mom.  How can one step into this kind of blend of reaching out, serving, and being a social entrepreneur that makes a difference in far away places like Uganda or Northern Iraq, and show so much enthusiastic care for so many folks?  There’s even a story about Nepal. Who goes to Nepal? 

However, this book is full of stories not just of the home-side backstory of Bob and his work – he negotiates business contracts sometimes at Disneyland — it is an example of Maria’s own kindness, her outreach and friendship with people far and wide.  We could all be inspired to channel God’s grace just a bit more clearly just by hearing how a person like Maria manages all this, and how – even though she is a bit of an introvert – she pours herself out for others.  Love Lives Here is a blast to read, fun and interesting, but it will sneak up on you, slowly giving you courage to reach out and be more. Sure, God has put some famous people into their lives, young writers, ethical entrepreneurs, missionary leaders, rock musicians, artist types and they have had the ability to pull of some amazing projects.  Most of us don’t travel in those cool circles (or around the world.) Still, there is so much to learn, so much here to motivate us to be more hospitable and more caring, to turn our own houses into real homes.  

I love what Shelly Giglio chief strategist for sixstepsrecords and co-founder, of  thePassion Conferences, and fellow church planter of Passion City Church (and, let’s admit it, wife of a famous evangelical husband, leader, author, co-founded of the huge Passion events.)

She says:

Love Lives Here is every bit as warm and kind as you’d expect from an author known to most of the world as Sweet Maria. If you love the feeling of gaining a new best friend, read this book. If you’d ever wondered how a life some may consider quiet can incrementally impact the world, read this book.


A famous writer who brings a great gift of honest spiritual stuff is Shauna Niequist, whose stories are told in books like her recent Perfect Over Present. (Another look at some hard stuff in life is her under-rated Bittersweet.)  She writes about how Maria befriended her, how their relationship meant a lot. Listen to her:

In a moment in my life when I was desperately looking for direction, God used my friendship with Maria to rekindle in me a long-held vision for hospitality that I’d allowed to be obscured by far less important things. This beautiful book will do that same sacred work for so many people. Maria is an example to me–the kind of mother I aspire to be, the kind of gatherer of people I aspire to be. I’m so very thankful for this lovely book, and the heart and wisdom written on every page.

Twenty-Two- Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning .jpgTwenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning Allison Trowbridge (Thomas Nelson) $22.99 This very handsome hardback book is a set of letters by a vibrant young evangelical woman written to a fictional college woman named Tish who wants a mentor, wants to think about her college life but more, what comes next, and desires a thoughtful, informed, life. It offers great spiritual wisdom, is overtly Christian, but there’s stuff about travel, about internships, about jobs, and relationships, about reading fiction, just all kinds of sharp advise.  Endorsements on the back are from some fairly conventional folks, but also real visionaries and activists like Bob Goff. It is a celebration of life, a conversation with a friend, a guide to life especially for younger women.  Brand new. Thoughtful but also just really, really lovely. 

This would be ideal for any young adult woman, and may be a great gift for a college grad.  Of course, our favorite book to give to a serious Christian transiting out of college is After College: Navigating Transitions, Relations and Faith by Erica Young Reitz and my own little collection of motivational and inspiration Kingdom speeches, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life.  But I’ll tell you more about those later.  For any “anytime” gift, a great read, and a way to walk alongside a thoughtful young woman in her 20s, Allison Trowbridge’s Twenty-Two is a gem.

Hallelujah Anyway- Rediscovery Mercy.jpgHallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy Anne Lamott (Random House) $20.00  I wrote briefly about this the other day although I myself have shown great restraint in not reading this yet.  It’s sitting here calling out to me, and after Easter I’ll so enjoy it, I’m sure.  I hear she’s doing a speaking tour to promote the book and if you intend to hear her, you could get the book now, and not wait in line at the author gig.  Anyway, if you’re an Annie fan, you’ll love this further collection of well written, casual, remarkably-told stories and essays.  She is not Marilyn Robinson in her writing style, but she is full of important substance, honest self-revelation, interesting glimpses of memoir and creative writing. She’s blunt and funny and at times deeply moving. This is going to be one of the bigger books of the Spring, and we’re happy to alert you to it, now.  As you can get from the subtitle, the theme of the book is mercy.

“I’m not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and human: the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is too.”






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Easter Basket suggestions for children — some lovely kids books and a few adult ideas, too. ORDER NOW. ALL ON SALE.

Order now and we can get these out right away. Even using the inexpensive USPS (cheaper than UPS) we can get these to almost anywhere in the continental US in a few days.  Thanks.   By the way, we show the regular retail price, but will deduct the discount when you order at our secure website (the order page link is shown below.) While supplies last.

Reformation ABCs- The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation.jpgReformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation — from A to Z Stephen Nichols, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99  We cannot tell you how thrilled we are to tell you about this, although a fuller description will wait for some future list about the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Steve Nichols is one of our best popularizers of great insights from church history  (seen especially in a good series of biographies he’s done, showing great insights from people in church history.) His book appropriating Bonhoeffer for daily Christian living is remarkably helpful.  So I like Steve a lo.  He serves currently as the President of Reformation Bible College and is the chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. Ned Bustard should be a name you recognize as he comes up from time to time here at BookNotes since he is the man guy managing Square Halo Books, known not only for doing my own book, Serious Dreams, but the widely acclaimed recent volume Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Donald T. Williams (Square Halo; $16.99.) Ned’s last Square Halo Book release was co-edited with Greg Thornbury, Bigger on the Inside which pop culture aficionados will immediately recognize as a study of the long-running British TV show, Doctor Who. The subtitle is simply “Christianity and Doctor Who.”  That’s Ned’s work on the cover of that one, too.

Reformation ABC and The Chuch History ABCs.jpgNichols and Bustard teamed up before in a truly wonderful The Church History ABCs (Crossway Books; $16.99) which came out a few years ago as a slightly oversized hardback, counting down all kinds of good stuff from church history as an ABC book.  Like some ABC books, it works on two levels — yes, for young ones learning to play with letters and learn various words across the alphabet. But these sorts of books can be deceiving — there is a lot of content, and will be sure to inform and even delight anyone with a bit of interest in history.  I bet you will learn something!

This new one, of course, is about the themes of the Protestant Reformation Nichols gives us tons of good info, really interesting, usually important (although there is some goofy trivia included, too. Did you know that there were 5 guys named John who drafted the famous Presbyterian Scot’s Confession? Did you know that Lady Jane Grey sat on England’s throne for only nine days before she was martyred for her faith when she was just 16 years ago?  Did you know that the father of the famous Irish leader, Archbishop James Ussher, was actually an usher?  And I bet you’ve never heard of the Walloon Confession of Faith which as signed by 48 men, 18 women and 1 infant. I did’t think so.)

abcs.pngBut it is the artwork that makes this interesting book so incredibly wonderful. I anticipate it will get some award at the end of the year by Christian Publishing associations for being such a fabulously designed book.  Bustard’s playful, colorful, and very well informed illustrations (sometimes cleverly overlaid with photographs) have so much going on in them that not only invites but demands repeated readings.  

This book is smaller in shape than their previous The Church History ABC book, and it works marvelously.  This is just perfect for a medium sized gift, fitting nicely in any Easter basket.  It is explicitly Protestant and it is clear that the author and artists are themselves more than fans of the Reformation tenants. They would stake their lives on this stuff, and their passion for teaching kids the background of these tumultuous times is inspiring. 

Saints- Lives and Illuminations Ruth Sanderson.jpgSaints: Lives and Illuminations Ruth Sanderson (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) $16.00 This was once a large sized picture book and I really like how Eerdmans re-designed it as a 5 x 8 trim sized hardback. It’s really nice, and it could be appreciated by a sharp 7 or 8 year old, I think it is best for older elementary children, or any older age if they like nicely illustrated compendiums like this. This beautiful book tells the stories of over 70 men and women saints from various centuries. There’s a lovely watercolor picture (lavishly illuminated with a border giving it a look something like an icon or piece of medieval liturgical art) while the facing page tells the story of who that person was and what he or she was known to have done. It includes stories about first century leaders like Saint Stephen or Saint Christopher through the saints from early centuries such as Benedict and Scholastica and Paula and Jerome, St. Theresa of Saint Bernard.jpgLisieux, St. John of the Cross, up to famous ones like Brendan, Aquinas, Joan of Arc, Francis, Clare, (and some lesser known canonized ones like Rita and Maud.) The most recent ones included are the compassionate Maximilian Kolbe (who died under Hitler), the Pennsylvania saint Katherine Drexel,  the mystical healer who cared for sinners and the suffering, Padre Pio and, of course, the Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.)   

By the way, the very talented Ruth Sanderson has, in hardback and paperback, a sequel called More Saints: Lives and Illuminations (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; $14.00/$20.00.)

Found with title shown.jpgFound: Psalm 23 Sally Lloyd Jones, illustrated by Jago (Zonderkidz) $9.99  How glad we were to hear that the creative, stylized, modern art done by Jago would once again be teamed up with the wise and beautiful Bible storytelling of Sally Lloyd-Jones.  Almost universally appreciated, and considered by many to be the best young children’s Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Chapter Whispers His Name remains a staple of our children’s Bible department. The sequel, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, while less intentionally showing the unfolding Biblical story with that Christ-centered, historical-redemptive approach of Jesus Storybook Bible it, too, is just brilliant. So both are great.  This new one is a padded hardcover, almost like a bigger-than-usual board book, that nicely tells the famous 23rd Psalm. The lyrical text is drawn from the Jesus Story Book Bible but the engaging artwork and book design are completely new.

As it says on the back cover, “Snuggle up with your little one as you both discover God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreakable, Always and Forever Love.”  

story of god's love for you.jpgThe Story of God’s Love for You Sally Lloyd-Jones (ZonderKidz) $14.99 Don’t you still like to give some special Easter gift to your older children or grandchildren? Do kids ever outgrow the joy of this little holiday tradition? I wanted to tell you again about this hand-sized hardback as it would fit perfectly in an Easter basket, gift-wrapped nicely or not.  Here is what I wrote about this in our BookNotes newsletter blog when it first came out December of 2015:

I have raved about Ms. Lloyd-Jones’ popular The Jesus Storybook Bible before, celebrating the colorful, artful illustrations, the moving cadence, the whimsy and humor and yet deadly-serious conviction that Christ is the heart of the unfolding drama of Scripture, the coherent plot that makes up the 66 Bible books.  Indeed, the subtitle on the cover says, “Every Chapter Whispers His Name” and the inter-textual reading offered for preschoolers is at times nothing short of remarkable.  We do hope you know it.

Jesus Storybook Bible.jpgYep, the The Jesus Storybook Bible  by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago (Zonderkidz; $17.99) is one of our very favorite children’s Bibles, not because it covers as much as some do, or is “the” best children’s Bible, but because of the way it tells the story, the themes it whispers, the lovely language it uses to convey a Christ-exalting, creation-healing, all-of-life-redeemed vision of where the plot of the Bible is going. Its compact shape and bright colors make it ideal for little ones. The most popular edition is a smallish hardback, although there is a fantastic larger sized gift edition that we recommend.

Because so many people have grown to appreciate the lively storytelling and delightful blend of sweet and serious language used to tell this singular story of the unfolding drama of God’s redemptive plan, and value the class and charm and robust theological vision of the text, they’ve sometimes given this Bible designed for young children to older kids.  I know youth pastors who have used it in high school ministry and – okay, I’ll admit it, happily – I’ve read it out loud on occasion in my own adult Sunday school classes.

And so, the publishers acted on the wishes of so many and created a Jesus Storybook Bible for older kids and middle-schoolers.  The text is unchanged but the title has changed to The Story of God’s Love For You and the children’s art has been removed.  It is now a very handsome hardback, with blue ink, and cool info-graphic type symbols in front of each book of the Bible.

It looks great for all ages, just a touch of cool graphic appeal, and a small, handy size with heavy-stock paper.  It is a fabulous looking little book.  There is a regular hardback (the price shown above is $14.99 before the discount) and there is also a very nice leather-like gift edition that comes in a paper slipcase ($19.99 before discount.)

We’ve already sold it to pastors using it with elementary aged children who have outgrown the picture-book style and for use in a middle-school Sunday school class; a teacher of a small confirmation class thought it would work with young teens who would appreciate its tender, personal cadence and its big picture vision. 

The Good Book for Kids- How the Bible's Big Ideas Relate to You .jpgThe Good Book for Kids: How the Bible’s Big Ideas Relate to You Lisa Bergren (Cook) $12.99  You will hear more, I hope, about this set of related products built around the abridged and adapted Bible called The Good Book that attempts to offer in a handful of chapters the key points of the unfolding Biblical drama. The adult version (which we also carry, of course) is hardback, has introductory comments, discussion questions, some key verses to study and more, although it’s main feature is that it really captures the key moments of the entire Bible, showing how they all build together into a coherent, easy-to-understand narrative with key, thematic, worldview-shaping, life-transforming concepts.  This youth version (designed, they say, for ages 7 – 13) has five readings categorized in 8 units, so it can be used, daily, for 8 weeks,  starting with Older Testament portions with units entitled “In the Beginning” and “God is Good When Life Gets Messy”, on to “God Is Big” and concluding “Tough Love, Troubled Times.” Four more weeks have daily Bible readings introducing the life of Jesus and the New Testament.

Their promo copy puts it this way, saying they present the Bible’s biggest ideas:

in kid-friendly ways–through engaging storytelling, historical insight, and an “Imagine This” section. Each chapter includes a Scripture verse and discussion starters to help kids and families apply scriptural truths to their lives. The Good Book for Kids is great for individual reading or to be used over 8 weeks as part of a church-wide program, for Sunday school classes, or for family devotions. From Genesis to Revelation, The Good Book for Kids is inspiring for any family who wants to understand the Bible better and, more importantly, grow together in faith.

The Biggest Story- How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.jpgThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway) $17.99 Oh my, this is the most creatively designed children’s religious book in recent history, and I so appreciate DeYoung’s overview of the Bible with this historical-redemptive vision —  that Christ’s defeat of death at Easter is the outworking of the promises of Genesis 3.  What a story, what a colorful book.  Here is what I said in BookNotes when I reviewed it as a Christmas gift suggestion last year:

Last but not least — so “not least”, I am sure it will be on our “Best of 2015” lists — is this spectacularly colorful and exceptionally profound children’s Bible. We announced this when it came out this fall and the response has been great among those who have seen it. The art work is hip and very modern, the flow of the story coherent and faithful to the Biblical narrative.

The allusion in the subtitle is to the promise in Genesis 3 of God’s victory over evil — the snake will be crushed by a future king from the linage of Eve. 

This is the biggest story that frames our Christmas celebrations, isn’t it? The Biggest Story and DeYoung’s telling, in this sense, is similar to the Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible that I mentioned in the last post, a storybook Bible that isn’t comprised of random, disconnect moralistic episodes, but a gritty unfolding drama of God’s faithful rescue of the cosmos. Back to the garden, and more!

Of course, as with any such Bible storybook, there will be lines you wished were written differently, or this or that small feature you may not love. But we should be glad for such a passionate, creative, visually unusual telling of the biggest, most important story of all.


Also, you should know what a great gift the DVD version of this would be. The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden —  The Animated Short Film narrated by Kevin DeYoung illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway; $14.99.)  What a cool project!

The Biggest Story: The Animated Short Film offers in 26 beautiful minutes remarkable animations adapted from The Biggest Story book. It will, as it says in their promo, “captivate children and parents alike as they are led on an exciting journey through the Bible — connecting the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ’s death on the cross to the new heaven and earth.”  It is ideal for teaching children the core message of the Bible at home, so is great as a Easter gift. But you can certainly use it at church, or in any kind of a classroom. Maybe you should get it for your adult Bible study group! (I’m not kidding.)

This DVD features 10 chapters, each 2-3 minutes long, narrated by Kevin DeYoung. It has original music composed by John Poor and features the vibrant, very creative illustrations by award winning contemporary designer Don Clark.

The Garden The Curtain The Cross.jpgThe Garden, The Curtain, and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again Carl Laferton, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99  Except maybe for the extraordinary hip art of the “snake-crusher” book by DeYoung and Don Clark, this is a fabulously cool, very colorful, very contemporary book that will delight young, hip parents as well as their design savvy kiddos.  More importantly, it offers a solid, visionary, wholistic view of the unfolding drama of the Bible’s story of redemption — yep, in a few short pages it moves from the Garden of Eden to the rending of the curtain the temple on Good Friday, up to the glorious story of the resurrection.  I’m struck by the gospel-centered focus of this whole series of very cool hardback children’s books from this company in the UK.  Here’s a link to the whole line of “Tales That Tell the Truth” books —  we stock ’em all.  By the way, for some in the series you can, for a modest fee, download the images of the book; I think this is for educational purposes, to show off in presentations.  You should still buy the real book from us, though.  Enjoy!

The Radical Book- Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith Champ Thornton .jpgThe Radical Book: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith Champ Thornton (New Growth Press) $24.99  We are on a roll, here, presenting non-traditional looking religious books, designed with hip, urbane parents in mind, that offer a wild visual appeal with a creative but utterly faithful approach to gospel-centered faith and whole-life discipleship for kids.  This book is simply remarkable, big, heavy, glorious, very entertaining and useful.

Here is some of what I wrote about it when it first was released last year:

This is a truly extraordinary book, unlike anything we’ve seen come out this year.  The hardback cloth cover has ink over it in a texture like an old-school silk screen poster, giving it a very retro/hipster feel. Edgy/cool parents will dig the graphic appeal of the cover; even the inside cover pages has artful lines giving it a very au courant design feel.

The inside itself is less edgy, but it is utterly colorful, with lots of graphics and full color pictures and The Radical Book for Kids pages.jpgdrawings and fun, random fonts, presenting fun, informative stuff. It’s a visual spectacle but not so much that it becomes a distraction.

And that’s a good thing because there is more Christian — even theological  — content in here then almost any kids book I know. There’s a lot of random facts and historical stuff, but the theological material is classic and solid.

Here’s what it says on the back:

The Radical Book for Kids is a fun-filled explorer’s guide to the Bible, church history, and life for children 8 and up. Vibrantly illustrated and chock-full of fun facts and ideas, this engaging and interactive book communicates big truths about life while stimulating children’s natural curiosity and sense of adventure. 

Blurbs on the back are from respected conservative theologians like Michael Horton, Timothy Paul Jones, and the brilliant John Frame.

For the Beauty of the Earth Sparkhouse.jpgFor the Beauty of the Earth Folliot S. Pierpoint, illustrated by Lucy Fleming (Spark House Family) $16.99  I hope you know the hymn, written in 1864, For the Beauty of the Earth (and, while I’m out it, the top-of-the-line, best book on eco-theology, the very wonderful For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care by Steven Bouma-Prediger; Baker Academic; $26.00.)  Both the brilliant creation care text and the beautiful hymn have been important to me, formative, even. It was one of my mother’s favorites, too.  It makes our day to get to tell you about this new picture book.

Well this fantastic children’s book, with modernistic, vivid artwork, narrates and illustrates the evocative lines of that great song.  It is said to be a “timeless celebration of creation, community, family, and faith.”  The book even includes simple sheet music for singing it together.

Here is what Bible teacher and author (of one of our favorite books, Eat for Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food) Rachel Marie Stone says of it:

Inviting young children to see God’s love reflected in the Creation is one of our most joyful and solemn tasks as parents and educators. Lucy Fleming’s beautiful illumination of this classic hymn is sure to become a well-worn favorite.

I like, I don't Like amazon version.jpgI Like, I Don’t Like  Anna Baccelliere, illustrated by Ale + Ale (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) $16.00  Perhaps offering this in the Easter basket isn’t quite the right time and place but perhaps for some families it would be very useful to have around during Easter celebrations. I hope I can tell you more about this book (and the series of which it is a part) another time as we want to champion it.   For now, just know it is beautiful, moving, although a bit disturbing. The counter-facing pages are a study in contrast between rich and less privileged children. For instance, one spread shows a fairly normal child form the middle class or privileged West that likes “cars” (showing the child playing with toy cars) but that is contrasted with another child shown working washing car windows, saying “I don’t like cars.” One spread shows a child eating a nice bowl of rice saying “I like rice” but another child, perhaps in Viet Nam, saying “I don’t like rice” as she is working in the paddies. The one about soccer balls, which shows some kids playing happily and another child working to manufacture the ball, is stunning.

All of this contrast is heartbreaking and illuminating, a resource to help us show how many of the world’s children are in less pleasant situations. We believe that Christian families should use this kind of book and pray that, with age-appropriate conversations, it can be formative in a Godly way.

On the back cover it says:

Every child has a right to play — but in some parts of the world, children spend more time working than playing. This through provoking book captures how different the world can look from the eyes of those less privileged.

The last few pages have some great details, text that helps us process the book, some explanation of poverty and child labor, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and some “How Can I Help” resources, too.

Maybe this, too, has something to do with the resurrection, and Christ’s victory of the principalities and powers that so deform His world.  We would appreciate any orders for this sent our way as we think this book is very important.


preparing for easter.jpgPreparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $17.99 We’ve blogged before about good Lent books, and this obviously, at first glance, is designed to be read during this time before Easter.  However — come on, people —  it’s C.S. Lewis, by jove.  And he didn’t write this as a Lenten resource, but it was compiled from his various readings.  I’ve looked at this carefully, and I’m more than confident to say that this totally would work any time of any season.  The marketing is genius to select readings that point us to the cross and resurrection, but it is Lewisy enough to be a great Easter gift.

As they put it on the very nice dusk jacket: Preparing for Easter is a collection of beautiful gems discovered amidst Lewis’s essays, poems, letters, and other works that are not as familiar to most of his readers. But all of them serve the same purpose that pervades Lewis’s work, the goal of going “further up and further in” in our relationship with God.”

Living the Resurrection- The Risen Christ in Everyday Life.jpgLiving the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $11.99 paperback/$14.99 hardback  I recommend this book every year about this time as I so appreciate it. There are three great chapters on post-Easter appearances of Jesus described in the gospels, “Resurrection Wonder”, “Resurrection Friends”, and “Resurrection Meals.” Each is linked to Christian practices, things we should do more intentionally and attentively as we live out the power of resurrection in our ordinary lives.  This is a great, great book, and would make a fabulous little gift for anyone in the next few weeks.

I really appreciate how the publisher describes the intent of this book (which I have read several times, by the way, and even used in an Adult Ed class at my church. It is eloquent and thoughtful, but not too massive, making it an ideal resource this time of year.)

They write: “Christ’s friends were utterly transformed by his resurrection. Their
friendship, their work, and even their meals together took on a new
meaning and purpose. The same can happen to us today. When the
Resurrection becomes the core reality of our spiritual formation, our
dimmed eyes and dull souls are lifted to a place of continual renewal.
Join Eugene Peterson on this pursuit of a more profound spiritual
formation, founded on the wonder of Christ’s resurrection. You’ll
discover what life is like when every day is Resurrection Day.”

The NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible.jpgThe NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible (Zondervan) $39.99  Okay, there are obviously more scholarly and useful study editions available, but this is might make a perfect gift for a special person, so figured we should mention it. There are hundreds of verses illustrated in detailed, ready-to-color line art and, as they say “employs the proven stress-relieving benefits of coloring to help quiet your soul so you can reflect on the precious truths of Scripture.”  (The thicker white paper with lightly ruled lines in the extra-wide margins provides ample space for journaling or extra artistic expressions, too.) There are hundreds of verses illustrated so even in the act of coloring them you are engaging thoughtfully and intentionally with the Word.  NIV Beautiful Word page.jpgThere’s a nice ribbon marker and, as with other well made Zondervan Bibles, it has a good binding that allows it to lay flat in your hand or desk.  Nice.

Jesus Bible all 3.pngThe NIV Jesus Bible: Sixty Six Books. One Story. All About One Name (Passion Publishing /Zondervan) $44.99 in sturdy linen hardback;  $69.99 in Brown Leathersoft or a Robin’s Egg pale blue Leathersoft.  All have a 8.7 font size with a nice ribbon marker. 

I wrote about this in our BookNotes newsletter when it first came out, noting that it includes contributions by evangelical leaders Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias & Randy Alcorn.

Here’s some of what I said:

Wow. This brand new edition is profound yet accessible and has features that help us meet Jesus throughout the whole of Scripture.  The now out of print Gospel Transformation Study Bible in the ESV did this well, and, now, we have a variety of big name evangelicals weighing in in similar fashion on how to see Christ’s unfolding redemptive plan in every book of the Bible.  I like their slogan — “there was no B.C.”

Included in The Jesus Bible there are 7 compelling essays on the grand narrative of Scripture – introduced by Louie Giglio, founder of the extraordinarily popular Passion Conferences.  (This past year, by the way, in three days of worship and music, they also raised over 1 million dollars to fight sexual trafficking. They are all about worshipping God and making much of God’s glory, but the really appreciate the need to live that out, to respond in generous acts of love for neighbor and witness before the watching world.)   

I like the almost square sized shape of this hardback, made with a good linen cover (sans dust jacket.) The text is single column with room for notes and some journaling throughout. Throughout there are helps and solid commentary pointing us to Christ in all of Scripture. There are actually 700 sidebar articles and over 300 full page articles that help us “treasure Jesus” and which will “encourage you to faithfully follow him as you participate in his story.”

By the way, here is a link to my earlier BookNotes post about books about the Bible and a discussion about study Bibles, which I like best, what to look for in a good Bible, and more.

polka dots.jpgnatural light.jpgclassic marbeled.jpgspring bloom.jpgESV Vest Pocket New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs (Crossway) $6.99  I hope carrying little pocket Testaments hasn’t fallen out of favor — I know, I know, we need the whole Bible, and certainly our understanding of the newer testament must be informed by the older.  But still, this is a very nice little gift, in these very lovely, cool hardback covers, at a great price. As always, Crossway manufactures great Bible products with excellent craftsmanship; their ESV has a certain eloquence (and a lot of accuracy, they say). Here are four new covers designs — I think we only have one of each, but why not order one in time to share with somebody this weekend? Shown from left to right the designs are called Polka Dots, Natural Light, Classic Marbeled, Spring Bloom. Tiny as these are, they are Smyth sewn, use a high quality paper, and have a Moleskine-like side band. Of course, these include the complete books of Proverbs and the Psalms and are presented in a double column page design.

capturing god.jpgCapturing God: The Surprising Image That Reveals the Truth About God Rico Tice (The Good Books Company) $4.99  The premise of this short little paperback is simple: if somebody said that actually had a picture of God, wouldn’t you want to see it? Who wouldn’t? Tice goes from there suggesting that the story of Jesus on the cross reveals the best picture of God we’ve got: why he loved us so much, why he sacrificed for us, what the cross reveals about the extraordinary love of God.  It simply walks readers through the passion and death and — yes — the resurrection of Jesus. It ends with Christ offering the amazing offer of grace and peace.  Becky Pippert asks, “Ever read a book so gripping you can’t put it down?”  Shen then insists —  “This is one of them!”


Here’s what we’ll do.  If you order one of this little book, Capturing God, we’ll give you the BookNotes special 10% off.  But if you buy two of that one at that discounted price, we’ll throw in a third to give away.  We’re excited to get this new Rico Tice book out there this week — it truly is a wonderful image that just might change you, or someone you know, forever.  Fascinating!  Offer for the free one is good this week only, expiring April 15th. 



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Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church by Carol Howard Merritt (and a whole bunch more) — ON SALE

healing spiritual wounds.jpgCarol Howard Merritt has spent much of her life, and certainly much of her recent years as a PCUSA clergy-person and pastor, trying to help those who are drifting from the church, or who have turned their back on religion altogether.  Her first two widely acclaimed books — Tribal Church and Reframing Hope, published several years ago by the Alban Institute — were studies of how mainline churches might minister more effectively to young adults, perhaps especially those then with that Counting Crows-angsty Gen X ethos. Her new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church (HarperOne; $25.99) even if it doesn’t answer all the questions, or point to all the necessary answers, is a very valuable volume for anyone of any age who has been hurt by bad faith and I hope it is widely read.  It is important.

That organized religion can get weird and people have been hurt by churches is nothing new. Petty personality squabbles in the local congregation and inter-denominational doctrinal disputes are legendary for driving ordinary folks from church life.  More is going on, of course, to cause church decline. The pressures of modernity pressing down upon us in the way we do life and construe meaning – the history of how we got to the early 21st century in this regard is told quickly and vitally in chapter two of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and is pondered deeply in James K.A. Smith’s Now (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. I think Os Guinness’s book The Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization, although written to exhort us to deeper faithfulness within our tumultuous times, gives an excellent overview of the cultural pressures leading many to abandon faith. 

Although I have a hunch its prevalence is sometimes overstated, perhaps even in Healing Spiritual Wounds, we all know that church-life and the presentation of the Christian faith has been hurtful to some. Perhaps you have experienced it yourself. I know that many of us have felt odd in church groups and ministry organizations for not towing a certain line here or there. Even earnestly, well-intended presentations of faith can offer images of God and practices of Christian living that are unsettling and sometimes have ugly consequences. The Bible itself, even, presents many troubling stories and reading it well is tricky.  Even when the tone of a church or ministry’s faith formation teaching isn’t demeaning or rude, it can be demanding and for some that is sometimes unpleasant. Some of us are seen as too liberal for theologically conservatives circles but at the same time too traditional for liberal groups and even though that simplistic way of saying it isn’t quite right, it reminds me that fitting well into a religious group is sometimes tricky, even for those who are resilient and not faced with severe religious trauma. It can be painful. Of course, a heavy handed and harsh view of the Bible which demands complete compliance with what one group says are the true doctrines is sometimes used as a hammer with which to pummel, or, less imposing, but still damaging, such truths become a door to close others out. Some groups seem to miss that the Bible itself tells of those who unsettled orthodoxies and rocked the boat; we should all regularly recall that Jesus often had issues with the religious establishment of his day.

That Jesus reached out to the outcasts of his day should give pause to any church group that is heavy in its preaching about purity or righteousness and a little too self confident in their stances on things.

Exclusion-and-Embrace.jpgSo, believing and belonging and making one’s faith one’s own within a community of strong conviction is a complex dance and it doesn’t always go well; I think of Miroslav Volf’s sophisticated and important book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon Press; $28.99.) Who is in and who is out, how we can form vibrant faith communities and honor diversity is complicated and risky and sometimes produces anxiety which can lead to practices that inflict real damage. Some of us tend to err on the side of openness and kindness while others tend to err on the side of strict truths held tightly. It’s admittedly complicated.

New data keeps coming out about those who are leaving faith (sometimes, but not always, disgruntled or hurt from toes stepped on during this complicated dance.) Recently Group published Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why People Are Done with Church But Not Their Faith by Josh Packard (Group; $14.99) about folks who have left church and The Barna Group released Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Tyndale; $15.99.) This winter I re-read most of you lost me smallish.gifYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker; $15.99) and was reminded again of how important it is, how I wish a handful of folks in every church would read it and discuss its proposals for retaining young adults in the life of the church. Or gather to watch the DVD which is very good. His previous book, co-written with Gabe Lyon, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (Baker; $15.99) is well worth reading as it was one of the groundbreaking bits of research (released just five years ago) of what young adults thought about Christianity.  And, yes, some of the perception is that Christianity teaches stuff that is bigoted, unsavory, unkind, untrue.

Good Faith- Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme.jpgTheir major release just a year ago, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (Baker; $19.99) tries to answer the question of how to present a good faith – historically orthodox but gracious and winsome – in a culture were (as their research powerfully shows) many think that anyone who admits to religious faith is, by definition, an extremist.  What does good faith look like in these days, with this sort of perception out there, and how can we nurture such good faith? 

Even among those who aren’t leaving church there is, in our day, a new eagerness to explore fresh options for faith; many people are restless and unhappy with their faith experiences, it seems.  This could be seen as a good thing – folks yearning for truth, seeking a faith that makes sense, aligning seriously with new faith communities (The aforementioned Rod Dreher himself, was once Roman Catholic and is now famously Eastern Orthodox; Carol Howard Merritt was raised a strict fundamentalist/Pentecostal but is now identifies with the progressive wing of what many consider a liberal denomination.) I like to recommend Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism edited by Robert Plummer (Zondervan; $18.99) to those who are interested in how this developing, at least in some circles.  It tells the faith stories of authors who were evangelical but ended up Episcopalian, Anglicans drawn to Orthodoxy, Catholics who become evangelicals. Jon Sweeney, a very good writer with decades of experience in the religious publishing world, has examined interfaith marriages in his fascinating Mixed Up Love: Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity in the 21st Century (Jericho; $15.00.) Like it or not, this pluralistic world is a thing.

healing spiritual wounds.jpgCarol Merritt’s Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church however, is more than an interesting study of pluralizing culture and changes in the broader Christian community or one more study of why people get disgruntled with church and drop out or change congregations. It is, rather, an urgent, heart-felt, perhaps even at times understandably shrill, call for the church — which, I suppose, means actual Christian people, especially leaders, running churches like yours and mine — to recognize that we are hurting people. Sometimes quite knowingly, sometimes less intentionally, our lack of emotional intelligence, our pushy ways, and our lack of sensitivity for those with doubts and concerns and disagreements, have driven people away.  Those who insist on literal readings of the Bible are off base and hurting many.  As Lyon & Kinnaman remind us, our faith is not always offered “in good faith” and sometimes, sadly, our words and belief systems that we think are inspiring and water-tight turn sour and disturbing.  There is, it seems, not only a crisis of a lack of Christian conviction in our culture, but in a sense, the opposite. We are awash in faith that is too strict, too certain, to dogmatic, too ideological, which ends up sometimes being presented in ways that are hurtful, even toxic.

There have been books about “spiritual abuse” and “toxic faith” from evangelical publishers for decades. (See, for instance, Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse by Stephen Arterburn [Shaw Books; $15.99.]) The spurt of attention to tyrannical and abusive cults in the 1980s created an awareness of the dangers heavy-handed leaders with peculiar Bible teachings.  In some charismatic circles a “shepherding” movement developed that in some circles became authoritarian and, in some places, cult-like.  That some of these very folks ended up leading respected evangelical churches was, some of us thought, a sign of maturing and growing out of such excessive stuff.  But in some cases we were wrong, as some of these characters – even as they wrote books and appeared on stages among reputable ministry organizations and were supported by nationally known leaders – ran churches that were covering up abuse, even sexual abuse scandals.  Apparently the Roman Catholic churches were not the only ones covering up dysfunctional clergy and abusive leaders and toxic faith. 

Carol Howard Merritt’s new book is, therefore, very important since part of the defining nature of religion in our time is – Lyons and Kinnaman, again – perceived as extremist and is, in fact, often hurtful.  Your church and mine may not be seen that way and we may even be working hard to offer a graceful and properly inclusive faith community, but the church refugee problem is everywhere. The fallout is real; we see it in our store and you most likely see it in your own circle of friends at work or church.  Carol’s book is like a report from the crows nest, crying out what she is seeing, or, perhaps, to change the image, it is a report from the trenches, where she does battle day by day for the sanity and humanity of dear people scarred by bad religion. Healing Spiritual Wounds is a cry of the heart, a painful book, and a good step for some towards healing. I think it should be read by church leaders of all sorts to remind us of this sad consequence of misguided religious fervor.  But the book is mostly for those hurt by bad faith. It is a guide for healing and hope and recovery. We think it is important, moving, helpful. 

Let me tell you three reasons why.


carol-howard-merritt-photo-author.jpgHealing Spiritual Wounds is full of stories, well told and often painful testimonials of folks who have gone through hurtful stuff. Much of this is grounded in Merritt’s own narrative, making this nearly a spiritual memoir. She tells of her own journey in a pretty strict church, in a complicated family, with a violent father. She reveals something else significant about her father later in the book – I don’t want to spoil the literary power of his one small reveal – but she is both empathetic and remains resolute to not justify domestic violence, let alone religious-motivated violence.  She writes well about parts of her life and it is at times riveting, sometimes anguishing, sometimes entertaining.

Her fascinating part about a big dress code “fashion show” for first year women at Moody Bible College, where she attended in the early 1980s, would have been hilarious if not so awful in sexist consequence. Her telling of the blunt professor in an ethics class there – who insisted that if one were hiding Jews in one’s basement during the Nazi holocaust in Germany, the proper Christian response would be to be honest, first, and turn the Jews over. I shudder to think of the fall out of this kind of strident, legalistic fundamentalism (and pray that Moody is not now mired in such an ethos.) 

That bit about Moody’s weird fashion show implying so much about gender and power works as a fabulously rich memory and she plumbs the sexism there, but moves to a deeper consideration, and the chapter on the body is worth the price of the book.  From our tendency to blame women in instances of sexual abuse – and she tells of a powerful, if brief, episode of assault on her own body on a public street  where she jumps in her own mind to the blouse she is wearing — to our on-going struggle to see how Christian faith is also material, this worldly, not-laden with Gnostic disdain for creational realities like bodies and sex and stuff, it is my sense that reading about a theology of the body is always important. Her stories here are potent (including a tale of a woman who was involved in marital infidelity who she treated with understanding and grace), her insight valuable (including a feminist critique of Augustine’s view of women, which rings true), her reflective questions surely generative for anyone wrestling with body image, sexuality, shame or who hosts awkwardness about the notion that God loves them, even in their bodies and desires and brokenness. I was very deeply moved as she told about using Thistle Farms oil to anoint the bodies of the walking wounded. (The incredible story of Becca Stevens and her recovery from abuse and her ministry among marginalized and abused women at Thistle Farms is beautifully told in a book we’ve often promoted, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling (Jericho Books; $15.00) and we were glad to see Carol describe it. 

Merritt has lived a colorful life and has worked hard to learn to tell it well. I know she has worked on this book a long time and, to be honest, I found the writing better and better as the book unfolded.  So this is one good reason many will like this book – it is full of memoir-ish insights telling of her life and her ministry, listening well to people and their God-haunted stores. The episodes carry powerful truths but it is so interesting. Anyone who cares about people should want to hear these tales, sad as many are.  It is nicely done in this regard.

Brian McLaren mirrors my evaluation when he says it is “Emotionally intense, beautifully written, and courageously honest. Healing Spiritual Wounds helped me.”  Two other reviewers – Writing to God author Rachel Hackenberg and the funny, popular, Jesuit, James Martin — both called it “wise” and “gentle.” 

Edward Blum – I hope you know his scholarly work The Color of Christ — says of it:

Merritt is the honest voice, the thoughtful voice, the inviting voice, the justice voice, the personable voice that my spirit has yearned to hear. I grow closer to God and humanity as I read each page.


A second reason to get this book is because at the end of each chapter there are remarkable reflection questions and interactive exercises that can help readers process the material. I am not a big fan of doing this kind of thing but I really think that in this case this could be very, very, helpful for some.  Which is to say that Healing Spiritual Wounds is not just a book complaining about fundamentalist strictness or warning about heavy-handed religion or railing against vengeful images of God.  It is a book that is designed to help, to be a tool for those who have bruised spirits and hurt souls. 

One writer (Meredith Gould, author of Desperately Seeking Spirituality) says it “provides validation and comfort for anyone feeling alone within or abandoned by the church.”  But then Gould offers the clincher recommendation: “Healing Spiritual Wounds is a generous guide to reconnecting with a loving God.”  That is the hope so evident within this book. Even though this is a well-written hardback memoir – at times you might think of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber or even Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor or Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans – it is mostly a handbook of help. The suggestions that come up throughout the book and the insights offered and then the pages and pages of prompts and guides to work on one’s issues are sure to be a boon to anyone wanting a measure of hope and healing on their rocky road. 

And let me be sure to explain that even though Merritt is an outspoken voice within mainline churches who has been an advocate for the marginalized, this book is about more than unsupportive postures within the church against gays and lesbians or hurtful teachings about women and men and restrictive c cblogs logo.jpggender roles.  Granted, she used her blog at the Christian Century to rail against the award being given by Princeton Theological Seminary to Timothy Keller who, as she saw it, was hostile to the basic theological task of PTS which includes preparing women and members of the LGTBQ+ community for Christian ministry and ordination. (I wrote about that in a previous BookNotes newsletter, trying to respect both those who disagree with Keller’s view, as I do, and to yet affirm his mostly excellent contributions for which the Kuyper Award was to have been given.) But my point here is that Healing Spiritual Wounds is not only, or not even mostly, about this kind of faith which she names as toxic that excludes gays and women from leadership. This is part of her agenda, of course, but the book covers much, much, more.

For instance, there are chapters about our unhelpful and hurtful views of money that we may have absorbed through weird church teaching or attitudes. (That chapter and its exercises is called “Reassessing Our Finances” and is liberating and very helpful for anyone struggling with this aspect of our lives.)  Further, the book includes a chapter on damaged emotions and a chapter called “Healing Our Images of God.”  The chapter “Redeeming Our Broken Selves” is thoughtful and the one called “Reclaiming our Hope” should prove useful to many.  With its overview piece called “Finding Shalom” and its concluding chapter “Being Born Again” I think this is book going to be reassuring to many.   It covers a lot of ground and although it may first appeal to those who have been abused by toxic churches or deeply confused by weird religion, I think it could be found useful to many of us ordinary folks in fairly ordinary churches who just feel unsettled by some popular religious talk or who are squeamish about some attitudes or practices with which we are familiar.

Healing… really does cover many topics and considerable ground and I think anyone who does counseling or pastoral caregiving or evangelism would find many of the chapters helpful from time to time. That is, it should have wider appeal than just for those who are deeply hurt by harsh churches.  lt might be a good resource for most of us, actually…


Thirdly, besides being a captivating memoir and a useful manual full of helpful ideas for healing steps, Healing Spiritual Wounds is an example of done-on-the-run, creative, contemporary theology.  We are seeing this more, these days (and it is generally a good thing, I think), finding theologians who are working in the pews and streets and homes, hammering out their views in blogs, not primarily in the quiet halls of the academy.  Some of the creative theology coming out has this urgent, and perhaps provisional feel.  I find some of her theological evaluations and formulations a bit too progressive for my evangelical tastes, but I will propose that this really is a valuable resource as part of the puzzle of formulating a sturdy and life-giving faith.

Her goal, of course, is not just to heal spiritual wounds by standing with the victims of dumb religion -all that is a good step, always, what the liberation theologians used to call accompaniment, or what Henri Nouwen decades ago called the spirituality of presence and how we can all become “wounded healers.” But more than just good solidarity, Merritt offers those hurt by toxic faith something better — a way to re-formulate faith, to re-imagine how we understand the Bible, a way to recover a loving and life-giving faith, new images of God that are more viable. She doesn’t offer final answers but points us in a good direction, thinking about the character of God, the glimmers of hope and goodness that can be seen if one is offered a gracious worldview, a view of God and trust and flourishing that is life-giving, abundant, and bears good fruit.  This is good news for the hurting, a step towards healing for those confused and worn down by images of judgement and wrath and vengeance and rules and shame.

Maybe you or someone you know was hurt by the church and if so, this book could help.  Maybe you know those who have been excluded due to sexism or have been mistreated because they are gay or lesbian or trans.  This book invites any and all to the table, assuring us that God is gracious and good and that faith can be a portal to a deep relationship with a redeemer who is merciful and just, good and beautiful, comforting and transforming. 

Consequently, I think this is a tool not just for those who have been hurt by harsh or exclusive churches that proclaim a less than really good gospel, but I think it could be useful for any of us who need an introduction or reminder of a liberating faith rooted in this sort of open and affirming faith.  God is not The Very Good Gospel.jpgThe Day the Revolution Began.pngout to get you, and we have to formulate our creeds and doctrines in ways that are consistent with the gospel itself.

(This is a bit too far afield for this short review of Merritt’s book, but I would suggest that many good scholars are doing this kind of generative work and she might have included some allusion to them to make her book a bit more sturdy.  For instance, I’ve  described here how N.T. Wright in his The Day the Revolution Began: Rediscovering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion (HarperOne; $28.99) is trying to formulate the New Testament teachings about the cross in light of the doctrine of “new creation” and I’ve often exclaimed how much I like the easy-to-read but powerfully tweaking of evangelical faith in Lisa Sharon Harper’s Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $19.99.)

The number of books on our bookstore shelf about grace continues to expand and titles about treating others graciously are ubiquitous these days. A few of the big spokespersons for this theme run churches that are less than welcoming to some, I’ve heard, and we all have a way to go, I think, to learn more what deep hospitality looks like.  But there are great books to help us be more deeply aware of the freedom we have in Christ, free to be gracious. Just for instance, I  think of Scott befriend.jpgSauls wonderful Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgement, Isolation, and Fear (Tyndale; $15.99) or Steve Brown’s book called Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad at You (Howard Books; $14.99) or Margot Starbuck’s wonderfully-written Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God (Baker; $14.99.) Jonathan Merritt (no relation to Carol, by the way) has a fantastic, moving set of pieces in Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined (FaithWords; $20.00.) Carol Merritt might have been wise to connect her therapeutic efforts and progressive effort to re-imagine faith with these other less dramatic resources, rooting her within the on-going conversation among evangelicals that are working for similar goals.)  

By the way, just for fun, here Jonathan Merritt conducts an informative interview with Carol Howard Merritt about her book and work at his RNS column.

And so, there you have it: three reasons why we recommend Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church. 

To summarize:

First, it is an entertaining read, passionately written including well told stories of real life. Those who want a glimpse into the faith journey of Ms Merritt and her colorful past and her recent ministry of caring for those hurt by religion will find her book captivating.

Secondly, it is a book that actually gives us fresh ideas of what to do about our hurts, the residual negative effects of excessively harsh religion.  The exercises are experiential and the reflection questions could provide journaling material for weeks and weeks. After the well-written stories, the interactive suggestions make this a workbook, almost, a manual to help you on your journey.  This is not abstract or only a manifesto, it is a resource for real people, a guide to helping the hurting.  If you are doubtful that such a book is necessary, I especially urge you to consider it.

Thirdly, Healing Spiritual Wounds is an example of the sorts of progressive theology that is being written these days — informed by serious thinkers (she quotes Karl Barth and Serene Jones and James Cone and Sallie McFague) — designed to make sense of the Bible and the Christian faith in our times. Her apparent sense that older ways alone of explaining the faith are not helpful is one that I have mixed feelings about and, again, may have wished she had made a few other moves and drawn on a few other works. I have great sympathies for her project but worry about the trajectory, perhaps. But that’s okay; it is a good example of the generative kinds of pastoral theology that younger thinkers, especially women, are offering for our consideration.  If you’ve read Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration or Diana Butler Bass’s Grounded or, say, the good books by Sarah Bessey, you will see some of the strengths and possible weaknesses of Merritt’s approach. For those wanting to take up the task of doing on-going theological work to say again what we must always say again, this book will be useful.

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Okay, suppose we want to have somewhat of a panel discussion to round out with some further conversation the passionate insight and guidance offer by Carol Howard Merritt.  

Here are some voices to add to the discussion.

Runaway Radical- A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World.jpgRunaway Radical: When Doing Good Goes Wrong Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  I have reviewed this before and recommend it often. It is a riveting story of “a young man’s reckless journey to save the world” inspired, as he was, by passionate leaders, popular books, serious views of radical discipleship and a demanding God (even if what was demanded was social justice, simple living, and a global concern.) Much good is perverted by harsh leaders and legalistic readings, and this fascinating memoir — co-written in alternating chapters by a son and his mother — tells of distorted expectations, a missionary calling that goes awry, a faith almost lost, and a very, very corrupt, authoritarian church.  Wow.

Faith Unraveled- How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers.jpgFaith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask Questions Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  Evans is somewhat of a poster-girl of young, formerly evangelical women who’s faith journey has been documented on blogs and in books and at conferences, and this, her first, is a great example of coping with styles of strict faith that shuts down questions, and insists on pat answers and social conformity.  Evans was raised in the town famous for the Scopes “Monkey Trials” and this is her telling of her coming of age in that milieu, facing trials of her own, and realizing how her own faith had to adapt and evolve if it was to survive. So, yep, this is one good example of less than helpful understandings of evangelical faith and the reflections of a woman whose voice is needed in these kinds of conversations. Previously released as Evolving in Monkey Town.

Undone- When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together.jpgUndone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together Laura Sumner Truax (IVP) $15.00  I’ve often commended this moving story about a woman who felt like her life was falling apart, how Scripture and an encouraging community helped her embrace life with its varying joys and sorrows. She is the pastor of a church that Carol Merritt attended for a season that is described in her book and which was influential for her. Honest, raw, this is a story of owning one’s faith, no matter what.  It isn’t exactly about being undone by bad views of God or toxic religion, but her hurts and failures and messy life will resonate with anyone who seeks another chance, new ideas, healing examples of getting put back together after deep disappointment.

You Are Free.jpgYou Are Free: Be Who You Already Are Rebekah Lyons (Zondervan) $19.99  I think if I were convening a rount-table discussion around Carol’s book I’d want Rebekah Lyons there because so much of her new book is just a simple cry for women — and all of us, really — to feel accepted. God loves us, Christ redeems us, we don’t have to fret about what others think (or, what we think) about us. This is a book about freedom and she writes what one author called “an anthem for healing, freedom, and hope.”  The ever poetic Ann Voskamp says “Hold these pages like a burning flame in the palm of your hands, like a bit of glowing sun that will grow you into freedom soaring on wind.” So, who doesn’t need a bit of that? I’d recommend Rebekah’s wise book for anyone wanting to grief past disappointments and “discover the courage to begin again — and use your newfound freedom to set others free.”   We carry the DVD of this, too, by the way, if you want to gather some folks together and watch her teach this freedom song.

Disappointment with God- Three Questions No One Asks Aloud .jpgSoul Survivor1.jpgDisappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $14.99  I sometimes am reluctant to recommend Yancey just because so many do; he is considered a smart, thoughtful, open-minded evangelical, and like, oh, say, Frederick Beuchner, is an author intelligent folks like.  Well, there’s a reason for that: he is often brilliant, really interesting, an excellent writer, and he has a lot to say. I have revisited this over and over and really do recommend it.  By the way, he tells of his own struggle to maintain commitment to the faith and to church in his great Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church (Waterbrook) $14.99.  His voice and approach — offering great thinkers and leaders with edgy integrity as inspiration for how to heal and why to endure — is a different approach than Merritt’s and would be a good contribution in our strategies to help others recovery from bad church experiences.  And I suppose you know his classic What’s So Amazing About Grace. Get a few and give ’em out!

truth is stanger than.jpgTruth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP Academic) $22.00 Let’s get this said at some point in our round-table conversation: the rise in disaffected folks from conventional religion is at least in some ways a consequence of post-modernity, not to mention the postmodern teachings about the marginalized, the dangers of power, the way those in charge tend to oppress others with their totalizing narratives that squeeze out all others. Not everyone needs to grapple with postmodern philosophers and this huge cultural shift but for those that do, I think this is still the best — and certainly the most Biblical — engagement with that stream of thought and cultural posture. Walsh & Middleton were deeply, deeply touched by the marginalized in their own settings and by listening well to postmodern scholars, the cries from the streets, artists like Bruce Cockburn, and, naturally, the women in their lives who were often less than accepted among male-dominated faith-based institutions, they came to grapple well with the ideas and orientations and opportunities of postmodernism.  The heavy last half of the book shows how an opened up understanding of the drama of Scripture — perhaps a la Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and Israel’s Praise with the potent sub-title “Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology” — is, in fact, the way to engage our postmodern culture and those soured on conventional arrangements. Brian and his wife, Bible scholar Sylvia Keesmaat, continued this project in their nearly revolutionary Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP Academic; $24.00) which I also think would be very, very helpful for those working their way into more liberating and healthy understandings. 

rescuing jesus.jpgRescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism Deborah Jian Lee (Beacon Press) $26.95 Yes, Deborah Lee should be at this conversation as she has listened well — for years, all over the country, as she was writing this book. She embraced evangelical faith as a youth and matured in faith in her college years. Slowly, though, she came to have that faith eroded by the injustices and inconsistencies she witnesses within the evangelical young adult campus ministry cultures at college and elsewhere.  After leaving the faith, though, she couldn’t shake this sense that things are changing within evangelicalism as people on the margins — women, people of color and LGBTQ persons — are seen and sometimes heard. As I said when I awarded this one of the Best Books of 2016, I found it deeply moving, an extraordinary read and, agree or not with her evaluations, the stories of people in this book are stories that must be taken seriously. I am grateful for her work; here’s hoping she herself might find a refreshed sort of Christian experience. Perhaps she is the sort of person who might benefit from Carol’s book.

Why I Left, Why I Stayed.jpgWhy I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son Tony Campolo & Bart Campolo (HarperOne) $24.99 These two might add insight to our conversation, and certainly they bring a unique perspective. Campolo, as you know, is an evangelical with progressive leanings and in recent years his son, Bart, could no longer intellectually accept the tenants of the Christian faith.  I’m not sure Bart was hurt by Christians, but he just found the core essentials of Christianity no longer tenable. He is now a humanist chaplain at a big college, offering some sort of pastoral, ethical guidance to those who are not aligned with a more conventional religion.  This new book is a powerful back and forth, heartbreaking and raw, honest and thought-provoking.  There is much to be learned here for those who have the ears to hear.

the bride(zilla) of Christ.jpgThe Bride(zilla) of Christ Ted Kluck & Ronnie Martin (Multnomah) $15.99  This has a different tone — upbeat, clever,  and quite theologically evangelical  — but is nonetheless honest about the wounds inflicted by the church and steps we can take to move forward in those times when the church hurts. There is much mercy here, good stuff about hope and grace. Kluck teaches at Union University in Tennessee and has worked in sports journalism; Ronnie Martin has been a pastor in small town Pennsylvania and Ohio and previously was known in the Christian music scene, doing electronica music under the name Joy Electric.  They know this is serious stuff, but how ’bout that title, eh?

The Emotionally Healthy Church.jpgThe Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives Peter Scazzero (Zondervan) $22.99 Yes, yes, most Christians do want to be transformed by Christ and we want to be eager disciples, not just casual church attendees. This book invites us, as so many do, to find the power and programming to actually help folks grow in their faith. But here’s the thing: we need healthy people to create healthy communities.  This is a very important book, balanced, clear, helpful; it’s not terribly sophisticated or heavy. Fostering some emotional intelligence and becoming more of a safe place won’t prevent all hurtful ideas, but it is a good start, no?  See also his Emotionally Healthy Leader, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Geri Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Woman. I think Peter and Geri Scazzero have something to teach us, a bit more than “common sense” and needed today.

The Vulnerable Pastor- How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Many Smith.jpgThe Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Mandy Smith (IVP) $16.00  I think that sometimes pastors are particularly hurtful — at least in some of the stories we hear — as they are necessarily authority figures and formative for their flock.  Humility is important, but it seems that Smith — herself a successful pastor of a church in Cincinnati — is on to something here by insisting, firstly, that “pastors are human, too” and that sharing vulnerability, admitting limits and failures and weakness, opens up a generative space for real faith development to occur. We don’t need clergy with all the answers or authoritarian teachers who tell us what to believe. We need people of integrity to walk with us in our brokenness, modeling a Christ-like faith.  This is a great book and would go a long way to heal the harsh view some have of Christian leaders. 

Unexpected Gifts.jpgUnexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Christopher Heuertz (Howard) $14.99  I think any further discussion of Carol’s important book about hurtful faith would have to next explore the nature of Christian community, what it means that we are in this together, and how our betrayals and failures and doubts are part of the mix when one enters into deeper involvement in the lives of faith communities. I don’t think I know a better book that gets at how relationships within our churches and fellowships can be painful, but that staying together can create something beyond the pain.  We can take risks being more intentionally commitment to community, receive the gifts that emerge and create something healing and good and beautiful. There are other books on community, on deep healing relationships, on service and trust and intimacy and the adventure of all this. Start here.

Space for Grace- Creating Inclusive Churches.jpgSpace for Grace: Creating Inclusive Churches Giles Goddard (Canterbury) $20.99 Why not bring a British voice into this conversation, a Rector in South London who has struggled with this, thought it through, researched much about various models of being both pastoral and prophetic and offering a grace-filled view of the good news within mainline churches. How can we share leadership, treat everyone as equal before God, balance freedom and limits, drawing people from the margins to the center? (Or, as this UK book puts it, the centre.)

The Welcoming Congregation- Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.jpgThe Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality Henry G. Brinton (WJK) $17.00  There are bunches of books that we stock about hospitality and some are very, very thoughtful, deep, rich.  Others are quite practical and lovely.  Some are for individuals, others are for congregations. This is one written by a Presbyterian pastor who looks at the “roots” of hospitality” — the Biblical basis, the locations where we must be attentive to be hospitable, how to think about worship and small groups and meals in hospitable ways.  Then he looks at the “fruits” which might include reconciliation, outreach, and fresh perceptions, mostly about “the other.” I think if we are reading Carol’s book about the dangers of hostile forms of religion and ways to help others heal from bad experiences with church, this would be a major step towards reforming our churches. Endorsements by thoughtful scholars like Serene Jones and Amy Oden and a moving foreword by Will Willimon.

wearing god.jpgWearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God Lauren Winner (HarperOne) $15.99 You know that we esteem Lauren’s remarkable ability to craft good words into good sentences, and that we read anything she writes. We appreciate her honestly told stories of faith — part memoir, part confession, part teaching — and we’re glad this is out in paperback, offering her insights about various images and metaphors for God.  This explains images she finds in the Bible and she not only colorfully describes how these odd-ball images effected her own inner life and faith practices, but how early church, medieval and other mystics down through the ages have used these generative metaphors for the Divine One.  Anybody talking about hurtful images of God or bad spiritual teaching or pushy, single-minded churches should spend some time ruminating along with this writer, teacher, and interesting Episcopal priest. 

The Wisdom of Tenderness- What Happens When God's Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives.jpgThe Wisdom of Tenderness: What Happens When God’s Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives Brennan Manning (HarperSanFranciso) $13.95  Oh yes, if he were still with us, this ragamuffin gospel-lover would add much about views of God, about grace and intimacy and trust and risk and faith and hope. This book — despite the lovely, evocative “tenderness” in the title, is a serious call to real religion. As the Publishers Weekly starred review put it “Maning writes for both the individual and the institution, and both will benefit from listening to his words.  Especially for those who long to hear more about divine mercy from the pulpit and see it reflected in their leaders and institutions.”

Hallelujah Anyway- Rediscovery Mercy.jpgHallelujah Anyway: Rediscovery Mercy Anne
Lamott (Riverhead) $20.00  Oh heck, why not? Who wouldn’t want Anne
laughing and calling bullshit on stuff in a panel discussion like this? 
She’s such a fun and captivating writer and speaker. We enjoy her books
a lot. This brand new one just released today and it is a lovely little
hardback, to match Stitches and Help, Thanks, Wow. Here’s what she says on the back:

not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the
divine and human: the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking,
lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I
am starving to death for it, and my world is too.”

The Curious C.jpgSacredness of Questioning.jpgThe Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life Barnabas Piper (Broadman & Holman) $16.99  This author was raised in the home of exceptionally intense theologian/pastor/writer, the controversial John Piper. He tells of some of that in The Pastor’s Kid and has offered wise counsel about doubt in his Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. I think in this conversation about hurtful images of faith, I’d invite Barnabas to join in not only because of his own unique experiences in such a passionate home (with such fierce convictions) but because this book offers so much delightful wisdom, so much lovely insight that can counter harsh and unyielding views of faith. His call to wonder, his invitation to ask questions, his spiritual quest for beauty, his insistence that we are all called to deep curiosity, is a transforming counterbalance to those with pat answers, strict rules, unbending data.  This nice book is dedicated to his mother.  I wonder why some folks are resilient and can continue to be open and eager to learn even if some past experiences have been traumatic? He invites us to continue learning, staying open.  Perhaps deeper and more allusive is the fabulous The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark (Zondervan; $15.99) I bring him to any panel discussion, anytime.

Between the Dark and the Daylight- Embracing the Contradictions of Life.jpgBetween the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life Joan Chittister (Image) $20.00  Sister Joan is beloved in many liturgical churches and is admired as a fine writer from within her generous Benedictine tradition. It seems to me she’s always a voice to listen to, but this idea that there are paradoxs at the heart of life, and certainly of faith, could be helpful for many hung up on more rigid systems of belief that they find intolerable.  Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Here, at last, is a book for those ready to make peace with the unsolvable riddles of present-day life.  Sister Joan has good news for you: these are the questions that make you human, and they can make you more joyously human if you choose.” 

The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion- A Guide.jpgThe Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics and Believers Martin Thielen (WJK) $15.00 I hope you recall us telling of his colorful What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian which differentiates between essential core truths that are pretty much non-negotiable and, well, everything else.  Thielen is, like Merritt, concerned about bad religion and here reminds us that “no religion” isn’t the answer. He offers a view of faith that isn’t hurtful or harmful and why we might endure, seeking better spiritual answers and practices. You want a dose of love, grace, forgiveness?  You know folks who have been turned off, perhaps almost entirely so?  Give this a try or share it with one who might feel that Christianity is more bad news than good.

The Whole Christ- Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance.jpgThe Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance–Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters Sinclair Ferguson (Crossway Books) $24.99  Okay, here me out; I don’t think I’m just being ornery to include this exceedingly weighty tome about an 18th century Scottish Presbyterian controversy.  If we’re going to convene a “panel discussion” to explore the insight and wisdom of Carol’s book, we have to sooner or later approach the question of whether her progressive views of God and grace and inclusion that seem so healing and helpful are theologically substantive, Biblically faithful, and how these formulations of faith compare with older more historic views.  I don’t know if there is some way to blend her views with, say, historic Reformed thought about guilt and grace, but this book, written by a beloved Scottish theology professor and writer, explores an old controversy about legalism and grace and the role of the law in our spiritual growth. This is heady theological stuff, but some conservative evangelicals have said it is one of the most important books of the decade. Asking questions like this push us to consider first things: what is the gospel?  Is talking about God’s good news in these sorts of terms overly harsh? Ferguson is a tough thinker and a kind man. As we journey towards caring for the wounded and offering warm grace to those turned off by toxic faith, we do have to grapple with what these sorts of books have to say.  Whew.

healing spiritual wounds.jpg



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The Benedict Option.jpgreclaiming hope cover a.jpgIn the last few BookNotes we’ve waded into some rough waters, offering what I hope were balanced and helpful views of books such as the much-discussed The Benedict Option as well as books related to the contretemps about Keller and the Kuyper Center Award at Princeton. Before that we hosted Michael Wear in the store — a very pleasant evening where the former White House staffer talked about his book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America.  Each of these posts and book-related conversations had a topic hovering nearby: in what way ought Abraham Kuyper Modern Calvinst.jpgChristian people be involved in the world around them and what rights might society afford those who have religious convictions to live in ways that are true to their own consciences?  Or, in more popular theological lingo, channeling the famous book by H. RIchard Niebuhr, what is the relationship between Christ and culture?  Or, again, as one of the early church fathers asked “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”  It remains a live-wire question.

As a bookseller working with a particular purpose, this question looms large for us: if God cares about all of life being redeemed and calls the church to follow Christ into all zones of life, then Christian people need books for — as the old hymn puts it — “the living of these days.”  We here at the shop carry books on business and science and film and art and sports and technology and race and sexuality and farming and on and on because God cares and because humans are tasked to represent God’s ways in God’s world. Books offer help for you and me to do this, to serve God, in Christ, missionally in the world. I suspect you’ve got questions about how better to do this — live out your faith, day to day — and books, we believe, can help inform and inspire; books can help us figure out how to relate ancient faith to modern times, which is to say our faith can become more “culturally-relevant.” If our relationship to culture doesn’t matter, if it isn’t all that important, or just some personal belief in one’s own heart, if we’re not sent into the world to somehow be used by God, perhaps as salt and light and leaven, then much our inventory is of lesser importance, not as strategic as we think it is, and this newsletter is often inexplicable. 

fleming speaking.jpgFleming Rutledge — the wonderful author of books such as The Crucifixion, The Undoing of Death, The Seven Last Words from the Cross and more  — and her husband complemented me after I highlighted a few of her books at event with her last week, declaring with enthusiasm that I was good at marketing.  I don’t know about that, but I agreed that I can work myself into a good lather over books I believe in, resources that I think will bring pleasure and goodness and insight and truth to readers, as her learned ones surely do. And even she, theologian that she is, knows a bit about culcha: she has a collection of sermons sharply called The Bible and the New York Times as well as a very thorough literary study called The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “The Lord of the Rings.”

So here we are, selling books in a less than bookish age, presuming a certain view of the human person (made in God’s image with the ability to grow and learn, and with God-given responsibility) and the culture (good, the very theater of God, as John Calvin called it, the given location for our life in the world, even if fallen and distorted, like it or not) and the nature of discipleship (not primarily inner-focused, but lived, in, but not of, the world around us.) As Calvin Seerveld once quipped, I think in Rainbows for the Fallen World, “culture is not optional.”  We can’t chose, finally, to disengage. It is just a matter of how we engage.  Books help us navigate life in these times and are indispensable aids in our faithfulness here within the human story on planet Earth. It’s as simple as that.

Again, the books mentioned above by Dreher and Wear, and the situation with Keller and Kuyper about which I wrote most recently, seem to have something lively to do with this question, this Christ and culture matter. It raises questions of pluralism, the question of how we do or don’t tolerate those who are different then we are, how we order society given such religious and cultural differences among us. These recent books and situations invite us to ponder with greater urgency questions of how we relate to our culture, and if we can live into, as Richard Mouw put it in his great book and great book title Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.  

robert louis wilken.jpgWhich brings me to this.

Last night we had the great privilege of hearing, at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore (housed since the 1970s in the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Seminary, the oldest in the country), the imminent scholar of the early church, Robert Louis Wilken. Dr. Wilken is a distinguished fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is an emeritus professor of church history at the University of Virginia.  

His remarkable lecture at St. Mary’s was based on a forthcoming book that he is finishing up that will tentatively be called Liberty in the Things of God: Christian Origins of Religious Freedom. I am not able tertullian icon.jpgto re-tell much of what the good doctor taught us about Tertullian and the other early church fathers, but his main point was that the older story of the development of freedom of conscience in the West as a creation of the reasonable secular humanists of the Enlightenment, pushing back against sectarian religious impulses that caused wars and inquisitions is inadequate, that it was the earliest voices of the early Christians who cried out for religious freedom. He is not the first to say this but he documented it copiously.

He also told a splendid story of how Thomas Jefferson (speaking of reasonable secularists wanting freedom from religion) bought a book from one particular bookseller — he apparently had special ordered it, from a bookman in Richmond — which included one of the apologies of Tertullian, making a case for religious toleration.  Jefferson underlined a particular sentence in the book he had ordered (Wilken discovered this by carefully sleuthing through the thomas-jefferson.jpgLibrary of Congress, finding original books there, of course, from Jefferson’s own library.) This underlined sentence from the third century theologian made its way into one of Jefferson’s own books.  Ahh, I thought, the power of a bookseller to get the right old book into the hands of a history-maker!  I was encouraged and took pride as Wilken told the colorful story. His point was less about the virtue of the bookseller but was clear: even the wonderful American ideas — conscientious objection, free expression and the like — came not just from Quakers like William Penn or Baptists like Roger Williams or Reformers citing the developing tradition of human rights based on reformation thought, but it came (via Jefferson, in this case) from the early church!  This is apparently astonishing news in the academy and the topic warranted Wilken delivering the prestigious Dunning Lecture in Baltimore, and will make its way into a bigger book, perhaps next year.

christ and culture niebuhr.jpgAll of this circles back to Rod Dreher and how fast-paced and secularized modernity has eroded notions of religious identity for many of us and how the modern state has too often minimized notions of religious liberty.  What do we do in times such as these? The BenOp is one response. Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian’s neo-Kuyperian worldview leading to robust sorts of gracious, evangelical cultural engagement is another.  Liberal social gospel approaches from early 20th century Protestants are perhaps another.  Niebuhr outlines five such options in the aforementioned Christ and Culture. 

Most of these approaches — from the BenOp to Kuyper to Keller and more — tend to miss the earliest of church responses. (Dreher’s Benediction Option draws on 5th century monasticism, and my post here lists a bunch of books to help us consider how Benedictine spirituality could be useful today, not primarily as an option of cultural resistance, but just as a wholesome sort of guide for balanced spiritual living. Dreher is right, I think, to point us in that general direction about spiritual formation in community.) 

And so, here are a handful of books that are about the early church, particularly as they formed their own manners and ways of being in the world, how they related to the Roman Empire, and how the Roman Empire related to them. These classic books by Robert Louis Wilken (and a few others) are titles we routinely carry, but we have extra copies from the book signing event.  We will send some back, soon, so we have this sale for 3 days only.  We offer you 30% off any of these shown below. Offer only good through the end of day April 3, 2017.  While supplies last.

3 DAY SALE — 30% OFF through April 3, 2017.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them.jpgThe Christians as the Romans Saw Them Robert Louis Wilken (Yale University Press) $15.95  What a great little book, erudite, influential, important, and so interesting. Numerous reviewers mention how gracious and eloquent the writing is, and it is true. It is not too lengthy nor expensive. The Atlantic Monthly review wrote that it “should fascinate any reader with an interest in the history of human thought.”  One reviewer said it “draws upon well-known sources–both pagan and Christian–to provide the general reader with an illuminating account… of how Christianity appeared to the Romans before it became the established religion of the empire.”  This stuff should be better known among us, I think, and I’m struck by how much we can learn in one little volume. Very nicely done.

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought- Seeking the Face of God.jpgThe Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God  Robert Wilken (Yale University Press) $22.00  This book came out about a decade ago and remains a true standard, eloquent and fascinating, important and good. It was a real honor to get to display them for Dr. Wilken at St. Mary’s.

I love the marketing copy about the book: “In this eloquent introduction to early Christian thought, eminent religious historian Robert Louis Wilken examines the tradition that such figures as St. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and others set in place. These early thinkers constructed a new intellectual and spiritual world, Wilken shows, and they can still be heard as living voices in the modern world.In chapters on topics including early Christian worship, Christian poetry and the spiritual life, the Trinity, Christ, the Bible, and icons, Wilken shows that the energy and vitality of early Christianity arose from within the life of the Church. While early Christian thinkers drew on the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of the ancient world, it was the versatile vocabulary of the Bible that loosened their tongues and minds and allowed them to construct the world anew, intellectually and spiritually. These thinkers were not seeking to invent a world of ideas, Wilken shows, but rather to win the hearts of men and women and to change their lives.”

It continues:

Early Christian thinkers set in place a foundation that has endured. Their writings are an irreplaceable inheritance, and Wilken shows that they can still be heard as living voices within contemporary culture.

Here are a few of the notable reviews from important sources indicating the caliber and significance of this volume.

“Get The Spirit of Early Christian Thought and read it. Read it slowly, letting Wilken take you by the hand. . . . Let him show you a more excellent way.”   — Richard John Neuhaus, First Things

“Magnificently learned and deeply felt. . . . An attentive reader of Wilken, whether believer or nonbeliever, will be touched anew by his survey of Christian intellectual life.”                                                                            –Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World 

“This is not a book written for the academy but for all readers. . . . Wilken provides for a new generation . . . a sense of what is important about those astonishing teachers of the early church who instructed the ages after them.”                                                                                                                   — Luke Timothy Johnson, America 

The First Thousand Years Wilken.jpgThe First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity Robert Louis Wilken (Yale University Press) $22.00  Increasingly there has been academic attention to the global nature of church history and there have been new and surprising titles about the spread of Christianity centuries ago, and how the church grew and struggled, to supplement more typical tellings of the tale which focus on Europe.  This book came out in 2013 and is required reading in many colleges and seminary courses. It is considered a one of the best of its kind.  We were thrilled to have this on sale at the author event in Baltimore and are happy to offer you a great savings now.

Listen to this lovely quote from the esteemed memoirist Carlos Eire, author of the popular Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

 A marvelous and unique survey, learned and authoritative, yet also a perfect introduction to the early history of Christianity. Robert Wilken redraws many boundaries, expanding horizons, summarizing and analyzing with consummate skill. This beautifully written book sets new standards on multiple levels, and should stand for a long time as the benchmark by which all other surveys are measured.

Remembering the Christian Past .jpgRemembering the Christian Past Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans) $21.50  Readers in the know about these things realize Wilken is a major thinker, one of the most esteemed scholars in this field, and it made sense that decades ago Eerdmans got him to compile a collection of essays, pithy and smart, wise, and elegant, making a case that we should draw on the past, that knowing something about church history matters, and that the earliest days of the church under the Roman Empire — and on into Christendom — generated insights (and problems) that are with us yet today.

This book is important for a variety of reasons; years ago my sales rep explained to me how important Dr. Wilken’s was. He had been the President of the American Academy of Religion, an important academic guild.  One reviewer notes that this collection begins with Wilken’s important 1989 presidential address to the American Academy of Religion, “Who Will Speak for the Religious Traditions?” where he argued that “the post-Enlightenment academic discourse into which the study of religion has fallen marginalizes the real character and experience of religion for the sake of the researcher’s objective distance. Modern teaching about religion, he says, is too often teaching about something else. This collection of essays, by contrast, defends the place of religious truth, both dogma and experience, within the conversation of religious studies.”

This is an outstanding, still vital book, introducing you to the many of the most important urgent voices, voices that might help us resist secularized modernity in our time as they thought through the implications of fidelity in their own.

A Week in the Life of Corinth.jpgA Week in the Life of Corinth Ben Witherington III (IVP Academic) $16.00  While this is published by a scholarly, academic imprint, I must say it is good for nearly anyone, even high school students.  It is a work of historical fiction, an imaginative and creative way to introduce us to what was going on in Corinth about the time the Apostle Paul wrote his famous letters to them.  This is a one of a kind sort of window into the travels around the Mediterranean basin from which Paul wrote, and, more, how the Christians in this Greco-Roman city lived, related to their culture, and how they were caught up in the cultural, sexual, ethnic, and philosophical trends of their day.  Fascinating for any study of the Bible book called Corinthians, but, more broadly, for anyone wondering how the early Christians really lives and related to their social world.

Listen to what the very sharp New Testament scholar Michael Bird writes of it:

If you want to know what it would have been like to live in ancient Corinth, spend a week in the life of a freedman, traverse the olive groves and cobblestone streets, survive the cutthroat politics of a Greek city, encounter pagan priestesses and converse with a Jewish tentmaker named ‘Paulos, ‘ then Ben Witherington has written the book for you. This short novella, with pictures and explanations of customs in ancient Corinth, provides a window into the world of Paul’s Corinthian letters. Witherington creatively brings the setting of Paul’s Corinthian ministry to life with historical rigor and narrative artistry. Witherington brings to us the sights, smells, sounds and culture of Corinth as the apostle Paul knew it.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurian.jpgA Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion Gary Burge (IVP Academic) $16.00  This, too, is a very creatively done bit of historical fiction, a story set which, I believe, can help readers grapple with the “Christ and culture” questions.  In this case, we get a window into the life of the Roman Empire, told through the eyes of a centurion mentioned in the Biblical text who seeks a healing for his Jewish slave from the itinerant Rabbi from Galilee.  It is fast-paced, full of first century color, and highly recommended — especially for this time of the church year when we think of the Roman’s imperial power in the execution of Jesus.  We really can appreciate our well known Bible stories more deeply when we can imagine the life of first century Rome and its environs.

The reviews on this are fun to read — by those who enjoy historical fiction, and, more, from Bible scholars and teachers.  Burge is a prof at Wheaton and well-respected (he is also somewhat of a peace-maker in his multi-faceted view of the conflicts in the Holy land and has done work there, and writing, about the role of land in those conflicts.) He has done a great job with this title. 

Here is what Craig Blomberg, a New Testament prof at Denver Seminary, wrote:

Biblical scholars are not typically known for writing historical novels, much less gripping page-turners. Gary Burge, however, has accomplished both of these feats. Fully true to the historical-cultural setting of the early first-century Roman Empire, this story not only makes the New Testament world come alive but it creates one very plausible scenario of the career and family of the Capernaum centurion of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. The characters become so real that I was even tearing up at the end of Burge’s story!”

The Mestizo Augustine- A Theologian .jpgThe Mestizo Augustine: A Theologian Between Two Cultures Justo Gonzalez (IVP Academic) $24.00  This is a recent book written by one of the great church historians of our time. We have carried his big and small works for those wanting an overview of the flow of Western church history.  This one, though, is very special and a unique contribution. In keeping with the theme of this post, it seems so relevant to our questions today about justice and racial-reconciliation and globalization and how we are not the first ones to navigate such things.  Augustine, as we should know, was both a Roman and an African — he was, after all, the Bishop of Hippo, in the Roman occupied region of Numbidia, what today we call Algeria (in Northern Africa.)  He lived in that historical space between early Christianity and medieval Christendom, interacting with literature, philosophy, culture, theology, politics, church growth and parish life.  Historian Mark Noll calls this new exploration “particularly insightful.” The brilliant scholar from Princeton, Eric Gregory, noting how many books there are on Augustine, says that “It is hard to think of one more timely for a new generation of readings than The Mestizo Augustine.

We thought we’d add it to this list of titles that are on sale, this weekend only.  Order today.


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Kuyper and Keller (and some really good books.) ON SALE

I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but this, for many BookNotes readers, isn’t pleasant, no matter what “side” one is on in the debacle.  I suppose some of our faithful BookNotes readers won’t care much, but I’m sure many do. I refer to the situation where Princeton Theological Seminary rescinded the annual Abraham Kuyper Award Prize that was to be given this year to Rev. Timothy Keller, rescinded due to his own views and involvement in a denomination that does not permit the ordination of women and is less than fully welcoming of persons within the LGBTQ community. Awarding someone with such views — even if an otherwise admirable public figure and successful church planter — seemed inconsistent with the task at Princeton which includes preparing women for ordained ministry.  Here is the fairly plain-spoken announcement by the President of PTS about rescinding the award.


Here is just one example of the outcry offered in protest of Keller by Princeton alum and friends, this one by PC(USA) pastor Carol Howard Merritt, who has a new book out all about how the church has too often hurt people with a toxic judgmentalism and a harshly rigid sort of dogmatism. I think it is woefully unfair to caricature Keller’s position about gender roles as she does here, but she herself has encountered real spiritual abuse (from a rather different tribe that taught male dominion in a manner that Keller does not) so one must at least acknowledge the integrity of her advocacy, based on real experiences she has encountered and the stories of people that she knows.  I want to listen when she writes, “I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much
of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these
poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that
women’s genitalia is up for grabs by any man with power and
influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud
and clear.” Apparently her on-line piece in the Christian Century helped convince PTS President Craig Barnes to rescind the award.

Here is another important piece written by a PTS alum that is worth reading if you want to understand the outcry.

I don’t want to weigh in much — this is a book review newsletter, after all, and we’re trying to make a living getting you to send us orders — but I cannot shake this sense that I’m to write about this. 

You may know (and if you read my lengthy review of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option you maybe picked it up if you haven’t before) that I am not where Keller and the PCA would be on these issues.  Beth and I are active in a moderate PC(USA) church and one of my own beloved pastors — and a very good preacher — is a woman with a degree from Princeton. We rejoice in her call to ministry and gladly honor her as our Teaching Elder, as the Presby nomenclature has it. I understand those who thought it odd that the Seminary would honor one who apparently thinks that many persons among the student body should be disallowed in their quest for pastoral ministry.

KellerinParis10-copyright-EO_Arianne-Ramaker.jpgHowever, we respect Tim Keller immensely and have had good conversations with him on occasions over the years; we have had the opportunity to set up book displays at various events at the church he pastors, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. It is a great privilege and deep joy which we have not taken lightly and they have always, always, treated us very well.  There is one video clip on line of Keller speaking at a large hall in Manhattan and if you look carefully you can see hundreds of books propped up at his feet — our Hearts & Minds resources display at the edge of the stage.  I have to admit this makes me smile and Beth and I both love telling how we’ve worked with good folks who have become friends there at Redeemer.

I hate to sound snarky but I do not know any church in my own denomination who has had such success in attracting serious-minded young adults as has Redeemer; I don’t myself know of any PC(USA) congregation who has so many sharp women involved in significant aspects of the church’s ministry, and who embodies such ethnic diversity.  No church I know is as sophisticated in its work within its place —  in Redeemer’s case, doing evangelism among sophisticated urban and professional elites, mentoring into mature faith those who are church-less or de-churched, bearing gospel witness among the marginalized and hurting in their neighborhoods as well as helping big city professionals think religiously about their callings in finance, law, the arts, education, science, technology, entertainment, and more.  I know of no liberal or progressive church that goes out of their way to host events with speakers who are outside of their comfort zone, who willingly listen on occasion to non-Christian pundits and social critics as does Redeemer under the unique leadership of Reverend Keller. 

Again, I disagree with their stance on the role of women elders and I suspect I disagree with the nature of their relationships with the GLTBQ+ community, although I cannot say for sure as I do not know about that.  I think many who “on paper” are all inclusive and outspoken and allied may, in practice, have fewer relationships with gay and lesbian folk than do the members of Redeemer, despite their convictions about same-sex relations as disordered.  We’ve not been there enough to say, but I wouldn’t presume the worst, as some progressive bloggers have. It sort of reminds me of Jesus’
parable in Matthew 21 about two sons. One said the right thing but
didn’t do it. And vice versa.

When some call Keller “loud” I realize they must never have met the man.  When they accuse Redeemer of being harmful to women, I suspect they don’t know how many very thoughtful, strong, women are on staff at the church.

And, anyway, Keller and his ministry is known (for those who know anything about them) for encouraging women to be leaders in various sectors of society, from politics to medicine, from finance to scholarship. This is a point nicely made by Richard Mouw in his own important piece about the Princeton Kuyper Award ordeal. Here is a newly added link to a piece by Katherine Leary Alsdorf who admits to disagreements about Rev. Keller’s theology of gender roles, but says how qualified he would have been for the Kuyper Award. It is worth reading.

Okay, I’ve already said more than I intended. My point is that we carry a very wide variety of books here and sincerely recommend liberationist/progressive readings and also sincerely recommend Keller’s good books. It is not that we are confused but that we truly value much in both camps.  And in this case, we appreciate the concerns on both sides. We have friends on both sides, and it hurts all around. At the very least, we think reading carefully will help us be fair as we see what it is we agree and disagree about; reading widely helps us avoid the sins of caricature and might move us towards reconciliation. Reading widely and serving a variety of corners of the big church has made me lean towards a both/and view, less either/or.

I hope we are not alone in that both/and space.  I have to admit it feels rather lonely.

I’ll admit that I’ve got what some call “the feels” about this; I am in touch with acute distress as I reflect on it; my heart races as I read some of the many passionate pieces that have been posted. This episode breaks my heart although I suppose it was inevitable. Keller is not in keeping with the vision of PTS on the matter of gender.  And the ideological left is often not forgiving.  It was good of Keller, I thought, to agree go to PTS in the first place — some conservative evangelicals don’t even want to be seen on the seminary campuses of mainline denominations and I suspect he himself had to convince some of his PCA friends and supporters that this was a legitimate rapprochement. And now they may be saying “we told you so.”   So it goes.  Although I didn’t agree with every sentence, I appreciated Jonathan Merritt’s piece that captured this viewpoint well. He calls on more progressive types (with whom he identifies) to champion true diversity and a much wider conversation under a bigger tent.  I’m for that.


But here is what is somewhat lost in the high-profile discussions (again, raised by the Richard Mouw column, above.)

The Award rescinded by President Barnes was not being given, in the most broad sense, by Princeton Theological Seminary. It was to be given by the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology. It is actually called “The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life.”

And that, I suggest, is the even more important question: do many people care about the work of the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at PTS and is that sort of robust, culturally-engaged, neo-Calvinism, gaining any traction?  In a divided Reformed, Presbyterian tradition — divided between more strict neo-Puritans and the growing PCA and more progressive mainliners in the declining PC(USA) —  can any of this Dutch Kuyper stuff help? And can Keller and his City-to-City project help us all understand the distinctives of that theological strain? And is that a good thing or not?

Such a Kuyperian slant and “all of life redeemed” worldview, I would think, could help conservative evangelicals and doctrinaire PCA types gain a broader sort of cultural engagement (by drawing, just for instance, on Kuyper’s extensive teaching on “common grace” and the common good) and it can also help progressives resist their up-to-their-steeples accommodation to secular leftist ideas and practices. Old man Kuyper and his colorful life can offer a corrective for us all to get out of our tendencies to be primarily left-wing or right-wing by providing an imaginative and faithful third way.

Kuyper — like Luther or St. Francis or Wilberforce or Andre Trocme — can do this for us because (a) they write from another place and time and are not beholden to our own social imaginaries (such as a left vs right continuum) and, (b) because as a matter of principle, Kuyper talked about finding an alternative Christian way of thinking and being in the modern world, beyond conventional arrangements. It was, as we say, his thing.

kuyper.gifKuyper’s prolific late 19th/early 20th century theological and church work was eclipsed by his cultural initiatives and political activism, leaving a legacy of distinctively Christian institutions, a world class Christian university, a daily newspaper, an interest in the arts, a complex and nuanced critique of capitalism, a values-inspired labor union, and, of course, a Christian Democratic political party through which he became Prime Minister.  For most of his life, although pious and theologically prolific, he did much of his thinking “on the run” while engaged in rigorous public debates.  Perhaps in this sense he might remind one of William Wilberforce.

I don’t know how all of his old books ought to inform our efforts for cultural renewal and social justice today; he was a man of his times and had huge blind spots. Still, Abraham Kuyper’s influence on my own thinking (or my own feeble appreciation of his general ethos and vision, at least, as explained to me by others) is part of what gives me the heebie-jeebies about Dreher’s The Benedict Option book and his BenOp movement, as described in my big review, here.  You see, Kuyper’s influence on the thinking of people I know is what created stuff like the CCO’s wonderful Jubilee Conference, the extraordinary For the Life of the World DVD curriculum, the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith and Work (where, by the way, I did the “industry specific” book recommendations), the non-partisan Center for Public Justice (founder James Skillen himself was a Kuyper Award prize-winner, by the way) and, well, this little bookstore on Main Street in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.

jubilee every square inch.jpgNo dualisms between the sacred and secular?  All of life redeemed? We are culture-makers?  Salvation means creation regained? The drama of Scripture is a four-chapter story, sometimes described as creation/fall/redemption/restoration? The integration of faith and scholarship? We must learn to see through the lens of a Christian worldview? You Are What You Love?  These are all big picture slogans that carry transforming visions that have become increasingly embraced within evangelicalism, because, as religious historian George Marsden once quipped, “We are all Kuyperians now.”  Whether we know it or not.  

In fact, as David Naugle so meticulously explored in years of research, the very word worldview (just for one instance) entered the English lexicon because of philosophers in the line of Kuyper.  See Naugle’s fantastic big book, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans; $34.00) for an amazing bit of sleuthing on the genealogy of that idea and how faith leaders — from Francis Schaeffer to James Sire to Nancy Pearcey to Brian Walsh — appropriated the concept in different ways and for different ends.

You see, a burning question for me — beyond Keller’s denomination’s view of women’s ordination and the admittedly complex analysis of Biblical texts that should shape our determination of that question — is this other one: is Keller a Kuyperian?  

For the record, not all the winners of previous Kuyper Awards were Kuyperians. Heck, some were not Christians. Here is a list of past winners of the Kuyper Award, and links to some of their academic talks.

Scars Across Humanity- Understanding Violence Against Women.gifLast year our friend Elaine Storkey —  author, most recently, of Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women — received the Award. I hope those expressing their legitimate concern about the justice deserved by women supported the event last year. And I hope they bought her book. I know we have not sold many although we have highlighted it often; it is very important!  Storkey is an articulate spokesperson from the UK for the broad Kuyperian vision and has written widely on gender inequality for most of her professional career. (Even at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, too, years ago, where she did a main stage talk.)

Anyway, it has been a good string of very impressive honorees, diverse in ethnicity, social location,  religion, and overall perspective.

And that is how it should be since another word Kuyperians introduced into more popular usage — long before secular journalists picked up on it decades ago — is pluralism.  Anyone who knows the main political thinker who influenced Prime Minister Kuyper (Groen Van Prinsterer) knows that they talked a lot about pluralism. One cannot imagine a robust Reformed or neo-Calvinist social theory without resorting to the notion of civil and principled pluralism.

(Indeed, this is part of the topic of James K.A. Smith’s scholarly, Herman Bavinck Lecture given in Kampen, Holland, last summer, entitled, “Reforming Public Theology: Neo-calvinism and Pluralism” which, we can hope, will make it into his third volume of his brilliant “Cultural Liturgies” series due out this year, which will be called Awaiting the King. You can PRE-ORDER that from us, too, btw, but we’re not sure when it is being released.)  

So therein lies one tension: the evangelical right and the more liberal mainline both seem to too often miss the nuances of pluralism. Hence, both have a hard time with civility, with getting along with others. They cry out and lament and protest, and I get that; it is my style, often, too. And sometimes it is the right thing to do, to just say no.  Heaven knows I’ve spent a lot of my time on picket lines doing just that. But Kuyper maybe had something insightful to offer a society that struggles to learn to live well together, amidst our differences.

And so, I’d like to share with you a handful of books that you should note — maybe even buy and someday read — to help us make sense of this sad brouhaha.  Firstly, we have to understand a bit about Kuyper.  And then a bit about Keller.


abraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpgAbraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00 Oh how I wish folks would order this from us. They use it at Redeemer’s Gotham Fellows program (I know because they order them from us) and it serves as an easy introduction to the main strengths of the hefty, Dutch public intellectual. And if anybody can help us see easily why this matters, it is the always interesting Rich Mouw. As noted above, Mouw himself was an Kuyper Center honoree, quite deservedly so.

James K.A. Smith writes of it:

“This marvelous little book pulls off an astounding feat: though it is
both compact and accessible, it also gives us the whole Kuyper. Too
often we get Kuyper in slices: folks gravitate to a ‘side’ of Kuyper,
adopting his theology of culture but neglecting his emphasis on the
church, or picking up common grace but neglecting antithesis. But Mouw,
with typical wit and warmth, introduces us to Kuyper in all his
multifaceted richness. A gift for the next generation.”

Abraham Kuyper Modern Calvinst.jpgAbraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat James Bratt (Eerdmans) $32.00  I don’t know Jim Bratt well enough to say this for sure, but we crossed paths when we lived in Pittsburgh in the early 80s, I believe, and he, like many of us in Reformed circles there in those years, heard of Kuyper from a flamboyant Dutch theologian and philosopher who could quote Kuyper, in the original, in his sleep. And tell you why another Dutch theologian of culture (say, Klaas Schilder) was equally important. Anyway, like many of us, Bratt took a life-long interest in this historic Dutch strain of Reformed theology and has written what is doubtlessly the definitive biography of the great Father Abraham.  Many say that Abraham Kuyper was truly one of the most extraordinary figures in Western Christian history and we should be very glad for this major, historic biography.

Hey, for what it is worth, for serious scholars or fans, we also stock another Kuyper bio published by Eerdmans, the luxurious Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography by Jan De Bruijn ($40.00.) And, a nice little collection of fascinating letters that Kuyper wrote back to his wife during his extended stay in the US in 1898.  See Kuyper in America: This Is Where I Was Meant to Be edited by George Harinck (Dordt College Press; $11.95)

He Shines in All That's Fair- Culture and Common Grace.jpgHe Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $15.95  I think I tossed this off in passing in my review of Dreher’s Benedict Option book saying I’d love to hear him ruminate on these wild ideas of Kuyper as presented so nicely by Rich Mouw. Does God love jazz music, a good golf putt, the flight of a hawk? That is, are there seemingly secular or non-consequential and non-religious things that make up a good life that pleases God? And if so, does affirming those things and being active in those very things — playing, learning, art appreciation, making stuff — matter for eternity?  Kuyper’s view of common grace does not negate the need for saving faith in Christ,but  it does offer generative notions to sustain greater involvement in the world, building bridges with others who are made in God’s image, advancing a generally positive view of life in the world and our callings to be engaged well in culture. I have mentioned this book often, and think it should be better known among us.

 The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship- Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper Richard.jpgThe Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $20.00  This starts to get a bit deep, I must say; here are thirteen essays that are uniquely neo-Calvinist, evaluating and engaging some of the unique issues and theories that circle around the air of those in the heritage of Abraham Kuyper and his tribe. As it says in the promo copy: “In this volume Mouw provides the scholarly backstory to his popular books as he interprets, applies, expands on — and at times even corrects — Kuyper’s remarkable vision for faith and public life.” Pretty heavy stuff. Wow.

By the way, although not as explicitly Kuyperian, if you are attracted to shorter essays and stimulating talks in this vein, see James K.A. Smith’s marvelous collection Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture (Calvin College Press; $14.99.)  A learned delight.

On Kuyper- A Collection of Readings.jpgOn Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work & Legacy of Abraham Kuyper edited by Steve Bishop and John H. Kok (Dordt College Press) $36.00  This. I mean it: this. This is a magisterial, unique, colorful, scholarly, flamboyant and at times nearly mind-boggling collection of very important pieces about Kuyper.  It is slightly oversized and over 475 pages.  Some are reprints from years ago, some are in print for the first time. They evaluate Kuyper and Kuyperian philosophy and explore the implications of his thought-system for (among other things) the church, culture, gender, politics, education, fashion, evolution, and more. There is discussion about the implications of common grace, sphere sovereignty, pluralism, all somehow giving tribute to this robust thinker who promoted the Lordship of Christ over all zones of life.

The Spirit in Public Theology.jpgThe Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper Vincent Bacote (Wipf & Stock) $20.00. Bacote is an amazing professor and a public intellectual in his own right. We have hosted him to present on his little book The Political Disciple which, actually, has some Kuyperian fingerprints on it.  But his is more detailed Kuyper book is an important contribution to Kuyper scholars. Here, Bacote explores both Kuyper public theology and ties it to his major work on the Holy Spirit. And, as the sub-title suggests, Bacote makes some keen observations about how to appropriate this wisely today.  I might note that since some have understandably leveled some criticisms against how South African thinkers perhaps used some of Kuypers ideas to undergird their devious apartheid system, Bacote is himself an African American and obviously takes these concerns seriously.  No one should overlook injustices or sinful errors of past thinkers, and Bacote helps us navigate some of this.  It’s a useful, thoughtful book.

makers_of_modern_christian_social_thought_cover_front_draft.jpgMakers of Modern Christian Social Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question Jordon Ballor (Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty) $14.95  This is an extraordinary book, one that covers a topic some of us have alluded to for years —  namely, that there is much overlap between Pope Leo XIII and Kuyper. Leo’s pivotal social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Kuyper’s dramatic speech, published in English as Christianity and the Class Struggle and, later, as The Problem of Poverty) are both very, very important and we are indebted to the always brilliant Jordan Ballor for doing this good work, comparing and contrasting these two somewhat connected social justice traditions.

Here is what it says on the back:

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

Lectures on Calvinism .jpgLectures on Calvinism Abraham Kuyper (Eerdmans) $18.00 This is the book that first introduced me to Kuyper and it is dry and complex, written in the style of public addresses at Princeton at the turn of the  19th century into the 20th.  These were given in 1898 as the “Stone Lectures” and the rocked the world, changing much about Presbyterianism, lasting even to today. Alas they are not thrilling for most readers. These lectures explore the notion that God is sovereign, and therefore, we should honor Christ as King over all of life — the English translation renders the first chapter “Christianity as a Life System.” He specifically looks at science, the arts, commerce, and education and the future —  and hearing about it was life-changing for me. His complex lectures never turned me on, but the idea that religion is an all-encompassing world-and-life view and that Calvinism’s importance is therefore more than theological debates about predestination, but about God’s rulership over all creation, still resonates today.

Wisdom & Wonder- Common Grace in Science & Art .jpgWisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art Abraham Kuyper (Christian’s Library Press) $14.99  We were one of the first places to review this when it first came out a few years back and we still enjoy telling folks about it — and pointing out the very cool cover. This is a good way into Kuyper’s own writings on common grace, on how to address issues of the arts and sciences.  Edited by Jordan Ballor and Stephen Grabill (yes, the guy in For the Life of the WorldWisdom & Wonder includes a foreword by Q founder Gabe Lyons and a great introduction by Wheaton College political theologian, Vincent Bacote. Serious, thoughtful, old-school theology of culture.

near unto god.jpgNear Unto God Abraham Kuyper (Dordt College Press) $17.00  This is a slightly modernized (by novelist James Schaap) and somewhat abridged edition of Kuyper’s beloved devotional based on the phrase from Psalm 73:28.  I was moved and inspired by RIchard Mouw’s introduction, explaining how this deeply spiritual piety motivated not only the public activism and myriad of reforms of the busy Kuyper but of generations of Dutch Christian leaders in the 20th century.  Dutch Reformed farmers and workers of all sort were inspired by this kind of Bible reflection causing them to start alternative schools and environmental stewardship organizations, labor unions based on reconciliation, magazines, mission agencies, inner city clinics, art groups and more.How good to know that their “all of life redeemed” worldview was driven by deep relationship with the God who is there, who cares, who wants to be near to us.  A nice blurb on the front is by Eugene Peterson.

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition.jpgPRE-ORDER Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction Craig C. Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $40.00  I have been itching to see this since I heard about it a while ago, and I’ve not yet seen any of the manuscript.  I can tell you this much: it is going to be academically sound and yet exciting. And important.  When the publisher says Kuyper is “much discussed but little read” I think they are right, and there are reasons for that. Not unlike other great writers of the past, delving into older ways of writing is hard even for some scholars.  We need a guide. We need some assistance. We need a teacher to tell us about it all.  Philosopher, theologian, artist, farmer from South Africa, we have our guide here in Mr. Bartholomew.  I cannot wait for this and suspect it is going to be a blessing to many. Agree or disagree with Kuyper — and some view him as too conservative and totalizing, and some view him as too liberal and pluralizing — this will be the indispensable resource to help us understand his importance, his legacy, and how many are working out his faith-based vision for just and healing multi-dimensional societal reform today in our own time and place.  I’m hoping many are glad to hear about it, and will send us an order.  It is due out in mid April, 2017 and we will be among the very first to have it, I’m sure.

I like James Bratt’s good endorsement:

Abraham Kuyper began the neo-Calvinist movement in the Netherlands in
the late 1800s as a way to make classic Christianity speak with fresh
relevance to the modern world. Now, over a century later, Craig
Bartholomew has given us this clear, thorough overview of Kuyper’s
original insights, their further development, and their relevance in the
postmodern world. Both veterans of the movement and those new to it
will find here a concise presentation of the distinctive Kuyperian
themes–creation, worldview, and sphere sovereignty–as they
characteristically unfolded in Christian education, philosophy, and
political and cultural engagement. Best of all, Bartholomew lays out
where Kuyperians can learn from others–and how they might (and must)
recover the spirituality and saturation in Scripture that animated
Kuyper in the first place. Agree with Kuyper or not, this is the place
to go to learn, in brief, what he said, did, and wrought

Beyond the Modern Age Goudzwaard.jpgPRE-ORDER Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard and Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $30.00  If I were to name one contemporary interpreter of Kuyper’s broad vision, relating it with passion to the injustices of the modern world, it may be the delightfully pleasant scholar and ecumenically minded Dutch Kuyperian economist, Bob Goudzwaard. Goudzwaard was an elected Parliament Member (what we might call a Congressperson) in the Netherlands and helped draft some of the social policies of the modern version of Kuyper’s A-R Party, the Christian Democratic Appeal.  Here he joins up with Biblical scholar and reformational philosopher Craig Bartholomew for a “architectonic” critique of modern global culture and the interlocking symptoms of our contemporary social crisis.  Goudzwaard is known for his important work in economics and for his incisive critique of the idols of the age.  This book — due out in early May 2017 — is going to be one of the most important books of the year.  PRE-ORDER IT ON SALE FROM US TODAY.

every square inch.jpgEvery Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (Lexham Press) $14.99 Okay, this little hardback isn’t exactly a bio of Kuyper, or even about him, exactly, but his Dutch fingerprints are all over it. It looks at what contemporary neo-Calvinists in the line of Kuyper are thinking about culture, about engagement with the world from a radically Christian life perspective, and how to relate faith and public life in principled but gracious ways. It tends a bit conservative at times and some readers will not agree with it all, but it captures much about what is going on it this stream of renewal within both Reformed and, interestingly, some Southern Baptist circles. A nice little read, good to know about and helpful for beginners.

And, of course, one should always consider going to the primary source, reading the vast historic work of the good Doctor Kuyper himself, beyond the popular ones listed above. Just like we extol the writings of Augustine or Aquinas, Luther or Calvin, Theresa or Julian, Barth or Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers or C.S. Lewis,  this is classic, heady, important stuff, right from the horses mouth.

We also carry other books about Kuyper and his legacy, including the ongoing Kuyper Center Review volumes, of which I think there are five in print.  We have them all. Do send us an email if you’d like to talk more.


Wow. There is a Kuyper translation project going on, a very ambitious effort to translate and produce usable, sturdy volumes of some of his “public theology” work that has never been translated into English. Some of these are now available in nicely done editions, with informative introductions and helpful annotations, in a slightly oversized hardback format, allowing for a nice type font.  Of course, we have them all — and more are yet to come.
So far, the far-flung and hard-working team of scholars and translators have created these impressive volumes through a remarkable, ecumenical partnership between the Acton Institute, the Kuyper Translation Society and Lexham Press. Each sell for $49.99 and we have them at the BookNotes 10% off. We’d be delighted to send any of these five to you.

Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World Part One

Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King Part One

Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King Part Two

Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto

On the Church

Here is a pleasant and interesting interview with RIchard Mouw and James Bratt about the importance of these big volumes. You may have to scroll down a tiny bit to get to it after the link.  And be sure to come back!


Timothy Keller has written widely as a pastor and Bible teacher, as an apologist for skeptics and seekers, and as a leader of a global church-planting network. Like Kuyper, he’s interested in orthodox Calvinist theology and notions of common grace, civic virtue, the arts, cultural renewal, good fiction, and the flourishing of the common good.

But he is, after all, firstly a pastor.

His books for educated lay folks on prayer, marriage, justice, mercy ministries, on the nature of grace, songs of jesus.jpgand various studies from the gospels are all thoughtful, insightful, and very helpful. Many pastors find them very useful in preparing their own studies and sermons although they are not exceedingly scholarly and any thoughtful reader can take them up.  From his recent devotional (written with his wife, every good endeavor.jpgKathy Keller) on the Psalms (The Songs of Jesus) to his excellent book co-authored with former corporate exec, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, to the older, but still very popular short take on the misunderstood Prodigal Son story, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of Christian Faith, Keller Counterfeit-Gods-large.jpghas a way with words that are lucid and often thought-provoking. His Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters is a very serious critique of modern idols; oh, if other evangelical (or progressive) thinkers were so incisive and so clear and so gospel-centered.

Making Sense of God good.jpgReason for God.jpgMr. Keller has two books that are designed for seekers or those intellectually struggling with the plausibility of faith in the modern world. His paperback The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is, again, thoughtful, well written, and a bit more serious than some may want. But in his world of sophisticates in lower Manhattan, this was the book needed to explore with skeptics their doubts, fears, and frustrations with faith and it’s reasonableness.  A prequel came out this last year, still only in hardback, called Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical and in it, he covers ground that is needed now more than ever.  That is, there are some who are not even open to debate the “reasonableness of God” as in his earlier book; this backs up to those who can’t even suppose there is a God or a God that matters. It is a bit heavy and is a good example of nuanced, literate, contextualized apologetics.

tim keller 12-10.jpgIn each of the times I’ve heard him lately he has talked about the deep Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and cited the likes of Robert Bellah. He is known to be friends with David Brooks; he quotes Lesslie Newbigin. He obviously reads Tolkien but also contemporary social criticism and sociology. Although not trendy, he lives in New York and is au current with the essays in Atlantic or New Yorker and the like. To say he is a bit bookish would be an understatement.

His book from just a few years ago, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, is a combination of all of his styles — the first part is fairly theoretical and philosophical (answering the “theodicy” question of why) while other portions are theological and Biblical. Yet other sections are eminently practical, offering wise counsel from a caring pastor. In this regard it is an extraordinary book.

I could go on. If you read our BookNotes newsletter you may know that we’ve mentioned almost all of his books at one point or another.  He has some brand new devotional commentaries (hardbacks) based on certain books of the Bible. He’s a good, grace-filled, gospel-centered Bible teacher, honest before the text but not innovative or unusual. His small  book simply called Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism is good for anyone who does Bible teaching, runs a small group or has any leadership role in the educational ministry of the church. And — not surprisingly — he has an excellent chapter therein summarizing Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age.  Again, perhaps in the spirit of Kuyper, Keller relates orthodox, Calvinist faith to the urgencies of the day, and he brings a Christ-centered framework to everything he writes about. This is seen in the title and subtitle in his nice little book arguing for deeper commitments to social justice: Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just.  

It is this sort of generous and wholistic approach that informed my own faith as a young Christian in the mid 1970s. I am grateful for the way Keller and those in his movement have attempted to be agents of transformation in mostly urban areas, standing for social justice and racial reconciliation and holding out a vision for the arts, for science, for relating faith to the world-world. They’ve graciously welcomed seekers and cynics, even as they’ve upheld classical, historic orthodoxy.  There are concerns, naturally, about any renewal movement or mega-church, or rock star pastor, but, by and large, Redeemer under the leadership of Keller and his team, has been extraordinarily effective.  It is not perfect and I do not agree with some of the tendencies and positions of their denomination, but so what? They’ve cared well for people I know, their counseling center has brought healing and hope to the hurting, and the proclamation of the basics of the gospel has born good fruit. They’ve done good work and I am glad to say so.

Here are four items that I think I should tell you about, a DVD and three books, that, if studied well, might illustrate more about why Keller was going to be honored by the Kuyper Center as they kicked off their annual Kuyper conference at Princeton Seminary.  

gospel in life cover.jpgGospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything (DVD and study book) Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $36.99  This is a classy DVD curriculum that offers eight fairly brief mini-lectures by Keller coupled with a very thorough (230 page) workbook for participants to process the information. In some cases, some DVD participant’s guides aren’t always necessary but in this case, the Gospel In Life workbook is an amazing resource and each participant must have one, as it includes much of the content of the course, lots of discussion stuff, a narrative from Keller, and more. (Extra Participant’s Guides sell for $12.99 each without the DVD.)

The sessions include eight 10-15 minute astute teaching presentations from Keller and then the participants workbook and discussion resources. 

The topics include:

1. City – The World That Is
2. Heart – Three Ways To Live
3. Idolatry – The Sin Beneath The Sin
4. Community – The Context For Change
5. Witness – An Alternate City
6. Work – Cultivating The Garden
7. Justice – A People For Others
8. Eternity – The World That Is To Come

gospel in life showing 2.jpgAs you can see, this includes some visionary stuff — the nature of the city, the significance of work, the importance of justice, the promises of a (re)new(ed) creation, God’s Kingdom coming “on Earth as it is in Heaven” — and it is all rooted in some formational teachings about the nature of the heart, the struggle with trusting God (“the sin beneath the sin” of idolatry) and an invigorating call to community which is “the context for change.” I just don’t know anyone doing this kind of multi-dimensional teaching, bringing together classic, historic doctrines with fresh and relevant application to the modern world.

One needn’t be a follower of Abraham Kuyper to get to this place, but it seems to be that Keller was influenced during his seminary days learning about Kuyper and a Reformed worldview (from urban, missional activists such Harvie Conn and Ortega that pushed him into this integrated, culturally-engaged approach to ministry.

Keller from Gospel In Life.jpg

center c.jpgCenter Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $34.99  In the Fall of 2012 Keller, surely with good help from his innovative, missional team, released a major work, this big Center Church textbook-like volume. We named it one of the Books of the Year that year and we told many — even folks in smaller towns and in smaller churches — that his emphasis on a “gospel-centered” ministry that was balanced and informed by the first things of the gospel was profound and needed.

That was the first third of the book, describing what is meant by the gospel, why it “isn’t everything” but must affect everything, even though it dare not be understood simplistically.

His second section explored an overview of a sense of place and what it means to care for real culture, the social and even literal architecture of our built environments, why we should attend to institutions and seek to transform the ethos of the city and its social landscape. It was visionary and Biblical and nearly, at times, an “evangelical social gospel.”  Much of this, I seem to recall, drew on Kuyper via other contemporary writers, all good. Even the “missional church” writers who make much of being discerning about and engaging within North American post-Christian culture haven’t always done this kind of solid work evaluating and making a case for thoughtful cultural involvement and renewal.  I really think this is good stuff, and, agree or not, it is must-reading for anyone serious about the thriving of their local congregations. If you’ve liked my recent recommendations of titles such as Staying is the New Going by Alan Briggs or Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce Crump, and if you’ve read Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, for instance, you will appreciate this material.

The third section of that whopper of a book is divided up into two parts. The first part is about forming missional community — connecting people to God and to other people, ministering in ways that he calls “integrative.” This is just excellent stuff, realizing that helpful ministry must be wholistic and on many fronts. Every pastor will intuit this but few say it so convincingly and few do it so well.  The next portion is perhaps farther away from the lived experiences of many churches and church leaders but it made the case for  creating a renewal campaign, a church-to-church network, and missional ecumenism of orthodox believers wanting to advance a movement, which, naturally, includes sharing resources and networking and church planting.  It is this third aspect of Keller’s magnum opus that will take his attention when he retires from Redeemer Presbyterian at the end of this year as he focuses more on the Redeemer City-to-City organization. They have, thus far, helped launch more than 350 churches in fifty global cities. This has happened, recall, from scratch, starting when Tim and Kathy and their children moved to New York about 25 years ago when there was hardly an evangelical church that was taken seriously in Manhattan. I know whole denominations who haven’t planted that many churches in the last 25 years…

And so, that big Center City book was great and it seems to me one further example of his Kuyperian vision: the gospel come first but it is essentially tied to a renewal of “all things.”  We don’t just promote individualistic salvation nor our own congregation. We are joining in God’s “cosmic re-ordering of things.”  This is not a simple “get saved” message but it includes inviting people into profound flourishing, even in their work and public life. Keller shows that we must care about people, about culture, about cities and places, and about reaching out in communal efforts to bring transforming grace to others within their contexts. No one church can do it all and we must see our local mission as part of a larger Kingdom agenda.  Quibble as I might about a handful of passages or strategies, I want to shout Amen. Yes and yes and yes.


And, now, here is what is fascinating. I do not know who came up with this grand, great idea, but the three portions of that big book have been each republished — revised, too — and repackaged as individual books.

Further, in a move that makes them that much more interesting and useful, each volume has two or more new contributors, adding excellent short chapters of their own, and then a new chapter by Keller responding to the input of each of the new contributors.  This makes these three books so very interesting and we highly recommend all three.  For the record, I wish the authors — who are all from outside Keller’s own Redeemer network — were a bit more diverse, even though they have some disagreements and offer refinements to his project. I’d have liked some very different sorts of voices.

Here are the three new titles and the new authors that have helped in these new, expanded editions.  To see Keller responding to voices like Gabriel Salguero and Andy Crouch and Alan Hirsch, is very informative, classy, and good. 

shaped by the gospel.jpgShaped by the Gospel: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City  Timothy Keller, with new chapters by Michael Horton and Dane Calvin Ortlund (Zondervan) $15.99

This, as we’ve explained, includes some new material, but it is mostly drawn from the first section of Center Church. It is very, very important to get this stuff right and although most of us think we can easily answer the query “what is the gospel?” this rumination is still invaluable, especially, then, when we seek to do ministry in a gospel-centered way.  What does that mean and what does that look like? Highly recommended.

Here is the table of contents:

Part 1: Gospel Theology:

1. The Gospel Is Not Everything

2. The Gospel Is Not a Simple Thing

3. The Gospel Affects Everything

Reflection: What Is The Gospel? (Michael Horton)

Response to Michael Horton

Part 2: Gospel Renewal:

4. The Need for Gospel Renewal

5. The Essence of Gospel Renewal

6. The Work of Gospel Renewal

Reflections on Gospel Renewal (Dane Ortlund)

Response to Dane Ortlund

loving the city.jpgLoving the City: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City  Timothy Keller, with new chapters by Daniel Strange, Gabriel Salguero, and Andy Crouch (Zondervan) $18.99 

I love this second paperback volume, the center portions of the Center Church.  Although it is written out of Keller’s work in a major urban center, it is great reading for any of us.   Don’t miss Andy Crouch’s good input and Keller’s reply.

Here are the table of contents.  Great stuff!

Part 1: Gospel Contextualization

1. Intentional Contextualization

2. Balanced Contextualization

3. Biblical Contextualization

4. Active Contextualization

Reflection on Gospel Contextualization (Daniel Strange)

Response to Daniel Strange

Part 2: City Vision

5. The Tension of the City

6. Redemption and the City

7. The Call to the City

8. The Gospel for the City

    Reflection on City Vision (Gabriel Salguero)

    Response to Gabriel Salguero

Part 3: Cultural Engagement

 9.  The Cultural Crisis of the Church

10. The Cultural Responses of the Church

11. Why All the Models are Right…and Wrong

12. Cultural Engagement Through Blended Insights

     Reflection on Cultural Engagement (Andy Crouch)

     Response to Andy Crouch Timothy Keller

serving a movement.jpgServing a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Timothy Keller, with new chapters by Tim Chester, Daniel Montgomery, Mike Cosper and Alan Hirsch (Zondervan) $18.99

This third one in the new paperback expanded editions of Center Church is fabulous, and I hope you consider getting it.  It offers Keller’s very perceptive and balanced approach to what it means to be missional, what forming a relational, supportive community — the living church — might entail, and what that “integrative” effort demands. The first portion of this is great.

The second part is equally fascinating, about joining with others, sharing resources, building networks, building a movement of the Kingdom.  I love this, and that he moves towards the global church and world-wide missions is essential. It is, need I remind us all, the way of the future.

Here’s what the chapter titles are.  I hope you find it interesting,

Part 1: Missional Community

1. The Search for the Missional Church

2. Centering the Missional Church

3. Equipping People for Missional Living

Reflections on Missional Community (Tim Chester)
Response to Tim Chester

Part 2: Integrative Ministry

4. The Balance of Ministry Fronts

5. Connecting People to God

6. Connecting People to One Another

7. Connecting People to the City

8. Connecting People to the Culture

Reflections on Integrative Ministry (Matt Chandler)

Response to Matt Chandler

Part 3: Movement Dynamics

9. Movements and Institutions

10. The Church as a Dynamic Organism

11. Church Planting as a Movement Dynamic

12. The City and the Gospel Ecosystem

Reflection on Movement Dynamics (Alan Hirsch)

Response to Alan Hirsch

I don’t know what to think about so many issues these days, and I find myself seeing many sides of most things. This sad situation at Princeton Theological Seminary around the Kuyper Center Award and Keller’s lecture there — he is still giving the lecture at the annual Kuyper conference in early April — leaves me unsure and vexed. I want to stand with those who may be marginalized by Keller’s church and approach, although it is clear in my estimation that he has done much good in the world and not much harm.  I don’t like how some evangelicals have come away smug about this and I don’t like how some critics have painted him unfairly. I get why PTS made their decision, and I am glad Keller is showing up to share his vision with the gathered Kuyper types.  May God bless their efforts as we all stumble along, trying to honor God and make the world a somewhat brighter place.

A looming question for me feels like it is somehow connected to our future as booksellers.  We are sincere and not naive about suggesting these books; none are really righteous, nobody is innocent. Still, I wonder whether the general vision of old Abe K as lived out, imperfectly, in the work of Redeemer Presbyterian (from their low-cost counseling center to their anti-racism project, from their respected Center for Faith and Work to their on-going Bible studies all over the city, from their significant social service care ministries to their mature and inviting worship that draws thousands of previously unchurched each week) and the church-planting, City-to-City network for which Tim was to be honored by the Kuyper Center — which, by the way, includes planting non-PCA churches —  might somehow point us all towards a more relevant and effective faith lived out in these times.

Lament and oppose his unhelpful stances where you must. But don’t neglect knowing what he has written, books that have helped many and see what you can learn from his energetic, fruitful efforts over these last years.

And don’t miss learning about Abraham Kuyper, also a fallen person, stuck in his times, but who, through God’s grace, still has very much to offer us today.  Hearts & Minds is eager to offer resources to the wider church, books like this that we think are worth knowing about. We are grateful that you’ve read this far and continue to be interested in our work.

Soon I will review the new Carol Howard Merritt book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church (HarperOne; $25.99.) I found it deeply moving and important and while I didn’t like her piece against Keller quite so much, I found Healing Spiritual Wounds to be a very good and useful book. It moved me to tears at points and it made me stop and wonder how I’ve caused hurt as I’ve expressed my faith over the years. I’m eager to tell you more about it soon.  Thanks for caring.



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